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I am the master of my fate…or not

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

What a crock.

I can’t even control whether I get to work on time. Just think about all the little things that have to go just right for me to make it on time. At the very least, my alarm clock has to go off, neither of the girls can have an early morning crisis, the car has to start, everyone else has to successfully avoid crashing into me (or each other) on the way there, and countless other details. It’s scary at times to consider how little control we have over the most mundane aspects of life.

Master of my fate? I can’t even get the cat who lives in my house to do what I want.

And, I’m certainly no master of anything bigger than me. I’ve tried commanding the wind a couple of times. Wind can be quite annoying—especially if you’re sitting next to a campfire and it insists on guiding the smoke directly into your eyes regardless of where your eyes are actually located. So, I’ve tried forcing it to stop. It doesn’t work. Sadly, even if I hold up my hand and yell “Stop!” in a really commanding voice—and I can do a pretty good commanding voice when I want—nothing happens. It just ignores me. I’m pretty sure it’s really laughing and insulting me in its deviously soft wind-language. And, if you’re curious, using the force doesn’t help either. Wind is impervious to Jedi mind tricks.

A master of the universe I clearly am not.

Jesus is.

“Peace! Be still!” Just a few simple words. And yet, when they sailed from Jesus’ mouth, the universe listened—the wind slept, the waves relaxed, the raging storm ceased. Before the voice of the master, the cosmos bowed.

And the disciples were terrified. Until now, they still had not really understood who they were dealing with. Sure, they thought he was the Messiah. But this? This is something else entirely. This is someone who commands creation itself.

What’s going on here? Is Jesus just showing off so the disciples will get a clue and start to realize who he actually is? Maybe a little. But, there’s definitely more to it than that. This is the Promised One, the One who will restore God’s creation so that it again serves as the theater of his glory. This is the One who will pour the Spirit out on all creation so that it again pulses with life, sheltering and nourishing his people. This is the One with the power and authority to make everything the way it was supposed to be.

This is the voice of the master calling forth shalom.

Want easier bibliographies:? Create citations by taking pictures

Tired of typing all those citations for the paper that you’re writing? Wish there was an easier way? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, QuickCite is a new app available for iPhone or Android that can create citations in several common formats (APA, Chicago, MLA, or IEEE). You just take a picture of the book’s barcode and it quickly emails you a bibliography-ready citation formatted in your chosen style.

The reviewer does note that the app has some drawbacks:

E-mailed citations don’t indicate which style is being implemented, so users who switch between different citation styles will have to keep tabs on the differences when using the scanned citations. Another challenge is that bar codes only became standard on books in the 1970s, according to the U.S. ISBN Agency, which is run by R.R. Bowker, so books published earlier might not work with the program.

And, since it’s bar code based, it won’t work on journal articles or other sources.

I have to admit that to me it sounds like a pretty limited tool that might be more hassle than it’s worth. But, I suppose if you’re putting in some library time and going through lots of books, it may be worth a shot. And, at only 99 cents, it’s hard to complain too much.

Why didn’t I get that teaching job?

Few things in life are more frustrating than going through all the work of applying and interviewing for a position that you really want and feel you are very qualified for…and not getting it. Fortunately, I was blessed with a position at Western pretty early in my job-hunting career, so I haven’t experienced this as much as most. But, I feel your pain.

If this is happened to you, or if you think it might happen to you, Timothy Larson Larsen from Wheaton College offers some insight into why you didn’t get that teaching job, by addressing the four most common questions people ask when they didn’t get that teaching position they so badly wanted. I can’t imagine actually asking the first question (out loud), but the others are ones I’ve heard more than once.

  • Given how eminently well qualified I am for this position, how can you possibly justify eliminating me so early in the process?
  • I know I was eliminated over a month ago, so why have you not had the decency to tell me so?
  • How in the world can you expect someone applying for an entry-level position to already have a handful of research articles in major peer-reviewed journals and a book contract with a leading university press?
  • What did I do wrong?

His answers are well worth reading if you an insider’s look at how the hiring process works at a major Christian college.

New Th.M. Scholarships at Western Seminary

I am very happy to announce a new and very generous scholarship opportunity at Western Seminary.

We now have 5 scholarships available for Th.M. students, each of which will cover all tuition during the first two years of the program. Since most of our Th.M. students finish within two years, this means that for most students, these will be full ride scholarships, though they do not cover books, travel, or living expenses.

The Marvin O. Johnson Educational Ministry Scholarship aims to assist students preparing for teaching careers. So, if your vocational aspirations involve, for example, teaching at a Christian high school, college, or seminary, this scholarship is for you. You may also qualify if you have bi-vocational aspirations (e.g. pastoring with significant adjunct teaching). Basically, if you think that your future involves having some significant role in Christian education, you may qualify and should at least inquire about the scholarship.

To qualify for these scholarships, you only need to meet the following criteria

  1. You must be a new Th.M. student.
  2. You must meet the entrance requirements for the Th.M. program.
  3. You must intend to pursue an educational career in some capacity. (The award is flexible enough to meet a variety of vocational goals. So, if you have any questions, please inquire.)

If you’re not familiar with our program, you may be wondering if you have to move to Portland to be a Th.M. student. The answer is “no.” Although many of our Th.M. students live in the Northwest, we have students from Montana, California and recently as far away as New York. We offer several classes every year as 1-week intensives. So, as long as you’re willing to make occasional trips to Portland, often in the summer when Portland is at its finest, this program is for you.


If you would like more information about the scholarships and how to apply, or if you would just like to hear more about our Th.M. program, please contact me at mcortez [at] westernseminary [dot] edu.


So, if you are considering, have ever considered, or might be tempted into considering a Th.M. as you prepare for the future, this is a great opportunity that you should consider. And, if you know anyone who might be interested in an opportunity like this, please feel free to pass the word along.

For more information about the Th.M. program, check out the following pages:

6 things we can learn about worship from the Dark Ages

Yesterday’s post on 9 things worship leaders need to stop doing raised a number of concerns about modern worship practices. But, as I was reflecting on those issues a bit more, I realized how similar some of them are to difficulties that the church has faced before. And, if God’s people have dealt with these challenges before, wouldn’t it make sense to take a look back and see what we can learn?

So, I thought it would be interesting to start a short series on what we can learn as we wrestle with some of the same challenges in a new historical context. Specifically, I want to look at challenges that developed in the church’s worship practices during the early middle ages, particularly as they relate to the Eucharist (communion), and how that can help us understand the difficulties we encounter today.

For those of you who aren’t into church history, I realize this might sound a little abstract. What could we possible learn from the “Dark Ages.” Well, first, “Dark Ages” is a horrible label for this time period. Far from being a time of unrelieved darkness, the early middle ages are a fascinating time of exploration and discovery in the face of tremendous challenges. But, more importantly, regardless of what we call this time period, it’s still a time in which God’s people sought to carry out God’s purposes in God’s world. Unless we want to believe that God abandoned his people during this time (he didn’t), then we should still be able to learn plenty. So, stick with me.

Here’s what I have in mind. As we look at the eucharistic practices of the early medieval church, we’ll find them wrestling with 6 key issues that I think have parallels to today’s worship struggles. I’ll tackle these one at a time over the next week or so and see what we come up with.

  1. The Difficulty of Language
  2. The Problem of Attendance
  3. The Role of the Visual
  4. The Complexity of Worship
  5. The Design of the Churches
  6. The Understanding of the Act

9 things worship leaders need to stop doing

We ask a lot from our worship leaders today. They’re not just song leaders anymore. Instead, they’re supposed to craft and lead worship “experiences” that people walk away from saying, “Wow! I really met with God this morning.” So basically, they have to create worship so amazing that God actually shows up, because apparently God doesn’t attend the really boring services down the street.

So, worship leaders have a tough job. And, having served as the worship leader in a number of venues over the years, I understand what that job is like. So, I don’t want to pick on worship leaders any more than absolutely necessary.

But, I really enjoyed Philip Nation’s recent article on 9 Thoughts for Worship Leaders. He does a nice job highlighting a number of mistakes that we can make when we forget that we are “leading” others in worship – i.e. we’re not just doing what we like or what sounds good. And consequently, we have to keep in mind the people that we are leading.

Check out the article to see all of his comments, but here were a couple that really resonated with me.

2. We don’t sing La-La-La.

For some reason, songwriters will substitute words with Ooh’s, Aah’s, and La’s of different progressions and combinations. Though it may sound really cool on the radio, most of us just feel stupid standing around singing La-La-La-La. And, anyway, it doesn’t feel like worship when I’m just cooing like a baby at God.

4. Stop singing in the key of “Tomlin.”

Let me say it plainly: if the worship leader is singing toward the top of his/her vocal range, then you have left everyone behind about seven bars ago. If you can sing like Jason Crabb or Chris Tomlin, that’s great. For you.

9. Love Jesus more than music.

All leaders face the temptation to love their work for God more than God Himself. It is our own temptation toward idolatry. To speakers, I would say that they should love Jesus more than their words about Him. For worship leaders, love God more than the music about Him. No matter what else happens on the platform, it will be obvious where your passion rests.

Although I think there are a number of other things that could be added (e.g. we need to stop referring to ourselves as the “worship” leader if we’re only responsible for music), he does a nice job of highlighting some issues worth considering.

9. Love Jesus more than music.

Nation somehow shocked by human nature again

The satirical “news” site The Onion posted great piece yesterday on our incredible ability to view sinful behavior as abnormal despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Despite there being nothing unusual about the incident in Brandon, the media has descended upon the small town in droves, somehow finding a way to portray the event as if it were a novel phenomenon or some sort of aberration within human society, an assertion that even a cursory glimpse at the species’ violent past would immediately disprove.

There is, of course, truth in the idea that some acts are more heinous than others. But, we do maintain an incredibly optimistic outlook on human behavior, an optimism that causes us to be constantly surprised when the reality of sin confronts us in unavoidable ways.

5 things I learned about the Gospel from a serial killer

He’s a really nice guy – generous, kind, neat, and patient.  He works for the police, catches bad guys for a living, and in his spare time…he murders people.

I just finished watching season 1 of Dexter, a Showtime series about a serial killer. Well, to be fair, he’s more of a psychopathic vigilante. Because of a traumatic childhood experience, Dexter is unable to feel real human emotion, has no sense of right and wrong, and possesses a deep-seated need to kill people. But, fortunately for him, he was adopted by a well-intentioned police officer and raised to channel his violent tendencies in “healthier” directions – i.e. only killing people who really deserve it.

I don’t want to comment on the entire series. In many ways, it’s very well done – especially the acting, writing, and directing. At the same time it is violent, graphic, and disturbing. So, it’s definitely a watch-at-your-own-risk kind of show.

But ironically, as I was watching the show, I realized that it had a lot to say about the Gospel.

  • We’re all broken. Dexter is clearly broken, an emotionless murderer incapable of developing real connections with other people. But, one of the show’s clearest messages is that we’re all broken (selfish, overly ambitious, narcissistic, violent, insecure, lonely, etc.). Indeed, in some ways Dexter comes across as being “healthier” than the others because he at least recognizes his brokenness and deals with it head on. In the end, we’re all in the same broken boat.
  • We all learn to cope with our brokenness. Dexter learned to deal with his brokenness by pretending to be normal, and he was quite good at it. As the show progresses, though, you begin to realize that all the characters are pretending. They’re all trying to find ways of coping with their brokenness by hiding behind masks and activities. They all find ways of hiding from the terrible reality of their lives just long enough to make it through another day.
  • Coping is lonely. It’s interesting that Dexter’s biggest problem is not that he’s a serial killer; that’s just his reality and something he needs to live with. His biggest problem is that he’s alone. He’s convinced that he’s so broken, no one else could possibly understand him. And, although he’s good enough at faking “normal” to be in a dating relationship, he realizes that it’s not true intimacy. But, what he doesn’t understand is that everyone has the same problem. Because they’re all hiding behind their coping masks, broken by shame and guilt, they’re all alone in their own ways.
  • Everyone longs for “normal.” At a deep level, the show is really about hope. Although everyone and everything in the show is broken, they all hold onto the hope that there’s more out there. There’s this illusory thing called “normal” that no one ever seems to achieve, but that you should strive for nonetheless. And, it’s this hope for “normal” that keeps them all pushing forward.
  • You can’t fix the brokenness with more brokenness. Thus, each of the characters in the show remains somewhat heroic. Striving for “normal,” they’re not content with the brokenness and constantly seek to put things right. But, like Dexter, the only tools they have at their disposal arise from their own broken state. So, no matter how hard they try, things stay broken. Indeed, their efforts often leave things more broken than when they started. Thus, although the show is about hope, it is a vain and illusory hope.

Sadly, that’s as far as the story gets. In Dexter, the Good News is….well, there really isn’t any. There’s hope, but it’s never realized, constantly blocked by the reality of brokenness. The best that we get (at least by the end of season 1) is the “good news” that if you try really hard you can learn to fake “normal” well enough to make it through another day.

So, in the end, I really didn’t learn that much about the good news from Dexter. But, the show certainly does a good job drawing you inside the broken reality of the world so that you really begin to see the desperate need for the Good News that is out there.

Mapping the spread of the printing press (1450-1500)

Here’s an interesting graphic showing the spread of the printing press right before the Reformation. It’s amazing to see how rapidly the printing press spread in late-medieval Europe and how it set the stage to distribute the writings of the Reformers as quickly as possible.



click to embiggen

HT 22 Words

Jesus in every book of the Bible – from an 11 year old

In an age where most kids would be hard pressed even to name the books of the Bible, here’s an 11 year-old doing a walk-through of where you can see Jesus in every book of the Bible.


HT Joe Carter