Monday, July 31, 2006

Monty Python Star Trek

Okay, this is just too good to pass up. I saw it over on Shlog and I feel I must pass it on. This is one that will make you squirt milk out of your nose.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

On Elijah's time of trial

Elijah and Jeremiah are easily my two favorite biblical characters. Both of them seem so easy to relate with, how so very human they were in their service of Jehovah. Like me, they had times when they were on top of their game and were remarkably strong in the Lord. But then there were times when they both bottomed out, questioning God in fits of depression as they seemed to loose sight of His plan for them. This, too, is like me as I so often take my eyes off the path that has been set for me and I deeply feel the abandonment and lack of my Savior’s presence (all my doing, of course). Yes, it is very easy to relate to these two pillars of faith because they were human and fallible, much as I am today.

We who have grown up in the church know much of Elijah’s story very well: the drought and famine that introduced him in 1 Kings, the widow whose oil and flour never ran out, the boy he raised from the dead, the epic contest on Mount Carmel, and the remarkable ascension into heaven on a chariot of fire. We love these stories because they tell us the triumphs of a man filled with God’s Spirit and devoted to Him. But we must also remember that even this great man struggled and sinned. When we remember victory over sin through God in the life of such a respected man of God, then we, too, can be encouraged to conquer sin in Jesus power.

1 Kings 19, we find Elijah returning from the fantastic demonstration of God’s power and authority on Mount Carmel leading Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, to the town of Jezreel. At the pinnacle of such a feat, Elijah flees from Jezebel, Ahab’s queen, as she threatens his life. He flees from northern Israel to the southern-most point in Judah, along the desert. There he leaves his servant and goes a days travel into the desert. There he prays:

"It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."
1 Kings 19:4b (NASB)
By going into the desert alone, Elijah seems to be seeking death and, in fact, this is exactly what he prays for. In the act of going into the desert to die, though, he pauses to talk again to the God he loves and serves. He confesses that he wants death, but more than that he confesses that he is no better than his fathers. This is the really puzzling statement coming from Elijah, as he compares himself to the wicked, sinful, and faithless acts with which the people of Israel always struggled. Yet, I believe that I can understand Elijah’s frustration and his sentiment that he is but a simple, sinful man.

Despite the great victory over Baal at Mount Carmel, and despite the slaughter of the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, Israel remained firmly entrenched in idolatry and the Baal-worship championed by Jezebel. And Jezebel still held enough personal power to make (and likely follow through) a threat to kill Elijah. I am sure that Elijah was feeling that all the work he had done had all been for naught. Nothing seemed to have changed! Even more so at this point than in the past, Elijah felt like the lone God-fearing person in Israel. So, his response was to flee. He knew that God had not told him to leave Israel. He went, anyway. Elijah knew that Jehovah was not yet done with him, but still he runs away. He knew that these actions were contrary to God’s will and His plan, but Elijah still fled Israel in disobedience. Now, on top of an apparently fruitless work, Elijah had turned his back on God; his prayer recognizes that he knows himself to be human, to be sinful.

Elijah’s experience of fleeing to the desert is like the awakening and humbling of an arrogant man. His prayer seems to say that he now knows that he is no different from the people to whom he has been sent to prophesy. It is like Elijah had, in some way, felt himself better than those idolaters in Israel who desperately needed Jehovah. God’s message to him was that he, too, needs the same forgiveness and mercy for sin that the Israelites need. This is what Elijah learned from his flight from Jezebel, that he, too, was a sinful man.

Elijah also learned something else from this flight, something that he had refused to hear or believe before now. He was not alone! Elijah’s complaint to God is that he is alone; yet, just before going to Mount Carmel he had spoken to Obadiah, who confessed his devotion to Jehovah and that he had saved 100 prophets of God from Jezebel’s sword and continued to feed them all (no small feat in the midst of drought and famine). If there were these 100 prophets and this one remarkable man who remained faithful, how many more must there be throughout Israel who remained true to God? But Elijah did not seem to hear this, so God puts it plainly. When God speaks to Elijah after he fled to Beersheba and then followed God to Horeb (Sinai), Jehovah tells him plainly that there are 7,000 in Israel that have never bowed to Baal and that will be spared the calamity to come. Elijah learned in this trial not only his own need for Jehovah, but also that he was not alone.

When we read in
James 5 that a righteous man may pray with confidence that his prayer is heard and answered by God, we may question our own worth. But remember the example of a righteous man’s pray that James gives:

17Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
James 5:17-18 (NIV)
Now you, too, may know that God did not send a perfect, sinless people to reach the lost but He sends us, as faulty and susceptible to the flesh as was Elijah and as is the world to whom we minister. Just as Elijah, we are imperfect but made righteous in Christ. Just as Elijah, we may pray and act in boldness and confidence. Just as Elijah, we can know that we are not alone!

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The newest to the family

8.5 week fetus
Here is a picture of the newest addition to the family (confession: this is not our child, but a stunt double). Below is an actual ultrasound of an 8-week old (again, stunt double). We just had an ultrasound today and saw a tiny, eight-week old heart beating like a drum. This was a big day for us because last fall Erin miscarried at about this time, so seeing a healthy little'un in the monitor was tremendous. The big day will be coming in March 2007, and we are excited. Tabitha is praying for a baby brother, but I think she wants a baby sister, also. I only saw one baby in the ultrasound, so I guess she will be disappointed at some point.

Erin is thrilled, and so much more relieved now. Waiting is hard, especially after a miscarriage. As for me, I am thrilled with the good report and thrilled that Erin is continuing here road to recovery from last fall. Now, only about 7-1/2 months more of this and we will be loosing sleep for another reason.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In it, not of it . . .

I’ve been ruminating on a strange phenomenon that I witnessed when we were on our recent vacation in Florida. While we were walking through the various parks, looking for fun to be had and trying to stay hydrated, I frequently saw people walking around plugged into their iPods (or other such portable music device). Now, this is something I have seen I don’t know how many times at work, at the gym, and on the streets. I must admit that I use my iPod while working out at the YMCA. The point is to provide a distraction from the surroundings so I can go into my own little world of weight lifting and aerobic exercise, and I just plain love music. I would suppose that most people walking around with an mp3 player (or the archaic Walkman and Discman) have similar reasons. What I found strange was that these people were in the midst of an amusement park and were seeking detachment through their own personal entertainment source!

What got me thinking on this was the obvious comparison to what Jesus told us in
John 15:18-19 and in John 17:16 and how we, too, walk in a world from which we are trying to separate ourselves. I don’t know if I have much else to say on the subject, other than I found this a striking visual of how we should look at we walk through this world, finding ourselves entangled in a place that has all the nicest, most desirable distractions but getting our feed from somewhere else entirely.

Christian living, Christianity , religion

Friday, July 21, 2006

Building Up

As I reread my last post, I began to wonder if I spent too much time railing and not enough time building up. To balance, I thought I would talk about a couple of the people/groups that my family supports and has supported. There is much good going on out there, and more opportunities to get involved and support the work of God than there are excuses not to do so. And so, on with the list:

  • Eastern European Missions
    Since before a hole was poked in the Iron Curtain, EEM has been bringing Bibles in native tongues to Eastern Europe and Russia. Now, with open access, they are doing amazing things. By invitation, they are providing Bibles, literature, and curriculum help to public schools in several Russian provinces. In the Ukraine and other countries, they are working with the governments to do the same. As so many people realize they have no base for morals and actions, they are looking to the God who was evicted by communism and EEM is there to show God. Simply put, God is doing some amazing things through these people.

  • Northwest Assistance Ministries
    NAM is a benevolence ministry that reaches out to the north-Houston/south-Montgomery county region. Do you need food – they have it. Clothes – they have that, too. School supplies for the kids – they are here to help. They work individually with people and are partnered with many local congregations and associations. If there is a place like this in your area, help them out with cash or time. They take cars, too! They also take Matthew 25 seriously.

  • Billy Strachan, Peterhead, Scotland
    Billy is an evangelist at one of the churches in Peterhead, Scotland. He works mainly with the youth in the church and in the community. He, too, has been invited and teaches Bible weekly at several area schools. He talks about how these children become excited about God and their parents, who had become disillusioned with religion long ago, are puzzled and curious at what has captivated their children. It is amazing how “Post-Christian” Europe is becoming so much more receptive of the Gospel than is the United States.

  • Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center
    Needles aren’t that scary. Really! Think about it: you go in, spend about half an hour getting a basic wellness check (bp, pulse, cholesterol) and getting stuck one time by a needle, then you get juice and cookies and in return you help out three people (with red blood cells, platelets, and plasma). And, if you are one of the rare people who is CMV negative (a common viral pathogen harmless to most adults) your donation will go to a newborn child or immunocompromised individual. What better way to show love than to give of your own life?

  • March of Dimes
    Until you have seen a preemie baby, or a child afflicted with a birth defect, and seen the mixed agony and joy on their parents faces as they wait to see what their child's life will be, you may not understand the impact this organization has. I held a friends baby boy, just hours before they learned his heart was incompletely formed and he would soon die. I held my newborn niece, minutes after her birth, as she gasped for air her lungs could not supply her body. I have watched friends see their twin boys born 3-months premature, spending much of the first year of their lives in the hospital and hooked up to monitors, beam with joy as the boys play free and healthy. These people do good work.

There could be more on the list, little things we have stepped up to here and there, but these are groups we could all become involved with. Any comments? Come on, I know your reading. Europe (Germany and Holland) – I see you over there checking the blog out. You, too, Canada! How about it California, Tennessee?

Tags: Eastern Europe, Missions, Blood, Blood Bank, March of Dimes, Service, Nonprofit,

Monday, July 17, 2006

When is the Right Wrong?

I've been hearing a lot of talk, with recent events, on the responsibility of good Christians everywhere to pray for Israel as God's chosen nation. This talk kind of irks me a little, not because they call for prayer for Israel - which I find to be very relevant and very necessary - but because of their assertions that Israel is God's one chosen people and nation. Some even go as far as saying that Jehovah set the boundaries of the nation of Israel and they should not be changed by man today. Now, I want no one to begin accusing me of being anti-Semitic; far from it, I believe and act to treat all people the same, in light of the love of God. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." - and we should look through His eyes to see our world. But the special protections and allowances we (the U.S.A.) have granted to Israel comes in great part from our strong Christian heritage and the belief that they should be protected because of their chosen status. (Here is an example of the attitude to which I am referring.) But should we view Israel in this way?

Have we forgotten the attitude with which Jehovah treated His people? God blessed Abraham, so that through his lineage the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 22:18), because Abraham was obedient. But the point was to bless the world (with the Christ), not to bless Abraham. Look at the nations of Israel and Judah; they constantly fell away from Jehovah (as we do, also) and when Jehovah would spare them it would be "for My own sake and for My servant David's sake." (1 Kings 15:4, 2 Kings 19:34, 20:6). Israel was preserved so that Jesus would be born, as God planned, and the man after His own heart would be honored - not for Israel's sake, but for His sake. Have we also forgotten "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1 Peter 2:9, also earlier in verse 5) where Peter refers to all followers of Christ as a chosen people. So, what is my point? I guess it is that we seem to idolize the nation of Israel because of their role in history, in the same way that we idolize the men and women who have worked beautifully in the name of the Lord. We should honor these people and recognize their role, but we should not place them in honor above others and we should not place anyone above the Creator in whose plan they have merely played a small part.

I read an excerpt from
a new book that seems worth at least checking out. In it, Balmer describes his version of how the modern Religious Right movement arose in the late seventies and early eighties. It did not form around the issue of abortion and the Roe v. Wade ruling, as is commonly believed, but around the financial threat of losing tax exempt status against Bob Jones University and other religious institutions which maintained severe discriminatory practices. It expanded to include abortion and other issues to provide a robust base to stand to movement upon. I do not know if his conclusions are good or not, but it is interesting if true. Are we motivated to action today based on the compelling message of Christ or is our motivation coming from self-interest, our prejudices, and from our pocketbooks? This is a serious question we should be asking ourselves, striving to keep aligned with the mind of Christ, and it is why I ask when is the Right wrong?

Balmer, in his book, seems to lament the loss of the evangelical Christian’s action to help people (as with abolition, suffrage, and education in the 19th century) and the shift to hindering people from sinful actions. At some point, I have to ask myself if we should be forcing people to not sin in their actions; the forced action or inhibited action brings a heart no closer to God and sets us on a path that Jehovah Himself has not taken. I do not wish to see these things (abortion, pornography, rampant individualism) as a part of my society and our government allows for the opportunity to change such things, yet those issues which have been left behind in the quest to eliminate sins are those issues to which Christ gave us a direct calling – food for the hungry, help for the needy, encouragement to those in distress. I find myself less willing to crusade against people than I do to crusade for people. I find less desire to honor and idolize people and nations because of their history and more desire to honor those who have been “lost” – as Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Living today

John Bunyan

"You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."
--John Bunyan

This quote greets me every time I walk into my local YMCA for a session on the weights. It hangs on the wall, a 2' x 4' placard just above the leg press. And it has haunted me for years. When I first read this, I thought to myself, "What a challenge. Do I live up to this?" But, as time has passed and I have continued to be confronted by this quote, I find myself asking if I have reacted to this challenge or if I have merely acknowledged it. This quote has gone from a passing notice to an idea that fills my mind. I do not go a single day without contemplating this challenge to action.

Why do these words haunt me so? It is easy to say that I live up to this challenge, but as yet I do not believe in my heart that I have even begun to act in such love toward others. A few months ago I raised this point in a small group discussion and my wife's response to my self-doubt (which was the same response as all the ladies present) was that I constantly act for my wife and my daughter, my friends and family, showing them love and kindnesses that they can never repay. My feeling on this, which was echoed by all the men present, was that while I do do these things, I also receive something back - the love and companionship of Erin and Tabitha, the favor returned for a favor given. I may not be payed back in kind, but I am repayed through the continuing relationship. What I doubt in these acts of giving is my own selflessness, which I perceive as the heart of John Bunyan's quote. Do I act truly selflessly in anything? That is the question that hangs on my heart. That is what haunts me.

How do I justify my own actions when I compare them to the challenges that Jesus gave in the Beatitudeses? Am I merciful? Do I seek to make peace with and between my brothers? Can I admit to serving Christ through serving His creation, as in Matthew 25? Am I feeding the hungry? Am I clothing the naked? Do I minister to the sick and imprisoned? And what of Paul's challenge in Romans 13:8 "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law." (NIV) To be perfectly honest, I can say that I try to feed and clothe the needy. I have always felts called to minister through encouragement to those who need such. What Bunyan's quote stirs in me is not guilt over inaction, but the question of whether I do all that Jehovah has called me to, or do I do just enough to allay my conscience?

As to the question of living today, I believe that many days I would find myself without a pulse. Perhaps the challenge Bunyan throughs out is a bit too exacting, in the specification of helping those who may never help you. But, even when I loosen the stricture to be simply acting to build up, encourage and love those around me - which is what God's love for us compels us to do - I find that I still fall short. So many days I sleepwalk, never living the gospel and I am challenged to wake up.

"The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church can't fight, cause it's asleep in the light,
How can you be so dead, when you've been so well fed,
Jesus rose from the grave, and you, you can't even get out of bed,
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead, come on, get out of your bed."

Keith Green, Asleep in the Light

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Great Vacation

We just returned from spending a week in Florida (Tampa and Orlando). We mostly did the non-Disney version, spending only one day in the Magic Kingdom and visiting the other parks in the area. The two Universal Studios parks were fun, but loud - the background noise was overbearing by the end of the day. Universal has an "I Love Lucy" tribute area with the "Desi Arnaz" Band playing every hour or so - good show. Busch Gardens in Tampa was good, but it is huge. We barely walked two-thirds of the park in our day there, much less did many of the available rides and shows. SeaWorld Orlando was great. We did the dinner with Shamu, which was nice. We reserved our trip to the Magic Kingdom for the 4th of July, and stayed late to watch the fireworks. Cinderella's Castle, lit up at night, is georgous and the fireworks show the best I've ever seen. Erin commented on the show "I've never had to shield my eyes from fireworks before!"

It's good to be home, but Tabitha will take away many great memories of meeting Cat in the Hat, Cinderella, Alice, the guy from Green Eggs and Ham, Mickey and Minnie, Shamu, and all the other characters.

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