Compassion cries aloud in the Walmart lobby, at the busy intersection.
"Open your eyes, people. Get this if nothing else. That person you see, who annoys you, who's in your way, who doesn't get you. They too have a life, the same texture of surprising joys and harrowing sorrows as yours. Their purpose in life is not to ease your pain or make your life better. If they do encourage you, celebrate it. If they do not, are they in need of encouragement? You would not measure your life by how well you've helped them, why measure theirs by how well they have helped you?"

Why do we pray when God already knows what we need?

One reason: to express our love for the God who loves us. We admit our faults and weaknesses to him, so that he might advance this day the work he has begun in us, that we might yet become like him in character, longing more for his truth, justice and love than we do for our own comfort and pleasure.

The above is an adaptation of something I found the other day in Augustine's Confessions.
I have already said, and shall say, for the love of Thy love do I this. For we also pray, and yet Truth says, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” (Matt. 6:8) Therefore do we make known unto Thee our love, in confessing unto Thee our own miseries and Thy mercies upon us, that Thou mayest free us altogether, since Thou hast begun, that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves, and that we may be blessed in Thee; since Thou hast called us, that we may be poor in spirit, and meek, and mourners, and hungering and athirst after righteousness, and merciful, and pure in heart, and peacemakers.

Prayer of a Panthers fan II

If you missed part 1 click here.
In January 2009, the Panthers were in the playoffs again. They’d won a first round bye and had home field advantage. Their game against the Arizona Cardinals started well, with a score on their first drive. Then the Cardinals scored 33 unanswered points, while the Panther’s offense sputtered with fumbles and interceptions. The final score was 33-13. “Lord,” I thought, “You know I’ve learned my lesson about honesty in prayer. Why are they getting drubbed again?”

There was no hesitation this time about practicing what I’d learned. And the Lord brought to mind another aspect. He led me to pray for Jake Delhomme, the Panthers’ quarterback. While it is true that I’ve been watching football since before he was born, he didn’t need to hear from me to know he’d had a bad game. While I was disappointed in the game, he must feel devastated. What was it like to have a really really bad day on nationwide TV? Then to have reporters wanting to know how bad you felt and fans clamoring for your resignation? I didn’t know, and I hope I never have to find out. But I could attempt in my prayers to echo the compassion of Christ towards him, and I did.

That next morning before going to church, I posted a Facebook note about my 2006 prayer lesson, the previous nights disappointment, and a prayer for Jake Delhomme that the Lord would comfort him and that we fans would be merciful in our disappointment. At church that morning, I felt joy that my note had pleased God.
This year, the Panthers have an 0-5 start. Jake is with the Cleveland Browns this year, and they’re at 1-4 (and Jake's been injured and hasn't played much). Before the season started, I had a daydream that the Panthers would meet the Browns for the NFC championship. It doesn’t look like that will happen–the Lord continues to work in mysterious ways. But I have a warm spot in my heart for the Panthers and for Jake Delhomme, they have been God’s agents in teaching me a good lesson: Honesty to God in prayer about what we are feeling is a good thing.

Prayer of a Panthers fan

The Panthers aren't doing well this season. This reminds me of a story ...

January 22, 2006: Why can’t I stop brooding about a stupid football game?
An hour earlier I’d turned off the TV disappointed at the Carolina Panther’s dismal showing in the NFC championship game. The 34-14 score said it all. I hadn’t expected the Panthers to make it to the Super Bowl when the playoffs started, but they’d done well in the first two rounds. Then this night against the Seahawks they had been completely flat.

If left to myself that night, I would have done one of two things. I could have gone to bed, trusting that in the morning I’d only feel a brief tinge of regret at the sad outcome. Or I could have gotten on the computer and rejoiced in my human skill and intelligence triumphing over the villainous yet stupid artificial intelligence that vainly sought to conquer my empire.

But I didn’t have either option. I had volunteered for security duty at my work place, which meant driving around the campus for two hours making sure every door was locked and building alarms had activated successfully. Perhaps the worst thing to do when you’ve just seen a disappointing football game and want to take your mind off of it.

But I really couldn’t believe how bummed I was feeling about the game. Why did it affect me so? First, I’m an intellectual. I know better than to get caught up in these mindless spectacles of popular culture. Second, I’d only lived in North Carolina for eight years, I was hardly a life-long Panthers fan. Now if the San Francisco 49ers had a really bad game in the playoffs, I might conceivably feel a brief pang of regret.

The thought came to offer my feelings of frustration and regret to God in prayer, and ask for his help. I dismissed the thought, this was hardly a spiritual issue. Twelve hours from now, I wouldn’t be worried at all about the game. What personal stake did I have in the outcome anyway? But I remembered an earlier reflection I'd had on prayer. No need is too big to bring before the Lord in prayer, since he is greater than any of our difficulties. But also is it not also true that no need is too small to bring before the Lord in prayer, since he calls us to live in relationship with him? Does not the Scripture say that he works in all things for good?

My skeptical mindset retorted that Paul hadn’t written that verse about football games. Could I seriously expect that when I get to heaven the Lord would show me some great blessing he worked in my life because the Panthers lost the NFC championship this day in 2006?

I decided to go with my impulse. “Lord, I know this is really trivial, but for what its worth, I’m bummed about that football game. I know I won’t be bummed about it tomorrow morning, but could you help me tonight.”

I can’t remember that my mood changed much after that prayer. There was no sudden sense of peace, and no angelic messenger brought tidings of great joy for the next season. Like I had predicted, the next morning I had only the briefest pang of regret about the game.

The next Saturday, in my quiet time, something reminded me of my prayer that evening when I was upset about the Panther’s game. I had the impression God was telling me he approved of my honesty in bringing that frustration to him in prayer. How odd, I thought, my skeptical mind had insisted that there could be no blessing coming to me from that disappointment, and yet here was a blessing.

Was there a larger lesson in this? If God values honesty in prayer, even over very short term disappointments like your team losing a game, how much more would he welcome honesty over the big issues in our heart. Yet I often fail to lay my emotions before the Lord. Why? Sometimes its my pride—the thought that I can handle this, or the desire to pretend that I’m not really upset. Or it doesn't seem like a pious thing to do, which shows I haven't been paying attention when reading the Psalms. Or else I think that since God has allowed this painful circumstance in my life, he either does not care or is not going to help me cope with the emotions.

But what if God wants to help me cope, but waits for me to ask for help? Why not level with him what I'm really feeling, since he knows I feel it anyway?


The name “Conservative” bugs me. The dictionary definition says “favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.” But that misleads as much as it describes. Aren’t Democrats now conservative because they want to preserve their current majority in Congress? Isn’t Raoul Castro a conservative since he wants to keep the Communist Party running Cuba?
But “conservative” as most people mean it does describe my views. I’m in favor of smaller government, focusing on individual freedom and responsibility rather than promoting equality of circumstances. What should this view be called?
I’ve thought of the term “characterism”. This may not work because it is too similar to “characteristic”, but I chose it to assert the value of character. Character is the set of choices that a person makes, the attitudes one takes towards life. Character is what we choose to do with life, how we respond to what we are given. Bad things happen to all kinds of people. Some people collapse and give up. Some people keep on with what they are about. And many people despair for a time, but recover and face life once again.
Many forces in our society insist unhealthily on perfect circumstances. Accusations of racism, sexism or other injustices suggest that the victim can despair. Unless the victimizer is punished, or makes amends, the victim is not expected to get over it. This is good in part. When I am unjust, part of what should drive me to repentance is understanding the suffering I have caused. But it becomes false to take this to the point where a victim of injustice is nothing more than a victim, a person who cannot get over it.
I think there is also a philosophy that good character is a product of good circumstances. Do good to people, give them their rights, and all will be well. This too is partly true, doing well to others frequently encourages them to be better. But I don’t believe the personality is a blank slate, and that bad character only comes because bad things happened to the person. To say a victim can do nothing but wait for recompense before he can get on with his life ignores the great resilience of the human character. We can do good when evil has been done to us, we can get over injustice, and go on to thrive.
The Judeo-Christian world view puts character at the heart of reality. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Before anything else existed, there was God; a person, a character. The secular world view says the universe came first, and through an amazing set of coincidences, we arrived. So in that view, character and personality are secondary, cosmic accidents.
The Judeo-Christian worldview also asserts something very startling about this character at the heart of things. It says that God is good, when there is no force outside of himself that compels him to do be good.
We learn superficial politeness and consideration because of our powerlessness. We can’t make people like us or please us that often, so we learn to be pleasant and offer friendship and consideration so that others will return the favor. But Scripture says at the heart of the world is a being so powerful and resourceful that he could well choose to be spoiled and self-centered, and no one or nothing could resist him. But he has chosen to be good, even exceptionally good. The Christian story adds to this common tradition of powerful goodness, that God became one of us, took on our limitations, and nonetheless retained all excellence in character, even through being persecuted, misunderstood, and finally painfully tortured and killed.

Can computers translate the Bible?

My job is helping Bible translators with their computer questions.

Did you ever wonder if the computer can translate the Bible automatically? I realized today we can test this idea. I've found an online copy of the Greek New Testament, and Google Translator offers Greek as one of the languages it can translate to and from.

So how well does Google translate the Bible?
Here are the first ten verses of Matthew:

Paper acquisition Jesus Christ Son Son David Abraham. 2 Avraam begat Isaac, Isaac he begat Jacob, Jacob, he begat Judas and his brethren, he begat son 3 Ioudas Fares and Zara out of the Tamar, Fares son he begat Esrom, Esrom begat he son of Aram, 4 Aram he begat son Aminadav , Aminadav Naasson son he begat, begat he Naasson of Salman, 5 Salmon he begat son out of the Rachav boas, boas he begat son Iovid on Ruth, Iovid he begat son Jesse, 6 Iessai he begat David the king. But David begat Solomon out of the of Urea, 7 Solomon he begat son Rehoboam, Rehoboam son he begat Abijah, Abijah begat But the vague, 8 Asaf he begat Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat son he begat Jehoram, Jehoram son he begat Ozian, 9 Ozias he begat son Ioatham, Ioatham he begat son of Ahaz, Ahaz he begat Hezekiah, 10 Ezekias he begat Manasseh, Manassis he begat son of Amos, Amos son he begat Josiah, 11 Iosias Iechonian he begat son and his brethren on relocating Babylon.

Hmm. I sometimes get bogged down on long lists of names too. Maybe we'll try part of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:1-11:

Seeing the mobs went up into a mountain: and kathisantos him came to him his disciples: and opened his mouth he taught them saying, Blessed are the poor tῷ spirit, because such is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the mourners, for they paraklithisontai. Blessed are the gentle nature, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they eleithisontai. Blessed are the pure tῇ kardiᾳ for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are dediogmenoi sake of justice, because such is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when he oneidisosin you, and dioxosin and say every evil throughout of you falsely for my sake: Rejoice and agalliasthe, that the wages of you in heaven: outos gar persecuted the prophets were before you.

I think we'll always need people to work in Bible translation. But computers are useful tools for human Bible translators. Read here to learn more.