Wednesday, May 31, 2006
I shopped at Wal-Mart with 3 young children.
"Put that back."
"No, we're not buying that."
"You have to go potty? Wait a minute."
"Put this in the shopping cart for me, OK?"
"You do not run in the store."
To the man behind the deli: "You're out of popcorn chicken?" Youngest child then cries on cue.
"Come back here right now."
"No, stay here."
Is there a more difficult situation where you need the empowerment and fruit of the Holy Spirit?
After I got home and told my wife how stressful the experience was (she took the other car earlier in the day to run errands), she reminded me:
"You were the one who didn't want to stay home with the kids. Taking them along was your idea."
I guess I'm not getting a pity-party.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
The following week, I was back in Newton. And again, I saw the sign. I thought, "That store still seems to be in business, for going out of business."
It reminded me of a time I went into a clothing store a few years ago that had a "going out of business" sign in its window. Inside, there were plenty of customers rummaging about. The cash register was ringing up lots of sales. I even bought a few things. Business was looking pretty good.
When you look at death, it appears to be doing a pretty brisk business. It always gets its customer. It will eventually get you and me. It's only a matter of time. I've seen people skirt death like a cat, but I've never seen a dead person rise. As N.T. Wright says, "It didn't take the philosophers of the Enlightenment to enable people to realize that dead people stay dead."
Over this past Memorial Weekend, we remembered loved ones who died. In fact, I met one couple that decorated graves at six cemeteries in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Lots of communities, like ours, held Memorial Day ceremonies at their local cemeteries.
Death looks like it's very much in business. However, 2,000 years ago, after lying in a grave for 3 days, Jesus rose from the dead. And in that act, God posted a notice on death's store front--"Going Out of Business."
Christ rose first. Eventually, we who believe in Christ will follow.
So if you get frustrated at death's seemingly never ending activity, just remember, it has a sign in it's window.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Friday, May 26, 2006
"But strip away the jargon, drop the element of celebration, and it turns out that conservative opponents of same-sex marriage and some of Europe’s most influential sociologists are saying much the same thing: Same-sex marriage doesn’t reinforce marriage; instead, it upends marriage, and helps build acceptance for a host of other mutually reinforcing changes (like single parenting, parental cohabitation, and multi-partner unions) that only serve to weaken marriage. In short, “the queering of the social” (meaning a broad spectrum of family change, including, but not limited to, same-sex partnerships) calls into question the normativity and naturalness of “heterorelationality” (i.e., traditional marriage)....Although their larger outlook is radical, the need to defend same-sex marriage forces [American sociologists] [William] Eskridge and [Darren] Spedale to deny what European family sociologists (and their American followers) freely confess: instability is the price to be paid for the end of the old family system, and same-sex unions help usher in this new, more unstable regime."
Here's what I think: If the European art world acted with same disdain that European sociologists have toward traditional marriage, they'd take down every old painting in the Louvre, toss them out in the street, put up new works of art, and then say they did it all in the name of tolerance.
Some classics are worth preserving.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
I have two emotions right now. On the on hand, I hope the beast gets whatever is coming to him. If he becomes road kill--or a coyote's dinner--it's his own stupid fault. On the other hand, I miss my dog. He's family. He's always by side (that is, whenever he's in the house; obviously, when he's outside, it's a whole different story).
Wonder if God feels this way sometimes about His creation.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
The story is below and also here with video. It speaks very well for itself. I'll only add that this (and yesterday's story) is a good illustration of Jesus' Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12.
In 1999, Kevin Stephan of Lancaster, New York (pictured above), was a batboy for his little brother's little-league baseball team.
During one game, a player who was warming up accidentally hit Kevin in the chest with a bat. Kevin's heart suddenly stopped. "
All I remember," said Kevin, "is that...all of a sudden (I) got hit in the chest with something, and I turned around and passed out."
Fortunately, a nurse, whose son played on that team, was able to revive Kevin and save his life.
Kevin and his family were extremely fortunate. The nurse was supposed to be at work that night, but she was given the day off at the last minute.
But here's the amazing part of the story.
Seven years later, in 2006, that same nurse--Penny Brown (pictured above)--was eating at the Hillview Restaurant in Depew, New York, when she began to choke on her food.
"The food wasn't going anywhere and I totally couldn't breathe," said Penny. "It was very frightening."
Witnesses say patrons were screaming for someone to help. Then, one of the restaurant employees--a volunteer firefighter--ran out from the back. He wrapped his arms around the victim, applied the Heimlich Maneuver, and saved the woman's life.
When the emergency was over, and a sense of calm returned, the saving restaurant worker and the grateful restaurant customer looked at each other and realized an amazing twist of fate.
The person who saved Penny's life was 17-year-old Kevin Stephan, the same boy whose life Penny saved seven years earlier. She saved his life. And years later, he saved hers.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The three of us visited about 15 minutes. We talked about a mutual friend of ours, Helen & Irvin's granddaughter who gave a marvelous address at Little River's high school Baccalaureate service, and read God's promise that He will care for His people throughout all of life--especially near the end--in Isaiah 46:3-4.
Afterwards, Irvin escorted me out of their room and into the commons area where he introduced me to their nurse, a woman named Lynn.
"Lynn was a student in one of Helen's Kindergarten classes," Irvin said. And then he pointed me to a B&W picture on a bulletin board. It was an old class picture. I recognized Helen. And Irvin identified Lynn.
Then Lynn joined in. "I'd been out of this area for a lot of years, but we recently came back and I started working here. It was quite a surprise to see my Kindergarten teacher again."
The teacher took care of the student. And now, the student takes care of the teacher.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Saturday, May 20, 2006
(Pssstt! Keep these to yourself. It's secret knowledge.)
Joseph Loconte considers how C.S. Lewis might respond to the false ideas made about Jesus and the Scriptures in "Debunking the Debunkers."
Sean McDowell answers some of the Code's charges in "Separating Truth from Fiction."
Here's a variety of Da Vinci Code resources from the excellent magazine Christianity Today.
Dr. Gary M. Burge of Wheaton College writes about the challenges posed to Christian scholars and laity in, "Jesus Out of Focus."
Dr. N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, offers insightful analysis on the spiritual message presented by The Da Vinci Code and the how it contrasts the message of Jesus:
"The Da Vinci Code is a symptom of something much bigger, a lightning rod which has throbbed with the electricity of the postmodern western world…(Specifically, it is the philosophy of Neo-Gnosticism) that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live…By contrast, the challenge of Jesus, in the 21st century as in the first, is that we should look away from ourselves and get on board with the project the one true God launched at creation and re-launched with Jesus himself."
Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament literature at the University of Edinburgh, corrects false suggestions about the divinity of Jesus and the creation of the New Testament in the on-line Slate Magazine.
Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, posts on May 24 a piece from the New York Times that suggests the Code is popular because it appeals to people's desire to create their own personal religion--regardless of truth.
Friday, May 19, 2006
When I took preaching classes, one of the questions we were constantly told to keep in the front of our mind was, "So what?" So what is the spiritual message people will take away from Da Vinci Code?
Michael Novak in National Review sums up the message he got from the movie:
"All that matters, Tom Hanks tells the only living descendant of Christ, is what you believe. Not truth, not reality, but whatever you believe. That's what matters. You make up reality as you go. The professor Hanks plays makes plain that he believes that Jesus is only a man—a man and that's all. A great moral teacher, perhaps, but only a man."
Again, let's ask the question. So what?
Near the end of Monday's Da Vinci Code debate (see earlier entries this week), Dr. Darrell Bock answers this question very well.
(I'm paraphrasing as best as memory serves):
"Dan Brown's book leaves you thinking that all you need to do is tap into your 'divine spark' and then go and enjoy the journey. But the Biblical testimony is quite different. It declares that God is holy, righteous, and good. You are accountable to Him for how you live. Believers confess that we fall short of God's high expectations. We cling to the love and grace that God offers us in Christ and his cross. If God truly offers mercy, you would be wise to accept it. But God respects His creation enough to let you make that choice."
Thursday, May 18, 2006
"Church condemns Code"
"Believers call on Ron Howard to add fictional disclaimer to movie's beginning"
We've been reading storylines like these for the last few weeks as The Da Vinci Code movie prepares to open worldwide. When was the last time a movie got this much hoopla in advance of its opening?
I've heard many believers (especially on Christian radio) say how concerned they are that this movie (and the book) will wreck people's faith--like this is some monstrous juggernaut that will destroy anything that dares get into its path. You get the impression that every Christian in the world is shaking in the boots, fearful of how this movie will ruin the church.
The Da Vinci Code is an unstoppable force, right? And then the movie reviews came out:
"'Da Vinci Code' secret is out--Most Critics Hate It" says a Reuters news story posted on the Drudge Report.
"The Da Vinci Code may be controversial and even heretical--but worse, still, it's plodding, tedious, (and) deadly dull." --Philadelphia Inquirer
"A melodramatic, sometimes lifeless film that is missing the suspense of the popular novel."--USA Today
So how should Christians respond to this scary entity called The Da Vinci Code? The same way that Dorothy and her 3 companions responded to the mighty Wizard of Oz after he said, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"
Pull the curtain--and expose the fraud.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (pictured with cigar)--a brash and loud public speaker who'd fit in perfectly as a spiritual guide on World Wrestling Entertainment--proposed that the book is appealing because people are sick of divisive religion that isn't inclusive of all people. Particularly, evangelical Christianity that--in his words--says, "If you don't believe in Jesus as your personal Savior, you're going to burn in hell." Boteach went on to say that anyone who lives a good and moral life will go to heaven.
Dr. Michael Brown (pictured with mustache), who has known Boteach for many years, challenged the Rabbi on this point, saying that God not only knows what we say, but our motivations as well. Even the Old Testament, refutes the idea that personal righteous obligates God to grant eternal life.
What I thought was interesting about Boteach's theology was how much it seems to have in common with the theology of liberal mainline Christianity. For example, many ministers in the United Church of Christ (my denomination) despise the idea that Jesus' cross is an atoning blood sacrifice that takes aways sin. In my mind, such belief: a) Denies Jesus' very own words in Mark 10:45, where he says "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many;" b) Creates discontinuity with the Old Testament and the regular offering of blood offerings at the Tabernacle and Temple (The New Testament epistle Hebrews addresses these issues in large measure); c) Denies the testimony of the Apostle John in his first letter, where he says of Jesus, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
But Christians should take to heart Boteach's criticism--people are turned off by religion that is divisive and non-inclusive. It doesn't mean we should change our theology. Rather, it means that we should learn to skillfully speak the truth in love.
Dr. Darrell Bock (pictured with beard) did about as good a job as anyone on this point. When Boteach challenged Bock to, "Just say it. Say, I'm going to hell because I don't believe in Jesus," Bock wouldn't take the bait. Instead, Bock said, "God has enough respect for his creation to let you make your choice."
After this exchange, Brown jokingly said, "I'll say it Shmuley, you're going to hell." But I think one reason Bock didn't say it was to show that God doesn't indiscriminately toss people into hell, depending on his mood at the moment you happen to be standing before God; hell is something people willingly choose because people choose to live independent of Him.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The Mona Lisa cracks a sly smile, but will all the attention given her by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code broaden her smile? If she respects historical accuracy, she should frown.
With Brown's book about to debut as a movie this weekend, debate is peaking over whether or not the "facts" depicted in the book--especially those related to Jesus and church history-- really are true.
In his preface to The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown claims, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." On the other hand, film director Ron Howard and the Code's headline star Tom Hanks have both done everyone a favor by making it clear that this book--and now the movie--is a work of fiction, not fact.
Says Howard: "I think what a lot of people have discovered—a lot of theologians—is this is a work of fiction that presents a set of characters that are affected by these conspiracy theories and ideas. Those characters in this work of fiction act and react on that premise. It's not theology. It's not history."
Adds Hanks: "We always knew there would be a segment of society that would not want this movie to be shown. But the story we tell is loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense. If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake. It's a damn good story and a lot of fun … all it is is dialogue. That never hurts. You would be making a big mistake to take it at face value."
So what are the real facts surrounding Jesus and church history? Last night, Chosen People Ministries sponsored a debate about the movie, with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Dr. Darrell Bock, and Dr. Michael Brown. Bock pointed out several historical inaccuracies of Brown's work.
Concerning Jesus, Bock said there are absolutely zero ancient documents that claim Jesus ever married Mary Magdalene or had children. "There isn't any theological objections to Jesus being married or having kids," observed Bock. "The problem," he went to say, "is that it never happened. That is the objection of the Christian community."
On the assertion that the 4th century Council of Nicea "super-sized" Jesus from a very wise man to a divine, god-like being (to solidify Constantine's political power), Bock said the divinity of Jesus is set forth by Jesus himself, declared by 1st century New Testament manuscripts, and defended by 1st-2nd century church fathers. The point of Nicea was not to determine if Jesus was divine, but to decide in what way Jesus was divine. Bock concluded, "Now when liberal and conservative biblical scholars can both agree on these facts, you can safely believe they are true."
After watching the debate, my wife made a very good observation. Historical novels consist of foreground and background. Foreground is the fictional characters and their actions. Background is the historical setting. Most historical novels have a fictional foreground and a non-fictional background. But the foreground and background of Brown's "historical novel" are both fictional.
One thing is for sure: If Dan Brown wrote a book as popular as The Da Vinci Code, saying that the holocaust never happened, or that Muhammad believed in the Trinity, the tone and media coverage of that controversy would be very different than the one going on today.
Monday, May 15, 2006
I did something different for my Mother's Day sermon. Instead of expositing a passage, I used a variety of Scriptures to span a mother's life from beginning to end.
During the Sunday School hour, a friend overheard a conversation going on in the 3-4-5 grade classroom.
The teacher asked, "Who was the very first mother?"
A student replied, "Mother nature!"
Friday, May 12, 2006
Due to poor eyesight, only a couple of people can read the hymnbook. Most of them can barely sing. Those who sing do so with a whispery vigor. So usually, the singing is me accompanying myself on acoustic guitar.
One of the songs I shared was Philip Bliss' "Jesus Loves Even Me." It's not exactly the most well known hymn, not like "In the Garden" or "How Great Thou Art." But as I was singing it, I noticed that one of my church members in the home--Dorothy--was singing along with me--even on the 3rd verse. Heck, I could never do that without the lyrics in front of me.
I was amazed. But then again, maybe I shouldn't have been. Dorothy has walked with the Lord for a long, long time. She's 98 years old. She directed our choir for years, even played guitar. She's been at the home now for 3 years.
There's a song that says, "Give me that old time religion." I say, "Give me that 3rd verse spirituality." That walk with Jesus that goes down deep--even to the 3rd verse.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Right now, some teenage nieces of ours from North Carolina are visiting. One of their first impressions of Kansas was the big and beautiful sky. They're not alone in that response. Whenever my parents come in from Ohio, they enjoy watching Kansas' colorful and grand sunsets. Kansas is a pretty good place to see Psalm 19:1 come alive.
I got a new appreciation of this verse the other day when I was driving my son to Wichita at 4:30am for his dental surgery. Usually, I think about vast blue "skies" and starry filled "heavens," but this time, the majesty of the skies was revealed through lightning. Driving east, there were moments the lightning raced across your entire field of vision--from the southeast to the northeast.
The lightning was like a pitcher throwing a 90 mph fastball. It would stir up in the southeast with a large white flash--winding up--and then quickly shoot across the sky to the northeast with an intimidating force.
The creation is pretty majestic--so is its maker.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
As far as surgeries go, it was pretty simple. Everything went fine. But even still, Mom and Dad were a tad anxious.
Surgery reminds you that life breaks down and needs repair. It whispers that you are mortal. Whenever the doctor says he needs to operate, does not God simultaneously perform a bit of soul surgery--probing and prodding the health of our relationship to Him?
Surgery directs my heart to the One who is eternal:
"I love you, O LORD, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is a rock, in whom I take refuge" (Psalm 18:1-2).
Under the knife, He is over us.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Special thanks goes out to Oswalt Auctions and Double H Auctions for the contribution of their time and talent to our sale.
The monies raised from the day support our church's ongoing mission activities.
Early in the morning, I met for the first time a pastor and his wife from nearby Hutchinson. "You've been having this sale for 52 years? This is the first time we heard of it. We love coming to auctions."
It's certainly entertaining. One of the pieces of merchandise I held up to the audience was a tall ceramic clown. As the auctioneer got ready to sell it, he said, "Now there is a silly clown. Oh, I shouldn't say that about the preacher!"
Saturday, May 06, 2006
I better pray real hard. When I woke up this morning, it was raining outside. A look at the radar map suggests the rain will move away by the time we start at 9:30am, but then more clouds are heading our way.
The church sale is always a fun time for our church and community. Most of the stuff that's bought and sold is junk, but there are always a few treasures to find--and the food and fellowship can't be beat. The kids love the day because we bring out two rides created by the late Howard Hodgson--the Leapin' Lizard (a large wagon with uneven wheels, which bounces the kids up and down) and the Lolly Pop Trolly (a train of barrells pulled by a 4-wheeler).
Lord, it's your church and your sale. You're in charge of the weather.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
True Love Waits is an international program that was started locally a couple of years ago by two Catholic women. Their first class was just with Catholic kids, but then they started offering it to anyone in the community. This year's class met in our church's basement.
This program is an illustration of the level of cooperation and love between the three churches in Little River--Catholic, Methodist, and Congregational.
It's always a bit funny when we all three groups come together to worship, like we did last night at the Catholic church.
When the Methodist pastor, and the Catholic priest, and me process down to the altar at start of the service, Father Garza bows at the altar, but the Methodist pastor and me forget. When the commitment rings were blessed, Father Garza splashed them with Holy Water. Everyone smiled at the surprise reaction of the protestant kids who got a little wet.
Obviously, our three churches have vast differences in liturgy and theology, but when we do come together, we celebrate our unity in Christ.
Even if it is a bit clumsy.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
That's the question my wife asked her group of Good News club kids today while they were in the sanctuary, preparing to work on their memory verse.
One boy answered, "I farted in front of everyone in music class at school." My wife reported that everyone laughed.
Then I started laughing and told my wife, "When all the kids were outside, before we started our club today, I had to well...you know...cut some cheese. I thought to myself, 'We're outside. The wind is blowing. It'll go away fast.' But it didn't. And all the boys started screaming and blaming one another. They never even thought that it could have been me!"
I eventually asked my wife, "Why did you ask that question before saying your memory verse?"
She replied, "Our verse today was 1 John 2:28: 'And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.'"
When God comes, don't be embarrassed!
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
What I enjoy about confirmation is the chance to spend a large block of time investing in students' spiritual life.
I think this was the fourth group of kids I've taken through confirmation. Each experience is different. Each time I try new things. In the past, I had students use a devotional book alongside their Bible, to teach them the habit of spending regular time with God in His Word. This time around, I wrote up "talksheets" and had the students read selected Scriptures--starting with Genesis 1 and ending with Jesus' ascension. In short, I tried to convey to the students a story--God's glorious epic of creation, sin, salvation, and restoration.
What influenced me to emphasize to my students God's story was an article that first appeared in Christianity Today in February 2004, by Walter Wangerin Jr. entitled, "Making Disciples by Sacred Story."
Wangerin writes: "Biblical storytelling conveys the realities of our faith better than almost any other form of communication...Religions do exist without doctrines and theologies, but no religion has ever existed without a story at its core."
Here a few resources that helped me think about what God is doing as a story:
Epic, by John Eldredge (Nelson, 2004)
The Drama of Scripture, by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen (Baker, 2004)
The Divine Drama, by Kurt Bruner (Tyndale, 2001)
A Passion for God's Story, by Philip Greenslade (Paternoster, 2002)
The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons (Perseus, 2001)
Today on Christian radio, I happened to hear Nancy Pearcy say that Christianity is tolerated in our culture because its perceived as a nice story. It's comforting, but it has no actual relevance to life.
While the Bible tells a story, it certainly isn't fiction. It's real. Hopefully for my confirmation students, it's a story confirmed.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Yesterday I baptized Violet at our local nursing home. Her daughter, son-in-law, and four of her grandchildren were happy onlookers.
Violet is the mother of Betty, who recently died in a farm accident. Violet has been a follower of Jesus for a long time, but the death of her daughter prompted her to draw closer to her Savior.
Betty's death has created that response in many of us. Out of the ashes of sorrow, it's comforting to see God's grace rise up.