Psalm 7

Psalm 7

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 10-5-2019

Here is a poem that I wrote on July 21st, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 7. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

God, you are my shelter.

Lord, you are my helper.

Salvation is like a castle’s solid foundation.

Constructed by you the king of all creation.

Fortified and ready to protect me from all of my sins.

No matter my evil resistance, God’s love always wins.

Let the bells of justice ring.

Break me until I am clean.

Forgive me for my failures.

I belong to a band of traitors.

I have wandered from where I once stood.

Grant me passage to all that is truly good.

I long for you, king of the mighty mountain.

Grace covers me like stones in a fountain.

Descend from the peak.

Save those who are weak.

This land needs you.

If only they knew.

We believe we are good, yet could not be more evil.

Like firewood bearing the rings of its initial primeval.

In shame we strive.

To pain we drive.

We’re made to thrive.

Make the dead alive.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels
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The God Shaped Hole | 10-22-2018

The God Shaped Hole

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 10-5-2019

[This was a short sermon that I gave to the middle school students at my local church for Sunday School. It was about 10 minutes long and was focused on 1 John 5:12.]

People are a lot like donuts. No really, just think about a donut for a minute. It looks good on the outside and they are delicious, but they have this large hole in the center.

The God Shaped Hole

Like a donut, we look good on the outside and on the inside have this hole in our hearts that needs to be filled. What is this hole though? This hole in our hearts is the fact that we do everything we can to look good on social media, fit in at school, find friendships, and whatever else it takes to feel like we belong somewhere. These are all nice things, but they are not why we are here.

We’re tired of being alone, feeling empty, and not knowing where we belong. King Solomon once said that “[God] has also set eternity in their heart” and this basically means that we were made for something greater than what the world has to offer. This is what a lot of people call the God shaped hole: feeling empty without some ultimate purpose in life from God.

Do Less, God Did The Rest

When God made everything, he made Adam and Eve. They were the first humans, for the purpose of having a relationship with them. God gave them the options to either accept or reject him and they rejected him which brought sin into the world. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, we have had this emptiness and no real idea of where we belong. Since then, we have been trying everything besides turning to God to fill the God shaped hole.

This problem is a lot like a kite in the sky. A kite only flies when there is tension in the string. If the kite’s string is cut, it falls to the ground. But if the kite has tension, then the kite can soar as high as the kite flyer wants it to go. By trying to fill this void with everything else except God, we end up empty-handed and not feeling whole like a kite that cuts its own string.

His Sacrifice Secures Our Eternal Life

1 John 5:12 says that “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” A normal donut might be empty, but a cream-filled donut is full! In God, we can be full of life too by being in a healthy relationship with him.

Remember that God made everything good. We made everything bad by rejecting Him. We accepted everything the world had to offer, yet denied what Jesus offers us. But Jesus has made and will make everything better. Now we need to turn away from all that stuff we thought would give us life and trust in God with our life.

We have gotten so busy trying to live without God that we have forgotten that we need God, in order to truly live. We just need to accept where we have failed and embrace what God has given us. That being a family to belong to and a purpose to our life.

It’s not my favorite sermon I’ve preached, but the students seemed to enjoy it. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Psalm 3

Psalm 3

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 9/23/2019

Here is a poem that I wrote on July 11th, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 3. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

What will I fear when God is here?

Is there anything to fear when God is near?

No, there is nothing to fear.

But then why do I live as if God is not here?

As if God is not near?

Lord, please forgive me.

I do not know what I do, but I do know you.

Better than that, you know me.

In this truth, I take comfort too.

In Christ, I am completely and endlessly free.

Jesus, help me to abandon anxiety and pursue piety.

Remind me of your love and show me how to love those I hate.

I am predestined and you have given me a hope-filled fate.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Finding Forgiveness

Firearm Fumble

During the summer, the youth group that I help lead went on one of our big events at Bear Creek Lake in Colorado. Like most youth groups, students need rides and before leaving to the event I was on my way picking up a few of the students going that Saturday. After picking up four guys for the event, we were on our way.

While driving to our church to touch base with other leaders before leaving to the event, some of the guys in the backseat of my car decided to pull out their BB guns that they recently bought. Of course at the time, I wasn’t aware they even had them in my car. Anyways, they eventually got pretty excited about them and before you know it they wanted to show me how powerful their BB guns were while I’m driving.

Granted all of this is happening within the span of a few minutes, but at first they pretended to use them and make lots of fake gunshot noises. Then one of them gets the bright idea of showing me what they sound like when they shoot them without any BB’s inside. Without enough time to react, one of the students behind me points the gun directly at my front windshield and fires it twice in quick succession.

Within an instant and by the sound of it, we all realized that the BB gun was actually loaded and my windshield now had two brand new bullet holes. One in the lower right hand corner and the other in the upper right hand corner of my front windshield. My reaction could have been better, but I was pretty pissed to say the least.

We soon arrived at the church and I confiscated their BB guns for the day before leaving for the event. I decided to allow the students to go to the event, even though they just damaged my car. They come from very broken homes and the last thing they needed was to go home early. For these four guys in particular, being at church or youth group is an escape from the Hell that they have to live with on a daily basis.

For instance, one of them lives with their grandparents because his mom chose to stay addicted to drugs rather than raise him. To this day, his mom wanders around looking for her next fix, while her son wonders why she doesn’t love him enough to quit. All four of these guys have similar stories and this cultural footprint influences the majority of their behavior. These boys are simply the byproduct of broken people who don’t know any better.

When we arrived at the lake, everyone seemed to have a fun time except me. The kids were hanging out and having a blast, but I couldn’t stop thinking about why this situation was frustrating me so much. I was angry and couldn’t shake it all day, but I also knew this happened for a reason.

Unlike most people, I don’t believe in accidents or coincidences. Instead, I believe that God works all things together for those who trust in him and therefore every moment is an opportunity to learn something. In this moment, I just couldn’t figure out what that something was or why this moment happened.

When it came time to go home, I told the students that I was going to hold onto their BB guns until one of them confessed to shooting my front windshield. Because they shot it from the backseat, I never actually knew who did the damage to my car. So as I dropped off all of the students and headed home, I kept thinking about what to do next.

I texted back and forth with other people to get advice from them. They all had very similar answers: get justice. Those kids deserve what’s coming to them. They’re guilty and need to be responsible for their actions. At one point I planned on destroying all of their BB guns, but I never did because the guilty student texted me that night.

Knowing this particular student and their circumstances, I believe their apology was genuine. He mentioned that he wanted to fix things and explained to me that it was an accident. He didn’t realize he actually had BBs in his BB gun at the time. After reading his response, it finally clicked for me. I knew what this whole situation was finally about.

Forgotten Forgiveness

You see, I too was in a very similar spot when I was in 3rd grade. After school one day, I was waiting by the hill where the soccer fields were for my Dad to pick me up. I was with a few of my peers and we decided to see who could throw a rock far enough to hit this abandoned house across the street from the school where we were waiting. In between us at the top of the soccer fields hill and the abandoned house was the street where parents were picking up their students.

We each took an attempt. All of us ended up throwing way too short and were hitting the sidewalk across the street. Then we all went again. Everyone got a little closer, but I hit a shingle on the roof causing it to chip a bit. This looked and sounded awesome, so I went for one more throw.

With this third throw, I lobbed my rock way too high and it flew straight down where the cars were lined up ready to pick up kids. My third attempt went directly into the center of an expensive sports car. Like dropping a bomb in a lake, this windshield completely cracked and splintered off in every direction.

Before I knew it, this wealthy man got out of his car and was scanning the perimeter as he tried to find the culprit. Little did he know that this culprit was crying and hiding behind what felt like the only bush on that hill. I barely fit behind it and was hoping he would just go away.

What felt like hours passed and eventually my sibling came by to tell me that Dad was here talking to the wealthy man with the broken windshield. I straight up died inside right then and there from complete terror. After wiping my tears, I went down the hill and got in our car.

Later that night, my Dad was pacing back and forth. By his conversations with my Mom, I could tell that I did something really bad. That this sports car’s windshield was going to be expensive to fix.

When the dust settled, my Dad finally came to my room and told my brothers to leave so he could talk to me in private. He asked me how I was feeling and then what happened. I gave him the gist of it and he listened intently.

After hearing my side of things, there was a pause. Then he broke it by saying that I didn’t need to worry about the windshield because he was going to pay for it. We hugged and then joined the rest of the family for dinner. He forgave me and that was the last that I ever heard of that situation.

Forgiveness Found

Jump back to when I received this text from the student who cracked my windshield and now it all added up. I now knew what I needed to do. This lesson in life was about finding forgiveness when justice was expected.

Grabbing my Bible, I looked up Matthew 18:21-35 for the story of the king and the two debtors. When I found the passage, I prayed about the situation and replied back to the student. To read the screenshots of the conversation we had, I’ll just refer you to the footnotes at the end of this post.

Anyways, I said not to worry about the window and told my story from third grade. Next, I told him to look up Matthew 18:21-35 and asked him to read it instead of paying for the windshield. Like my Dad forgave me, I forgave him.

When I was at fault, I was forgiven. Therefore, since he was at fault I decided to forgive him too. From there, he did his homework and I forgave him again in-person just to make sure he understood what I was trying to show him.

That God offers everyone two choices: justice or forgiveness. The difficult road is getting exactly what we deserve and becoming not only distant to Jesus in this life, but the life to come when this is all over. The easy road is to avoid evil and conform to God’s goodness as we pursue freedom in Christ.

That day I could have gone with either option and been completely in the right, but ultimately forgiveness won out. Sometimes, justice must be done and yet other times grace must take place. At the end of the day, that decision is up to you. So when an unjust moment happens to you and you see an opportunity for the other party to learn something, find the courage to forgive. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Matthew 18:21-35 | “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Be A Window, Not A Wall

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

Be a window,

Not a wall.

Some stand tall,

Yet all eventually fall.

Some loom large,

While others seem small.

We’ve all heard the call,

But a few of us are still afraid to fall.

We’ve all failed,

But Christ has prevailed.

Windows let the Son shine through,

Yet walls shield people from seeing the real you.

Windows are open and transparent,

But walls are closed off and hide what sin has bent.

Windows crack and shatter,

While walls pretend to have everything together.

Be more like a beautiful flower,

Than this structurally unsound tower.

Let the light into every area of your life,

Before darkness hurts like an ill-intentioned knife.

If you want to grow,

Then the walls need to go.

There is no guilt or shame,

In the power of Christ’s name.

Be honest above all,

No one expects you to be Saint Paul.

Be a window,

Not a wall.

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

The Thorns of Life | 3-17-2018

Photo Cred: Unsplash| Updated: 5/27/2019

So in the first segment in this series on sermons, I’d like to go back and revisit sermons that I have preached in the past, in order to learn from them through self-reflection. The preparation, the prayer, the delivery, and so on for each sermon that I have given to better not only myself but possibly you as well. By learning from the past we can do better in the future and that includes improving our ability to preach.

I’d like to share a sermon that I preached in mid-March of 2018 and breakdown the process of creating that sermon. It was called The Thorns of Life and dealt with the parable of the sower as told in the Gospel of Luke. My sermon was based on Luke 8:7 and 8:14, which was about the thorn-filled soil.

Getting Started

This sermon was given to about 80 students at StudentLife‘s winter camp (i.e. The Growdown) and it was roughly 25 minutes long. I began to prepare for this sermon on February 26th, which was just over a month out from the Growdown retreat and I was pretty rusty since the last sermon that I taught was 3 years ago. Typically, I can start prepping and praying through a sermon within a week’s time, but because it had been so long I started extremely early. There was also the added pressure of this being our first winter camp as a youth group, so I didn’t want to let the other leaders or the students with a sermon that sucked.

Before I even began to work on my sermon, the four teachers (David Margosian, John Lewis, Andrew Morrison, and myself) for that retreat met up a few times to discuss the theme and pray about what we should teach through for that winter camp. Eventually, we all felt led to teach on the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Luke for various reasons. John had just taught it to his youth group, while Andrew and David did this theme years ago as the original Growdown winter camp. We figured that this year we should go with this theme to keep things simple.

After the theme was decided upon, we went our separate ways to prepare. Since I was rusty, Andrew reviewed my outline over gmail twice to help me stay on track for the retreat. He aided in keeping my sermon the right length for a 20 to 30 minute teaching.

When I actually started, I read the text and prayed a lot about the theme for my teaching. What was going to be the main idea to explore and share with the students? What did they need to hear that afternoon on March 17th, 2018?

The Text, the Title, and the Elevator Pitch

 

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Anytime I prepare to teach, I always look for three things first: a basic understanding of the text, a title, and an elevator pitch. To determine the basic understanding of the text you need to comprehend the context. To accomplish this, read past the given text.

For this teaching, I wanted to pinpoint the big picture. When it was reported to Jesus that his Mother and Brothers were trying to get to him through the crowd listening to Him teach, He replies that “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it (1).” Elsewhere, we get more clarity from Jesus when He says to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (2).” The basic understanding of this text was identifying the true believer.

If we are true believers in Christ, then we will naturally obey him. David and Paul Watson put it perfectly when they wrote that “it appears that God spells love o-b-e-y (3).” The seed that falls on the good soil is the true believer because they obey God.

From there, I asked the opposite question: who does not obey God and why? The text I was given focused on the thorn-filled soil. What happens when we are pricked by a thorn? We are distracted by the pain. This was the basic crux for my sermon.

For my title, I took that basic understanding and distilled it. Making it brief and to the point. For me, the title has to be the main theme of the teaching. It must be the anchor that I can refer back to over and over in the sermon. So I called it “The Thorns of Life.”

Lastly, an elevator pitch is a one sentence description of a story. My elevator pitch was my basic understanding of the text summarized. That being that the thorns of life are the distractions of life. Next, I got into the bulk of sermon prep. Analogies, cross references, exegesis, research, and all that other good stuff. That’s usually my favorite part of the process.

Once my outline was complete, I moved onto revisions and verbal practice. This was roughly two weeks out from the retreat and I was really afraid it was going to flop. During this time I mostly prayed and would practice maybe a dozen times before finally delivering my sermon. I found that prayer would calm me, so I prayed before I practiced verbally delivering it.

The Day of and the Delivery

When we all left for the Growdown, I barely ate. During that Friday and Saturday I only had two meals. When I get nervous, I can’t eat because I get really sick to my stomach.

Had a long day of winter camp stuff and trying to run everything as a leader, so when it finally came to preaching I had about an hour and a half to get prepped one last time. As worship was closing, my anxiety and nervousness just kept increasing. Prayed a lot of little prayers inwardly. Too afraid I was going to forget something, I poured over my outline making last-minute changes and rehearsed a few more times.

Andrew came down and prayed over me. It helped reassure me that this teaching was put on my heart by God, so I didn’t have to rely on my own ability or talent because the Holy Spirit would guide me. Worship ended and I waited a minute intentionally before heading up. I told Jason Best, the worship pastor, that I wanted there to be an awkward moment of silence before I enter the room to set the tone.

This little stunt played into my theme of being distracted. Also, I wore a pink morph suit and did some goofy stuff to distract the students before telling the story of my best friend Zach’s car accident. This was all in the hopes of using body language, humor, and other visual cues to reinforce the effect that a good distraction can have on someone not paying attention.

The silly sermon illustrations went okay. Some landed, some hit an abrupt thud. As a public speaker, you’ll know when what you did worked or didn’t.

I think of the 25 minutes I spent, 5 to 10 minutes should have been used better. I started strong, but felt I wasted the opportunity for a strong ending. I ended up cutting out the Value of Time segment completely because I knew from practice it probably wouldn’t make the cut. I liked it, but it wasn’t necessary for this audience.

Had some obvious slip-ups and an over reliance on my outline, yet I felt positive about the delivery afterward. The students got a kick out of my ridiculous introduction and the call to action seemed to stick that night during the altar call, which resulted in praying with a student named Abe for almost an hour as we cried our eyes out before God. That was the highlight of the teaching for me: seeing a young man run back to God that night.

Overall, loved the time I spent on this teaching and it gave me confidence to return to preaching. Next time, I’ll share my sermon on Exodus from May 3rd, 2018. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Luke 8:21b
  2. John 14:15
  3. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery, P. 45

 

 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of God

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of God

Photo Cred (1) | Updated: 9/23/2019

So I’ve been asked several times by others my opinion on politics and I usually never give them an in-depth answer to those questions. From police brutality to immigration, I’ve been asked what my views are on many political topics. What I usually do is provide possible solutions, but never really say what I believe on a given subject matter. Not that I don’t care about politics, but I’d rather have an opinion after personal research before going public with my view on any given topic.

What I mean by that is I would rather look into an issue on my own before giving my opinion on anything political due to the vitriol reaction that seems to be the only response that anyone can give online. When it comes to subjects that I am not sure where I stand, I’d rather talk it out in-person. When I do have a firm idea of where I stand on an issue, then I’ll usually go about talking on that issue online with no hesitation.

With all that said, I do not side with one of the two binary American political parties (Democrats and Republicans) or any political party for that matter. I believe in voting for individual people, not for a political party. I have no allegiance to any political party and I do not think I ever will.

Honestly anyone who is running for political office that is associated with a particular political party means very little to me. This is because during the campaign trail, a candidate will promise lots of great stuff and then when they get into office they only get about a third of it done. Even then, what is actually accomplished is corroded by donors, PACs, Super PACs, and any other special interest group hoping to get their hands on a new bill or law. There are just too many cooks in the kitchen and that affects every branch of American politics.

If I had to summarize my political worldview in one sentence, then I would say that I am for life, liberty, and the pursuit of God. Now let me explain each part of my political worldview in more detail. Let me start with why I am for life.

Life

I am for life in many regards. I am for the protection of endangered species, marine conservation, protecting national parks, and environmentalism in general. The more we do as a species to protect the environment, the better our lives will be for future generations to come.

I am also pro-life, which means that I am against both abortion and euthanasia. The only case where I would be for abortion is when the life of the mother is at stake, then I would say abortion is okay. This sort of situation can occur due to any number of problems like an ectopic pregnancy where internal, life-threatening bleeding could kill the mother.

I am for abortion in these rare situations because the chances of the mother surviving from said problems during the course of a pregnancy are much higher than the chances of the baby. If I had to theoretically choose between an abortion to save the mother’s life or going on endangering the life of the mother and the baby, then I would advocate the abortion option. Saving one life is better than risking the death of two lives.

I am for life in the justice system. For the equal treatment of all types of people whether in arrests, investigations, prosecutions, or any other aspect of the judicial process. All people were created equal and hence all people should be treated equal with the utmost respect for their human dignity.

I want to see prison reform in the sense that the punishment should equal the crime, but that life should be respected at all costs. Measures should be taken for those that are truly done with their life of crime and want to live in society again in a proactive way. Measures such as more community service and less time in prison for crimes that do not deserve a prison sentence. If people are willing to change their ways, then they should be given opportunity on a case-by-case basis to get their life on the right path.

The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, I believe should only be implemented for certain criminals like child molesters, mass shooters, serial killers, and serial rapists. Because they have lost all respect for other life, I believe that these types of people should not live. By taking their life through capital punishment, we can potentially save the lives of countless others.

When it comes to healthcare and UBI (Universal Basic Income), I believe that we as a nation have the capacity to provide the most basic needs free of charge to legal citizens. Not every expense, but the bare necessities. I’m still working through in my own mind how that could work, but I think there is a way that would benefit almost everyone. I do believe in some form of UBI and universal healthcare being implemented in American society. Yet these two beliefs are not as refined as my other beliefs, so grant me grace in that regard.

Liberty

I am for liberty in a lot of ways. Liberty for all to live however they see fit as long as it does not infringe on the liberties of others. For the sake of time I’ll just share two examples: free speech and marriage. Let me start with marriage.

I believe that anyone can marry whoever they want as they are both consenting and adults. I may disagree with who marries who, but that does not mean that said people cannot get married in America. For instance, an LGBT+ couple should have the freedom to get married whenever and however they want, but that does not mean that I agree with their decision to get married. I affirm everyone’s freedom to choose, but not their choices within said freedom. Nevertheless, two consenting adults in America can marry whoever they love.

Then again, I believe that certain social traditions should not be operated by the government like marriage. I do not believe that marriage should be done through the government in any capacity. It’s a decision between two people and the witnesses chosen to uphold that couple’s vows. The government doesn’t need to be involved in marriage.

I am for liberty in the sense of free speech. I believe everyone should have the freedom to express themselves in any verbal way that they wish. Free speech should only be limited when a minor is involved because certain speech can affect their growth as individuals like verbal abuse or mature subject matter that is simply not appropriate for them to hear at their current age. This stance of mine on free speech applies to both in-person and online communication.

Also, the obvious things like yelling “bomb” at an airport or shouting “fire” at a movie theater shouldn’t be said either. Outside of that, let discourse and discussion thrive through the civil expression of ideas. With proper social cues and standard politeness, anything can and should be said.

Without free speech, I wouldn’t even be able to write this blog-post without punishment from the government. Let that sink in the next time you wish certain speech was removed from society. One of the signs of a healthy community is the disagreement between two people on a belief or idea, yet the respect they have for each other as human beings. Freedom must always be greater than fear. If not, we lose everything.

The Pursuit of God

Now of the three pillars of my political worldview, this final pillar does require some explaining. There was a man named John Locke who argued that everyone is entitled to life, liberty, and property (2). In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Although I do believe that property should be an unalienable right as it is a basic human instinct to have shelter and that happiness can be a good thing, I believe that the pursuit of God matters more. That’s why I have altered this saying to include the pursuit of God instead of either property or happiness into my political worldview.

For it is in the pursuit of God that one can find the greatest joy imaginable: ultimate meaning, purpose, and value. With property, a basic human need is met, but that cannot replace the inner void within those who have not known God. What is the point of having shelter to stay alive, if you do not know why you are alive in the first place? For me, the pursuit of God supersedes the right to property.

Happiness cannot be the answer either because it is completely subjective. It’s a neat idea, but in practice no one and that includes the government can sustain your desire to be happy. For happiness like all other emotions doesn’t last long. I would rather have lifelong joy pursuing God than situational satisfaction rooted in nothing but my current mood. When it comes to politics, I stand firmly for life, liberty, and the pursuit of God.

In conclusion, these are not all of my views within politics. I haven’t even gotten to the economy, gun control, the minimum wage and maximum wage debate, recreational and medical drug use, transgender military participation, or everything else for that matter. But I think this should give some of you a good idea of where I stand on certain issues.

It’s a work in progress and these views are in a constant flux as I learn more each and everyday, so don’t be surprised if they change eventually. In time, all things will work together for those that trust in God for their life and liberty. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/497

My Favorite Sci-Fi Films

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

So I’ve always wanted to talk about my favorite films of all time, but have never been able to narrow it down to a top ten or even a top fifty films. The more movies I watch over time, the longer my list of favorites grows as my personal taste expands. But I think I have found the best way of approaching this daunting task and that is by writing about my favorite films by genre. Not only the overarching genre, but also the sub categories that reside within the main genre. To start this series off, I’ve decided to talk about possibly my favorite genre of films: sci-fi.

Escapism

For this genre, I’ve broken it down to the following types of films: escapism, guilty pleasures, realism, social commentaries, and the underrated. The rest of the blog-posts in this series will follow a similar format. First, let’s look at my favorite escapism in the sci-fi genre.

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For escapism, the most important element is that you get to go from reality and escape to something completely out of this world. Something that is totally distant from our life. Some favorites in this first category are Alien (1979), Back to the Future (1985), Predator (1987), and Terminator 2 (1991). These are all great sci-fi films that take you to places unexpected and are thrilling from start to finish. Whether it’s the 1950s, the 1980s with time-traveling robots, or even going to space to fight a chest-burstin’ alien, these films take you onto great escapes into the unknown. They’ve got action, suspense, and tons of memorable moments.

Yet my favorite sci-fi escapist movie and also my favorite movie of all time is none other than Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). It’s got everything you need for a killer sci-fi flick and is in my opinion the gold standard of escapist sci-fi films. It’s action-packed, filled to the brim with fun characters, and has a great story that takes you all over a galaxy far, far away. It’s the perfect escape.

Guilty Pleasure

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Now like any genre, there are those films that are not so good, but we still watch them because of some obscure reason. These are the guilty pleasures that you know are either straight trash or a mixed bag of a movie, but you still love watching them anyway for who knows why. A few of my favorite sci-fi guilty pleasures are AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Tron: Legacy (2010).

The latter only for its sick Daft Punk soundtrack and the lit special effects. Outside of that, it’s your run-of-the-mill generic sci-fi flick with a pretty bland story. Oh, and why AVP: Alien vs. Predator? Because I literally only watch the aliens and predators fight each other and skip through the rest of the movie. Besides that, it’s the definition of a dumpster fire.

There’s even Terminator Salvation (2009), which should have been great yet still failed to be anything beyond eye-candy with its awesome action scenes and cool sound design. Although, of all of my guilty pleasures in sci-fi, none is a greater guilty pleasure for me than Michael Bay’s The Island (2005).

From its wacky plot about cloning humans to its sun-soaked action scenes, this movie is guilty pleasure sci-fi filmmaking to a tee. There’s also the excessive amount of references to peeing, which is strange in itself throughout the entire movie because it’s somehow integral to the plot. I don’t know. I like it and you might too. It’s not that good, but boy is it a fun sci-fi guilty pleasure to watch!

Realism

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For this subgenre, all of these films take an idea grounded in reality and push it past its logical limits, while trying as hard as possible to maintain some sort of realism. Films such as Limitless (2011), where Bradley Cooper takes a pill that unleashes his brain’s full capacity. It takes a simple premise and uses it to an engaging advantage for what is a pretty good movie.

There’s even the space-driven sci-fi films that aim to replicate what outer space is really like for better or for worse like Gravity (2013) and The Martian (2015). What makes these films so good is the fact that despite how amusing or terrifying the story might be, the stakes feel even higher than usual due to them being much more realistic.

But in my mind, nothing comes close to entertaining and realistic sci-fi quite like Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010). It’s both brilliant and subdued. Rooted in a fascinating idea and then goes to a whole other level as the plot unfolds. As you fall deeper into the levels of dreams, what is and isn’t real becomes a lot harder to discern. It’s bold, intelligent, and is most definitely my favorite realistic sci-fi film.

Social Commentary

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Here we find what might be considered the most heady and emotionally tugging sci-fi films. The ones that cause us to feel and think in ways we might not have before. The films that challenge our beliefs and are sometimes a direct mirror of the times we live in as a species.

When it comes to social commentary sci-fi, some of my all-time favorites include movies like Interstellar (2014), Metropolis (1927), and Snowpiercer (2013). Three films dealing with the similar idea of survival. Trying to make it in a world no longer suitable for us humans or at least for those of us that are not so fortunate. With the use of sci-fi elements, these three films take drastically different approaches on how we would react in similar situations. The various social-economic struggles, the philosophical conversations, and even how they choose to visualize this universal desire to adapt in spite of the worst conditions is what makes these types of films stand the test of time.

Likewise, movies like Arrival (2016) and The Matrix (1999) deal with different types of problems within our modern world like the invasion of our privacy, questioning reality, or even how time affects us. In the spirit of all of these big ideas and confronting our societal struggles head-on, none of these films has affected me more than War for the Planet of the Apes (2017). This, along with the entire Planet of the Apes franchise, has always had the unique perspective of directly addressing bigotry, racism, and xenophobia unlike any sci-fi films that I’ve ever seen.

From the warring factions of apes versus mankind to the delicate reflections on what makes us human, this movie delves deep into some of the biggest questions that modern day humanity has to deal with now. With its allusions to socialist regimes of the last century to the harsh treatment of minorities during the early years of America, this film speaks on so many subjects and yet nails every single one of them. It’s a modern masterpiece and is my favorite social commentary sci-fi flick.

Underrated

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Not all heroes wear capes and not all films get the attention that they deserve. These are the underdogs. The odd ones out that for some reason or another, don’t get the credit they deserve. Some of these personal favorites include Minority Report (2002) and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). These are films that while good, never seem to get enough attention, in my opinion.

Another underrated movie that I think is pretty fun is I, Robot (2004) starring Will Smith. A movie that follows a detective (Smith) as he tries to solve the suicide of the founder of U.S. Robotics, but believes that a robot is actually the culprit behind the whole crime. It’s got an uneven tone and the third act is really dumb when compared to the rest of the movie, but it has a heart to it thanks in large part to Smith’s great performance and the fun mystery of solving the crime.

Although, my favorite underrated sci-fi movie is Equilibrium (2002). In a post-Matrix world, this at first glance appears like a cheap rip-off of the whole slo-mo kung fu that would define the next two decades of movies. Yes, it has bland production design, some poorly written dialogue, and uninspired cinematography. But this film works because the story concept is just so fascinating and the acting ensemble sells it as best they can with what they’re given. Speaking of casts, this one is kinda loaded as it stars Christian Bale acting alongside the likes of Emily Watson, Taye Diggs, Angus Macfadyen, Sean Bean, and William Fichtner. It borrows heavily from George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as the film is centered on a world where emotion is illegal, along with all things that provoke said emotions. It’s a gem and I’ve grown up always appreciating it as a diamond in the ruff.

In short, my favorite sci-fi films are as follows by subgenre:

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So those are just a few of my favorite sci-fi films. I couldn’t talk about all of them, but this should give you an idea of what sci-fi films interest me most. Next time in this series, I’ll go over my favorite war movies. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Alvin Plantinga + Autism

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

About two years ago in the month of June, I was on a road-trip with my Dad and a few of our friends. On the way to and from our destination, I was finishing Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief and came across an interesting statement that he makes in his book. In fact, it’s not necessarily apart of the main narrative, but is rather just a footnote at the bottom of a page in the chapter entitled “Sin and Its Cognitive Consequences.” In this footnote, Plantinga writes

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Source: Amazon

It is no part of the [Aquinas/Calvin] model to say that damage to the sensus divinitatis (2) on the part of a person is due to sin on the part of the same person. Such damage is like other disease and handicaps: due ultimately to the ravages of sin, but not necessarily sin on the part of the person with the disease. In this connection, see Jesus’ remarks (John 9:1-3) about the man blind from birth (p. 214, fn. 22).

Now as someone who has been diagnosed with high spectrum autism disorder (3), this quote stuck out to me like a sore thumb when I first read it. I’ve always had a curiosity on the subject of those with special needs and their cognitive ability to know God, but this really gave me more of a drive to study it further. To think and see if someone with malfunctioning cognitive faculties (i.e. intellectual disabilities) can consciously choose whether or not to believe in God.

There is a lot packed into this brief footnote, so let’s break it down in context. The footnote is attached to a section of the chapter where Plantinga is describing the worst effect that sin has on us and our sense of God. He writes:

The most serious noetic effects of sin have to do with our knowledge of God. Were it not for sin and its effects, God’s presence and glory would be as obvious and uncontroversial to us all as the presence of other minds, physical objects, and the past. Like any cognitive process, however, the sensus divinitatis can malfunction; as a result of sin, it has indeed been damaged. Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork (p. 214-215).”

In other words, Plantinga argues that our knowledge of God is the most damaged aspect of our sensus divinitatis (sense of divinity). If our sense of God was not impaired, then we would be completely aware of God in everything. But because everyone has been born into sin, we all have a malfunctioning sense of God. Like a broken window, our view of God is distorted before we accept the Gospel. After we accept it, then our sense of God is restored to what it was always meant to be since the beginning.

Yet, we all don’t have malfunctioning cognitive faculties. Is this footnote indicating that some may have a harder time understanding the Gospel because there are more mental roadblocks that may inhibit their path to genuine belief in God? Not to say that our own sin directly causes this malfunction, but that sin itself has caused this malfunction in the cognitive faculties of some.

For example, no one is morally responsible for a person being born with a heart defect, but rather this defect is directly related to the natural consequences of the Fall. The unnatural breaking down of the human body as the world ages away. Original sin is the root of these malfunctions for the most part, not the individual sins of others. For more on that, let’s turn to the Gospel of John.

The passage of Scripture that Plantinga points out in the already mentioned footnote is John 9:1-3. In this passage, Jesus comes across a blind man who has been blind since birth. Inquiring to know why this man is born blind, the disciples ask Jesus whether it is due to the man’s own sin or that of his parents.

As if to say, whose sin caused this consequence? Who is responsible for this man’s poor condition of being blind from birth? Jesus succinctly replies “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” What does Jesus mean by this exactly?

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Source: Pulpit & Pen

John Piper of Desiring God (4), spoke on this very subject and makes an important point. “The explanation of the blindness lies not in the past causes but the future purposes,” says Piper. For this specific case, the blindness from birth was not a sinful consequence, but rather a predetermined act of God. This disability was given, so that God might have the glory in the healing of it. By healing a blind man from birth publicly, Jesus caused others to see things spiritually. Thus, leading to people naturally giving God the glory.

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph speaks about how God can take something evil like our physical ailments or malfunctioning cognitive faculties and turn them into something good. This can be seen when a family is closer to each other when compared to other families because of the attentive care necessary for one of their family members that may have an intellectual disability like autism. If not for having a family member with said disability, there are many families that would probably be more distant to both each other and God. Like usual, God can answer a series of evils with one good thing.

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Source: Pexels

But that stills leaves our question unanswered: can people with malfunctioning cognitive faculties consciously accept or reject belief in God? Can they ever have a repaired sense of God? To put it simply, of course they can and a good portion of them do have genuine belief in God.

Even though someone may be at a mental state where they are equivalent to that of a small child or may have an IQ lower than normal, they still have the ability to receive the Gospel. In Mark 10:15, Jesus clearly states that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” If we base our faith in our own intelligence and knowledge, then we have not received the Gospel like a child and are not actually Christian.

We have made up our own God at that point because faith in the kingdom of God is childlike, not complex and complicated. Either we believe that Jesus is Lord and confess that God raised Him from the dead or we don’t. It’s as simple as that and for someone with malfunctioning cognitive faculties, they too have the ability to receive or reject belief in God on these grounds.

One last thing. Like anyone who comes to faith in God, the moment of salvation is completely by the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own. We cannot have our sense of God repaired and our souls redeemed, unless by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

So whether someone has an intellectual disability or not, we need the Holy Spirit during this transformation from death to life. From disbelief to genuine belief in the one true, triune God. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot be born again. But by the power of God the Father in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can all be born again. We can all be made alive in Christ. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Earlier in this chapter, Plantinga defines sensus divinitatis as “a disposition or set of dispositions to form theistic beliefs in various circumstances, in response to the sorts of conditions or stimuli that trigger the working of this sense of divinity (p. 173).” This sense of divinity or this sense of God is the bedrock for which the A/C Model hinges on and is one of the main themes discussed in Warranted Christian Belief, along with the rest of Plantinga’s Warrant trilogy. The name sensus divinitatis was originally penned by a French theologian named John Calvin.
  2. It is possible that my original diagnosis of high spectrum autism disorder by Stanford University may have been a mistake. As Thomas Sowell argues, a number of cases in the past that were diagnosed as ADD, Autism, and so on could have been just children with what he dubs “Einstein Syndrome.” Also known as late-talkers, Einstein Syndrome is named after Albert Einstein due to a theory that he began to talk at a later age than usual due to certain portions of his brain developing faster than normal. If a child’s parents are extremely gifted in mathematics or music, then the child may be more likely to be a late-talker, according to Sowell. To learn more, click here.
  3. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-was-this-child-born-blind

The Thief and the Cross

Photo Cred: (1)| Updated: 5/27/2019

In light of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to take some time to write about the thief on the cross. By thief on the cross, I am referring to one of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus. One became a believer, while the other did not. So for now, any references to the thief on the cross are towards the thief that became a believer.

Why Were People Crucified?

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Bart D. Ehrman, PhD | James A. Gray Distinguished Professor University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This thief on the cross is an interesting figure in the historical account of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things. He most likely would have been a Jewish man due to a number of factors like his belief in one God (2) and his familiarity with the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of Heaven (3), along with his punishment. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, points out the uniqueness of the crucifixion and why only a certain group of people would receive this form of punishment when he writes

Crucifixion was reserved for special cases. But there were lots of special cases. Two of the most common were low-life criminals and enemies of the state. These are two very different matters – they are not the same thing… This was especially the case – I reiterate – for enemies of the state. Rare exceptions might be made for low-life criminals – escaped slaves, horse thieves, general riff-raff who did not matter to anyone in power (4).”

In other words, the two thieves were most likely crucified for either stealing something very valuable like horses as their names would suggest or for being insurgents that were sworn enemies of the state. Regardless of why they were hung in the first place, these two men died alongside Jesus and witnessed His final moments before His death. This will be the bedrock for the rest of this blog-post moving forward.

Artistic Depictions of Christ’s Crucifixion

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What is also of note is how artists depict where the three men are in different works of art. For instance, Peter Paul Rubens and Titian seem to have placed the thief on the cross to the right of Christ, while the proud thief is to His left. This deliberate creative choice of putting the thief on the cross beside the right hand of God is significant.

In both Judaism and Christianity, to be on the right hand of God was a sign of God’s “ruler-ship, authority, sovereignty, blessing, and strength and is significant in Scripture (5).” We can see this in many places in the Bible such as Psalm 110:1b where it says “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” To be fair, there are other works of art like Rembrandt van Rijn’s Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses (6) that appears indifferent to where each thief is in the picture and is rightly so focused on Christ Himself.

Likewise, James the brother of Jesus once wrote “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (7).” It would seem that in the spirit of this passage and the current state of the thief on the cross, that Rubens and Titian visually depicted what was spiritually taking place inside this thief’s soul. That as the thief on the cross was up there next to Jesus, his heart and mind were radically changed. A series of events that brought this man to a point of understanding.

Things like Jesus asking for the forgiveness of His executioners (8), soldiers dividing His garments by way of casting lots, and those passing by railing blasphemous statements towards Christ in a taunting way (9) all occurred before the thief on the cross had a change of heart. In the Gospel of Matthew (10), it even records both thieves mocking Jesus until a certain point where only the proud thief is left to mock Jesus. Sometime between both thieves mutually mocking Jesus and the proud thief continuing to mock Jesus, was there a sharp change in attitude from the thief on the cross.

A Change of Heart

What happened so suddenly that a thief dying on a cross would suddenly have a complete change in how he perceived Jesus? I’d argue it is a combination of moments, but for now we will only focus in on one aspect. What Jesus said and how He acted during this whole ordeal.

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Anatomical Crucifixion Sketch | Jacques Gamelin, 1779 (12)

Just for a little more context, their punishment by way of crucifixion was not so nice. In fact, it was one of, if not the most painful form of torture at that time. According to Maslen and Mitchell’s article written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (11), crucifixion had many cruel ways of ending one’s life.

Some of those causes of death may have been, but are not limited to acidosis, arrhythmia plus asphyxia, cardiac rupture, hypovolemic shock, and so on. Death by crucifixion was a brutal, yet extremely prolonged way to die. For some, they died in a matter of hours. For others, they died in a matter of days.

I believe of the three events that took place before the thief on the cross had a change of heart, the moment of Jesus forgiving His executioners had the most impact on the thief. Christ’s response showed the thief a direct contrast to the way He lived His own life. A seed of regret was planted.

Jesus forgave those that were killing Him. The two thieves probably hated those that were crucifying them. Jesus was known as an exorcist and a teacher who wanted to help the poor and sick. The two thieves were most likely men that spent the majority of their lives only helping themselves.

As if the name was any indication, these thieves were probably selfish. Christ was selfless. The thieves died for crimes they committed. Jesus died for crimes we committed. For the thief on the cross and from his perspective, this man was different in almost every single way from him and the other thief. They deserved this death, but Jesus didn’t.

This strong distinction between a thief and the giver of eternal life is a drastic black-and-white difference. One died for taking that which was someone else’s, while the other died for giving all that He had for others. This I believe is what changed the thief on the cross from mocking Jesus to defending Him in front of everyone.

By everyone, I mean everyone. Gentiles and Jews. Pharisees and Roman soldiers. Family, friends, neighbors, and so on. Everyone there at the crucifixion knew of or had heard of these three crucified men and were probably shocked watching the thief on the cross have a change of heart. A thief for the first time encountering something he had never seen before: unlimited love in response to unbridled hate. The love of God in reaction to the darkest of human deeds. The Gospel happening before his very eyes.

The short story of the thief on the cross ends in a profound way. Luke chronicles the rest of that story when he writes

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise (13).””

In response to the thief’s change of heart and his humble demeanor, God gives Him grace. A grace that surpasses all understanding. This is the thief and the cross. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. Luke 23:40
  3. Luke 23:42
  4. https://ehrmanblog.org/why-romans-crucified-people/
  5. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/06/13/what-does-the-right-hand-symbolize-or-mean-in-the-bible/
  6. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/41.1.31/
  7. James 4:6-8b
  8. Luke 23:34
  9. Luke 23:35-37
  10. Matthew 27:44
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788/
  12. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/gamelin_home.html
  13. Luke 23:40-43