If you have any different insights on these topics, please share them. Maybe some day some of these ideas will make it to the big leagues and become pro-verbs. I also have a blog for technical computery stuff - zachstechnotes.blogspot.com.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

disappointment and hope

This post is not about football, but it would be a difficult task to come up with a better example of disappointment than Texas A&M's 2011 football season. At the end of August, we were ranked in the top 10, expected to compete for the Big 12 Championship, and seeking to make a name for ourselves on the national level. Today, we have nothing significant left to hold our heads high about.

Sure, there are many other teams who could say that their record is worse, that they have suffered through losing season after losing season, but none can say that their losses have been as heartbreaking as ours: Oklahoma State (now ranked 5th) - lost by 1 point at home after leading most of the game, Arkansas (now ranked 3rd) - lost by 4 points after leading most of the game, Kansas State and Missouri - lost in overtime after leading most of the game. Whatever it is that causes teams to win games, we don't have it.

And then there is the Texas game. This is more difficult to explain to people outside of A&M. It is a rivalry (at least from our side) that is on a different level from any other that I have experienced. We have played each other for 118 years, and at A&M the entire year revolved around this game. We sang about the Longhorns even when we were playing other teams and constructed 100 foot tall bonfires to prepare for the game. In Aggieland, you will find more t-shirts bashing the Longhorns than you will praising the virtues of A&M. This game was distinct from the rest of the season, and sometimes it mattered more than all of the other games combined. For us, it was like playing in a championship game every year.

But our relationship with the Big 12 was unsustainable, and the unthinkable became inevitable - the rivalry would end. The 2011 game became bigger. We needed to win it, to keep our pride, and to keep the Longhorns thirsty to revive the rivalry in the future. So on Thanksgiving night, we flooded into Kyle Field to saw Texas's horns off one last time. The first half went well for us, but, just as in all of the other important games this season, we fell apart in the third quarter. We hoped that this game would be different - that somehow the Aggie Spirit that has worked its magic in Kyle Field so many times before would overcome. And indeed this began to happen. With less than two minutes to go, we found that we had come back and were ahead by 1. All we had to do was hold off the Longhorn offense that had done little against us all night. Our hope that the season would end with something good was strong. But then Texas quarterback Case McCoy broke free at midfield and began running towards field-goal range. The heart of every Aggie in the stands collapsed like the bonfire would as it burned every year before the game. Our hope evaporated in that century-long moment as the all-white number 6 jersey sprinted down the open field towards the spot where they would kick the game-winning field goal.

And that was it. It was over. There is no next year. There are no plans for us to be able to challenge UT again. Some people will try to find bright spots in the season, or blame the UT loss on external factors like injuries or officiating, but for me, the magnitude of disappointment overshadows everything else. A rational evaluation of the situation reveals nothing to hope in.

Sadly, this kind of disappointment that cannot be circumvented by optimism is not limited to things as trivial as football. It is ubiquitous in human life on Earth. As long as humans are sinful, evil will have hold of this world. Will there ever be a complete solution to poverty and hunger? Will there ever be an end to the tyranny of the powerful over the disadvantaged? Can democracy ultimately overcome corruption and deceit? Can we avert the destruction of our natural environment? Will your life turn out to be all you hope it to be? If I rationally evaluate these situations, I find nothing to hope in.

We can try to be optimistic, but mere optimism cannot change facts. Marriages fail. Relationships crumble. Expectations are not met. Politicians deceive. Power corrupts. Reckless resource use darkens the future. Pessimism is the outlook that is consistent with reality. There is no hope in this.

So, what are we to do? We cannot find hope in humanity, but I think that there is hope in something above it. The creator of this universe is determined to reconcile and redeem His creation. This requires the ultimate defeat and destruction of evil, and the salvation of those people that God has made perfect through the death of Christ. Several things in my life that I have been putting hope in have begun to crumble this semester. But throughout my life, this hope in God's work is the only hope that I have not found disappointment in. One ancient writer put it like this:
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed-- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors-- and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind...
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. 
Ecclesiastes 4:1-4 & 12:13-14

By the way*, even though I think that one day Texas A&M will cease to be hopeworthy, for now it is an institution worth being proud of. On Friday night, with the loss still weighing heavily on me, I went for a jog on campus to get some endorphins flowing. Under the big ring were two high-school or college-freshman-aged girls laughing and taking pictures with their parents. It reminded me of all of the things that I have experienced and learned here at A&M, and of what these girls, along with thousands of others in the incoming classes, are about to learn. They will learn not only about the academic fields they pursue, but more importantly about selflessness and integrity in a way that they could nowhere else. And that is what makes Aggieland special, regardless of how much the football team disappoints.

*The importance of this paragraph is insignificant compared to the preceding section.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

absorb the bumps

Here are two very loosely related ideas:

1. Coming from the South is my favorite way to enter Colorado.

Two days ago I drove from Albuquerque, where I have been working, back home to Longmont. I can't clearly remember another time when I have come in from the South, but this time the beauty really surprised me. You cross the border from New Mexico at the top of a pass and immediately drop down into evergreen-wooded hills and mesas. The greenness of the trees alone is enough to inspire you, thanks to the unusual amount of moisture that the Centennial State has been blessed with this year. If you take your eyes off the curving, descending highway for a few moments and look west, you can see the Culebra Range of the Sangre de Cristo ("Blood of Christ") Mountains.

A mountain without a snow cap is like a lion without his mane or a ship without her flag. The snow cap is the glory of a mountain. The greatest mountains always have their snow, but most only have the privilege for a few seasons. When a mountain is bare, I imagine that it feels insecure. "What if I am really merely a hill?" it asks itself. It has little distinction from the surrounding plains and foothills. But when a mountain wears it's icy crown, it becomes a mighty sovereign over the whole region. What can challenge a mountain that reaches far enough into the frigid heights of the atmosphere to keep it's snow during all of the seasons? The satisfyingly rugged-looking Culebras wear their snow with striking regality. It's as if they are there to say "Now you're in a real mountain state."

The Culebra Range - Image Credit

For my soundtrack to entering my favorite place on Earth, I chose Colorado's own Five Iron Frenzy. I played the last three songs on the recording of their final concert - "A New Hope", "World Without End", and "Every New Day". This music is weird. If you told me that it is bad music, I don't think I would argue with you. But whatever it is, it is awesome and I love it. It seems like the people in the band experienced the gospel and then responded by playing their horns and guitars as hard as they could without worrying about much else. Maybe that's what we need to do more often: react to the gospel by doing what we are passionate about, and doing it with as much fervor as we can in a way that glorifies our Savior. This sort of brings me to my next idea.

2. Life is like skiing moguls

There is a right way and a wrong way to ski moguls. The wrong way to do it is to go slow and allow the moguls to take you across the slope and down paths that you don't want to follow. This way is miserable. In this mode, the skier is entirely focused on maintaining static stability. He wants to make sure that he can stop at any instant, and to do this, he is constantly wrestling against gravity. Every time a mogul drops off to the next, there is fear of going out of control.

The right way to ski moguls is to point your shoulders down the fall line* and go, without worrying too much about where the moguls are. You will reach a speed at which you can't stop on the next mogul. You are not stable in the sense that if you didn't have your speed, you would fall over. But you can stay in control by transferring energy each time you bounce off of a bump. Your shoulders and torso don't change direction and don't move up and down much; your legs simply absorb the bumps.

The right way - note the bent knees absorbing the bumps
In the first mode, you are letting the moguls define your path; they own you. In the second, you are picking the best route, and using the moguls to follow it. I think that this is how we should approach living our lives too. We shouldn't let the little obstacles (the moguls) define where we are heading. Instead we should focus on the big, important goals and absorb the bumps along the way.

Some people might say that this is the same as the maxim "Don't sweat the small stuff", but I think that there is something more than just that. Don't let the small problems in life control you, but DO focus on the long-term things that matter, and DO try to use the small events to guide you down the path that you ultimately want to follow. Sacrifice some immediate security to achieve what you ultimately want.

I am not yet old and wise enough to be certain of this, but this is what I think: In your career, you will be successful if you focus on long term goals and are not thrown off course by immediate circumstances. In your life, you will find happiness if you focus on relationships and love, with other people and with your Creator, and are not consumed with your own selfish petty concerns of the moment and the details of living.

*The fall line is the direction that you would roll if you were rolling down the mountain, or the negative gradient of the surface of the mountain with respect to height for all you engineers

Saturday, July 2, 2011


If the sun rises tomorrow, God will keep his word.

As I have been reading through the old testament, there have been times when I have thought to myself, "God is not being loving here", or "God is not being fair at all", but I have found this to be consistently true: God is trustworthy. He keeps his word. Even when humans screw up horribly.

A classic example of this is the story of the patriarchs. Many of you will recall how God promised Abraham a son from his wife Sarah, even though she was too old to bear children. God kept his promise despite the fulfillment seeming impossible and despite Abraham's actions that certainly did not reflect a confidence in God's promises.

A more strange and interesting example of God keeping his word comes just a bit later. A generation later, as Abraham's daughter in law, Rebekah, was pregnant with twins. God said to her
 “Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
"The older shall serve the younger" is a strangely arbitrary word for God to give, and it is accomplished in a strange way. First, Jacob, the younger, basically extorts his older brother, Esau, into giving him his birthright (Genesis 25:27-34). Then Rebekah and Jacob conspire together to trick Isaac (the boys' father) into blessing Jacob instead of Esau (Genesis 27). It seems to me that these actions are evil. The evil is especially poignant in Jacob's cold deception of Isaac in Genesis 27:20 and 22-24.

So, God's word is not compromised by our evil deeds. In fact it seems that in this case, he works out his word through grossly immoral humans. It's the same with the nation of Israel later on. If God wanted to choose the best people for himself, Israel should not have been chosen. All that He desires for them to do is trust in his word, a word that he has proven to them to be trustworthy over and over again. But they so often do not. If the fulfillment of God's word depended on our actions, good would have no chance.

As the Babylonian Empire's conquest of Israel and Judah was imminent, God gave the prophet Jeremiah these words (Jeremiah 33:19-26):
  The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:
  “Thus says the L
ORD: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time,
  then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers.
  As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”

  The word of the L
ORD came to Jeremiah:
  “Have you not observed that these people are saying, ‘The L
ORD has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight.
  Thus says the L
ORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth,
  then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”

I think that the promises mentioned here have been fulfilled, at least in one sense, by Christ. He is the son of David who now reigns over the kingdom of believers and who will one day reign over the whole earth and heaven. We Christians, like an innumerable group of Levites, are all set aside for the glory of the LORD.

Just as those who heard this prophecy could not comprehend that the sunrise and sunset are accomplished by the spinning of the Earth, they could not comprehend that God's Old Testament promises would be fulfilled by Christ, who John would call "The Word" (John 1:1-14). Sometimes we cannot see how God's word will be accomplished, but it is totally rational to trust in it and act according to it. When we are at the precipice about to fall into sin, why should we ever decide that we are right and He is not? If we think that the sun will come up tomorrow, we should follow the precepts of the LORD with the same confidence.

If trustworthiness can be measured; if it can have a magnitude, then the magnitude of God's trustworthiness should be compared to the magnitude of the angular momentum of the Earth (that's what keeps the sun coming up). Like so many other things in the universe, it is so large that any conception our minds might have of it is too small.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

the resurrection

Jesus died to save people. He rose to defeat evil.

Jesus' Dominance in the Resurrection
Good Friday and Easter celebrate the central act of history - when God Himself became a man, and was brutally murdered by humans. He did this in order to take the punishment that we deserve for our sins upon himself. Because of this paradoxical sacrifice, those who give up on their own failed righteousness and rest the burden of their failure on Jesus are judged righteous by God. So, the importance of the death of Jesus is clear: He died so that we might be made clean. But what is the significance of the resurrection? If we were justified by Christ's death, then why did he need to rise again?

This is a question that my roommates and I have discussed from time to time, as in this blog post: http://kevinhubert.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/134/

Here are some quick thoughts (that aren't new or original) about why the resurrection is important:

First, it seems to me that Jesus' claims are only really be compelling if he did something like rise from the dead. Would you believe someone who came and radically challenged the culture and religious institutions, said some pretty crazy stuff, and then just died and you never heard from him again? The disciples weren't exactly doing a very good job of carrying on Jesus' words when he died. Peter had just repeatedly denied that he even knew Jesus (John 18), and the disciples were hiding behind locked doors because they were scared (John 20:19). If Jesus hadn't come back from the dead and convinced his skeptical (John 20:9)  followers that he was infinitely more than just a human leader, I think that the church would have died right there. And what would separate Jesus from all of the other radical religious reformers in history? His words would just be a collection of cryptic sayings and stories.

Thomas skeptically verifies Jesus' identity (Image Credit)

Secondly, the resurrection serves as a model for the resurrection that all those who are saved will experience someday. 1 Corinthians 15 (Thanks, Austin, for pointing this out to us) is all about this. We can be sure that there is a resurrection and that Jesus will be there because of what he did on resurrection Sunday. Both here and in Romans 5:14-17, Jesus is compared to Adam. Just as Adam was the first man of the old creation corrupted by evil, Jesus is the first of the new creation in which evil will be vanquished.

Finally - and this is the main thrust of this blog post - the resurrection is important because Jesus' work, and the story that God has laid out for the universe is not over yet. The story isn't just about God providing a ticket for us to be justified when we die. It is about Him defeating the evil that has corrupted the world.

Jesus is the the new King, the Captain that will lead the forces of good to this victory. He is also the savior who has provided a way for sinful humans to be made new and live in the perfect new creation. There is still pain and suffering in this world; the ultimate defeat of evil and judgment has not yet come. The resurrection shows us that even though we see evil now, nothing can come between Jesus and the ultimate victory.

This picture of Jesus as the King, victorious against evil, is present from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Here are just a few examples*:

In Genesis 3:15, immediately after the first sin, it is said that the offspring of Eve, Jesus, will crush the serpent's, that is, Satan's, head.

In Psalm 110, David speaks of his Lord, Jesus, who, in addition to being our eternal priest, will "shatter kings on the day of wrath", and have his enemies become his footstool.

In Isaiah 9:6-7, one of the most cited Old Testament verses about Jesus, it is said that "the government shall be upon his shoulder", and that there will be no end to this reign.

In Hebrews 2:7-8, we see that, though Jesus was made "lower than the angels for a while", everything will be put in subjection to him. This is something that we don't see yet, but we will.

Finally, in Revelation 19, we see a prophetic picture of the fulfillment of Christ's victory. John hears the multitudes declare "the Lord our God the Almighty Reigns." and this picture of Jesus is given:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
After this arrival, Revelation says Jesus will reign for a thousand years before a final judgment and defeat of Satan.

I think that if we think of Jesus' sacrifice to save us as the sum of all the work that God has laid out for him, we miss a great deal of the beauty and grandeur of His plan for the world. It seems to me that Jesus' task is to defeat evil, and to provide a way for some humans to experience this existence free from the evil that we brought upon ourselves. There is still abundant evil in the world. Jesus' work is not yet complete. That is why the resurrection is important.

* If you are a skeptical reader, you will notice that most of these verses clearly also reference something besides, Jesus. However, I think that the double meaning is in fact how God has chosen to reveal his plan to us in a way that is intriguing and beautiful.

Friday, February 4, 2011


The Moabite women seduce Israel into worshiping Baal Peor

 Numbers - this is the book that people reading through the Bible complain about. They say that it's tedious and that it isn't dense with applicable lessons. I will say that it does have some pretty dry parts - census data, genealogies, and lists of rules. But I have also found some profound illustrations of God's relationship with Israel. Consider this passage (I have added what I was thinking as I read it):

Numbers 25:

1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality [ESV: "whoring"] with Moabite women,2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods.3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them.
No, Israel - Why are you doing this?! This dismays me so greatly! Having read so much of Israel's story I am emotionally invested in them. God has sheltered, provided for them, and disciplined them with such wondrous miracles! It is so clear that He loves them. Why do they not devote themselves to loving Him?

This is a slap to His face - disobeying His main command to them - to love Him above all else. Their sexual immorality is not so disgusting as their idolatry - they have essentially bought this sexual indulgence by turning away from God towards the Moabites' idols. This cannot be happening! they are so close to getting to the promised land, and now they are totally blowing it!
4 The Lord said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord's fierce anger may turn away from Israel."
5 So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor."
6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
Oh no, I cannot believe this - I am so angry! This is not only a blasphemy against the God who has provided for Israel, but also an insult to those who are lamenting because of their sins. This man's evil is flagrant - he deserves stern punishment.
7When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman's stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped;9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.*
Phineas impales Zimri and Cozbi
Yes! that is justice! Phinehas has done what I wished to happen. He has done what all men long to do - zealously defend what is right. Men love these stories. We get pumped up about the movies Braveheart and Gladiator because the men in them act with an ardent desire to fight for right and justice.

At this point I wonder if there is something wrong with my thinking because Phineas' rampage is what I wanted to happen. My heart burned against the man who brought the Moabite back, but is that right? I don't know how God is going to react. I want Him to be pleased because what Phinehas did is what I would have done (or at least what I hope I would have the courage to do). But will God be angry with Phinehas for taking matters into his own hands or even simply for killing?
10 The Lord said to Moses,11 "Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal.12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites."
Good! Yes! God does want this kind of zeal! He wants to see it because he is zealous for us. The reason that God is angry with Israel is because their relationship with Him and honor of Him is being compromised. The core of their sin (just like all sin) is not the sexual immorality, it is instead the trade that they have made. Instead of selling sex for money, they have "whored" their love of Yaweh away in exchange for sex as a payment, and God is zealous to end this foolish bargain they have made. He deals harshly with any who lead his children away from Him. He wants to save Israel for himself and give them the perfect gifts that He has stored up for them.

I think that God must love it when we are zealous about the things that He is zealous for. He designed us to be passionate and gave us the choice of where to focus our zeal, so when we choose to focus it on good, it has great significance.

In our context, this doesn't mean that we should stab anyone with a spear, but it does mean that we should not stand by in apathy when something is preventing our neighbor from knowing God or is taking away from the honor that He is due from those who He has saved. We should be zealous about the gospel and helping people, like Jesus and the apostles were, and, as men, we should be zealous about strong leadership. Like Phinehas, we should have no reluctance to act when we know that God's relationship to those he loves is on the line.

Of course I am all talk here - my words aren't backed up by action. I shy away all the time from things that I should do. But thankfully God's love and zeal for me does not depend on my strength - my salvation is resting on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. He is the one I depend on for strength so that someday God's love for me and my love for Him can be brought to fruition without the barriers of sin and human weakness.

* Note on v. 9. The death of these 24,000 is not something that should be ignored or taken lightly. I simply did not comment on it for the sake of brevity.