Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Blog Has Moved!

If you've stumbled across this and are looking for my new blog, the address is:

Hope to see you over there!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We had our Big Ultrasound Today!!!

And God has given us a SON!!! We praise Him for this healthy and precious gift!!

These are the verses we've been dwelling upon since before we even knew he was here!! God placed these on my heart during a visit to the doctor, and we absolutely know that God has determined that this is the time set for this little person to be around. Our faith has grown, and we are excited to meet him!!!

P.S. No names yet!!! We'll let you know as soon as possible. :)

Acts 17: 26-28
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Did Jesus Really Exist?

Hello friend! My name is Matt Spinelli. I’m a college intern here at Grace and have been given the privilege to write the next blog entry on the Grace blog! For those of you who don’t know me I’m kind of a New Testament research junkie. I visit a New Testament blog everyday to see what developments are happening in the New Testament research world. This January I learned of the formation of "The Jesus Project". This is a collection of Biblical Scholars, mostly from the more liberal side of scholarship, that will debate at seminars during the year whether Jesus actually existed or not. This follows on the heels of the highly publicized Jesus Seminar. So in light of this I thought it would be good to answer the question, "Can we be sure that Jesus really existed?"

One way to investigate this question is to search for sources that are outside of the New Testament and do not have a Christian bias to them. The reason we look for sources like this is that we can be fairly confident that the evidence they present for the existence of Jesus is sound and not merely trying to bolster the Christian movement. An example of such a source comes from the Roman historian Tacitus.

Tacitus lived from 56 AD to 117 AD and wrote a history examining the reigns of several Roman emperors. The text that we are going to focus on for our purposes is in his Annals 15.44:
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular."

One of the first things that we need to notice is that Tacitus was not a Christian. So we can be pretty sure that whatever he said about Jesus was not slanted toward the Christian movement. So what does he say about Jesus? Notice the line where he mentions "Christus" who "suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius". The overwhelming majority of scholars think that this is one of the few secular references to Jesus. From this we can learn that Jesus was crucified during the reign of Tiberius by Pontius Pilate. This information, while brief, does help to answer the question of the existence of Jesus, as well as the historical validity of his crucifixion. Would a Roman Historian who has no interest in promoting Christianity comment on an individual who didn’t exist? I don’t think so.

This means that there is good evidence for the existence of Jesus outside of the New Testament. This should help bolster our confidence in the Gospels and in the one whose "word is truth" (John 17:17.)

Matt Spinelli

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Can You Go Home Again?

I just read a survey that stated that 77% of college graduates moved back in with their parents last year. This is up from 67% in 2005, and I would guess that the trend has been consistently moving upward for the past 10-15 years (although I have no statistical proof to that effect).

When I was growing up, my father repeatedly made it clear to me that moving back home after college was not an option, except if I needed a (very) temporary place to stay while I searched for a job. I also knew that if I dropped out of high school or failed out of college that my only home would be the cruel, cold world outside.

Some may find it hard to believe, but Dad was not intentionally being unkind. Quite the contrary: He knew that adulthood eventually requires independence from one's parents. He recognized that safety nets often become permanent nesting places, and so the best option for a young bird is often to toss them out of the nest.

As a result, by the time I graduated from college, I had zero desire to return home permanently. Don't get me wrong, I love my parents and enjoy visiting, but the thought of returning permanently to my old room with the homecoming mums, legos in a box, and back issues of Highlights sounds creepy and sad. Maturity requires leaving behind childhood and moving on. We may remember childhood with fondness, but we are not meant to dwell there forever.

I am teaching this semester on the subject of mature discipleship. What does it mean to follow Christ with discipline, maturity, and focus in a world that consistently encourages prolonged adolescence and irresponsibility? Paul writes that ultimately, when we see God face to face, we will finally put aside our "childish" understanding of Jesus, and think about Him like adults (1 Cor 13:11). In the meanwhile, we labor to grow toward adulthood, for the sake of His glory.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Generation Me

One interesting book that I read while on sabbatical was called Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before by Jean M. Twenge.

Despite the cumbersome title, this turned out to be an excellent book about the character traits of those born between 1970 and 2000. Thirty years is a long stretch to be considered one generation, but I think her general conclusions, which I'll describe in a moment, are accurate. Needless to say, the traits themselves are more pronounced in those born later in the designated time span, at least in my opinion.

Twenge's basic premise is that young men and women have been conditioned from day one to believe that they are extremely special, important, unique and gifted whether or not there is any factual basis for that conditioning. In her words, "in the years after 1980, there was a pervasive, society-wide effort to increas children's self-esteem...Generation Me is the first generation raised to believe that everyone should have high self-esteem."

The problems arise when my over-inflated sense of self collides with the real world AND with everybody else's over-inflated sense of self. When I realize that I probably cannot be a professional football player, a famous rock star, or the President of the United States, I have a tendency to be disappointed and even depressed. When I begin my new job with a sense that I deserve to be the most special person there, I am angry and frustrated when I am not promoted to VP within three years. After a while, I become cynical and unwilling to try anymore.

This sense of individualism and personal entitlement bleeds over into moral choices as well. Why should I listen to parents and religious leaders who tell me that sexuality is reserved for marriage? It is MY body, MY decision! If my personal fulfillment is the primary objective, then cheating on a test is simply another way to accomplish my end.

Family choices are affected as well. Children are an inconvenience, stealing away my opportunity to be famous and rich. So families are postponed well into one's mid-30s if they are pursued at all. When children arrive, the primary goal is to arrange for their care in a way that provides the least discomfort to my present lifestyle of financial freedom and leisure.

Of course, the real question for those of us in college and youth ministry is how to counteract the cultural forces that are producing these attitudes. If our goal is to encourage Christ-likeness in our students, how can that be accomplished in the short time we spend with them? The Biblical viewpoint on self is of course that human beings are valuable because we are made in God's image, He loves us, and Jesus died for us. Our life takes significance ultimately when we sacrifice self and pursue the glory of God above our own.

So how do we encourage that mindset in today's students? Here is where Twenge's book is somewhat weak. She is not writing from a Christian perspective, and as a result her solutions often have a hollow ring to them.

In a future post, I hope to provide some suggestions, but in the meanwhile I'll throw it open to my readers (who probably constitute about 3 people, but it could still be worthwhile). How do we influence families and students to think more biblically about the concept of self?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Antioch Church

Besides reading and planning and praying during my sabbatical, I also visited a few other churches with healthy college ministries.

The first church I went to was Antioch Community Church in Waco. It is a relatively new church plant, only about nine years old. It sprang from a large Baptist church in Waco, and now averages around 2500-3000 attenders in weekend services. Most people are familiar with Antioch through the story of Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, two missionaries in Afghanistan who were arrested in 2001 for preaching the Gospel.

I met with the college pastor and his staff over the course of two days, and also had the opportunity to attend a church staff meeting. My main purpose in these meetings was to hear how another church-based college ministry operated and see if I could gain some fresh perspectives and ideas.

I was immediately impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of this church for the Great Commission. From the senior pastor on down the line, every staff member was excited to participate in overseas missions and to mobilize others to do so as well. A great deal of time in the college staff meeting and the church staff meeting was devoted to highlighting missionaries and discussing missions strategy. It was very clear that overseas missions is an integral part of the church's mission, not just in theory but in practice.

In addition, I was convicted and encouraged by the direct on-campus involvement of the college pastor and his staff. They are constantly on campus, interacting with students and spending time sharing the Gospel. It was a challenge to me to find new ways to get our staff and interns on campus more often than we have been in the past. I am optimistic that through this "ministry of presence," our church can have a greater impact on the campus of Texas A&M in the future.

Overall, it was a great church visit and a valuable time for me. Stay tuned for updates on the other two churches I visited!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spirit of the Disciplines

During the first few days of my sabbatical, I went of out of town and spent some time alone. My primary goal was to refresh my spiritual life and to seek the Lord regarding any changes that I needed to make in order to pursue Him more closely.

While I was away, I read a book by Dallas Willard called The Spirit of the Disciplines. Originally, I expected the book to be a detailed discussion of the various disciplines for the spiritual life (e.g. prayer, study, fasting, worship, etc.). Instead, Willard provides a rationale for the rigorous practice of spiritual disciplines, along with an understanding of their place in the Christian life.

His fundamental premise is that we are bodily as well as spiritual creatures. To deny the bodily aspect of our nature is to lapse into a form of gnosticism, which drew a sharp divide between flesh and spirit, labeling the flesh as evil and the spirit as good. In gnosticism, then, the goal is to overcome the flesh, or even to escape it, in order that we might be holy in our inner beings.

In contrast, Willard explains that our bodies are fundamental vessels through which our spirits interact with the world and with God. Our bodies are created by God, and we cannot experience the world except through the senses of our body. The primary means through which our bodies enable our spirits to interact with God are the spiritual disciplines. As we practice the disciplines faithfully, we train our bodies and minds and spirits to respond to the Holy Spirit. Over time, our natural inclinations change and we transform into the character of Christ.

The disciplines, then, are not ends in themselves, but exercises to train us in the way of godliness. A golfer does not go to the driving range to be good at the driving range, but so that during the course of the game he can hit the ball consistently where he wants it to go.

If I spend concentrated time in silence and prayer on a daily basis, then I am more likely to respond with internal quietness and supplication in the press of my ordinary routine. When I am faced with temptation, pressure, busyness, and crowding, I am more likely to respond in a godly way if I have practiced godliness with diligence.

At any rate, this book challenged me to remember that we cannot grow in godliness with the effort of the disciplines. While justification is a free gift of God through Christ, there is an element of hard work and discipline necessary to become more like Jesus. It is the hard work of increasing dependence upon the Lord.

As Willard writes: "Who are the great ones in the Way, what are the significant movements in the history of the church, that do not bear the deep and pervasive imprint of the disciplines for the spiritual life? If there are none, what leads us to believe that we might be an exception to the rule and might know the power of the kingdom life without the appropriate discipline?"

Well said; now on to the work of discipleship.