Friday, December 18, 2009

Something practical that you can do for the holidays. (Please help)






Did you know that 1 out of every 6 people on the planet does not have access to clean drinking water? That totals up to 1 BILLION people. Furthermore, every night 800,000,000 people go to sleep hungry because of lack of enough food. Those are staggering figures, I know. And it is often just too difficult to wrap your mind around something that big.

How would you like to do your part to make a dent in those figures?

I didn't want to use any pictures of the starving child by a dry well, because I don't want to GUILT anyone into contributing. But I do want to talk about a very serious subject and tell you about a way that you can make a big difference. So hear me out, and just think it over.

Like I said, 1 out of every 6 people on the planet do not have access to clean water. This, and the lack of proper sanitation kills 3,975 children every single day. This lack of clean water also results in horrible diseases for both children and adults. Never mind the results of not getting enough food.
The odd thing is, there actually is plenty of food and water for everyone on the planet. In fact, America alone grows enough food to make the whole world fat. (I should know.) The problem is the infrastructure and lack of proper distribution of the resources.

Well, I'm going to give you the chance to change some of that for an entire community. You see, my friends Tom & Deb are working on raising enough funds to purchase a well for a community of 150 people. This will give the entire village clean drinking water for years and years to come. They are doing this as a memorial for their son, Ian, who passed away this past year from a brain tumor.
I have long thought that "Christians" in America are good at Talking about the Gospel, but we are often pretty lousy at living it out. (And I include myself among the guilty.) I contend that you can't really have any type of true faith unless you are willing to put that faith into action. What Believers do in this world is the witness of Christ in their lives. Without some actual "Orthopraxy" (Right Actions), then all of your "Orthodoxy" (Right Thinking) doesn't really mean a hill of beans. So here is a chance to live out your faith a little.

Actually, I'll just let Deb explain it herself. This is from an e-mail that she sent to a bunch of us.

Until Ian got sick, we were “blissfully unaware” of the suffering that much of the world lives with on a daily basis. We understand all too well that some things cannot be changed; they must somehow be accepted. But we have hope and feel drawn to enter into the circumstances that can be changed. One of the things we’ve felt our hearts drawn to is children who die of preventable causes – like hunger and lack of clean water.

To mark what would have been Ian’s 8th birthday on July 19th, 46 of us went to Feed My Starving Children and packaged 14,400 meals in two hours. That was enough to save the lives of 38 children for one year! We were delighted that the parents of these 38 children wouldn’t have to walk in our footsteps – at least not this year.

We have long supported World Vision and when we received their Christmas Gift Catalog this year our hearts were drawn toward the idea of supplying Clean Water. Lack of clean water and proper sanitation kills 3,975 children every day – that too is something that can be changed.

Before the year anniversary of Ian’s homegoing, on February 19th we hope to raise enough money to provide a Traditional Well for a community. It would allow 150 people to have safe water everyday for years and could cut that communities child death rate in half.

We can’t do this alone…so we’re humbling asking for your help. If you would like to help, here are some ways:

  • Download a brochure, print a few copies out, and share them with people you think would be interested in helping. Note - it is a double –sided brochure.
  • Most importantly: Pray that God would use this opportunity to show an entire community in a very real and practical way that Jesus loves them.

Thanks for considering joining us in this life-giving effort! Have a Wonderful Christmas!

Tom & Deb Henderson


The target is to raise $2,600, and the good news is that they are already 25% of the way there. Please don't think that you have to give an arm or a leg...any amount is welcome. Also, please don't think that God will make you a millionaire just because you give money to a ministry. (Like some crazy preachers say) But you might just put a smile on Jesus' face, and you have to admit that that would be pretty cool.

Peace

Joe
P.S. Do me a favor and spread the word about this. I think it would be AWESOME if tons of folks got involved in this.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hanukkah: Why Jesus had a dreidel when he was a kid.


I was running some errands this morning and NPR had a program on titled "Hanukkah Lights." I had forgotten that this evening is the beginning of Hanukkah. So I drove over to Fishman's Market & Deli in St. Louis Park. St. Louis Park is heavily populated with Jewish folks, so it makes sense that there would be a kosher market in the hood. I had never been in there before, and had always been curious. So why not?

It reminded me a bit of living in Jerusalem. There were numerous accents being spoken, and lots of guys with yamakas & long black coats. I bought some potato pancakes, tehina and some hanukkah snacks.
The city of S.L.P. used to have a big menorah next to the bridge across Hwy. 100 that they would light up. I didn't see it this year or the last. I hope they didn't take it down out of some P.C. nonsense. It was a part of the tradition of the season and I liked it.

Unless you are jewish you might not know much about hanukkah. So I shall now school you on it. But first I want to point out something that almost no one knows about. Hanukkah is mentioned in the New Testament AND Jesus celebrated it. This would make a lot of sense since he is jewish and grew up in Israel.
In John's Gospel, chapter 10:22 it says "Then came the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade." Well guess what? The Feast of the Dedication IS Hanukkah.

For those of you who have only a foggy idea of what it is, Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה) also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C. It is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calander, and may occur from late November to late December on the Gregorian calander...which is the one that we use.

The festival is observed by the lighting of candles on the nine-branched Menorah. One additional light for each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. An extra light called a Shamash (Guard) is also lit each night for the purpose of lighting the others, and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The "shamash" symbolically supplies light that may be used for some secular purpose.

The history around all of this goes like this: Around 200 BC Jews lived as an autonomous people in Israel/Judea, which was controlled by the Seleucid king of Syria. (Alexander the Great had conquered everything in the region, and when he kicked the bucket his empire was essentially split into 4 different kingdoms. This was one of them.)
The Jewish people were originally granted religious freedom but after Antiochus IV got the throne in about 175 BC things got bad. Antiochus called himself "Epiphanes" which meant something like "The Magnificent." Others referred to him as "Epimanes," which basically meant "Nut Job." Under his reign, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BC Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus put up in the Temple. Then they sacrificed pigs on an alter to Zeus.

This was a really, really bad idea. As it turns out, there were plenty of jews who didn't take to kindly to un-clean animals being sacrificed to a pagan god in their sacred temple. So Mattathias, a local priest, and his five sons, led a rebellion against Antiochus. His son Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer"). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BC the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was a success. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted by Judah and his brothers to celebrate this event. After recovering Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. But there was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

So there you have it. A whole new holiday was born. Hanukkah is not one of the High Holy ones that Moses instituted, but it's still important. Did God really work a miracle? I don't know. I wasn't there. But He certainly could have because He just does things like that, you know. I choose to believe it happened.
You can read more about it if you pick up a catholic bible. They have some extra books in there that are not considered Holy Scripture, but still have some value. There is a series in there called the Book of Maccabees. You can also pick up a copy of Flavius Josephus' book "The Antiquities of the Jews," which was written shortly after the failure of another jewish revolt in the late 60's AD. (He is also an-extra biblical source on the existence of Jesus.)

I really think that Believers need to know more about Judaism. We tend to look at Christianity through Grecco-Roman eyes. (That mindset is deeply engrained in our Western culture) However, everything biblical springs right out of Jewish culture. I mean for Pete's sake, Jesus IS the promised Jewish Messiah. He will sit on King David's throne and rule forever. So I think we would do well to understand our roots more.

After I post this I am going to put up my little Hanukkah stick-ums on my window. It's my little shout out to a little boy who played with a dreidel up in Nazareth a long time ago. He grew up to make the biggest difference in the whole wide world. OY!

Happy Hanukkah!

Joe

P.S. One more word about King David. He is largely responsible for most of the Psalms, and was quite the musician. Bono, of U2, says that King David was the Elvis of the Ancient World. Awesome!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Hope mixed with Podcasts


I know that it has been almost a month before I got around to posting anything on the blog, and I did get a few complaints about that. I'll explain more about those weeks and the frustration I was dealing with in a future post. Today I just wanted to cover two things.

First: The the first real rays of hope that I've had as to getting back into a classroom.

Second: I thought I would put out a list of podcasts that I enjoy & have helped to keep me sane over this past year.

I dropped off my application today to a school that I worked at before. (Not full-time. I was a "Para", a teaching assistant working with kids with Special Needs) Last week I sent in an app. to another district. I have some connections to both schools...and that is ultimately what makes all of the difference. So for once, I actually have a shot at getting an interview. If I can get that, I now I can sell myself.
Now, there are some downsides to both potential jobs. Saying "Yes" to either of them does mean taking a leap of faith. Either choice puts my fall-back option of working at the grocery store in jeopardy. (Not that I wouldn't be happy to say "Good bye," but I need that just in case.) The store is essentially under new management, and they would be more than happy to see people like me, who earn the top wage that part-timers can earn under the Union contract, go away. They have made it pretty clear that whether or not we have Union cards, they won't hire us back. So...
Either way, those of you who pray, I would ask you to pray for me and this situation. I'm desperate to get on with my life and get back in a classroom. I actually feel like I finally have some hope after a long, long time of wandering.


Alright, on to my free gift to you all.

The following are links to various sites that podcast. I'll split them up into Religious (I hate that term) and Secular...with an explanation as to what they put out. If you have never subscribed to any podcast before, no need to fret. It's a lot easier than it seems. All of them will end up in your I-tunes anyway. From there you can put them in your MP3 player, I-pod or even burn them to a CD.

Christian Spirituality: (I like that term much better.)
#1. http://www.marshill.org/ <--- this is the church that Rob Bell & others preach at. Their podcasts only go back to the past 12 weeks. I HIGHLY recommend this site. Just go to the "Teaching & Worship" page and you will see the link.

#2. http://rockbridgecommunity.org/information/staff/1/ <--- this is a site that my friend Abe turned me onto. The Lead Pastor is a guy named Matt Evans. You will have to put up with his Southern accent, but once you get over that it's really good stuff. Just go to "Watch & Listen" to find the downloads. (I particularly liked his sermon titled "Losing my Religion.") Thanks Abe.

#3. http://www.scumoftheearth.net/ <--- this is a worship center in Denver, CO. It was started by the members of Christian Punk band. (Hey folks, Jesus is big enough for everyone, and one size does not fit all) I've downloaded their stuff but haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. My friend Tyson worships there, and I trust his heart & judgement.


Semi-Secular (Hybrid):
#1. http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/ <---- this is a program produced by Minnesota Public Radio (Yay for us!), and is probably the most Pro-Religious program on the air. I say Religious because it certainly isn't only about Christianity. Krista Tippet, the host, interviews folks from across the spectrums of Faith. I bring this site up because I think it is extremely important to be well informed. If you are a Believer, you have no excuse for not attempting to understand (In humility) someone else's point of view if you expect to be an effective witness to them. God gave you a brain for a reason, and I certainly believe that Jesus expects you to make full use of it.
I will say this, Krista Tippet has done some absolutely outstanding interviews with the likes of Christian thinkers such as Chuck Colson, Gregg Boyd & Richard Cizik. For some odd reason, the way she interviews these Believers, the folks who listen to them get a much clearer understanding of proper, orthodox Christianity then they would by listening to most of the weirdo preachers on the T.V.
My personal recommendation is to search for her interview with Richard Cizik, the former V.P. of the National Assc. of Evangelicals. (It's towards the bottom on the I-tunes link) It's titled "The Evolution of American Evangelicalism" from April 12, 2007. Believe it or not, this interview cost him his job. The Religious Right didn't like it...so you listen and decide for yourself...I mean it.

Secular: Interesting and just for fun.
#1. http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/ <---- Did you find science boring as a kid? Then this site is for you. I don't know how these guys do it, but they make science hysterical, fascinating and amazing. You can download all of their stuff straight from their main page too. Listen to the show titled "Parasites" and you will learn how John D. Rockefeller is largely responsible for the invention of the Outhouse, and how cats cause Schizophrenia in humans. (I always knew that cats were the spawn of Satan.) Trust me, this is good stuff.

#2. http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_detail.php?siteId=5183214 <----Think you know the news? Try this weekly quiz. (I linked you straight to the podcast page)

#3. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/ <----- if you are a huge fan of Dr. James Kennedy, Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell, AND find that you need copious amount of extra fiber in your diet to take care of business...if you know what I mean, well this site isn't for you. However, if you like to be challenged by great stories (Some of which are very Pro-Believer), hear readings from great & incredibly funny writers then listen to it.
Most of what This American Life puts out does tilt to the Left. But I have to say that they really make me think...and laugh! And thinking is something that most people don't do enough of these days.

SO, there is my list of my favorite podcasts for you to peruse. If nothing else, do take a look at the Mars Hill site...you won't regret it. Also, if you have some podcasts that you think I would like, PLEASE let me know.

Peace

Joe

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Poor in Spirit" at Cub Foods.



The strangest thing happened at work tonight. I realized that Jesus has been doing something new & fresh in me that I simply had not noticed before...but I am so thankful for now.

The story goes like this; I was trying to change the garbages last night when some of the gals who work in the Deli pointed out a guy who was munching away at the Taco bar...without having paid for his food. In other words, he was shoplifting.
So I went over to this fellow and explained in a nice, calm voice that he really needed to pay for his food first. When he opened his mouth to speak he just about caused my nose hair to melt. He was extremely & sloppily drunk.

Now, I want to explain a few things about myself before I continue. First off, I used to have a volcanic temper...mostly when I was a teen. There are a few things that still can cause me to pop a bolt. This guys situation is one of them. I've been hit by a drunk driver before, so I have little sympathy for people who go out drunk in public. Secondly, I don't like thieves very much either. Thirdly, one of my weak spots comes in the area of "Justice/In-justice." I don't like seeing bad people get away with stuff. I tend to enjoy seeing bad people humiliated in public...or worse. In the past, and other folks at the store can bare witness to this, I have furiously confronted thieves at our store, and I would even be looking for a fight.

Tonight something odd happened that I simply cannot claim as my own doing. As soon as I confronted this guy a thought popped into my head. "This man is Poor in Spirit." When that thought popped into my head everything changed. (I'll explain more about that a bit later) I found myself reverting to my old Teacher Voice that I used in my classroom working with "At-Risk" kids. I kept my voice calm and sympathetic...I actually WAS genuinely sympathetic, which is not in my nature, and thought out how I/we were going to get this guy up the stairs and into the office until the cops could get to the store.
It took a group of us to get him up there, and even to keep him there. Once in the office, the drunk guy wanted to fight a few of us. He was a big guy too...drunk, but still big. It was 5 on 1, so we would have taken him. (Still an elbow to the nose hurts regardless of the victory.) But my heart really hurt for this guy, so I just kept talking calmly to him. He settled down enough that there was no violence. The cops finally came and he was taken away to sleep it all off. I was relieved because I honestly worried that if he had simply walked out, he would have passed out somewhere and froze to death. I think it's possible that I might actually have saved his life.

Here's the facts though. That type of pity, sympathy, what have you, is simply NOT LIKE ME! Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have cared all that much what became of him. "Hey, you go out drunk, pass out and freeze to death, GOOD! The world will be better off without you." But all I could think about is "This man is poor is spirit."

When Jesus began his epic speech on the mountain, he began it with an announcement. He said "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In the Greek, the word for Blessed has the very large concept of "God is on the side of..." So, God is on the side of the poor in spirit. Being poor in spirit is NOT a good thing. In fact, it's really bad. In essence, being poor in spirit means you are a complete & utter LOSER! And yet Jesus claimed that God was on the side of all losers, the thieves, the drunks, the addicted, the unfaithful, the un-religious, the liars...and so on. God doesn't want people to stay in that situation, but His blessing is already theirs.
That sounds very counterintuitive, but I think it's true. No one can EARN God's grace. He extends it to all of us because that's just what God does. The question is whether you will receive it or not.

The following is a link to the Mars Hill church in Michigan. I highly recommend that you subscribe to their podcasts. It's easy enough. It will ultimately take you to your ITunes download thingy. This is where Rob Bell preaches. Anyway, search for the sermon "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and download it. (It was preached on 9/13/09...if that helps) I promise that you won't regret it. I have never heard anything like it before. I can't listen to it with out crying.


Heck, if you can't download it, contact me and I'll just mail you a copy.

I suppose the point of all of this is how much Jesus has changed me over these past few years. I'm quite a jerk much of the time. In fact, according to a fellow employee I am at present an "Ass." Still, tonight something good happened, and I can't claim credit for it. I really believe that Jesus opened my eyes for a brief moment and showed me how he sees a drunken thief. Jesus doesn't look at that man with contempt or hate. He looks at that man in pity and love. I am very thankful that Jesus showed me his worldview for a moment.
I am far from perfect. I can be a jerk. I get frustrated because I am currently not teaching. Still, I have to confess that over these past two years of not being in a classroom, and essentially stewing in a grocery store, it has afforded me time to work on what really matters. Thanks to people like my friends Tom, Abe, Pastor Scott, the guys in my "Heart of Warrior" group, the folks at Living Waters, authors like Don Miller & Brennan Manning...and even speakers like Rob Bell, Jesus has drawn me closer to him. I find that in some very odd ways my worldview is being transformed more into his worldview.

I would not trade that for the world.

Peace

Joe


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween


I meant to write this yesterday, but after I got home from work my head was so stuffed that all I wanted to do was sleep. You see, for Halloween at the grocery store we set up a spook house for the little kids in the area. The parents can bring their kids down and have a bit of fun. Plus, after braving our incredibly terrifying spook house, the tots get a bag of candy. It's fun and safe...and hopefully the folks will spend some money on groceries.
Since we had to use the cart room for the spook house, my task was to stand outside and hand out carts to the customers. It was cold. I had to stand relatively still for many, many hours, so I wasn't working up any body heat. By the end of the day my head felt like a balloon. Hence, no topical post.

I grew up in Sacramento, California. The weather in October is significantly different in Sacramento than it is here in the Twin Cities. As a little kid, Halloween in Cali was a blast. The whole neighborhood got into it and decked out their houses. My mom was a genius at coming up with the coolest home made costumes. One year she designed one that looked just like our dog...snout and all. One year I got to be a space alien and was wrapped head to toe in tinfoil. (I wouldn't recommend that. The foil rips easily, and in the mean time you sweat like a maniac.) It was fun. How could a little kid not enjoy something like that?
(Oddly enough, since I have never had much of a sweet tooth, %90 of my candy would still be around come Easter. %90 of my Easter candy would still be their for the next Halloween, too.)
Flash forward to my first Halloween in Minnesota. I was psyched to deck out the yard, and totally get into it all. I had bought some dry ice and was going to build a steaming moat by our front door. To my surprise, the weather dropped to about 34 degrees that evening. So much for decking out the yard. Let's face it, Halloween in Minnesota kind of stinks.

I had another surprise to come my way after I tried to combine Minnesota with Halloween. I asked my church Youth Group if we were going to have a Halloween party and all I got were dirty looks. I was told a variation of "We don't do that. We have Harvest Festivals." They were essentially the same thing, just a different title. (So who are we really fooling?)
Years later, when I was a Youth Director at a church, I decided to have a Halloween party. The day of the sleepover, a mother called me up to protest the party. She told me that Halloween is Satan's day. If I held that party, I would be honoring Lucifer. Believe it or not, this was one of the rare occasions where I actually held my tongue. (Shocking, I know.) I suppose it didn't help that I had rented the demonically inspired movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," to be viewed by gullible teenagers. (I still highly recommend that movie if you enjoy kitsch.)
All these years later, I now understand that Halloween has some less-than-honorable origins. In fact, a friend of mine sent me a link to explain why his family won't be "Celebrating" Halloween anymore. Take a look if you so desire.

If you happen to be a practitioner of Wicca (White Witchcraft), or any other neo-pagan religion, Halloween is a special day for you. I was told by some Wiccans I met years ago, that on Halloween you are supposed to dance naked around a bonfire. If that is the case, I highly recommend moving to Sacramento for said nude dancing. Dancing in the buff at Halloween in Minnesota is a tough go. Instead, I would strongly suggest conversion. Jesus never forces anyone to dance if they don't feel like it. In fact, the last Believer to show any skin while dancing for the Lord was King David.

Now I don't want to ruffle anyone's feathers, but I would like to toss my own two cents in about Halloween. Even as a little kid I had a gut level understanding of the difference between religious, national and secular holidays. For me, Halloween was nothing more than a chance for parents to show off the costumes that had for their kids, and for kids to play with their friends and get candy for doing so. In my case, it was also a chance to revel in the mythology of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Great Pumpkin. When I was 11, I actually snuck off to run through a construction site and re-enact the WW1 Flying Ace's escape from behind enemy lines. I never, in any way, thought there was anything more to it than that...certainly nothing that had celtic/pagan religious undertones to it.
To this day, Halloween doesn't bother me. Like any day of the year, it is what you make it. I am of the opinion that no day of the year belongs to Satan, unless you choose to hand it over to him. I must confess that what I wanted to say to that mother who called to protest the party went something like this; "Well, if you want to worship the devil on Halloween, I suppose you can. But I think I'll stick with Jesus." Yes, I am glad I bit my tongue.
I have never "Celebrated" Halloween. I don't celebrate Labor Day, either. I participate in the fun, but I don't celebrate it. I celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Independence Day, because they hold significance for me. Halloween is just a fun excuse to eat a lot of chocolate and T.P. my friend's houses.

All of that having been said, if you are a parent who is feeling mixed about all of this, (Your kids want to have some fun. You have some fond memories from your own youth. But you know some Pharisees who will condemn you for allowing your child to dress up as Spiderman.) then I have some help for you.
On Halloween, you can also celebrate "Reformation Day." You see, it was back on that date in 1517 that Martin Luther first tacked the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, thus sparking the Protestant Reformation. I had a professor at Bethel College who did that. Everyone who came to his house for the party had to dress up as monks, nuns, popes, etc. GENIUS!
Imagine yourself dressed as the corrupt Pope, Leo X. (He really was a money grubbing swine. So you could adorn yourself with lots of "Bling.") Your kids could all by Dominican monks who march behind you down the street. The costuming is easy, because Dominicans all wear black robes. So, grab your bathrobe and you're all set. Ta Da!
Also, a thought for dolling out the candy to those who knock on your door. Be generous! In fact, get the big candy bars, or wrap a bunch of small ones up in a baggy. Tape to the bars, or insert in the baggies, a few Scripture verses. Odds are that the kids will actually read them if they know that it came from "That generous family." If you simply toss a tract, ESPECIALLY one written by that nut-job Jack Chic, in with no candy, those kids will throw it away. Hopefully, they will also come back and egg your house. Because you deserve it...jerk!

There is an old song by a guy named Keith Green. It's called "To Obey is better than Sacrifice." The next time someone tells you that such and such date is Holy, or that another date belongs to Satan, remind yourself of these verses. It's written from the perspective of God talking to humans.

"To obey is better than sacrifice
I don't need your money
I want your life
To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights
Cause if you can't come to Me every day
Then don't bother coming at all"

Every day belongs to Jesus, whether you get candy with it or not

Peace

Joe

Thursday, October 29, 2009

That "Vision Thing"


I've really been stymied for the past two weeks. It's been very frustrating for me. Plus, the enemy has taken full advantage of my frustration.

Two weeks ago at my Focus of a Warrior meeting we were given the next level of assignment for our group. I had been playing "Catch-Up" with the homework for a while. (Ever since I joined this group Satan has been working over time to fill me with self-doubt and distractions. It often feels like I am wading through a swamp waste deep) I had caught up and was feeling relatively good about it all. Then we got this assignment.
"Vision is the ability to see God's preferable future," so says the manuel we are using. We are supposed to figure out our Personal Vision for our lives. Oh great! Like I can flip a switch and figure that one out in two weeks. I've been trying to figure that out for years and I keep coming up empty.
I'm going to list the questions that are supposed to help me figure this out. If any of you have any suggestions as to how I ought to answer them, please let me know. I have no problem asking for help when it comes to something like this.

#1. The people & circumstances that have most shaped my life are...

#2. When I think of ministry in the future, the area of ministry (Advancing the Kingdom of God) I would love to concentrate upon ________________. Why?

#3. The qualities of character I most admire and desire for God to shape into my life are ______________________. Why?

#4. People who know me well believe I am most used by God when I am involved in _______________________. Why? (I could really use some help with this one.)

#5. My activities that contribute most to God's kingdom are ________________. Why?

#6. From the perspective of my personal life, my activities that I feel are making the greatest contribution to God's kingdom are _________________________. Why?

#7. Though I may have dismissed the thought many times for various reasons, at times I have felt that I really should be doing _______________________. Why?

#8. When people talk about a passion for ministry, I often begin to think about giving my life to accomplishing _______________________. Why?

Just eight questions. You think that would be easy. Instead, it's virtually crippled me over the last two weeks.

I have some personality problems that I wrestle with. For starters, I have felt like an Outsider my entire life. Always an observer, never a participant. That's actually had some good benefits, but I still never feel truly connected as a result. I tend to think so far outside the box that I kind of forget what a box even looks like at times. That tends not to sit very well in a world that values conformity.
The second is that I am filled with self-doubt and have a heavy guilt complex. (Is that because I am Baptist, Scandinavian or both?) I tend not to trust much of what comes into my head. Needless to say, Satan takes full advantage of the guilt complex. He loves to whisper into my ear.

A couple of things that I do know about myself: I am extremely creative...and I mean extremely! Most of the time when I am trying to create something, it is just to see if I CAN. I also have a very high level of curiosity. That's gotten me into some trouble, but it's also served me well. Finally, I have a very high tolerance for controversy, and am not easily shocked by outrageous behavior. (This is a result of working with At-Risk kids for 3 years. Probably the best education I have ever had. I can't get over how much they taught me.)
A couple of other things that I do have a passion for: I love education and teaching. I love the intellectual give & take. I love to learn something new everyday. I also love the sovereign mystery of God, and the centrality of Jesus.
I also like teens and young adults...especially if they are the oddballs. (I used to refer to my former students as the Island of Misfit Toys.) Honestly, how can anyone not like teenagers? They are just so incredibly entertaining. No offense to any teenager that might read this, but the fact of the matter is that you are all a bunch of massive Posers! You have such amazing enthusiasm for so much in life, and yet you are virtually clueless as to how to handle it. I just can't help but enjoy watching that and working with them.

Last weekend I got a call from the mother of one of my former students. I haven't seen this kid in almost 2 years. His Mom said that he still talks about me all the time, and was wondering if we could get together. He is having some troubles in school and was wondering if I could talk to him?
(This kid is a great kid. He has massive ADHD apparently. Once, he brought brass knuckles to school by mistake...he didn't even remember where he had found them. They fell out of his pants in a classroom and he was expelled. I tried to protect him. I got in serious trouble...possibly the reason I was denied tenure. They tell you to be an Advocate for your students, but most administrators don't really mean it. This one in particular had gone out of her way to earn my DISrespect. So be it. I believed in this kid. I still do.)
So anyway, after all this time this kid still thinks about me as being the one teacher who made a connection with him. Honestly, I'm not certain why that is. I have no magic wand. I wish I did. What I do have is a very strong conviction that every person on this planet has potential to make a positive contribution in this world. Sadly, I know that many, if not most, will not live up to that potential. But I still believe it with all of my heart.
I also learned something from my Shrink many years ago. What you hold in the forefront of your mind towards another person, they WILL pick up on it and live up to it. Call is ESP, call it a Vibe you transmit, call it the Spirit World, whatever. If you think negative thoughts towards others...that they are stupid, worthless, whatever, don't be surprised that those folks fulfill your expectations. So with that in mind, I would always search for any good qualities and skills that any student of mine had. That is what I held in the forefront of my mind. It took some serious self-discipline to make that a habit, but it finally stuck. And, to be honest, it was a lot easier with some to find the good stuff than it was for others.

ANYWAY, this call from my former student's Mom was a bit of a confirmation as to where I ought to be thinking about God's vision for my life.

All of that having been said, I have developed a very blurred vision of what God might wish for me. #1. I would really like to stay in some area of education. #2. I would really like to try and combine that with ministry in some way. #3. I am good with teens and young adults...especially if they are oddballs.
I am an oddball. That is fairly obvious to anyone who knows me. Always feeling like an outsider? Well, maybe that will serve me well with whoever I have to work with and minister too. I just get a feeling that I was meant to work in a niche that most others could not fill.

What is driving me crazy is that my gut tells me that all of my present circumstances are keeping me here until I figure out this whole "Vision Thing." I've been in the holding pattern for almost two years now. I hate it. I want to get on with what God wants me to do with my life. I don't care about making a ton of money. (Although, after 2 years of living in poverty, it would be nice to get a little bump up at least) I could care less about fame. I just want to fulfill my destiny by doing what God desires and advancing the kingdom. That is really all I want. And it feels like until I can figure out this Vision Thing, I am going to be stuck here spinning in circles. All of the job enquiries, all of the applications, all of the searching mean nothing. I desperately want to know what God's desire is. I KNOW that it is there! I just beg Him to reveal it to me. (I would also like to have it confirmed by others, because as I said before, I tend not to trust my own judgement)

If any reader would like to pray about this for me, I'd sure appreciate it. I don't even care if you aren't a Believer. Pray anyway. It's hardly as if the God of the Universe is deaf!

Last Sunday at Living Waters, Pastor Scott began a series on Prayer. He spoke about how we can approach the throne of Christ in Confidence & Expectancy. When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, he ended his teaching with some stories. (Jesus loves to tell stories. I think it is hard-wired into the human brain to love a good story.) Then he encouraged his followers by saying;
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For EVERYONE who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door WILL be opened."
A caution about that; some people pray very selfishly. They pray for material things as a luxury, and things like that. I don't see how that would honor God, and I certainly do not see any reason He should answer such a thing in a positive fashion.

Pastor Scott said something that I thought was brilliant. He said that a lot of the time people honestly don't KNOW what to pray for or about. I don't think that there are too many folks at Living Waters that would want to pray in a selfish manner. But sometimes you worry about what it is right & proper to pray for. So Scott said, "Ask yourself What Would Jesus Pray For?" Would Jesus pray for a healthy & loving marriage? Would he pray for reconciliation & peace? Of course he would.
Would Jesus pray that I would know his will for my life and what the next steps are for me? I am certain of it! Would he pray that I keep on working to clean up the selfish & self-destructive areas of my life that keep me from following him fully? Yeah, I'm guessing he would.
So, I would like to pray that in confidence. I would certainly ask that you pray that for me too.
It is so strange to look back on my life thus far. More often than not, I see a perfectly straight line. A perfect road through all of the good & bad. A path that God led me down to shape me into a worker who can do a task, an assignment, that only I can do, because it was His good pleasure to show his glory & peace to a hurting world through some imperfect act of obedience on my part. But when I look forward, it always seems to be a haze.
Whenever He finally reveals His vision for me, I truly believe that the doors will be thrown wide open for my next step. Most likely, knowing my weird life, it will come straight at me and be an almost complete surprise.
Until then, I suppose my main task is to continue to wait upon His timing and just keep asking & seeking. I will not knock on the door. I will pound on it until my fists are bloody. I am sooooooooo hungry to know.

Peace

Joe.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Theology of YouTube & Why I want to be a Heretic.



     


     


Well, I was hoping to go out tonight to a comedy event with my friends.  However, I still have the tail end of this darn cold lingering.  I would feel awful if I gave it to my friends.  Plus, I have to go to the cabin tomorrow and pull in the dock for the winter.  I need to sleep and regain my strength.
     I rarely get sick, and when I do it doesn't last long or do much more than annoy me.  But this cold has been a whopper.  I never had one like it in my life.  It sucked so much energy out of me, that when I was cleaning the house today I had to lay down and take a nap for a while.  I was sweating and exhausted.  So my advice to everyone is to wash their hands and eat plenty of apples.  Since I have to take it easy, I figured I would try and do some writing.

     A friend of mine linked a blog to me today.  I liked it.  As I scrolled down I came across a recent news report about a church in North Carolina.  Take a look at it.



      So what do you think?  Another black eye for Jesus?  It certainly is a novel way to celebrate Halloween.  I like the idea of BBQ.

     Now, if you think that this is the only one like this out there on YouTube, you're kidding yourself.  There are scads of them.  Each one calling a Believer a Heretic for one reason or another.  A good deal of them have to do with someone NOT using the King James' version of the Bible.  I mean, after all it IS the Authorized version, isn't it?
     Just so you know something that most of these folks don't, or at least don't get...the Bible was not originally written in English. (Shocking, I know.) The Old Testament was written primarily in ancient Hebrew.  The New Testament was written primarily in Koine Greek. (Koine was the Common Language that was used by the people in the eastern half of the Roman Empire.  It was not the fancy, classical Greek of scholars & orators.  This makes the New Testament a one of a kind book for it's time)
     All the various translations that are out there are the attempt of Biblical scholars to put the ancient words into a modern tongue that we can understand.  Some are better than others, and most of them have distinct purposes for a particular translation.  I like the NIV myself.  If I want to study the text a bit more in depth, I will use the NAS.  Either way, I always have to take into account the Greek & Hebrew words that were used.
     I also found a newer version that pushes the numbers & chapters over to the side, which makes for a very refreshing read. (When originally written, the Bible had no chapters or verses in it, just so you know) It's called The Message, and it was translated by Eugene Peterson.  It's written in very contemporary English.  I wouldn't use it for in depth studying.  But it's a lot of fun to use as a comparison.   Here's a link to his homepage if you want to know more about him.
     
     The reason that the King James' version is called the Authorized version, is because it was the first English translation that was legal.  There had been earlier translations, but this one was actually authorized by the King of England.  Some of these folks actually think that when they see the word Authorized, it comes from God or something like that.  Talk about not doing your homework.  By the way, most historians are convinced that King James was also gay.  Whoopie!

     You can go all over the internet and find websites stating that so & so is a Heretic, and will burn in hell for it.  Every single one of these sites are filled with all manner of legalistic, man made, Pharisaic nonsense.  "You gotta do this to be saved.  You gotta jump through these hoops here.  Blah, blah, blah."  All these folks are sure that they will be the only ones in heaven. 
     In fact, one of my favorite sites is Apostasy Alert.  They have a list on one of their pages that states who is a Heretic.  This list includes Amy Grant, Bill Hybles, Bill and Gloria Gaither, (Maybe they just don't like Old-Time Gospel music.) Billy Graham?!?!, Chuck Swindoll, Gordon MacDonald, Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter, (Because obviously no Democrat can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.) John Maxwell, Joni Eareckson Tada, (Maybe they hate handicapped people too.) Madeleine L'Engle, Max Lucado, Michael Card, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Rick Warren, (Could you get more Vanilla than that?), Tony Campolo and Brennan Manning. 
     I didn't include all of the list.  It's long.  I also found myself agreeing with a couple of the names they chose.  :)
     Now, if you are unfamiliar with most of these names, it's O.K.  Trust me, these folks love Jesus deeply, and they lives their lives as a testament to their love for him.  It doesn't mean that you have to agree with every single item that they believe.  I never totally agree with any theologian on every tiny iota.  So what?  What matters to me is that they love Jesus with all their heart.

     There is a preacher out in Seattle named Mark Driscoll.  He is a bit to much of a Calvinist for me, but so what?  He has a great ministry through Mars Hill church in a city that is the least evangelized of all large American cities.  Apparently, he also cusses in the pulpit from time to time.  I find that oddly commendable.

     (Check him out on YouTube.  Once a month or so for the evening service, he will have a free-form discussion about sex.  Remember, Seattle is very un-churched, so many Seekers have very raw and blunt questions to ask.  Pastor Mark will take any & all questions completely unrehearsed and try to answer them with Scripture.  It's pretty blunt stuff.  But I find it wonderful that a Believer is willing to step up to the plate and try and tackle stuff that would make most uncomfortable.)
 
     Pastor Mark says that using the word Heretic is like using the word Rape.  You have to be extremely careful about it.  It is a very serious accusation to make.  Most often, or so it seems to me, the people who use that phrase are saying more about themselves, than they are about the people they are judging.

     That having been said, I caught Pastor Mark slipping up just a bit when he was criticizing the book, The Shack, for it's bad theology.  Now a word about The Shack.  It IS controversial, and for good reason.  Apparently quite a few people are using it to understand the concept of the Trinity.  That would be a huge mistake.  It is a work of fiction.  I loved the book, but I wouldn't use it for serious theological study anymore than I would use The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or The Lord of the Rings, even though they have deep Christian ideas interwoven through their stories.  I just recognize it for what it is, and I don't waste energy getting all hot and bothered by it.
   Take a look at his speech, particularly what Pastor Mark has to say about 2 minutes into it.


     Pastor Mark condemns the book because God the Father is portrayed as an African-American woman named Papa.  He goes on to say that it is simply wrong to portray the invisible God, who is Spirit, with any type of image.
     O.K., now watch this next sermon.  Pastor Mark is talking about the Emergent Church movement.  He goes on to question my boy, Rob Bell and a guy like Brian McLaren and their theological motives. (Indeed, some of it is justifiable to question.) Take a close look at Pastor Mark's T-shirt.



      Yes, you saw it.  His T-shirt has Jesus spinning turntables on it.  And not just any Jesus.  We're talking HONKEY JESUS!  Oops.  
     In his defense, Pastor Mark would probably say that you get a little artistic license with Jesus because he is the visible image of the invisible God.  Still, Jesus didn't look like a hippie.  And he certainly wasn't Anglo-Saxon.
     The point of all of this, for me at least, is that Believers ought to recognize each other's commonality in Christ, and rejoice with each other over it.

     Also, if it is true that Billy Graham, Rick Warren, andone of my favorite bands, the Newsboys, plus all those other folks are going to Hell, then I want to be a Heretic too.  I like those folks a lot and I want to hang out with them after this life is over.  They are going to have so many awesome stories to tell.
     Actually, if all of that is true, then Satan is really going to suffer once he finally is tossed into Hell. (No, he is not there now.  The Bible clearly states that he will be judged and sentenced to Hell on the final day of judgement.) Can you imagine him having share eternity with Billy Graham?  All of those Believers talking non-stop about Jesus while Satan has to sit there and listen.  Now that's a punishment.
     Just a thought.

     Peace

     Joe


Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's about time!

     Do you know what is great about having a massive head cold?  Well, actually not that much.  I got hit this past weekend with some strain going around (NO, not that H1N1 flu thing) that made my head feel like a balloon.  I had to skip worship at Living Waters too...which stinks, because that is my favorite time of the week.  All I want to do is sleep and get it out of my system...and it's been 5 days of it!  I actually had to work for 4 days straight with this cold, and out in some rather unpleasant weather at that.  Nope, not that much fun.  But it did give me time to dwell on stuff...especially while sitting in bed and thinking...which I did a lot. (Stupid cold)
   BTW: Have you ever noticed that when you have a Cold, even if you take any type of meds for it, if you go outside in bad weather, your nose still runs like Niagara Falls?  YUK!  Such has been my life over the past few days

SO ANYWAY...TIME

      A guy is talking to God and he asks Him a question.  "God, what is a thousand years like to you?"  God answers, "A thousand years to me is like a minute to you."  The man asks God a second question.  "God, what is a million dollars like to you?"  God answers, "A million dollars to me is a like a penny to you."  The man asks God a third question.  "God, can I have one of your pennies?"  God answers, "Sure, give me a minute." 

     Humans count a day as a 24 hour period.  That being the Earth's rotation on it's axis.  It takes the earth a bit more than 24 hours to to spin around and watch a sunrise & sunset.  It takes the earth roughly 365 days to rotate around the sun.  That's how we measure a year.  This is how humans measure time.  But try thinking about time from God's perspective for a bit.
    "In the beginning" is the opening stanza of the Bible.  If it says in the beginning, what was there before the beginning...in other words, before time began?  That's a hard thing to wrap your mind around.  Well, the answer of course is God.  Which says something about the God of the Bible that makes Him very different than all the other so-called gods out there.

     There are many people who take every word of the Bible, especially the creation stories, as being  literal.  In other words, it means exactly what it says, with no metaphor, allegory, or room for nuance.  I can assure you that if you read the Bible this way you will get yourself into all sorts of trouble theologically.  First and foremost,  you will be yanking the Bible out of it's cultural context.  If you do not read it in it's context, you are simply reading it wrong.
     I can prove that too.  If you take the first creation story as being literal, as in word for word literal, then you have to say that the God of this story needs to take a nap from time to time.  How does the story end?  God rests.  Do you really & truly believe that God actually needs to rest, or at least that he actually did rest for a whole 24 hour period?  That directly contradicts other areas of Scripture that says that God never grows weary, tired or rests.   
     
     When you read this story in it's cultural context, all sorts of amazing things pop out.  The first readers and listeners to this story would have understood instinctively all sorts of stuff that we have lost in our so-called modern age.
     First of all, it is important to understand that the first 5 books of the Bible were written under the stewardship of Moses.  He probably didn't write the whole thing himself because he was a busy guy.  But he certainly had the final edit to them.  These first 5 books are also known as the Torah (Hebrew for the Law.) Before they were written down, these were oral tales and poems told by the ancients.  It is interesting that to this day, the Beduin, who still live much like these ancient peoples in the deserts of Arabia, believe that story telling as poetry is the highest art form.
     The context in which these creation stories were written were to a people who had been enslaved for hundreds of years in Egypt.  As such, they were surrounded by pagan deities.  The Pharaoh himself was considered to be a god.  This first creation story was designed to teach the Hebrews about the one true God, and it is a direct assault on all of the other creation stories and false gods that were out there at the time.
     Check this out, both the sun and the moon were worshipped as gods.  The name of the sun god in Egypt was Ra, or even Khepri or Mut.  The name of the moon god was Khons.  All of the ancient peoples worshipped the sun & moon as gods & goddesses.  
     Now take a look at Genesis 1: 14-19.  The writer of this story says "And God said, let there be lights in the the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark the seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.  And it was so.  God made two great lights - the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.  He also made the stars."
     Do you notice what's missing?  The words Sun & Moon are absent.  Why?  Because the words for them are the names of pagan gods.  Even many of the stars were considered to be gods.  The writer wants to point out that there are no other gods other than this Elohim he is writing about.  Like I said, this story is a direct assault on the pagan worldview of the day.

     Now, something else that this story tells us about this God, He exists outside the boundary of time.  As I stated earlier, we measure time buy the 24 hour rotation of the earth...sunrise and sunset.  Did you notice that this is not created until the 4th day?  You see, we need time.  God doesn't.  He created time for our benefit.

     Think about this for a bit.  Humans are linear creatures.  But we are trapped by time, and not even in a full dimension of it.  We can only move forward in time.  We can't go backwards.  We can't go up, down, right or left in time.  We can only go forward.  So we only have a half-dimensional view of time.  Back in the day, even the pagan gods were considered by their worshippers to be trapped in time.  Some of them even got old and died.  All of them could be killed by other gods.
     What if there was a being that had a three dimensional view of time like we have of space?  Well, that would be God.  Remember the name He gave to Moses when he spoke to him from the burning bush?  God said His name was I AM.  Not I WAS, but I AM.  It is almost as if God exists in the eternal present.  
     God has at least a three dimensional view of time.  I'm not sure how many dimensions are out there, but He probably has a decent understanding of them too.  So with this in mind it is easy to see why God will refer to Himself as the Alpha & Omega, the beginning and the end.

     The comfort that I take in this is that God already knows what I will be up to tomorrow and even next week.  He knows both the sins and the victories of all my tomorrows.  He isn't surprised by anything that I do.  That is why he can extend forgiveness to me over and over again.  He already knows what dumb stuff I will get myself into down the road, even when I don't have the foggiest idea.
     I can't fully grasp any of this.  I know that I have freewill.  But at the same time, God already knows my choices.  God is completely in control, yet I am a free agent.  Funky!  God's sovereignty is really something else.
     This is why I believe that all of the things that happen to us, be it good or bad, and from choices we make or simply by random chance, are tools that God uses to teach us.  He already saw them coming.  We probably didn't.  So He uses them to help us understand and make sense of the world, ourselves and Him.

     Oh yeah, another observation from this creation story.  Apparently, one of the central themes of this story comes with the creation of these various lights.  The purpose of these lights are to serve as signs that mark the days, seasons and years.  How many days in a week?  Seven.  How many Jewish festivals were designated under Moses?  Seven. (I may be off on that, but I'm pretty sure.) Under Moses, every seventh year was to be a Year of Jubilee.  All debts were to be forgiven and such.  In Revelation, how many lamp stands are there in the throne room that represent that the spirit of God?  Seven.  How many churches in Asia did God ask John to write Revelation for?  Seven.
     Some people get a little nutty about numerology in the Bible.  But various numbers did have a particular significance to them.  Seven is considered to be the number of perfection.  Isn't it interesting that the seventh day of the week should be the sabbath.  God models for humans what that day should be like.  He creates for six days.  Then He rests.  Jesus said that the sabbath was made for man.  It's a day to stop material pursuits and just take it easy and have some fun.
     (Oh, it should be pointed out that the sabbath is actually from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown...it's not Sunday.)

     Anyway, rolling about in bed while trying to sleep this cold off gave me time to think...I wasn't able to do much else.  So all of this is what I thought about.  I certainly had the time on my hands.  And now it's time for a shower.

     Peace

     Joe