Monday, May 26, 2008

Hopeful or hard-hearted? Wait...

The other night I went to the cinema with the lovely Carol, where we saw Prince Caspian. In the film, as in Lewis's novel, Nikabrik tries to bring back the White Witch to help Caspian defeat his enemies. This was a truly bad idea which fortunately wasn't fully realized. The film adds this line by way of explanation for how Nikabrik ran off the rails: "He lost hope."

This line reminds us about the importance of "holding on," as I have written about before. Recently I noticed that two mentions of "hold on" in this passage act as bookends on the ideas of hardening our hearts and of going astray:
6 ...and we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.

7So, as the Holy Spirit says:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
8do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert,
9where your fathers tested and tried me
and for forty years saw what I did.
10That is why I was angry with that generation,
and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.'
11So I declared on oath in my anger,
'They shall never enter my rest.' "
12See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. 14We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
from Hebrews 3:6-14
Here's what I mean by "bookends":
  • if we hold on, we're his house(6)
    • Don't harden your hearts(8)
      • Their hearts went astray(10)
        • God swore an oath: They shall never enter my rest(11)
      • Don't let your heart turn away from God(12)
    • Don't be hardened by sin's deceitfulness(13)
  • if we hold on, we've come to share in Christ(14)
I heard somewhere that this structure points to the thing in the center as being the key point in the passage -- that is, the concept of entering (or not entering in this case) God's rest.

But what I want to talk about here is how the opposite of "holding on" isn't "letting go" but rather getting "hardened." A hard man isn't more durable; rather, he's one that's about to lose it and let go -- like a rubber band that's turning hard is one that's about to snap.

So the question for me is, how is my hardness today? And how is my hope? Am I willing to be encouraged to hold on? Am I willing to bend, like the sunflower which turns his face to follow the Source of life? May the Lord help us to be so.

How to Overcome Anxiety

Anyone who has hung around an evangelical congregation (or church-related group) for any length of time has heard the exhortation not to worry, and the passage from Philippians 4:
Don't be anxious about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ.
Philippians 4:6-7 (approximately)
So does this work? Well, yes and no. You see, the same Apostle Paul who wrote that also wrote this:
And apart from other things there is the constant pressure every day of my anxiety for all the congregations. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
2 Corinthians 11:28-29
What's going on here? Is this one of those contradictions that Bible-haters are always looking for? (No, but they should look at Proverbs 26:4-5.)

Or, to take another easy one, is a different Greek word used? Well, one (μεριμνᾶτε "to be anxious") is a verb and the other (μέριμνα "anxiety") is a noun, but they're talking about the same thing.

I think one passage ("Don't be anxious") is the goal, the "vision" if you like. The other ("my anxiety for...") is more like confession. You know, like Romans 7:19, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing." So if even the Apostle Paul couldn't overcome anxiety, how are people like you and me supposed to? I mean, there isn't a 3-step plan or anything, is there?

Well, sure there is -- there are probably dozens of them. But they don't work! Or they take a lifetime to complete. I won't reprise my How to Overcome Anger posting but I think the way I try to deal with anxiety is:
  1. Tell God what I'm concerned about and ask him to take care of my children (or whatever) -- if applicable, ask him to fulfill one of his promises, etc., and maybe pray with someone else about that.
  2. Remember (like Psalm 77:11-12) what God has done in the past.
  3. Fellowship -- along the lines of #1, getting encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ (like Hebrews 3:13) to help me hold on to hope and courage.
  4. Continue doing #1-#3 for 20-30 years, and repeat as necessary.
One day, those of us who have trusted Christ will be in his presence and we'll have no need to worry about anything. (I'm not encouraging you to rush toward that day though!) Until then, I think we have to be patient with ourselves and with each other, encourage each other, pray for one another.

And not blandly quote verses when someone is anxious about something.

By the way, when I'm worried about something, I usually am not real happy when somebody who doesn't know my situation just quotes Philippians 4 or Romans 8 to me. And I hope I don't do that to others. If I do it to you, would you please remind me of what I've written here? Thanks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The heavenly calling here on earth

I used to think the book of Hebrews was all about Jesus and his supremacy. Which it is, but it also has a lot to say about our multifaceted salvation -- that it's for here and now and also for heaven and later.

And so chapter 3 opens with a call to those with the heavenly calling (for heaven and later) -- a call to fix our thoughts on Jesus (for here and now):
Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.
Hebrews 3:1
What does salvation have to do with fixing our thoughts on Jesus? According to Csikszentmihalyi's Flow, "we are the prey of thoughts and worries intruding unwanted in consciousness" (p. 58) -- "What if this happens?" "Why did (or didn't) I say that? " ...and so on. To the extent that we fix our thoughts on Jesus, our thoughts will be off our unproductive anxieties and regrets; they'll be aimed somewhere higher. We'll be saved, then, from our tendency to obsess over those useless anxieties and regrets.
He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God's house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.
Hebrews 3:2-6
We are his house, it says; we are not a collection of miscellaneous parts, scrap lumber and bricks and such, but a real house, a place where Christ our brother lives.

This must have been an astonishing idea to its first-century readers. To them, God filled heaven and earth; only his Name dwelt in the Temple. And it was the Temple in Jerusalem; they had to travel there to be near it. The Temple was also divided into several zones: the court of the Gentiles, the court of the women, (I'm not sure of the order here) and so on, and inward to the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. To enter the inner areas required very specific qualifications, and some places could be entered only by one person, and only on one day of the year. So to think of actually being Jesus Christ's house must have been hard to imagine, maybe downright shocking.

And how do we become and remain his house? By doing great things, by observing religious rituals, by making ourselves perfect? No -- by holding on to our courage and hope. By faith, in other words.

But does this make faith another kind of job -- we do the "faith" thing and our compensation is salvation in heaven? No, I'm going to say it's more like holding a winning lottery ticket -- but to redeem it you have to travel some miles to the redemption center in Sacramento. If you hold on to your ticket all the way to Sacramento, you get the prize.

Does that mean you earn the prize by traveling to Sacramento? No, the prize is already yours. But you have to hold on to your hope when your car's radiator starts spewing steam, the train breaks down, you make a wrong turn somewhere, or whatever.

Turning 30 (no, really)

I turned 30 this month!

That's right, this month in 1978, I called Jesus my Lord for the first time and asked him
  1. to save me from my sins and their eternal consequences, and
  2. to be my Lord and Master.
And according to the New Testament I was born a second time then.

The way I sometimes express it is to say I was traveling down the road of life, and Jesus was at a crossroads, indicating he'd like to go the way of life with me. I thought about it (quite a while actually) and decided I'd like that. So I reached over and opened the passenger-side door and he gave me one of those looks -- you know, a look that tells you that you've just blown it.

Of course he wanted to drive. (I actually knew this -- that's why I took so long thinking about it.) So I got into the passenger seat and Jesus drove; he got the accelerator, the wheel, and the brake. Sometimes I try to grab the wheel back, or pull on the emergency brake, and inevitably my "improvements" to his plan cause trouble. But he promised that even the worst of my goof-ups wouldn't take us off a cliff.

So is Jesus still driving? As I get older, I like to think that I'm interfering with his driving less and less, but unfortunately it's a "three steps forward, two steps back" kind of thing -- or the reverse. Do I worry less? Depends on the day. As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11, "And apart from other things there is the constant pressure every day of my anxiety for all the churches."

And about those other things -- love, joy, peace, patience and so on -- well, I hope I'm growing in those, but do you know what? Those are fruit of the Spirit, not a wage/salary kind of deal. Paul said, "it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me" -- so he gets the credit for any changes in my life and for any good that comes from it. Well, if he's driving, then it makes sense that he gets the credit for where we end up.

And so I'm a thankful guy today.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A relaxing commute

This is a 5-minute exercise because I have a day job -- both a blessing and a curse, right?

This morning, I started up "Fred," our red '86 Toyota. It takes some doing when he's been sitting there for more than a couple of days. Over to the Menlo Park Caltrain station, where I pulled out my "Atlantic" -- it arrived yesterday -- and I didn't open my laptop, didn't write anything, didn't worry about anything.

I read 'til Mountain View, then walked over to the light rail, where I boarded the waiting train and continued reading. I read about Barbara Walters, I read about education (the cruel myth that anybody can go to college and pass freshman English), I read about politics (Obama's ascent -- and also politics of funding a defense against space-rocks). I got off the other train, kept reading, waited for the light to change, walked, and kept reading.

My five minutes are up. It was a nice commute in. Time for work though.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


In today's New Testament reading, Jesus has a ships-passing-in-the-night conversation with a crowd that saw him feed the 5,000. Let's look at one part of this:
Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
John 6:27-29
Verse 27 reminds me of an Old Testament passage -- which I see the NIV editors also marked as a cross-reference:
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Isaiah 55:2
I'm pretty sure this crowd would have recognized the allusion. In that Old Testament passage, God is telling the Israelites that they're fundamentally on the wrong track, that they need a major course change. Jesus, of course, is telling them the same thing.

But they don't ask him how their hearts need to change; instead, they ask "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

I don't know why they asked it quite that way -- are they asking about prerequisites or qualifications? Or were they being oblique for some other reason? In any case, Jesus doesn't quite answer them. Rather than saying, "You have to do this (in order to accomplish what God desires)," he says: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

The crowd continues to miss the point, but I want to stop here. What does he mean that the work of God is to believe in Jesus?

It's not an accident of wording; I believe Jesus is turning their question on its head. What he's saying, i think, is that God requires only that we believe in Jesus.

What would happen if I really believed in him? What does that mean?

If I really took Jesus as proof of God's great love for me, I wouldn't seek validation through other people. That is, I wouldn't try to use people to make myself feel good. I'd spend more effort in blessing them, and less effort trying to trick them into admiring or respecting me.

If I really took Jesus as proof of God's promise of eternal life, I'd be less anxious about seeking pleasure here in this life. I'd be more generous, and I'd indulge myself less.

And so on. So what am I saying then? That I don't believe?

I'm saying what the distraught father in Mark 9:24 said:
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!
That father had it right -- help comes from God through Jesus; faith isn't something we can manufacture ourselves.

And so I agree with the old song:
    I need thee, O I need thee
Ev’ry hour I need thee.
There really is nothing of value I can do apart from Jesus. A good thing to remember.

Report cards revisited

You remember report cards, don't you? Are you glad you're not getting them any more? Well, an open secret is that we never stop getting report cards, because most of us (maybe all) keep giving them to ourselves. If you're one of us (and I think you probably are) then I have both good news and bad news for you, but first let me review the report card.
NOTE: This is a hypothetical report card, strictly fictional. (I'm not showing you mine)
Community development C- donated to community center but that was it
Spiritual growth C+ Attend church every week, don't volunteer for anything
Career/Professional A- That recent promotion...
Family C Talk with spouse an average of 20 minutes/month(*1), with kids 35 seconds/week (*2)
Exercise B+ semi-weekly workouts; personal trainer

  1. average husband/wife 1-on-1 conversation for "happily married" couples is 20 minutes per month.
  2. I made up this 35 seconds/week; actual number may be as high as 2 minutes/week

The details in your own mental report card may be different, but I think we (particularly the male population) tend to keep score like this. I also think that the overall view we have of ourselves is based on the best grade we have. The fictional person getting the above hypothetical "mental report card" probably thinks of himself in terms of his recent promotion and his exercise regimen.

An item of good news (depending on how you look at it) is that "straight-As" is impossible. So if you're not getting all As, relax; nobody is. Why not? Because nobody's got more than 24 hours in a day.
Years ago I read a newspaper article in which the writer asked experts in a variety of fields (sleep researcher, vocational coach, financial planner, physical trainer, family therapist, and so on) how much time people needed to devote per day in their particular area just to get by—not excel,just do the minimum. Added together, the “minimum requirements” for life management totaled up to thirty-six hours a day.
John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box
(Zondervan, 2007), p.127
Now the bad news (depending on your perspective) is that your life will probably be evaluated, not by the best grade you got, but by your worst. Consider a man who rose to the top of his profession but never exercised and dropped dead at forty-two. Or another who graduated at the top of his Theological Seminary class but was immediately divorced by his wife (and children) for utterly neglecting them while pursuing his dream of a theological degree.

Therefore I propose the following "meta-grade", a grade over all subjects, calculated roughly like this:
  • If your worst grade is no lower than "A-minus," you are delusional and need to talk to a counselor to get a more realistic view of yourself.
  • If your worst grade is no lower than "B-minus," your overall grade is "A"; you're doing what very few people can do. Either that or your self-assessments are whacky.
  • If your worst grade is no lower than "C-minus," your overall grade is "B" because you're well above average. Congratulations!
  • If your worst grade is lower than "C-minus" and your highest grade is an A or A+, that's a sign that you've been climbing a ladder that's leaning on the wrong building and you're in big trouble. Back off on that A/A+ area and bring those Ds and Fs up to C-minus, for the sake of your community, family, health, or whatever. Please!

That is what I think, anyway. Because when you look at the Bible, there are no commands that say "Thou shalt rise to the top!" -- that's just not there! What we do see, however, are things like
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...
Ephesians 5:25
These are all in the vein of "Don't get an 'F'" rather than "Push to improve that B-plus to an A-minus, an A-minus to an A"

So for everyone searching for excellence in his/her own life, I urge you: embrace mediocrity in some things, to prevent a failing grade in other things. Excellence is OK if you don't massively goof up some other area of your life.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Do you want to get well?

That's what Jesus asked the lame man lying near the pool at Bethesda after hearing he'd been in that condition for a long time (John 5:6). The correct answer to Jesus was, of course, Yes, Lord!" (or "Yes, please, Lord," for those with better manners than I). But what does the man say?
"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."

Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
from John 5:7-9
I used to think it odd that the man didn't actually answer Jesus' question. But it occurred to me this morning that Jesus might have asked that in order to gauge how depressed the man was. It could have been worse -- the man might have just given Jesus a deer-in-the-headlights look.

But let's step back a minute. What's all this about the water being stirred? Apparently, the waters of this pool would be disturbed from time to time, and there was a race to see who could be the first one in after such a stirring. People believed that the first one in would be healed. Was it true? Probably not.

So this guy was focused on a false hope for healing. And how many of us are, too? How often have I thought happiness would be found in a new toy or book, or later on in life, a new car, book or relationship?

Yet, as we see, Jesus did heal the man, as he wants to heal us today.

The other thing that comes to me is this: when I'm listening to someone's problems, and I see them focused on a false hope for healing, do I just get exasperated, or do I extend grace to them, as Jesus did?

Freed from the fear of death

Another aspect of the salvation Jesus brings is shown in this passage:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
from Hebrews 2:14-15
How does fear of death enslave us, and how did Jesus set us free?

We can be enslaved by fear in at least two ways:
  1. by obsessing over it so we can't think about anything else; or
  2. by being so afraid of it that we can't even think about it, and our thoughts about everything else are distorted whenever they get close to that fear.
For the past century in Europe and North America, #2 is more usual. According to Yalom's classic text Existential Psychotherapy, the way we deal with death anxiety (i.e., mostly by denying it) provides lots of patients with lots of interesting problems for psychotherapists. Here is the first principle from the first part of his text:
  1. The fear of death plays a major role in our internal experience; it haunts as does nothing else; it rumbles continuously under the surface; it is a dark, unsettling presence at the rim of consciousness.

Irwin Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy
(Basic Books, 1980), p.27
This book explores several major themes: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. The first section, and the longest (189 pages) is all about death. We spend a lot of effort avoiding this "dark, unsettling presence," he says, and these efforts are not always healthy; at best, they dull our enjoyment of life; at worst, they drive us to maladaptive choices that actually kill us sooner. What's worse, psychotherapists, being human themselves, also tend to ignore or deny their own death anxiety.

On the denial of death v. acknowledging and recognizing it, Yalom writes:
Recognition of death contributes a sense of poignancy to life, provides a radical shift of life perspective, and can transport one from a mode of living characterized by diversions, tranquilization, and petty anxieties to a more authentic mode.
Yalom, op. cit., p. 40
On the other hand, Yalom's book gives no indication that he knows the only real answer to the fear of death; he seems to think religious beliefs about a life after death (which Jesus bought for us) merely form a coping mechanism, another way to deny the reality of death.

But as this Scripture tells us, Jesus truly did set us free. How did he do that? We don't get a lot of detail here, but we have some hints. Earlier in the chapter, we're told that the grace of God enabled Jesus to taste death on behalf of us all. And this passage says Jesus shared in our humanity -- he became flesh and blood -- as part of setting us free, and breaking the power of the devil.

And what does that salvation from slavery mean -- how could or should it be evident in our lives? The apostles and the prophets give us some wonderful examples: "Our God is able to save us from the fiery furnace, O King, but if not, we will still not bow down and worship the statue." "The time for my departure is at hand." They lived fully aware that each day could be their last.

As should we! As the Psalmist wrote,
Show me, O Lord, my life's end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
Psalm 39:4
May the Lord answer that in our lives, and may we live with "a sense of poignancy" and be transported "from a mode of living characterized by diversions, tranquilization, and petty anxieties to a more authentic mode."

Monday, May 05, 2008

The joy of fellowship

A high point for me last week was meeting with a small group of friends over lunch. We catch up with each other and encourage each other in our spiritual life. This week, "Joel" told us that someone at his church encouraged them to take ten minutes to listen to God. "But what does that mean?" he asked. "It sounds like some kind of meditation. Have you done that? Have you heard anything?"

I love it when this kind of question comes up. Joel trusted us enough to tell us what he was puzzled about -- he didn't pretend to have it all together, and he sincerely wanted to know what this was about -- it wasn't just idle curiosity.

After a brief pause, I offered that I'd never heard a voice, but that thoughts have sometimes come to me during prayer or while reading the Bible, thoughts that seem beyond the way I usually think.

"James" spoke up next, saying that his experience was similar. But if you just sit there, he said, all kinds of stuff might come into your mind. He mentioned the passage where Jesus says if you sweep out the house, an evil spirit might come in -- in other words, don't just empty your mind like TM tells you to do; you have to put something in. (James was referring to Luke 11:24-26.) So he suggested reading the Scriptures and thinking about them.

This made me really happy -- having a group of men who trust each other and help each other grow, and getting to witness a holy conversation.

And by the way, another member of our group, someone younger in the faith, was witnessing this, too, and learning. He saw brothers interacting sincerely with humility, asking questions that matter and sharing Biblical wisdom and life experience, all without pretense.

I love being part of the body of Christ!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

More about salvation: Jesus our brother

Does that seem odd—to think of Jesus as a brother? This powerful and exciting passage from Hebrews says that he is.
[W]e see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
Hebrews 2:9-11
This passage ties salvation to the following ideas:
  • Jesus tasted death on our behalf.
    • He suffered death, and received glory and honor.
    • This suffering was part of making Jesus "perfect."
    • God's grace allowed Jesus's death to be on our behalf.
  • This process brings "many sons" (male and female) to glory.
  • This salvation has to do with making men holy.
  • This makes us of the same family as Jesus, who calls us brothers (male and female).
The author makes a big deal of Jesus's dying on our behalf. In 20th/21st century America this death thing doesn't get much attention, which makes sense given Yalom's observation (in his landmark book Existential Psychotherapy) that we've got a lot of denial around death and death anxiety, even within the therapeutic community. But having recently been diagnosed with pneumonia, death seemed like it might be closer than I'd previously thought; it was good to reflect on that, and on my eternal future, guaranteed because my King died in my place. As it says in the old song,
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
and so for us death need not be the end. This is not all that salvation is, but it is something very important that is included in salvation. (There's more about death -- and the fear of death -- later in this chapter.)

Another very important concept included in salvation is: it makes us (the recipients of salvation) holy; it brings us to glory. So salvation makes us holy—it sets us apart for God's use and saves us from corruption; it also sets us on a path to glory, something I surely want, and I think we all do—to be something beautiful, respectable, worthy of honor, as I've written about before.

And yes, this passage says Jesus is our brother; we're in the same family.

Which is good news for me! I hope it is for you too.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

This is a comedy?

So we signed up for this movie thing -- it's kind of like netflix but you can also go to your neighborhood Blockbuster and "trade in" the movies you're returning for whatever they have. We are not making heavy use of it, but that's not what I'm here to tell you today.

The thing that we are finding odd is that a lot of these movies are called "comedy" but they're just sort of, you know, dramas. Tonight we watched "Friends with Money" and it was interesting but I didn't think it was comical. Sure there was some irony, but these were desperate people who had no idea what their lives were about. There were some other "comedies" we saw in the past few months, but they were mostly sad!

Is our sense of humor that out of sync with what Hollywood thinks is funny?

And if so, is that a good thing? This is starting out to be a weird century -- as if 9/11 and Iraq weren't enough....

Something about salvation

I'm doing a thought-experiment. Suppose we were living in the 1st century and had, say, Mark's gospel (probably the earliest written) in hand. Then we got a copy of Hebrews. What would we think the Good News was? What would we think "salvation" meant? Over the next few weeks (or months—let's see how it goes) I'll be writing down some thoughts on that.

By the way, in doing this experiment, I'm not going to use any theological dictionaries, but rather try to figure out what the word means by looking at how it's used in this letter (I got this approach from Sumner's excellent Women and Men in the Church). So today let's look at this part near the beginning of chapter 2:
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified...
from Hebrews 1:14-2:6
So the first thing I notice about this that salvation is something inherited, not something earned. This means that getting saved isn't a matter of being smarter or wiser or more moral or whatever. There's nothing to brag about.

It also means that somebody had to die in order for us to receive salvation (whatever that is).

And help from angels seems to be part of the deal.

Next, the author doesn't seem concerned about our rejecting this salvation outright, but rather he's concerned that we might ignore it, that we might "drift away". So whatever it is, salvation requires our attention. And apparently "drifting away" is the easiest thing in the world -- it's something we must counteract by paying attention.

Now we have another clue about salvation: it's something that our Lord announced. What is the very first thing that Jesus announces, according to Mark's gospel? Something about the kingdom of God. In fact, "kingdom of God" appears appears 15 times in Mark, and more in Matthew and Luke. In those days, people were living under the kingdom of Caesar, which was not all that friendly toward Jews or Christians. So the coming of God's kingdom, where God will assert his rule over the earth, would be good news to these people, and this would line up with the concept of salvation from Old Testament times. In those days, "salvation" meant that God would do something on earth -- part the Red Sea, destroy an army invading Israel, this sort of thing. He would do something like that, and then leave. So having God's kingdom come, where God is ruling all the time -- well, that's something to be excited about.

Then, signs and wonders and miracles and gifts would be considered confirming evidence for this salvation. That seems to go along with my guess in the previous paragraph.

So far, the idea of salvation seems to be oriented to this world; there's not a lot of "so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good." But then we come to this part: "the world to come, about which we are speaking". So salvation is not just for this world, but also about the world to come -- whatever that is.

From this passage, I think we have the following about salvation:
  • It's inherited; it's not earned. Someone had to die for us to get it.
  • Angels help those receiving it.
  • It's easy to drift away from (the author doesn't seem much concerned about outright rejection, but more about neglect).
  • Something the Lord announced -- maybe the Kingdom of God.
  • Signs and wonders, etc., are considered confirming evidence for it.
  • It's also about the world to come.
This book of Hebrews is really rich -- there's a lot to learn here, and a lot to be happy about, too.

Kitchen remodeling: the good and no-so, Part I

We'll probably do Part II after construction is done.

First, the good: Based on a referral, we worked with a kitchen designer who lives in San Jose. We sent sketches and measurements and photos, and our wish lists, and she produced a very nice design. But she's quite busy (she teaches at a small college and she also has young children) so it took several weeks. She's a private individual and I don't want to put her contact information in a public place like this. Leave a comment or send me email if you want to use her for your kitchen.

Another thumbs-up goes to Quesco for friendly professional staff, terrific service and great prices. I review them on yelp here.

Our contractor is a personal friend -- Art Prindle of Art Prindle Construction. He has done several projects for us
  • bathroom repair/remodel
  • installation of ducting and a forced-air furnace, including redoing a bedroom closet
  • garage conversion including
    • a loft (his design idea -- we love it!)
    • half-bath and laundry room
    • roof reframing
    • roof re-sheathing (whole house)
    • replacing the den's flat roof with a pitched one
  • pocket-door installation (small project)
He's done great stuff for us and we recommend his services without reservation. But we are not unbiased :)

In the dog-house: and bizarre model numbers

For the not-so-good part, it's the website and its brother So here's my whine. You go to Sears and order some appliances -- an oven, a warming drawer, 'fridge, dishwasher, etc. On the receipt you find two or three numbers related to each appliance: a 5-digit model# (e.g., 77542), an 11-digit item number (e.g., 04677542000) and possibly some other number that might be similar to the "item" number.

If you search the website for further information (like dimensions, clearances, etc.) the above numbers might help, but in this case (for the 'fridge), neither of them was good for anything. The website doesn't confess to knowing anything about this model number. (A google search turns up a reference -- and I could see it in google's cache. But no specs or dimensions were available -- just the overview.) And you can just forget about finding a manual using either of those numbers.

No, what you need is the model number, which in this case is 79577542600. Actually it's the "full model number". With this full model number, you can search (not!) and find a link to a manual. Owner's manual (or "use and care manual") though -- no installation manual. To get the manual you have to create an account on -- give them your email address and create a password (just what you needed, right?) and then you can look at the manual on your screen.

I sent them email, which got me an answer that was almost completely off the point. "Look at the model# on the back of your appliance and use that 9-12-digit model# on" or something like this. After some email exchanges, somebody sent me the full model number for the oven.

Meanwhile I also called; I heard this was the supported way to get the full model number. It took a call to the parts number, getting transferred to home delivery (why??) -- where they couldn't match up my order to my phone number (even though I was calling from the same phone# that appears on the invoice), and explaining my situation maybe 3 times on the phone.... The good news is that I did eventually get all the model numbers of interest.

The way this should work is like the Whirlpool website. I ordered a cooktop, a whirlpool GJC3634RP, and if you search for it on you'll get here. If you click on "back to GJC3634R" you'll see this page. Click "Guides + Literature" and you can see manuals.

Or like GE's: if you have a model number in mind, you can google for it and see a "" website. Go there, click on "Product Documentation," and you'll see installation instructions, use/care guide, etc., available for download. Click the appropriate one, and you'll see the installation guide or whatever.
Maytag's website is not as nice as the above. Many of their pages require a macromedia plug-in (Dude, I just want the manual!), and this google search didn't lead me to a manual. This one offered up some sites from, which doesn't seem to resolve any more:
$ host
Host not found: 2(SERVFAIL)
However, it did lead me to which offers a trilingual user guide, but no installation manual...

So if you're going to order appliances for a new kitchen, and you really have to have Sears, then get the sales guy to find the "full model number" for you if you can. If you can't, then you can call Parts, but they might transfer you to Home Delivery. Anyway, explain that you need the full model numbers. You will need to do this more than once, but they'll eventually get you someone who can tell you.

Then go to and feed it the full model number. You should get at least one result; if needed select one, and then look on the right-hand side for the manuals link. This sends you to yet another website ( where you have to have a login (email address, "screen name", password) to download the manual.

And other things being equal (check for frequency-of-repair records, etc.) my suggestion would be: Figure out the model number you're interested in, and see if you can find the installation manual on the web, because your contractor or cabinetmaker will need that information.

More later....

Friday, May 02, 2008

Prophet and Priest and King

I've been struck yet again by how much the letter to the Hebrews says about Jesus; it seems to me that this book might be the grand-daddy of New Testament theology. Chapter 1 begins with this astonishing statement:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)
From this we see that Jesus is
  • Prophet: God spoke to us by Jesus. This is what prophets do -- they speak on God's behalf to wo/men;
  • Priest: he provided purification for sins. Priests do this too (per chapter 5): they represent wo/men to God;
  • King: He's the heir of all things, and is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
This sets the tone for the whole book; as I've noted before, this author loves to talk about how great Jesus is.

As followers of Jesus, as his brothers (per chapter 2), I think we play these roles to various degrees. We are to be prophets when opportunities arise to tell the truth and we act as priests whenever we pray for anyone. And though we are not kings, we were created by God to rule over creation.

So, although I don't think we should take ourselves too seriously, we need to remember that in this world we have roles and functions related to God: representing him to our fellow-humans; representing them to God; and acting as regents over the earth. We are prophets and priests and kings.

Therefore our lives mean something; they don't mean nothing. And each day is a gift -- it's something important, not something meaningless. It matters. You and I matter. And that too is a gift.

written on the train this morning