Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent 2015, December 1


Christianity is pro-life to the core.  The first holiday is about a birth, the second about a resurrection. 

Pope John Paul coined the phrase “culture of death.”  To be cross-cultural is to be pro-life, in every stage. 

We can be pro-life at all times and in all stages of life, and especially at Advent, which is the celebration of a coming birth that shouldn’t have been from all human perspectives.  

This week being pro-life will be conflated in the media with being a crazy person who comes out of the woods and holds hostages in Colorado.  Don't fall for it.  Being pro-life  is to be pro-people. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Day 2, November 30

The following is "borrowed" from the Breakpoint website, which is, as most know, affiliated with the Prison Fellowship ministries. 
It’s been a rough few weeks. It seems virtually all of the news is bad. Whether it’s ISIS, Boko Haram, the refugee crisis, or, here at home, the troubling trends in American culture, depression, if not outright despair, seems like a reasonable response.
Thankfully, God has provided a remedy for this temptation, and it’s as close as your nearest Church calendar. I’m speaking of Advent, which begins this Sunday.
Relatively few Americans, including many Christians, understand what Advent is really about. Here’s a hint, it’s more than just a countdown to Christmas.
For nearly two millennia, Advent has been the season in which Christians reflect on the bookends of God’s redemptive acts in Christ: His Incarnation and His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
These bookends are arguably best described in the hymns associated with Advent. They express the human longing for God to set everything aright, to wipe every tear from our eyes.
Take the hymn “Creator of the Stars of Night.” It was written, probably in England, sometime between 600 and 800 A.D., in the midst of what is commonly known as the “Dark Ages.” Life was unimaginably hard for those living back then: war was endemic, as was destitution, disease, and hunger.
This reality is reflected in the hymn’s opening stanza: “Creator of the stars of night, Thy people's everlasting light, Jesu, Redeemer, save us all, and hear Thy servants when they call.”
But it doesn’t stop there. The hymn then recalls the first bookend of God’s great redemptive act: “Thou, grieving that the ancient curse should doom to death a universe, hast found the medicine, full of grace, to save and heal a ruined race.”
It then looks forward to the second bookend: “O Thou whose coming is with dread, to judge and doom the quick and dead, preserve us, while we dwell below, from every insult of the foe.”
Now, talk of a dread coming and judging the quick and the dead no doubt sounds jarring to modern ears, but it’s a reminder that in Advent, we not only recall Jesus’ first coming, we look forward to Jesus’ second coming. And part of that looking forward is examining our lives.
That’s why Gospel passages like the parable of the wise and foolish virgins are associated with Advent. We’re called to be about our Lord’s business as we await His return.
But the word that best expresses the spirit of Advent is the refrain from the best-known Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: Rejoice!
We are to rejoice even when all the news is bad because all the news that really matters is the “Good News.” God, in Christ, has decisively dealt with sin and evil. At his first coming, as Paul told the Philippians, he took on “human form, [and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even on a cross.”
This resulted in his being given the “dread name” to whom “all knees must bend,” and “hearts must bow.”
To paraphrase Linus van Pelt, this is what Advent is all about, Charlie Brown.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent Begins, November 29

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O Come O Come Emmanuel

And ransom captured Israel.

Who mourns in lonely exile here.

Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.



I am not without darkness of doubt right now because of the seeming randomness of evil.  The young pastor’s wife murdered by burglars in Indiana.  How is that so different from slaughtering of Christians and others in Middle Eastern countries where ISIS is pervading?  I have to ask, Where was God in both those cases?  While I proclaim the gospel and superiority of the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), in the back of my heart I wonder why we have to answer those questions. 



Advent is seen as a time of celebration, not mourning, but is it possible to separate them so definitely?  The song quoted above does not seem to think so.  It goes on (only two of the remaining verses are quoted here).

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Star Wars Trailer, 1977

This is amazing, and has nothing to do with Advent.  But my son is all excited about the new Star Wars movie, and I found this wasting time on the Internet.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP_1T4ilm8M

Friday, November 27, 2015

Observation on recent Obama statement

Apparently the president has likened the Syrian refugees to the pilgrims.

Of course, everything is politics with him, and he doesn't let the facts confuse him.  I don't think his timing is so great, but I'm generally go going to give him a pass on this.  Those folks have actually gone through worse, in some ways, than the pilgrims ever thought about going through.  Anglican England wasn't kind to dissenters, but usually didn't behead them. 

The difference, of course, is that the pilgrims came to a wilderness to struggle while the refugees are coming to the most affluent country on earth and will benefit from government programs (that some citizens don't get to benefit from).  But the native Americans of the time were probably more welcoming (thanks to Squanto, who had been educated in England--it's a great story) than some of the people here will be to the Syrians.  On the other hand, there probably weren't any jihadists hiding in the bunch who came in 1620.  One bad apple spoils the bunch, or so they say. 

So, the lesson:  be careful about your analogies.

Advent 2015


I have developed the practice over the last few years of posting daily to this blog during Advent. Christmas and I have a love-hate relationship.   I love its spiritual meaning  but struggle with the stresses of finishing up the semester and a sense of darkness around that underlies all the glitz.  Shopping gives me a palpable emotion of hopelessness, that we are trying to fill a void with holiday trappings but the void gets bigger the more we try and with every passing year.  I realize some of that is the lack of sunshine and childhood memories and the materialism. 

So I realized a while back that the only way to combat this semi-despair is to celebrate Advent rather than Christmas.  So I will start that Sunday, and hope you will join me and share these and post to your blogs, feeds, etc.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Another Poetry Meets Hymnody Meets Worship

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

 In order to comply with copyright, I won't put the rest, but the lyrics are here.  I thought this was an old hymn but it's actually quite new, so bravo to Stuart Townend.
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss -
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life -
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart -
His wounds have paid my ransom.
- See more at: http://www.stuarttownend.co.uk/song/how-deep-the-fathers-love-for-us/#sthash.Cvb8GbgX.dpuf
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss -
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life -
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart -
His wounds have paid my ransom.
- See more at: http://www.stuarttownend.co.uk/song/how-deep-the-fathers-love-for-us/#sthash.Cvb8GbgX.dpuf
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss -
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life -
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart -
His wounds have paid my ransom.
- See more at: http://www.stuarttownend.co.uk/song/how-deep-the-fathers-love-for-us/#sthash.Ns0OioN7.dpuf
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss -
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life -
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart -
His wounds have paid my ransom.
- See more at: http://www.stuarttownend.co.uk/song/how-deep-the-fathers-love-for-us/#sthash.Ns0OioN7.dpuf

Sunday, November 22, 2015

When Poetry Meets Hymnody Meets Worship

These are the lyrics to one of my favorite hymns.  The music is beautiful, too, but perhaps a little slow and mournful for today's crowd.  The writer, George Matheson, penned it, I am told, when his fiancee abandoned him after he learned he was going blind. 
 
 O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
 
O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
 
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
 
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

When to End Your Writing

"Picasso once said that a work of art is finished not when there's nothing more you can add, but nothing more you can take away." (from an article on reality TV script writing)

This reminds me of the probably apocryphal story about Michelangelo saying that sculpting was removing all the pieces of stone that didn't belong.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Study of Galatians 6:1-10


Instead of looking at all three passages in the book this week I am just going to look at the first one, Galatians 6:1-10, because I realized it is really a core passage about service to the church, the community, and the world. 

Let me start with this video that I think wraps up what this passage is talking about. 

Discussion. 

This week I had a run in with a student where she was rude.  She told me basically I didn’t know what I was teaching.  One way to be rude and insulting to a college professor is to say they don’t know their subject matter, which is kind of dumb because we spend our lives studying what we teach.  We have a lot of flaws.  The longer I work in a college the more I think college professors have a lot of dysfunctions and nuttiness, and some of us are not good teachers, but we do know our subject; that is the first qualification.

So I was pretty annoyed and trying to not write a nasty email back, but then the Lord reminded me of  this video.  I don’t know what is totally going on in the student’s life.  She has no right to be rude but I have a responsibility to respond with a bigger view of her than someone who is annoying me.  Everyone of us is a very complex person with lots of problems, past, and things going on, so it is in everyone’s best interest to just stop, check our impatience, and recalibrate ourselves by looking through some special glasses.

This Friday I had the opportunity to go to a training about suicide prevention for college students but it ended up being a lot more, I think partially a counseling session for the two of us who attended.   It was life-changing for me and a reminder that our main purpose here is to connect with people.

Galatians 6:1-10 is in the middle of a book that can sometimes be pretty harsh.  The apostle Paul is having to deal with legalism, but it’s a different type of legalism than what we think of.  We usually think of legalism as some type of behavior that we should not do if we are Christians, but legalism is deeper than that.  Any time we think we can manipulate God and go around grace by doing something, we are being legalistic.  Paul’s audience was being led astray by Jewish teachers trying to get them to follow the Jewish law but even worse not believe that grace is enough. 

In Galatians 5 Paul says there are works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit.  All of us can name those fruit of the Holy Spirit, even if not in order.  There are nine, and I have heard lots of sermons on how some are about our relationship to God and some are about our relationship with others, and so on.  I think the main thing is that we see these characteristics are not something we work up by ourselves, but can only come through allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and produce them.  I know I am not patient by myself.  I can say “Barbara, slow down,” but real patience, waiting on God’s timing and not rushing ahead, only comes from him. 

So after discussing the fruit of the Spirit, we come to Galatians 6. 

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

This is an incredible verse, when you look at it:  The first type of service is service to fellow Christians who have “been overtaken in a trespass.” 
a.     if a man is overtaken – that means it happens.  That means Christians sin and get into trouble. 
b.     You who are spiritual.  We might say, “I don’t know if I am spiritually mature or spiritual.”  Paul says you are supposed to know.  This is not a level that you have reached by your own effort, or time as a Christian, or by your job in the church.  You are either led by the spirit and have your mind on spiritual things, or you don’t.  If you do, you have a responsibility to consider restoring another person to fellowship with the rest of the church.
c.     Restore.  The other usage of this word is in Matthew 4:21.   Present active imperative of katartizw, the very word used in Matthew 4:21 of mending nets,
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them.
It is from an old word to make artio, fit, to equip thoroughly.
Restore means to bring back into usefulness in the body of Christ.  It doesn’t mean you have to be a therapist with a long education and credentials in psychology.  It is a very practical word.  But what does it look like to restore  someone? It is still hard and intricate work, just like mending nets. 
d.     in a spirit of gentleness, not judgment.
e.     Considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.  Three sides to this:
1.     you could be tempted to be proud since you are “spiritual” and “restoring”
2.     you could be tempted to be careless and go back into a sin you have a problem with
3.     You could be tempted to get involved in the sin of the person you are helping.  All of these are real possibilities, so being led by the spirit is really important. 
Thoughts?  Have you been an agent of restoration?  What was that like? 

2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
            The phrase “law of Christ” is only used a couple of times in Paul, so we have to dig deeper to see what it means. 
1.     First, it is distinct from the law of the Pharisees, which of course was a law of bondage.  
2.     Second, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, what did he say?  So that is the law of Christ, those two commandments.  Very basic, but very radical. 
a.     Instead of  a list of specific behaviors, it focuses on the heart.
b.     Instead of being descriptive and proscriptive, it gives the individual freedom to apply the commandment himself—no automatic pilot; you have to think it through!
c.     Because it is so sweeping, everything falls under it and you can’t argue that a certain experience or situation doesn’t apply. 
d.     Example:  in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “if someone compels you to carry his load one mile, carry it two.”  This is where we get the expression “go the extra mile.”  If you are going to restore someone, you are carrying his burdens and going the extra mile, but the picture is the person accompanies you.

John Piper (Desiring God website) says:

That is why, even though Christ's law is more radical than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, he can say, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28–30). The law of Christ is not easy because it's greasy, or permissive. It is easy because when we are weak, he is strong. It's easy because he produces the fruit of love: "I am crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (2:20). Christ never commands us to do anything that he wants us to do on our own. Therefore, every command in the law of Christ is a call to faith. Through faith God supplies the Spirit of Christ (Galatians 3:5); through the Spirit we produce the fruit of love (5:22); through love we fulfill the law of Christ (6:2). Therefore, if you trust him, you will fulfill his law of love. You will devote yourself to lifting the burdens of others.

The next three verses are a little confusing, maybe seem contradictory.  They deal with the heart and mind attitudes behind verses 1 and 2.  You might think of this as service to oneself, self-care.  We talk about work-life balance because it is so easy to get too deeply into work.  This is about self-care in the spiritual realm of restoration and service. 

3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

5 For each one shall bear his own load.

First, don’t be self-deceptive.  Do not go into the service to others, especially of restoration, with the idea of thinking yourself more than you are.  Be aware, examine your own work. 

Secondly, don’t compare yourself with others.  There is a strong principle called social proof that controls us more than we think.  There is a famous research example of the study where seminary students were going to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan but they walked past a person on the street in the same situation.  Also, the more other people are around, the less likely someone is to help.  Going with the flow.  Our point of comparison is never other people, only Christ.

Third, is there a difference between load in v. 5 and burden in v. 2?  They are different words, but not hugely different.  The one in v. 5 is like cargo on a ship; the one in v.2 is the same word as in 2 Corinthians 4:17.    The word “bear” in V. 2 is the same as Jesus bearing the cross.  So, in verse 2 there is more the idea of service to help each other carry the problems of this life.  In v. 5 it’s more the idea of personal responsibility. 

Ultimately, when we stand before God, we stand alone and are responsible, but here, we are in it together and have mutual responsibility to help where we can.  I run into this with students.  I can sit with them and tutor and help them learn, but ultimately they have to take the test and get the grade themselves.  Unfortunately, this is a hard lesson for some young people. 

From a spiritual perspective, we don’t get to blame others for our sin.

III.  Service to spiritual teachers and leaders

6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.

That is pretty straightforward. Support the pastor financially, but there are other good things.  Now, how much that is, we get to figure out for ourselves, but it should be equitable.

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

These verses seem out of place, as a warning, but they may be related to the investment in the church’s ministry.  Deception, God being mocked, sowing and reaping.  Although we say, “What goes around comes around” I think it is deeper than that.  My BCM students and I were discussing the prodigal son story Wednesday, and one student pointed out that we don’t know what happens afterward.  The prodigal son is back, the older son is warned and comforted, but that doesn’t end the effects of what happened.  Today we know the younger son probably would have a disease or something like that, long-term consequences. 

We do sow and reap.  On the other hand, we tend to only focus on the first part, the negative.  But we sow positively also.  It’s not all weeds; fruit comes of it too.  When I have had a garden, I spend a lot of time on the weeds and that is what I tend to remember because they are hard to get rid of, but I also get lots of good tomatoes and okra.  So we are sowing and reaping both ways, but the “everlasting life” part means that we do not know the full extent until eternity.  That ties into the next verse, which continues the positive side of sowing and reaping

IV.  Service to the world and community.  It is pretty clear here that we don’t get off just serving those to whom it is easy or convenient. 

9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

I often pray this for those working with worst cases, that they would not lose heart and be weary in well doing.  For example, Samaritan’s Purse is doing a lot with the refugees coming from the Middle East.  And it is a commandment for us.

10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

I am glad that Paul added, “As we have opportunity.”  That is both freeing—that God will bring opportunities into our path for service, we don’t need to necessarily go looking for them” and binding—the opportunities will be there so do not let them go by.  All means all, but if we have to prioritize, we start with fellow Christians. 

“Household of faith” has a lot of meaning because at this time family was literally everything.  We value family but it was their total identity to the extent that helping those outside the family didn’t really fit into their view of things.  Christianity revolutionized this by saying, “You have a new family—the household of faith.” 

However, Paul gives us wide latitude here.  Like the “law of Christ” we have wide responsibility but we get to apply it as the Spirit leads us.  Christianity is for thinkers and considerers. WE have to think these things through.

Consequently, you must decide and prioritize what opportunities you will take of service.  You can’t do everything, despite everyone asking you to.  Whenever I look at my mail,I say to my husband, “Everybody wants my money.”  I know who I can trust to use my donations well and I know who I am not interested in helping, either because they are not good stewards or the mission is not crucial to the kingdom of God.  I could give examples but I don’t want to be offensive and do something Paul himself didn’t do.  He didn’t say, “Support and work in this ministry but not that one.”  He said find your gift and your passion and answer God’s call as He gives opportunity.

All that said, DO SOMETHING.  We don’t get a free pass. 

Takeaways:  Service is deeper than just acts.
                    You respond to what God shows you, but you have to be listening.
                   The church family is your first level of service but it can’t stop there.

Monday, November 02, 2015

August: Osage County

One of the great things about NetFlix is that you can see some cool stuff.  One of the not-so-great things is that you can see some not so cool stuff.

I haven't totally decided if the movie in the title of this post is in the first group or the second, although I pretty much lean to the second.  The "that's two hours of my life I'll never get back" remark is the first to come to my mind.  The second is, "Why would you make a movie like that and expect people to pay good money to watch a dysfunctional family being hateful to each other?"  The third is, "What was the point of that?  To make you feel good about your own dysfunctional family?"  It was pretty tragic along with being vile and depressing.  I would say the acting was good but I wonder if that's because there were big stars in it and we are supposed to think their acting is good or if it really was.

However, all that said--it sticks with you. 

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 28:1-8, second pass

The passage is unclear as to whether the two women saw the resurrection here, but I don’t think so.   They would probab...