28 June, 2006

Personal: Woo Hoo!

It's a happy night, and a wonderful relief too.

I found something fun to do with my daughter, Geocaching. We didn't have a miraculous bonding moment or anything, but it was amusing eventually, and we talked the whole time rather than sitting with our eyes focused on the big screen. She even said she had fun. Praise the Lord.

There's a $100 investment for a handheld GPS unit, but it's worth every penny.

A cache is a little tupperware container full of little toys and a logbook. It is hidden somewhere, and its position is recorded and posted up to Geocache.com with a couple of clues how to find it. As the treasure hunter, my daughter and I took off and found a cache or two. After you find it, you take a toy, and leave a toy plus a couple notes in the little log book, then move on.

From the website:
There are 281971 active caches in 222 countries. In the last 7 days, there have been 180010 new logs written by 30745 account holders.

I can very nearly guarantee that there is a little tupperware cache somewhere near you. There were 4 caches in the lake park my daughter frequents, and there are two in my immediate neighborhood. There are even hundreds in downtown Columbus. That's good, because I learned tonight that my daughter does not really enjoy walking in bug-infested woods. Our next trip will be in the Short North - the yuppie and tattoo corner of Columbus that she really enjoys. It's cool, because it lets her be where she wants to be, and gives me an excuse to be there. We can even stop for a tea or some such if she will indulge me. :-)

If you have kids or friends or spare time or just a desire to get out and walk/jog toward something more than the "turn-around" at the end of the outbound journey, I recommend geocaching. And for those of you creative types (and you know who you are,) you can start leaving cool toys and advance to making up your own caches, planting "travel bugs", and solving or making whole multi-part, all day puzzles.

27 June, 2006

Further off track: What is Regeneration?

This question is niggling at my mind.

[This is not going to be an exciting post, so I sympathize with everyone who doesn't want to count angels on pinheads (or just pinheads) right now. Catch you in a later discussion!]

First, the "so what."

I believe, and have believed for a long time now, that regeneration is the implanting into a human being the very Life of the eternal God. In various discussions and readings over the past 6 months, I have finally begun to see that I am almost alone in that definition. It has taken me a long time to figure it out, but most people believe that regeneration is the restoration of human life such that it can interact with God.

If regeneration is man's nature resurrected, then man may be able to take a first step toward God. If regeneration is God's nature implanted in man, then man can only respond to God's gift after he has received it. That's no tiny matter. It strikes at the heart of the whole free-will discussion. I believe in man's free will, and I believe that fallen man always and without exception wills to place himself above God. If regeneration is man's will resurrected, then everything I believe about free will has to be reexamined.

The thing that has blown me away over the past couple weeks is that most Calvinists seem to believe that regeneration is man's nature being resurrected. I would never have guessed that. It strikes me as bizarre and self-contradictory. But then, I'm still a diesel mechanic at heart.

I would keep this whole discussion confined to the din of my own head, but I came across this quote in a pretty stodgy book, and it jazzed me. The book is, An Absolute Sort of Certainty, The Holy Spirit and the Apologetics of Jonathon Edwards.

(Personal note for those of you still reading: I really enjoy Jonathon Edwards. I just wish I had a couple more IQ points, so I could keep up with him, and some more time so I could finish some of the things he wrote. I picked up a biography of his wife nearly 20 years ago entitled, Marriage to a Difficult Man. It was my wife's favorite theology-ish book of mine. I wonder why? :-P)

Anyway, here is the quote from the book. McClymond is one of the many people who analyzed Edwards' philosophy against his theology, and the author of this book is analyzing his analysis.

McClymond's thesis might be improved if, rather than arguing that regeneration is Edwards's epistemological foundation, he argued that revelation is its basis. Regeneration then enables one to see the truth of revelation. The epistemological foundation, however, is not the perception of revelation, but revelation itself. Both revelation and the perception of it are given by the Spirit. Likewise, the basis of certainty is not the perception that one has or the new sense, but assurance or the Spirit's witness. ...

If you didn't have to read that portion of a paragraph more than once, my hat's off to you.

This paragraph says that the new birth of a Christian does not give him the ability to "know". The Spirit's revelation gives him the ability to know. But, without the new birth, the man will be unable to see the things the Spirit is revealing. So both the light that allows us to see the truth, and the eyes that can receive the light are gifts of the same Spirit.

Postmodernists seem to hold that whatever we see is truth, even if there's nothing objectively real to be seen. They actually seem to hold that there is no truth except for what is true to each person, and there is no truth except what each person perceives. Edwards argues that there is a true God Who reveals true truth about Himself and Who makes us able to receive that truth.

This caught my eye because I have focused in on regeneration as almost standing on its own in our salvation. Regeneration and revelation operate in tandem, both by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reveals Christ to us, and we are able to see Him because He makes us alive.

This almost threatens to put my thesis in jeopardy, that the mechanics of regeneration open or shut the door on free-will. Oh my!

So, I have something to think about for the next few months. :-)

FWIW, I have not started digging through scripture again on this yet. Nonetheless, I will share the biggest influences on me toward believing that we are given the Life of Christ when we are born again:
+ Eve was formed from Adam. It only makes sense that we would be formed from the spiritual essence of Christ, not simply by Him.
+ A wife for Christ (God and man) of another species (human only) makes no sense to me.
+ Christ Himself was planted as a Seed, and He rose again many seeds. When that happens, kind must be after its kind.
+ Verses like 2 Pet 1:4 - Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

It will probably be months before I am ready to declare one way or the other, but it was good to chat about it a bit. Thanks for listening.

24 June, 2006

Dancing with Kansas Bob

I love this post.

Sidebar: Changing our Minds - Pt. Deux

Michael Shermer offers some suggestions how to combat the problem of "Confirmation Bias." Confirmation Bias is described by Francis Bacon in his lead-in quote thusly:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion ... draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises ... in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.

He calls science's solution to bear, and I love the scientists' answer to this question.

Peer Review

Really, I love peer review. If I could marry peer review, I would (if you don't have teenagers, that comment may sound random.)

In a scientific "double-blind" experiment, neither the subjects of the experiment nor its conductors know what is being tested for. A step-by-step process is written up, and the experimenter follows it to the letter, having no idea why. She or he collects the data requested, and reports it to the requester of the experiment. The requester evaluates whether it confirms or denies the original hypothesis. If the experiment is successful, the results are published and so are the procedures and data. Anyone can and should evaluate not just the results, but the process and the raw data. If they think the outcome warrants it, they can even reproduce the whole experiment themselves. They should get very similar results.

An example is helpful. Some scientists thought that they had found a way to make fusion happen without the heat of a sun. They ran through the whole experimental process, loved their results and published their findings. Before the published, though, they alerted the media to their awesome discovery of table-top cold fusion. They were all set to save the world.

Other scientists took their results and their procedures, and attempted to reproduce their experimental outcomes. When nobody else could make cold fusion happen, it was declared dead. Bang. Game over. If an experiment cannot be reproduced by other scientists, then it may as well never have happened. The proponents of table-top cold fusion were wrong. They fired up a media feeding frenzy in support of their ideas, everyone wanted it to be real, it even had verifiable results; but none of that made them right. Noone else could reproduce their results, and they were sent away.


Just like that, the discussion was over. The only people who still believe in the type of cold fusion disproven by scientific review are crackpots, and we all recognize them as such immediately.

But what about religion?

Shermer is writing about politics, so he faces the same problems we do. He makes some suggestions that probably won't work in politics, and wouldn't even get off the ground with us religionists.
1) Call each other on selective data mining.
If we find each other ignoring some important part of scripture, we should point out the omissions.
[Yeah. We do this enough already, and it doesn't fix anything.]

2) Demand to see contradictory evidence.
If I am a Calvinist, I should publish every Arminian verse.
[Again. This is standard operating procedure, and fixes nothing.]

3) Compel debaters to make the opposite case.
If I am a Calvinist, I should be made to argue in favor of Arminianism.
[Now this is new! But it's senseless. This reduces the most significant thoughts in the world to a mere exercise in debate. I love debate, but it should not be an exercise at this level.]

He sums up his article with these words, "Skepticism is the antidote for the confirmation bias."

I don't know how we can really do better than that.

I hope that nobody was expecting that I would have any brilliant answers to this problem. It is much bigger than I am. We lost count of the number of Christian denominations a long, long time ago.

Here is my impossible dream. I wish that we could come up with a way to submit our beliefs and practices to independent, double blind review. I don't know how it could happen. Psychologists do things like that, though. They ask people seemingly random questions about normal, every day stuff and draw conclusions about personality. It might be possible. Who knows. Any trained psych people in the crowd?

My next practical solution is to put boundaries around the problem. That means including more people in it than just me, and few enough that the conversation can be controlled. I actually proposed something like this 4 months ago or so. If one church ignored every denomination, they could start over from scratch with just the Nicene Creed and build everything else up from there. In a group small enough, the command, "let the prophets be subject to the prophets," actually makes sense. I could hope that group would bring in the deep thoughts of the ages, but slowly - slowly enough that they could be assimilated rather than merely rehearsed. It would be a very small start, but a start is better than nothing.

I might suggest that this church be formed of everyone who lived within a 5 block radius. :-) [I wonder whether anyone remembers the actual purpose of this blog.]

In my own life, I combat the problem with varying degrees of success. I actually do change my mind about things every now and again, and I have a couple of possible changes in the back of my mind right now, brewing away. With no promise of value for the reader, here are the things I do:

1) I attempt to put doctrine in its right place, rather than in the highest seat (which it seems always to get these days.) The less I overvalue doctrine, the more likely I am to be objective about it, and improve mine. The less I feel that God is going to be mad at me if I get something wrong, the more likely I am to grow and change with new revelation.

I also remind myself that we tend to choose those doctrines that fit our personality, more than those that fit the facts. Fewer intellectuals choose charismaticism than Calvinism, for example, and there are very few charismatic Calvinists (double meaning not intended). It helps me to understand why I see God the way I do, and why others see Him differently than I do. And that helps me to hold my views a little more loosely.

2) Most times another believer's arguments don't really move me. Usually, that is because I have heard those arguments a dozen times. I don't bother to feel very guilty about that. But when someone's arguments do move me, and I begin to see where she or he has a point, I do a little imagining. I see myself as holding this other position, and being very happy that I made the change. I then ask myself what it is about changing that made me happy.

If Confirmation Bias is an emotional thing, then it can best by outwitted by emotions (as Andreia pointed out.) I consciously try to counter-balance my natural aversion to changing my mind by picturing it as already changed and that I am happy with the new position.

So, thank you to Michael Shermer for making me want to talk about this. And thank you to all of you for actually being interested in such esoterica. :-)

22 June, 2006

Sidebar: Changing our Minds

Michael Shermer is a man of strong atheistic convictions. I appreciate and respect that. He is brilliant, but even beyond brilliancy he thinks clearly and clarity is a treasure. Of course, some of his stuff can be hard to read, since he takes Christianity on by name, and pretty aggressively, but that's OK with me. I enjoy his piece every month, and usually learn quite a bit from it.

In his latest Skeptic article for Scientific American, Shermer talks about what it takes to change our minds. (The article will be available at the supplied links about a month from now, I think. They keep their site intentionally behind the paper version for obvious if misguided reasons.)

It is an article about "Confirmation Bias".

[Before I go any further, I am not writing this because I am unhappy with anyone who might not have changed their minds on any subject due to this blog or on any other blog. :-) I am delighted with everyone's comments and input here and everywhere else I frequent. I just want to talk about why we don't change our minds.]

Confirmation Bias is the habit of the human mind to seek and retain facts that confirm what we already believe, and to explain away facts that unsettle that belief. I am a Calvinist, so verses that are clearly anti-Calvinist get the "what he really means is..." treatment from me. We all do this, and I think most of us know that we do it. What we don't know is why we do it.

Shermer's article recounts a scientific experiment that measured the brains of 10 or 20 avid political junkies - half Republican, half Democratic. Both groups were exposed to Bush and Kerry making erroneous statements. The results were as expected. Each agreed with his man, and rejected the other. Boring.

The "man bites dog" part of the story was what the instruments connected to their brains found.
As these junkies listened to their hero and enemy speak, and as they objectively analyzed their gaffs the logical portion of their brains stayed dormant. It was three other systems that were lighting up like Christmas trees. The emotional, conflict resolution, and moral judgement portions were firing on all cylinders. As they logically analyzed the arguments, they never employed logic. They were not deciding between facts, but between 1) feelings, 2) fighting, and 3) whether changing their minds would be immoral.

Doggone, but I recognize those feelings!

Even more, once they reached a conclusion that made them comfortable, their pleasure/reward brain center lit up. They got happy juice from their own brains for confirming what they already believed!

I'm not saying this is something broken in us. God made us this way. I would bet we were this way before the fall, and that we will be this way after the redemption of all things. Confirmation Bias is a good psychological strategy. It keeps you from having to rehash all your beliefs every time some huckster comes along with a good sales pitch. Once you have a truth in your heart, it is going to take some genuine force to get you to abandon it. Confirmation Bias will keep us from following every whim of doctrine.

Still, we are not right about everything, so we need to think about how our minds should change. One thing I note is that the closer we get to the truth, the harder it is for us to make further changes.

Sure, if we believe that God hates poor people, it's easy enough for the facts to overcome our Confirmation Bias. But when you get to things like Calvinism versus Arminianism versus "The Unnamed Truth," you can see how hard a time simple facts can have. Everyone believes a portion of the opponent's arguments, but redefines them by the smallest degree - and the argument is lost.

So, what do we do about it?

It's a little too late for me to give my opinion on that tonight, but I'll hang the question out here for a day or two and look forward to everyone's ideas.

For now, I have to go pay some bills. See ya'll tomorrow!

(Was this post broken last night?)

17 June, 2006

Programming: Bill Gates - the opinions

Most of ya'll are not programmers.

As such, an image like this may not send thrills of terror down your spine. Please understand that for those of us whose very livelihoods depend upon the whims of this man, our reactions may not always be predictable.
Which makes the fact that he is retiring to do charity work a big, big deal. Big enough, even, to make this blog!

Not that I have an actual, meaningful opinion.

Bill leaving is not going to change my life one little bit. Microsoft can hardly become more dominant, and their demise would probably not make anyone's life better, really.

But, if you do have any interest, Joel Spolsky (whom I respect as highly as Steve McConnell, and that is HIGHLY) does have an opinion on the subject. He entitled it, My First BillG Review.

He has this to say about his first meeting directly with the man himself, after having given him a 500 page technical specification the night before.

He was asking questions. I was answering them. They were pretty easy, but I can't for the life of me remember what they were, because I couldn't stop noticing that he was flipping through the spec...

He was flipping through the spec! [Calm down, what are you a little girl?]


He Read The Whole Thing! [OMG SQUEEE!]

Believe me, to do that (and the other things in the article) Mr. Gates had to be a true genius. And in order to make that story interesting, Mr. Spolsky has to be a pretty good author. The whole post is a pretty fun read, if you can enjoy that kind of stuff.

Spolsky has this to say about what Bill really proved in that meeting.

It was a good point. Bill Gates was amazingly technical. He understood Variants, and COM objects, and IDispatch and why Automation is different than vtables and why this might lead to dual interfaces. He worried about date functions. He didn't meddle in software if he trusted the people who were working on it, but you couldn't bullshit him for a minute because he was a programmer. A real, actual, programmer.

My first work as a programmer was freelancing with Java on Netscape on MacIntosh. At the time that I was making a little bit of money to justify the hours I was spending bawling out the screen until it did what I wanted, Mr. Gates was saying, "I see little commercial potential for the Internet for at least ten years." Yeah, and while he was saying that, he single-handedly attempted to crush all three of my tools. He succeeded on two of them. (The third one seems to be doing a pretty good job of crushing itself all on its own. ;-)

Mr. Gates was not my favorite person.

Over the years, I have learned to respect him, but I doubt I will miss him much.

Humor: In every committee...

... there are different jobs that simply must be done.

It's a good thing everyone does their little part so well.

The captions are (since they are hard to read, even at full size)

  • How the customer explained it.
  • How the project manager understood it.
  • How the analyst designed it.
  • How the programmer wrote it.
  • How the Business Consultant described it. (Hehe. The shorthand for Business Consultant is "BS Ksltnt")
  • (row 2)
  • How the project was documented.
  • What operations installed (My job is supervisor of operations, BTW)
  • How the customer was billed.
  • How is it was supported.
  • and finally....
  • What the customer really wanted.

It's been around a couple years, but I stumbled across it again, and figured someone else might like it.

15 June, 2006

Father's Day: Disciplining children

OK. This post is opinion-based advice. I wrote it yesterday, but did not hit "Post" until today. There is no science, no scripture, and no rigorous double blind trial to back it up. If it is of some benefit to the reader I'm tickled, but I offer no guarantees of any nature, nor condemnation for those who disagree. I can certify that I am still happy with the way my kids turned out, even after one turned from the Lord immediately following the divorce, and the other has not truly turned toward Him. They are great kids to be around. So, this seems to have worked for me.


I sat in a restaurant the other day, with my whole divorced family, and one other family who are friends of my ex. The other family were sweethearts, and being a young couple, they had a 4 year old child. The young man was precocious and charming, and at age 4, quite capable. He had gigantic brown eyes, a cherub's face, and an inquisitive nature. He was a natural delight to be around.

The parents were both quite pleasant as well. I enjoy them both, and enjoyed them that day. When we left the restaurant, though, that little boy was the subject of conversation for a minute between my son and I. I turned our chat quickly to the parents. The boy was fine, but the parents were in need of some verbal kaopectate. Here was the restaurant conversation. We all recognize it:

Quit banging the table. Don't spin your chair like that, it bangs the table. The chair is bothering everyone, son, so don't swing like that. Let's get a chair that doesn't spin. There, isn't that better? You're doing so good! No, you won't like your father's margarita. No, you won't like it. Just put your finger in and see whether you like it. Don't you put your fingers in my drink! Here try it. Don't let him try it! Take a sip. See you don't like it do you. Quick, get your sippy cup and get a drink. Food will be here in a minute. Yes, I know you're hungry. Food will be here in a minute. Take a bite of your hamburger. Let me cut it up. Let me put on ketchup. Take a bite. Yes, it's just how you like it. Yes, you can eat a french fry. Don't just suck the ketchup with your finger. You have to eat the french fries too. There's ketchup on your hamburger. Don't you want your hamburger? If you don't eat your dinner, you won't get any cake. If you don't eat your french fries you won't get any cake. If you don't eat a french fry, you won't get any cake. Yes, that french fry will be enough. You did so good! You ate your french fry. You get to have some cake! ....

I will let you insert the mental pictures and tones as appropriate.

That doesn't bother me. Really. It's been years since I have heard the sounds of children, and I enjoyed watching the show. Sure, I tired of it by the beginning of the second hour, but I tire of watching tennis sometimes too. It's their kid, and their business. If it were my kid I would be a shame laden mess, but it wasn't. All three of them were sweet natured and fun. (I did get anxious when the poor little boy began running laps around the 12 tables closest to us. It was not fair of them to force the other patrons of the restaurant to appreciate their little darling. I made sure we left a 40% tip.)

Some young parents don't want their kids to act like that. If I am ever asked I will give this answer, so I am going to practice it first here in blogland.

The cure is simple, and all you need to remember is one statement.

Don't work to make your children to obey you. Work to make them pay attention to you.

If they are paying true attention to you, the rest will take care of itself. By concentrating on obedience, we make the wrong things our focus.

1) You pay attention to people who surprise you. So will your children.
If they know everything you are going to do and say, they don't really pay attention to you. They are just marking you to make sure you are staying close to expected behavior. Everything this boy's parents said did go in one ear, but it was not really relevant to his desires, so it went right out the other. Instead, he obsessed with his boredom. I think he was really hungry, but he even forgot to eat. Nothing they said or did surprised him, so he just kept playing his self-destructive game.

2) You pay attention to people who say things that matter. So will your children.
I do not advocate punishment, per se. I advocate the natural consequences of decisions. "Oh, if you are not feeling well enough to finish your dinner, then you must need some extra rest. Are you sure you cannot finish dinner? Yes? OK. I will save it for your breakfast, and you can go to bed now. What? You changed your mind? Hmmm. No, you said you were sure. Let's go brush your teeth, and I'll read you a bedtime story." Done this way, Daddy does not have to get angry, so it's a lightweight event that the child will remember for a long, long time. It's a natural consequence of the child's own decision. The cool thing is that I don't need to lecture anyone about how important it is to finish dinner. And I probably won't have to send the child to bed a second time (but if I do it's hardly unpleasant.)

(BTW: The natural consequence of some behaviors is spanking, but those behaviors are rebellious, not simply selfish. Spanking happened, but not terribly often.)

3) You need to have a chance at success. So do your children.
Give them a fair chance! The little buggers still cannot tie their shoes. Acting right in public is much harder for them than tying shoes. Don't ask them to succeed in public situations without real training. Setting the child, and yourself, up for failure is not wise and not profitable.

So, how do you surprise your child, say things that matter to him, and give him a chance to succeed?

Script the training of hard lessons.

It probably won't be too hard to train this precocious little cherub with the bad eating habits. It might be a little more difficult to train the parents. This boy has been taught a lot of unprofitable lessons already, and it's the parents who have been doing the teaching. That's OK. We can overcome that. They can script a situation in which he will succeed, and another in which he will fail.

Our restaurant example is straightforward. The real-world effect of unruly behavior is that wonderful conversations are interrupted, and dinner is not enjoyable. The consequence for causing these bad things should be along the same lines.

First, script a situation in which the child will succeed. Cook his favorite dinner at home, make sure the TV and other distractions are off, and that it's just the three of them at home. Give him a small portion of dinner, and explain that this is a "talking dinner", but that everyone has to take turns. Talk about things that interest him. If he makes it through dinner, then it's time for a talking dessert. If he succeeds at that, then some praise is in order. Overly much praise is a bad thing if they want polite dinners to be a normal thing. They should definitely point out that they saw him succeed, and that they are happy for him, but not gush about it.

Should he fail, then the parents did not set up a careful enough first experience. But, that's OK. The consequence is simple. No more talking. No more favorite dinner. No dessert. The scenario was set up at home, so there's no pressure from the public gaze to worry about. He doesn't have to go to bed, or be in trouble. He simply must excuse himself from the table, and find something else to do.

This will come as a very unpleasant surprise to this child. This has never happened to him before. If there is a lot of talking and explaining before or after the event, then all the work is wasted. The point here is not about eating dinner politely, nor to explain a deep lesson about public meal-sharing to the child. The point is to unsettle him. The point is to show - not tell - that a single instruction given once matters and cannot be ignored.

Most of the time, when a child fails the parents want to pretend that he is "about to fail", and try to coach him through it. This is a mistake. Coach a tiny bit ahead of time, then let the child perform and experience the consequences of his performance. Should he succeed, acknowledge that success. Should he fail, do not lecture. Just quietly, happily enforce the consequences of his decision. Try again tomorrow, and briefly coach again if necessary.

When he has proven that he can succeed, then they must give him the opportunity to fail. The parents should invite some friends over. Talk about things that interest them, and not him. Make the food a little less exciting. He will fail, and they should remind him that he knows how to do this, because he did it the last time and correct him.

If the parents succeed at giving clear instructions, not repeating them, and allowing consequences to happen kindly but immediately, they will notice something truly gratifying. Their child is paying attention to them. The point is not to be harsh or strict, but to say things that matter and to be a little bit surprising. The child will pay attention, or risk missing important matters.

It's easy to be overwhelmed by parenting. It's easy to be pushed beyond our capabilities. It helps, once in a while, to take control of the situation and to work to a known objective, to act instead of react. Have fun!

14 June, 2006

Leadership: The Revenge of the Gifts

Corinth had problems.

Corinth had real problems. Sex, eating, legalism, suing each other, messing up the Lord's Supper(!), unintelligible meetings, and some seriously funky doctrines. This was one troubled church!

Paul puts all that off.

From verse 1:2 on, Paul attacks one problem alone. Even as he addresses every other problem, he is really focusing on this one problem. It is first clearly stated in 1:10

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

What caused the Corinthian church to be divided? For that we go back to verse 7

7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

And what was the sign of their division?

12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas [Peter]"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Corinth was suffering from gifts poisoning.

I want to focus in on Apollos. Apollos was at the center of this controversy, and Apollos is the only one who could have nipped it in the bud. He failed.

Christ, Paul, and Peter were all gone while this was brewing. The problem was ongoing, so it must have been someone who was still there who was causing it. Knowledge is a huge part of the problem, according to Paul, and that was surely not brought by Peter. We know, though that Apollos was a knowledgeable and eloquent speaker. Apollos was there in Corinth, and preaching away.

By process of clue elimination, we conclude the crime was committed by Apollos, with the candlestick of knowledge, in the parlour of Corinth.


This is a guess, but I think there is some value to commend it.

Apollos was young. I think he simply made rookie errors. I will concede that the problem is not his youth per se, but that he made youthful errors because he was young. There are definitely some young men who don't make youthful errors, but not more than a couple per generation.

My evidence is scant, but here it is.
1) He was willing to sit and listen under Priscilla. That would be unheard of for the average man (especially one who knew rabinnical tradition), but probably easier for a young man than for an old.
2) When Paul is writing to Titus, Apollos is traveling with Zenas. I get the feeling he is traveling as much as the young men Paul taught in Ephesus. So, I imagine Apollos as maybe 5 years older than Timothy, Titus, and the rest.
3) In chapter 4 of 1 Cor., Paul positions himself as the father of the Corinthian church. This would be hard to do if the person causing the problem were as old as he was. He cannot bring up the fact that Apollos is young, because he is about to send Timothy to help them.
4) The errors made in Corinth by Apollos just seem like those of a man trying to prove himself.
5) Paul does not come down hard on Apollos. He is gracious, as one might be with a young man who had tripped himself up a little bit.

Paul tells us in this book that the gifts are helpful to the church, but potentially dangerous too. Through the gifts we become puffed up, feed our carnality, and forget how weak we were when the Lord found us.

1 Cor 8:1 ... We all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

Paul set an incredible standard in Corinth. He came in weakness, and laid aside great knowledge he could have flaunted. He brought, instead, wisdom and the power of the Spirit. Peter may have done the same. It's impossible to know. But someone was flaunting his knowledge, or Paul would not have made such a big deal of correcting the mistake.

1 Cor 3
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

(I know a lot of people assume that this passage is talking about the judgement seat of Christ, but it makes gobs more sense if Paul is talking about the building of the church, and the "fire" is the trial of division.)

When we connect the knowledge problem back to this passage, we see knowledge in the wood, hay, and stubble. Brilliant persuasion is just so much straw, ready to be burnt when the fire of trial comes. Building with knowledge is especially an error of youth, too. Haven't you ever seen children build? They want to build with whatever is quickest. They build with sand, because it takes forever to find good clay. They build with twigs because lumber can only be cut to size with a saw. You can just break a stick, and get on with it.

The young worker in the gospel tells people what they ought to do, because that is so much quicker than going through the suffering alongside them. He gives great advice, because that way he doesn't have to get involved, and "They need to find the answer for themselves anyway." The older worker sits down quietly and suffers with a brother, for years if necessary.

I believe Paul had respect for Apollos, and that Apollos went on to be a profitable worker for the gospel. If this were not true, Paul would not have been calling for him in his old age. Here, though, Apollos was the young, gifted worker bringing destruction along with all his gifts.


Now, to tie all this back to the good ol' leadership posts of May (has it really been that long :-? )

The things that matter in the church are the matters of real life. Caring for each other, for widows, orphans, single moms, and children with one parent. Living life with sound faith, love and endurance. To that end, wisdom is needed. The old cowboys say that judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from a lack of judgement. Just so, it takes some years to get wisdom.

So, our leaders need to have some years behind them.

The gifts are given to the young and old alike, and it is tempting to let the young exercise their gifts for the Lord. It is tempting, but its not wise. Let them exercise their gifts in small ways until they have proven themselves in the teenage years of their kids, or in some equivalent way. Hand the church to them later. It will still be there.

We have enough seminary grads. Praise the Lord for the knowledge to be gained from seminary, but we need something much, much, much more badly.

The church needs men who know how to love their wives and children through the hard times. Men who know how to build relationships and bridges when those relationships are dying. Men who know that the sister weeping in the back row is more important than whether she believes that the Trinity is three persons in one nature.

Apollos was well and truly gifted. His heart was right. He grew into a profitable servant. He may even have been sent by Paul to Corinth for the particular of ministering to Corinth's needs. But something betrayed him, and youth is the best candidate.

Let your young men get a job and raise a family.

(Oh, I said I would mention apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers:
Apostles teach groups of people to be churches.
Prophets teach churches what God is saying.
Evangelists teach those who don't know Him Who the Lord is.
Pastors teach saints how to survive the lean winters and droughts.
Teachers teach everything else.

It's all just teaching to me.)

13 June, 2006

DVC: The Role of Women in the Church

It's funny how things work out.

Our pastor is our small group leader. He is taking us through the Da Vinci Code rebuttal by Josh McDowell and some other guy. He is on vacation this week, but the group decided to go on with the class in his absence, and to have me lead it. That's all pleasant, if surprising.

The funny thing is that for the week the pastor is out, we are covering the chapter on the role of women in the church according to Dan Brown.

The pastor knows I am an egalitarian, so there's no ambush in the works. It's just odd, because this is one of the two subjects in DVC with which I have some sympathy. I think Dan Brown hit on a couple of valid points, and this is one of them. He twists it beyond any profitable level, but that's not a surprise.


I think that one of the reasons the DVC discussions in most churches are kind of flat is that we don't see them as pertinent to our situation. To that end, I intend to bring a little "currentness" to the subject with these quotes, then let Josh McDowell take over.

Tertullian is known as the first of the Latin church fathers. I know precious little about him, but he did have this to say about women:
Do you not know that each of you is an Eve? God's sentence on your gender lives even in our times, and so it is necessary that the guilt must also continue. You are the one who opened the devil's door; you unseated the forbidden tree; you first betrayed the divine law; you are the one who enticed him whom the devil was too weak to attack. How easily you destroyed man, the image of God! Because of the death which you brought upon us, even the Son of God had to die.

The old church fathers are not alone in their views that women should have a limited role in the church:
Together for the Gospel conference Article XVI
We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evidence of mere cultural conditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prejudice against women. We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful minstry in Christ's kingdom. We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel.

I don't imagine you can have been a blog reader for long, and not know Grudem and Piper. Here is a statement of theirs answering the question in bold:
Are men and women equally in the image of God?
Some have answered in the negative because of Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7, "A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man."
I agree with C. K. Barrett that "in this context Paul values the term image only as leading to the term glory." The reference to "image" is incidental to Paul's purpose, and therefore not mentioned with respect to woman; but it notifies his readers of the Old Testament basis for saying that man is the glory of God, "glory" and "image" being roughly, but not entirely, synonymous.

I have not searched out harsh statements, but only the limits that are currently being discussed.

But, lest it appear that the church fathers all believed women should be relegated to the confessional, let me quote this from Jerome (HT: Suzanne's Bookshelf.) He is writing to Paula, who has been his comfort, friend and muse in the Lord for many, many years. She was the driving force behind many or all of his works, and he dedicates many of them to her.
There are people, O Paula and Eustochium, who take offence at seeing your names at the beginning of my works. These people do not know that Olda [Huldah] prophesied when the men were mute, that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel, that Judith and Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God. I pass over in silence Anna and Elizabeth and the other holy women of the Gospel, but humble stars when compared with the great luminary, Mary.

Shall I speak now of the illustrious women among the heathen? Does not Plato have Aspasia speak in his dialogues? Does not Sappho hold the lyre at the same time as Alcaeus and Pindar? Did not Themista philosophize with the sages of Greece? And the mother of the Gracchi, your Cornelia, daughter of Cato, wife of Brutus, before whom pale the austere virtue of the father and the courage of the husband --are they not the pride of the whole of Rome? I shall add but one word more. Was it not to women that Our Lord appeared after His resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what women had found


Hopefully, after those quotes, everyone will be a little more interested in what McDowell has to say on the subject.

11 June, 2006

Tennis: Nadal prevails

That will be the headline all over the world. If you believe that headline, you either did not see the match, or you have never played tennis.

Federer crumbled.

Go back with me to the second game of the second set. The score is 6-1, 0-1, 40-Love - Federer. When Federer wins the next point, he will be on serve and still rolling. His serve is brilliant, and it takes Nadal by surprise. Nadal hits back a stab return - it's a deep floater, a great defensive return. The ball lands somewhere near the baseline. The back line judge calls it out, giving Federer the game. Federer looks at the mark, and has the point taken back off the scoreboard. The ball did touch the back of the baseline, and Federer has the point replayed. It was not clear to me whether Federer initiated the overrule, or whether he merely graciously conceded it, but he was at the baseline ready to serve again immediately. No argument.

He lost the next 5 points, lost the game, and lost the match.

How did that happen, you ask?

A mind is a funny, fragile thing, even Roger's. At 40-Love (do over) he shanked a backhand or some such. At 40-15, he tossed in a brilliant serve, followed it to the net, and netted a gimme volley from 5 feet away. I said it, and then MacEnroe said it. Lacadaisical, lazy, loose. Federer was playing the game as if it were already over, and waiting for Nadal to hand it to him. That is always a huge mistake, but against Nadal it is - and was - fatal.

So, he got a little frustrated with himself.

He hit a forehand long.

Suddenly, Nadal smelled blood, and Federer watched him hit a true winner. The game ended on a Federer error. I may be wrong about details regarding everything except the volley at 40-15. He was playing a game that he had already won once, and waiting for it to fall into his lap. He never expected the first set to be so easy, and the second set seemed well in hand. He got complacent.

Suddenly, (I keep saying that word, because that's how it is, and that's how it was) Federer had more unforced errors than winners, and then suddenly he had twice as many unforced winners as errors.

Suddenly, his backhand was gone.

The whole left side of his game came undone. For the next two sets, everything hit to his backhand was either hit safely down the middle of the court, or it missed. The man has hit millions of backhands. This is not an issue of training or skill. In the first set (of which I only saw the last game) Federer was punishing Nadal with that backhand. It was the center of his strategy. In the second set, after giving that point back, his backhand was unreliable.

And a word to MacEnroe here. "Shut up you moron!"

OK. That's overstated. But MacEnroe seemed to have no idea that Federer was really doing exactly what he should be doing. Mac wanted Federer to start slicing his backhand (a safer shot) and playing closer to the baseline. Yeah. No duh. If his hands were still connected to his brain, Federer could do that very thing. But when his mind has checked out, he needs to actually play the points. Federer's strategy was a winning one. Changing it to a losing strategy was not really the right answer. Slicing the ball back worked on Nalbandian, because Nalbandian is not Nadal. Nadal drools when he sees spins that would mess up Nalbandian's timing. Federer did eventually start doing the Johnny Mac thing, and it didn't help a bit. I did not see the end of the match, but I hope John repented of his bad advice. (Speaking of which, I did not hear the final summaries of the action from any of the announcers. If anyone did, let me know what they thought of the match. If they don't agree with me, they are wrong, but it would be interesting. :-)

I will now resume loving Johnny Mac again. He usually gives a great commentary, and at least he offers real opinions.

When the throttle has closed inside your throat, and you are deep in a full-blown choke, your hands do things that they should never do. On one particular point last week, I had single-handedly hit three brilliant shots that ended up lining my opponents up on their left side of their court. Out of desparation, they hit the ball straight at me, but my ball was low and slow, so they could not do enough with it. I had a sitter in my wheelhouse, and about 300 square feet of open court to hit. I 8 inches wide. 8 inches. My hand was just disconnected from my brain. The signals were getting messed up somewhere along the way. My form was good. My strategy was good. My reflexes were good. My contact point was good. But my hand aimed 8 inches wide, instead of 5 feet in.

And that is why I love tennis.

There is no other sport that appeals to me like tennis. It is the perfect blend of physical, mental, and emotional. There were 230 points in today's match, so maybe each player struck the ball 800 times over the course of about 3 hours. 800 times you must react to your opponent's shot, control your emotions, choose a strategy in a split second, alter it to account for your current level of fear, then execute it with as much precision as you dare. And any one swing of the racket can turn the match either way. The pressure is astounding. It plays into every strength and weakness of my personality, and I love everything about it.

They said today that Federer could successfully play ping-pong ball before he could see over the table. When a man like that can make the same mistakes I make, it makes it easier for me to forgive myself.

So, thank you, Roger. If you can come back from this, and storm Wimbledon, you will give us all hope.

My prediction:

This is not the first match Roger Federer has ever lost. He knows what went wrong, and he will train against it for another year. He will take Nadal at the French next year.

Church: Which 1st Century Church

I offer you 2 visions of the early church. Which do you think is closer to the truth?

Small beginnings
In this view, the apostles planted the first few, primitive churches as seeds from which the kingdom of God could grow. Those churches were just like a seed. In them was the miracle of life, and all the stuff of the full grown tree, but they didn't look like the tree at all.

Expect huge changes between the early church, and the church in our age. God planned it that way.

Highest expression
In this view, the apostles were given third-heaven visions of the core pattern of the church, and they replicated it on earth. They brought to earth an eternal pattern, and implemented the body of Christ in a way that could never before have been imagined. Furthermore, they implemented it in a way that has been lost. All the things the apostles built into the church were lost over the next 200 years by the men who followed after them. Those were good men, but they lacked the vision of the church that men like Paul received from directly from God. The next 20 centuries have been spent trying to regain the beauty and glory of those first few decades.

Expect to see the church experience a big decline over the first couple centuries after the deaths of the apostles, then a slow climb back up to the original glory.

What do you think?
Is the church growing and expanding from a seed, or attempting to restore itself to the heights of 60 AD?

10 June, 2006

Tennis: Things are good

Federer v. Nadal 2006 - Episode 3

Tennis fans everywhere got the dream match of all time. Federer is through after an ugly first set against Nalbandian, and only playing 3. So he is fresh and angry. Nadal took his match in 3 outright, so he is fresh and hungry. Will Federer consolidate all 4 Grand Slam cups in one trophy room, or will Nadal keep a perfect lifetime record at Roland Garros, a perfect year on clay, extend his winning streak on clay to 60, and his record in clay finals against the #1 player in the world to 3.

Federer in 4. It will never really be close.

Federer was probing Nadal, looking for how to beat him. The probing is over. This is a major. He comes out angry and firing. Paul Henri Matthieu showed us all how to beat Nadal. Pin him to his backhand with shallow, wicked angles, come in every chance you get, and hit your put-aways to his forehand wing.

Nadal is talking about staying back against the Federer forehand. I don't know if I believe him. But, either way, Federer will creep in as close as he can to the baseline, attack the shortest, harshest angles he can, and keep the heat on.

As for me, I exercised my demons from last week.

Last week we were up 6-4, 4-0 when my partner pulled a calf muscle. I think I already told the story, so I'll hush up about it. But the bottom line is that my mental fragility took me hostage again. I did the opposite of elevate my game - suckify? Putridate? Whatever, it was painful.

This week it was 6-0, 6-0, and in the bonus sets since we had some free time it was 6-1, 6-0. I could apologize that these opponents were not as good as the first ones, but I can lose against anyone. A choker can always lose. It didn't happen.

I love playing grimly. It's my favorite feeling out there. Today was grimmmmmmmm.

We'll see what next week holds,

...and tomorrow.

09 June, 2006

Sidebar: Feelings at church

A couple of things conspired to bring a question to the top of my mind.

The first is that I lost the first tennis match of the season on Saturday. I think I lost because I tried to control my feelings. When you are as emotional a person as I am, that is usually a recipe for disaster. Every single time I try to "control" my feelings, I end up submerging most of "me". I played horribly, and I think it is because I was trying to be a Borg (I'll let you decide which Borg I mean.)

As I cogitated on this, I inevitably drifted back to society and church. I will make two blanket statements, and ignore the exceptions. In society, the accepted public emotion is laughter. We are Americans, and we enjoy people who are entertained and entertaining. In the church, the accepted public emotion is joy.

In either society or church, you are only narrowly allowed to express other feelings, as long as you narrarate the feeling, rather than feel it. The accepted emotions are allowed to come out and play, but the other emotions have to be seen through the window. (Picture a family with 8 kids. One of them is on the front lawn, playing with friends, while the others are in the house staring out the front window.) You can tell about feeling anger, or desire, or fear, or love, or despair, or daring but you cannot actually feel them with your brothers and sisters.

What do you think? Do I have a point here, and if so is it, good or bad?

08 June, 2006

Tennis: Tomorrow

Nadal blows through Ljubicic. Ljubicic is good, but Nadal is a clay court monster.

Federer has a harder time with Nalbandian. He actually has a losing record against Nalbandian, so this is no stretch. But I have to believe that he is able to master himself and make it through to Sunday.

Tennis: Henin is through :-(

Cljisters is out.

Henin-Hardenne will now play Kuznetsova. Nobody expects a match, and I have to agree. Kuznetsova has a very tight, compact game. She hits everything close and hard. Henin should be able to stretch her out, pull her from her comfort zone, and dissect her.

I saw the end of the second set of the Cljisters match, and she was just overplayed. She was hitting the ball like a noble warrior who knows it's over.

Saturday, Kuznetsova will need to do the same thing Cljisters did, but without flinching. Cljisters was striking the ball hard and aggresively, but she was tentative at the wrong moments. That is a result of Henin's mixing up of every point, and her great defensive skills. On one point Cljisters pounded a ball deep to Henin's forehand, and she got to it. She barely got to it, but it was a clay court so she got that extra half-second that made it possible to get there. Cljisters could not have hit the ball any deeper, and harder, or any wider and it was still not enough. So, on her next shot she pulled off a little bit. That's all it takes.

Kuznetsova will need to have nerves of steel to keep striking the ball violently, even after Henin barely gets to them and wins points. If she has a day with those kinds of nerves, she might can maybe win but the odds are not with her.

A good all-court game beats a power hitter more times than not.

I know, I know. If that's so true, then where's Hingis? Hingis has not spent the time in the weight room that Henin has. The power hitters cannot blow Henin off the court like they can Hingis. (Remember, I said a "good" all court game.) Hingis has a definite weakness against power, and it keeps on costing her - dangit.

Henin should win. Henin deserves to win. I like Henin's game much, much better than anyone else's on the tour. I hope Kuznetsova demolishes her.

07 June, 2006

Reflection: Psalm 118 - "This is the Day" revisited

That Very Day

That very day
That very day
Christ rose from the grave
Christ rose from the grave
We will rejoice
We will rejoice and be glad in it
And be glad in it
Just for that day our Friend was sent
He ushered us into His presence
That very day
That very day
That the Lord has made

He took our side
He took our side
And He stood with us
And He stood with us
He is our Strength
He is our Strength and Deliverer
Our Deliverer
Our enemies gathered 'round to scoff
His Name prevailed and we cut them off
He took our side
He took our side
And delivered us

Shout out for joy
Shout out for joy
In His victory
In His victory
Praise His right hand
Praise His right hand, raised to set us free
Raised to set us free
Praise His right hand though He chastised us
In Him we cross gates of righteousness
We here proclaim
We here proclaim
What the Lord has done

05 June, 2006

Reflection: This is the day that the Lord has made

I really hate that verse. It's part of Psalm 118, verse 24.

The only fight I ever started in my life was because one of my classmates would not stop singing, "This is the day" to me. I do not know whether I have matured enough in the ensuing years to react better if it happened again.

So, when Maeghan posted "This is the day that the Lord has made" I was less than enthused. I read it anyway, because she's always worth the read. Then she followed it with "Psalms 118", so I read that post too. Both were truly delightful, and made a profitable impression on me. But, you know how sometimes things just don't cut all the way through to the heart of the matter?

Sunday morning, things were all kind of balled up inside me, and I was wound tighter than an 8 day watch. It was those awful 10 minutes of church between morning prayer and the start of the service. Those minutes are always hard on a recluse, and in my mood I was not having much success at the whole social thing. So I sat down, and opened Ps 118 again and read it out quiet, if you know what I mean.

By verse 7 it had cut me to the heart, and left "the matter" in the dust. By verse 18, I was a praising mess. By the time verse 24 rolled around, my dislike for it was a thing of history.

"The day the Lord has made" is the day that Christ triumphed, and took our enemies away never to be seen again. David was never saying that God made June 4, 2006, but that God made that day, that Glorious, Holy, Exalted, Perfect, Magnificent day that life was suddenly made worth living. God made the day that the Cornerstone opened the Gates of Righteousness for the one whom the Lord severely chastised!

That is a day in which I will rejoice forever.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.


Thank you, MaeghanLily!

Tennis: The French Open women for the Casual Observer

I really wanted to talk about the women yesterday, but I was afraid to.

There are 3 women in the draw, as far as I can see. Martina Hingis, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and the clones.

In men's tennis, you find in the top 5 an all court artist in Federer, a baseline power player in Nadal, a junk ball grinder in Nalbandian, a serve and volley specialist in Ljubicic, and a serve and power specialist in Roddick.

In women's tennis, you have the clones.

Davenport, Williams (either one, your pick), Cljisters, Sharapova, etc. ad nauseum all stand at the baseline and hit the ball as hard as they can. Monica Seles started the slide into pure power, and Venus and Serena amped the game to new levels. When power doesn't work, they hit the ball harder. And it works.

Especially if your goal is to put me to sleep.

Amelie Mauresmo is the world's number 1 woman right now. I'm pretty sure that will end on June 7 when her lukecold result from Roland Garros is posted, but it's worth noting that she is not on my list anywhere. She is hard to figure. She is probably the player of the bunch whom I am most like, too.

She has a flowing, graceful, defensive all court game. She seems to play rope-a-dope a lot while charging the net very successfully. It's an odd, completely unique combination. So, she is exempt from any of my lists. Her problem is entirely mental. She is aggressive at all the wrong times, and tends to feed on her own doubts to her own self-destruction. Just like me. It's hard being the overly-sensitive type, but there's nothing to be done for it. You keep honing your skills, and keep playing match-tough every way you can, every chance you can, and you just mourn a lot for matches you should have won.

Mauresmo should still be in the French, but she is French and sensitive. No one with feelings for the French should ever be required to play for them. They are a ruthless, vile audience and destroy their champions at every opportunity. At the slightest sign that Mauresmo may be in trouble, they all sigh a collective sigh, and give up on her. Some years they evn booed their compatriots who were merely mortal. I don't remember whether I learned to despise the French from watching the French Open or from reading Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, but learn it I did. If you ever need a good cry, Twain's book is a great read.

Anyway, I will always have great sympathy for Amelie, but she is gone again.

That leaves us with Martina and Justine.

I'm sorry. It's unforgiving of me, but until Justine shows some remorse for her horrible bouts of awful sportsmanship, I will never cheer for her again. She is like the beautiful child with a wad of 8 sticks of gum in her mouth claiming over and again that she's not chewing any gum. The whole world can see her problems and she pretends she has none. Her backhand is a dream, and her all-court style is a joy to watch. Her fighting spirit is untamed, but it is undisciplined and her selfishness is right on her sleeve for everyone to see. May she lose without dignity.

The reason I could not post last night is that Martina Hingis was in the middle of a match that it looked like she might lose. I had to wait to see what happened to her. She is the one shining light to women's tennis, so far as I can appreciate it.

She had won the first set against Israel's Sharar Peer (Pay-air) whom no one has ever heard of, but who has won 3 smaller professional titles this year. Hingis had not dropped a set in the tourney until here, and there was no reason to believe this unknown might cause a problem. And then she did.

Hingis was suddenly and simply being blown off the court (by yes, another clone.) The difference with Peer was that her power wing is her backhand. After years of conditioning, you tend to go toward an opponent's backhand whenever you get in trouble, and Hingis seemed to be a little lost out there.

I got to watch the third set played earlier today after an overnight delay. Hingis was still confused. Peer's power had gotten inside her head.

Hingis is no Federer. Federer has 3 games he can try. Hingis has almost 2. She cannot hang with the power-ballers at their own game. She is the mistress of cunning and foresight. She will hit 4 different spins on 4 different shots, and place them in 4 different places, but none of them will burn the felt off the ball. She will already be running to wherever the ball is going to land before her opponent knows where she should hit it. She's amazing that way, but she needs a little horsepower just to survive. Peer reacted successfully with power to Hingis's spins, and Hingis was left staring at her mom and coach with her hands spread wide and no answers.

Mom didn't have any answers either.

So, Hingis pulled out her other two options. She started in with the drop shots, and started hitting tighter angles with more power.

It was enough. Barely, but enough. Hingis is in the Quarterfinals.

If she is to win, she needs to go through Kim Cljisters, then Justine Henin-Hardenne, and finally (most likely) Venus Williams. That's 3 former world Number 1 tennis players. Power, then all-court, then power again. The odds are not good, but she might have the toughness to keep her head together against them all. She will have to do better than she did this morning.

And people say I don't cheer for the underdog!

04 June, 2006

Tennis: The French Open men for the Casual Observer

Woooo-Booyyy! You are in for a treat!

This is the best French Open EVER!!!

I have waited until the start of the second week, because if you don't know tennis you probably have not heard much about Roland Garros. This week, it will begin to creep into the news, and soon it will be everywhere.


Because history is going to be made.

Granted, it's just tennis history, but it's the most exciting thing to happen to tennis in a decade or more.

Either Roger Federer will beat the Sampras curse and win the French, or Rafael Nadal will extend the longest winning streak in history and become the first man to win the French both times he has ever entered it. The odds of Federer winning it all is 1.8 to 1. Nadal is 2.5 to 1. The next best odds are Nalbandian at 17 to 1, Davydenko at 41 to 1, and Ljubicic at 81 to 1.

The dream match is Federer versus Nadal, of course, and it could happen. It should happen. But both men have been touched getting as far as they have. Federer dropped a set to Nicolas Massu, and Nadal was ridden hard by Paul-Henri Mathieu 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. They both are riding on the edge of a razor, and any mistake will allow the field to take them down.

In any professional sport, on any given day, anything can happen. In tennis, that effect is doubled, because there is no "depth" in the line-up. If Federer hurts an ankle, the gig is up. If Nadal finally succumbs to the pressure of trying to win his 57th, 58th, 59th, or 60th match in a row, he's out. There is no court of appeals; there are no second chances; there is no one out there to help you. If your mind begins to play tricks on you, and you begin to choke, there is no hope except to hit through it and figure it out.

I said the "anything can happen" effect is doubled, though.

Your opponent is out there with the full knowledge that he is playing the best in the world. On any given day, everything can go write for him. And if it does, it can snowball. I have played some people who were better than me, and beaten them. My shots start working, and he cannot elevate his game quickly enough to handle the "new" me. It happens to someone every year. (It happens to Mauresmo every year, but more about that later.)

This year Roger Federer's record against opponents who are not Rafael Nadal is 40-0. He has yet to lose a single match this year. Except that the last two tournaments he was in were on clay. He made it to the final in both of them, and was playing for all the marbles. Rafael Nadal was on the other side of the net both times, and both times Rafael cut Roger down.
Roger Federer is 1 and 5 against Nadal.

Roger is an artist. I love to watch him. He brings 3 game plans to every match, and can fluidly switch to any of them at any time if his current plan is not working.

Against James Blake, Roger was being blown off the court. Blake and Federer were both hitting laser shots to the lines, but Blake was hitting them that itty-bitty little bit better, and it was making all the difference. Roger was down in the first set 3-5 - if he lost one more game, he lost the set.

He did not lose one more game.

He just switched to the rope-a-dope. He started hitting a defensive ball, slow and heavy on all three different types of spin. He put away his laser cannon all at once, and Blake suddenly started missing.

In baseball, they talk about a change-up pitch. The pitcher has been throwing straight and fast, then he suddenly pitches a slow floater. The hitter should knock the ball out of the park, but he doesn't. His mind was conditioned to the speed, and he keeps swinging too soon.

Federer threw Blake an entire change-up set. It was magical to watch. Sitting in the comfort of my couch, I could call the moment that Federer changed, but Blake could not see it for another game or two. That was all it took. Federer suddenly had the next 4 games in his pocket, and ended up winning 7-5, 6-3, 6-0. In the second set, he went to a net game, and before it was all over he had gone back to the laser cannon. Blake was a broken man, and even when Federer was throwing him his preferred game, he could not do anything with it.

Nadal is the opposite of Federer.

Nadal never thinks. He doesn't need to. He hits the ball harder and more daringly than anyone else on tour today. He runs further and faster than anyone. He has spent more time in the gym, and he is built like a compact little bull, so he just hits and hits and hits. He saves shots that would be winners against anyone else over and over and over, and he makes winners out of nothing more than anyone else.

And that's all magnified by the clay.

Every time the ball bounces on clay, it is slowed down. On a hard court, that doesn't happen. So, a match on clay seldom features a lot of amazing dominance. Instead, on clay you see two patient boxers throwing body blows for as long as 5 hours. It takes a great deal of strength to hit a topspin forehand back against a topspin forehand. When you have to hit 50 to 100 of them to win a game, and you have to win 18 games to win a match, and you might have to play 50 games (64 is max without going into overtime) to win the 18 critical ones, you can see why a bull like Nadal is favored to win.

2 things work in Nadal's favor.
1) The man is a lefty. He's naturally ambidextrous, and his father encouraged him to go lefty because it is a natural advantage. Dad was right! (insert comment here _______) Federer will have to keep putting the ball into Nadal's strength to win.

2) Clay favors one strategy over every other. Deep, patient topspin wins on clay. Federer cannot switch between strategies on clay as easily as he can on a hard court.

In Federer's favor is the fact that Mathieu pushed Nadal using a simple strategy. Hit deeply into Nadal's lefty backhand over and over and over. It took a phenomenal amount of patience, but it worked. Eventually, Nadal would give up a short ball that Mathieu could punish.

That's the ticket. Can Federer punch it?

No question. I favor Federer.

01 June, 2006

Leadership: Titus and the tone of the church

Paul has an established track record for "writing style". He starts out with doctrine, and finishes with practical advice. In writing to Titus, he has completely skipped the doctrine part so far. (He pretty much does the same thing with Timothy.)

He has just one more little chance here in chapter 3 to tell Titus that the most important thing for a minister of the gospel to do is preach the Truth. Then he is going to wrap this letter up, and start getting ready for the Nicopolitan winter.

I have not made this point with enough force, yet.

If you believe that the holy appointment to preach is the most important function of the leader, Paul has let you down so far. He has not just let you down, but he has left you swinging in the breeze! Of the first two chapters, only in two places has he even vaguely called for doctrine, much less preaching. In verse 1:9-11, Paul has recommended that doctrine be used to shut up gainsayers - hardly what I would call a Sunday sermon. In 2:15, Paul calls Titus to speak "these things," but "those things" were that people should live with high character and sound works.

Paul has yet to lay "feed Christ's sheep" on Titus. He keeps talking about caring for people, and teaching them to care for each other.

Let's see what chapter 3 of the letter to Titus has to offer.

1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

Paul ain't done talking about good works, yet. Always be gentle to everyone. Could a statement be more direct or more forceful?

4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Ah! Paul finally preaches one of his trademark little sermons. Paul is pulling out the doctrine.

8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

The King James says, "these things ... affirm constantly". ESV says, "insist on these things".

Preaching is certainly one tool for stressing, affirming, and insisting on things, and a valid tool at that. This is the first verse to Titus that can definitely include preaching within its scope. Therefore, let it be recorded here that I affirm my agreement with preaching. Preaching is good and helpful and wholesome. We must have preaching. In the proportion that Paul gives it in his letter to Titus, preaching is a glorious and wonderful thing. Preaching should be a wonderfully important 1/46th of our total Christian experience in the church.

And preaching should lead to people devoting themselves to doing what is good.

So, to the question:

What should be the tone of the church?
What should underpin everything else the church does?

Titus 3:4&5a But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us

All through this book, over and over, Paul calls out kindness and gentleness as goals for Christians. Titus is enjoined over and over to be kind, even to those who oppose him. There are a bunch of good reasons for this, but I think the main one is that we need to be able to live in the church.

No one can live well in an unkind environment.

Imagine growing up in an unkind family (or remember, as the case may be.) The smallest task demands a fearful concentration, because the smallest error will be attacked. DON'T spill the milk!

The kindness of the Lord was revealed, and now the kindness of His children should be revealed. The overall tone of the church should be kind. Every member should know that they can serve, be served, and even mess up in safety. Every brother and every sister will be kind. We need this before we can risk and expose ourselves, before we can give love confidently.

9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Paul finishes with intensely difficult instructions on dealing with those who cannot hear spiritual things.

Paul tells Titus to unburden himself of warped people, and not to allow them to burden the church. Dead limbs that bear no fruit ought to be pruned. When a brother splits and kills two or three profitable activities of the church because he cannot hear spiritual things, don't just ignore it. Act.

This is a hard, hard thing to do. It's hard because it's harsh. It's hard because it's scary. It's hard because you don't know whether this divisive person is warped, or just going through "a phase." It's hard because he has friends in the church who will be mad when you throw him out. It's hard because this person is attacking something that you love, and you don't know whether you are correcting him out of jealousy or love - and you don't know which is bad.

This verse is EASY to write, and HARD to do.

You don't want to upset the church, but you cannot let the church be hurt by inaction either. The man who will handle these problems has to do it with spiritual grace beyond any book wisdom.

Keep the tone of the church in mind. I have shelved the question of why having old folk in charge is important. It is time now to pull that question back off the shelf.

The hardest task an elder faces is when and how to act against those who oppose themselves to the gospel, but who are in the church. Often conflict in the church comes down to one man against another. Often a series of conflicts in the church comes down to the same two men pitted against each other repeatedly. Often both are elders. Often both are gifted.

What kind of a man can succeed in the kingdom of God when there are those under him (or beside him) who want to engage in sophistry and win fruitless arguments? What kind of man can correct those who are obviously wrong, and who are spreading their error far and wide, and even gaining followers, without becoming unkind? What kind of man can reject a divisive person decisively, and know when the time has come to do it?

A parent who survived the teen years.

Yes, I am serious. I would rather be led by a man who has good children in their twenties or older than by anyone else. Anyone who has raised a 16 year old son has had to engage a sophist without hurting his feelings!

Give me a flawed man any day whose children still love him after the battles of the late teens over a man who has a degree from my favorite seminary. That man knows that there are days when his best friend acts like his worst enemy, and he knows how to wait those days out with his mouth shut. That man knows that sometimes you have to make the first move, and that sometimes you have to wait for the first move to be made. That man knows that sometimes you have to simply state, "this will end."

Give me a flawed man whose wife can oppose him without fear and who still loves and respects him, over any man who can teach me deep doctrine without boring me. There are some incredible preachers out there. So what? What are they going to do when the children of God oppose them? I will tell you a secret. Many eloquent men don't know how to handle opposition. Show me what he does when his wife opposes him, and I will tell you what will happen when you try it. (And if I have never seen his wife oppose him, then I will be truly afraid.)

Give me a man who has treated his enemies with kindness, a man who knows how to ask for help, who knows how to be wrong and admit it. I will be safe following that man.

This man will know how to handle Titus 3:9-11:
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

I see this passage differently, knowing the man who will do these things. Don't you? Don't you see the warnings being done slowly? Don't you see that man distance himself from the divisive person wisely? From some, he distances himself with a hopeful ear always cocked in their direction. Others, he sends away and never looks back. This man is much more likely to know which is which. Chances are really good that at one point his own children looked like enemies to him, so he might know how to be patient with God's people.

There are other ways to learn these things, but these are the things that make a man a safe leader to follow. A man without children can learn patience in other ways, but it's patience that matters. That a man knows sound doctrine is a good thing. That he knows how to love with patience is a great thing.

Let's quit picking elders because they can run a business successfully, and start picking them on things that matter.


Next up: Gifted leaders. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, preachers, teachers.