Friday, March 22, 2013

Top 5 ways to recycle your busted NCAA bracket

Be honest. Your bracket is already done, isn't it?

You stared at the brackets, broke down all the stats and just knew this year was going to be the year you picked all the winners and nailed all the upsets, but after one day your dreams of bracket domination are over before they even had a chance to begin.

Harvard wasn't content with being Harvard. They had to be Harvard: Destroyer of All Bracket Hopes.

You don't even want to look at your office pool standings because you know you are behind that lady who chooses teams with the cutest mascot and best dressed coach.

She said she picked Cal because that was the nickname of Calvin, her boyfriend in high school. You don't know Calvin, but now you hate him.

It hurts, doesn't it? But you can turn that hurt into help. Why not use your now worthless bracket to bring some good into this world? Here are the top 5 ways to recycle your busted NCAA bracket.

5. Send it to needy countries - Relief organizations always take the t-shirts of the team that loses in the championship game, couldn't they use the paper from your bracket?

Maybe some tiny island nation is having a paper shortage and your donation of the Pittsburgh Elite Eight bracket will provide the sheet of paper they need to save their economy and start printing paper money.

Just think, your embarrassingly bad bracket selections will be immortalized in their first dollar bill. The citizens will think "Oklahoma Sweet Sixteen" is their national treasurer.

4. Make the world's greatest airplane - There's always time for a great paper airplane. Not long ago, a paper airplane was thrown 226 feet for a new world record. You can beat that!

Laying around beside you are all those blown-up brackets. Use them to start working on your craft, so that you, too can achieve some meaningless record.

Once you break that record, you can actually look back and be thankful you picked Belmont over Arizona as your upset special.

3. Use it as decorative gift wrap - All those lines and angles. The neat patterns the bracket makes. It's perfect for a birthday presents.

Bonus points if you can fold it so number 1 seed Louisville and the other team names in the Midwest bracket spell "Happy Birthday Lou!" Well, bonus points if the present actually belongs to someone named Lou.

If you don't know anyone named Lou, see if you can hire a random person as your "Butler" and give them the gift.

2. Write a love poem to your wife - She's upset that you ignore her every March. She joined the Facebook group that my wife wanted to start "March Madness Widows."

You spent every moment since Selection Sunday digging into the numbers, finding all the obscure stats and you just knew that the Akron Zips would make a historic run to the Final Four. The numbers lied apparently, but that sigh your wife gave as she looked at you and went to bed didn't lie.

Use the back of your bracket to write down a string of words that include what you are feeling besides "hungry." Talk about how beautiful she is and how nice her hair looked today. Yes, they will give you the benefit of the doubt with the effort.

1. Dry the tears from your eyes - Your chance at a million dollar perfect bracket is gone. Even your shot at the bag of fun size Snickers at work is done. (One of these years, you're going to beat the cute mascot/best dressed coach lady! She even picked Colorado State because she's "always wanted to go skiing there.")

No one is looking, right now. Shed your tears, then use the bracket to wipe them all from your eyes. It's one thing to make your wife angry. It's a completely different thing to let her (and your friends) see you crying because Harvard was too smart for New Mexico, your dark horse Final Four team.

Why, Harvard, why? What did I ever do to you?!? OK, I swear I'm not crying. I've got something in my eyes. My allergies are flaring up. My eyes are sweating. ... I'm just going to go to my room for a second.

If you've only got a bracket online and not one printed out, I can't help you. You are on your own. Think about how you can save the pixels you wasted, along with the server space for ESPN. 

If you actually have a busted paper bracket, what are some other ways to put it to use ... besides wadding it up and throwing it across your office when you hear mascot lady talk about her "perfect March Mayhem baseball bracket thingy"?

This is an edited repost.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Church History 101: Tertullian

Read the introduction to this series – 50 people you need to know: Church History 101

Much of the way we speak of God originated with Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD). The passionate lawyer who converted later in life was driven to make complex theological concepts understandable to the common person.

The African theologian became known as "the father of Latin theology," as he was the first to write primarily in Latin and influence the Western church. Like Origen, however, some of his passions led to his embracing questionable beliefs later in life, leading to his not being granted sainthood.

He defended Christianity against heretical cults and tyrannical governments, while articulating difficult theological concepts in a creative and clear manner.

Tertullian is someone you absolutely have to know.

Who was Tertullian?

Born to pagan parents in modern day Tunisia, Tertullian was educated in rhetoric, law and literature. His father was a Roman centurion, which led him to a somewhat privileged life.

In his late 30's, however, Tertullian experienced a radical conversion to Christianity. He insisted that such a break with the former life was necessary. He said, "Christians are made, not born."

Immediately, he began to use his skills and education to defend his newfound faith against heresies from within and misrepresentations from without.

Many Romans, including those in positions of authority, perpetuated the lie that Christians sacrificed infants in their Lord's Supper celebrations. He refuted those charges, while advocating for religious freedom and fair trials for Christians, despite their minority status.

Fluent in Greek and Latin, Tertullian penned most of his works in Latin in order to reach the growing number of Christians in the Western part of the empire who only spoke Latin. This led to his veneration  and being seen in a patristic role among later Latin theologians.

Unfortunately, Tertullian allowed his passion to drive him further than it should. He often felt that the church was being too lenient with Christians who had openly sinned and later asked for forgiveness and re-admittance.

His tendency toward rigorism, perhaps even legalism, led him later in life to adopt an early form of Montanism due to its strict moral standards. He died 15 years later, removed from many he had influenced so greatly.

Why do you need to know Tertullian?

Have you ever used the word "Trinity" to speak of God? Do you speak of God existing as "three Persons, but one Being"? Those are terminology and phraseology that came from Tertullian attempting to explain deep theological truths in a way everyone could understand.

Not only did he coin the word, "Trinity," Tertullian also was the first to speak of Jesus as being one person with two natures. This allows us to better understand the incarnation and how it is that Jesus was both fully God and fully man.

He is often mistakenly judged to have believed that all philosophy was to be rejected by Christians. Rather, in On The Prescription of Heretics his rhetorical question  of "What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?" is a rejection of self-proclaiming Christians solely relying on philosophy to the exclusion of scripture.

He recognized that Christianity must be defended against attacks from the government and undermining from heresies. His most famous work, The Apology, rebuffs slanderous rumors about Christianity and appeals both theologically and practically to government officials for freedom.

While Americans almost take the idea of religious freedom for granted, that is a rather recent development that originated with Christians like Tertullian. He wrote, "You cannot parcel out freedom in pieces because freedom is all or nothing." Christians, like all citizens, he argued, deserved the freedom to worship and access to a fair trial.

One of his most famous quotes comes from an attempt to persuade officials with the ineffectiveness of martyring Christians. He assured Roman officials, "The more you mow us down, the more numerous we grow; the blood of Christians is seed (of the church)."

Despite the excesses that led Tertullian to embrace a group that later become fully heretical, he brought a needed corrective to the growing laxness of many church leaders. Ethical standards were beginning to wane and Tertullian recognized that Christians must remain different. They must be counter-cultural and focused on the welfare of others.

Bluntly, he wrote, "He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies."

That was not Tertullian. He did not live to benefit himself, but sought to better others and their walk with Christ. It was a loss for this world when he died around 225.

Thankfully he was such a prolific writer and we still have many of his writings today. From them we can learn who God is, how we can speak of Him more intelligently, yet clearly.

Tertullian has influenced the values that shaped the founding of the United States to the very words we use to speak about God.

Trivia Fact: Because of his fiery temper and argumentative nature, church historian Phillip Schaff wrote of Tertullian: "His polemics everywhere leave marks of blood. It is a wonder that he was not killed by the heathens, or excommunicated by the Catholics."


Would you like to write a guest blog for the Church History 101 series? Check out the list of 50 people, find one you would like to work on, then contact me via emailTwitter or Facebook.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Are you looking for Jesus in dead places?

We only gather at graveyards to mourn and remember those who have died. We don't go to cemeteries looking for life.

The angels asked the women gathered at Jesus' tomb, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" Even in first century Israel, people who were alive did not hang around places for the dead.

They were looking for Jesus in a place He would not be found.
"Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
That is still a relevant question for us today. Are we looking for Jesus among dead things?

There are two places in which we, like the women, can wrongly attempt to find Christ.

You don't go to the cemetery to find life. Photo from by Miguel Saavedra
Obviously, we all know the spiritual death that sin brings with it, so I don't want to focus on it. If we have sin in our life, we have to deal with that first and foremost. You will never find Jesus by looking at sin.

Outside of clear sin, however, there are two other areas in which we could be vainly searching for Jesus. Like the women, sometimes we need a reminder about where to seek Christ.

Good intentions

The women thought they were doing the right thing. They wanted to honor Jesus in finishing the preparations for his dead body. To them, this was a way to show respect and love to their friend and teacher who had been wrongly crucified.

How often do we believe Jesus will be pleased simply because "our heart is in the right place"? You can have sincere beliefs, but they could be sincerely wrong. While having good motives is definitely part of seeking Christ, it is not the entirety.

Difficult tasks

Imagine how hard it must have been for them emotionally to gather those burial spices and leave early on that first Easter Sunday believing they would be giving the final burial preparations for someone they loved and even believed to be the Messiah.

Sometimes, we feel as if our doing something that is hard for us means we are automatically pleasing God. He may call us to difficult jobs, but the difficulty does not lead us to Jesus by itself. Difficulty is no full proof measure of obedience or righteousness.

What the women missed

They had good intentions and what they were doing was surely difficult for them, but they were missing one important thing – right theology. 

If they had understood what Jesus had been telling them about why He came, to die for our sins and rise again to give us life, they would not have come to the grave ready to grieve. They would have been there to anticipating a celebration.

As a follower of Christ, we have to not only be concerned about our motives, our actions, but also with our theology. All the right intentions and tasks will not please God, if we they originate from false beliefs about Him.

If our theology is right, however, and it does not drive us to do the right things with the right heart, then our theology is worthless. All three are interdependent on each other and should all flow from the life of a Christian.

The women were looking for Jesus in a dead place because their theology had not given life to their motives and actions. Right theology should be life-giving and should show us where we can find Jesus.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Top 10 reasons I'm not the new pope

When I saw the white smoke ascending from the chimney in the Vatican, two thoughts ran through my mind. One, I'm glad the cardinals were basketball fans and wanted to finish up before the NCAA tournament started. Two, there goes yet another job I can't get.

Yes, I realize I'm a Baptist and the pope has to be Catholic, but I thought my resume warranted a bit of a leeway on that requirement. I have a theological degree. I wasn't a cardinal myself, but I cheered for my son's tee-ball team named the Cardinals. I've been to a Catholic church.

Also, the conclave did seem to think my suggestion of "Casual Friday" was something they could get behind. One day out of the week to put down the robe, hat and all the stuffiness of the official wardrobe and relax in some sweatpants, flip-flops, t-shirt and a trucker hat turned backwards. OK, maybe not the trucker hat.

Despite all my strong points, I started to wonder how really open they were to my election as Pope Luther I when the conclave all rolled their eyes, while calling for security, after I asked if I could put spinner rims on the pope-mobile.

Before I left, I asked if they could give me one good reasons why I should not be the Bishop of Rome. Shockingly enough, they gave me the top 10 reasons I'm not the new pope.

Sure, Pope Francis can have wings on his outfit, but pope-mobile spinner rims was
"pushing it too far?" I don't think so. Photo Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

Top 10 reasons I'm not the new pope

10. I enjoy being married, so there's that.

9. You try to get the papal conclave to do one little Harlem Shake video and everybody goes all crazy. I thought viral hit, but with the age of most of the cardinals, they thought violent hip.

8. The only Latin I can speak is of the pig variety. "An-cay I ear-way the ool-cay at-hay?"

7. One too many Manti Te'o jokes. Plus, I said Notre Dame was overrated.

6. I made a campaign promise to immediately issue a papal bull banning men's skinny jeans. Apparently, some of the cardinals are hipsters. Who knew?

5. They didn't seem to like my idea of using a March Madness style elimination tournament to determine who would be declared a saint.

4. They thought it was pushing it that I wanted to use my papal powers to demand baseball expand instant replay and remove the designated hitter.

3. I asked about changing up the wafers and wine in the eucharist to Snickers and Mountain Dew. I was even willing to allow Diet Dew for those seeking to lose a few pounds, but don't ask for the Snickers Peanut Butter Squares. That's just blasphemous.

2. My first order of business was going to be to declare as infallible church doctrine (ex cathedra) that yes, a tree falling in the woods does make a sound and it's stupid to even ask the question. Disagree? Excommunicated.

1. I requested that, instead of white smoke, they would announce my election via an Instagram photo of me trying to get in all the papal regalia with the caption "Popin' ain't easy."


What reason kept you from being elected as the leader of the Catholic Church at the most recent papal conclave? Unless, of course, you were elected Pope. In that case, welcome Pope Francis, I hope you possess a sense of humor as much as you seem to possess a sense of humility.

Just to break the joke for a moment and be serious, my thoughts as a Baptist echo those of Dr. Russell Moore. While I will continue to disagree with Roman Catholics over numerous theological reasons, I can be thankful for the contributions of the previous Pope and be in prayer for the current one.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Church History 101: Origen

Read the introduction to this series – 50 people you need to know: Church History 101

One of the more complicated figures in Church History, Origen's shadow looms large over Christianity through the Middle Ages.

While he is recognized as a Church Father and influential on biblical interpretation, the Catholic church refused to canonize him. Origen (185-254) was denied official recognition as a saint because of some beliefs that stretched beyond accepted orthodoxy.

Still, he was the most prolific thinker and writer of his day. His hundreds of works continue to influence Christian thought and the way we understand the Bible to this day.

One part heretic, one part apologist, all parts theologian, Origen is someone you assuredly need to know.

Origen being tortured for his faith.

Who was Origen?

Born to Christian parents near Alexandria, Origen was the oldest of seven children. He was taught the faith by his father Leonides, who was martyred in 202. His mother hiding his clothes prevented 17-year-old Origen from rushing out to die alongside Leonides.

To help support his family, Origen opened a grammar school and began to teach those training for the ministry. He studied under a pagan philosopher, so as to better understand the arguments against Christianity.

As his school exploded in growth, Origen noticed a desire to better understand Scripture by himself and others. Fueled by this passion, Origen worked for 20 years on the massive Hexapla, a six-column text that contained the Hebrew Bible and five Greek interpretations.

He spent much of his adult life bouncing back and forth from Alexandria to Caesarea. While his school and his childhood home was in the Egyptian city, he was often in conflict with Demetrius, the bishop there.

During the last 20 years of his life, Origen alternately refuted heretics and defended himself from charges of heresy. He confronted many of those contradicting Christian doctrine. "Now the true soldiers of Christ must always be prepared to do battle for the truth," he said, "and must never, so far as lies with them, allow false convictions to creep in."

He challenged beliefs in adoptionism (Jesus was born strictly human, but was adopted as divine after his baptism) and soul sleep (the soul lays unaware with the body after death until the resurrection), but held to his own unorthodox positions.

For various reasons, Origen lived most of his life above the threat of persecution, but at the age of 69 the wish of his 17-year-old self was granted. After suffering excruciating torture for three years, due to the government officials seeking to extract a recantation from him, Origen died as a result of injuries he sustained while a prisoner for his faith.

Why do you need to know Origen?

Origen was characterized by complexity. On many issues, he was one of the most dedicated defender of orthodoxy. Bishops would bring Origen to their towns to teach truth and rebut the false teachings of Gnostics and others. Yet, he varied from accepted church doctrine in several aspects.

While much of his conflict with Demetrius was personal, a church synod and council did condemn his teaching. He believed that all souls have always existed and fell into sin prior to their being connected to a body. Most troubling was his belief that the Trinity was a hierarchy extending down from the Father, not a relational equality eternally existing between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There is also a distinct thread of universalism through Origen's writings. He famously said, "The power of choosing good and evil is within the reach of all." For Origen, that even extended to Satan and the demons. He believed even they, along with all humans, would eventually be restored to Christ. "God puts Christ's enemies as a footstool beneath His feet, for their salvation as well as their destruction."

Despite these lapses, Origen was possibly the Church's first true theologian and Bible scholar, as he established a manner of biblical interpretation that dominated Christianity for hundreds of years. His primary work, On First Principles, managed to meld Greek philosophy and biblical exegesis to develop a Christian philosophy.

While, most today would not accept allegorical understanding of Bible passages to the extent Origen did, he helped us to look at Scripture as a living document. He saw the entire Bible, including the Old Testament, as perpetually relevant. He taught the prophets knew about the Messiah they were predicting.
"For if the mystery concealed of old is made manifest to the Apostles through the prophetic writings, and if the prophets, being wise men, understood what proceeded from their own mouths, then the prophets knew what was made manifest to the Apostles."
Despite his massive intellect and immense talents, Origen remained humble about his own knowledge and the extent any of our knowledge can stretch into knowing God fully.
"For whatever be the knowledge which we are able to obtain of God, either by perception or reflection, we must of necessity believe that He is by many degrees far better than what we perceive Him to be."
He recognized that idolatry was not actually centered in a pagan temple, but a wayward heart.
What each one honors before all else, what before all things he admires and loves, this for him is God.
Origen sought to expand Christian influence in academic realms and develop a biblical systematic theology and philosophy. We owe much to Origen's tireless efforts and unquenchable thirst for more knowledge of God and His Word.

Odd Trivia Fact: Origen was such a prolific author that Ambrose, one of the wealthier Church Fathers, paid to have seven secretaries record Origen's dictated writing. Origen kept them all busy. Fellow Church Father, Jerome asked, only half-joking, "Has anyone read everything that Origen wrote?"

Would you like to write a guest blog for the Church History 101 series? Check out the list of 50 people, find one you would like to work on, then contact me via emailTwitter or Facebook.

Monday, March 11, 2013

3 reasons The Bible series has to include the rough parts

As History Channel's The Bible miniseries moves along, it enters the area of the Bible where things aren't quite clean and sanitary.

Judges is a book full of bad choices and worse results. The conquering of the promised land was not pretty. Not every character is squeaky clean.

The Bible decided to portray these aspects on television. Obviously, they didn't go explicit, but they did not shy away from showing the mistakes made by biblical "heroes" or the violence that was commonplace in their battles over land.

Some claimed to be offended that The Bible would glorify violence or showcase Rahab the prostitute. They accused History Channel of trying to use those to drive up ratings.

That is an odd claim, since the opening episode of The Bible was the most watched scripted program on television this year. I don't think it needs sex or violence to gin up an audience.

I do, however, believe that The Bible made the correct decision in showing the violence involved and portraying someone like Rahab. There are three reasons why those things have to be included in an accurate presentation of the the Bible.

Why include stories like Rahab's in The Bible miniseries?

1. It's true.

The Bible claims to be a historical book. People from the three major monotheistic religions take the Old Testament to be an accurate representation of the facts of that time period.

Since The Bible claims to tell the story of its namesake, it needs to include those events or ones similar to them. They are actually in the Bible.

Battles were bloody and violent. David cut off Goliath's head. Samson crushed enemies with various homemade weapons. Joshua and the Israelites destroyed cities, occasionally even killing the women and children.

You cannot tell the story of the Bible without being accurate to the source material, which does contain those types of scenes.

2. It demonstrates the reality of man.

Man exists simultaneously as the only being in existence to be created in the image of God, to be divine image bearers, yet also to be fallen and twisted from our original design.

When the Bible shows the actions and even thoughts of men and women, it makes that dual fact very clear.

The fact that battles and killing occur show that man is fallen. Prostitutes have a business because man has twisted God's design for sex. Even death is a reality, only because of the fall of man.

The good that is described in Scripture is there to point both backwards and forward. It points back to the way things were when God created everything. While it also points forward to the way things will be when God completes the redemption and restoration of His creation.

The Bible needs to show man in a positive and negative light because he exists as a fallen creature who still retains remnants of God's image.

3. It makes it evident that grace has been the plan since the beginning.

Many are under the false assumption that Jesus was a last resort plan. God had to come up with something because man screwed things up, as if it wasn't until around 2,000 years ago that the Father thought about sending the Son down to save us.

That is not the case at all. Revelation describes Jesus as being the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. This was God's plan to bring us back into a right relationship with Him from the beginning and we see that in the Old Testament.

The Bible allows us to see that with people like Rahab the prostitute. She's a foreigner, a prostitute from one of the cities the Israelites conquered on their way to the promised land. Rahab doesn't deserve salvation.

That is entirely true. She doesn't deserve it, but she gets it anyway. Not only that, but she is placed into the lineage of the coming King David and the incarnate King of kings and Lord of lords. She is part of Jesus' ancestry.

Seeing Rahab there reminds us that grace is here. That is a great thing.

What did you enjoy most about The Bible's second episode? Are there any other reasons that they should have included the frailties and feebleness of man?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Godly guilt gifts: story Bibles for kids that can't read

Every church I have ever been a member of prides itself on giving presents to kids for their accomplishments.

It could be for a plethora (who doesn't love the word "plethora") of events: baptism, kindergarten graduation, finishing Sword drill, potty training. Well, maybe the parents get the prize for the last one.

But what always makes me laugh is that when some baby or toddler is "dedicated to the Lord," the baby always gets a present. The best part is that almost always, the present is some kind of storybook Bible.

"Didn't you promise the whole church to read me my Bible?"
Who started this tradition, Thomas Nelson himself or whoever had the misfortune of being named Zondervan?

For starters, the baby will have no recollection of the event or their gift, outside of being able to look back at the photos and videos of the all different relatives in the audience.

Their only "memory" will be from the shaky, grainy video Aunt Linda took with her cell phone and the photos Uncle Bob shot, including the one of his face because he had his new camera turned the wrong way and the one with his finger in front of the lens.

Secondly, the baby can't read. Well, unless the baby is one of those kids from the "Your Baby Can Read" commercials. If that's the case, hopefully you've already bought them some kind of Bible.

Shame on you if you paid big money to get some flash card system to teach your tiny infant to recognize words and didn't think about getting them a Bible!

But if the baby is like most babies, it can't read, so what good is the storybook? This is a godly guilt gift (or the dreaded G3) for the parents disguised as a present for their child.

"Here you go parents. Of course, we assume you are already daily reading God's word to your 3-month-old, but here's a gift for them, you know, just in case. It is now your responsibility to read this heavily edited, mushy, Disney version of the Bible to your baby every night. Why at night? Because that's when good parents read to their children."

I have two older boys, so they aren't really into anything that sounds mushy. Any story that sounds like it might at some point involve a princess is not welcome at bedtime reading. Unless the princess is named Peach and she's been captured by a giant fire-breathing ... um ... turtle ... lizard ... dragon(?) named Bowser.

I feel like I'm going to have to write my own Bible storybook for them. It would have stories like Ehud the left-handed assassin, Jael the stay-at-home mom/slayer of evil army generals, and, of course, Elisha and the hockey stick wielding bears. (That sounds like it could work as a movie title. Does anyone have a "connection," so we can make this happen?)

So, the parents get a gender-appropriate colored gift bag with said Fairy Tale Bible inside it and then the congregation is asked to pledge to help the parents raise their child in a Christlike way.

It sounds almost like an official ceremony with yea's and verily's. The legalese gets to the point where some college guy is freaking out.

He's this close to yelling, "I object" and apologizing to the parents for not being ready for the responsibility to help them train their child "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." He's mumbling under his breath, "I can't even pick a major at college and I suppose to help raise someone else's kids?"

The ceremony ends, the Bible is sent home with the parents. Then the pastor waits to see if his plan has worked.

How does he know if the guilt has been tripped? He sees the Bible in the diaper bag, so the baby can be counted as having brought their Bible to church. Boom.

How does the pastor know if the guilt trip really worked? When the baby is older, they have their very own carrying case to bring the gift Bible to church with them.

That's a G3 win. Or G-cubed. Maybe a 3G? How about Gggwinning?

Using a made up ceremony to guilt parents into reading the Bible to their children is all kinds of gggwinning, at least for the pastor and that man named LifeWay.

Does your church give out Bibles to preliterate children? What other godly guilt gifts have you seen during church services?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rebutting atheist critics, curing AIDS is Kingdom work

If you were to believe many of the devout atheists, Christians have made and continue to make no contributions to the advancement of medicine. In the atheist's version of the Christian faith, followers of Jesus must reject both sin and science.

Thankfully, the caricature of the science-hating Christian put forth by Richard Dawkins and others evangelistic atheists is as real as the Flying Spaghetti Monster some have used in an attempt to lampoon God.

If you needed further proof, Hannah Gay gives you all that you need.

Dr. Gay is a missionary turned doctor, an unassuming Bible drill teacher who just became a medical rockstar, as her treatment plan appears to have functionally cured a child of AIDS.

While her work is grounded in hard science and empirical data, it also flows from her faith in Christ and compassion on those hurting.

Many atheists may have been shocked to find out a Christian was the one to discover the medical breakthrough, but fighting against diseases is entirely Christlike. After all, Jesus spent much of the limited time He had here on Earth curing people of sicknesses.

Jesus' healing work was not random or happenstance. It was intentional, introducing the arrival of the Kingdom, letting everyone know that the restoration process had begun.

Christians are to pray for and work toward the realization of God's Kingdom on this planet. Jesus taught us to pray that God's will would be done here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Sickness is not part of God's creation and will not be included in Heaven. It only came about after the fall. Sin brought sickness into this world. The Savior sought to remove it, to reverse the curse that we invited here.

Gay's work is God's work. Fighting against AIDS and other life-threatening diseases reflect the will of our Father. 

Those Christians, how many there may have been, in previous generations who believed that working to cure certain diseases like AIDS was attempting to undermine God's judgment didn't understand God, His Kingdom and the work He has placed us here to accomplish.

One cannot welcome both God's Kingdom and sin's curse. Those two can never permanently coexist. Where God's Kingdom is present, the curse of sin is being vanquished, including ailments in our bodies.

Obviously, there is more to the work than simply seeking a cure for physical illnesses. We are, most importantly, called to proclaim Christ as the only remedy to our spiritual death, but that does not preclude us from contributing to the end of other aspects of the curse, like specific diseases.

As a missionary in Africa with her husband during the height of the AIDS epidemic there, Gay saw the need for both – physical and spiritual healing.

Followers of Christ should recognize death as an enemy and anything that brings it about as an accomplice worthy of our raging against it.

True and proper Christian theology encourages any and all medical and scientific advancements that encourage a healthy life, provided those advancements are obtained through ethical means. Destroying one life to help another life is not the manner in which God would have us look to the realization of His Kingdom.

Fighting and curing AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer's and every other disease is not contrary to the Christian faith. On the contrary, it should be a goal of it.

In working to end AIDS in children, Dr. Hannah Gay is striving toward the advancement of God's Kingdom, just as she was on the missionary field. May every Christian similarly work in the power of the Holy Spirit to reverse sin's curse and redeem God's creation in the test tube and beyond, wherever He may lead.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Church History 101: Irenaeus

Read the Introduction to this series – 50 people you need to know: Church History 101

[Guest post by Josh Strickland]

Irenaeus (130-200; pronounced eer-uh-NAY-us) was the bishop of Lyons (in modern day France) during the last quarter of the 2nd century. Irenaeus was a follower of Polycarp, who was already covered in this series.

Bishop, author, and missionary, Irenaeus led the push to solidify unity within the church: recognizing which books were divinely inspired as Scripture, defending the faith against the heresy of Gnosticism, and setting up doctrinal foundations to hold the faithful for centuries to come.

Irenaeus is someone you definitely need to know.

Who was Irenaeus?

Very little is known about the life of Irenaeus; much more is known about him through his writings. Accounts relate that Irenaeus grew up in a Christ-following family in or near Smyrna, where Polycarp was bishop.

The opportunity to hear Polycarp was commonplace for Irenaeus, who joyfully recounts listening to Polycarp's teaching and preaching. Over some time, Irenaeus became one of the elders of the church in Lugdunum, or Lyons.

The church suffered through heavy persecution under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, yet the church still sent Irenaeus to Rome with a letter concerning Montanism. This trip changed his life, as the rest of the elders in Lyons were killed from the persecution while Irenaeus was still in Rome. After returning to Lyons, Irenaeus was made bishop of Lyons, where he served for most (if not all) of the rest of his life.

Irenaeus wrote two major books: Against Heresies, a five book volume which was a mixture of an defense against Gnosticism (particularly against the Valentinian sect) with a systematic and doctrinal theology, and Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, a much shorter work that was mostly a summary of the theology portions from Against Heresies.

He wrote several other works, but most of what we know about these works is solely from other early Church Fathers references to them. Jerome and others claim that Irenaeus was martyred under the persecution of Septimus Severus (ca. 202), but no evidence has been found to verify the claim. We don't know how, but he died and was buried under the church building in Lyons.

Why do you need to know Irenaeus?

If Polycarp is Obi-Wan Kenobi, then Irenaeus is Luke Skywalker. The ever faithful defender of the church, there was no one else so pointedly staunch and able to defend Christianity from the growing heretical sects in the region. And where Polycarp began the idea of codifying the New Testament books together, Irenaeus finished the claim.

The central aspect of Irenaeus' legacy is assuredly his most important impact in the church: the regula fidei. Translated as "rule of faith," the regula fidei is the Christ-centered summary of the grand narrative of Scripture. While these ideas or phrases may be familiar to modern Christians, they originated with Irenaeus.

This rule of faith wasn't secret by any means; the rule of faith was the summation doctrines that every Christian believed and publicly proclaimed. These publicly-claimed oral traditions formed the basis for right teaching, defense of the faith, proclamation of new belief and apostolic succession.

When Marcion decided to cut the entire Old Testament and most of the current apostolic writings from his "scripture," the alarm sounded that it was not only necessary to determine which books and letters were to be included in the canon of Christian Scripture, but also why they were to be included.

It is here where the regula fidei stands its ground. Irenaeus was adamant that the four Gospels we currently have – and only those four, compared to other "Gospels" – were divinely inspired.
"The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars, everywhere breathing out incorruption and revivifying men. From this it is clear that the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by one Spirit." Against Heresies 3.11.8 
The regula fidei served as the baseline for weeding through the entirety of books and letters to draw out and hold together the inspired books we have today, even if the canon of New Testament books wasn't finalized during Irenaeus' time.

As Valentinus grew his sect of Gnosticism, he claimed that only the Gnostics had acquired a secret oral tradition from the apostles that proved Gnosticism to be correct. However, this was in direct conflict with the regula fidei, and Irenaeus proved through public knowledge that the appointments of all of the current bishops could be traced back to the apostles or those associated with the apostles, that no one in those succession lines had taught anything differently than what was agreed upon in the regula fidei, and that any secret oral tradition smacked against the whole purpose and mission of Christ Jesus.

Irenaeus added that even more important than the actual line of succession of bishops and elders from the apostles was the succession of the rule of faith from the apostles – their teaching and preaching.
"But the followers of Valentinus, putting away all fear, bring forward their own compositions and boast that they have more Gospels than really exist. Indeed their audacity has gone so far that they entitle their recent composition the Gospel of Truth, though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the apostles, and so no Gospel of theirs is free from blasphemy. For if what they produce is the Gospel of Truth, and is different from those which the apostles handed down to us, those who care to can learn how it can be show from the Scriptures themselves that [then] what is handed down from the apostles is not the Gospel of Truth." Against Heresies 3.11.9 
The rule of faith also found itself the basis for oral and written creeds. The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed have been profoundly popular and useful over the centuries, and both of these are heavily grounded in what was agreed to be the rule of faith considered by Irenaeus.

Odd Trivia Fact: The Protestant Huguenots in Southern France, completely destroyed both Irenaeus' tomb and remains in 1562. Oops.

Today's post was written by Josh Strickland. If you would like to write a guest post for the Church History 101 series, check out the list of 50 people and let me know via email, Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, March 4, 2013

An unexpected lesson from History Channel's The Bible

Millions of people, Christians and not, tuned in to see the premiere of the History Channel's new miniseries The Bible. It will continue each Sunday until the final episodes air the night of Easter.

From all accounts, Mark Burnett, along with his wife Roma Downey, from Touched By An Angel, have produced a high quality and faithful abbreviated adaptation of Scripture.

For Burnett, the man behind Survivor, The Voice and other popular reality TV fare, and his wife, this was a labor of love and an outgrowth of their Christian faith.

It garnered headlines around the globe and become the number one trending topic on Twitter, which means that not only were people watching it, they were talking about it and engaging with it. That is without a doubt a great thing.

Regular Americans, even Christians, have a hard time with basic Bible knowledge, much less seeing the entire book as a cohesive story that weaves smaller units into a much larger whole. Hopefully, this miniseries can help correct some of that.

My hope, however, is that it not only inspires Christians to read and know the stories of the Bible, but that it drives us to create new stories. It's time we became storytellers again.

Christianity continues to explode across Africa, South America and Asia, in so-called "hard places." Often, this comes with creative means of sharing the Gospel. One of the most effective ways is essentially what The Bible is doing – telling the grand story of Scripture in the form of smaller, interconnected stories.

Storying enables missionaries to exponentially spread their faith as stories stick with listeners, who can then share the same story with someone else. These stories display truths from the individual accounts, but they also point to the Truth personified in Jesus.

Unfortunately, many in the Western church have moved away from using stories at all, content with merely teaching practical truths. While there is always a place for that, we hinder our reach when we only teach and speak of truth propositionally.

Think of the Bible. Christians regard it as God's Word. He has revealed Himself to us through this book, which is over 70 percent narrative. The majority of the way God has chosen to show Himself is through stories.

We remember the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac. That
story connects with us on an emotional level, making it easy to remember.
When Jesus came as God in flesh, how did He choose to speak to people? Often times, He spoke in stories – parables and illustrations.

God recognizes that stories connect with us on a deep, emotional level that goes beyond merely agreeing with an argument that may be presented. Psychologically, we are much more likely to accept truth when it is presented in story form.

C.S. Lewis, as someone who knew a good bit about both stories and rational arguments, spoke of the use of stories to convey truth in terms of "stealing past the watchful dragons." People have their guards up when they feel as if you are trying to convince them, but they are much more relaxed and open when they hear a good story.

Recognizing all of this, why are Christians still so reluctant to take their talents to Hollywood or a broader cultural context? In discussing the effective apologetic work, Lewis encourages Christians to not write "more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent."

Can I expand that to say we don't really need more Christian fiction, but more fiction by Christians with their Christianity serving as the foundation for the story. Can we not write stories that convey spiritual truth without casting it as a blatant Christian story?

The characters in Jesus' parables were most often ordinary people in situations the audience would recognize. For too long, Christians have only sought to make stories with fake characters in unrecognizable circumstances. Our stories, unlike those of Jesus and the Bible itself, often fail to resonate with audiences.

The Bible miniseries is a great way to show millions of people stories from Scripture in an engaging way. That is not the only way, however. Here is where we follow our Creator in being creative and communicating our faith in a compelling manner through riveting stories.

Even if you can't create grand imaginary stories like Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, you do have a story that you can tell better than anyone else. If nothing else, tell that story well.

While the History Channel's series will hopefully encourage many to know their Bible better, I hope it will inspire Christians to tell stories that will cause people to know our Savior better.

What stories can you tell that speak of Truth? In what ways can The Bible inspire us to be original and creative in the way we present God's Word to those around us?

Friday, March 1, 2013

2013 Bible Oscar Awards

Now that the Oscars are finished, we can all stop pretending we know about these random movies that no one has even heard of with unknown characters and unbelievable plot lines – like Lincoln.

Seriously, what an odd name for a fictional president and who would actually believe that an actor could kill the president? Next, you are going to tell me that an actor could someday be the president. Just crazy stuff.

But what if the Academy of Biblical Scholars gave out their own "Academy Awards" for Bible characters like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science hand out the Oscars?

First, there would actually have to be an Academy of Biblical Scholars, but that's only a minor setback because I've got a Bible and I just graduated with a Master of Divinity degree. That should be all I need to declare myself the President of the new Academy of Biblical Scholars, right?

So, as President of the prestigious Academy of Biblical Scholars, I'd like to welcome you to the most highly anticipated awards blog since ... the last most highly anticipated awards blog – the 2013 Bible Oscar Award Show.

Here are your winners.

Sometimes, the Bible Oscar red carpet can get a bit chaotic ... and idolatrous.

Best Actor: David 

Slobbering, insane King David in Dude, Where's My Kingdom (1 Samuel 21:10-15)

"I wasn't sure I would ever receive this award as I was mostly known for my work as an action hero in Facing The Giant and a comedian with my friend Jonathan in the buddy film So, Your Dad Is Trying to Kill Me.

The only way for me to break out of that type cast was to go completely off the wall, so I knew this role was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was also the only way to extend my lifetime, so there's also that. But anyway, thanks Academy for finally recognizing my work! And Jack Palance, your one-armed push-ups don't impress me."

Best Actress: Tamar

Widow turned prostitute turned royal ancestor in Pretty Widow (Genesis 38)

"After not being recognized for There's Something About MiriamMy Best Friend's Bar MitzvahWhen Habakkuk Met Salome, Big Fat Hebrew Wedding and Sleepless in Shiloh, I never thought I could garner any attention for awards in romantic comedies. But here I am on stage with this statue in my hands. I can't believe it. You like me! You really like me! I mean after the way my father-in-law and previous two husbands treated me, I was worried a bit that that no one actually did like me."

Best Director: Moses

Leading man leading the people of out Israel, director of Planes, Trains and Auto-fitting Sandals (Exodus, um ... the whole book)

Hey James Cameron! Who's the king of the world now?
*Slams staff down, splitting the entire auditorium in half* "Take that Roberto Benigni! I didn't walk over the seats. I walked through them. Seriously, I would like to thank all the members of the Academy for this great honor. I feel like this somewhat makes up for Cecil B. Demille and the Ten Commandments being robbed in the 1957 Oscars.

Having led an extremely ungrateful assortment of people to the promised land should provide me with great preparation should I ever hope to host the film version of the Oscars, since the entire audience is full of people complaining about what they didn't get and way too eager to bow down before a gold statue."

Awards received earlier

These aren't shown live because let's be honest: these aren't like real Oscars. These are just pretend Oscars that no one ever gets to see or care about.

Best Song: David for The Harpist – He had so many songs, he was the only one nominated.

Best Editing: Paul's amanuensis for Fear and Loathing in Jerusalem – Seriously, we all know pastors are long winded, but he was able to keep Paul's letter concise.

Best Supporting Actress: Jarius' daughter for Back To The Living II – The Oscar always has to go to the really young girl or the really old lady for this award.

Best Supporting Actor: Methuselah for Extremely Old School – See above.

Best Screenplay: Jesus for Good Will Healing – Nobody saw the twists coming in The Good Samaritan or The Prodigal Son.

Who was snubbed? Who didn't deserve their award? What award should have been given? Who looked the worst on the red goatskin carpet? 

Here's your chance to sound-off on the 2013 Bible Oscar Awards Show after-party, wrap-up extravaganza, also known as the comment section.