"Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." -Paul

30 August 2007


By Matt

I read: Romans 12-13

"Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down" (Romans 12:14-15 or so).

I don't know where the dour-faced grumpy Christian perspective came from, but I'm positive that was never intended. Paul has a lot of great advice for living with other Christians in this chunk of chapter 12 but this one is my favorite. He's basically saying enjoy the good times together, be there for each other and take part in each others' sadness. It seems so obvious but it is very strange that fun and laughter and joking and enjoyment of life seem very dissonant from a "Christian" way of life. Guess that's why we have these books to set us straight :)

29 August 2007

Undeserving, Yet Loved

by Ben

I read Song of Songs 5-6 and The Interpreter's Bible commentary "III. The Exclusiveness of Love" and "IV. The Extravagance of Love."

The more that I read of this, the more that I wish that I could talk to God in the way that these lovers talk to each other. The sensual language that the young lovers use is out of complete love and trust for their partner. This wild abandon allows them to truly be who they are with each other and through this, they reveal their insecurities:

"I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys" the young maiden says about herself (2:1). She is feeling unworthy due to the love expressed by the young man and so she puts herself down. But the young man (so smooth) takes her negative comment and turns it into a compliment: "As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens" (2:2).

I have found this in my own experiences with Kate. I try to compliment her and she puts herself down. Of course, the same is true the other way around; Kate tries to compliment me and I get shy and don't know how to accept the positive statement.

I think that most of us don't know how to deal with positive language about ourselves. We want it...we crave it, but we don't know what to do when we get it, even from our mates - or from God. I bet that a regular conversation with Christ was one of the most awkward things in the world. Because of our discomfort in speaking in an open and loving way with those around us, how much more difficult it makes talking to God in this way.

Lord, help me to express my true love for you, both in prayer and in my relationships with my brothers and sisters. Help me to shed any fear of being inadequate or unworthy to love you. I may be the lowliest of the low, but you love me and that shows how amazing you are for your people. You have all power and wisdom, yet you have all the love in the universe. I may never understand how you are all of those things at once, but I trust that you are. I delight that you know me and trust me with the awesome opportunity to influence your flock. I pray that I serve you well and example your love toward others for your glory. You are more than I can ever imagine and yet, I can't help but feel connected to you. Thank you. Amen.

28 August 2007


I read: Romans 11

One of the hardest things to accept about God's family is that he accepts everyone. That's pretty much the gist of 11 as Paul takes his time to explain that to his readers. The tricky part of all this is that you can't be cocky about it either, 'cause at one time or another your peeps were the folks on the outs with God. But now everything has been set aright.

Getting past the Jew/Gentile tension of Paul's day, I think that there are definitely folks sitting in churches today wishing that they didn't have to be in the same building as others. This much later and we're still not clued in to the fact that we don't get to pick and choose our family. Props for consistency at least :)

I don't have much writing in me today :(

Animals and Angels

by Ben

I read The Song of Songs 3-4 and The Interpreter's Bible commentary "II. The Redemption of the Commonplace."

From the commentary:

"Love and sex are fundamentally different. A valid sex code would not confuse love needs with sex needs (as so many people do). It would recognize that the basic need of all people is for love. If love needs are met, sexual satisfactions will often become relatively unimportant. On the other hand, offering sex to the love hungry, whether within or outside of marriage, may result in making their condition worse instead of better."

This simple idea, without going into too much detail, broaches the topic of premarital sex. The desire for the physical act of sex is really a misplaced longing, the longing for love. Unfortunately for us, we are living in a time when sex is not considered sacred and physical pleasure is as accessible as a loaf of bread. The prevalence of pornography in its various forms has tainted many people's view of sex. This paradigm shift has served to further remove sex from being a sacred act of marriage and to dehumanize a sad majority of the population.

Rob Bell describes humans as being somewhere between animals and angels. Animals, which live by urges alone, and angels, which do not have physical urges because of their lack of a body.

"When we deny the spiritual dimension to our existence, we end up living like animals. And when we deny the physical, sexual dimension to our existence, we end up living like angels.

And both ways are destructive, because God made us human" (Bell 58).

"We have to talk about everything we're experiencing. Repressing and stuffing and refusing to acknowledge never works. Whether it's a friend or a group of peers or a priest or a pastor or a counselor, we have to get it out...You are not alone. Whatever you struggle with, whatever you have questions about, you are not alone. It doesn't matter how dark it is or how much shame or weakness or regret it involves, you are not alone.

Some say the struggle is about eros, which is where we get the word erotic. Others call it testosterone and blame it on hormones. The Greeks called it the madness of the gods. The truth is, we're crammed full of sexual energy. It's how we're made. We have cravings and desires and urges and temptations that can easily consume us and make us feel helpless in their presence. We have to talk about what we do with the forces that rage within us. We have to get it out of we will begin to die on the inside.

Some of the most comforting words in the universe are "me too." That moment when you find out that your struggle is also someone else's struggle, that you're not alone, and that others have been down the same road" (Bell 62).

Unfortunately, the church universal hasn't always been ready to talk about sexual matters. That is not to say that the Bible doesn't cover it. But as we read, and learn, and grow, individuals become more open and willing to talk about the realities of life. The term of the moment is "transparency." I try to live my life in a transparent way, so that all of my flaws are laid bare for all to see. In this way, I pray that my failings can help someone else to learn to follow God better.

As a final thought:

"The Church has always consecrated the union of man and woman in matrimony, and taught that marriage is a divine ordinance, and it is not unfitting that a book which expresses the spiritual and physical emotions on which matrimony rests should be given a place in the Canon of Scripture" (Commentary 126).

27 August 2007

Put a little love in your heart

by Ben

I read Song of Songs 1-2 and the Interpreter's Bible Commentary: "I. The Language of Love."

Regarding the language of love that is used within the Song of Songs, although much of the language is unique to this book, the idea conveyed by both the words and the style of writing can be found throughout the Bible. The agape love revealed in the New Testament and the ahebh love of the Old Testament are condensed into the writing of this book. As the young lovers address and describe each other, we see that they look past their partners failings, loving them with a boundless love. Yet, while experiencing this "spontaneous, creative love," the young couple each feels insecure and unworthy of accepting the other's feelings.

"The language of love, however, is infinitely more than words and phrases. Love expresses itself not so much in what it says as in what it is and does. This is clearly implied in the Song of Songs by the uniquely personal character of the book. It is the only book in the Bible composed completely of direct personal address. And although the lovers speak of their love in exquisite language, what they say to each other is that love is personal togetherness."

As we apply this way of love to our own relationships, we begin to realize our own shortcomings. While often being marginally successful at maintaining togetherness in spousal relations, we often fail miserably in making it a priority in familial relationships and especially so in relationships with those that we gain nothing in response. Consider: when was the last time that you shared life with someone you don't get along with?

As Christians, we put on the face, make the small talk, and suffer our way through unconfortable moments, when we should be striving to make the uncomfortable moments comfortable, to genuinely care about people who we disagree with, and going out of our way to learn about the experiences of strangers with a desire to grow to care about their well-being. Yet, we remain stern and keep a "safe" distance from the hearts of those around us.

The capacity for love that God gave us is not to be reserved for our favorites, but should be given to the least of these. We are all undeserving, and that is what makes us so deserving. But in following Christ, we need to reach out beyond ourselves to love (agape) - not just the ones we feel like loving. That is love based on who the person is and what they do. In striving to love like God, we need to love based on who we are, not on who we are trying to love.

23 August 2007

Song Study

by Ben

I am beginning to read The Song of Songs (from the Interpreter's Bible).

I realized that trying to bring light to such a complex work as The Song of Songs would require some heavy exegesis, so I pulled out my set of the Interpreter's Bible. I've spent the last 25 minutes just reading the beginnings of the introduction to the book, which discusses the complexity of the text, as it comes in poetic form, and can be interpreted as an allegory, a two-person drama, a three-character drama, a wedding cycle, a secular love song, and as a part of liturgy.

If we attempt to look at the book through only one of these lenses, we miss so much of what this song of all songs has to offer. It is by viewing the text as a whole, in all its varied parts, that gives us a picture of God in his relation to us, of a God ordained marriage relationship, of man's connection to the natural world around him, of man's morality and interaction with the world around him (and pretty much any other "man vs. x" combination you can think of).

I look forward to diving into this book and the exegetical reading that goes with.


One thing that rather surprised me when I moved to Charlotte is that there really is a book called Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt. I had the chance to read most of it and liked it well enough, but my favorite part is there recommendation on how to answer the question, "So when were you saved?": "Oh, about two thousand years ago in Jerusalem."

It's a funny distinction, but I believe it really does exist. The omnipresent Baptists down here place a lot of importance in their decision for Christ and continually being saved. And I think that's great! But I also think that it misses out on a few things. While us engaging ourselves in a relationship with Christ is very, very important, it's nowhere near as important as God engaging us through Christ.

Paul makes this point very well in Romans 10. "Say the welcoming word to God--'Jesus is my Master'--embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you."

That's what I love about the Presbyterian view of baptism. It isn't us choosing to be God's, it's a symbol of dying to who we think we are and living again as who we really are: God's called and chosen children. We weren't some other person before baptism and we aren't a fundamentally changed person after baptism just as we're not not God's child before and we suddenly become God's child after. Baptism is just us saying sending in our RSVP card to the invitation that God has already sent (I bet you can't guess what part of wedding planning I'm currently embroiled in). And I love that. I don't know why, but I love that interpretation of baptism.

I love using Harry Potter to illustrate this view of baptism. Prior to Hagrid knocking down the door on the house on the sea, Harry was a wizard. He might not have known that, but he had the blood for it and had even shown a curious predilection towards the unexplained. Harry's "baptism" isn't being given a wand and an invitation to attend Hogwarts, it's Hagrid explaining to Harry who he really and already is. What a grand idea! I wish it was mine :)

I think there is also something comforting in knowing that I have less responsibility in my relationship with God, that I'm not the primary mover here. God's doing the wedding, I just have to show up and enjoy the festivities. This doesn't discount my commitment to what God's doing, it just fleshes out the responsibilities here and points out that he's God and I am not. Which, and I think Paul agrees with me here, is how it should be.

Post Script: I attended a Bible study recently talking about using hellfire and damnation as a means of evangelism. The point was made by a leader that Christ often went to this tactic and thus we should probably too. However, the more I thought about it, it seems that when Christ is using hell and scary stuff it's to talk about people who aren't loving and taking care of other people. This could be pretty radical stuff so I want to start pursuing a study of Christ's use of hell imagery and when he used it after I finish with Romans. I'm just putting it here so that when I do finally finish Romans I'll hopefully remember where to go next. Or, Ben, you can remind me :)

21 August 2007

A word on Ecclesiastes

by Ben

After reading Ecclesiastes and quoting from it a few times here on the dLog, I wanted to say a few words about exegesis. In writing my last few dLog posts, I was trying to be very careful as to capture the author's intent of each passage, while only quoting pieces of each. This book was challenging in that Qohelet often goes back and forth between his thoughts on a certain issue.

For example, in 8:1 he states that "There's nothing better than being wise," while in 8:16-17 he displays the futility of seeking wisdom. He does this several times on many different issues (wisdom, money, work, enjoying life, etc.) I think his back and forth statements on these could be interpreted in two ways:

1) As this is being written, he is trying to make up his own mind about each issue and is working through the thought process.

2) He is trying to suggest that which he sums up in 11:9 - make the most of your life, but realize that you will have to answer to God in the long run.

As I write this, I realize that the unquestionable answer to this must be the second idea as revealed in Qohelet's final words:

"Fear God.
Do what he tells you.

And that's it. Eventually God will bring everything that we do out into the open and judge it according to its hidden intent, whether it's good or evil." (Ecc. 12:13-14)

For the road ahead

by Ben

I read Ecclesiastes 6-12.

Some quotes for your journey:

"Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes - God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don't skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God's gift. It's all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
THis is your last and only chance at it,
For there's neither work to do nor thoughts to think
In the company of the dead, where you're most certainly headed." (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)


"You who are young, make the most of your youth.
Relish your youthful vigor.
Follow the impulses of your heart.
If something looks good to you, pursue it.
But know also that not just anything goes;
You have to answer to God for every last bit of it." (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

20 August 2007

Seasons and gifts

by Ben

I'm back from vacationing in Maine (visiting my father and step-mother). It was a great time of relaxation and recentering. However, now I'm back to work and ready to get this fall kicked-off right.

I read Ecclesiastes 3-5.

Chapter 3 contains the very familiar "Time for everything" passage. And, although this passage is almost cliche, it was part of what I needed to hear today. Upon returning from vacation, I've felt foggy about work. I get things done, but don't have clear vision for the road ahead. No plan of attack. Sure, I've got an outline of the activities that I will do for the next year, but I am starting to see the cyclical nature of what I do.

I was listening to the PDYM podcast today, and Doug and the gang were talking about burnout and tried to define it. Is it a season that sometimes haunts each of us or is burnout the official end of your time in a ministry? They decided that it was the beginning of the end. While I feel this is true, there are still moments when you get sluggish. Whether you work in ministry, education, or real estate, there are seasons of your work-life that drag you down.

I think that the fog that I am feeling is a brief period of this. I still feel that I am a positive force for God's kingdom within the youth and camp ministries. I still feel connected to God. I even have energy in the service of the small tasks of the job. I just feel lethargic.

This feeling could possibly be related to some relational issues going on with my work right now. I feel hesitant about my decisions because of this situation.

However, Chapter 5 in today's reading gives me hope:

"After looking at the way things are on this earth, here's what I've decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that's about it. That's the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what's given and delighting in the work. It's God's gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It's useless to brood over how long we might live." (Ecc. 5:18-20)

09 August 2007

Getting cleaned up

by Ben

I read Ecclesiastes 1-2.

Wow...what a cool book! It follows along the ideas of wisdom that are in the Proverbs, but feels more like the musings of a philosophy professor. Here is some of what Eugene Peterson has to say about Ecclesiastes:

"It is our propensity to go off on our own, trying to be human by our own devices and desires, that makes Ecclesiastes necessary reading. Ecclesiastes sweeps our souls clean of all "lifestyle" spiritualities so that we can be ready for God's visitation revealed in Jesus Christ. Ecclesiastes is a John-the-Baptist kind of book. It functions not as a meal but as a bath. It is not nourishment; it is cleansing. It is repentance. It is purging. We read Ecclesiastes to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, from ideas that are idolatrous and feelings that cloy. It is an expose and rejection of every arrogant and ignorant expectation that we can live our lives by ourselves on our own terms.
Ecclesiastes challenges the naive optimism that sets a goal that appeals to us and then goes after it with gusto, expecting the result to be a good life. The author's cool skepticism, a refreshing negation to the lush and seductive suggestions swirling around us, promising everything but delivering nothing, clears the air. And once the air is cleared, we are ready for reality - for God."

We should read this book every day!

06 August 2007

Prayer Walking

by Ben

I read Proverbs 28-31.

Instead of writing today, I'm going to take a prayer walk.

01 August 2007

My Flock

by Ben

I read Proverbs 25-27.

There are many wise sayings in this section, but the last one is what struck me the most:

"Know your sheep by name; carefully attend your flocks; (Don't take them for granted; possessions don't last forever, you know.) And then, when the crops are in and the harvest is stored in the barns, You can knit sweaters from the lambs' wool, and sell your goats for a profit; There will be plenty of milk and meet to last your family through the winter." (Proverbs 27:23-27)

I realize that as I've been getting ready for this fall's youth ministry program that I've been working so hard on the program part of it that I really haven't tended my flock. I haven't contacted 85% of the kids. I want to see them, to hear about their lives, and to reassure them that I am available to them. As of yet, my program will do this, but it hasn't done it yet. I'm going to call some kids today - just to chat.