Friday, April 29, 2011

The Cloud and the Storm

When I left the University on Monday, I noticed an ominous-looking cloud in the sky. Although it was beautiful in the evening sky, it looked like it was bulging with all types of precipitation and mayhem. While sitting in a coffee shop yesterday, I learned that I was not the only one who noticed this cloud. These college-aged kids could not stop talking about it. They called it "The cloud that brought Zeus." Whenever there was a lull in the conversation, someone would say “how about that cloud yesterday” and everyone else would say “yeah dude, that was awesome.” 

Personally, it made me remember my younger years when my family lived on a hill so that every spring we could see the bulging thunderhead clouds coming over the horizon.  Usually, seeing a cloud this massive would signify a coming storm. Unfortunately for the dying plants of central Texas, Monday’s cloud did not bring any rain to our area. It did supply us with a brief sense of joy and a bunch of facebook status updates.
In Matthew 8, the author describes how some clouds appeared that did bring about rain and wind. Even though Jesus and the disciples were in a boat, which is generally not where you would want to be during a storm, Jesus went to sleep. It seems that all of the men on the boat thought that their situation was dire, except for Jesus. When the disciples woke him, Jesus rebuked the storm and calmed the sea.
Some people interpret Jesus’ sleeping as a sign of his ability to feel at peace in tough circumstances. Although that is true, may be Jesus also knew that this storm simply was not that bad. He may have known that the boat was strong enough and the sailors were capable. In the end, may be Jesus knew how his life was going to end, but it was not from drowning in a rainstorm. 
May be we need to learn to see a cloud as a cloud. When our situations ominously tower above us, covering our view, we should try to take a step out and consider that things might appear worse than they are.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I feel that I am extremely blessed to have had an amazing childhood. Having a 2 acre yard meant that we had space to run around and do all kinds of boy things, like building forts and playing ball. We even had a sandbox. We could make a game out of just about anything. We also played with other neighborhood kids. We did not always enjoy showering, so mom would take us to my grandmother’s house for swimming so we would be at least a little clean.
There is a growing amount of medical evidence which suggests that my early exploration was not only good for my happiness as a child, but possibly also my health as an adult. The hygiene hypothesis is a theory which suggests that not coming into contact with bacterias and diseases early in life may impair the growth of one’s immune system, resulting in immune system-related problems such as allergies and asthma. It is similar to getting a flu shot which contains a small amount of the disease to build up one’s immunity to that particular disease. I have even heard of successful medical procedures in which the bacteria from a healthy person is transferred to a sick person, then the disease is eradicated.
In Matthew 8:14 - 17, Jesus heals many people of their diseases. First he heals Peter’s mother-in-law, then others who were brought to him. Matthew then quotes Isaiah 53, in which the prophet foretold that Jesus would be a healer, taking up our diseases and infirmities. It seems that Jesus’ healing was a powerful demonstration of God’s care for the pain suffered in humanity.
What about the rest of us who may have never had a serious infectious disease or have been possessed by a demon? Can we not know the love of God in the same way?
Using the logic of the hygiene hypothesis, one might suggest that there are actually three types of people: (1) those who are sick and yet to be healed, (2) those who are not sick because they have not yet come into contact with the disease, and (3) those who are pre-healed through immunity. 
I think this type of viewpoint might be helpful in the way we think about other people. We are all vulnerable to the brokenness of the world, but for some problems God has placed within us healing before our affliction. For other issues we may be vulnerable and yet to be afflicted. The most powerful set may be those things we have actually encountered directly and experienced healing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Ask

My four year-old niece knows how to ask in a way that is conducive to getting a good answer. She looks at you sincerely, with a cute little face that is hard to resist. I am not sure where children learn this, but it can be very effective. Even when they ask over and over again, it can still be hard to say “no.”
In Matthew 8, Jesus encounters two men who made very effective requests of him. One of them was a man with Leprosy, who said to Jesus: “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.” The second man told Jesus about the affliction (his servant was sick), but then also said he was not worthy to have Jesus enter his household. Jesus responded very positively to both of these men, granting their requests. 
It seems to me that the two things these questions had in common were faith and humility. Both men expressed their complete confidence that Jesus could grant their requests. They probably had heard many stories about Jesus’ power to heal the sick. However, neither man expressed much confidence that Jesus would grant their requests. They humbly asked, knowing that Jesus was under no particular obligation to acquiesce to their requests.
Although we may have learned how to ask when we were very young, I think we often forget about it when it comes to God. Instead we often ask God “Why Me?” with this glaring sense of entitlement. People sometimes even ask questions of God, while putting on the line whether or not they will continue to believe. We treat God like a vending machine, always expecting to get what we want when we push the right button. 
God is not a vending machine, or even some nebulous “force” in the universe. God is an  immense, omnipotent, and creative being that has a will, not an algorithm. I hope we can learn to treat God that way!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Desirably Difficult

Very often, we want our lives to be easier. We want things to be convenient, accessible, and user-friendly. For example, if you went to an important presentation, you might be really frustrated if someone gave you an outline of it that was organized differently from the actually presentation. You might think they were out to get you or playing a joke. 
However, when some researchers gave some of their students outlines consistent with the paper they would read and others inconsistent, something different happened. When it came to memory, the consistent outline was superior. When the students were required to solve problems with the knowledge they had gained, seeing an inconsistent outline was actually more advantageous (Mannes & Kintsch, 1987). Although the inconsistently organized information was more difficult, the end result was better than that which was easier.
In Matthew 7, Jesus talked to his followers about adding some difficulty in their walk. He presents an analogy suggesting putting his words to practice in one’s life is like building a house on a strong foundation. When the inevitable storm of life comes, the house stands firm. By contrast, hearing Jesus’ words and not putting them into practice is like building one’s house on an insecure foundation. In this situation, the house will not stand through the trials of life and is destroyed.
It seems to me that many Christians have interpreted this portion of Matthew 7 to mean that putting one’s faith in Christ is a firm foundation. I do not think that is necessarily incorrect, but it seems to me that Jesus is saying something else. Jesus suggests that actively putting his words into practice is a firm foundation. However, rock is much harder than sand, therefore building on a rock would likely be much more difficult than sand. 
One way that Christians traditionally have practiced difficulty is during the season of Lent. During this time, one may choose to abstain from something as an exercise in remembering the difficulty that Jesus encountered in his life. Of course practicing lent is not the only way to encounter difficulty, usually it just happens. When it does, I think it is useful to think that I am just securing that strong foundation, knowing it will be better if it is strong.