Commentary on Acts 2: Call and Response

Note: I wrote this in preparation for teaching about the book of Acts in my Sunday School class. I’m not a Bible scholar, but this is my best take at explaining the text. I’ve written a commentary on Acts 1 in a previous post.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Call and Response

Commentary by Andrew Shinn

1 – 13 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

The Holy Spirit Arrives

Pentecost was an already-existing Jewish holiday, known as the Feast of Weeks (or the Feast of 50 Days – Pentekoste meant 50th in Greek). It was the 50th day after the Passover, when God released the Hebrews from Egypt and the Angel of Death passed over the people who had smeared lamb’s blood on their doorposts. As Christians, we celebrate this repurposed holiday 49 days (or 7 Sundays) after Easter. If Jesus taught for a literal 40 days after his resurrection (which is not at all clear), then the 120 followers had to wait about 10 days until the arrival of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t important, but it’s interesting.

In Luke 3:21-22, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit appeared in bodily form like a dove. Here the Holy Spirit comes amidst a violent wind and what seemed to be tongues of fire. We don’t know if the wind and the fire were representations of the Holy Spirit, or if they just appeared at the same time. And Luke doesn’t bother clarifying this for us, so it’s not worth spending a lot of time debating it.

Some people emphasize this matter of tongues rather heavily. This is one of those matters where Luke was writing descriptively, but not necessarily prescriptively. Paul, who wasn’t recorded as being here for this event, writes about tongues in his first letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14). His writing seems to be addressing a separate matter than the one which shows up at Pentecost. He says in verse 2 that, “…anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people, but to God.” The people speaking in tongues at Pentecost seem to be speaking in other languages to Jews gathered from all over the known world. These people are in town for the Jewish Feast of Weeks.

This gift of language at Pentecost seems to enable people to hear the glories of God in their own languages. It’s an attention-grabber that draws a crowd.

14 – 21 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Peter the Scholar

Peter jumps up and grabs the crowd’s attention. For the second time, this uneducated fisherman shows himself a scholar of the law, this time quoting the Prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32). Joel talks about the great and dreadful day of the Lord. This is at the end of a long, poetic chapter on destruction and God’s great salvation. Peter’s about the show how the Jewish scriptures are going to be fulfilled. He’s powerfully declaring that a new era has come, and he’ll call the Jews back to a salvation that’s familiar from their own scriptures.

22 – 36 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, (or of those not having the law (that is, Gentiles)) put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ Psalm 16:8-11

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’ (Psalm 110:1) Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Jesus Introduced

Peter introduces Jesus, appeals a bit to their Jewish pride (or racism), and links Jesus to the most admired of all Jewish heroes: King David. It’s clear, whether it’s Peter’s opinion or he just knows his audience, that he is calling Jews to a Jewish repentance.

He bears explicit witness to the resurrection of Jesus, in fulfillment of what he’s said is the role of the apostles. Peter says that Jesus has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. Again, we see an oblique reference to the Trinity and Peter’s understanding of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 110, which Peter references, is well worth reading and it all seems to apply to Jesus. Luke doesn’t record Peter as reading the full militaristic scene from Psalm 110, though the rest of Peter’s recitation may have been cut for time (as we’ll see in verse 40). Interestingly, this military view of God’s redemption sounds like what Peter and company were waiting for ways back in Acts 1:6. But it’s not the way redemption unfolds, either in Jesus’s promises to the apostles or in the chapters of Acts that follow.

37 – 41 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

The People Respond

Peter’s words apparently had quite an effect. 3,000 people believed in Jesus on that day!

The call to action here is worth looking at: Peter asks for repentance and baptism, both of which would have been familiar to the Jews. John the Baptist had been baptizing, and the Jews practiced baptism as something called Tvilah, a purification ritual used when converting to Judaism. Later in Acts (Acts 19:1-6), Paul would make a distinction between John’s baptism for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus, which seemed to be accompanied by the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Peter doesn’t seem to make that distinction here, which probably means that the understanding of baptism evolved as the church grew. This is one of those head-scratching inconsistencies in Acts, and I’ll remind you again that Luke is writing descriptively, not prescriptively.

Also interesting is that Peter says the promise of redemption is for everyone: Jews, their children, and those who are far off. We know that Peter didn’t quite believe this yet. He still thought of salvation as being only for the Jews, as we’ll see later in Acts. But perhaps this is an example of the Holy Spirit inspiring Peter to say something that would make more sense to him later. Or maybe Luke wanted to be clearer about salvation than Peter had actually been, and hence edited Peter in the recording of this event.

42 – 47 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The Church Begins

As the camera zooms out after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see an idyllic picture of the early church. All 3,000 of these new believers (3,120, including the earliest believers) devote themselves to study, eating together, and praying. They start acting communally, with shared property and social services. While Christian groups throughout the ages have sought to replicate this model, I’ll point out again that Luke was describing, not prescribing.

Their reputation, for the moment, is sterling. Trouble is waiting just over the horizon. And salvation becomes a daily occurrence, which implies that salvation was either happening organically in the communities around these new believers as they went about their lives and work, or that the church met together daily. Either way, this is a description of an intense time for this community.

Though there’s been much discussion about the Holy Spirit, Luke uses the term ‘praising God’, and not ‘praising the Holy Spirit’. This Holy Spirit isn’t a God-replacement, but a God-addition. This indicates an understanding of the Holy Spirit that consistent with modern Protestant orthodoxy.

Commentary on Acts 1: Old Characters, New Roles

Note: I wrote this in preparation for teaching about the book of Acts in my Sunday School class. I’m not a Bible scholar, but this is my best take at explaining the text. I’ve written a commentary on Acts 2, and that follows in a later post.

Photo by Luke Palmer on Unsplash

Old characters, new roles

Commentary by Andrew Shinn

1 – 3 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Previously, in Luke

Luke is setting the scene here. He’s very efficiently summing up what has happened before and bringing the reader (the now-familiar Theophilus, or “Lover of God”) up to date. He references the people who will be the main characters of the book (the Apostles Jesus had chosen), and drives home the point that Jesus’ friends believed him to be alive. He also gives a timeline, 40 days. The number 40 is often used in Hebrew culture symbolically to mean A Long Time. As in, “Gary, I haven’t seen you in 40 days!” Luke makes clear that the kingdom of God was their main topic of conversation. Watch for that – the 120 disciples (including the 12 apostles) will be primed to think about this matter of the Kingdom of God.

4 – 8 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with (or in) water, but in a few days you will be baptized with (or in) the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus outlines Acts

Luke relates the most important teaching that Jesus gave after his resurrection. He’s beginning the hand-off from the leadership of Jesus to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he references all three members of the Godhead. Note that the doctrine of the Trinity is never explicitly taught in the Bible. We infer it from passages like this, and from the co-appearing of the Triune Three at the baptism of Jesus. (Luke 3:21-22) In this way, the co-appearing kicks off both the earthly ministry of Jesus and the earthly ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples are asking about the restoration of the Kingdom. Remember, this had been the chief topic of conversation, in Luke’s re-telling (though John makes it clear that Jesus did and talked about so many things that any re-telling is a necessary distillation). Jesus steers the conversation to marching orders for the apostles, and Luke puts the outline for the rest of the book in Jesus’s mouth.

9 – 11 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Jesus Ascends

Again we see Luke’s economy of words. In two sentences, he gives an entire Christ-ian eschatology (from the Greek meaning “last” and “study of”). This scene is almost humorous in its pithiness. These men, presumably angels or other heavenly messengers, break the apostles’ sacred reverie with a kick in the pants toward Jerusalem and a message about the Second Coming of Christ. This is almost the exact same scenario that played out after Jesus’ death in Luke 24:4-7.

12 – 14 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk (That is, about 5/8 mile or about 1 kilometer from the city.) When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Roll call

For now, the apostles are being tracked minute by minute. The church is being born, and Luke passes us all the details. This includes exactly who was in the room. The eleven apostles were explicitly named. Peter and Andrew were brothers, fishermen from Bethsaida. Philip grew up with them, and was probably also a fisherman. James and John were brothers, also fisherman from Bethsaida. The younger James (son of Alphaeus) and Judas were probably Jesus’s biological brothers. Note that there were two Jameses, two Simons (Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot), and two Judases (one who betrayed Jesus and one who was his brother). Luke doesn’t name the women, but he refers to Jesus’s mother and, presumably, an unspecified number of Jesus’s other brothers.

Interestingly, Luke finishes the book of Luke with Jesus referring to this group as disciples, and starts the book of Acts referring to them as apostles. This is just one of the many shifts we’ll see at the beginning of Acts.

15 – 26 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers and sisters (or believers), the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.” (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms (Psalm 69:25): “ ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and (Psalm 109:8), “ ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

A new apostle

Peter takes on a new role here. He goes from enthusiastic (if bumbling) to being a serious leader and Biblical scholar. Luke records someone, probably Peter, lopping off a guy’s ear when Jesus was arrested, and claiming that he’ll go to prison and die for Jesus (Luke 22). Later in the same chapter, Peter denies Jesus. What explains the change from denier to leader/scholar? In Luke 24:45, we’re told that Jesus opened the minds of his disciples so they could understand the scriptures.

The believers here are numbered at 120 total. This means that there are about 10 times as many in the community as there were in the inner circle of disciples (who became apostles).

There’s a rather gross section wherein Judas (the betrayer) buys a field. Scholars think that this matter of bursting intestines was because Judas hung himself and everyone left the body alone. In this scenario, his body burst open when it fell down after rotting enough to slip out of the rope.

Peter explicitly mentions the Holy Spirit, indicating that he had some understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role in the church and in history. Peter references two scriptures from the Psalms and seems to cherry-pick two phrases out of their original context. This is the same way that Jesus often quoted scripture.

He says that another person is needed to bear witness to Jesus’s resurrection. This makes clear what Peter and friends understand the role of apostles to be: bearing witness to the resurrection. The Greek word for witness here is martyroi, from which we also get the word for martyr. They pick two men who were apparently around for the entirety of Jesus’s ministry, from his baptism until his death. Then they pray about it and draw straws (or roll dice, or the equivalent).

These apostles will be significant. In Revelation 21:14, John writes that the names of the 12 apostles will be written on the very foundations of the new city of Jerusalem. In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul says that we as Christians are members of the house of God, which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

Interestingly, we’ll add a 13th (or, if you count Judas, a 14th) apostle in the figure of Saul/Paul. He calls himself an Apostle in Romans 1, though he’s the only apostle who didn’t know Jesus before his death. But that’s later in the story of Acts.

Opt Out: Why I quit the news

It’s been a heck of a season, dear readers. Amidst all the angst and consumption of running my own actual life, it hasn’t been lost on me that out nation has been living quite a life, as well. To be honest, my own life has suffered in small ways because of our nation’s life. And not in an honorable sacrificing-to-serve way, either. In a neurotic, constantly-looking-at-a-stream-of-garbage way. Put bluntly, I became a bit obsessed. Until something changed. But we’ll get to that later.

This story begins back in the train-wreck-of-an-election that was 2016. As a certain Republican candidate gained momentum, I watched in horrified fascination. The news, back in those days, went from laughable to unbelievable to oh-so-believable with the pace of a souped-up driverless riding lawn mower. Pretty soon, the lawn mower was rounding third base, careening toward a certain end on election day. I began checking Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog as a daily ritual. Then I began listening to a podcast by the same.

Miraculously, that runaway lawn mower came in for a landing, albeit a rocky one, on the U.S.S. America. I was even more fascinated to see what would happen next.

zoon I was flipping back and forth between Slate’s political podcast, Five Thirty Eight, and Google News. My phone was constantly in my hand, and I was getting notifications from news items posted on Twitter, from The Washington Post, and from the Wall Street Journal.

At some point (around the election), I re-discovered late night TV shows and their nightly monologues. I began watching them on YouTube every night. Stephen Colbert became a favorite, as did Seth Meyers. When these gentlemen would take an evening off, it threw off my consumption habits. I had to find other things to watch on YouTube, though I didn’t really want to.

Google News became my crack. I’d check it multiple times per day, keeping up with most stories as they developed on an hour-by-hour basis. Writing this now, I can see how terrible the addiction was. But at that point, I just thought I was keeping up with my civic duty.

My incredulity with the developments in politics kept reaching new heights. I was fascinated, horrified, entertained. I couldn’t look away.

Then one day, I had an insight. I wondered if the President would have as much power if the news media would stop paying attention to him. My next guilty thought was that the media was paying attention because I was paying attention. They were following clicks and impressions, and I was clicking and reading enough to feed the beast.

So I decided to opt out. I stepped off the cycle to see what would happen.

And what I found was emptiness. I began to see how consumed my mind had been by all this stressful national news, and how reflexively I had been consuming it. I deleted Google News from my phone, unsubscribed from the political podcasts, and stopped looking at late-night comedian/commentators on YouTube.

I had to do something to fill the time and void, so I’ve decided to consume longer-form content. I began listening to Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism by Maajid Nawaz. I picked up Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki to read on my Kindle/phone.

I haven’t completely escaped the news. I see it different place in passing, but I’m not paying attention any more. You can call it Trump Fatigue, but I just call it taking back my attention. I’ve gotten more work done, had a clearer mind, and stopped worrying about things beyond my ken. This probably won’t last forever, but it’s good for now.

What about you? Do you need to think about opting out?

Life Skills Upgrade: Learning a Language

I’m not sure how it came about, but I’ve decided to learn Russian. This process has evolved how I thinking about language learning, and it’s been eye-opening for me. I thought I’d share some of the tools I’m using to learn. Maybe it will give one of you, my dear readers, the courage to explore something new!

First, I should address my reasons for wanting to learn Russian. They are fourfold:

  1. I’m fascinated by Russian culture. Dostoyevsky is one of my favorite authors from among The Classics, and his descriptions of life in Russia and the Russian worldview fascinate me.
  2. It seems that, with rising tensions and talk of a second cold war, the United State’s relationship to the world’s largest country has never been more important.
  3. I wanted the intellectual challenge of learning a completely new language. Yes, I have Spanish, but improving that wouldn’t be the same kind of challenge.
  4. Plus, Russian sounds cool.

Here are some of the resources I’ve used so far, and my experiences with them:

Pimsleur Language Course

If you follow the blog (or know me at all), you know I’m a big fan of They were having a buy one/get one sale on language courses, so I downloaded the first 10 lessons of their Russian language course. Right now, I’m on the sixth course. I recommend this course and method for anyone learning a language. It’s intuitive, exclusively verbal, and seems to approach the material in a learner-friendly way. The lessons are about a half hour long each, and I’ve found that they work best when you have time to listen to the entire lesson in one shot, practicing and speaking while you listen. I have found that I need to listen to each lesson about two times before I feel comfortable moving on to the next one.

Fluent in 3 Months

While on vacation in Petaluma with Lisa, I picked up a book called Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World. This book is not about Russian in particular, but about learning languages in general. Though it’s not scholarly writing, it has challenged a lot of my thinking (and my excuses) about learning languages. It’s given me the impression that this goal IS attainable. Most of all, it’s validated that I’m not crazy for trying this adventure. The book also has a web site and online community, which I haven’t had the chance to explore yet.

The most interesting resource I’ve used so far is iTalki. iTalki is a web site (which has become more of a social network) dedicated to language learning. Each person creates a profile listing the languages they speak (and at which levels), along with the languages they want to learn. From there, you can choose language partners who speak your target language and want to learn your language. So far, I have nine friends on the site. One of them wants to teach me Vietnamese and one would like to speak with me in Arabic. Two have asked to talk to me in Spanish, and the rest are interested in learning English from me, while I learn Russian from them. So far, I’ve had two conversations on Skype with a girl in Russia named Elena. She is a patient teacher, even though talking via Skype can be frustrating sometimes. Elena is also ambitious: during our second conversation, she taught me the entire Cyrillic alphabet. Interestingly, not all of my potential teachers live in Russia. One guy I’m planning to speak with runs his Russian business from Thailand.

Google Translate

This service is much improved from its early days. It features automatic language recognition and fairly well-spoken versions of any word for which you need translation. I’m a little wary of relying on it, but it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Text to Speech at Oddcast

This fun little tool allows you to watch (a fake little person) speak any words you have in mind. You can also change the speed at which s/he speaks. This can be useful for slowing complicated words down.

Russian for Everyone

This page is specific to the Russian language, but it’s been a really good resource for helping me as I learn each of the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet. Each letter has an audible pronunciation guide, a sample showing how to write it in handwriting, an example of the letter in context, and other helpful goodies.

Culture and Context

Once I started learning the Russian language and meeting a few Russian people, I became curious about Russian history and culture. Once again, I turned to Audible, where I found a fascinating series of 36 lectures about Russian history. I’m only starting these, but I quickly realized how little I know about Russian history.

I think those are most of the tools I’m using so far. Which ones seem the most useful to you? Do you have any to add? If you could learn any language, what would it be?

Business Plans

I was recently asked about Business Plans.  Below is my response.

Business plans can come in any format. I actually delivered one as a rap one time! The important part is that it succinctly communicates the entrepreneur’s vision, and has some realistic numbers.

Sales projections (with a plan to hit them), economics of a unit, and a monthly break-even analysis are the calculations that are especially important to me when I look at a plan. None of that is rocket science, and some of it can feel more like creative writing at times!

Even though people use business plans to apply for funding, the process of writing a business plan forces every entrepreneur to answer a lot of questions, and the process of answering these questions is probably a lot more valuable than any funding that might be received.

I’ve used Business Plan Pro software before, and it was effective for me. Of course, the quality of plans made with software is highly variable – you only get out of them what you put into them. Here’s a link:

The Small Business Administration has some good links to help with writing a business plan:

And SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, has some business plan templates that you can download and use for free:

I’m not big on business planning these days. In the Army, they say that no plan survives contact with the enemy. This is often true in business, too. I’d rather have my students ship one unit, and figure out how a customer uses it. That’s when they learn their real value proposition, because we ultimately are making products and services for customers. But the process of planning has some validity, and checking for realistic numbers is the most valuable part of the process.

St. Patrick’s Faith

Note: This is from a brief talk I gave at Palm Village Retirement Community this morning, March 16, 2014.  Most of the source information comes from How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (The Hinges of History).  I’m a big fan of Thomas Cahill’s writing.  Some of the interpretation is mine, and some is his.  Give him credit for any brilliance you find, and me credit for any faults.

St. Patrick didn’t start his life as an Irishman or as a Saint, or even as a Christian, per se.  He was a Briton, of Roman cultural origins.  His first language was not Gaelic, but Latin.

Though Patricius grew up in a Christian family, he ignored the faith of his fathers.  God used some pretty awful circumstances to get ahold of him: he was kidnapped at age 16 by Irish pirates, taken to pagan Ireland, and sold into slavery.  He spent the next 6 years as a shepherd and as a slave.  Much of the time he was naked, and his body ached from hunger and exposure to the elements.

Image by Karpati Gabor, license information and more work at

Image by Karpati Gabor, license information and more work at

But God used those six years that Patricius spent (mostly alone) in a powerful way in his life.  In those lonely years, when he was far from home and wandering naked on the wind-swept hills of Ireland, he later said that God had mercy on his youth and ignorance, and he was given the chance to be forgiven of his sins and convert to Christianity.

He began praying, and later claimed to have prayed more than a hundred times per day during those years.  After six years of captivity, God told him in a dream that a ship awaited him 200 miles away at the coast.  He rose, obeyed this message from God, and was taken back to Britain.

The story of Patricius’s conversion rings with echoes from Acts 4:13.  As Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.“  Though St. Patrick later went through ecclesiastical training, his writing suffered from the 6-year gap in his education.  He remained, functionally, an unschooled man who walked with God.

God called Patricius, again using a dream, back to Ireland.  God called him to the people who had enslaved him.  If we were to see Patrick in our day, we would say he had a checkered past.  We would call him damaged goods.  We’d excuse him if he never recovered from the harm.  We might even call him a little crazy.  “Six years alone would do that to a man,” we’d say.  But he let himself be wrecked by God, and it turned out for God’s glory.

Some people have called St. Patrick the first cross-cultural missionary.  The apostles, with the possible exception of the apostle Thomas, never made it past the borders of the Greco-Roman world.  St. Patrick, some 300 years later, went to a people not his own.  He carried the gospel boldly across a cultural boundary.

Jesus said, in Matthew 11, verse 12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”  He may as well have said that about St. Patrick.  He demonstrated the gospel to the people of Ireland with power.  We don’t know how many of the stories about him are true, and what has grown from legend into fancy.  But we know that he demonstrated God’s power to warlord, kings and anyone else who would listen.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 4, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Year later, St. Patrick had the opportunity to fight back against slavery.  He was the first person in human history to speak unequivocally against slavery.  This time, a British king sent raiders to the coasts of Ireland to seize thousands of slaves.  Patrick worked both by direct appeal to these kings and politically, through the church in Britain, to try to obtain their release.  Only a former slave could write so forcefully about the evils of slavery, and only one redeemed by Christ would argue for the release of the people who had held him in captivity.  God takes our wounds, and if we give them to him, they CAN result in His glory.  But usually not in time for our suffering to make sense.

So as we remember the day of St. Patrick’s death tomorrow, don’t think about Leprechauns and pots of gold.  Remember a man whose pain was used by God, who was willing to forgive those who enslaved him, and whose life mission was to demonstrate the power of God in obedience.  He was a man who saw no clear dividing line between this life and the next, who left open the possibility to see the finger of God at work anywhere in his world.  Even in the pain.

Among other writings, this prayer of St. Patrick survives.  If it’s okay, I’d like to pray it as our closing:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Welcome to the world, Caleb Joseph Shinn!

It was a dark and stormy evening.  Well, maybe not any more dark than any other night at 11:30 pm.  And it wasn’t exactly stormy, though it had been raining earlier on that fateful March 2nd.

Caleb smiles during his first full day outside of his mommy.

Caleb smiles during his first full day outside of his mommy.

Lisa had been experiencing medium-intensity contractions for about the past day and a half.  The children (Liam and Clara) were nestled all snug in their beds, while Lisa and I pondered dozens of other clichés in the living room downstairs.  We were 5 minutes from finishing an episode of House of Cards, when Lisa lost her ability to focus on the riveting plot conclusion.  This is when I knew that things were getting serious.  She was timing contractions, and their frequency increased to less than 4 minutes apart with 60 seconds or more duration. (I’ll try to keep the technical terms to a minimum and the jokes/literary allusions dialed up for the remainder of this story.)

Lisa decided to employ the Bradley Birthing Method this time around.  Since we weren’t able to attend a full class, we did the next best thing: we bought the book, and at least one of us read it from cover to cover.  The other one of us (ahem) skimmed a few key sections, but didn’t do as much homework as he probably should have.  But he DID know enough to recognize that Lisa’s sudden switch to a serious mood is one of the emotional signposts of labor.

The car was packed, the mother-in-law/babysitter arrived, and I bundled Lisa into the car for the mile-and-a-half trip to the hospital.  But not before a few intense contractions, which Lisa took like a champ lying on the floor outside the bathroom, on our bed, in the kitchen, or wherever else she happened to be at their onset.

During the 11:30pm trip to the hospital, Lisa felt a pop and asked me to consider violating the speed limit.  I did what any wise husband would do, and gave the pregnant lady whatever she asked for, without question and without delay.  Her bag of waters had broken, and labor was progressing fast toward delivery.  Being Lisa, she was more concerned about ruining the seats in our car than anything else.  That didn’t happen, but it was the first time we’ve had the bag of waters break before reaching the hospital. (Scratch one more experience off the great bingo board of life.)

I made my delivery (which was getting Lisa to the hospital in time).  But only barely.  We were the only parents giving birth at the Adventist Health Family Birthing Center in Reedley that night.  They rushed us into the birthing room closest to the front door, and asked for a urine sample.  Lisa’s look told them in no uncertain terms that this request wouldn’t be fulfilled.  We got her to a bed, but only barely.

Lisa had about two very serious contractions, and let the two nurses present know that she was ready to push.  “But we haven’t even had a chance to check you!” they protested.  But their experience and expertise showed, and they didn’t protest for long.  It was time for action, not excuses, and they rose admirably to the challenge.

When the lead nurse, Tisa, checked the cervix, she raised her eyebrows and said, “You’re ready!  It looks like the doctor won’t be making it to this one.”  She quickly paged him, if only for the sake of formality.

Some minor bed adjusting followed, which allowed Lisa to get into the birthing position she preferred: a 45-degree tilt, which I carefully measured and supervised.  It was the only thing I could control and my only meaningful contribution during that phase.

Lisa’s second push revealed the crown of a head filled with dark brown hair.  Another push of two showed a very blue little face, and then the reason for this: the umbilical cord was wrapped around the little guy’s neck.  The two nurses and I glanced at each other, and, as if by mutual consent, we all suspended our reaction to see what would happen next.  What happened next was another good push, which got his (relatively) broad shoulders out of the birth canal, and allowed Tisa to unwrap the cord from the baby’s head, and also a very blue little arm.

The last of the baby (his curled-up legs) slipped into view like a greased banana emerging from a sandwich bag.  And with about the same drama and oddity.  The nurses quickly set him on Lisa’s shoulder, where he turned pink with the rapidity and effect of a Hyper-Color Shirt. (*5-point bonus for you if you remember these!)

I cut the umbilical cord, severing the baby’s physical connection to Lisa permanently, a process which I expect to repeat in various forms for the next 20 years.  He took a few shaky breaths, and I felt like a father bird must feel when he watches his hatchlings fall from the nest for the first time.

The rest of the process was less tense, especially for the doctor, who strolled in a few minutes later wearing a t-shirt from his alma mater and looking around to see what he’d missed.  There were shots and washings and  measurings (21 inches long) and weighings (8 pounds, 10 ounces) and footprintings and other processing steps, few of which lend to interesting analogy or comparison.

After watching the baby for a while, I came a crisis point.  I couldn’t keep calling him ‘The Baby’ for the rest of his life.  Sooner or later I was going to have to slap him on the butt and give him his name.  I looked at the little guy, and didn’t see the utility in the first of those two steps, so I decided to skip it.  I named him Caleb Joseph, because the other option under consideration just didn’t feel right.  I held him and, in a mini-ceremony that seems like something my dad would be fond of, declared his name for anyone who happened to be around and listening.

Caleb, now possessing a unique identifying moniker, set about working on the next most important thing in his life: getting some food.  He seemed to be reaching out to put anything nearby in his mouth, and seemed especially happy when his efforts paid off.  He latched on right away, and fed like a teenage boy pulling up to a yard-long trough of ice cream.  He manifested his first display of unbounded enthusiasm.  His greed was pointed at sucking and eating, and was therefore excusable.

After all the excitement was done, Lisa and I looked at each other.  “So that’s it, eh?” I asked.  “Yep,” she answered, “we have a baby!”

American Success: A Lie?

Allow me to tender a thesis: that America’s global hegemony is based on an incredible optimism which drives boldness, innovation, creativity, and many other noble, success-yielding characteristics.  But this optimism is based on a narrow set of conditions found in the late 1600s and the early 1700s that weren’t sustainable.

Here were some of the conditions: The American Colonies had several notable advantages over England, according to Paul Johnson, author of A History of the American People.   Johnson talks about the myriad advantages enjoyed by the colonists in this era: meat was more plentiful than in England, so the average height of a colonial man was several inches taller than his British counterpart; wood was plentiful; ‘the new world’ was agriculturally rich and seemingly limitless in size.  Land, though granted by the British crown, was effectively free for use by most.   This may have been one of the only times that good, productive land was effectively free for so long.

Americans enjoyed many advantages because of these conditions: they grew larger families, literacy rates were higher, and government, which extended from across the Atlantic, had a necessarily weak grasp on society in an age of slow communication.

While these conditions were clearly unsupportable in the long term, (land eventually became more scarce as property rights asserted themselves in full measure, and government eventually sprang up in greater measure on this side of the Atlantic) they may have bred into the American spirit an ethos of wild optimism that marked American expectations and conduct, even down to our present age.

What do you think? Are there counterpoints to this argument?

Things I’ve Noticed 1: Art

I’ve decided to start a new series here on the blog.  I will share things I’ve noticed.  I see little things here and there, and wonder about them.  I thought about starting a different blog to house these thoughts, but how many blogs does one guy really need?!  Here’s he first in the series:

I was in San Francisco a few months ago, and I noticed some things about art.  I was in a beautiful high-end art gallery near Ghirardelli Square.  The salesperson took quite a bit of time with me and walked me through several art pieces.  Reproductions of the art in question were selling for $60,000 and $70,000.  This was an enjoyable experience.

After visiting the gallery, I stopped to watch a street artist one block down from these same galleries.  She was dirty, a bit rude, and looked destitute.  She asked if she could draw a picture of me for a dollar.  I declined, but ended up giving her a dollar after she chided me for taking a picture of her.

It took me a few minutes of reflection to notice that she was engaging in the same creative process as the artists whose work was on sale 300 feet away: making art for sale.

This made me wonder about the value of art.  It it only display that makes a piece of art valuable?  Is it availability?  I realized as I handed her the crisp dollar bill that I was paying with a piece of art: a portrait of George Washington, that’s available to anyone willing to provide a dollar of value in exchange.  I briefly considered the possibility that the George Washington portrait pointed to availability driving value, but I realized that the street artist in front of me was willing to provide me with an original for a very small amount of money.

I realized instead that the value of art comes from context.  The salesperson in the gallery was willing to learn about my taste and sell me on the story of the pieces of art I was considering.  The person on the street was not cognizant of the source of her art’s value.  If she was, she would be able to charge me for the application of her talent.

What will tomorrow’s web be like?

I see four trends converging, and I want to make a prediction about how they’ll collide to provide a type of experience that we’ll have on the web of tomorrow.  Those four trends are:

  1. Immersive
  2. Mobile
  3. Video
  4. Immediacy


Many developers are striving to provide a more immersive experience.  Whether it’s better

use of space within web sites and web apps, fullscreen options on everything from video players to desktop applications, it seems everyone is looking to add a fullscreen button to their users’ experience.  Users have become intuitively conditioned to look for indicators of this immersive-style experience.  How to do I know?  W

hen I’m using a computer, tablet or mobile device with my children, they constantly scan for the fullscreen button, and ask (beg) me to use it.  I can hear their little voices chanting, “Fullscreen, fullscreen!” in a half-cute, half-annoying chorus of kid-tech-love.

As a matter of fact, I’m composing this blog post in WordPress’s Fullscreen, distraction-free writing experience.


We’ve been hearing for years that someday more people will be accessing the web via mobile phones.  Well, someday has arrived.  According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project study from two years ago, 28% of Americans access the web primarily from their mobile phones.  And 68% of American smartphone users access the web via their smartphones every day.  And this is in the US, where broadband mobile penetration is growing slower than in Africa and Asia.


Cisco estimated in 2011 that the sum of all video content will make up 86% of internet traffic by the year 2016.  When I visit a web site to learn about something, my first instinct now it to look for a 2-minute intro or example video.  Video is increasingly a big deal.


When I talk about immediacy, what I’m really referring to is the low latency of internet-delivered content.  That means that people are figuring out how to deliver content is ways that don’t make you wait around, watching the content load.  Our attention spans are being conditioned to this kind of experience. Designers and developers will continue to push forward our expectations for a low-latency experience.

Where it’s all leading

So when you smash these trends together, what do you get?  The potential for some very interesting stuff.  I think we’re going to see immersive content that blends video with vector-based artwork that we’ll experience on mobile devices (tablets, phablets, Google glass, etc.).  Essentially, we’ll be able to watch little pieces of non-square video in cartoon-like worlds that load quickly on mobile devices in immersive viewing formats.

How will this happen?  That’s the interesting part.  I think it’ll be achieved using HTML5 (or its successor language).  Right now, HTML5 has canvas tags for displaying video content without using a browser plugin.  I predict that these tags will take on more and more attributes, and we’ll start to see blends of little pieces of video, along with vector-style artwork.  Vector is low-latency, and video is rich in experience.

This will happen in much the same way that javascript went from a language for adding simple interactivity to web sites (like a simple submit button) to a full-blown webapp-programming framework (that render products like Gmail).  I don’t think anyone expected the complexity, or the code libraries and other support tools, that we’ve seen emerge from javascript, which started as a more basic programming tool.

In the same way, HTML5 (and its offspring) will bring us some very interesting experiences in the future.  Ever wanted to live in a cartoon?  You may get that chance in the future.