Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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puffing knowledge / building love

About every other day I wonder what knowledge is.

Not knowledge about, or knowledge of, something. I think I understand what that means.

What is knowledge itself? This is what I don't know.

This morning I read: knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.


There's a big difference between puffing ... and building. I can puff right now: puff puff (there, I just did it). But to build something, well now that takes some effort.

My friend Dan just replaced the roof on his house -- and he was incognito for 8 days. He was building, not puffing. To build something, you've got to know what you're going to build. You got to have the money to build it with. Then you need to get the materials, cut them, nail them. And so on ... I'm getting tired already.

But here it says that knowledge puffs up. Only love builds up.

There is a problem with this logic. It would have been more logical for Paul to say:

Point 1: If your knowledge puffs you up, you are still ignorant.

Point 2: Here is the kind of knowledge you should have so that you do not get puffed up.

Point 3: And oh by the way, speaking of knowledge, let's relate it to the love of God. What's really important is to love God, who knows you.


Point #2 is totally missing.

And #3 seems to be another topic altogether.

Are you saying, Paul, that knowledge alone -- that is, all knowledge (whatever knowledge is) -- puffs up? That there just isn't a kind of knowledge that fits into #2?

Are you saying that Paul?

And are you saying this: Stop worrying about what knowledge is, because the more important thing is to love God, so that you will be known by him?

Is that what you are saying Paul?


1 Corinthians 8.1-3 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Of course, the larger context here has to do with idols. But I don't think my thoughts on knowledge in general voids the passage's relevance for food sacrificed to idols.

The comparison between puffing and building is not my idea. It comes from Vincent's Word Studies http://www.godrules.net/library/vincent/vincent1cor8.htm

The sense of silence

What does he sense? This what I ponder when I read this from the psalmist:

For God alone my soul waits in silence.

What does the psalmist sense when he waits for God

1) alone, and
2) in silence?

Not what he thinks, because by "silence" I take him to mean what the word means. SILENCE. That's not only the absence of spoken words. That's the absence of thought words. (We all know how we can be verbally quiet and have our hearts not be silent at all).

Certainly not what others think or say. Because he is no doubt done with the talking. He is waiting on God alone.

And if you take what alone really means, it means ALONE.

A rare practice: waiting for God in silence -- and waiting for Him alone.

It is a radical decision. It is taking an enormous risk.

This psalmist was not a novice. He'd been around the block a few times. He'd looked at, and no doubt tried, the options. The maneuverings. Pushing the Rubiks Cube of life's little pieces around and around. He'd been there and done all of that.

Then, after the traffic jam of words, he graduated to silence, and to the one thing needful.


Psalm 62.1 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

Job 42.5 I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.

Luke 10.41b-42 ... you are careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.

A theology of architecture

If you want to know the theological viewpoint about something, always consider the very beginnings of that thing ... and also the very endings of that thing. You'll gain a lot of insight about whatever it is you're theologizing about.

Take architecture.

What would a theology of architecture be like?

Well, in the beginning there was a garden ... but no buildings.

And at the end, there is a city ... but no buildings.

In fact it says clearly that there will no longer be a temple, because God and the Lamb will be the temple. This is not poetry. This is simply a glimpse into a condition we just do not yet understand.

The implications are profound:

1. In the original paradise of Eden, there was no house. Paradise itself was house. There was no need for a membrane of protection to be placed between man and nature. Nature was house.

2. In the New Jerusalem, there will indeed be constructions, fabulous constructions. But somehow dwelling in the New Jerusalem will not involve individual shelters. Again, man will not need any architectural membrane of protection between him and the larger realm he dwells in.

3. All architecture in the interim between Genesis and Revelation bespeaks of a temporary condition. Man uses architecture for shelter because, due to sin, he and the elements are not on totally friendly terms.

But of course man uses architecture for much, much more than shelter.

He uses it for power. He uses it for displays of wealth. He uses it to keep up with the Joneses. He uses architecture to clothe himself with all sorts of costumes.

Because in his present condition, man is essentially naked.

In the Alpha this was not so.

Neither will it be so in the Omega.


Genesis 2.8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

Revelation 21.2-3 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Revelation 21.22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.

Matthew 8.27
And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Now, about that calling of yours ...

“I was called to do X.”

We hear this often in Christian circles. And the "X" almost always means something special, some work or way of life God has specifically called me to pursue:

I was called to be a missionary. I was called to preach the Word. I was called to be a mother. And so on. On this evidence, it seems that there are as many specific callings as there are lines of work, etc.

Or this: I was called to be an electrical engineer. In other words, even "secular" occupations can be given a special imprimatur from heaven if a person says he was called to do it.

When a church hires a pastor, the usual terminology is that the applicant has received a call. That's different from you, sitting in the pew over there. You don't have such a call. You're just called to sit in a pew.

Aside from pastors, a more general group of folks in Christian work usually say they do what they do because God has called them to do it.

And an even larger group of Christians -- usually devout and earnest young people, but even old guys like me -- often feel "on the sidelines" because they are either 1) eagerly waiting to get a specific calling from God ("God hasn't told me anything yet ..."; or 2) still trying to figure out what that special calling is after so many years.

Now, the overwhelming evidence in the New Testament says that this view of each person having a specific calling is incorrect.

True, it says repeatedly of Paul that he was called to be an apostle. That's about as special and specific as it can get.

But for the rest of us -- the rest of us sitting in pews OR preaching from the pulpit -- calling is almost always used in a general sense.

To be precise: in the overwhelming majority of cases, the New Testament uses "calling" to denote the initial conversion of a person into the Christian faith.

After this initial calling of God, a calling that gives new life to an individual dead in his trespasses and sins, there are very few specific callings for specific individuals.

Very few.

Yes but David: what about when Paul says "let every man abide in the calling to which he was called?" Isn't that specific calling?

Well, in that context, Paul was referring to slaves. If in life you find yourself a slave, abide in that calling. If in life you are a free man, abide in that calling.

This is not making all walks of life common.

This is making all walks of life special.

We are not called to do specific wonderful works.

We are simply to rejoice in the fact that we were once dead, but are now made alive by the calling of God.


1 Corinthians 7.20-24 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

1 John 3.1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

1 Peter 2.9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

2 Peter 1.10 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (Here Peter is referring to cultivation of general Christ-like qualities).

Paul, called to be an apostle: Romans 1.1; 1 Corinthians 1.1; (and implied in many of the opening greetings of his letters).

The empty before

I don't know if it's me, or if this is common experience:

When the responsibility for a meeting of believers is on my shoulders, I often feel a little empty before it starts.

They are all coming in about 45 minutes for the kickoff of our neighborhood Bible Study.

And I'm feeling empty.

I used to psycho-analyze myself about this: Have I not prepped enough? (certainly the case this time) Have I not prayed enough? (certainly the case this time). Would I rather be doing something else? (other things did cross my mind ...).

I've also known the surprise of fullness after meetings start.

And certainly fullness by the time meetings are over.

Something would come about that is beyond me. I guess this is encouragement. The coming together of the saints.


Hebrews 10.25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.

The aviary of Christ

So do we just give up learning because we'll forget everything anyway?

Certainly not.

But learning might not be what we think it is.

The conventional view is this: by ever learning, we piece together an ever clearer view of who we are. By ever learning, we gradually become masters of facts -- or, as we saw, master collectors of fact-birds we put in the aviary of our minds.

Just go to the next commencement speech near you to see what I mean. The basic variation on the theme will be: "You've learned XYZ; now, armed with this knowledge, go out and change the world ..."

Okay, we'll do.

Paul's model is different. He says the key to learning is a person's location in Christ. From that location, one is "enriched in speech and knowledge of every kind."

In contrast to Plato saying that the facts we know are like birds in the aviary of our minds -- (those fact-birds are in there somewhere; they're just hard to catch when you need one) ...

... in contrast to this facts-in-the-aviary model of knowledge, it is we who are in the aviary of Christ.

The aviary of Christ. I like that.

We are in (the aviary of) Christ. This little phrase "in Christ" occurs over 200 times in the New Testament.

And he is the source of all knowledge and speech.

Learning of any kind, then, simply offer opportunities to appreciate our place in the aviary of Christ in new ways.

It gives a new glory to the aesthetics of learning.

It even makes the aesthetics of forgetting more beautiful.


1 Corinthians 1.4-5 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind ...

Colossians 2.9-10 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

Plato, Thaeatetus 197(e)-199(b)

Towers and salt

If you set out to build a tower, first make sure you have the materials to see the job through.

This was one of the word-pictures Jesus painted to illustrate the cost of following him.

What did he mean?

Surely he did not mean the cost of salvation itself, because that cost can only be paid by Jesus alone.

So what does the tower, the materials, and the staying power for seeing the project through, mean?

The tower represents a visible expression of the invisible faith of one's salvation. Building the tower gives a life of faith a certain orderliness and coherence -- one that could be seen, felt, handled. Because one is building his tower, costs have been counted, efficiencies have been calculated, priorities have been set.

I know a person -- a single woman -- who some years ago went to a faraway part of the world to be a missionary. In a short few years, she learned not one, but two, dialects spoken in that region. She came to consider this faraway place her home. This past year she returned to the US to get additional training. But while in the US, political unrest in that faraway place resulted in her being denied entry back.

What does she do? She went back anyway -- on a tourist visa, hoping to extend her stay while on the ground there.

I look at her life and I see she is building a tower. Costs have been counted, efficiencies calculated, priorities set.

I am reminded of Paul who, on his way to Jerusalem, was given a prophecy -- a prophecy -- that he shouldn't go. He went anyway.

It was because going to Jerusalem was part of the tower Paul was building: the visible expression of the invisible faith of his salvation.

You say what's the difference between that and just being bullheaded? A prophecy was given that he shouldn't go. And he went anyway. Isn't that just stubbornness?

Well it may look like that. But Jesus concluded his word-picture of building the tower by saying this: What good is salt if it has lost its saltiness?

My friend the missionary, and Paul, were not being stubborn. They were just being salty.

Salt preserves.

Salt gives taste.

Salt melts the ice away.

If we only claim invisible faith, but have no tower we are building to show for it ... then there is no saltiness either.

And Jesus said: What good is salt without the saltiness?

So, what tower are you building?


Luke 14.28-30, 33-35 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ ... 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Acts 21.10-13 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

James 2.14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

The cost of fatherhood

When our kids graduated from high school, we would notice an uptick in the number of parents of their friends who separate around that time.

It was as if, "Well, junior is now on his own, so our job is over ... time to move on separately..."

Here is Paul:

You are rich and we are poor! You are strong and we are weak! You are honorable. We, on the other hand, are fools. As a matter of fact, you live like kings! I wish you were really kings because then I'd get some benefit ...

Then Paul says this:

I'm not saying this to shame you. I'm saying this because I
fathered you.

Fascinating point he makes to the Corinthians -- widely regarded as one of the most dysfunctional New Testament churches to have received a letter (two letters) from the Apostle.

What was Paul's point?

It was not that the Corinthians should stop being strong; or give up their honor (Paul was probably referring to good positions some of these folks held in general society). Or even that thinking of themselves as "kings" was so awful.

Paul's point was simply that he had fathered them.

And for the cost of fathering them, he had to become weak, to become a fool, to become a spectacle not only before men but also before angels. For the cost of fathering them, he had to live a life, as it were, with a death sentence on it.

Not only is this true: Once a father, always a father.

This also is true: To produce spiritual fruit, a life has to be laid down, even to experience the dregs so that the offspring can experience the life.

And this is also true: The labor does not end -- there is no release to fatherhood after high school graduation, when the kids go on to success and honor. The labor continues.

And then Paul says: Imitate me.

We often think: If I were only a missionary like Paul, then I would really be fruitful.

No. To be fruitful, just pay the cost of fatherhood for those around you.


1 Corinthians 4.8-16: 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

The template is not the life

During the time of the kings in old-time Judah and Israel, we often have mentioned companies of prophets.

They seem to be a backdrop against which the actual prophetic business of God took place. For example, the prophets Elijah and Elisha no doubt did the actual work of God in their day.

But Elijah and Elisha did not belong to these companies of prophets.

Sometimes these companies of prophets could be dead wrong -- as in the case when 400 of them told Ahab that he would win in battle when he in fact lost, and lost his life in the process.

The only prophet who disagreed with them was Micaiah. And like Elijah and Elisha, Micaiah was not a member of that company of 400 prophets.

Who were these companies of prophets? And what can we learn from them?

Well, one lesson is this: just because someone has a title, it doesn't mean that person possesses the internal quality of life the title presumes.

In my line of work, for example, there are full professors in title who are, well, it's not clear what they are full of. (OK stop it Dave).

Who were these companies of prophets?

Here is another lesson:

Whenever a way of life -- a way of organic, living, beautiful life -- whenever a way of life becomes institutionalized, a template of that way of life is made.

Making templates is a lot easier than making life.

But the template is not the life.

Sometimes the template even tries to kill the life.


2 Kings 2:3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."

1 Kings 22.6 (and following) Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.”

Matthew 26.3-4 Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.

A moment while painting

This was when it happened:

I was on a ladder painting the top trim of our house Analytic Gray; that's the name of the color.

Analytic Gray.

Joshua brought the equipment from his summer job back for the week and we've been working on the house for several days: scraping, caulking, spraying, going to the store for more supplies.

By today we've gone through at least 40 tubes of caulk and 20 gallons of Analytic Gray.


I was on the ladder.

The sky was clear after threatening to drizzle.

Our neighbor Cori was on the other side of the house painting the bottom trim.

Over my shoulder I saw our other neighbor Jean in the garden. She had brought over bundles of pine needles to mulch our asparagus patch.

That was when it happened.

I felt like I was in a work of art; and very thankful.

Later, I heard from Valerie that Cori enjoyed helping us paint because it was like being part of the family.


Numbers 6.24 The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Psalm 68.6 God sets the solitary in families

An aesthetics of hearing

"Seeing is believing."

This cliche reveals one of our standard commitments: seeing takes precedence over other senses when it comes to knowing what is true.

Another version of the same cliche: "I'll believe it when I see it."

But this is not the Biblical order of things.

This morning I read what the psalmist says, "As we have heard, so have we seen ..."

So hearing precedes seeing. This is an enormous challenge to our culture, which is so colored (colored!) by the glitz and sensuality of the visual.

Our culture is driven by an aesthetics of sight.

But in truth an aesthetics of hearing is much more beautiful.

This morning I read about Ahab, King of Israel, wondering whether to go to battle. 400 prophets say YES! But one prophet, Micaiah, says NO. How would you like to be Micaiah? What you see are 400 prophets saying YES! What you see is a king decked out in all his royal regalia, wanting you to say YES. That is what you see.

But what you hear says NO. That's 401 to one. Those are tough odds. What would you do?

Micaiah was faithful to report the NO, which is what he heard. And he proved right.

I think of the crowd at Jesus' trial that cried "crucify him, crucify him!" This was much the same crowd that saw Jesus perform his miracles. Seeing for them did not result in believing.

And so Jesus always said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

How is this hearing accomplished?

Well, this morning I read Paul saying that we have a spirit that receives not from this world of sight, but from the world of the Spirit of God.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.


Psalm 48.8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts in the city of our God, which God establishes forever.

Romans 10.17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

1 Kings chapter 22 recounts the discernment of Micaiah.

Mark 15.13-14 And they cried out again, Crucify him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear" Matthew 11.15; 13.9; 13.43, Mark 4.9; 4.23; 7.16. Luke 8.8; 14.35

1 Corinthians 2.9-13 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God's except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Rethinking 'Manifest Destiny'

In the earlier centuries of US history, Manifest Destiny was the idea, held as self-evident truth, that the North American continent was virgin land just waiting for the white European to conquer, "civilize," and inhabit.

The notion was a complex mix of Baconian Cartesianism (that nature is there to be conquered), English utilitarianism (that nature is there to generate economic wealth), early Greek ideals of "democracy" (in which the autonomy of the individual exists in civilized tension with self-governing community) and all of this ...

... intermixed with a particular understanding of the Biblical wording "have dominion over the earth."

It is this last ingredient that stirs no small amount of wrath among academic commentators today. Here is one, Leo Marx:

"The utilitarian bias was buttressed by the strong Protestant sense of the natural world as lawless, unredeemed, or satanic. The seventeenth century New England Puritans, who were bent on building a model Christian community, a city on a hill for all the world to see, took seriously the biblical injunction to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over all its creatures..."

Somehow the Christian good news doesn't come off too good here.

And I would say for good reason.

This morning, my friend Len and I were talking about what the white man did to the North American tribal peoples. Some tribes were relocated hundreds of miles for no apparent reason -- other than that they did not fit into the European agenda of expansion, settlement, and "civilizing" the land.

And we know relocation was not the worst of it by far.

In the Scriptures, the first Adam was indeed called upon to rule over the earth, to replenish it, to have dominion over it. But he was unable to follow through with this.

The only clues we have as to how biblical dominion can be -- and will be -- accomplished is by looking at the actions of the second Adam, Christ:

He stilled the sea and brought calm. He brought forth food for all when there were only supplies for some. He opened the eyes of the blind because that was the way they should be naturally. He helped the lame to walk. He gave life to the dead -- because death is unnatural.

He healed, and he heals, the brokenhearted.

That is dominion. There is nothing about displacing peoples. Christ is not an industrialist; he is not a capitalist; (nor is he a socialist!). He is not Cartesian. He is not Lockian. He is not Weberian. He's not even Platonic.

He's just the Artist who created it all.

Dominion on His terms is simply about bringing everybody home to the beautiful earth we were meant to inhabit, and to tend.


Genesis 1.28: And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Mark 4.39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

John 14.2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

Leo Marx, "The American Ideology of Space" in Denatured Visions: Landscape and Culture in the 20th Century (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988), 64.

And what about forgetting?

We spend all our lives striving to learn: learning at school, learning on the job, learning to better relate to people, traveling to accrue an understanding of the world. All kinds of learning going on.

But forgetting is more in character with our condition.

For those of us with a few years under our belts, ask yourselves this: how much have you forgotten?

It's hard to know: one because a big part of forgetting is ... forgetting.

And two: the amount of knowledge we've forgotten must be enormous.

The other day I re-read my PhD dissertation. I couldn't understand big chunks of it; I don't even remember writing those sentences.

Plato once said that our store of knowledge is like an aviary, with each bird in it representing a piece of knowledge. This explains why sometimes you can't recall facts that you know you know: you can't catch that particular bird in your aviary at the time you need it.

Nice try, Plato. What he didn't account for is that most of the birds have flown the coop.

Why do humans forget? How do we forget?

And because we forget, what is the nature of knowing? What exactly does it mean to know something? When we say we know something, how much do we know it? In what way do we know it?

What is "it" that we know?

We were sitting on the couch this morning, and our black cat KoKo jumped onto our laps and nuzzled up against us.

"Do you think she is friendlier than Balak?" I asked Valerie. (Balak was the other black "tuxedo" cat we had years ago).

"I just don't remember," she said.


Ecclesiastes 1.11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

Ephesians 1.16-17 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him ...

Ephesians 3.19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Plato, Thaeatetus 197(e)-199(b)

What to do between grass and Word

In summer, the grass in the field beyond our garden grows to several feet tall. The stalks get thick and rigid, and it takes some effort to wade through the field even as you disappear into it.

But I'm always amazed at how, in winter, all of that grass just goes away. Grass that could have been baled to make thick and sturdy walls for straw-bale houses ... totally gone.

The early Taoists noticed this fleeting quality of grass and concluded that everything about this life is fleeting: "The ten thousand things (a Chinese phrase for 'all things') are insignificant as straw dogs."

The only thing that stays the same is change itself. And even then, change cannot really be named: "The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao." Or again: "As soon as there are names, it is time to stop."

The Apostle Peter also used grass to picture how fleeting life is: All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass; the grass withers and its flowers fail. All flesh is like that.

Sometimes we think our flesh is just a little better. It is a peculiar foible of human nature to think, ah, what I do will last. And so we do and do and do ... to make some of what we do, hopefully, last.

But it is all an illusion. We are here, and then we are gone.


So, were the Taoists right?

Well, Peter says there is something that is eternal and constant: the Word of God. This word is imperishable.

The Word that can be named is the eternal Word.

And what is more, this word has birthed us.
It has birthed us. And so we have the durability of eternity.

What, then, is left to do in this life? What can we do that lasts?

Between the perishable grass and the imperishable Word, we are to love one another earnestly, and with a pure heart.


1 Peter 1.22b-25 ... love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Tao Te Ching 5 (straw dogs), 1 (tao that cannot be named), 32 (as soon as there are names ... stop)

The crayons of prophecy

We usually think of a prophecy as a prediction that some event will come to pass and, years later, when it does come to pass, the prophecy is fulfilled; end of story. Everything in between is unrelated to this prophetic cause-and-effect.

Not really.

At least not always. Very few prophecies in the Bible actually fit this simple SOFO template. (SOFO = spoken once, fulfilled once)

Remember that the Scripture says "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

How does that work?

Well, ALL of the Scriptures speak of Jesus' testimony in some way. So the spirit of that testimony -- that is, the spirit of prophecy -- permeates ALL the words of the Bible.

This changes everything.

For example, when John writes "God is love," it is as much a prophetic utterance, in this larger sense, as any passage in Isaiah or in one of the other "prophetic" books.

How is "God is love" prophetic?

When is "God is love" fulfilled?

It is fulfilled whenever you acknowledge from your heart, "Amen, God is love." And deep calleth unto deep.

In other words, every day, every minute, all over the world, "God is love" is being fulfilled by those who live in its truth, and who live out its truth for the world to see.

Understood in this way, prophecies are not singular utterances waiting for singular fulfillments.

The prophecies of Scripture are like crayons we use in our everyday lives to color our everyday world as it should be colored.

God is love.

Color in this prophecy today in your life and in your world.


Revelation 19.10 ... Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

1 John 14.16 ... God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

Processing the will of God for me

What is the will of God for me?

In my years of dealing with this question whether for myself or for others, the tendency has always been to think of the answer as a point. Let me explain.

The "point" answer goes like this: The will of God for me is X -- whether X is a specific decision to make, a specific action to take, a specific event to occur (in just this or that specific way). A specific house to buy; a specific college to go to; a specific person to marry. So on.

Finding this specific needle in a haystack of choices can sometimes feel like...

... finding Waldo.

I don't doubt the will of God can be expressed in specific points.

But usually in my rear-view mirror, what I see is that "the will of God for me" is played out over time. In other words, "the will of God for me" is not a point; it is a process.

Often it is only in the rear-view mirror that specific points in that process become clearly discernible.

But even then, what is amazing is the overall story -- filled with the decisions that you made, yes, but somehow having the look of intelligent direction, an intelligence that is not yours.

At any one point in that process, "the will of God for me" may or may not be clearly discernible. Sometimes the only thing that's clear is that you've blown it. But over the long run, "the will of God for me" becomes clearer and clearer on the canvas painted by your accrued experiences.

Does this mean any process will do?

Heavens no. When we look to the Scriptures for answers to "the will of God for me," what we find are specific guidelines for the process: hail Him as Lord, confess our need for His forgiveness, love one another, walk in the light, bear one another's burdens, and all of the other "generalities" that -- fess up -- don't really satisfy if what you are after is a specific directive on whether or not to buy that house, to buy that truck, to do whatever ...

In Scriptures, there is only one point in the will of God. It is this:

Jesus Christ came into the world at the center of history.

Everything else is a process towards the light of that point, or away from it.

You see, here's the real point in the will of God: it was never about you.


Psalms 37.23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way ...

The aesthetics of the Great Commission

I am attracted to the Great Commission recorded, not at the end of Matthew (which is the passage usually cited) but at the end of Mark:

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.

The word for "creation" here really does include all of creation -- of which we human beings are just a part. Yes we are a big part. In fact, in the Biblical economy of things, among all created things and beings, we humans are the bearers of the image of God. That's being a big part of creation.

But even this elevated position doesn't make us the whole creation.

And we are to proclaim the good news to the whole creation.

That means we are to proclaim the good news to the birds and the bees, to sunrises and to sunsets, and to everything in between.

This changes everything. It imbues all our relationships with sanctity and honor. It beautifies everything we do because we bring God's glory into it all.

Who says Christians are unconcerned about the environment; about "sustainability?"

Christians ought to be, of all people, most concerned about the wellness of the earth.

It is just that we Christians do not think that we are the sole guardians of this creation. We are simply gardeners for the Gardener.

(When Jesus rose from the grave, he was mistaken for a gardener ...).

If we do not proclaim the good news to the sunrise -- which needs to hear it; the sun's been rising for the longest time and is starting wonder what this is all about -- if we do not proclaim the good news to all of creation ...

... toting around a gospel tract in our back pockets may not be the most effective thing to do.

The whole creation is groaning to be liberated.


Mark 16.15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

Romans 8.21-22 ... the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now ...

John 21.15
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, "Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away."

Note: There is controversy over whether the last verses of Mark are original, or added on later by an unknown writer. For example, the part about immunity from snakes and poisons just doesn't sound like anything Jesus would say (Mark 16.18). But the record of the Great Commission is corroborated by Matthew 28.19-20. Matthew says go into all the nations with the good news. The writer in Mark broadens it by saying all creation needs the good news. The Holy Spirit allowed this to become Scripture; and I think He did so because the recovery of creation really is at the core of the purposes of God. God does not only want to save; he wants to make all things beautiful.

Imitation reconsidered (3: Presence)

Ion, the storyteller, had an interesting problem. Whenever he recited Homer, it electrified his audience. It was like Homer, who wrote centuries before, was right there with them again.

But when Ion recited other writers, the audience was bored stiff. What to do, Socrates?

"Ah," said Socrates, "that is because you are under inspiration when reciting Homer." When an artist is under inspiration, they “… are not in their right minds when composing their beautiful strains.” Rather, Socrates said to Ion, it is "divinity moving you."

So, inspiration facilitated the imitation of the original in such a manner that the original is somehow here with us again.

The third thread of how imitation (mimesis) related to beauty in the Greco-Roman worldview is this: when mimesis is accomplished beautifully, the work of art which results has, as it were, the presence of the original.

The Greeks struggled mightily to understand how a single person can even create beautiful art. Something must come upon him, enabling him, empowering him, to imitate the Ideal, to imitate the Mean, to make the beautiful work.

So, from the Greeks we get the notion of the Muses, goddesses of the arts: an artist cannot create beautifully unless one of the Muses came upon him.

Socrates even called this empowering his daimonion (translated demon; take that for what it's worth).

Now, what of this Paul, this preacher of a new way of life patterned after some failed carpenter who was crucified as a criminal in faraway Jerusalem?

What of this Paul, a very educated man, who left everything to follow and serve this Jesus, who claimed to be God?

What of this Paul, who said: And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (?)

It was this Paul who said: imitate (mimesis) me.

All explanations and ways of doing are shadows of what the Word of God reveals in substance.

To live beautifully requires the empowering of the Spirit of God.


1 Corinthians 2.4-5 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 4.16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

Plato, Ion 532b-536b

Imitation reconsidered (2: the Mean)

Mimesis meant imitating a heavenly ideal so excellently that the ideal is expressed as a work of art visible for all to see. This was the first thread in the Greco-Roman view of how imitation produced beauty.

Keep this in mind when reading what Paul said to his readers: "Imitate (mimesis) me."

The second thread in mimesis producing beauty in that worldview is "the Mean."

It bothered the Greeks that nothing in nature stayed the same. You are young; then you are old. An abundant harvest is followed by drought.
What stays the same? What can be depended upon to anchor the uncertainties of life to?

The Greeks hit upon number. Beyond the flux of nature, there is an unchanging realm of number and proportion. This is the basis of their idea of the Mean. Here is Plato:

All things require to be compared, not only with one another, but with the Mean, without which there would be no beauty and no art ...

So an artist was not only to imitate a master for the ideal; he must also strive to imitate the Mean.

When the Mean was beautifully expressed, the Greeks called it symmetria. This did not mean the right and left sides of something being the same (bi-lateral symmetry).

No. Symmetria meant when everything was in balance in accord with the Mean. When Paul was discoursing on Mars Hill, he could look up to the Acropolis and see the Parthenon, which expressed symmetria. He could see the Caryatids of the Erechtheion; for the Greeks, a Caryatid also expressed symmetria (see above).

Now, the miracles of Jesus all possess the symmetria sought after by the Greeks. The miracles are glimpses of nature in true balance, under the dominion of Adam as it was meant to be.

When Jesus stilled the wind and the rain on the Sea of Galilee, the excesses of nature were brought into symmetria. When He fed the 5000, it was distribution without lack, but with symmetria.

And in Jesus' case, the miracles, as beautiful works of art, were not dead statues or buildings, but actual life in its unfallen beauty, perfectly balanced because Christ is the measure (Mean) of all things.

So when Paul asked his readers to imitate him as he imitated Christ, it was not only so that their lives can express the beauty of Christ as ideal, now tabernacling with us, it was also so that their lives can be beautifully balanced in all things.


1 Corinthians 4.16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

1 Thessalonians 2.14 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Colossians 1.15-17 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in
heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Ephesians 4.7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.

The citation from Plato can be found in Statesman 283-285

For more on symmetria, see J.J. Pollit, Art and Experience in Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 1972), Chapter 3: "The World Under Control."

Imitation reconsidered (1: the Ideal)

These days, to be a true artist, you must not imitate. You've got to be original.

In fact, you've got to be an original.

But this is not the way it used to be. Indeed, one way to understand all of history is to take note of when people stopped imitating.

(In art history, imitation stopped around the end of the 19th century. This was the same time for the loss of God across the board in many disciplines. In biology, for example, it was the advent of Darwinian thinking: life comes not from above, it comes from random processes; and selection by power and exertion).

But when Paul exhorted his readers to "be imitators of me," he was living in a culture that highly valued imitation.

Hands down the most educated of the New Testament writers, Paul was no doubt well aware of the Platonic-Aristotelian teachings on mimesis, or imitation. Many threads of meaning were woven into this word mimesis, threads that permeated the Greco-Roman worldview, a worldview that, say what you will about it, influenced the stability of the Western world for nearly two thousand years.

Here is an example: artists used to be trained by apprenticeship. In order to be an artist, you basically set aside any life you had, and you moved into the life-world of the master artist you apprenticed for. You ate, lived, and worked under him.

You imitated him.

This is because you did not imitate him; you imitated the living ideal his work stood for. Somehow in the hands of the master, this material world is transcended, and an ideal world can be ushered in through the work of his hands.

This was the basis for BEAUTY in art.

So, the first thread of meaning for mimesis from that old world is this: Imitation was not to copy what is in front of you. Imitation was the only way to bring into this world truth from a heavenly world.

That was the business of art.

It was the business of being beautiful.

Now, Paul recognized there was a problem with the Greco-Roman view of imitation. Simply put: the Platonic ideal suitable for imitation existed in a vague immaterial world called "the Good." You never knew for sure how to get to this Good.

But the advent of Christ not only defined "the Good," it brought the Good down to earth, to tabernacle with men.

And those who gave their lives over to Christ the master, as Paul did, were worthy of imitation.

It was the key to a beautiful life.


I Corinthians 4.16 I urge you, then, be imitators (μιμηταί) of me.

Hebrews 13.7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

John 1.14 And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth. (Young's translation).

For this thread of mimesis in Plato, see Republic X. The Jowett translation of Republic X is readily available at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.11.x.html

For one study of how early Christian writers used concepts from the Hellenistic worldview see Niketas Siniossoglou, Plato and Theodoret: The Christian Appropriation of Platonic Philosophy and the Hellenic Intellectual Resistance (Cambridge University Press, 2008). The author of this book does not take a Christian-friendly view, but for that reason is all the more worth reading.

When you truck, truck BOLDLY (?)

It is well known that Martin Luther had little use for the book of James.

This is understandable: in the grand scheme of things, God's call on Luther was to re-discover the truth that salvation is not by conduct, but by grace alone.

But God's call on James regarded conduct. James' point was simply that, if you're really born into a family, there ought to be a family resemblance.

So if you're really born into God's family by grace, it should show by your grace-full conduct. And so he says things like this:

Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

Gentleness ... born of wisdom.

I've been thinking about this for 36 hours -- which is a lot for the American attention span (even an American with Chinese characteristics; or a Chinese with American characteristics; WHATEVER).

I want to be gentle, and I want to be wise -- and I'm struggling with how I can be either.

For example: how can a guy be gentle or wise when he's bombing around in a Toyota Tundra?

This is what I think about.

Wouldn't it have been gentler and wiser to have kept my '96 Sonoma? The one with the stick going? The one that couldn't be driven in snow? The one my neighbor Cori calls "Dave's pretend truck."

(Cori is such a sweetheart).

I struggle because the Tundra feels more like a pretend truck.

... gentle and wise ... in a honking Tundra?

I can hear Luther now: when you truck, truck BOLDLY... ; okay Marty...whatever you say.

Maybe I should just stop sweating this truck thing ... good grief.


James 3.13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.