"Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." -Paul

11 March 2009

Going to the Desert

by Ben

Ah...Lent. You can smell it in the air. Although, that could be the Fillet of Fish sandwich from the nearby fast food joint. But truly, there is something different about this time of year. Some people are giving up things (chocolate, television, etc.), while others are taking on things (random acts of kindness, devotionals, etc.). What is the purpose of this "Holy Season?"

Some have suggested it is to remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by the devil. Others say it is to be penitent to reflect on our excesses over the past year. Still others merely say it is a time to draw closer to God.

Instead, I find that we as a culture need a reminder of what the Christian life should be like. Too often, we view the Christian life by its birthdays: Christmas and Easter. We live in days of plenty. We reside in Canaan without ever having to walk through the wilderness. Our Jesus is risen, such to the point that we neglect the pain and suffering of the cross.

This time of year is certainly about giving things up, taking things on, facing temptation, actively being penitent, and drawing closer to God, but it is also about striving to understand who we are in relation to Christ's saving work. That work is not just about atonement. We must review the whole of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The earthly ministry of the Christ contains countless lessons that could serve for an infinite amount of Lenten Bible studies.

Our first step in journeying through Lent is the realization that this season is different. Our second step, which I believe to be the most important, is to take action. What are we doing that makes this season different from the rest of our lives?

23 October 2008

Paul's Calling

by Ben (yes, that other guy)

I read Acts 13.

I'm reading in Acts right now, a book that I am less familiar with than pretty much the rest of the Bible. I have to admit a selfish reason for liking this book: it is pretty awesome to see the disciples finally getting things right. And even the self-proclaimed greatest sinner of all is proclaiming Jesus as the realization of the prophets. Not only does that mean that there is hope for us, it shows that God specifically uses the most bumbling. I'm a sure thing!

"I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."

In reflecting on 13:47, I tried to put myself in the role of Paul. How amazing to be the one to offer salvation to a group that has been traditionally left out (seemingly on purpose). How self-defining is Paul's call.

Yet, his very call forces him to be the antagonist to one of the deeply held beliefs of the Jews. Israel had long been God's chosen nation and in the minds of many, it could only ever be that way.

Paul's message changes that. And he gains an obvious following from those who would be left out of salvation otherwise.

Some of us are called to be like Paul, bringing a new message to those who need it. But the challenge comes in that our message might be completely going against the traditional beliefs. We must be like Paul in that we do not shrink from our calling.

07 October 2008

Curse You, Fig Tree!

By Matt

I read: Mark 11-13

Once again, we're reaching the beginning of the end in Mark; Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a colt and it's all downhill from there (in turn of phrase terms only!). Jesus turns out the markets in the temples with some strong words but no condemnation. However, at one point Jesus is pretty hungry and looks to a fig tree for a snack but it doesn't have any figs so he curses it and the next time he and his entourage pass it, it's a withered stick. Jesus' soundbite on the whole thing is rather cryptic: "Embrace this God-life. Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you." He goes on to talk about the importance of praying about everything and to not just ask. Doesn't once mention the fig tree. Kinda weird.

I have to think it goes back to his message to all of the vine to bear fruit and, if not, to face pruning. I can't say that authoritatively but that's what makes sense to me. Not that what makes sense to me about God is anything resembling gospel :) But it's a definite possibility and a very powerful way to visualize how God holds us responsible for the knowledge and power we have gained.

Chalk up another for Stan Lee :)

06 October 2008

Come Thou Fount

By Matt

I don't have any scripture reading today but I do have some thoughts so I figured that was better than nothing. To put it frankly, my prayer time and my Bible reading have sucked completely. But just by chance we sang "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" in worship today and I had the song stuck in my head all day. So much so that I went on iTunes last night looking for versions of it and some other songs that I wanted to find. I downloaded it right before bed and moved my iPod dock to the nightstand so I could listen to it that night. And then this morning I woke up and it was right there. I listened through "Fount" again and "Blessed Be Your Name" and "Welcome Home" and Psalm 116 from The Bible Experience (thank you again for that, JDH!). And that was my prayer time and I enjoyed it. Strange how that works.

But this song, is just so good and it's such a great reflection of my life right now: contrast piled upon contrast. I am in such awe of what God is capable of doing, and more so, capable of doing in spite of me yet through me. But this is all contrary to my inconstancy and inconsistency. My desire to do better in keeping up my half of this relationship but just not coming through. So, my prayer today are these borrowed words:

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

05 September 2008

live it.

Colossians 2:6-23
"My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you've been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You're deeply rooted in him. You're well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you've been taught. School's out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving."

After a few temper tantrums & a bit of false starts, I really loved college. At first, in my youthful zeal, I wanted to have no part of it. "Why sit in a classroom and process when you can be out in the world practicing" was my early mantra. Several of my professors (wisely) sought to re-channel my impatience into a more vigorous embracing of my school work as something to be done "for the glory of God." And they were right. They also pushed me into internships so that I could immediately put into practice what I was learning.

I came to love the college experience. I loved learning & theorizing & philosophizing. I loved coffee shops & late nights & questions without answers. And so when graduation came around, while I was ready to go "live it," I was actually starting to think about grad school, something I'd mostly only swore I'd never do early on in college.

I haven't made it to grad school yet, though I hope to some day. But as I read Colossians 2 over the past couple days (I read it once a couple days ago & again today so I could blog about it) I was struck by, even without formalized "schooling," how easy it is to settle into talking about practices rather than actually practicing them.

Churches are one of the most guilty parties in this. Bring people into our doors where we can teach and instruct and equip and grow them and...and...and when do they actually live it out? Well, hopefully in their lives somewhere...in their vocation, in their neighborhoods, in their families. But is the church meant to be a place only of instruction or also a place of practice? Do we keep people at spiritual infancy by continually spoon feeding but rarely letting people handle the spoon themselves while still in the "safe" community of the church?

As I wade through re-designing the youth ministry at First Friends, these thought are ringing in the back of my head...

04 September 2008

Finally, Some Hellfire

By Matt

I Listened to: Mark 9-10

I thought today would be another day of writing about something else but today we get to the famous cutting off hands/feet and gouging out eyes section where Jesus declares it is better to go maimed to heaven than whole to hell. He also says that if you give someone a believer a hard time, it's better for you to be dropped in a lake with a millstone around your neck.

I think there is a distinction here between the condemnation we see in Matthew and what we see here. In Matthew Jesus is solely concerned with condemning those who know what they should do and don't do it, mainly along the lines of helping out those who can't help themselves (the credit for that thought goes to Michael who summarized the parable of the sheep and goats that way during his meditation at Youth Sunday last week).

Here in Mark, we see Jesus condemning those who sin on purpose, not by omission. They take advantage of the weak or use their hands or eyes or feet to sin. Kinda lays it out right there for you and definitely a different tact than Matthew used. Interesting. I'm going to reserve comment a bit to see if this shows up in Mark again. It is consistent with Mark's theme of power, using your power to do wrong type thing where Matthew is aimed at the Jews who should know to do those things but don't. Hmmm.

02 September 2008

A Story

By Matt

I read: Mark 6:30 - 9:3

Again, none of the stuff I was looking for showed up in today's reading but I did find this little nugget: "None of this had yet penetrated their hearts." This is Mark/Eugene's commentary on what happens when the disciples are quick to be afraid after seeing what they imagine is a ghost on the water. So true.

But what I want to talk about is a bizarre little story that I read in The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson. It's a rather large book all about the American Army in WWII. Big surprise there. Anyways, Atkinson tells the story of how the Allies were beginning to suspect that the Germans were going to start using poisonous gas in the runup to the Allied advance on Rome. This never happened, of course, but the Allies decided they should probably prepare for it. So, they loaded up a ship with mustard gas and sent it out to the port city of Bari in Italy. It sat in the ship's hold in the harbor with only a few people knowing the contents of the cargo while other priority ships were unloaded first.

Anyways, no one really thought much about the mustard gas until the night that the Germans launched a devastating air raid on Bari and decimated the docks. Many of the boats still waiting to be unloaded took direct hits, including boats with ammunition and gas. Hundreds of sailors were knocked overboard and into the burning sea and thankfully a good number of them were able to swim ashore or were rescued by other boats. Unfortunately the boat carrying the mustard gas was also hit and the mustard was leaking into the water and contaminating it. And that's in addition to the gas that hit atmo and drifted into the town of Bari.

So, all of these sailors and dock workers are piling into the overcrowded hospitals and are starting to have their eyes seize shut and are complaining of burning on their skin that isn't consistent with being in oily water. But the doctors don't know about the mustard gas so they can't treat the men properly by removing the contaminated clothing so they aren't breathing it in for hours. Some of the doctors had their suspicions but nothing to base it on other than similar symptoms. In the end hundreds of American servicemen and Italian civilans died of mustard gas poisoning and didn't even know it.

However, there's a postscript. In the confusion and speculation, many of the bodies were autopsied. Doctors performing the autopsies noticed the damage to white blood cells and lymph tissue. After the war some of those doctors found out that it was mustard gas but were intrigued by the destruction of the white cells and lymph. That discovery was the opening of a new field of medicine: oncology. And the mustard gas was the ancestor of the oncologist's first weapon: chemotherapy.

It's kind of a strange time for me to hear this story as exactly 8 years ago I would be in my last week of my life before chemotherapy started. In some, strange connected way, my life is the legacy of the Luftwaffe's raid on Bari, and by extension the introduction of chemical warfare to the European battlefields of WWI. It's a strange and disgusting thought to think that my existence is balanced on the horrible toll in lives that preceeded it. I suppose that's true for all of us somehow or another, but it's not a thought that surfaces very often. I don't know what to make of it, really. Is all this serendipity? Is it God's "plan"? I guess if there's anyone who can redeem the horrors of mustard gas, it's God, but are his fingerprints on this mess?

I guess the best thing to say for today's ramble is that I will come away with no answers. So often my reading and journaling is directed at discovery of a truth or principle that will help me understand God, faith, life, etc. in some new light. Today there is no new light, just more questions. And, strangely, I'm at peace with that.