Archive for April, 2012

Z is for Zeal

Posted in A to Z with tags on April 30, 2012 by Alex

Z is a very shy letter that rarely interacts with our vocabulary on a daily basis.  We always say from “A-Z” (actually we don’t even say that very much) and it’s here that Z gets its greatest exposure.  The number 0 is, by contrast, very popular and it’s here Z could get some much needed press, but sadly the number is more meaningful as a typed out hole rather than a word.

So if I were to give “z” some attention, it would be with the word “zeal”  because one of my life’s central struggles has been in the lack of this property.  But this past season (especially in the A-Z challenge), I have begun to see a turnaround.  I’ll preface this with saying I cannot give glory to myself or to some man, but all of my praise and hope is in the Lord that made and saved me.  I’ll also say I cannot fathom it.  I don’t understand what particularly is the purpose of this blessing because I don’t know the future.  Sometimes I think something big, either wonderful or terrible, is about to happen and I’m simply being prepared for it.  Other times I think I’m being prepared to share the blessing with others.  However, I really shouldn’t be so naive as to think that two possibilities can, or even should, be separated from one another.

Watch any body builder lift a weight, drop it to its original position, and then lift it again.  You’ll see him exhale, always in the exertion of lifting, and inhale in the relax of  the drop.  On a physiological level, the man must inhale so he can exhale.  But there’s also a special property of exhalation in that it tightens the muscles and prepares them to be used.  At the heart level, the man relaxes and grounds himself in the humbling security of each drop, but expresses that confidence in the reaching forward of the lift.  Each side must give to the other and the more it gives the greater amount it can receive in return only to give it back again.  The relationship between the two creates a forward momentum that is simply beautiful because of its sacrificial nature.

In the same way, zeal is the resultant action of what has been built up in faith and finds its own increase by supporting the building up of its origin in faith.  For myself, I am just beginning to experience the exhale and power of zeal.  In my earlier years, I was never one to openly reject the gospel but was dead (at best shriveled) in faith.  I do remember the night in Oct ’09 where I found that faith sealed and brought to life.  The night where I knew who I was in the eyes of God.  Yet since then it’s mostly been one steady long inhale of faith with a few polite coughs along the way in the utilization of that faith.

Recently in the last six months I have begun to sing.  When it started I thought it was an accident.  But to my bewilderment it’s gotten louder and more apparent.  This half a year has not been easy in the least, in fact it’s been one of the most arduous because of major lifestyle shifts.  Since the taking on my new job and the leaving of my original community, I feel crushed by isolation and ceaselessly bombarded to fall back into my old ways.  But I’ve also had an experience of zeal for God and His people.  I don’t just want to read my Bible every day, but with eagerness I seek to be transformed by it every day.  I am always unsatisfied in the failings to give out my heart to others and yet I find security in the example and promise of almighty God who lives inside of me.  I am excited when convicted of sin so that God’s glory might be radiated in the trenches of my life.  I am emboldened in faith when I see the victory of the Spirit in cutting through people’s insecurities and doubts through the active expression of blessings for which I was created.  This is a very strange thing!

At the tail end of this A-Z challenge,  I can openly say I do not know where this blog is headed.  And yet I cannot care at all that I don’t know.  Let’s just keep on going.


Y is for Yeshua

Posted in A to Z with tags , on April 28, 2012 by Alex

This is a poem I wrote some years back and I would like to share it with all of you.






It’s early. I found my son sleeping,

full of peace.

His room’s cold but he does not whimper.

He is strong.

His hands and feet are tightly strung from

years of work.

He’s used them, suffered with them, to bring

in the sheep

and to delicately deliver

their children.

It’s sunrise.  The light colors his flesh

dark and scarred.

His eyes bid good morning and begin

a new day.

X is for X

Posted in A to Z with tags , , on April 27, 2012 by Alex

X is the unofficial handle of a certain YouTube user who submits recordings of him playing video games with funny commentary.  To the initiated, these are called “Let’s Plays” and X did not invent them.  But he, along with a few others LPers, was responsible for a sizable portion of Minecraft’s explosive growth.

If you have any interest in Minecraft, I’d recommend you watch some of his adventures through the game.  Now this is, notably, from an earlier version but they are all fun, informative, and entertaining.  As X learns and triumphs and fails and learns, we learn along with him.  And it’s mostly clean from what I remember.  Here’s the first episode:

I do wonder where the future of Let’s Plays will head in the future.  StarCraft is a televised, national sport in South Korea because it’s so ingrained into their culture.  Minecraft may never reach that level of popularity, but I’m curious to see if people like X could make a decent living just off producing Let’s Plays.

W is for World of Warcraft

Posted in A to Z with tags , on April 26, 2012 by Alex

I don’t play WoW anymore because of X.  WoW was so much better when Y wasn’t nerfed.  Let’s get beyond that.  I had me some glory days (100 days of playtime, methinks) in ‘ole Azeroth and I thought I’d share some of my highlights with you.

I played as a Night Elf Druid named Ashrandhaar on the Gorefiend server.  As fun as it might have been for some to blaze through the leveling experience, I found great satisfaction in familarizing myself with the lore of the world.  Because I took so long, I was never able to level any other character’s anywhere near the game’s level cap.

Now there were (and are) lots of things to do in the World of Warcraft, but I was more excited than anything by the people I played with.  None of them (aside from the one I brought in) I’ve ever met in real life, but we all found ourselves loyally bound to our own guild called “Clan Moon Wolf.”  So this will be something of a roll call (let’s not expect this to be comprehensive or even justified, I still treasure you if you’re off the list):

Ulwin: He played as a Night Elf hunter, formed the guild, and ran it for quite some time.  Ulwin always made it a point to lead the guild with gentleness.  Ulwin was more concerned with keeping the guild open as opposed to keeping the guild at the front of our server’s progression.  So we were years behind everyone else, but we were actually friends.  Love this man to death.

Pawlaar:  Mouthy wonder of a man.  Very funny.  Played as a Night Elf warrior and led the guild once Ulwin stepped down.  Paw was good at leading raids and persevered in the face of repeated defeat.  Also, he was pretty good at PvP (player vs player as opposed to player vs environment where you’re fighting the computer).  Loved to kill Horde players.  Also Slovakian.

Diran: A friend of Paw’s who played in Slovakia.  He would sometimes stay up very late just so he could play with us over here in the US.  Played a Night Elf Rogue and also loved to kill the Horde.

Veneerous: A little gnomish rogue.  Wonderful man who got caught cheating and was banned from the server.  This didn’t stop him from wanting to play with us so he leveled up a dwarven priest.

Butterchubs: Hah!  One of my good friends in real life.  Played a dwarven priest.  Did not only love killing Horde players, but loved to ruin their days.  I love this man and his hugs.

Chibitenshi: Human warrior.  One of our ladies.  Dear, dear girl who we all loved and protected.

Hothar: Human Paladin and was a constant source of wisdom.

Squeeky:  The other lady.  When she got on our voice server all of us were awkward for a while, but eventually she became one of our own.  Played a gnomish warlock.

Phyndel: Gnomish mage.  Friend of Hothar and to the whole guild.  Also willing to say the hard thing when nobody else was willing to lose face.

Hybar: Hothar’s son and played a gnomish mage.  Expert gymnast in real life.

Dotrianna:  Never heard the man’s voice but he was exceptionally witty.  I would not be surprised if he has written a score of novels all under different pen names.  Played a Night Elf Hunter and a Druid.

I like the idea of crawling through dungeons, but I delight in it with friends.  The World of Warcraft continued on after Ulwin, myself, and Chubs (and I’m not sure, maybe most of them) quit playing the game.  But this was the game for us – a loyal band of pals out to kill dragons and claim treasure.

V is for Valve Corporation

Posted in A to Z with tags , , , , on April 25, 2012 by Alex

Incoming, unverifiable gush: Valve Corporation is the most prestigious of all video game developers.  We might be able to compare Valve to Pixar in terms of respectability, but that wouldn’t be fair.  Because Valve didn’t release Cars 2.  Pixar did.  Valve is privately owned and has no disinterested board of fat cats that lead them into ruin (ie: most successful developers).  They are in it to make games.  They do no care that their product is delayed for months (nay, years) at a time because they want to get it right.  They do not care to appeal to everyone (ie: Granny and her beloved Nintenbox) but somehow manage to appeal to everyone anyway (ie: Portal).

Valve also brought us Steam.  Steam, while buggy and harsh in its initial release (disregard any comment in the previous paragraph that might imply their having attained perfection), but has to come to be one of the best ways to play and find games on your computer.  Frequently Steam has amazing deals.  It gets particularly wild around the yearly celebration of Christ’s birth (discounts as low as 90% sometimes).

More importantly, Valve has brought us very good games.  I won’t be able to rave about their multiplayer games because I don’t play those.  People (ie: everyone including me) have black hearts and radiate their true colors behind the far end of an internet connection.  So Valve, as good as they are, can’t manage to fix people like Christ can.  That would make them oddly normal.  Which is okay.  I don’t shoot the lady who cuts my hair because she is not the bread of life.  But I will make sure to tip her and point people her way.

But I do adore their Half-Life(s) and their Portal(s) and their Left 4 Dead(s) and they are each wonderful in their own ways.

Half-Life(s):  You play the theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman who is out to save the world (multiple times) from an oppressive extraterrestrial force.  Freeman is completely mute through the games (even in the interaction with side characters) so you can actually put on Freeman as an identity.  Many games attempt this, but, outside of the Half-Life(s), I’ve yet to encounter any that are as wonderfully bound up within the DNA of the games themselves.  Half-Life is a game about shooting aliens and commandos, but on a deeper level it’s about free will and destiny.  And we see these subjects touched in each portion of the gameplay with the focus and deviation on trains, on the complete absence of objective cutscenes, and the violently still, cathartic interactions with the mysterious G-Man in the game endings.  (Note: Freeman is never a free man, except when the player lives out their own freedom through his digital chains.)

Left 4 Dead(s):  You have a gun, shoot some zombies.  Pick a character and it doesn’t actually matter but it actually does.  If you want to play the squirrely white girl you can and if you want to play the beefy black guy with a tude you can and if you want to play the redneck teenager you can and if you want to play the grizzled war veteran with half a soul you can and it totally doesn’t limit or change your ability to shoot zombies.  Wonderful.  Suck in the life of these people’s struggles with a Shiner and three friends.  Enjoy.

Portal(s):   You are Chell.  No last name.  Left click and out pops a blue portal.  Right click and out pops an orange portal.  These are linked holes that upon passing through one will always lead you out the other (momentum always being conserved).  You are expected to perform test experiments by the very (ahem) colorful AI GLaDOS.  The Portal games are also notorious for their sharp wit and black comedy but have the maturity to not lean on that comedy.  Portal 2 had the chance to cannibalize the humor from its lightning in a bottle predecessor, but took the high road with a whole new funny set of tools.  Sometimes the first game is actually free on Steam.  Get it if you have any interest in things with plugs.

U is for Urinals

Posted in A to Z with tags , on April 24, 2012 by Alex

If you go into a men’s public bathroom, you’ll notice the proclivities of the male mind-set just by how things are arranged.  Little color.  A mirror (ideally not cracked, but even those will suffice) to ensure that you don’t have a straggler sticking out of your nose.  A sink preferably with the hot and cold labeled as they were meant to be.  A few, maybe three, stalls.  The set of stalls will always have a wheelchair compliant one that is perfect for taking a nap in if you don’t snore and possess good balance.  It will probably also have a urinal.  And if you see a gentleman using the urinal closest to the sink, you use the far sink.  In choosing a urinal, you give yourself maximum clearance so as to avoid eye contact.

I wish there could be some research done on it, but I believe that white American men are very awkward and insecure about their having to use public restrooms.  If you go into a public bathroom, eye contact will always be minimal.  It’s not merely that there is no use recognizing the presence of other friends there, it’s just that many of us white American men avoid it.

Exchanges of dialogue are probably limited to the cordial gravity of, “Hey, how are you.”  Notice how this is a statement and not a question.  When we say this to other men (especially in a public bathroom), we don’t really want to know the answer.  But out of social custom, we do it so we’re not labeled outsiders.  The answer could very well be a, “Hey.”  “Hey” is more than sufficient as a reply.  Notice how it does nothing to really answer the original question.  It simply is a way to keep the balance of normalcy.  And once you actually go and expose yourself to the porcelain nothing, you don’t want to be interrupted.  The only thing you might be doing is reading the motivational poster in front of you.  Sometimes making a connection between what is being done and what the poster indicates (such as “perseverance”) is humorous.  But it’s usually forgotten within the hour and the next time you have to go, you find yourself ignorant enough to chuckle.

A breach of the above principles might mean that you’ve spotted your best buddy in the whole world.  This is the man who you’d stand beside in a world war and, with foresight and the careful planting of videotapes, convince your wife to marry him after the event of your untimely death.  A relationship with any degree of emotional distance, however, will not carry two, fully grown, white, American men through violation of the above principles.

Urinals are awkward, but stalls maybe even more so.  When you’re making noise, sometimes you try and cough to disguise the incriminating sound of having an operable digestive system.  And at the end you wait until the place is clear to get your tail out of there.  But if someone walks in on you as you’re leaving a stall, there’s always a silent message sent out from staller to surpriser, “I am a man of many sorrows.  End me now and let no one know of this shameful meeting.”  At least with urinals, you have the ability to stand there with your back to the world and pretend it doesn’t exist.

T is for TULIP

Posted in A to Z with tags , on April 23, 2012 by Alex

TULIP is an acrostic that describes the five distinct elements of the doctrine of salvation as held by John Calvin.  People who believe these points originated in the Bible and not in the mind of Calvin are often called Calvinists.  Which is very confusing, but nonetheless I am one.

T – Total depravity:  Augustine (writing over a millenium before Calvin) believed in this one.  It means that the Fall of man was so severe that, without an initial act of grace put forward by God, he is utterly unable to choose to come back to God.  A good illustration of this point can be found in Romans 3:9-12

‘What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews andGreeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”’

U – Unconditional Election: Another Augustinian point.  This states that God chose who would ultimately be saved on no conditions of which they met apart from His own secret plan.  The opposite would be for, as an example, God to elect (to choose) people based on their own foreknown action to receive Him.  A good example of unconditional election would be in John 15:16:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

L – Limited Atonement:  Probably the most controversial of the five points.  If God is to choose to save people so dead in their sin by no merit of their own, does that mean Christ only died for the limited number of the elect?  Even with the very common rejections that God is willing that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9) or that He wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), I do believe there are some outs and some can be covered in an A-Z post.

My main reason is that because there are plenty of verses in support of limited atonement in that Jesus prays specifically not for the world but for those given to Him (John 17:9), that He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and that Christ loved the church and gave himself up, not for the world, but for her specifically (Eph. 5:25), then all the other verses must be understood in harmony with them.

Because the Bible does teach the predestining of individuals (Romans 9:15-16), it would parallel for God to justify with the power of the atonement  those same set of individuals (Romans 8:28-30).  The alternative would be to say that God only predestined some individuals, but Christ’s sacrifice somehow affected (and yet failed to redeem) the rest of the world.  But God never fails.  Is anything too hard for Him (Gen 18:14, Jer 32:27)?

Along with this train of thought, we should work to understand the above passages about God’s universal atonement in light of his limited atonement.  And there are many, many ways to accomplish this.  One would be that the phrase “the world” does not necessarily mean to every person, but to every nation.  In fact, the rival position to have the phrase actually mean every person could very easily be used to argue for the purposes of universalism (where no one at all falls under God’s judgment and the whole universe enters into glory) and no good Bible scholar would actually hold to that position (Matt 7:12-21).  So it cannot always mean every person.

Furthermore, if we go back to the verse about wanting all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and admit that not all men will actually be saved, then we would be forced to admit that God does have different revealed understandings of His will.  People who do not believe in predestination (such as the Arminian who dominates American churches) often accuse the Calvinist of being shifty and confusing, however they must admit that God has a complex set of wills.  He must.  Then there’s the expected rebuttal that God ultimately does not want people to come to Him outside of an act of free will because that would not be loving.  Understand that definition of love (which must be out of free will), while being a comfortably modern idea, is not found in Scripture.

And yet it’s even more complex.  Even the Arminian would admit that the way God is portrayed in some sections of Scripture (as being limited almost as a man such as needing to investigate things Ex: 16:4) as being, on the face, contradictory to the wider view of God.  So understanding God, what He has done, and the nature of reality are never so easily defined as for the Arminian to say “Stop being confusing!  God is not a God of confusion.”  Let us not suppose that God can be so easily boxed in as to suppose He always operates within our preconceptions of Him (Romans 11:34), but the Calvinist’s response is simply the most adequate answer to what has been laid before us in the Bible.  This doctrine also helps to be understood in the light of the existential sphere, but that is worth more than a whole post on its own.  Further, and more easily digestible, (not to mention more qualified and educated) answers could also be found in the support of John Piper.

I – Irresistible Grace:  Sometimes the acrostic is reworked to begin with this one because it’s so encouraging.  God’s drawing grace is so perfect that it can not be resisted.  One very clear usage is in John 6:44-45.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

And also in the golden chain of redemption.  All who are called will, eventually, come.  Romans 8:28-30:

 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

P – Perseverance of the Saints:  This was the first point of Calvinist doctrine I found myself utterly unable to address in my darkened mindset of free willyianism.  Scripture is inundated with the perseverance of the saints.  God’s people will persevere to the end.  Here’s a great one in John 10:27-29:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

Or a different angle found in 1 John 2:19:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Good night!