Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category

Do Pictures Make Our Lives Better?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Back in 1824, Joseph Niépc took the first photograph ever – a view looking out the window of his home in France.  Here it is:

First Photo

That may have been the first photograph, but believe me, it wasn’t the last, though I’d venture to opine many taken since are hardly more interesting. 

188 years later, us humans take photos at prodigious rates.  According to a recent USA Today article (dated June, 2012) over 300 million photos are being uploaded to Facebook per day.

That’s over 100 billion photos per year being uploaded just to Facebook!

I’m as guilty as the next person, having snapped over 10,000 pics in the last year alone.

It’s easy to go crazy with digital cameras.  When I was a kid back in the stone age of film cameras I remember only getting 24 exposures per roll, and couldn’t see what they looked like until after they developed.  Couldn’t take so many back then.

But I wonder, what are all these photos doing for me?  I take time to shoot them, I take time to organize and store them, I purchase hard drives to hold them, I may or may not take time to view them later.

Yeah, they tell a story, but couldn’t I tell a story in writing? or better yet, in person?  Yeah, they may impress someone (there I am, standing in front of x, y, or z), but is that necessary?  Yeah, photos capture events, but isn’t that what God gave us memories for? 

Speaking of events, the cost of shooting weddings usually runs between $1,000 and $5,000 dollars.  Photography is big business.  In more ways than one.  If we didn’t have photos we might not have billboards.  Or risqué magazines at every convenience store checkout.  Or worse.

Most the world never had cameras, and they seemed to have got along fine without them.  We tend to think of the “old days” being in black and white, but before 1824 there wasn’t even black and white!  All they had was cave art scratched with burnt sticks.  And Michael de Angelo.

As I examine my own motives, I become suspiciously aware that vanity plays the larger part in my desire to have good photos of myself.  And pride and impressing others a good deal to do with many of the rest.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s all bad.  I’ve taken sunset pictures from nature, for example, which were nice to look at later, and fun to set as my desktop background.

Yet, I think taking pictures pulls me away from the present.  It focuses my attention on capturing “the moment” so as to live it again in the future.  Then in the future looking back at them, I’m again dwelling on the past. 

How often have we missed the real moment in our exuberance to get that elusively perfect shot?

This post isn’t meant to condemn cameras as “bad,” per se.  Surely they have their good points.  I enjoy taking pictures as a hobby.

But I’m beginning to wonder if it’s all a bit much?  Maybe photos are overrated?  Cameras weren’t given to us by God as standard equipment with birth (eyes were) so they must not be essential. We don’t have any pictures of Jesus with his 12 disciples…  I’m wondering if all this photographic wizardry of modern man is a clever ploy for my time to be distracted from things more important?

I don’t know, what do you think?


Related Post(s):

Texting Beyond Our Limits

Where Are All the Workers?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

More than just travelling, I am on a fact finding quest for what types of work God’s people are doing throughout the world.

The ministries I have seen so far are numerous, but they all boil down to one common theme: sharing Christ with others.  Distributing spiritual bread of life.  Some help physically as well, but all try to help spiritually.

Whenever I meet those who appear to have the hand of God working noticeably in their lives, I observe a common theme.  They all ask the same question, “Where are all the workers?”  They might even add, “Where are any workers?”

They say: “We need help!” 

They say: “We could use you to come volunteer with us… for a week, for a month, or even better…. (gasp) three months!”

They say, “If you would, please consider coming a year.”

But I’ve never yet heard anyone ask, “Would you consider coming the rest of your life?”  They already know the answer… very few want to commit long term.

I’ve seen another theme:  Those with the most fruit in their ministries are those who have stayed in one place long term.  If you plant a tree, it takes a while for it to mature where fruit appears.  And it takes longer before bunches of fruit regularly forms.  Maybe years.  I have been struck incredibly by this fact.

I encourage anyone to go and see the need first hand. If you don’t have the money for an expensive short terms missions trip, I would encourage you to travel independently and visit somewhere, it doesn’t have to cost that much. 

I’m compelled by the spiritual need I see. But I’m also compelled by the physical needs I see. Refugees with no home, job, or future. People who are thin and hungry. Destitute widows. Oppressed orphans. Children from the street.

I’ve met all these. To me, each of these issues has a face and a name. Each of these issues has looked me in the eyes and seen me as a source of hope. They all ask (literally), “Nick, when are you coming back?” And I move on.

Their eyes ask, “Would you please help … me?”

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I am having so many experiences it’s difficult to process them. But if I stop long and reflect, I just want to cry. I don’t even know where that girl currently is in the picture above. Her name is Yahnsomma, last news I heard she was missing.

Zeitgeist the Movie: Slick Propaganda

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Zeitgeist the Movie is a conspiracy genre documentary made in 2007 which shows, among other things, that Jesus never existed (he was supposedly copied from archetypes found in ancient pagan religions), that 911 was an inside job by the US government, and that a group of elite financial bankers hold the reigns of global power. 

I was shown the first 25 minute portion (over religion) here at Nir Oz because several people thought I would find it interesting – and I did. 

Let me say that I like to think of myself as a truth-seeker:  I’m not afraid of the truth, or of facts.  If someone can show me what I believe to be false, I’ll change my beliefs because I don’t want to believe something that is not true.  Who does?

But about the religious segment of Zeitgeist, here is my opinion: it was total hogwash – But wait! let me explain that statement….

I didn’t know it was hogwash before I watched it, I went into the viewing with an open mind, saying I was willing to have my beliefs questioned (and I am).  I didn’t know what to expect, but I was prepared to face serious allegations against my faith. 

There are serious allegations that can be leveled against Christianity, such as the problem of evil in this world, among others.  These issues are ones which – I believe – must be wrestled with by every believer.  I believe these hard issues have answers, but they aren’t necessarily easy answers.

SO, after I was done watching the 25 minute movie, I still didn’t know it was total hogwash (though I was beginning to suspect it).

Here was what I thought after watching Zeitgeist, “Hmmm, I didn’t know there were so many similarities between ancient pagan deities and Jesus.  I’ll look into this.”

Honestly, the only deity I had knowledge of that they mentioned in the movie was Krishna (because I’ve studied Hinduism at a cursory level) and I knew they were taking some things out of context with him, because Krishna isn’t much like Jesus at all.  For starters, he’s mythical, whereas Jesus is historical.  And Krishna had serious moral issues – that are embarrassing to even read about – that don’t fit Jesus in the least.

But anyways, I went online and began looking into the claims of Zeitgeist and found out their information was misleading at best, and openly deceptive at worst.  The more I looked into it, the angrier I got. 

Turns out the religious segment from Zeitgeist was not even a serious attack against Christianity, but merely propaganda for the masses.  I went into watching it with a serious mindset, but instead of giving me something of substance to chew on, it was simply a litany of untrue statements, easily shown false.

What’s crazy is that it works: people watch this film and think, “Oh, so that’s the deal with Jesus, he’s just the most recent copy in a long list of ancient pagan gods that were all the same,” and move on with their life, swallowing the message.  Pretty sad.

So if you want, you can watch the religious portion of Zeitgeist online here.

But more importantly, watch the movie below, which is a reasoned rebuttal to the claims made in Zeitgeist, put together by Chris White.  I highly recommend it.

Begin listening at minute 31:00 for Chris’s refutation of the material.  The first 31 minutes are about the history of the Jesus Myth and not so much about Zeitgeist. However, the content after that point is quite interesting, especially Chris’s discussion on whether Jesus existed or not (which starts at minute 31).

If you want to watch the movie directly to see it in full screen, go here.

The second part of Zeitgeist, about 911, is also pretty controversial, but since you can find most their claims debunked at the million and one September 11th websites, I won’t touch on that here.

I tried watching the third part about banking while at the same time reading a more reasoned commentary over what I was hearing, but after awhile it became evident nearly every statement Zeitgeist was making was either a twisting of the truth or an open mis-representation, so I just began skimming the the online transcript with embedded rebuttal.  You can read that here.

DR Update and… Are There Benefits to Being Materially Poor?

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I just snapped this picture.  It is the view out the double doors in my bedroom:

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I think it’s technically jungle around here, but it seems to me more like “jungly forest” if there is such a thing. 

Oh, and I can see the ocean far better in real life than in the picture above.  It’s the view I wake up to every morning.

Highlights of this past week include 1) having a Mexican supper over at Jon and Shannon’s, then watching videos of their ministry after 2) snorkeling in clear ocean water with tropical fish 3) playing a Sunday afternoon game of baseball with the boys and 4) jogging/walking to town and back (~7 miles).

Not much else to report.  Life is pretty much in a routine here.  Eat, work, play, hangout, go to church.  Once again I find myself in a community where I eat, work, play, hangout, and go to church with the same group of people.  Which I enjoy.  Bonds happen quickly in this type of environment.

I’m currently reading What’s So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey.  If you haven’t read it yet I recommend it.  His thoughts are deep, but his style is conversational and he tells lots of stories so it’s quite readable. 

The main thing I’ve been impressed with from the book is how much God’s gift of letting me be his friend is totally free.  I can’t earn his favor, He simply offers his unconditional love to me in the face of my spiritual poverty because… that’s what he does.

Notice how I wrote above that I am spiritually poor?  It’s true, I’m quite poor spiritually.  Which in some ways is a good thing as there is a blessing associated with that type of poverty (see Matthew 5:3).  It’s odd to think being poor in any category would be a plus, but according to how I read the Be-Attitudes in Matthew 5, the journey towards God begins with an acknowledgment of spiritual poverty. 

I was recently struck with a verse I read in James on the subject of poverty:

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith…?” (James 2:5)

On this trip I have seen very materially poor people and in certain cases been immensely impressed at how they live their lives by faith: In faith they look to the Lord for the daily supplying of their needs.  The words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” hold literal meaning for them. 

I’ve seen those who have their faith stretched far more than mine because I have money to cover my needs (and enough to even cover most my wants as well). 

For instance, my translator (and his immediate and extended family) have many pressing needs that are easily fixable with cash, but he can’t fix them that way because…. he doesn’t have enough cash.  In fact, he hardly has any.

And it’s not just locals who are materially poor.  I’ve gotten to know a missionary family who basically live on financial fumes and I can tell it wears on them… even though they try not to worry.  God is stretching their faith in real ways because they are living at the end of their financial rope.

So that verse in James really resonated with me because it is what I have seen and experienced recently.

Almost enough to make me want to go broke myself.  Give all my money away and live by faith.  But not quite, I still enjoy my savings account.  In fact, my materialistic side has gotten quite the best of me recently – it’s really quite bad!  In the past several weeks I’ve bought a number of things online that I “needed.”  My return to the states will be kinda like Christmas.  But I really needed those things, believe me.

I heard a quote recently along the lines of how our giving often conceals our withholding.  I would say that is true for me.  There have been times where I’ve given generously but then as a reward turned right around and given back generously to myself.  Can’t remember if I’ve ever given to the point where it hurt. Don’t think I have.

I heard of a guy recently who was known as a philanthropist by any standard, he gave away generously to many.  One day his daughter told him she didn’t think he gave away enough.  “What, me? Why do you say that?” was his injured reply.  She answered, “Because you never give to the point where it hurts.”

Reminds me of the story in the Bible about the widow who put into the temple treasury two mites.  The crazy thing is Jesus said she put in more than all the others… which astonished those who heard because others had put in large sums.  How did Jesus explain the math?  Here’s what he said:

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44)

In short, she gave until it hurt, which is all the more remarkable because she had so little to give in the first place.

Seeing generosity firsthand amongst those who don’t have much is inspiring. 

One day while I was at the orphanage in Haiti a group of American’s came to visit for the morning.  They lined the kids up and handed out candy to each of them: little bags of gummy bears.  Remember, these kids don’t get much and their living conditions are dismal so this was a big deal for them – they were excited!  But what did they do?  Several came up and gave me theirs!  When I protested, they insisted.  One older boy (who I had gotten to know and had spent time with) gave me all his candy. He went through the line, then promptly walked straight to me and gave me his whole bag of gummy bears and wouldn’t listen to my protests. 

I remember feeling a mixture of emotions… special and touched at the gesture, anger at the overall situation, and frustration his generosity got in the way of accepting even this very small gift. It does speak volumes to the issue of dignity though. People yearn for dignity, and being able to give something to someone else yields dignity.

Jon (the director where I’m currently at) told a story about one of the full-time local staff who works here at the Ranch (practically family, a neat fellow I know) who doesn’t have much materially but is a generous man.  Awhile back a bag of donated tee-shirts came through and were given to him.  Jon said he’ll never forget how this man excitedly just opened the bag right there, pulled out the first shirt… and handed it straight over to one of the part-time construction workers standing nearby.  “Here, this is for you,” he said.  Jon said it was crazy how he didn’t even check to see if it was the right size or how many were left in the bag or which ones he might want to keep versus give away, he just started passing out tee-shirts.  On the one hand Jon was thinking, “Hey! these were for you, not for you to give away!” but on the other hand he was amazed at this fellow’s generosity.  The time lag between accepting his gift and giving it away was instantaneous. He could have taken them all for himself (which he was supposed to do) but instead gave freely and generously.

Not sure how I got off on this (lengthy) tangent.  Was just sitting here thinking I should write a blog post since it had been awhile and this is what came out of my fingers…

In closing, here is a picture of me washing clothes with my friend Jonas:

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Who is your authority?

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Here are two observations:

  1. Everyone believes something
  2. Those beliefs depend on what/who we hold up as our authority

I recently heard an acquaintance make reference to how doctrinally incorrect it is for Catholics to believe in praying to dead saints. Well, depends on who your authority is. If your authority is church tradition and the pope, then praying to saints may make sense. But if your authority is the Bible alone, then this doctrine becomes more tenuous.

Was talking with Jay yesterday about Universalism – the idea that in the end God saves everyone. Jay pointed out Universalism arises more from philosophical arguments than it does exegetic arguments (from Biblical texts alone).

In other words, Universalism is an extrapolation from a certain viewpoint of God’s character, to the exclusion of clear teachings from the Bible. Reason takes authoritative precedence over the Bible. This same thing happens when folks lean towards hyper-Calvinism, hyper-Arminianism, Preterism, or any number of other “isms.”

At another level, perhaps everyone – consciously or not – takes queues from their immediate culture, accepting the values of their surroundings like a trojan horse. This truism has the potential to turn any group of people into an “echo chamber.” In America, the echo is “Materialism” and “Individualism.” In Asian cultures, the echo is “Honor” and “Community.”

This is why I believe there is is at least some value to exposure of other ways of thinking. In preparing for my upcoming short term missions trip, I read the following:

    “As people we carry with us both a sense of poverty and a sense of abundance. When we go to another culture to serve in some way, we go to offer out of our abundance and our abundance collides with a poverty and often our area of poverty collides with another cultures area of abundance. It is within this collision that we learn about the body and it’s many parts and the fact that we are all on equal footing.” (source)

I realize stepping outside ones own cultural paradigms can be akin to grasping the concept of infinity or visualizing dimensions beyond the third. Tough. I hear the affects of cross-cultural experiences generally rub off quickly. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been outside the country.

But back to my original topic: Authority.

Some exalt their own brain as the ultimate authority. To some extent, I guess we all do. Because at the end of the day all our experiences and thoughts and feelings are filtered through our unique prisms.

Some trust only their five senses, like those in Missouri – the “Show Me” state. This road leads to dismissing all forms of supernatural as irrational, unscientific. Humanism is the result, and evolution the prop for this rationalization.

I observe that when people start throwing the term “heretic” around, usually at its root is a difference in accepted authority more than accepted belief.

Mormons have an extra book, Catholics keep a few Apocrypha, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have their Watch Tower.

Hindus have their Vedas, Mahabharata, and the Bhaghavad Gita. They also have gurus, Indian culture, and ponderous years of tradition.

Muslims have their Qur’an, Hadith, and Sharia code. Extremists an inflammatory set of religious Fatwa’s.

My authority is the Bible. From my investigations, I feel it is a rational decision. Yet I also admit the leap of faith involved. I didn’t personally witness God create the world. I didn’t personally witness Jesus rise from the dead. They don’t call Christianity, “The Faith,” for nothing.

Yet I believe. And that’s what the Bible requests of me. Paul reminds us that three things remain: Faith, Hope, and Love. Seeking yields Hope. Hope yields Faith. Faith yields Love.

I do understand clearly the authority of the Bible can be undermined by merely proving one point false. The rest would inevitably crumble. So far, the Bible still stands, and still remains the best selling book of all time. Translated into 3,000 languages and counting.

Here’s my final point: Who our authority is affects what we believe. What I believe affects how I live. How I live affects my destiny.

As a “for-instance,” the Al-Qaeda hijackers were merely acting consistently with their beliefs. And they believed their actions would yield them a specific destinty. A positive one even.

Christianity too asks us to lay down our lives for a positive result. But not through taking the lives of others, NO! Rather, the exact opposite: to save the lives of others. Jesus is our ultimate example in this.

So, who’s your authority?