Why Parables?? (Devotional on Matthew 13:10-17)

Matthew 13 focuses primarily on Jesus teaching the people through the use of parables. A total of four parables are presented in this chapter. However, right in the middle of this section, there is a small excursus on why Jesus uses parables at all (vv.10-17). In simplest terms, Jesus says that he uses parables to fulfill the prophecy from Isaiah “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”


This explanation, when taken in isolation, feels callous. It paints Jesus as someone intentionally trying to hide his message. As someone seemingly trying to mislead people. However, I do not believe this is the intent of this explanation or of Jesus’ fondness of parables in the first place. At the most basic level, what is a parable? It is a morality tale. It is a story told to impart a message of right and wrong or of good and evil. Perhaps, the best analogous modern example are fairy-tales and fables. What does the story of the tortoise and the hare tell us? That pride can be the downfall of the powerful. What about Hansel and Gretel? That greed and gluttony will harm you in the end.


Stories like these are how we take hard to understand and high concept ideas and make them more palatable for children. I believe that Jesus is doing the same thing with his use of parables. He is taking concepts that might be difficult to understand and putting them in terms and situations that virtually everyone around him could understand. He is making it as easy as possible for people to hear and understand his message.


With this idea in mind, then his explanation of why he uses parables shifts slightly. Now, his use of parables does not come off as an attempt to confuse people into ‘hearing but never understanding’ but rather as an earnest attempt to make his message easy to grasp. By using parables,  Jesus is trying to cast as wide a net as possible, to help as many people as possible understand his message of salvation. This understanding then puts the Isaiah quote in a different context. It becomes less a stance on Jesus gatekeeping and more a disheartened plea for people to just simply open up their hearts and hear the words that Jesus is saying.


Jesus uses parables to give us as much information as possible, in a way we can most easily understand. It is Jesus taking the theologically rich topics of salvation, faith, atonement, and divine judgment and framing them so that they make sense and are easy to remember. It is Jesus’ way of making sure that as few people as possible fall into the camp of those who ‘hear but never perceive.’ 


Connecting with God through the Prayer of Examen

For the next few blog posts, we are going to be talking about and reflecting on the 7 habits of plugged-in people that we introduced a few weeks ago. The first one we are going to be going over is “seeking Jesus Daily.” This is our only challenge on the ‘UP’ avenue of relationship (the relationship between us and God). This goal is extremely vague. While some might find that to be frustrating, it is intentional on our part. We want to make sure that everyone can achieve this goal/challenge. Someone who has not really developed a pattern of spending time with Jesus daily will approach this very differently than someone who already prays and reads the Bible for 60 minutes a day.

One thing I have incorporated into my daily routine is something called the Prayer of Examen. The basic idea is that you set aside time to reflect on your day (examen it) and see how Jesus and the Holy Spirit worked in you that day. There are lots of ways you can do this. Some people run through their day like a movie and look for one thing that gave them life (a highlight) and something that did not give life (a low-light). Other people think about all of the interactions they had with people and try to see ways the Holy Spirit was nudging them and reflecting on if they responded to that nudge or not. There are larger and more expansive ways to do the Prayer of Examen. My Alma mater Fuller Theological Seminary has a video walking through a 20ish version. You can check it out HERE (https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/prayer-of-examen).

Personally, I do some combination of all of the above. I start with 3-4 minutes of reflecting on the day looking for highlights and low-lights, then I use those moments as springboards for seeing how I was responding the Holy Spirit and how I could be more responsive in the coming days. I find it a great way of growing in my relationship and closeness with the Holy Spirit.

If you are looking for something new to try and expand the way you ‘Seek Jesus Daily’, give the Prayer of Examen a try. It is simple and can be made to fit your personality or needs. But this is just one example of the endless ways you can connect with Jesus every day. Try something new, rediscover a forgotten spiritual habit, double down on something you are currently doing. The choice is yours! If you are looking for something to try, please reach out. We have lots of different resources (books, apps, techniques, disciplines) that we would love to share with you. In the end, the only thing that matters with this goal is that you grow in your relationship with Jesus and grow closer to your Savior!


Digging Deeper into the Bible

A Brief Introduction to Deeper Textual Engagement

A question I am frequently asked is, ‘how should I read the Bible?’ My glib answer is, ‘I don’t care, just as long as you are reading your Bible!’ However, that question is really getting at how should one approach the Biblical text? I think we have all heard sermons or someone talk about a Bible passage and thought, ‘how on Earth did they get that from the passage??’ So, I thought I would share some of the steps and considerations I take when approaching a Biblical text. Now, this is part of my personal process. It is by no means the best or only way to approach the text. This is just part of what I do. Try it out and see if any elements of it work for you. When I sit down to read a text, I have 5 things in mind: genre/form, context, text criticism, important words/themes, and structure/development of the text.

Genre/form Recognizing the genre of a text may have an impact on how we understand it. For example, we read a textbook differently than we read a recipe differently than we read a letter from our Gram. Perhaps the best example of this is the satire news website ‘The Onion.’ The Onion is a satire newspaper (both print and digital) that publishes made up ‘news’ stories. The intent is to make people laugh. Now, if you pick up a copy of The Onion and know it is a work of satire then you know how to read it. You know that what you are reading is not true but is poking fun at something. However, if you don’t know that The Onion is a satire work (if you don’t know its genre) then you will probably misread it and could take what it says as true.

The same is true of the Biblical text. Parables are a common example of this in the Bible. Jesus frequently used parables when teaching. Take the parable of the Prodigal Son: we understand that this story is not referring to a real family. There was no rich father, no son who wasted his inheritance, and no brother who was angry. We understand that parables are made up stories, intended to teach some lesson. The Bible is full of a wide variety of genres: creation stories, family histories, laws codes, courtroom scenes, prophecy, apocalyptic literature, gospel accounts, epistles, personal letters, and so many more! Understanding the genre of a text you are about to read can greatly change how you understand it. 

Context. The central aim of looking at context is to establish the bounds of the text. Is what I am reading self-contained? Or is it part of a larger discussion/tradition? When looking at context, I have three levels I explore. The first level is what I call local context (or literary context). This is reading a passage together with what has happened directly before it and sometimes what happens after it. For example, we are currently preaching through Matthew chapter 8. In this chapter, Jesus is performing various miracles and has interactions with various people. These stories are great to read by themselves. But they take on a different light when we realize that they are happening right after the Sermon on the Mount (on the same day with the same crowd of people). Now, we can almost view them as a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, or object lessons of the things Jesus said in that sermon. This adds new meaning and depth to these stories.

The second level of context is canonical context (the text’s place within the larger biblical story). Our Bible is amazing. It is a work that is composed of 1000s of stories, told by 100s of authors, spanning 1000s of years. Yet, all of this comes together to tell one cohesive story: the story of God’s relationship to humanity. Because of this, sometimes a passage can reference an event, person, or story from elsewhere in the Bible. Picking up on this reference can impact how we understand the text we are currently reading. For example: in John chapter 1, Jesus speaks of angels ascending and descending from Heaven. There are some interesting things we could take from this illustration on its own. However, if we catch that this is a reference to Jacob’s dream of a ladder going up into Heaven (Gen. 28), then this statement of Jesus takes on a larger idea of promised hope and blessing.

The last level of context is social/historical context. The stories we read about in the Bible did not take place in a vacuumed environment. They happened to real people, living in a real time. That time was different than today. It can be easy for us to forget that and to impart our own personal context onto a text. For example, we read about taking ‘an eye for an eye’ and think it sounds barbaric. In our context today, that is not how things should work. That leaves little room for mercy! However, understanding the context of that text sheds some new light on it. Human nature is bent on taking revenge. If someone hits you, you are probably going to want to hit them back. And not only hit them but hit them hard, so they don’t hit you again. This is called escalation. Over time, a small harm can grow and grow to become a large crime (all because of continued escalation). Therefore, various law codes of the time (and before) put limits on how a person could retaliate to a wrong committed against them. ‘An eye for an eye’ now becomes the prime limit on how retaliation is doled out. It is to prevent a small offense to escalate to the point of murder. Rather than lacking mercy this law is extremely merciful! Something like that could be lost on us without proper historical context.

Important words or themes.  Identifying key words or themes in a text can give real insight into what the author wants us to get out of the text. These could be repeated words, the continuation of an earlier metaphor, or a concept that is important to the Biblical story as a whole. Sometimes looking at the passage in its original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek can help, but it is by no means absolutely necessary to identify many key words or themes.

Once you have identified an important word or theme, the next question you should ask is ‘why is this important?’ Being able to pick out important words or themes is great, but they are only able to provide meaningful insight if you can figure out why they are important. Asking probing questions can be a great way to start digging into their meaning.

Take I Corinthians 3:16-17 for example. In these two verses, Paul uses the word ‘temple’ a number of times. He tells us that we are a temple of God. Some questions we could ask include: why this particular word (why not palace or shrine or tabernacle)? Does Paul use this word in other places in I Corinthians? What role did temples play in the environment into which Paul wrote these words? How are temples presented or talked about in the Old Testament? What element of temples do we think the text is wanting us to focus on? You see how quickly you can start to build up a lot of (hopefully relevant) information that could relate to a particular passage.

Structure/Development of the Text. This textual aspect will be closely related to genre. Knowing the genre of the text can give us some idea of how it should be structured. For example, if you are looking at a parable, then most likely the text is building up to a one or two verse pithy conclusion that will act as the ‘elevator pitch’ for the entire passage. However, even if you do not know a text’s genre you can still notice elements of its structure. There are many formal writing styles and techniques Biblical writers used to convey meaning. One common example is called inclusios. The easiest way to think of an inclusio is to think of a sandwich. You have the bread (two similar- if not identical lines) surrounding the delicious peanut butter and pickles[1] (the main idea of the passage). This is a common technique seen in Hebrew Poetry.

Those are just a few examples of how the structure of a passage can help unlock some of its meaning. But do not think that you need to have a full encyclopedia of biblical writing styles to understand the text (although that would be awesome!).  A great way to engage with the development of a passage is to notice anytime you find yourself saying, ‘wait what?’ Often a question like this can lead you to find something important in the passage. The more you engage with the Bible the more you will notice patterns in how things are written. You will start to become familiar with how certain books are written and that will lead you to start identifying differences between books and that will lead you to ask questions about those differences, and before you know it you will be reading the Bible on a deeper level than you ever thought you could!

What is the Text About? Wow! You have done a lot of work on the text so far. You have engaged the text on its level by identifying its genre. You have determined the bounds of the text by looking at it in three different context levels. You have noticed important words and themes in the text. Not only that, but you have tried to figure out why they are important and what the author’s purpose was in using them. Lastly, you have looked at the structure of the text itself to see if that reveals any meaning. Now it’s time to put all of that together and summarize the main point of the passage. It is entirely possible that there will not be a single simple point to the passage. One of the amazing things about our Bible is that it speaks to us on many different levels. But a great practice to have when reading a passage is to see if you can summarize what that passage is saying to you at that time in one simple sentence. If you can distill the passage down to one central simple message, then you can use that as a springboard for reading the text as a whole.

This is what I do when I prepare sermons. I go through the steps above and try to come up with what the main take home message of this sermon is going to be. I think, “If people only remembered one sentence I said today, what would I want that sentence to be?” Then I take that sentence and work backwards constructing an argument that builds up to that one sentence conclusion. Obviously, most of you are not reading the Bible to prepare sermons all the time. But this practice of finding a one sentence ‘point’ of a passage can be a great way to remember key themes and ideas you read about in the Bible.


Now, I don’t expect everyone to do all of these steps each time you sit down to read the Bible (that would be so overwhelming!). I don’t do this entire process every time I sit down to read. Sometimes I do a few of these, sometimes I add in other elements of interpretation (we did not even talk about text criticism—that is a super fun topic!), and sometimes I do none of them and simply read the text as I would any novel. I don’t want you to feel like you should run down this checklist each and every time you crack open your Bible or fire up your Bible app. But I would encourage you to from time to time engage with some of these steps and see what they do for you. If you come across an especially difficult passage, or read something that does not feel quite right, or if you hear someone talk about a passage and you are not sure how they got that meaning out of the text, take time and follow some of these steps. See how your engagement with the text grows or changes. This is not a simple thing to just jump right into. It will be difficult at first. Ask questions. Seek out people’s help. Have a reference book or two. All of these things will get you walking down a path to amazing, insightful, and life-giving reading of God’s word.

[1] Don’t judge me! This is an amazing sandwich. Try it and you will see!


How St. Patrick should Influence our Daily Mission

This week is St. Patrick’s Day. Today, in America at least, the day has really become an excuse to wear green, pinch people, and drink Guinness. However, there is much more behind the day that celebrates the life of the real “Apostle of Ireland.” Even the person of Saint Patrick himself is wrapped in myth and legends. From Patrick banishing all the snakes in Ireland, to his walking stick growing into a magic tree; most of the ‘stories’ around St. Patrick lack any historic credibility. Even idea that St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach about the trinity is probably not true (because that is the heresy Partialism, Patrick!).

Luckily, what we do know about the person of St. Patrick is still worthy of remembering on his day. Patrick was born in Roman Britain (seemingly England). At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped by a group of Irish pirates. He spent the next six years enslaved in Ireland working as a slave. Eventually he was able to escape his captors and return home to Britain. In his autobiographical work Confessio, it was his time in captivity and his escape that cemented his love of Christ and his eventual decision to become a missionary. And the place he felt called to be his mission field was the very place of his captivity, Ireland.

Tradition has it that Patrick entered Ireland through the very same port he escaped from years earlier. Think about that choice. Could you go back the place you were held in captivity as a slave and try to minister? Could you go to the very people who kidnapped you and try to tell them of Jesus? I don’t know if I could. Patrick’s return to Ireland was not a joyous affair. He tells of being beaten on the road, robbed of his possessions, being chained up and imprisoned for weeks on end. Yet he remained faithful to bring the love of Christ to the people doing this to him.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, try and reflect on the courage, the love, the forgiveness, and the faithfulness of Patrick. Strive to forgive like Patrick forgave. Strive to remain as dedicated to God’s mission as Patrick was, even when it is no easy. Just imagine the kind of impact we could have if we all lived out our daily missional lives like Patrick. That should be our goal this St. Patrick’s Day. Let’s take that goal and run with it!



So, This is Christmas

I have a love-hate relationship with the Christmas season. Obviously, I love it because of all that it represents—the birth of our savior, the coming of salvation, the fruition of a covenant of grace. I love decorating, watching cheesy Christmas movies, and eating way too many butter cookies. I love just about all the Christmas activities: the light shows, plays, ballets, markets, tree lightnings, all of it.

But herein lies the problem. By the end of December, I am exhausted and honestly just want it all to be over. By the time Christmas itself rolls around, I am kind of over it all. Every year I (and I guess many other people) tell themselves that this season they won’t over commit. They won’t spread themselves too thin. How many of us broke that promise this year, again? I feel like this year is especially hectic as most of us are trying to make up for missing so much last December.

So the big question and struggle for many of us is: how do we balance all of the meaningful and fun Christmas activities with our emotional and mental sanity? First off, I want to say that I do not have the ironclad answer for this question. But I wonder how much of it comes down to us placing higher values on certain times of the year over others. Think about it, I know I often get wrapped up in thinking, ‘it’s only Christmas for a few weeks, I have to make it special, make allllll the memories right now!’ We can get so wrapped up in trying to craft the perfect experience or memory that we can forget to actually experience that moment or be present for that memory.

Psalm 118 tells us that, “this is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (v.24). THIS day, THIS very day, is the day that the Lord made. God crafted each of our days, each of them is a blessing and a gift. A random Tuesday in February, any Thursday in May, and Christmas day. Each and everyone of them is the day that the Lord made, and we should rejoice in all of them.

What would that look like for us—to live with the same zeal we have on Christmas Eve on say, June 6? How might our outlook change if we saw every day as special and worthy of our full attention and passion? Would that make us less likely to overbook some parts of the year while we mindlessly skate through others? What would it look like to put the same importance we place on Christmas day on every day of the year? I am just as guilty of this as anyone (if not more so). I know far too often I go on auto-pilot for extended periods of time, only clicking things back on for what I deem as an important event.

What would it look like to be fully engaged every day? Would it balance out our lives more—help us move away from the peak and valley cycle of living one big event to the next? Honestly, I don’t know. But it is something I want to try. I want to try to genuinely view every day as a gift and as something with which I am meant to utilize for the glory of our God. Or perhaps to quote a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Let’s try to take that Christmastime specialness and zeal and import it to all the days of the year!


What Does it Mean to “Go Back”?

For the past few months, as we have been preparing to return to a regular schedule of weekly in person worship, I have found myself caught between desire for routine and a drive for innovation. There is something so comforting about routine. Stepping into a familiar situation can sometimes be the spiritual and emotional hug one needs. I am the king of routine: I have had the same Christmas dinner for nearly 20 years now (homemade pizza), I used to drop a deposit off at the bank on such a regular schedule that one day I was late, and the bank called to make sure everything was OK. So, a big part of me wants to step right back into Sunday mornings as if nothing had happened—to sit in my same seat, do the same motions, fall into the same routine we were in before, get back to normal.

But I also recognize that it is foolhardy to think that there can ever really be a return to the old normal. We are not the same people, RiverTree is not the same church, our community is not the same community, our nation is not the same nation as it was the last time we were together in Selvidge, in March of 2020. To try to recapture that old normal, would be to ignore 15 months’ worth of hard growth and tumultuous change. 

The million dollar question we (and countless other churches) are asking is: how do we balance that comfort of the familiar with that understanding that things have massively changed. We don’t want to prize our own comfort and nostalgia to the point that we become irrelevant. But neither do we want to change and innovate so much that we are unrecognizable from what made RiverTree such an amazing church family in the first place.

Our year plus as a virtual church family gave us a unique opportunity to step back and evaluate not only what ‘church’ means but also how we ‘do’ and ‘live’ church on a week-by-week and day-by-day basis. During this time, we have been forced to get creative with just about everything we do. Some things worked amazingly well (our virtual book club and painting nights), while other things did not work at all (remember quarantine cooking? Apparently not, because no one watched them, ha ha!). One of my biggest fears, as we transition back, is losing that creative spark we fostered so well over the past 15 months. I want us to be a group of people, a church family, that is not afraid to share ideas, is not afraid to be creative, and is not afraid to fail.

I wish I had the perfect answer to this riddle. But I don’t, and I would be a little wary of anyone who says that they do have it all figured out. But I am excited to work on figuring this out together, with all of you. “In what ways should we stay the same?” and “In what ways should we innovate?” are questions I want us to wrestle with as a church family. Let me know what you think, I would love to hear from you all!


Let’s Talk About the Problem of Evil

Starting in January, we began on a journey preaching through the entire book of Matthew. A huge benefit of this type of series is that it means we cannot skip over any passages that don’t make for nice clean sermons. The downside is that we are forced to wrestling with some passages that we might rather want to leave alone. This week we hit the first of those passages: Matt. 13-23. These verses tell of Herod’s plan to kill Jesus, the holy family’s flight to Egypt, and the resulting murder of all the male toddlers in and around the town of Bethlehem (an event sometimes called the Massacre of Innocents).


Now, it just so happened that this last week was also a family service, meaning it was geared toward and starred more of a younger audience. For obvious reasons we did not focus on the massacre of innocents in a special kids’ service. Rather, we focused on how God protected Jesus and the family by telling them to flee. This is a valuable and important lesson to learn—that God protects us. But a keen reader will instantly notice the dozens of children that God did not protect. How can we say God protects us when we read about the genocide of an entire toddler population?


I will start out by saying that there is not a clean, simple, and satisfying answer to this. This question is one with which I, myself, constantly wrestle and struggle. The answer most often given to this question is that God has a larger plan and works everything for good. Now, I do believe this is true. But simply stating that as a response to something as awful as the mass murder of toddlers is just cold-hearted and lacking any kind of compassion. If you were to give a that simple answer to someone grieving the loss of a child, you more than likely would be punched—and justifiably so! Sometimes the correct academic and theological answer is not the correct loving answer.


Despite this, how I answer this question for myself is wrapped up both in the idea of God’s divine plan and our limited understanding of its scope. I would argue that God prioritizes protecting our soul’s over protecting our bodies. Later in Matthew, Jesus tells us that we do not need to be afraid of the ones who can kill our body’s but rather we should fear the one who can destroy our soul (10:28). This hits on the notion that our time on Earth is so limited in the grand scheme of our everlasting existence. But, because we are not God, we can’t wrap our minds around anything that big. As a result, we focus on the here and now with all of our passions and mental strength.


Think about when you were in third grade. Can you remember the things that caused you stress? What were the day-to-day things that were your entire world? For most of us, we can’t remember. This comes from gaining a larger perspective. We can look back and realize that third grade was such a small part of the grand story that is our life that most of what happened there just fades into the background. But in the moment, while we were living them out, they were the most important things, nothing mattered but them.


Now, please hear me. I am not trying to callously compare genuine heartbreak and loss to a third-grade spelling test. I am in no way trying to mitigate our current feelings of loss. I am trying to illustrate how our perspective of time is so small compared to God’s and how our earthly lives are so small compared to our eternal souls. Yet they are all we know; they are all we can know right now.


Like I said at the top, there are no easy, clean, or 100% satisfactory answers to a question like this. But this is how I currently handle the problem of evil at this point in time. I believe that God’s top priority is protecting my soul and I believe that through Jesus I do not have to worry about the safely of my soul. While we all walk through deeply painful times of heartbreak, loss, and pain on our time here on Earth, all of that is wrapped up in the briefest of salvos across the duration of our eternal lives.


Please, I want to hear how you approach this question. The problem of evil is one we will never fully answer on this side of glory. How I wrestle with it will be different from how you grapple with it. Let me know what has brought you the most comfort in the moments of heartache in your lives. 


A Case for the Horror Genre

I have, for the longest time, been a lover of the horror genre. It might seem weird for a pastor to love horror, but I think that well done horror is some of the best entertainment out there. Good horror creates environments for exploring deep, complex topics and emotions. It can give grounding and footholds into conversations that often are too esoteric for people to bring up in everyday conversation.
For example, the Netflix series Hunting of Hill House is less about jump scares and ghosts and more about healthy verse unhealthy ways of dealing with loss and remorse. Don’t get me wrong, there are ghosts galore in the series. But the scenes that resonated the most with me were the intimate moments between the siblings. It is was in these moments where the true power of the series shone through and it moved from a simple haunted house story to a story exploring just what it means to mourn.

In addition, some of the absolute best horror comes with genuine moral messages, that invite the reader/watcher to examine themselves. One of the earliest moral messages I remember from a horror story came from Alvin Schwartz’s collection of folklore tales: Scary Stories 3. One story is about Herold the Scarecrow and how Herold is completely mistreated by his owners. Eventually Herold comes to life and takes his revenge. The underline message here is that we ought to show compassion for others or, put another way, that you reap what you sow. This is a notion we see several times in the Biblical text: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap,” (Galatians 6:7) or “The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward,” (Proverbs 11:18).

Some horror authors are deeply religious in their own personal lives and they use their writing as ways to express and share their beliefs. Take Mary Shelly for example. Her most famous work is the novel Frankenstein. Many people today forget that that the book had an alternative title The Modern Prometheus. In Greek Mythology, Prometheus is a Titan who defies the other Gods by gifting humans with fire, elevating humans to god-like status. This same idea is at the core of Adam and Eve’s fall. Their desire was to be like God, so they ate the forbidden fruit so they could have God’s knowledge. Pride is also at the core of Dr. Frankenstein’s story. He tries to assume the power to create life. His ultimate goal is to ascend to the same level as God, an endeavor that only leads to pain and ends in death. Shelly is warning the reader that the same pride that led Adam and Eve to turn away from God is still in all of us and we need to rely on God to tame that pride.

Horror often gets a bad rap. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of bad horror out there! But when it is good, horror can be a wonderful introspective tool. So this Halloween season, I would encourage you to not write off horror wholesale. If you are up for it, investigate a good horror movie or book. You might find that it sparks some amazing theological conversations.


How a German Sci-fi Show Stole Two Weeks of my Life

I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago that I recently finished up the last season of a German sci-fi TV show called Dark. This show has left me wrestling with questions of free will vs. fate. It is basically all I have thought about in the two weeks since I finished the show.

Now before I go on, I should say that there will probably be some mild spoilers in this. So if you are worried about that, go watch Dark and then come and read this. With that out of the way, the main premise of this show involves time travel and time loops. We are introduced to the show’s main character, Jonas, as a teenager. We follow his adventures and it is not long before Jonas runs into a man simply called the Stranger. Eventually, we learn that the Stranger is Jonas from 33 years in the future. They have an emotional scene where teenage Jonas is locked up in a bunker and the Stranger (middle aged Jonas) comes and talks with him. The Stranger refuses to let Jonas out, reflecting that if he lets Jonas out that he will not be able to follow the same path to eventually become the person standing outside the bunker. The first 2 seasons of Dark hint at this idea of free will vs. fate. Is the Stranger freely choosing to leave Jonas in the bunker, or is there an underlying fate that is controlling his actions? As the show goes on, we are introduced to the antagonist of the show – an old man named Adam who is horribly scarred. Now, as you might have guessed, Adam is Jonas from 66 years in the future.

Now, here is where things get really interesting on the free will vs. fate front. For a large stretch of the show we see Jonas teaming up with the Stranger to try and stop Adam. They both see Adam as evil, a twisted old man who is trying to destroy everything. But remember, this show as all about time loops. So throughout the third season, we watch as each of these characters turn into their older selves. We watch Jonas slowly turn into the Stranger we first met in season one and we watch the Stranger slowly turn into Adam. The transformation from the Stranger into Adam is especially interesting because we watch as one of our hero slowly shifts his thinking to become the very thing he fought for so long to defeat.  Here we realize that this cycle from Jonas, to the Stranger, to Adam has happened over and over again in a seemingly endless loop.

So this transformation brings the question of free will verse fate right to the forefront of this show. Does the Stranger have any real say or genuine freewill in his life? Or is he simply fated (or predetermined) to always become the evil Adam? (I am over simplifying plot elements here, but you get the main idea). This question of free will vs fate or predestination is one that Christians have been debating almost since the beginning of the faith. Different denominations set up camps closer to the free will side or closer to the predestination side. I feel like most people end up lost somewhere in the middle—seeing both powerful positives and harmful negatives in both arguments.

I really wish I could lay out an answer for this. But to me personally, the most frustrating part of a debate like this, is that there is no way of 100% answering it here on earth.  I don’t think we can have an answer on a question like this short of standing with God at the end of all things. But that does not stop us from wrestling with it. Maybe that is why I like sci-fi so much, because it so often gives us handholds to propel us into these hard topics. I mean my favorite movie of all time, Terminator 2, is another one that sits squarely on the free will vs. fate fence. Is John destined to lead the humans in a future uprising over the machines? Or is it as John himself says, ‘there is no fate but what we make for ourselves”?

I feel like this post has not really said anything, it has simply just been me musing. But I want to hear from other people. Where do you all land in the free will vs. fate spectrum? Does it even matter (which is a whole other debate that we could be having)? Am I ridiculous for losing almost two weeks of my life obsessively thinking about this (I am going to go with Yes)? I would love to hear what you think. Now, I need to go watch something else to clear my head. Talk to you all later!


Why am I so Bad at Resting?

One thing I have had the privilege of doing during this ‘stay-at-home’ time has been to talk with a wide array of people. A good chunk of my time has been spent simply listening to people tell their stories. In some form or another, everyone has talked about what they are doing to fill time. Now granted, not everyone is seeing their free time go up, some people I talk to mention that they actually have more responsibilities now than, say, back in February. But however much free time people may or may not have right now, everyone seems to enjoy talking about what they are doing to fill that free time.
This got me thinking, why do we, as humans, have the constant desire to fill up every moment of the day? I am in no way excluding myself from this. I absolutely cannot stand having extended periods of free time with nothing planed or no tasks to accomplish. If I have free time, I create artificial tasks for myself to do. Things like story writing, podcasting, or even translations. Now, some of these could be classified as fun. But for the most part, they are work. Why would I (and other people) voluntarily do work when they don’t have to?? Even things that on the surface should be fun, like video games, we can turn into a chore. Last year I did a play through of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and on more than a few occasions Kristine, my wife, would ask why I was playing if it was making me so angry. I would grunt through gritted teeth that I was having fun and it was relaxing, while at the same time wanting to toss my controller across the room because the stupid gyroscope puzzle shrine is impossible, WHY WOULD YOU MAKE SUCH A THING NINTENDO!!!! Deep breath *in* and *out* OK I’m better now. We can even turn watching TV or reading into work. ‘OK if I start now, I can finish this entire season today’ or ‘if I read 7 chapters a day, I can get through the whole series in 2 weeks.’
Most of us recognize just how important times of rest or nothingness can be. One of Jesus’ most clear and to the point promises is “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Going further back, one of God’s earliest instructions to the people of Israel was to take regular Sabbaths. Yet when we are presented with times of rest and Sabbath, we do not take advantage of them. We insist on creating tasks to finish and items to cross off a list.  Maybe it has to do with how infrequent times of relaxation are? We feel like we must fit a week’s worth of relaxing activities into one day, which then makes for one over-packed-not-restful-at-all day. Maybe we all have a nagging voice in our heads that makes us feel bad when we are not doing something? I’m sure there is a deep theological discussion here about how this is somehow a reflection of being ‘made in the image of God.’
I wish I had an answer to the question, ‘why are we so bad at rest?’ Honestly, if it did, I would have a best-selling book on my hands, and I would be swimming, Scrooge McDuck style, through all the money. But I don’t have an answer. All I can say is that it is a strange and frustrating conundrum. We know we need rest, yet we seemingly actively work to avoid it. Maybe the best thing we can do is toss it to God. Ask God to help us be better at rest. It might be a cliché answer, but in this case, it might be the thing to do. Otherwise we could easily stress ourselves out over not resting properly, thus continuing the ever-vicious cycle.

I want to hear from you. How do you rest? Do you find yourself filling your rest time with ‘jobs’ that prevent you from genuinely resting? What ideas do you have to move forward and engage in actual and true rest?