Monday, December 21, 2009

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1) The
Hunger Games
by Suzanne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars On the good side, this book was a page-turner that kept me intersted throughout. Some parts are emotionally gripping and riveted my mind to the experience of entering games. It also provides good fodder for conversations with your child about things like relationships, survival,
politics, work, wealth, etc., not to mention the fact that people throughout history have been put through similar experiences as the characters in this book.

On the bad side, I felt there were so many contrived plot devices that it started to significantly detract from the story. It seemed as if the author had to continually invent things to make the story work out. I'm normally pretty forgiving of plot devices, but these were in abundance to the point of distraction. So as an adult reader, I can't say that I would recommend the book. For kids, however, I'd give it a mild thumbs up.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Agile Software Development and Mormon Doctrine

I’ve been an Agile proponent for over eight years now.  “Agile” is  an approach to software development based on lean manufacturing practices.    It’s very interesting and there is a lot of philosophy involved.   Most interesting to me, however, is the parallels I see between the tenets of Agile and what Joseph Smith revealed about the history of the earth and the purpose of life.   (This short essay has wider applicability than just software development, so please bear with me.)

First, let me describe a little about agility and it’s converse, waterfall.  Both of these are software engineering practices, but they have nearly opposite approaches.    The basic strategy of agility is to push authority down.  An agile team has a leader, who acts mostly as a coach, and the ordinary people are allowed to make their own good decisions, even if they are mistakes.  The theory is that when operating as a group, the effectiveness increases when individuals can act autonomously.  The basic strategy of  Waterfall is to push authority up.  Control is concentrated at the top where the leaders have the decision making power.  The ordinary people doing the work are encouraged to follow directions.   The theory is that limiting control to just a few smart people benefits the entire project through consistency.  Agile teams learn through individuals making their own mistakes (and  successes) and then talking openly about them.    Waterfall teams learn by having information disseminated from experts to novices. 

Steve McConnell gave a keynote address recently where he talked about “The 10 Most Powerful Ideas in Software Engineering.”   His comments do a great job of summing up what the Agile community has valued all these years.   His first comment is very profound and it reflects what I have always thought and felt about Agile development:

                Software Development Work is Performed by Human Beings

Many interesting conclusions can be drawn from this statement, so I’ll use it as a springboard for my thesis here.   It goes without saying that all work is performed by Human Beings.  Sure, there are robots, but the humans are the impetus.  Now,  the trouble we face, as practitioners of better engineering processes in general,  is overcoming human weakness.   It is not hard to get people to nod and agree with the good manufacturing/design philosophies.    Like David Parnas says, great engineering ideas aren’t on the horizon, they have always been with us and have been with us for years.  In fact, I believe they’ve been with us for thousands of years in the form that God has given to man by way of revelation and enlightenment.   But as with all gospel principles, they are easy to teach, but it has ever been difficult to get people to live them and apply them.

Think about it.  Because humans are always part of what we are doing, any process you or I might create, all of our best plans, will be assaulted by the usual human factors:  pride, selfishness, politics, evasion, laziness, group think, etc.    Overcoming these problems is extremely difficult and there are some shortcuts that appear promising and leaders are tempted to take them.  These shortcuts always involve the leadership “taking control”.  You see, software developers adopt waterfall not because it is better, but because it is easier.   Agile requires individual accountability on everyone’s part.  Waterfall puts the accountability in the hands of a powerful few, or worse, in the hands of a powerful committee

As a Mormon, I’ve notice from the beginning that the ups and downs of agile practices have a lot in common with the ups and downs I’ve had as a teacher of spiritual things.  Joseph Smith revealed that all of humanity lived with God before the Earth was created, and that there were two plans presented to glorify god’s children- one presented by Jesus and the other by Satan.    Satan’s plan is basically the waterfall model.   “If I could just have tight enough control”, he says, “I could give you everything you want.  I’ll save everyone and I’ll have the glory.”    The alternative presented by Jesus can be seen as agility at its best:   “I’ll give everyone complete agency.   Line upon line precept upon precept, you will gradually learn from your own mistakes, but the result if you do so will be something glorious.”    Satan’s plan is industrial.  God’s is organic.    People gravitate toward’s Satan’s plan because it is the path of least resistance Jesus’ plan, like Agile processes, require people to do pesky things like talk to each other, reach a concensus, be nice, and be accountable.   Agile is delicate, fragile, alive, easy to kill, and constantly changing.   Waterfall is a dead cinder block building- it has staying power and a high resistance to change.     The ultimate irony here, is that in spite of the promises for something better, waterfall processes squash happiness.  When it comes to how they feel, people *hate* waterfall processes and love Agile processes to the point of zealotry.   Case in point:

Search hits for “agile zealot 365
hits for “waterfall zealot” – 2

If waterfall is so great, why don’t people talk about “waterfall zealots?”  Instead, people talk (and often complain) about “agile zealots.”  The question to ask is, what fills them with such zeal?      The same question is asked about people who have enthusiastic about their religion.   Mormons get this a lot.   People often ask, “Why do Mormons have to send out so many missionaries?”   It’s largely because we feel strongly about what we have. 

So now let’s think about this more broadly.  This fight (agile vs. waterfall) is happening all around the world in all segments of life.  Franchizes vs. Single-owner establishments, corporations vs. mom and pop shops,  totalitarian governments vs democracies, standardized testing vs. individual excellence, and on and on.   The battle between Jesus’ plan and Satan’s plan is constantly at the fore.  If you are preaching agility in any kind of an organization, you are basically preaching the gospel.  And because you are doing this, you will basically have similar results to missionaries who do the same:

Matt 13:3-8  
3 … Behold, a sower went forth to sow;  
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

When teaching sound practices that consider the needs of people, your efforts will most often be rebuffed, but when the message is accepted, it is always worth the effort. 

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Black Swan and marriage

A friend and I have been talking about the Black Swan book and applying these concepts to marriage.  The idea of the black swan is that it is the outlier events that make life interesting and unpredictable.  Leaving room for outliers is an important investment if you want to be open to big dividends. 

So Here's a thought.  Use the stock market as a metaphor for a spouse.  Your personal capital (happiness, unity, joy, etc.) is the result of investments placed in this market.  Some investments are safe and will pay off a predictable dividend.  (Keeping your job, taking out the trash, making dinner, ...)    There are other investments which seem safe, but actually do poorly because of idiosyncrasies of the underlying market. These would be things like giving a gift to a spouse whose love language is encouraging words.  

But what about investments that pay off 100 fold?  In this light, a black Swan husband would be wise, after spending 95% of his capital in the safe investments (routines he establishes), to spend the other 5% he'll in crazy, new untried “stocks”.   Just like a financial investor who is getting creative, he does not want to do this in a random, haphazard fashion. No, but he does need to open up his mind to try an "interesting" investment.   I think this might have to do with paying attention to the tips and hints dropped by the wife.  These are clues for possible investments, but one has to be alert for them.  It might also have to do with reading creatively to get new ideas to try.

One interesting thing that I am observing is that both good and bad investments have the dividend of information.   If you try to bringing home a giant box of chocolates for your wife and it totally flops, chances are you will get to have a conversation in which she'll tell you something about herself that you never knew before.  Same thing if you pick something that works well.  The husband learns something new that makes him a better husband.  

Now for practicalities.  What does 5% mean in a relationship?  If we look at waking hours, that's about 5/week. So the Black Swan says that if we want to take advantage of outliers, we should spend a good chunk of at least one day every week trying something new with our spouse. I find that number very interesting because leaders in my church have long emphasized the importance of "dating" your spouse once/week.  What would happen if I looked at weekly dates as a way to try a new kind of investment?  Maybe we could discover that we both love bowling, or poetry, or going to art museums, or racing radio controlled boats in a local pond. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Common good and the fate of the United States

A friend and I have been discussing the application of the constitution in this day of unprecedented spending on bail-outs and entitlements.   We share a deep concern about the socialist nature of the changes we are seeing in today’s government.   During this discussion, the following statement was made:

When we can no longer come together as a people for the common good, then we’ll see the [societal and political fragmentation] happen in our time.

This led to the question:  What is “the common good?”  Indeed, this is probably the crux of the issue with government today.  To what end can and should the government act to promote a common environment of good circumstances that allow the people to grow and thrive and pursue happiness?  To investigate the answer to this question,  I went through the follow exercise, starting with first principles drawn from the scriptures:

1 Cor 12:  25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

  26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

The perfect, unified society, as Paul describes it here, is attuned to all of its members.  Everyone is different, but they are all equal and treated equally.  I think every utopian thinker understands this principle at face value:  A great society is marked by unity of spirit such that the poor are tended to through the ministrations of the rich and fortunate.    You and I also understand this principle, though often it manifests itself as a built-in uneasiness about inequity-   When we see someone consuming conspicuously, we have a natural instinct to know that something isn’t right about that.   Similarly, when we see the people living destitute in extreme poverty while others are quite comfortable and well-off, we feel that something is wrong with that picture.  We know inside that things ought to be as Paul said.  There should be no rich, no poor, but we should share alike in our material blessings.

Now, let me state something as a postulate:  The end goal of socialist and communist societies is the picture Paul was painting for the Corinthians.   Corruption aside, people who support socialist agendas want a peaceful, equal society where there aren’t any rich or poor.   I will use the above observations to talk about the common good and what it might mean.

Given these aims of establishing equity for poor and downtrodden, people have come to understand “common good” as “MY good”.  Here’s how that happens:  If the whole body is supposed to suffer at the pain of a single member, then *my* suffering ought to motivate the body to meet *my* needs.    From the side of the wealthy, there is also thought that has a similar dilution of responsibility.  The well-off want to remain well-off so they insist on diluting the charity across the society to minimize their personal contribution.   To them, the “common good” is a “common donation” of a small amount to appease the few complaining disadvantaged.  The net result is that  generally, everyone is looking after their self interests by placing a “common burden” on the whole society.

Jesus spoke against this selfish type of thinking and proposed and antidote:

Matt 10: 39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Basically, the Savior is saying that a society that is “pull” based- one where people pull resources from others to meet their self-interest- is a society that will fail (we lose our lives in trying to find them).   According to Jesus, it just isn’t possible to run a successful society this way.  Ironically, non-intuitively, if a person puts aside their self-interests entirely (loss of self) they will discover the happiness that they are pursuing.   (Interesting that the declaration of independence mentions the “pursuit of happiness”)

For a society to work, it must be “push” based-  one where people with resources, of their own choice decide to relieve the suffering of others.   The key issue here is agency.   The difference between socialism and the Christian united order is free will.    If we create a society that forcibly takes from the body to meet the needs of some, then we severely tilt the table towards a philosophy of “my problem is someone else’s responsibility.”    The ultimate result of this is a society that dies (he that findeth his life shall lose it).  

There is a risk here, and this risk has always troubled those who choose the path of top-down totalitarian rule.  The risk is that if people can choose for themselves, they might make the wrong choice.   Indeed, they often do, which is what prompts well-meaning people to take away the choice and make goodness mandatory.  As I have shown, however, this action of force tilts the table toward selfish thinking that is counterproductive and ultimately destructive.    But the only way good can really come to fruiting is if the fetters are removed and people are free to act for themselves.  It requires an act of faith by the leadership to allow this.

So “common good” in a deep, eternal sense, is the necessary starting position of significant personal liberty.   Donations to the poor mean nothing if I cannot also choose to hold on to every penny I can (legally) scrape together.    This idea is reflected in the original purposes of our government:

·         Establish Justice

·         Insure domestic Tranquility

·         Provide for the common defence

·         Promote the general welfare

·         Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

Personal freedom to make good choices is critical.   It turns out that this is true in all other walks of life- work, marriage, friendships, etc.  There are wonderful psychology experiments to show that the ability to choose and control ones fate makes all the difference in our feelings and performance.  Even though the outcomes may be the same, if a person feels they have control of the situation, they tend to thrive.   

If there is any single phrase to describe what is happening in our country today, I doubt I could find a better one than “out of control.”    I don’t know anyone who feels like we have a real avenue to reign in the government or to make a difference in any meaningful way.  There is a feeling of riding a vehicle that is careening out of control as congress continues to pass titanic spending measures to bail out failed institutions and establish expansive entitlement programs.  We are increasingly giving up our freedoms as we seek insurance of protection against everything from terrorists to coffee spills.   Heck, we can’t even smile for our driver’s license pictures any more.  What is there to do?   

I suspect the reason that we don’t jump up and do something big about it is that the gravity of the situation has not hit us in any meaningful, physical way.   Like the people in the early stages of the sinking Titanic, there is an eerie normality to what is going on.  People are saying “the ship is sinking” and maybe the ship is listing to port a little, but the lights are on, we’re comfortable and dry, and there are still some empty life boats.   

So beware everyone.  Our current course as a nation is not good and the signs are pointing to significant loss of liberty and an eventual collapse of society.  Our efforts to find our own life as a nation will eventually cause us to lose it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Better Living Through Sound Isolation

A few weeks ago, I accidentally cut the wire on the headphones for my Zune and today I finally got around to replacing them. I dropped by Fred Meyer on the way to work and browsed the headphone section and noticed that almost all the headphone models sport an “in ear isolation design” that is basically a soft rubber insert that seals off the ear. A friend of mine had something similar years ago and swore by them. The difference was that his pair was hundreds of dollars and I managed to find a pair for only 8 bucks! (Coby CVE31’s if you care to know).

The isolation was so good that I did not notice that I had left the radio on for several minutes after I started listening to my Zune. Normally, I have to turn the volume all the way up to 20 while freeway driving, but during this commute, I was able to turn it down to 11 (!) and it was still plenty loud enough for the road.

Well, the reason I am writing this post is that the sound isolation had a transformative effect on my commute, which was totally unexpected. The ride felt much smoother and my mind felt alert. It was very easy to listen to music and spoken word with little distraction, yet I still felt like I was paying attention to the road. It was like I had a new brain and a new car all for the cost of a lunch! How sweet is that?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Isaiah 44: Of Metal, Stone, and wood

This chapter of Isaiah has a very interesting literary structure.  In the middle are verses 9-20, which contain an excellent sermon against the sin of idol worship.  This sermon is sandwiched between outer layers of gentle reminders of who God is and our relationship to him.  I call this the “hamburger principle”, i.e. bun/meat/bun, which is a method for delivering advice/criticism.  Start with something nice to say, then provide the stuff that is important to hear (the meat), then reinforce again with something nice.  It works pretty well when I remember to do it!


With Isaiah, the outside (“bun”) verses serve the purpose of telling us who God is and what he is capable of.  Here’s a few key points I was able to gather about God and about his relationship is Israel:


-          Israel has been chosen by God to be His servant.  (That point alone deserves a good hour of contemplation, but I’ll leave it there. )

-          It is the Lord that provides great spiritual blessings for Israel.

-          The Lord will reach out to scattered Israel wherever they may be, raising up people who are righteous and take upon themselves the name of the Lord.

-          We are not be afraid or worried, The Lord is the ultimate God and beside him there is no God.

-          God is the forgiver of sins.

-          God is the creator of all things.

-          God’s knowledge confounds the wisdom of men.

-          He has control over what happens on earth, both in nature and in the affairs of men.   Even the kings of hostile nations do the bidding of the Lord and they don’t realize it.   


To appreciate the middle portion of this chapter, it is important to look at these items as a backdrop to what Isaiah says about idol worship.  Isaiah is contrasting the pitiful, earthly origins of idols with the transcendent glory and power of God.  I recommend to everyone that they read Isaiah 44:9-20This is one of the places in the bible where the writing is so clever and witty that it made me laugh.  I’ll approach discussing these verses by paraphrasing in my own words: 


v9-11 Idols and graven images are vain and unprofitable and the people who make them should all be ashamed.   Anyone with a little sense and reason can work this out. 

v12  Think about an idol that is made of metal.  Who made it?   Some regular guy, that’s who.   He made it with his own tools and his own strength.  There isn’t anything special about him.  If he’s hungry, he gets tired.  If he doesn’t get water, he’ll pass out.    

v13 But if you really want to see the lunacy of this trade, take a look at the carpenter who makes graven images.    He also makes them with his own tools and his own strength.   He is making a piece of art and he is careful to make it pleasing to the eye.  (After all, he wants make profit.)    

v14 But where does he get the wood?   He gets it from the forest among the trees he’s been tending himself.   He plants them, the rain waters them, and he harvests them.   

v15-17 And what does he do with the wood?    Well, for the most part, he burns it!   He bakes his food with it, warms himself up with it, and makes utensils out of it to eat with.   So picture this guy warm and cozy by the fire.  He has a wooden fork that he’s stabbing into a piece of roast beef on a wooden plate.   “Ahh, this is the life!”  he says to himself.   Then he looks over and sees a scrap of wood.   This is the leftover piece that wasn’t fit to eat with or even burn.    Amazingly, this is the piece he carves up into an idol.    Next thing you know, this same wood that was warming his backside is now on an altar and he’s bowing down to it!    He’s worshipping it, saying “You are my God, deliver me!” 

v18 Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous in your life?   This guy is obviously not using his head!  He is blind and completely lacking in understanding.   

v19-20 The rest of you who worship idols are in a similar boat.   You don’t take two seconds to consider that you are bowing down to utensils, charcoal, firewood!  You who worship idols must understand that you have been greatly deceived and you are living a lie.    


I was thinking the other day about how odd it is that we pay so much attention to the things that we make with our own hands, yet we casually take for granted the amazing creations of God that surround us.    For instance, a person can take a tree, cut it up and make a house, or a statue, or a chair that people will ooo and ahh over.  But if we examine one single cell from that tree we will find a structure so fine and complex that no human has ever come close to duplicating it.     


I can sympathize with admiring a fine piece of art, but what _really_ amazes me is how much attention and admiration we give to things that are truly ugly.   To get a feel for this, the next time you go to a Costco or Walmart or any other box store, stand at the edge of the parking lot and take in the view for a few minutes.  Really soak it in.    It is truly ugly- from the 10 acre parking lot to the drab cinderblock walls, to the unhappy stressed customers hurrying in and out.    (The fact that this building is a temple of consumption doesn’t make the picture any  prettier.)   Then, when your eyes are opened, look around you as you drive down the freeway.   Notice how nearly every other commercial building is crafted in the same fashion.    I’ve found that as I do this, I come to appreciate nature more and more and what we make less and less. 


I think the essence of rejecting idol worship is to be able to put the things of the world in the correct perspective.  It is to remember that the Lord is supreme and the things he made are given freely to bless all of his children.    It is to remember that we don’t ­“deserve” more because we have “earned” it, but that we are beggars just like everyone else.   It is to remember that the Glory of the Lord is beyond the comprehension of our temporal minds and that to truly worship Him, we must worship him in spirit, devoting to Him all of our mind and all of our heart, understanding that His methods and ideas are superior to our own.     And it is finally to remember that the physical world was created by our God for His purposes and His works- it is not something to shun, but something to participate in, to take care of, and to use wisely. 















Thursday, April 16, 2009

Isaiah 43: God is a loving parent

The previous chapter ends with a rebuke of Israel.  The Lord explains their tribulations as a result of disobedience.   The Lord sounds pretty angry, but like a true loving parent, though, He doesn’t leave it at that.   For, after the rebuke comes the loving words, the assurance that the child is loved and there is a way through.    In the beginning of this chapter, the Lord indicates a few things that Israel needs to remember:

1.       They are created by the Lord, therefore they are precious!

2.       As in times past (remember Egypt!), the Lord will see them through trouble

3.       All scattered Israel will eventually be gathered

Verse 8 is an interesting phrase:

                8 Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears.

This phrase is echoed by the Savior in Matthew 13 when describing the Kingdom of God through the parable of the sower.  At the conclusion of the parable, He says, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”   His disciples then asked him, “Why do you teach in parables?”  They knew the mysteries that Jesus taught to the people, and they probably also observed that some of the hearers didn’t understand what was being said.   Why wouldn’t the Savior just come right out and say what he meant?   The Savior then taught them that there is a spiritual principle at work here:

11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

The doctrines of the kingdom are given in such a way that those who are pure in heart, those who listen for spiritual truth, will understand the doctrines and be greatly edified by the parable.  Those who are worldly-minded will miss the true meaning, and as a result, they will not be able to partake of the Kingdom.   Bruce R. McConkie described it this way:

Our Lord used parables on frequent occasions during his ministry to teach gospel truths. His purpose, however, in telling these short stories was not to present the truths of his gospel in plainness so that all his hearers would understand. Rather it was so to phrase and hide the doctrine involved that only the spiritually literate would understand it, while those whose understandings were darkened would remain in darkness.

Bringing this back to Isaiah, he appears to be referring to those people who have eyes, but are blind, and those that have ears, but are deaf.   This makes sense in conjunction with verse 9, which is a challenge to all gentile nations (worshippers of idols) to bring forth “their witnesses” and prove themselves.  The Lord then declares Himself and states very clearly that besides Him, there is no Savior.    What better way is there to describe those who are spiritually blind, those who seek for salvation in the world and grasp as worldly things that “moth and rust doth corrupt”?

There is one other spiritual warning Isaiah relates in this chapter that I would like to mention:

20 The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.

22 But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.

It is ironic, but a sad tendency of human nature, that it is in our extremity that we are brought to remember God.  (Hence the value of opposition)  Yet, when we are together as a people, united in religion and enjoying prosperity, it is in these times of plenty- at the apex of our blessings from heaven- that the spiritual diseases set in and we forget God.  The prophet Alma said, “because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye … [but more] blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble.” 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Isaiah 42: Attributes Christ

 Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth;


“Behold my servant” – Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah, asking us to view him as he really is.  This chapter provides a very useful and descriptive breakdown of the attributes of Christ.  Being like a lesson or a lecture, I’ll pull out the information I find and show it in a bulleted fashion, listing separately attributes as Isaiah gives them.  I am borrowing some of the thoughts I give here from the writings of John Calvin.


·         Christ speaks to us in quiet confidence

2 He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.

Unlike traditional preachers, Christ is not clamorous or puffed up.   His preaching  is quiet and direct.  As the Jews observed, “he taught them as one having authority” (Matt 7:29).   One with authority does not need to make a scene to get his point across.  He speaks with confidence, revealing truth and exposing errors.   Many of Christ’s great teaching moments were in private to individuals or small groups. 

·         Christ builds us up based on our strengths

3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.

I had to have a little help from Mr. Calvin to understand these metaphors.   A bruised reed represents something that could easily be crushed or swept aside.  Smoking flax refers to a lamp wick that is improperly trimmed.   These symbols represent us- people with serious imperfections, yet with some component of goodness and a desire to be better.  Christ, in his majesty, could easily put us down and reject us for our imperfection, but instead he chooses to see the good part and accentuates that.  This is most evident in the image of the smoking flax.   Imagine lamp that with a feeble flame that generates lots of smoke.  It is unpleasant to be around, and our first impulse might be to extinguish it to relieve ourselves of the unpleasantness of the smoke, but nothing productive is accomplish by that.  The alternative is better-  With some care and patience, we can nurture the spark, trim the wick and eventually produce a lamp that burns brightly with no smoke.   This is the way that Christ works. 

·         Christ created the heavens and the earth

5 ¶ Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:

It is a statement in and of itself that God must remind us who he is.   In common speech this might be reworded, “In case you’ve forgotten, Israel, I’m the one who made the whole world and the heavens above it.”   Later on in the Chapter, Isaiah drives this point home by pointing out that Israel is tormented, not because God is weak, but because God chooses to let bad things happen to the disobedient:

24 Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.

This is an important lesson about God.  Even though he has all power and created all things, it is not his way to take away our troubles.  Rather, he cries when we suffer and patiently helps us through it.

·         Christ uses his covenant people to accomplish his work

6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a blight of the Gentiles;

We must understand that to be a disciple of Christ, we must be in his service and do his work.  We may be afraid that we will leave important matters of protection and survival undone, but Christ knows what we need and he will support us.

·         Christ’s work is to free us and make us truly see

7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.

What I found interesting is that later in the chapter, the Lord’s servants are called blind and deaf:

19 Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD’s servant?

This hearkens back a few bullet points to the attribute of Christ where he builds people up.  Christ’s kingdom is made up of repentant sinners.    Isaiah is quite familiar with this, as he had to go through his own repentance when he was called (see Isaiah 6).   To be Christlike is to be very tolerant of other’s faults and focus on the repentant heart and the things that are good about a person.   It also means that we give people chances to succeed, even when they seem weak.  Then, as Christ makes us strong, it is our turn to help others in exactly the same way Christ helped us- patiently leading them through steady incremental improvement.

·         Christ is a revealer of the past and the future


9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.

Not only did Christ create everything, all of his creations, past and present are before him and he comprehends them all.  One of the things he does is to make known the things of the past and future that we need to know.   Thus, to be a disciple of Christ means not to be overly concerned with the past or the future.  After all, we have no control of one and essentially no control of the other.    It is in the present that we have our power,  and as we need access to the past and the future, God will make it known. 


This chapter has been a wonderful study into the attributes of God.  I’ve felt the spirit as I’ve written about it, which testifies to me that God really does have these attributes and it increases my faith in him.   Hopefully this has been edifying to you too.


I’ll leave off with a question posed by Isaiah:


23 Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Isaiah 41: A firm foundation

This chapter serves as a reminder and a gentle rebuke to Israel.    In verses 1-9, we have what appears to be a spiritual “time-out” called by the Lord:        

1 Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.

The Lord is saying, in effect, “OK everyone, gather around, get some rest, and let’s reason together about this situation.”  He then reminds them of Father Abraham and how he was upheld by the Lord and was made great, even a ruler over kings. “Who did this?”  The Lord implores.  He answers: “I did it!  I’m the one!”  The Lord then continues this thought by explaining the foolish reactions of men to the actions of God- specifically the creation and worship of idols:

  6 They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.

  7 So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.

The world’s tendency is toward superstition and mysticism, and a heavy reliance on ourselves and the things we make.  It is human nature to encourage ourselves in this weakness.  But the Lord does not want it so, and he points out that Israel stands out:

8-9 But thou, Israel, … Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.

After reasoning with Israel about their special place distinct from the world, The Lord gives firm assurance that they can rely on Him.  All of you will likely recognize the following verse as principle lyrics in the Hymn “How Firm a Foundation”:

10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

After this verse, the Lord explains further that the people who hate Israel will perish or waste to nothing, and the Lord himself will hold our right hand and will help us.    He repeats this idea over and over again- Israel’s enemies will be like chaff in the wind, the Lord’s help will be like a river to the thirsty, etc.    Clearly, there is a point to be made:  we can trust Him!

To contrast, the Lord then issues a challenge to the idolaters:  Go ahead and come up with the best reason you can for not trusting in Me.    Use any example from history, make any prediction about the future.  Prophesy if you have to.  You won’t be able to do it, because you and your gods are nothing.  And anyone who chooses to follow you has been seriously misled.   

In the last few verses, It’s not clear to me who is speaking, but they say:  I’ve looked around for a true prophet among the idolaters- someone who is righteous and can bring good tidings to a people, but there aren’t any.   Idolatry is all about seeking after worthless, impotent things.    Idolatry has no substance and the icons and messages are “wind and confusion”. 

These ideas cause me to think about the culture of materialism that is so prominent in the world today.   The happiness promised by this culture is “happiness through distraction”, as I term it.    Like Isaiah, we can look around us and examine the messages of the materialists.  Where are the righteous among them?  There aren’t any!  Where are their prophets who bring good tidings?   There aren’t any of those either!  In fact, there cannot be good tidings, because the ultimate message of materialism is: “you don’t have enough”.    Contrast that with God’s message:  You have more than enough, plenty to spare, and if you run out, I’ll be there with more.    The materialist says, “If you are troubled, don’t think about it.   Take this pill, watch this show, posess this toy- anything to get your mind off your problems.”   God says, “Confront your problems with me.  Discuss them deeply and counsel with me and I will show you a way through them.”

… and  that is our firm foundation.






Thursday, January 15, 2009

Celebrating Diversity - Don't we mean unity?

I got an email today from my employer- it’s an invitation to a “celebration of diversity” in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King.  As I get emails like this, there is something that doesn’t sit right with me about them, especially surrounding this term- “diversity”.    Don’t get me wrong, I’m against discrimination, but I think this focus on what makes us different is counter-productive and it is ultimately tears us apart.   Yes, we are a divers people, but that isn’t what makes us great.

To illustrate- if diversity is so great- consider the following things which can all be considered “diverse”:  

100 people banging on different instruments


An Orchestra

A zoo


A Wildlife refuge

A crowd of random people


An Audience

A garage full of junk


A storeroom

A Refrigerator full of leftovers


A Carefully stocked refrigerator

While I admit that singular, isolated arguments can be made for each one of the former items as being interesting and beneficial, we have to look on the face of the matter and admit that each of the former items is the inferior  version of the latter.  The difference is the unifying purpose that gathers together diverse elements into something wonderful and productive.   If we get hung up on celebrating our differences, we’ll end up creating meaningless, mundane mish-mashes and leave ourselves wondering why we are so dissatisfied with the result when it is clearly “diverse”.  

A friend of mine brought this quote to my attention from Monroe’s inauguration, 1817:  “Equally gratifying is it to witness the increased harmony of opinion which pervades our Union. Discord does not belong to our system. Union is recommended as well by the free and benign principles of our Government, extending its blessings to every individual, as by the other eminent advantages attending it. The American people have encountered together great dangers and sustained severe trials with success. They constitute one great family with a common interest.”

The diversity is not what makes an organized collection of things great, it is the unity of these separate parts that sets them above other collections.   What was Martin Luther King’s dream?   It was that we can all ride the ­bus in the same­ seats.  Attend the same schools.  Eat at the same restaurants.  Do the same jobs.  All regardless of our race and color.    His message wasn’t “celebrate me because I’m black”, it was “Let’s stop being divided because of my race.”   His plea was for a unity, not diversity.

That’s  my plea too.  All this talk about diversity, I don’t think it helps.  On the contrary, I think it divides us further.   Let’s talk about coming together and being unified.   Let’s create a common American culture of high moral values that elevates the qualities of honesty, courage, industry, thrift, chastity, humility, respect, and charity.