Technical Update

This blog now lives at http://excelsiorblog.net. This shouldn't make much of a difference to anyone, because my blogspot address redirects to the new site, but if you would like to change your hyperlinks for clarity's sake, feel free to do so :)



Pictures of my Housemates

Remember my housemates, Jonathan and Rachel? Well, it's been about 4 months since they came to live with me, and we've had quite the time this semester! It's a wonder any of us got any work done! In case you're interested, I posted some more recent photos with them :)


Dethroning Dagon

"Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon. When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set him in his place again. But when they arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him." 1 Samuel 5:1-4

What happens when God comes to dwell in your temple? Are the false gods competing for primacy in your life--Approval-of-Men, Temporal-Success, Self-Pleasure, and all the rest--toppled in the dust? Do they yield before the King of the Universe?

They don't always give way in my life, but it isn't because God lacks the requisite authority! If He can dominate Dagon, He could definitely defeat my demons. The question is simply whether I let Him!

Does that sound backwards? Do we really have to give God permission to do anything? (The short answer is yes--see Rev. 3:20).

They say that in a democracy, the people are sovereign. That may be true, but we only get to exercise our power, at least directly, every two or four years, when an election comes around. God's sovereignty in our lives is something we vote on every day! Multiple times a day!

I heard a simple statement recently that really struck me. (Actually, it was something Tom Waters said at Luke and Chantée's wedding :) All it was was that the time we spend with Jesus should be the most important part of our day. Wow--I was convicted! I have my devotions in the morning, yet how many mornings do I jump on the Internet before I jump into the Word? (This was one, I'm ashamed to report...) It's not that responding to emails and reading the news are bad, but for me, it represents a principle--a priority choice. I'll come right out and say it: in many ways, the Internet is my Dagon--one of the most powerful competitors with God for my attention and affections.

I don't know what's competing for uptake in your mind, but I have an idea about how to topple that idol: name it, claim it, and surrender it (then repeat the last step lots of times.) (No, not that kind:) Figure out what's getting in the way, acknowledge that you're allowing whatever it is to be on the throne of your life, and then give it to God, and ask Him to lay it in the dust!

Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth."

I want God to be exalted in every part of my life, so that the onlooking world has incontrovertible evidence of the power and love of our God!



Wake Up Call

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
Proverbs 24:11–12 (ESV)

Every time I read this passage, it hits me like a blast of icy water in the face. 

"Wake up, Joel! People are standing on the brink of destruction all around you! You can't say you haven't seen them--caught in the lethal embrace of the transient pleasures of this life, tossed about in the vortex of self-gratification. But for the grace of God, you would be among them! What are you going to do about it?"

There's no mistaking the call. Now, how will I respond?

It's a question I've been earnestly wrestling with for the past year. I am convicted that the darkest hour of Earth's great night is nearly upon us, and I long to be among those who shine like the stars.

The secret to a successful, fulfilled life is to have an aim worthy of one's utmost endeavor. Guess what? "Such an aim has been set before the youth of today. The heaven-appointed purpose of giving the gospel to the world in this generation is the noblest that can appeal to any human being!"
(Ed. 262)

Are you in?



New Housemates

As some of you may know, my housing situation was recently upended. Fortunately I was able to find another place close by with two friends from church.

Things were starting to settle down again, but then last Sabbath I came home to discover that my friends had invited two more people to live with us! I'm all for hospitality, and it was their house, but I couldn't help but wonder if adding two new folks at the same time wasn't a bit excessive.

I wasn't too sure about this whole plan, and greeted my new housemates with a bit of apprehension.

My concern only increased as time went on, for several reasons (I'm sure you'll be able to empathize). First, our new residents seem a bit anti-social. I mean, they haven't said one word to me since they've arrived. Sometimes they even make faces at me, and once or twice they've actually started howling in response to my attempts to be friendly.

Second, they have rather strange habits, lolling about all day and disturbing the peace at night. 

They don't seem to get very much exercise (they haven't gone running with me yet, even though I've invited them), and they're always snacking on something. (It's a wonder we haven't run out of food, the way they go through it!) And I'm not even going to mention their personal hygiene...

Looking on the bright side, people have been very friendly since they've come to live with us. Yesterday my friends and I invited them to come to church with us, and you should have seen how welcoming everyone was! People have even been bringing food and clothes over for them, and the kids have at least been kind enough to share some with me (food, not clothes).

And to be honest, though they are a bit odd at times, they do have a way of growing on you :) 

Anyway, that's the scoop on my new housemates. If you stop by and visit sometime, I'll introduce you to Jonathan and Rachel (if they're awake) :)



Relevant Quotations

When Christ made so great a sacrifice to save men and bring them into unity with one another, even as He was united with the Father, what sacrifice is too great for His followers to make in order to preserve that unity?

If the world sees a perfect harmony existing in the church of God, it will be a powerful evidence to them in favor of the Christian religion.

Dissensions, unhappy differences, and petty church trials dishonor our Redeemer. All these may be avoided if self is surrendered to God and the followers of Jesus obey the voice of the church.

Unbelief suggests that individual independence increases our importance, that it is weak to yield our own ideas of what is right and proper to the verdict of the church; but to yield to such feelings and views is unsafe and will bring us into anarchy and confusion.

Christ saw that unity and Christian fellowship were necessary to the cause of God, therefore He enjoined it upon His disciples. And the history of Christianity from that time until now proves conclusively that in union only is there strength.

Let individual judgment submit to the authority of the church.

Testimonies for the Church Vol. 4, p. 19.

Philippians 2:1–6
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus". ESV



Shades of Grey


Doubt not that right is right
Nor that the truth is true. 
For though, in darkest night, 
All colors lose their hue;
When comes the morning light,
With brilliant rainbow new,
Long obscured truth shines bright, 
And pierces darkness through.

Morning's coming--and until then, we've been given a light for our path!



New Friends

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of Emily Knott and Jacob Gibbs. I also got to spend a little bit of time with DJ and Jodie Knott, missionaries with GMI in Guyana. Jodie, I hope you don't mind me sharing this, but something you said really impacted me. You were talking about what it's like in Guyana, and how you've been spending a lot of time fixing airplanes. You said something to the effect of, "but I don't mind, because I love working with DJ! There's nothing I'd rather do."

Now, I don't know very much about airplane repair, but I have a feeling that there are few things that have the potential to be more frustrating than trying to maintain and fix airplanes with insufficient parts, tools, and funds, in the humid jungles of Guyana. From my limited experience, I know that tempers have a tendency to rise and patience quickly strained when trying to diagnose and repair troublesome mechanical problems, even in the best of conditions. Add in the fact that spending long hours in close working conditions with someone (especially a spouse, from whom you can't escape at the end of the day) tends to magnify their quirks into grating emotional hot spots, and it seems like this would be a recipe for disaster.

But if I heard you right, fixing planes with DJ is not only bearable, it's enjoyable! To me, that says more about his character, and your spirit, than a thousand lines of poetry. God is evident in your relationship with each other, and with others.

Photo Credit: Matt Barclay
DJ, Jodie--thank you for the inspiration to let Christ live more fully in my heart.



If Not For Mom

Dear Mom,

I was thinking today about how fortunate I am that God picked you to be my mother.

If not for you, and the lessons you imparted to me through tasks like picking rocks out of the garden, scrubbing the kitchen floor, and running a co-op, I wouldn't understand the value of hard work (and probably wouldn't have been able to work my way through high school and college.)

If you hadn't refused to let me push problems under the rug, but instead, patiently and persistently, over years of real, rubber-meets-the-road teaching moments, helped me realize the importance of getting to the heart of an issue and solving it (a vanilla "I'm sorry" just wouldn't do; rather, "I understand it was wrong to do X, because..."), I wouldn't understand the essence of genuine conflict resolution (and I wouldn't have gotten so much practice debating--and I might not be at law school now :P ).

If not for you, and your insistence on teaching me to look at situations from the other person's perspective, trying to help me understand that inflection, body language, and circumstances color communication just as significantly as the words I used, I would have a much harder time relating to people who think differently than I do.

If not for your passion for health education, nutrition, and lactation consulting--and your willingness to share your knowledge with me (telling nutrition counseling stories at dinner, teaching me about phyto-nutrients, antioxidants, whole grains, eating the rainbow, proanthocyanidins, the wonders of Vitamin D, skin-to-skin care, tongue ties, and the wonderful heritage of GI flora ;)--not only would I be bereft of incredibly important health information, but I wouldn't be involved in the Duke Nutrition education program, I couldn't extoll the benefits of kangaroo mother care, and I wouldn't be able to impress all my nurse friends :)

If you hadn't handed me a violin, paid for and ferried me to years of weekly lessons--and critically--persistently, creatively, and sometimes firmly persuaded me to keep practicing, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to play my violin around the world, to perform incredible pieces, to make wonderful friends, to bring joy to countless people (including myself), and to praise God in the uniquely beautiful medium of instrumental music.

If not for your love of singing and innate ability to come up with a song for any and every occasion, I wouldn't know and love so many hymns and scripture songs :)

If not for you, I would have spent thousands of dollars at barber shops!

If not for the thousands of delicious, healthy, and economical meals you prepared (and had me help with) over the years, I probably wouldn't be a healthy runner today, I wouldn't be able to pull off the occasional culinary success in my own kitchen, and I probably couldn't have survived on $100 a month for food this last year (although Dad probably gets quite a bit of credit for that too, and if you hadn't sent me all that good granola, breadsticks, and other things, I would definitely would have blown my budget :)

If you hadn't taught me to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, allowed me to take two books with me during nap time (even when they were encyclopedias), and let me max out my library card, I might not have the love of reading (and the host of benefits that have come in its train) that I do today.

If you hadn't let me spend summers on Grammy and Grampie's farm, encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities to learn practical skills, and given me the gift of willingness to dive into a project, I wouldn't know how to make hay, milk goats, weld, garden, work on my car, build a deck, prune fruit trees, run a chainsaw, run a table saw, a jointer, or a lathe, pour concrete, lay bricks, or dig a ditch.

If you hadn't taught me how make potholders and scarves and pillowcases, I wouldn't know how to sew, knit, or embroider.

If not for you modeling and including me in your personal devotions (remember that worship binder you made for me, or when you taught me how to do word studies?), I could have missed out on the immense blessing that is having personal quiet time with God every day.

If you hadn't believed in me, encouraged me, stood behind me, corrected me, cried with me, allowed me to stretch my wings, even when you were afraid, and most importantly, prayed--earnestly and persistently--for me, with me, with others, in the middle of the night, when you were scared, angry, disappointed, joyful, whether I knew it or not, I simply would not be where I am or who I am today.

Mom, on Earth, you're my most dedicated advocate, my first and foremost educator, a superlative communicator, my favorite food creator, my preferred singing partner, probably the hardest, most cheerful, most selfless worker I know, the best rug-braider, bread-maker, dulcimer player, lactation consultant, prayer warrior, conflict-resolver, counselor and encourager; my mother, and my friend. I know I don't always show it by my words or actions, but I am exceedingly grateful that God gave you to me (or was it the other way around? :)

Thank you most of all for sharing Jesus with me. You are a shining example to me of how beautiful a Christ-motivated life can be. Seeing your continuing willingness to allow Jesus to work in your life, with the resultant fruit, is more inspiring than a thousand sermons on practical godliness.

For all of these things, and many more, I am, and will be by God's grace, eternally grateful.

Love always,

Your son


It's a Deal

Those who will:
1. put on the whole armor of God, and
2. devote some time every day to:
a. meditation and prayer, and to
b. the study of the Scriptures

1. be connected with heaven,
2. have a saving, transforming influence upon those around them,
3. have great thoughts, noble aspirations, and clear perceptions of truth and duty to God;
6. will be yearning for purity, for light, for love, for all the graces of heavenly birth;
7. their earnest prayers will enter into that within the veil;
8. they will have a sanctified boldness to come into the presence of the Infinite One;
9. they will feel that heaven's light and glories are for them, and
10. they will become refined, elevated, ennobled by this intimate acquaintance with God.

Such is the privilege of true Christians!

Testimonies v. 5, 112–113



Why Creation Matters

The biblical doctrine of Creation (first things) and the biblical doctrine of Eschatology (last things) are the bookends that anchor the central (or “the center of”) biblical doctrine, Christology. With either bookend missing, the grand doctrine of soteriology (how we are saved) falls, and with it Adventism as a biblically-driven movement.
I dare you to read this and tell me there can be such a thing as an "Adventist Evolutionist!"



Third Person

DA 671 -

"The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. (Wow!) The power of evil had been strengthening for centuries, and the submission of men to this satanic captivity was amazing. (If that was true then, it applies a fortiori today!) Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of the divine power. (Change "would" to "will" and you have the Latter Rain.) It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world's Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church." That is perhaps the most powerful, practical promise in the world. She was making a profound statement about behavioral science, neuroscience, genetics, and epigenetics!

Holy Spirit, Mold me, Make me, Use me, Uphold me, Transform me. Amen.



Pocket Internship

I am in the midst of that peculiar period during the first year of law school when students compose and dispatch numerous formulaic requests for consideration, nervously trying to find the right balance between obsequious begging and arrogant bragging that will net them the perfect summer position. With internships on my mind, and a yearning for a deeper, more informed friendship with Jesus in my heart, I came across this inspiring* little quote:

"Upon the right improvement of our time depends our success in acquiring knowledge and mental culture. The cultivation of the intellect need not be prevented by poverty, humble origin, or unfavorable surroundings. Only let the moments be treasured.

A few moments here and a few there, that might be frittered away in aimless talk; the morning hours so often wasted in bed; the time spent in traveling on the trams or railway cars, or waiting at the station; the moments of waiting for meals, waiting for those who are tardy in keeping an appointment—if a book were kept at hand, and these fragments of time were improved in study, reading, or careful thought, what might not be accomplished. A resolute purpose, persistent industry, and careful economy of time will enable men to acquire knowledge and mental discipline which will qualify them for almost any position of influence and usefulness." Christ's Object Lessons, 344

What a neat, practical way to gain fitness for positions of influence and usefulness! This is a lesson I want to take to heart. Here are my ideas:
  • listening to scripture songs on my way to school,
  • reading snatches of StC during study breaks instead of flipping over to Google news,
  • listening to GYC seminars while running
What ideas do you have?


*I wish there was a word that described this feeling better--not just inspiring, but also convicting. "Conspiring" doesn't seem to be quite what I'm looking for; maybe "invicting"?


Salvation, California-style


You're dead. Practically anyway. You're floundering on the floor of Death Valley, and it's merely a matter of time until the buzzards move in.

Good news: Jesus is there. He's come down into Death Valley, and He asks you if you want to live. When you say yes, He takes your hand. At that instant, you're saved. You've crossed over from Death to Life.

But Jesus doesn't stay still for long. He lives on top of Mt. Whitney, and He wants to take you with Him. But that entails movement--a constant stream of choices. "Will I keep holding His hand here?" "What about here?" "I'm tired; it's hot; I'd rather go the other way."

Salvation is simply a matter of clasping the hand of Jesus and choosing to keep holding on.

Ever Upward