Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Sign for Assurance

According to the Gospel of John, the first miracle that Jesus performed, inaugurating his three-year ministry, was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. John calls it a "sign." A sign is a hint, an evidence of a somewhat hidden truth. What was that truth? John reveals it near the end of his Gospel: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (20:30-31).

This inaugural sign was only witnessed by a few. At the end of John's narration, he says, "And his disciples believed in him." I find it interesting that when Jesus had the opportunity to explode on the scene and make his presence known, he limited himself and only revealed himself to a few. And that few were his disciples.

One of the great blessings of faith that God gives to his followers is something we like to call "assurance." Primarily through the reading of God's word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we who believe have this assurance that Christ has saved us by means of his death on the cross. The disciples, all of whom had only recently begun following Christ, we're given this sign to confirm for them that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the one who God had anointed as His Servant (cf. Isaiah 53).

In this passage, although others may have noticed and believed that Jesus was a man of God, John only records that the disciples believed in him. God rewards the faith of his children with assurance, but there is no assurance those who have not taken that initial step of faith, and so they remain in their unbelief, waiting for a sign that God will only give to his own. We too must walk in faith and trust that God, who rewards faith, will give us the gift of assurance.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Help me touch the sky, Daddy."

My children will only be little once. I want to hang on to these memories forever, and lest I forget some of these sweet memories, I plan on committing a few to writing. The other day my daughter, Abigail, pointed to the ceiling and said, "I can't touch the sky. I'm too little."

Even at two years old my daughter is recognizing her own limitations. As a father and someone all too aware of his own limitations, it pains me a little to see her making these observations. At two years old she has so much potential. With the right training and dedication, she could do anything.

I could have said something inspiring like, "Reach and you'll touch it," or "You'll see; you'll get bigger, and touch the sky before you know it. Instead, Abby said something else.

"Help me touch the sky, Daddy."

So beautiful. In light of the seemingly insurmountable, my daughter looks to me for help. Such faith. Such trust. Daddy can do anything. Daddy can help me touch the sky. I picked her up, lifted her with one hand, balancing her with the other. I could have easily touched her head to the ceiling, but I held her short. "Let go, Abby, touch the sky." Up until this point her arms were wrapped around mine. Cautiously she let go, extended her arm, and reached. She touched the sky.

I brought her down and gave her a big hug. "You did it! You touched the sky!" I was as excited as a proud father could be. To Abby, there are no limitations as long as Daddy is there. While I know that my own limitations will someday become very apparent to her, I want to help my little girl touch the sky and accomplish her dreams as long as I am able.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Frodo y la (in)justicia de Dios

En el libro El Señor de los Anillos: La Comunidad del Anillo, el protagonista Frodo, al darse cuenta de que su vida está en peligro por causa del malvado Gollum, dice que es una lástima que su tío Bilbo no lo mató a filo de espada cuando tuvo oportunidad. Gandalf, el mago viejo y sabio, le dice que fue por tener lástima de Gollum que su tío no fue corrompido por la influencia mala del anillo. Aun así, Frodo le pregunta por qué no mató a Gollum tiempo después por ser mal criatura porque merecía la muerte. Este es como responde Gandalf: «Muchos que viven merecen la muerte. Y algunos mueren que merecen la vida. ¿Se las puedes dar?»

Frodo es un mero hobbit. No es tan bueno ni sabio ni poderoso para castigar lo malo y vindicar lo bueno. Aquí y en muchos otros lugares el mago sabio insinúa que hay otro poder en el universo que controla los eventos, incluso la compasión de Bilbo y la llegada del anillo a su posesión, y, como consecuencia, a la posesión de Frodo.

De vez en cuando sentimos que el mundo es injusto, que las cosas no pasan como deben. Vemos al justo derribado y el malvado exaltado. Gente buena y admirable sufren duras penas y gente mala sacan beneficio de todas sus actividades.

Job pensaba así. Era justo y nadie le podía acusar dar hacer mal. Cuidaba de su familia, era honesto con sus empleados, y advocaba por las viudas y los huérfanos. Pero un día llegó el desastre. Su propiedad fue robada, sus siervos fueron matados y sus hijos murieron cuando su casa se derribó sobre ellos. Es más, vino sobre el llagas que le molestaban de día y noche. Pensó que Dios le había dado mal por bien. Buscó llevar sus quejas ante Dios para que Dios le rindiera cuentas.

En vez de explicar sus acciones, Dios le devolvió la pregunta: 
«¿Tienes acaso un brazo como el mío? ¿Puede tu voz tronar como la mía? Si es así, cúbrete de gloria y esplendor; revístete de honra y majestad. Da rienda suelta a la furia de tu ira; mira a los orgullosos, y humíllalos; mira a los soberbios, y somételos; aplasta a los malvados donde se hallen. Entiérralos a todos en el polvo; amortaja sus rostros en la fosa.»
Es como si le dijera: «Muchos que viven merecen la muerte. Y algunos mueren que merecen la vida. ¿Se las puedes dar?» A pesar de nuestra inclinación natural, somos los cuales que rinden cuentas a Dios, no él a nosotros. Dios es justo aunque de vez en cuando pensamos que podríamos distribuir la justicia mejor que él. En realidad, no somos nadie para juzgar a Dios por su misericordia o dureza. Él nos ha prometido que es justo y que llevará a cabo la justicia—que el malvado será humillado y el humilde será exaltado. Por su gracia, en vez de humillar a todos los seres humanos, escogió salvar a algunos de ellos y exaltarlos en Cristo Jesús.

Cuando pensamos que la vida (que quiere decir Dios) es injusta hay que recordar que su Palabra nos confirma que el opuesto es la verdad y que él está actuando conforme a su plan. Ningún malvado escapará su justicia y ninguno de los suyos permanecerá sin ser vindicado. Nuestra flaqueza humana necesita someterse a la seguranza de la Palabra de Dios. Sólo hay una persona quien puede darles a vida y la muerte a los que las merecen, y él lo hará. Ojalá que los que merecen la muerte se arrepientan y crean en él para ser incluidos en Cristo Jesús, el único que merece la vida.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Juegos Olímpicos y el Pecado Sexual

¿Sabías que una de las comodidades que el Comité Olímpico Internacional (COI) proviene para los deportistas olímpicos es el preservativo? No sé la cantidad exacta para Sochi este año, pero otras olimpiadas faltaron lo suficiente para los atletas aun con cantidades de más de 70.000 preservativos. Y este año muchos deportistas han bajado un nuevo app para facilitar sus actividades sexuales. El app (no lo quiero nombrar aunque es fácil averiguar) te ayuda encontrar otras personas interesadas en conocerte. No se usa para crear amistades, sino para tener una aventura con alguien.

A pesar del gran respeto que tengo para los deportistas que representan a mi país en los juegos olímpicos, creo que la licencia que caracteriza estos juegos es marca negra en lo que debe ser una muestra de unidad y benignidad internacional. Sé que estos atletas viven bajo mucha presión y estrés y que necesitan aliviarlo. Es difícil tener los ojos del mundo puestos en tu rendimiento físico. Pero, en vez de ser criaturas sin dominio propio sobre nuestros deseos sexuales, nosotros somos la imagen de Dios. El cuerpo no es mío—está prestado de parte de Dios para usos que le agradan a él. Estos atletas que se rinden a sus deseos corporales, o mejor dicho, carnales, se han engañado con las mentiras del diablo: puedo usar mi cuerpo como quiera, merezco el descanso, merezco el placer, necesito relajarme de esta manera.

En realidad no se debe nada a ellos menos el respeto de su país y el cuidado del país anfitrión. Nosotros no hacemos buenas cosas o nos entrenamos para ganar el derecho de pecar en contra de Dios el Padre y Jesucristo nuestro Salvador.

Espero que haya muchos atletas olímpicos que son cristianos y que muestran públicamente su deseo de agradarle a Dios en vez de satisfacer sus propios deseos pecaminosos. Ellos se pueden fortalecer por el ejemplo de Jesús, el cual fue tentado tanto como nosotros pero sin pecar. Y nosotros también, frente al ejemplo de Jesús, podemos animarnos a no creer las mentiras que nos quieren convencer a justificarnos. Dios nos ofrece mejor descanso y mejor relajación que el mundo nos ofrece. Que confiemos en él.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

“Why can’t they just learn English?”

As promised, the follow up to my previous post:

Many “monolingual” Americans express their frustration with immigrants and visitors to our country with an exasperated gasp such as the one above. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been married for any length of time can attest, venting frustration rarely leads to positive discussion or better understanding. Until we get past our initial emotional response and start an open and honest dialogue, we only contribute to more anger and frustration. So let’s dialogue.

I have three points that are worth considering next time you have an encounter with someone who didn’t grow up in the U.S.:

First, a strong accent is not a failure to learn English. Americans all over the country have strong accents, particularly those of the Northeast or the Deep South. Without some familiarity with an accent, some may find it difficult to understand and even unpleasant to hear because it isn’t “proper.” However, instead of criticizing or judging others because they have an accent, we should take extra effort to understand because they’ve made quite a bit of progress in learning English. During college I had a professor from the Philippines. Some of the other students complained that they couldn’t understand him, but I didn’t think he had that strong of an accent. I think the difference is that I tried to listen where they tried to judge.

When I’m in a situation where I have difficulty understanding because of an accent, I recognize that the other person has made the effort to learn English, and I politely ask them to repeat or speak up.

Second, speaking in a foreign language in public is not failure to learn English. You cannot tell, just by hearing someone speak a foreign language, whether or not that person has made any attempt to learn English or whether or not that person can speak English well. There are a number of reasons why someone would speak in a foreign language in public. Here are just a few:

1.      Speaking a learned language is taxing, especially when one is more familiar and comfortable with their first language. Even with the many years of experience with the Spanish language, my wife and I typically default to English when we’re talking to each other, even at our Spanish-language church services. If there’s no urgent need to speak in English, many people will default to their first language.
2.      English is still foreign to their present company. Many immigrants to the United States still have significant relational ties back to their country of origin. These friends and relatives may come to visit from time to time, and due to the short duration of their stay in the U.S., they’ve never felt the need to establish a firm grasp on the English language. Consider the many current and former military service members who spent a number of years stationed overseas with only a basic vocabulary in the host country’s language. Immigrants with varying degrees a fluency in English may opt to speak in another language in public because they are with visiting friends or relatives who do not know English that well.
3.      Their first language is foreign to their children. Unless someone moves here at the end of their school-age years or as an adult, chances are English will become their default language. Children are in very real danger of failing to learn the language of their country of origin and thus lose all ability to communicate with family and friends left behind. Many immigrants feel it is their duty to pass on the language to their children in order to preserve that link to their past, so they try to speak with them in their first language whenever possible, even in public. It can be challenging to grow up apart from your grandparents, but add in the complete inability to communicate with them and you lose more than just your cultural heritage.

Third, learning English is not a short process. Natural-born citizens typically have twelve plus years in a fully immersive English-language educational environment. They grow up in homes where English is spoken and someone reads Dr. Seuss and Spot books to them until they learn to recognize words and sound out syllables. An immigrant coming to the United States doesn’t usually have this kind of upbringing in English. If they come at the end of their high school years or early adulthood, they typically do not have enough time in American educational institutions to develop a firm grasp of the language before having to find a job to support themselves and their family. Without English language skills, they are limited to working jobs with minimal English language requirements. Picking up English through interaction at work is slow, but over time a specialized English vocabulary can develop. Someone who couldn’t navigate an English conversation to open up a bank account can tell you anything you’d like to know about your car in English; how it runs, why it’s making that sound, what parts you need to have replaced soon, etc. Standing in line behind this person at Fifth Third may make you frustrated. Why won’t this person just learn English? The truth is he has been learning English—better than you if you’ve never worked as an auto mechanic. The learning process will likely take years before he can operate comfortably in most circumstances where English is necessary. Give people credit for the amount that they’ve learned.

But why can’t they take classes or buy language learning software? Some do, but immigrants without English language skills usually have to work more hours at low-paying jobs just to get by. After 50, 60, 70+ hours of work, would you want to spend the remainder of your waking hours studying English or holding your kids, kissing your wife, and talking on the phone with your relatives who you may never see again? Some people may sacrifice “family time” for a period of time in order to complete a degree. Learning English, especially without a strong base of English education, is not something that can be accomplished in a couple years of study. It can take decades before someone has fully functional English language abilities. Imagine if you wanted to get a B.A. with a major in French. That’s a four year degree. How long would it take you, assuming you continued working a full-time job? Give people a little grace because language learning takes time, and you have no idea how much time they’ve been working at it.

To round out this terribly long post, consider that the immigrant who won’t learn English is a false stereotype. People want to be able to communicate. Communication breakdowns are just as frustrating to them as to you who speak English fluently. If we are willing to accommodate and work with someone who has dyslexia or a reading disability, are we willing to give grace to those with a greater disadvantage—immigrants struggling to learn a whole other language trying to succeed in American society? When you see someone speaking in a foreign language in public, don’t judge. You don’t know where they are at in the process or what steps they’ve taken (or have been unable to take) to get a better grasp of the English language.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You Can't Criticize Coke's "America the Beautiful" for This

During the Super Bowl the most offensive commercial this year appears to come, not from Go Daddy, but from Coca-Cola. The commercial can be accessed here. What was so offensive? The song “America the Beautiful” was sung in multiple languages. Critics immediately took to social media to voice their anger over the “unpatriotic” display. Some argued that an American song should never be sung in any other language than English. Others said that the commercial stood against assimilation of immigrants into the broader American culture. Some simply said, “Speak English.”

Speak English. Two words that summarize the thoughts of so many. Yet are they well informed? Are people who speak in any other language than English unpatriotic? Does assimilation require the complete cession of speaking non-English languages in public?

I’ll save my main discussion of language-learning and adoption of culture for another blog post. For now, I will save my comments for one language featured in the Coke commercial that should be beyond criticism by “apple pie” Americans: Keres.

Is it right to be offended at someone singing “America the Beautiful” in Keres? This is the language of some Native American Pueblo peoples in New Mexico, a culture and language that predate English settlement, and was featured in the Coca-Cola commercial. Is it fair to criticize Keres-speakers for holding on to their language and culture, calling them “un-American,” when they are in danger of losing their culture and language forever.

Government-sponsored “assimilation” programs of the early 20th century sometimes separated Native American children from their parents, required them to adopt American hairstyles and dress, educated them in English, and punished students who used their native language in public. And this was just for Native American tribes who had been here long before the concept of “America” was ever born. George Clooney’s character from the new movie The Monuments Men laments the Nazis plans to destroy priceless works of art and culture in their retreat back to Germany in WWII. He says, “If you destroy an entire generation of people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed.”

Whereas we should take pride in the Allies who sought to preserve culture and history from destruction by the Nazis, we should be ashamed that our own country had a similar policy towards Native Americans in their own country at the same time. How much does one need to “assimilate” before all prior cultural identity is gone? We may debate the rest of the commercial and the assimilation or lack thereof of other people groups featured in the commercial, but can we really be up in arms over the inclusion of a Native American language singing “America the Beautiful,” a land her people called their own long before European settlers came and took it from them?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Book for Some Good Bible Study

Romans 1-7 for You. By Timothy Keller. Grand Rapids, MI: The Good Book Company. 2014. 208 pp. $22.99 (List Price). Available February 4 in Print.


The Bible for You series looks to be a promising set of books for the Christian reader. I've purchased Galatians for You and have read Judges for You, so Romans 1-7 for You is not my first round through the park. The books are all about the same length, so Romans had to be split into two books, whereas Galatians is only one. Since the Old Testament books are significantly longer than the New Testament epistles, the author goes through them section by section, whereas the New Testament books are done verse by verse. This makes them excellent resources for Bible studies as well as for preaching through whole books of the Bible.

Romans 1-7 for You is an excellent volume in the series. This is Paul's magnum opus and his clearest treatment of the gospel. Therefore, Tim Keller's book gives excellent exposition verse by verse though the first seven chapters of the book of Romans. The style of writing is sermonic—clear explanation coupled with heart-penetrating application. It serves both as a model for Bible study and for sermon prep. It inspired in me the same kind of delight I have had in the best Bible studies that I can remember having participated in.

Although Romans can be a very controversial book, Keller is firmly set within the evangelical tradition and does not stray off into arguments over minutiae. I am a Baptist and Keller is a Presbyterian, but nothing in the book seemed to me like the pursuit of any agenda except the faithful exposition of the text. I heartily recommend it as an encouragement and model of sound Bible study.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.