Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sunday's teaching up and running

More a teaching than a sermon per se, but you can go listen or download it here

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Good quote from a mediocher book.

"For the mos tpart, Jesus poured his life, time, and resources into 12 people.  And over time, after much patience and persistence on his part, that small but mighty group grew to the robust size of . . . well, 11."

Barry Shafer.  Unleashing God's Word in Youth Ministry.  p 137  

Monday, May 18, 2009

Questioning, doubting, and a brief review (Genesis)

Abram doubts.  A lot.  Nearly every step of the way, he questions how the promises of God can be so.  Sometimes he appeals to external evidence, but not often.  Usually it is nothing more than questioning how the promises can be.  In chapter 15, God renews the covenant with Abram (actually, this is technically the beginning of the covenant, but God made promises earlier).  Here's how the conversation goes:

GOD:  Don't be afraid, I am your shield, your very great reward

ABRAM:  how can this be?  i don't even have a child, the most basic blessing.

GOD:  I will give you a son.

ABRAM:  I believe.

GOD:  I will give you this land

ABRAM:  how can I know?  I don't want to get my hopes up

GOD:  I will meet you personally

Abram then gathers a sacrifice and prepares the offering for God.  He sits and waits, and waits, and waits, and waits for it to rain (Silverstein, "Lazy Jane", Where the Sidewalk Ends. [give credit where it is due]).  He chases away birds, which means the carcasses had been there for quite a while.  Sitting in the stench, waiting on God's promises, Abram falls asleep.  God speaks to him in his sleep, explaining that the land won't be immediate, in fact Israel will have to go through hell to get there.  Abram wakes up (assumedly), and sees a firepot and torch floating through camp.  Weird.  God then makes the covenant for land and children official.  

This is the promise Israel's hopes relied on throughout their history.  Every time they were in exile, they clung to this hope.  Every time they were feeling the consequence of their sin, they remembered that day.  Every time they questioned God's answer, he reminded them of when Abram questioned too.  When we doubt, question, and disbelieve, God wants us to remember his promises.

As far as a review goes, Eminem's new album is horrendous.  Not only is the music disinteresting and simplistic, the lyrical content is devoid of all substance.  There was a point at which Eminem rapped about his life, struggles, and hopes.  Now he has been reduced to a pile of hormones driven to find happiness by pursuing meaningless sex.  His honest hunger for truth, identity, and meaning has been temporarily fed at the worldly mcdonald's of sensuality rather than the satiating fountain that is the source of all Truth.  Pray for him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tall, Dark, and Handsome . . . or other mysterious characters (beginnings)

Moving on with the story of Genesis, there are a few key points.  First, Abram finally starts turning his life outward.  When conflict arises between he and his nephew, Abram, who has a right to pick since he is older, gives the choice to Lot.  He is blessed as a result of his faithfulness to God and his promises.  This episode has a back to the future appeal to it, as well.

First, Abram goes back to where he has already encountered God, and built an altar to remember the occasion.  He turns his life outward in seeking for God rather than his own interests.

Lot looks at his immediate surrounding, looking for what will be most helpful to him.  He turns his life inward.  The plain of the Jordan is reminiscent of Eden (and ironically, Egypt), so Lot, who has heard of the garden, chooses that direction. Of course, with this land comes the people who live there.  The men of Sodom and Gomorrah receive a negative report before we even get to know them.

On the other hand, after lot leaves, God rewards Abram for his faithfulness thus far.  He is given the promise of land and offspring (as before).  God reaffirms the previous blessing, though the evidence of that blessing is not yet realized, especially the part about children.  Abram builds an altar as a response.  It's almost as if by going back to the last time he heard God, Abram starts over from his last encounter.

Consequences:  Lot eventually gets captured, and Abram does the rescuing.  The story of the war itself is interesting, but I'm not going to focus on it.  Though consider that the word king might not mean a medieval king who had absolute rule, but the leader of a tribe since society was primarily tribal at that point.  After the rescue, Abram does not turn inward with the treasures, but gives what he already had away.  Here is one of the most perplexing and rich stories in Genesis.  The story of Melchizedek. 

We know nothing of Mel.  He is a priest (which was normal for that time, as every family would probably have had some form of priest).  He is also a king.  The two basically celebrate communion (or the communal meal according to Phyllis Tickle), and Melchizedek blesses Abram.  Abram responds by tithing to Melchizedek, even before the law of tithing has been written.  Here are the first ever described spiritual disciplines.  Mel is to some extent a theophany insofar as he represents the presence of God on earth.  Can you imagine a mysterious figure approaching you after a battle, and then feeling the need to give him your stuff?  Suddenly this encounter ends.

Jesus, of course, is later realized as having the same authority and even more as Melchizedek.  The weird thing about Jesus being a priest king is that Israel's expectation for a Messiah was generally either priestly (religious) or kingly (political), but not both (some believed in two messiahs though).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

If He can use a schmuck like Abram . . . (beginnings)

Since my beloved fountain pen is back, and working in nearly tip top shape (still drying out quickly when not used), I have been writing out Genesis once again.  After working through the prologue/episode 1, we move on to the next story, God's selection of Abram.  The Bible never says anything about why Abram was chosen, other than that he was listening.  In fact, after his first success (going when God said to), Abram royally screws up, but gets a benefit out of it.

Living in the promised land, Abram sets up an altar to the Lord.  Pretty soon a drought comes along, and Abram relies on his own wits.  He moves to Egypt (where the adversity with Egypt starts).  Realize that this book, if recorded by Moses, was written shortly after the Exodus, probably in the middle of the desert.  Abram lies, Egypt gets a plague (foreshadowing much?), Egypt repents, and Abram leaves, wealthier than he came.  This passage messes with me.  Why was Abram blessed for turning his life inward, focusing on his own safety (both in the famine and in Egypt)?  

"God showers blessings on the righteous and the wicked . . . I only know that that covers, covers me".  - Stavesacre.

If God can use Abram, I have hope that he can use me, too.  

P.S.  sorry about the quality of this post, it is really kind of a segway post to the next one (probably tomorrow), that was interrupted by a staff meeting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Twitter survey

Though I can't stand twitter, I find it useful for my own needs.  I keep an eye on a few companies to catch deals through it.  So basically, it's a virtual coupon book for me. 

What do you use twitter for? 
Do you read others' tweets, or primarily send them?
Does it validate your need for social activity?
Is it a community?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday's Sermon

I was given the privilege of teaching at church again, this time on money (make the new guy take the hit ;) ). Actually, I asked to teach this particular topic in this particular series. Had a couple technical difficulties, like the computer making a word jumble out of the book of Exodus, and a few wrong citations, but overall it went well I thought. Here it is

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Unexpected Adventure (review)

Well, thanks to Zondervan, I wasable to once again pre-screen a book due out this month. This book is Lee Strobel's latest, a work co-authored by Mark Mittelberg. It comes out in May, 2009. The Unexpected Adventure is primarily about how to naturally, organically, and intentionally share your faith with others.

It is an evangelistic book, and a very entertaining one at that. Instead of simply giving strategies or analogies to use, Strobel and Mittelburg have a nuanced view of what it means to talk to others about Jesus. I am not much of an evangelist myself, so I found many of the chapters to be very challenging. Each chapter is brief (four or five pages), and is a principle hidden within an anecdote. The vast majority of the book is personal stories from the two authors, who take turns writing chapters, which are expounded on to demonstrate the principle within. It is a very engaging way to promote an idea, through personal testimony. As Tod Hunter said, "people observe their way into the Kingdom."

It is intended to be a six week long book, reading one chapter a day. After about week two, the book becomes repetitive. While I appreciate this approachable view of evangelism, The book simply became dull after a while, because there are three emphases that repeatedly come out: 1) evangelism should be natural, but needs to be practiced to become so. 2) evangelism must come from a base of relationship. 3) You will play one part in the long journey from disbelief to belief, so don't get worked up when someone doesn't commit to Christ then and there.

There are different ways of expressing these points, but they are the keys to the book, and are well-illustrated.

Does the book serve a purpose? Yes. Is the book "inspiring"? More less. Is the book the next hot thing? Maybe within traditional evangelical circles and megachurches, but it's no Shack (tic). If you are specifically looking for a story-based approach to sharing your faith and how to practically do so, it might be worth a look. 4 out of 5 stars simply because it is easily approachable and not dull (for the first half of the book).

I have a dream

I have a dream:

That one day young women will not be judged on the suppleness of their skin or curvaceousness of their bodies, but by the content of their character.

This whole miss USA pageant drives me mad. Why are we nitpicking about gay marriage when we have the women dress in the exact same swimsuit (thus anonymizing them) and flaunt their bodies for thirty seconds. You can't tell much about a girl by gawking at her for a few seconds. It does not promote differentiation of substance (only of the matter that makes up their bodies), nor does it promote creativity, strength, character, or any other "values" of the pageant. The swimsuit competition is purely a ratings grabber, because they couldn't hold men's attention otherwise. The poor girls' bodies are sold, plain and simple.