Early Spring Flower Blooms of Jasmine, Jonquil, and Daffodils

The photo of the day today comes from about 50 feet away from where I type this blog post.  You can’t really tell from the shot but these little guys are about the size of my thumb, and while we don’t have a huge supply of Daffodils at our place we have a bunch of little Jonquils. Normally I wouldn’t take shots of flowers blooming in direct sunlight but it made for some great bokeh in the background.

It’s just the very beginning of Spring here in Auburn (we have had March snowstorms before, see Rare March Snowstorm in Auburn 2009 and also Samford Hall and Auburn University in the Snow), one of the most beautiful times of the year.  Every year I look forward to these little guys coming up in the garden because no matter what cold temps are currently outside I know warmer weather is coming.

I know sometimes in this part of the country we look over the landscape, see nothing but green Pine trees that grow like weeds and think there are no other colors to be seen besides brown and green.  To me, seeing other colors is often a time issue.  Taking time to slow down enough to see the nuances that occur all around us.  It’s easy to see in the heart of Springtime, but even winter has some color around here.

Coming up next will be the beautiful purples of Wisteria and the Dogwood Trees.

The Jackpot Prayer Request Machine of Today

Today we continued a series at Cornerstone called “Doctrine: What we Believe”, which speaks to what we as Christians believe, and how we are to go about living out those beliefs (see also How to Teach the Doctrine of Salvation on Sunday Morning for a previous week).  Today Josh Agerton spoke about prayer in the life of a Believer and related it back to our gum-ball machine approach we often have to prayer.  Put the quarter in the slot (the prayer), and what should happen is out pops the gum-ball (our answered prayer).

This is a brief overview or recap of that message, according to the notes I took anyway.  You can always download or listen to a copy of the podcast when it gets posted on Monday (Feb 28th) or you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.

The Gum-ball Approach To Prayer: Transactional

Although this is how we often practice prayer, there isn’t a whole lot in scripture that backs up this method of prayer.  Scripture says we have a need for prayer, constant prayer that builds a relationship with God, that calls on God. That goes all the way back to Genesis 4:25-26, but when do we actually pray today? When things are going well, all the time, or just when we are in “need” of something? When things are going well, is our prayer life terrible and vice-versa?

This is perhaps because we see prayer as “transactional” in nature.  There is an action on two parts where I act, then God acts, making the prayer totally focused on ourselves, not God.  I’ve got my prayer, I just need say the right words, send it over the right way, and God will then act and shoot out the “right” response.

The Relational or Transformational Approach To Prayer: Experience

Our approach to prayer should be one of building a relationship with God through constant prayer, in a way that transforms our life.  This is what the apostles did in the book of Acts, they prayed. This wasn’t unique to the apostles though.  All over scripture we are told to “ask” and it will be given, but how closely do our prayers match up with God’s will?  We reach a crisis of faith that leads us to prayer and we “ask” for our answer to be given.

We pray for complete healing, and when that healing doesn’t come (especially in the time frame or way we desire), do we question God’s answer? Scripture clearly says our prayer is heard, but the prayer of Jesus in Luke 22:42 just before He is lead off to be executed is an amazing prayer.

22:41 And he [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Ultimately this is how we are to pray, and the reason is found in Luke 11.

11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.11 What father among you, if his son asks fort a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

As I have prayed for Deborah over the last several months I have tried to keep both of these sets of verses in mind, and I have tried to place them deep in my heart. Is praying like this easy? No way. It requires us to give up our own heart’s desire, something I have found very hard to do. I want my prayers answered the way I ask them to be answered, but deep down, I really want an all-knowing God to answer them to His glory and honor.

The Circular Prayer as Life Happens

This chart above was something Josh went over this morning but it was not meant to be a step by step process to prayer, more of an understanding of how we approach prayer and how God works through prayer (though I didn’t get the counterclockwise thing). I’m a visual person so I loved seeing this as Josh went over it. Basically, with continued, constant prayer, we will continue to build a relationship with God that leads back to God, not to ourselves.

It went like this from the chart above: God is enthroned –> life happens (sickness, job-loss, divorce) –> we have a need or burden –> we ask –> we enter a crisis of faith (I asked, why haven’t you answered yet God) –> faith (we are brought to faith with God) –> receiving (God manifests Himself in some way and you know and understand that God is indeed there) –> thanks and priase –> God is enthroned.

Aren’t sure what the “correct” way to come to God in prayer is or don’t know the “right” way to pray? To pull a saying from Nike… just do it, but Paul probably said it best in Romans 8:25 “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Often times I write my prayers out since speaking them I just tend to fumble through it. Either way I know He hears my prayers and answers better than I could ask.

Are There Different Degrees of Sin? The Greater Sin of John 19:11

Do you think there are varying degrees of sin? Isn’t all sin equal in God’s eyes? Lying is the same as stealing, it’s all sin to God, right? I was always under the assumption that all sin was created equal, having this drilled into my thought process for almost 40 years until I came to John 19:11. I have even argued that point in previous blog posts (see “Prop 8” article for one), but if that’s the case, what do we do with John 19:11?

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11 (ESV)

On Wednesday and Friday I try to dive deeper into scripture, and it is amazing what is revealed to you from God’s Word when you read for knowledge and understanding. Today, after reading over John 19:11 it was revealed to me that clearly the answer to this question is yes, there are greater and lesser sins. But that led of course to the most natural question, why does it matter? Perhaps there are varying degrees of sin for those within Christ, and for those without Christ? If we are saved by grace, our sins are forgiven, and if we aren’t, well, they aren’t, so what difference does it make at all then?

The Greater Sin: Are There Degrees of Sin?

I would argue it matters simply because Jesus himself made the distinction, possibly as a warning to both parties. His words in John 19:11 clearly indicate if the sin of Caiaphas, the High Priest at the time (or possibly Judas Iscariot), was greater than Pilate’s sin, there must be lesser sins. The best essay I found on making the various distinctions between levels of sin came from the Reformed Theological Seminary blog titled “‘The Greater Sin’: Are There Degrees of Sin?” and it is well worth reading. It covers this topic far more in depth than I ever could here and to keep from just repeating all the text from that article I would ask the question here, why does this matter to us?

After an extensive search I found almost no sermons preached on John 19:11, so maybe it doesn’t matter, so I would not want to add emphasis to scripture where there is none. Simply put, if our salvation rests in Jesus Christ and he has called us to himself (John 15:16), our sins have been forgiven and the distinction in degree of sin makes no difference to the salvation of our souls. If we are living outside the grace and forgiveness of our sins, we are condemned already (John 3:17-18).

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (emphasis mine)

Is it For Eternal Reward in Heaven or Punishment in Hell?

So, if we know it doesn’t make a difference to our salvation, does it make a difference to our judgement or call to bear fruit? If we examine John 3:17-18 above, we are either condemned (without eternal salvation) or not (with eternal salvation), so the difference in level or degree of sin could be associated with our eternal reward, punishment, or judgement.

This topic is sprinkled throughout scripture, and while both sides (the condemned and the saved) don’t really want to discuss it much, scripture says we are to be judged according the fruit we bear in this life. If we look at John 19:11, Jesus is referring to the punishment or judgement of Caiaphas (or Judas Iscariot) being greater than that of Pilate, because both Caiaphas and/or Judas both knew far more of the Gospel message (or light) than Pilate, but all men here were likely “condemned already”.

Scripture of course never specifically says what a greater or lesser reward looks like in heaven (and honestly, will we really care at that point), but it does specifically say there are those called greater (Matthew 5:19 and Luke 9:46) and points back to the fact that we are to live a life that produces fruit. [For other references to degree of reward or punishment see also Leviticus 4:2, 13; 5:17; Numbers 15:30; Ezekiel 8:6, 13; and Matthew 23:34.]

19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19

For Believers, this is more a matter of bearing fruit, but it’s also a warning that God takes our sin much more seriously than those who have not received as much of the Gospel light as we have. The article by RBS puts it like this:

This is a warning to those of us who preach the gospel. Brothers, God takes our sin more seriously than the man who has received little biblical truth. We have been entrusted with much gospel light… And it is a sobering thought to know that the Lord views all of our sins in relation to the degree of light with which He has entrusted to us.

A Relavant Conclusion to Why it Matters

Studying this particular verse has actually left me with more questions than answers. Does the revelation that sin has differing levels or degrees matter? I think ultimately it does because, one, it leads to larger discussions throughout all of scripture about sin, judgement, and bearing fruit. Two, it reinforces many truths of Scripture about sin, and three, it puts more personal responsibility on those who have been given the knowledge of the Gospel message (not necessarily those who have received salvation), which should be important to all of us. Some other concluding points that come to mind are:

  • It shows that God takes the sin of the condemned and saved very seriously
  • John 19:11 is just one piece of an overall greater picture of grace and judgement
  • It shows that God has entrusted some with more revelation than others
  • There are differences of sin and judgement
  • A lesser sin does not exonerate the guilty, they are still guilty
  • Authority, even from the condemned comes from God alone

These are just some conclusions I came to, each could be expanded upon in greater detail.  What does the truth of John 19:11 reveal to you?

Space Shuttle Discovery's Last Launch and the iPad NASA App HD

Yesterday the world finally got to see STS-133 launch after months of delays. It’s the 39th mission of Discovery and the 133rd flight of the Space Shuttle program, and was originally slated to launch on September 16, 2010. I went down to the cape with my Nephew in November hoping to see the launch then, but came about 4 hours shy is getting to see it live.

This time around however I watched it on the iPad NASA App HD. The app is also available for the iPhone but if you have an iPad you basically have an HD TV to watch the launch live. Not even DirectTV right now is offering NASA TV in HD (which is ridiculous). Besides being able to watch NASA TV live in HD you have a host of other information, photos, schedules, and everything you might want NASA-wise.

I wish other companies like Fox News, CNN, ESPN, and the like would look at this app and see how easy NASA made it to watch their broadcast. I understand with the others is a money thing, but the technology is there and the other broadcast companies are only going to gain viewers by offering a mobile platform for their customers. Kudos to the NASA tech guys for making this one of the best free apps for the iPad.

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Last Launch and the iPad NASA App HD


Yesterday the world finally got to see STS-133 launch after months of delays. It’s the 39th mission of Discovery and the 133rd flight of the Space Shuttle program, and was originally slated to launch on September 16, 2010. I went down to the cape with my Nephew in November hoping to see the launch then, but came about 4 hours shy is getting to see it live.

This time around however I watched it on the iPad NASA App HD. The app is also available for the iPhone but if you have an iPad you basically have an HD TV to watch the launch live. Not even DirectTV right now is offering NASA TV in HD (which is ridiculous). Besides being able to watch NASA TV live in HD you have a host of other information, photos, schedules, and everything you might want NASA-wise.

I wish other companies like Fox News, CNN, ESPN, and the like would look at this app and see how easy NASA made it to watch their broadcast. I understand with the others is a money thing, but the technology is there and the other broadcast companies are only going to gain viewers by offering a mobile platform for their customers. Kudos to the NASA tech guys for making this one of the best free apps for the iPad.