Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

I was visiting another church the other Sunday and the pastor was discussing stewardship. This led him to the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler where Jesus drops the famous line about it being ‘easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the Kingdom of God.’ It started off well enough, the pastor pointed out this was a metaphor and of course rich people can go to Heaven. He explained that it was like when people say they are so hungry they could eat a horse. Then he said it could be something a little different, that there was a gate that was small, so it received the nickname “eye of the needle” and that it was so small in fact, that horses had to get down on their knees to get through. I’ve heard something of this before but decided to research it a bit.

This interpretation is somewhere between 200 years old to over 1,000 depending on who you talk to. There are also a few more interpretations that include a mistranslations so that it’s not a camel but a rope (possibly made of camel hair, in at least one thing I found) and instead of gate, it was a well known mountain pass named ‘eye of the needle’. Of course, none of these are very good interpretations, so bad, that I’m not going to even bother arguing against it because it has been done (and better) many times(Blue Letter Bible), including this Wikipedia entry that points out the idiom in other languages (it was an elephant) and even the Qur’an.

Now, I have no idea what this pastor believes. He may have read this in a commentary or somewhere else and was simply trying to educate and give more background. So, the point in not to say anything about him, but instead about this idea. How unwilling are we to accept this parable from Christ Himself? That’s what I think of when I read these other takes on it. What is wrong with us that we would take obvious hyperbole and try to downplay it? I don’t know if the fear is greater that we would offend the rich or (as American’s tend to think) one day we will be rich and perhaps risk being kept out of the Kingdom. This isn’t an attack on wealth. The rich young ruler is looking for God’s favor, he has kept all the commandments (but for God’s will or to secure his place in Heaven?) but that still isn’t enough. You can’t earn your way to Heaven.

It was common in those times for the Jews to believe that their wealth came from God’s blessing because they were good. So, for Jesus to tell him to sell everything is also counter-cultural. If he gave up his money, how would he know he was good? The more common reading, also, is that he loved his money more than God (he went away sad). We are told no one can serve two masters. If someone seeks money and not God, it is literally impossible to spend eternity with Him. It is only though Christ that we can do that. Generally, we are fine with that message, aren’t we? But there is just something about discussing money that we don’t like. We want to be able to keep out love of money and still serve Christ.

Now, maybe you can’t blame some of the pastors who perpetuate these interpretations, maybe they don’t know it was a common saying in the A.N.E., but I haven’t read commentaries that downplay the mountain that our faith moves. So we are least alright with some hyperbole and metaphor from Christ, it just shouldn’t be about money.

Edit – Colbert quotes this parable in a story, has his own take on it:—see-no-equal


Fathered by God

I first read Wild at Heart about 10 years ago. I remember being pumped up and ready to roll and even mad at a buddy of mine who had read it but never recommended it to me. The more I grew in my faith and knowledge, the less I liked the book. Eldredge is more charismatic, while I became more Reformed and my theology could never get behind his.
That being said, I recently read one of his other books, Fathered by God: Learning What You Dad Could Never Teach You, on the recommendation of a friend of mine. Overall the book was alright, not great, but I do think his stages of manhood are worth noting:

Boyhood – This is fairly basic and self-explanatory. Essentially, this is when you are a young child and you look up to your father as someone to model after.

Cowboy – I found this to be one of the more compelling chapters, mainly about kind of a rebellious or wild period in your life. I’m not entirely sure this is true for everyone, though the guy who recommended this book told me he feels he missed out on this stage of his life and has something of a void from it. The stage isn’t ‘wild’ in the broader worldly sense of drunk and disorderly, you could also call it the ‘explorer’ stage. I do feel most people I know had this, including myself, sometimes it was a few months, sometimes a few years or even just a few instances sprinkled in during another time period (like college) where you did things/tried things you wouldn’t have normally and certainly wouldn’t again.

Warrior – Maybe you could also call this one the ‘fighter’ stage. This was one I couldn’t get behind as much. He writes some about learning to stand up for things as well as a time to test yourself. I’m not sure I’d really separate it out as a different stage, but might combine with some of the other attributes and experiences of ‘Cowboy’.

Lover – This is another stage I wasn’t sold on, mainly because I didn’t really see it as a distinct phase. I don’t have much to say about it, but it is basically the time you learn to love something, which is important for loving your wife, children, etc. later.

King  –  Another pretty interesting chapter, this stage is about basically being the head of something. He writes mostly from the perspective of successful career achievement, which he obviously has, but also mention it could be something like being a homeowner or having a family; really anything you could rule over or be in charge of. In a lot of ways, it wasn’t always applicable due to the focus on career; not everyone will be a CEO or run ministry or be lead pastor of a church. However, he does have great Biblical points about Godly leadership.

Sage –  Easily my favorite chapter and unfortunately the one we probably do worst at as a society or church. He points out that not only can you not rule (as ‘king’) forever, but that you shouldn’t. At some point, you must step down and let the next generation of leaders take over. That last point is something I could write a whole posts on, especially as it relates to the Church, but I’ll try to stay on point. He goes on to write about how, after stepping down, the ‘Sage’ shouldn’t just go off to retirement in solitude, but instead should stick around and help mentor, grow and disciple either the next ‘king’ or some of the future (‘warrior’ & ‘cowboy’) ones.
I don’t I can really stress enough how important and overlooked this stage is. Could you imagine the impact if every Christian were to mentor someone else coming up the way they did? A pastor retires after 40 years in the pulpit, joins a church and offers to meet with a young pastor to discuss his life in ministry. A retired business owner sees a young college guy who is a bit rebellious and sees it as an entrepreneurial spirit, decides to mentor him and helps get him on the right track. The list could go on and on. He acknowledges that not everyone will be open to being mentored or to taking advice, but I still think it is important that everyone try. If every man stepped up and did this near the end of their life, it would have an immeasurable impact on the Kingdom.


So, that’s a pretty condensed summary of the book. It is a quick and easy read and well worth it, if for nothing else it forces you to examine your own life and the impacts certain stages and events had. In each chapter, he discusses how to raise the person in that stage and how that stage can go wrong, which can be very useful for someone raising boys or getting ready to mentor or disciple someone in an earlier stage.

This was also my first attempt to do a book review, hopefully more to follow.



Christians and Mental Health

Mental.Physical Illness


I just listened to a great podcast from the Whitehorse Inn at the gym and it reminded of this comic. This is from a secular perspective, but unfortunately, I think Christians are even worse. Go listen to the podcast, there is not much more I can say that she doesn’t, but I’ll hit a few points. She mentions most Christian think of mental illness as schizophrenia or other more dramatic illness that are actually quite rare (about 6%). She says that 26.2% of Christian have a mental illness, mostly anxiety based (general anxiety, OCD, etc.). Autism spectrum and ADHD are also discussed. Interestingly, when discussing anxiety, she left out my affliction, social anxiety.

They go on to discuss the failure of the church to properly address this issues as well as what churches and Christian communities can do to help and support people who are suffering from issues. I want to talk a little about the former as it is something I have experienced myself. Actually, just listen to podcast, there really isn’t much I can add to it. They get in how the church views it as a lack of faith or that as Christians we just shouldn’t be depressed. They refer to this as prosperity gospel light, have faith and think positive and you’ll be alright. I prefer the Smileyface Christianity, where we are all just a bunch of happy people walking around smiling like idiots and if we truly believe, we should feel no sadness. She makes a great point and lack of knowledge in the theology of suffering.  It really is a good listen, go now, there are even other resources and documents on that page.


Considering Seminary, Finale

There are five seminaries and three extensions campuses located in metro Atlanta: Candler Divinity School (attached to Emory and one of the UMC seminaries), McAfee School of Theology (attached to Mercer and one of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seminaries), Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary (PCUSA), Luther-Rice Seminary (unaccredited), Interdenominational Theological Center and extensions of Reformed Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (SBC) and Dallas Theological Seminary.

The three extension sites are actually the closest to me, but I am unlikely to attend either for four reasons. First, theological issues for NOBST and DTS and related RTS may just be too conservative/fundamentalist for me. Second, I’m not sure how academically they are viewed if I were to go forward later with PhD or ThM studies (this was the advice of my pastor). Third, money; they offer very little in the way of scholarships. Finally, as I mentioned previously, my focus is going to be on practical theology and leadership, none of which I’d be able to hone in on with their master’s programs.

Luther-Rice is unaccredited (can’t go further in education) and is too conservative, CPTS and ITC are probably too liberal in their theology and all three are too far away/lack flexible course options. That leaves me with Emory and Mercer. They both offer really compelling masters programs; the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry at McAfee and the Masters of Religious Leadership at Candler. I’d probably lean towards the MACM at this point, mostly due to the courses offered but also because they have some online options. I have reached out to both to get info on admissions and financial aid. I will update as I hear back from them.

Considering Seminary, Part 3

Technically, as of July 7th, I am still a candidate for this job. In reality, I will never hear from them, probably not even the courtesy thanks, but no thanks. But the idea of attending seminary is once again lodged in my brain. It is different this time, especially my focus/reasons. Where originally I considered something like RTS for its focus on Bible Studies and Systematic Theology, now I am considering more practical theology courses. When, at one point, I wanted to basically be a monk, sitting by myself reading and studying and writing, now I am thinking of taking leadership and admin courses (maybe even preaching) and I’m less concerned about receiving deeper formal theological education. No longer did I dream of a PhD in Church History or Historical Theology but instead just considered a Masters in Church Ministry/Leadership/Practical Theology.

On top of that, I found out that many seminaries are basically free or steeply discounted for attendees. I also see a real need for leadership. Many people have the heart/head knowledge for ministry, whether at a church or an organization, but most lack some practical experience or managerial knowledge. Also, I saw this as my personal ministry. I could attend school part time, and probably never even leave my job. It’s possible going to school leads to a ministry opportunity, but most likely, I stay at a job/career that I really do not like but one that would afford me the ability to be more involved in ministry. I still suppose it is possible that I go on staff somewhere in a part-time capacity, but career change is no longer the goal.

Another interesting aspect of the situation is the massive amount of seminary courses that are online. I’ve downloaded more than 25 courses from iTunesU for free. RTS has almost every class you could need, including things like counseling and ethics; to go along with their three systematic theology courses and six to eight bible study courses. I went through Church History I and II last summer from Covenant. I’ve even found Greek Courses online. Now, if I were going to be a pastor or weren’t already connected with a network of Christians and other people in ministry, I would certainly want to be in person, making contact and having theological discussions. However, if you are someone who is just look for a deep knowledge/understanding or Theology or the Bible, you could definitely get by with the online lectures. Right now, I’m going through a group of courses from Gordon-Conwell: Interpreting the Bible, OT 1&2, NT 1&2 and then Theology 1&2.

Well, this has gotten long again, but all that to say, I realized I wanted to do a master’s program that would give me some leadership and church and volunteer management knowledge with less focus on Theology and Bible study (due to the other options available). Now, this means I really need to find a seminary in the area and figure out what would be the best fit. I’ll wrap up that story tomorrow.

Considering Seminary, Part 2

As I mentioned last time; the idea of seminary was basically gone from my mind. I had always figured I would go back to school at some point. After finishing my masters, I was probably at my job three months before I started looking at programs to attend. I was trying hard to move into economic development, so I mostly focused on masters programs in Economics. The other major idea was to go for a PhD. There are two top Policy programs here in metro Atlanta. That idea would come and go, but mostly stay in the back of mind for quite awhile. Even when I was considering seminary, I looked into going the Masters in Theological Studies route then heading to a school of Religion for a PhD in History of Christianity, I especially liked Emory’s.

So a few months ago, I decided I had to do something. I couldn’t take work anymore. I knew I had to try something. I started poking around at Policy PhD programs again. I noticed that Georgia State’s program offered a stipend of between $18-24K. As far as grad school goes, that is a huge payment. The sad/interesting thing was, I make so little, that I could get the stipend and work a coffee shop job and probably being in about the same amount of money.

I started really digging deep, looking at entrance requirements, possibilities of part-time, the commute from my home/office. I started throwing out the idea to close friends, asking for prayers. One day I met my pastor(PhD from Princeton) for lunch and mentioned this was something I was considering. He had the mindset of, if you don’t have to pay for it and it won’t negatively affect your job prospects, then why not? If it led to a new job, great, if it didn’t, I hadn’t really lost anything and at least I had accomplished a personal goal or bid my time until my boss retired and I took his position.

This put me in overdrive, I couldn’t sleep at night, it was all I could think about. I did my best to pray and really ask God for guidance. It was really a different world than when I considered going a few years before; mostly because of the pills. This opened up everything for me, I could teach, I could give presentation/seminars at conferences and it meant I could seek a professoriate and a think tank/policy organization at the same time.

As I researched more, doubt started to chip in. I read of the horrible job opportunities for professors (just google it, there is too much out there to link). I read that in many think tanks, you really don’t need a PhD, just a master’s or maybe two. I also saw that salaries were really not greater with a PhD. Another problem was that I had assumed wrong about the applicability of my masters (city planning) to a policy degree. My thinking was I would go into economic development as my specialty field. However, both GSU and Tech required the ‘core’ of an MPP, which was 24-33 hours of course work. I was pretty deflated, until I was looking at the background of the ED people at Tech and saw most had PhDs in city planning; so I headed on over to the City Planning Department website.

I was pretty encouraged because I saw their grads ended up in many different places and positions. Some even went on to consulting; which would be great money, almost double what I make now. I started to think about what would set me apart, what my research field would be. As I said, my main focus would be ED, but I kind of needed a hook, a way of looking at it differently. I liked the idea of doing research on affordable housing or ED from a Christian prospective; especially after reading Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. Of course, this led me to look at seminaries again.

On top of all that, I was starting to doubt that I would even be accepted into school. Mostly due to my lack of academic research for the past few years and, even more so, my lack of academic references. Meanwhile, I was praying in earnest in hopes that God would lead me to a decision. I was really just not hearing a response. I felt no reassurance that this was the Will of God for my life. Then magically/providentially/mockingly a job came open at one of the research centers associate with Tech and their City Planning School. I applied with high hopes that this was God leading me, opening a door for me.

To be continued…

Considering Seminary

Maybe three years ago, I had the idea to go to seminary. I started researching different seminaries in the area, learning the difference between a seminary, school of theology and school of divinity. Of course, then, I start looking at schools all over the country and thinking other crazy things, like pursuing a PhD. Lady MMT had a better idea, why didn’t I talk to some people and really get an idea of whether it would even be something for me? So, I emailed (this was pre-medication) my Sunday school teacher. We were at larger church then and our class was almost 50 people, he had been to seminary and was actually ordained, so he had a lot to offer me. On top of all that, he was a smart, successful and discerning man.

He mentioned a few things to me to start with about seminaries in general, such as accredited vs. unaccredited (his was not), cost, and seeking ordination. Then he got into the challenging parts, such as why? And his first question, I can still hear perfectly how it played out:

“MMT, how do you like your job?”

“Oh, hate it more than anything, why?”

“You can’t go to seminary as a way to escape a job you don’t like. You will fail everyone, yourself, the people you minister to and God.”

Like a freaking punch to the heart. He was right, though, my main reason at the time was more of a ‘why not?’ than an ‘I hear a Call from God’.

At the time, I was involved in leading a young married Bible study, but that was about it. I had always had a heart/passion for youth ministry, or at least I thought I did, so he suggested I contact the youth pastor and try to get involved there. I knew that I would never be a preacher and was generally unsure of what type of ministry I would go into, so it seemed like a great idea.

That’s how I ended up teaching Sunday school/Bible study to 11 6th grade boys. That is another story all together.

A year or so goes by and Lady MMT and I are looking for houses in a different area all together (somewhere we could actually afford). This led us to look for different churches. We found a few and, unbeknownst to me, LMMT decided to start contacting any church that didn’t have a worship minister listed on their website. One actually contacted her back, a church plant basically in the middle of where we were considering moving.

Long story short, she ends up on part-time staff there and we move. I jump in on the youth ministry there and start talking with the pastor (who went all the way to PhD in Theology) about seminaries. He was more or less opposed to most of what my previous council had encouraged me to consider. He was less focused on a fundamental mentality and emphasized the academic and critical integrity of different institutions. He even recommended against one of the institution where he had taught courses.

Between the house and escalating frustration at work, at essentially dropped the idea of seminary. We were working on an absolutely massive project at work, I was frustrated with my church ministry, and LMMT was considering spending more money on launching another CD. All that together, plus a bit of a darker general period in my life, really moved me away from God in general and ministry in particular.

In the past six months or so, all that has changed. I’ll wrap this up, though, to be continued….

Metal Friday

Metal Friday has returned and is off to an auspicious start with me posting this close to 6:00 ET.  Oh well, at least I have the excuse that this is a holiday. So, my favorite band, Wolves at the Gate, is back out with a new CD called VxV (that would be five by five). I just got it a few days ago and it is freaking awesome. Here is the official video for the song Relief:


Happy Independence Day everyone, I should be back next week with some actual new content. Have a great weekend.