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

27 April 2006

Variable Terrain

I read: 2 Timothy

I found two things in this second chapter right off the bat that spoke to Matt the Youth Director and that's what I'm going to write about today. "Pass on what you heard from me--the whole congregation saying Amen!--to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others."

I actually just finished reading the chapter on creating student leaders in Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry so I guess that is kind of front and center in my brain when I read these verses. Well, it's front and center for many reasons really. I think what I'm really passionate about within the Church is the idea of creating Christians with depth. The quote attributed to Chuck Colson that the Church is a million miles wide but only an inch deep is very true and very horrifying. My passion and my gifts don't really lie in the realm of evangelism but rather discipleship (perhaps that's a dichotomy that I invented but I think that people and organizations and churches seem to fall somewhere on a spectrum between those two points). I would rather see the Christians we have become stronger in faith before we add new ones. We need evangelism, but I would rather see a much stronger core of Christians doing the evangelism than a few strong ones who will bring new people into a church incapable of teaching them anything.

Weird rant. Anyways, the point of this passage is this: we have the students who are fertile ground, who want to learn. And in them we should be making them leaders. Leaders in that they know how to lead but are also competent in their faith and able to pass it on. That's why I love the discipleship model in Greg Ogden's (Ben: Ahem.) Transforming Discipleship so much. It's so simple, so effective, and so necessary. Discipling two at a time with them going on to disciple two more is such a vital necessity of the church right now. Not only is this form of discipleship teaching spiritual habbits, it also mandates that they go and lead.

And then there's the other kind of ground: the rock-strewn, hen-pecked kind. The kind where seeds won't take hold. Concerning those, Paul commands: "God's servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey." What's the basis of what Paul's saying? Keep sowing. Sow until someone, maybe not necessarily you, can start turning that person into a leader.

26 April 2006

Boldness and Sensibility

Before I really jump into this post I'm going to do some confession. My last post was, well, forever ago. Ben has been on the ball and pestering me, as he should, and I still pretty much just ignored the dLog, my reading, and my prayer time. It's amazing how well things can go when you're on track but as soon as you get off track, and then get more off track, it gets more and more difficult to get back on. And if that isn't just a microcosm of life. I realized recently that I've lost all kinds of enthusiasm and the only thing I can think of is that I'm completely out of the loop on any sort of spiritual discipline. It's all tied together. So, now I'm putting those driver side tires and easing back onto the shoulder with the hopes of getting this journey underway again. Thanks for the pestering, Ben. Next time, send Guido ;)

I read: 2 Timothy

I love the idea of spiritual gifts. I love the very idea that God gives us SG's, passions, and talents. He wants us to have hobbies, he wants us to have stuff we get fired up about and spend way more money than we should and get on message boards and in clubs where we talk about this stuff since all of our friends think we're crazy for wanting to talk to them about it. God is passionate about all sorts of things and as we go through our pale reflection lives of God, we need to demonstrate our passions for his creation, whatever those are. In healthy, moderated ways, of course :)

Anyways, in the 1st chapter of 2 Tim we hear Paul instructing Timothy this way: "God doesn't want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible." Sensible. I don't think I've ever noticed that word there before. I hear Christians talking about acting boldly and acting with love. But I've always missed acting sensibly. Interesting.

What immediately springs to mind is our evangelism efforts. Back at Ohio State we had Brother Jed. Brother Jed would stand out in the middle of the Oval (our quad for you non-Buckeyes) and proclaim his gospel. I say "his gospel" because your spiritual well-being mainly had to do with how much of your bellybutton was exposed or what logo was on your hat. Everyday of fall and spring quarter Brother Jed would be out there yelling how each of us sinners was going to hell. That was his whole message. And, undoubtedly, there would be a posse of people, both listeners and confronters, encircling him either laughing or scoffing, but definitely not repenting. That's not to say that God couldn't use Brother Jed's message to touch someone, I mean, our God can do anything. But I think it's pretty safe to say that BJ's message had boldness, maybe even love, but hardly any sense.

The head of Samaritan's Feet came to our church a month or so ago and gave a message that included this statement: "You might be the only Jesus someone sees. You might be the only Bible someone reads." Whoever we are, whatever we're doing, we might be representing all of the Church, Christ, and God to someone who doesn't believe in all three. Brother Jed's heart might have been in the right place, but there are probably more than a few days where he has set back the cause of Christianity a few hundred years. Let's be bold Christians, let's be loving Christians above everything else, but let us also be sensitive (same root as sensible) to the fact that we're representing much more than ourselves in everything we do.

Mr. Peterson presents

by Ben (well, not quite)

I'm stealing my entry today from Eugene Peterson. His introduction for the Book of Judges is exactly what I needed to hear today. See what it does for you.

So, without further introduction...Eugene:

"Sex and violence, rape and massacre, brutality and deceit do not seem to be congenial materials for use in developing a story of salvation. Given the Bible's subject matter - God and salvation, living well and loving deeply - we quite naturally expect to find in its pages leaders for us who are good, noble, honorable men and women showing us the way. So it is always something of a shock to enter the pages of the Book of Judges and find ourselves immersed in nearly unrelieved mayhem.

It might not gravel our sensibilities so much if these flawed and reprobate leaders were held up as negative moral examples, with lurid, hellfire descriptions of the punishing consequences of living such bad lives. But the story is not told quite that way. There is a kind of matter-of-fact indifference in the tone of the narration, almost as if God is saying, 'Well, if this is all you're going to give me to work with, I'll use these men and women, just as they are, and get on with working out the story of salvation.' These people are even given a measure of dignity as they find their place in the story; they are most certainly not employed for the sake of vilification or lampoon.

God, it turns out, does not require good people in order to do good work. He can and does work with us in whatever moral and spiritual condition he finds us. God, we are learning, does some of his best work using the most unlikely people. If God found a way to significantly include these leaders ("judges") in what we know is on its way to becoming a glorious conclusion, he can certainly use us along with our sometimes impossible friends and neighbors.

Twice in Judges (17:6 and 21:25) there is the telling refrain: 'At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.' But we readers know that there was a king in Israel: God was king. And so, while the lack of an earthly king accounts for the moral and political anarchy, the presence of the sovereign God, however obscurely realized, means that the reality of the kingdom is never in doubt."

Thanks, Eugene. Good message.

25 April 2006

I'll never let go

by Ben

I closed out the book of Joshua by reading the last chapter: 24.

What a cool way to end this book. Joshua, like Moses before him, tells the account of the history of the people of Israel. Everything from Abraham down to the moment that he is speaking is accounted for (if you want to know the history between these points without all of the details about sacrifices, I recommend you read this chapter).

An interesting thing that happens in this section. Joshua essentially challenges the Israelites to "put up or shut up." He offers the decision for them to state that they will follow God for the rest of their lives or if they will go to follow other gods. Two times they claim that they will follow Him, and two times, Joshua suggests that they will turn their backs on God. Finally, they make a covenant that they will follow God and obey the directions and regulations in the Book of The Revelation of God.

This is very similar to how people think of religion in today's society. We follow God when things are good. When we feel that God is treating us fairly. It's easy to believe in God if things seem to be going our way. It is when we fall or struggle that our faith is tested. These difficult times reveal whether we will go back on our word or not.

In my own life, when I am struggling, my spiritual life suffers (specifically, the disciplines). I pray less. I rarely read Scripture. Meditation goes out the window. And my ministry moves away from being a calling and becomes work.

These are the times when I most need to connect with God (through whatever discipline). However, it is difficult to convince myself of that fact. Satan works against us and tries to convince us that the one instance of prayer or reading or meditation or servitude isn't that important and that we can surely miss that one.

Don't miss it. Don't give in to the temptation to let the smallest pieces of God go. These pieces form our connection to God. To our Creator. To our Savior. God hasn't let you go. Do Him the justice of returning the favor.

24 April 2006

Casting out

by Ben

(Fair Warning: This post may come across as a little odd.)
I read Joshua 23 today.

A short chapter, but it triggered something in me. Basically, in this section, Joshua is telling the Israelites that he is getting old, that if they stay true to God that He will always protect them, and that they should trust God to deliver their enemies to them.

Simple enough: Trust God.

And yet, it caught me. I look at my life today and compare it with that of the apostles. They were given the duties of teaching and sharing God's love and the ability to cast out demons. If someone defined that as the role of a pastor in today's world, we might look at them strange. That is mainly because we are not used to the concept of demons. However, look around you at the world today; are there not sick? Is God being praised daily by creation (more specifically humans?)

Then I fear that there are still demons among us. Mind you, they aren't like Slimer in Ghostbusters, floating around from place to place (our definition of demons has been warped over time). And less and less can I picture them working like in the Exorcist. However, have you ever had a sudden flare of anger or resentment at someone that you love? Ever felt like "oh, I don't really need to read the Bible (or pray, or share God's love) today." And I'll bet that many of those times, you've later wondered about what caused that feeling or realized how silly it was. It seems to me that these subtle feelings that most decidedly work against God's Kingdom have to be modern day demons.

It is okay to be skeptical here. I'm still trying to figure it out myself. But I tell you what, the next time you get one of those feelings, challenge yourself to command those feelings away. Try it once on your own, and then try it in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There's a difference. Trust that God is on your side and gives you the power to do so.

21 April 2006


by Ben

I read Joshua 19-22.

We have a couple of administrative actions going on in this part of Joshua. More dividing up the land, setting up asylum cities for people who accidentally kill another, and making it so the Levites have a place to live. (The Levites didn't receive a land inheritance because "God is their inheritance") However, the last part of this section is what interested me the most.

The Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh are blessed and sent home (they had been given their land before the Israelites crossed the Jordan - see "The Moses Connection" [March 8, 2006]). In a city on the Jordan, they built an alter. This upset many of the other Israelites, who thought that the RG & 1/2 M's were turning their backs on God. They got their religious and military leaders and went to have a talk with them. After some yelling, the RG & 1/2 M's clear up the confusion:

"We built this altar as a witness between us and you and our children coming after us, a witness to the Altar where we worship God in his Sacred Dwelling with our Whole-Burnt-Offerings and our sacrifices and our Peace-Offerings.
This way, your children won't be able to say to our children in the future, 'You have no part in God.'"

The misunderstanding is cleared up, everybody is happy, and they don't end up having a civil war. How nice.

Let's apply this to the church today. We are divided. No questions there. We divide ourselves by denomination (and poke fun at those who aren't like us). We divide ourselves by church. There is no way that any individual Presbyterian church would want to close its doors (even to benefit the larger Presbytery). Our buildings and our memories are too important to us. We all need a reminder that the church has nothing to do with the structure that we hold dinners, small groups, sunday school, or even worship in. And until we fully come to that realization, churches will fail. Fail in the missions they put forth. Fail in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

19 April 2006

Back, sort of...

by Ben

I read Joshua 15-18 today, but was uninspired. However, I wrote a long comment to Matt's "JCS: Judas' Death". I hope you all are well!

16 April 2006

Descended Into Hell

Probably one of my least cheeriest titles ever, but this is something that has been on my mind over today and yesterday as I've been preparing for and celebrating the Eater resurrection. As the Apostle's creed tells us, "[Jesus] was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into Hell. The third day he rose again from the dead." At the Easter celebration we focus very heavily on the "cruficied, dead, and buried" part as well as the "third day he rose again from the dead." But, umm, what happened to "descended into Hell"?

I think this is significant for a few reasons. Christ suffered mightily in his last 24 hours, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But I can't imagine that, if this line is taken literally, it could have been anything compared with what Satan would have cooked up. Jesus is coming to his dungeon, with all the sins of the world draped on his shoulders. Can you imagine the glee that Satan would have had? I just seem him pressing his fingertips together, cackling, and dancing around clicking his heels together. His sworn enemy. His turf. What must he have put Jesus through in those three days?

But, here's where it's odd: I racked my brains and I can't figure out where this is mentioned in the Gospels. Luckily, the site where I looked up the Apostle's Creed has a link to some information on where this little bit of theology is derived: http://www.reformed.org/documents/Christ_in_hell/index.html

So, I guess until this little mystery is solved, all I have to say is this: Christ suffered tremendously on earth, but don't forget he spent two days in, literally, pure hell. Again and again I find my head is not nearly large enough to jam in the enormity of Christ's sacrifice. Thank God he did it anyway!

He is risen!

14 April 2006

JCS: Judas' Death

Listen Along!
Judas' Death

(I'm skipping ahead to make sure I get the important songs and finish by Easter.)

Finally we get to the good stuff, the dark stuff, the real juicy Judas stuff. This is Judas' second-to-last hurrah (we'll be covering "Jesus Christ Superstar" tomorrow), but his last mortal hurrah I suppose. This is a hard song to swallow because it hits some of those predestination questions that make Judas such a sticky character. The beginning of the song reaffirms that Judas thought that he was doing the right thing (hmm, something about "good intentions" comes to mind), but let's cut to the chase: "My mind is darkness now -- My God I am sick I've been used / And you knew all the time / God! I'll never know why you chose me for your crime / For your bloody crime / You have murdered me! You have murdered me!"

The problem with predestination is that, if it's true, Judas is God's scapegoat. Jesus needed a Judas so Judas was born with betrayal in his heart. He was selected personally by God. How do we reconcile a God of love who wants us near him with a God who picks someone out for death? Maybe one man for the greater good? I really don't have any answers here, this is about me asking questions. Is Judas a good argument against predestination? What about Pharoah in Egypt, whose heart was hardened by God? Maybe what Jesus sings in "Gethsemane" applies here: "God, your will is hard / But you're holding every card."

I guess in some ways we should be thankful for Judas being Judas, or being selected to be the Judas. None of us would be here without him. I think that when you get down to it, there just aren't any easy answers about Judas. He's not a two-dimensional cackling villain, we're him. He's us. In many ways he's a brilliant character, in many ways he's the ultimate antagonist, the ultimate horror of a vision not shared. I don't know.

God, thank you for your love for us, even when we can't understand it.

13 April 2006

JCS: Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)

Listen Along!
202 - Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)

I think this might be one of my very favorite songs from the musical. It's a great example of what creativity can do to fill in the gaps, color in the spaces. Luke's gospel records in 22:44 that Jesus was distressed to the point of sweating blood (which, according to the Journal of American Medical Association [I think that's it, I know the abbreviation is JAMA], is actually possible; they did an article on the medical analysis of sweating blood and crucifixion and all that fun stuff). Interestingly, this blood sweating thing is only in Luke's gospel and it's only in later maunscripts, so it might not have actually happened. But, what is good to know, is that Jesus was unsure. He was scared. He was terrified. He was doubting. But, in the end, he knew what was his destiny and why he was doing it. So, he did it.

The lyrics to this song are quite powerful, and at times quite harsh. Sometimes I think the song veers a bit too far into doubt for a God-man, but sometimes I think it's spot on. The one statement where I trip on is this: "God, thy will is hard." Is it? Wasn't it Christ himself who tells us that he will share our burdens and lighten our load, teach us the "unforced rhythms of grace"? It seems an odd statement, but if I was facing execution I might feel the same way.

I know this is weird, but several weeks ago I did have a dream where I was facing execution. I was on my knees in some weird tree house type thing in the jungle and the guy behind me had the AK-47's muzzle pressed up against my skull. I can't remember how I got to that point but at that moment where I could feel the gun against my head, could even envision what the guy was seeing as he looked down the barrell through the sights, I knew I was going to die. No inklings that this was a dream, all I had was the firm suspicion this was it and in a few more moments, I would be dead. Gone. Not living. It's an absolutely terrifying thought when you realize that your next moments are not infinite but coming to a close rather soon. And that's where Jesus was. Granted, he has a much better assurance that the next step will really be there, but he still had to have that human tendency to want to not die, I'm sure.

Where did Christ's possible lack of faith come from? What if it was at this moment in the Garden where things were beginning to wind down towards his death that the gulf between him and the Father would begin to widen. Jesus does seem to have a stubborn defeatedness about him as he's questioned by the Pharisees, Pilate, and Herod at this point. He's resigned, and maybe it's because he's lost his connection with God? This is just speculation, completely speculation, but it makes you wonder about the change in tone we see in these last few chapters. Just my thoughts :)

11 April 2006

Missed today

by Ben

Sorry all...busy day. Not getting a post up today. I'll do what I can to make up for it tomorrow. P.S. Congrats to my youth! Way to go Audrey on 2.54 in the 800 meters and Spencer jumping 5.4 feet!

JCS: The Last Supper

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201 - The Last Supper

This is another great song that features those loveable, bumbling disciples: "Always hoped I'd be an apostle / Knew that I would make it if I tried / Then when we retire we can write the Gospels / So they'll still talk about us when we've died." I love that little statement, very reminiscent of the "Who is going to be considered the greatest?" debate that they had not too long after the supper (Luke 22:24).

However, what gets me about this song is its portrayal of the Last Supper/First Communion. In Matthew 26 we hear Jesus' words: "Take and eat, this is my body. . . . This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." In JCS we hear: "For all you care this wine could be my blood / For all you care this bread could be my body." A few lines later he sings, "I must be mad thinking I'll be remembered - yes / I must be out of my head! / Look at your blank faces! My name will mean nothing / Ten minutes after I'm dead." There is an air of desperation and resignation about this Jesus that I don't think is shared in the scriptures. Frankly, I find it disturbing. The beautiful and terrible symbolic sacrifice outlined in Matthew is reduced to a frustrated outpouring. It doesn't make sense. Up to now the whole of JCS is fairly accurate and on-target, if embellished, but this song just doesn't seem to make sense to me.

Granted, as Jesus says in JCS, it won't be long before one of his best friends denies him three times, even after knowing it's coming, and another good friend betrays him with a kiss. That can't be a happy thought. But one aspect that is missing from JCS (and three out of the four Gospels amazingly): the washing of the disciples' feet. Recorded in John 13 (John skips the Last Supper interestingly), this is an act of humble love and devotion. It had to hearten Jesus to do this act and know, at least in some way, what it would mean to them I think. And then you get Peter's request to be washed entirely, the sort of thing that makes a teacher beam with pride. But then again, there is a large amount of God-wrestling in the prayer at Gehsemane too.

I guess, all in all, this song is a parting of ways between the opera and me. I like the song but it doesn't paint an accurate picture of Christ at all in my mind.

10 April 2006

soapbox anyone?

"the brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. but the one who is rich should take pride in his low position..."

just a few very short verses later, i come to the next part of James that grabs me vigorously. taking our cultural understanding and turning it upside down, we're reminded that it is he with little who is the honored one in God's kingdom. that God does not subscribe to our rating systems, to our caste system, to our material based hierachical structure. instead, he is concerned with our level of humility...of our ability to view ourselves through his eyes. not to demean ourselves, but to place our worth in his Word in us. just ten verses later, this theme is revisited. where does humility begin? with a listening ear. "everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." what a terrifying reminder in the day of Crossfire politics, of smackdowns, even of incessant blogging and opinion stating. in the age of "me", how well do we listen to others?

but i love, as well, what follows this up..."do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourself: do what it says". Listening is good, and must be the start, but we'll have none of this listening unless it results in living. i recently read an article on Relevant that talked about the balance of social justice...that too much of the social justice movement is about making a lot of noise but with negligible help. so we can all sign online petitions to "make poverty history"...we can all wear armbands to kill cancer or support research...we can even sponsor a child or have passionate discussion about the injustice in the world. but who of us are living lives that are radically reflecting our starbucks conversations? who of us are owning sections of the world for Christ...are living his calling in our vocation? in politics, in business, in entertainment, in education. we must listen. and then we must do what we've heard, living it out with open ears for further direction.

boy oh boy...i like james.

Faith and change

by Ben

I read Joshua 11-14.

This section didn't really jump out at me, but I feel compelled to mention two things in relation to this section.

In Joshua 13, God tells Joshua that although he's had a "good, long life" that there is still more work to be done (more land to be taken). Here's the interesting part though, Joshua through God's orders, allots the lands that they have taken and the lands that they have not taken yet as inheritance to the tribes of Israel. That's gutsy. Faithful, but gutsy. I suppose that it could also instill the people of Israel with faith that they will do everything God has commanded (and considering their record, they need all of the reminders they can get).

Anyhow, the other point that seemed interesting (if not comical) was the last line of chapter 14: "And the land had rest from war." Which my immediate thought was that it needed an addition of "but not for long." However, this is a key break in the story of Joshua and the people of Israel. These people come out of slavery, spend 40 years in the wilderness, get themselves organized, and then enter into conflicts with all sorts of people across the surrounding lands. This simple line changes the tenor of the Israelites journey. Let's wait to see what comes next.

JCS: Damned for All Time/Blood Money

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113 - Damned for All Time/Blood Money

This is where the Judas meets the Pharisees and seals Jesus' fate, where Judas agrees to sell out Christ in order to, he believes, save Israel. This, of course meshes up beautifully with what the Pharisees believe so it's a match made in heaven. Sort of.

Looking at the lyrics, Judas seems admittedly reluctant to make this transaction. He is clear that he is not doing it for the money, he's doing it because it's the right thing to do it. He even attempts to refuse the money but the Pharisees convince him to take the money anyways. He has an inkling that no good is going to come of this arrangement and thus the title: "I really didn't come here / Of my own accord / Just don't say I'm / Damned for all time!"

The Gospels are kind of interesting here. Here's what we find in Matthew 26:14-16 "Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, 'What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?' So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over." That version makes it sound like he was in it for the money. Interestingly in Matthew 27 he returns the money after he realizes Jesus is doomed.

In Luke 22:1-6 we get this story: "Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present." Here he consents to taking the money, he doesn't ask for it. Interesting.

The idea of Satan entering Judas is a frightening thought. This is hinted at in the opera with the "Well done, Judas / Good ol' Judas" at the end from an unseen chorus. Nevertheless, the old adage is proved true again: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. There's still more Judas to be discussed before the end of the Opera so we'll end here today.

08 April 2006

James Part I

perseverence must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

i think i could stop there for the night (after only 4 verses) as this is really a great reminder as to why we're pursuing this whole dLog thing. on the other hand, if i were to stop there, it would kind of defeat the message of the verse.

so i read the rest of james. but that is all i shall write for tonight. i think i'll spend a few days in james because there are quite a few things i would like to ponder.

07 April 2006

JCS: I Don't Know How to Love Him

Listen along!
112 - I Don't Know How to Love Him

So, if you have listened to the song, you might be saying, "Wow, Matt really blew his interpretation of 'Strange Thing Mystifying' & 'Everything's Alright'!" Not so, gentle reader. At least, I don't think so. Maybe this is me just re-justifying my position, maybe not, but we shall see.

First off, this song is Mary's soliloquy essentially and, as we've discovered so far, much of this character is mash-up of other, smaller roles that were created for JCS. They're plausible, but not necessarily 100% accurate.

"He's a man, he's just a man." Is Mary ignoring Christ's divinity here? No, I don't think so. I think this is an acknowledgement of the fact that he's God and man, but it's more impressive to her that he's a man. A God-Man. Rather mind-boggling, isn't it? She acknowledges that he's changed her: "I've been changed, yes really changed / In these past few days when I've seen myself / I seem like someone else." In the Bible the real Mary Magadalene had 7 demons driven out of her by Christ, JCS doesn't go into that kind of personal history. If that's consistent between the two Marys, then I would assume she has to be sure about who he is.

What I like about this song is that it's one I can relate to. I might not necessarily be wanting Christ to fall in romantic love with me, but I often ask the question of how I'm supposed to love him. Would you approach the God we see in the Old Testament the same way that you would Christ? The perspectives we have of "each" God are different and competing in some ways, but I think that's just our perspectives. Or the different identities of God. God the father. God the shepherd. God the warrior. God the king. I know I'd treat, let alone love, a king and a shepherd different. But nevertheless, they're all part of God.

Mary brings up an interesting question here with her confusion about how to love this God-man who has changed her in so many ways. But there is an answer and God gives it to us: with heart, mind, and soul maxed out. All of our devotion, all of our intelligence, and all of our passion. Thankfully God doesn't ask for much ;)

06 April 2006

JCS: The Temple

Listen along!

111 - The Temple

Okay, first off, I endured a bizarre string of events that kept me from writing yesterday, you can check it out (TWO devotional-esque writings in one day should make up for it) here.

Anyways, this is a bizarre song. It starts off with the merchants and moneylenders singing a cool song about hocking their wares in the Temple and then Jesus comes in and Hulks out and everyone freaks. Definitely happened, that's in the Bible and a cool story. Why did Jesus do it? Besides the overt reason there's another: this den of thieves was set up in the outer ring of the Temple, the area that the gentiles were allowed into (the entire Temple was divided up into sections where more privilege and power meant more access). By cluttering up the gentile area, gentiles were denied access to the Temple and therefore God, the prime resident of the Temple. Jesus clearing out the Temple was symbolic of creating access from gentiles to God, something unheard of until that time.

The actual event happens in Mark 11 and John 2 and it happens about the same in the Bible. Mark includes that this is the act that really turned the Pharisees against Jesus.

The next part of the song is a deviation from the Gospels. It's essentially the crowd singing to Jesus, "Heal this! Help me with this! Fix this!" They're acting in faith but it's all want want want. Jesus' reaction is interesting: "There's too many of you -- don't push me / There's to little of me -- don't crowd me / Heal yourselves!" I'm afraid that this is rather unbiblical as there is no time that I can think of where Jesus denied healing to anyone. And there is definitely a tale told of when Jesus healed a woman unintentionally when she just touched him.

But perhaps this is more symbolic. Jesus was constantly being asked to give give give (Was? Is. Listen to our prayers sometime.). When did anyone give to him in the opera? There's one instance: Mary with the perfume. Maybe this is just what Jesus might have felt? Indignation at an ungrateful people?

I suppose this half of the song is a bit suspect but it isn't implausible. Just like most of the opera. The addendums to the Gospels aren't half-baked, they could have happened, just fleshing things out a bit more. And I like that, it's ambitious. It's probably not perfect, but it is at least interesting!

A "Long Day" at work

By Ben

I read Joshua 10.

Just one today. I really wanted to focus in on how we as modern day Christians try to view the Bible. This issue really comes up with Joshua 10:12-14:

“The day God gave the Amorites up to Israel, Joshua spoke to God, with all Israel listening:
‘Stop, Sun, over Gibeon;
Halt, Moon, over Aijalon Valley.’
And the Sun stopped,
Moon stood stock still
Until he defeated his enemies.
(You can find this written in the Book of Jashar.) The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day. There’s never been a day like that before or since – God took order from a human voice! Truly, God fought for Israel.”

This passage definitely holds significance in the fact that God listened to Joshua. However, today’s world views that as unimportant compared to the scientific nature of this event.

A few years back, I heard a theory (I think it was on the discovery channel) that related to calendar events and astronomy. “Apparently a missing day turned up in the computer positions for the sun and moon over the past centuries. These celestial bodies were not quite where they belonged!” They realized that the positions were off by about 2 days. Some people, who were trying too hard to prove the truth of the Bible (instead of just believing it and sharing THE Truth), suggested that the missing days are accounted for in the Bible. Specifically, they bring up the instance in Joshua 10:13 and another in 2 Kings 20:11 (Isaiah proving God to Hezekiah). They say that these occurrences account for the calendar confusion.

It is hard for me, a non-astronomer to know what to think. So, I tried to search for it on the internet (a task in itself!), and found some interesting articles:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/399.asp - This site called “Answers in Genesis” claims to be “an apologetics (i.e., Christianity-defending) ministry.” They are focused around proving the occurrences of the Bible through scientific fact. An interesting read…few sources though.

http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/MissingDay.html - This one is from a Universalist website. I don’t agree with his methods of explanation (he can be pretty mean), but his conclusion is valid, in that we shouldn’t be worried about proving the truth of the Bible. If we believe and share our beliefs, that should be enough. Striving at all costs for things to make sense is not a mandate of the Bible, in fact, it may be the opposite of what we know as faith (the belief in things unseen). By trying to prove Bible history, we put God in a box.

05 April 2006

Behind the Melee

by Ben

I read Joshua 8-9.

Ai and Gibeon.

Two cities. Two different ways of approaching defeat.

The people of Ai prepare for battle and when they go to charge, the Israelites turn to run. Giving chase, the people of Ai are duped because Joshua had an ambush prepared to take the city.

The people of Gibeon, who have heard about the Israelites and their God overtaking everyone in the area, devise a plan. They pretend to be travelers from a far off land and make a covenant with Israel. When Joshua learns that these "travelers" are the Gibeonites, he spares their lives because of making a covenant before God. However, the people of Gibeon are forced to do menial labor (woodcutting and water carrying).

Two very different approaches. Neither turns out great, although the Gibeonites do manage to keep their lives.

The reality is that the Israelites, for the most part (minus Achan), are living directly for God. They are living with God. Therefore, he protects them. Therefore, they worship Him and give thanks for their blessings. We get, from the Pentateuch, that the other people from this land (the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Girgashites, and Jebusites [to name a few]) were not connected with the same God. It is suggested that, generally, all of these people are worshiping sex-and-religion gods.

Even though both stories are partially presented from the views of the defeated peoples, it is hard to feel sorry for them. Mind you, this gets into the idea of "holy war" or "holy destruction" or more specifically the idea that God is pushing for war and has taken sides (which most people aren't comfortable with). However, I think it is important to note what the religious practices were for each of the sides in these battles. The actions done in the name of religion gives insight into what the values of the god are.

I think this is where I'll stop...I have a feeling that this thought will continue as I read more.

Lamb of God

i write the curriculum for our sunday morning lessons that then gets distributed to about 20 teachers who teach it at both campuses. about a year and a half ago, i created a timeline that charts out everything that our jr high will study in their 2 year cycle through our program. and then each week, i refer to the chart and write the lesson based on what it says is up next. one of the things that i decided to do was a "Name of God" series, so that over two years, our students will learn about 6 different names of God that are used in the Bible...why & how they're used, and what they tell us about our faith walk. so this Sunday coming up, we're doing "Lamb of God", as it is especially appropriate in relation to Easter and Christ's sacrifice. so all day today i've been researching "Lamb" in the Bible, and i thought i'd throw down some of my thoughts for my dLog entry tonight...

"sheep/lamb/shepherd"...all themes that appear a lot in the Bible. "Lamb" itself shows up some 190 times. Yet, it's a little more difficult for us to understand the concepts often represented by this language than it was for those who were initially reading the writings. I don't think any of us are shepherds. But an understanding of the historical context sheds a lot of light on how amazing Christ is as our Lamb. "Lamb" actually shows up 105 times in the Pentateuch alone, mostly in sacrificial references. Which is pretty significant, because it means that by the time that Christ shows up and is labeled in John chapter 1 as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", that this would have intense connections for the average Jew. They would know the sacrificial history, and would have themselves sacrificed a lamb at some point during their life. Except, like the eternal water that Christ offered to the Samaritan women, he now offered himself as the eternal sacrifice...the eternal lamb.

The Israelites were a people of story. And they understood the significance of acting out important events to burn them into their hearts and minds. Which is why God commanded them to hold Passover every year...that they would remember the lamb's blood shed in their protection. And this illustrates why it is so important to us to consider Christ as the Lamb during this time. That his sacrifice is our freedom. That his death is our life. That his love is our joy. A lamb without spot or defect...the first fruits of what God had...offered for us, so that we could live as we were created to live, bringing glory and honor to our creator and shepherd.

04 April 2006

Well, ya got trouble, my friend

by Ben

I read Joshua 7.

So, after yesterday's post about how great the Israelites are and that they live their lives right alongside God, I get this as the first line of chapter 7:

"Then the People of Israel violated the holy curse."

I'd be interested to see God's NCAA bracket - His picks are something else. So, although they know that their God is all-powerful and has done incredible (amazing, super, miraculous, splediforous) things to help them (escape slavery, find their way through the wilderness, organize themselves, and defeat some of their enemies), they still don't get it. They just keep turning their back on God.

Well, at least this time, it's only one person: Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the sone of Zerah of the tribe of Judah (oh, that tribe of Judah, will they ever have someone good come from them?).

So, Achan stole some silver, gold, and of course a new Shinar robe from the ruins of Jericho. He plundered while destroying the city - a big no-no, as God explicitly told the Israelites not to take anything.

What punishment does Achan receive for his crime? A burning and stoning combination in the Valley of Achor (Trouble Valley- they should have known!). "And all Israel stoned him - burned him with fire and stoned him with stones. They piled a huge pile of stones over him." Double-death, fire and stones (just in case).

So, what can we pull from this:


JCS: Poor Jerusalem & Pilate's Dream

Listen Along! (New for today, but you can go back and find the mp3's for all the previous songs I have covered as well. And when you're done reveling in the free awesomeness, go buy a CD, ya lousy bums.)
109 - Poor Jerusalem
110 - Pilate's Dream

I'm putting these two songs together because they're both prophetic songs that sit right next to each other. "Poor Jerusalem" is Jesus lamenting the imminent death of Jerusalem (well, imminent on his terms) and "Pilate's Dream" is Pilate's, well, dream predicting Jesus' near future.

PJ is probably one of the most abstract songs in the opera. It begins with Jesus listing everyone (which is everyone) who doesn't get what glory or power is, then he says that bad stuff is coming to J-town, and that "To conquer death you only have to die." So, when I say it's about the end of Jerusalem, I'm obviously interpreting here and perhaps prone to misinterpretation.

There is something similar to this event in Luke 19:41-44: "As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.'"

So, kinda the same thing, but still a little abstract. Guess it jives. And just so you know, the fears of Jesus, Judas, the Pharisees, and Simon did come to pass, Jerusalem was rocked by the Romans after Jesus died and the Temple destroyed and everyone driven out into exile. Not much fun at all.

Next we have Pilate's dream which accurately predicts the events that are going to unfold in the next few days as Jesus is sentenced, tried, and executed. The last few lines are kind of interesting: "And then I heard them mentioning my name / And leaving me the blame." Uh oh, Pilate, better wash your hands of this one! Ha! It almost works, but not really. Is Pilate really to blame? Is he another evil ne'er-do-well? Sorry, we'll get to that later :)

Pilate's dream also represents a rather large deviation from the Gospels. In Matthew 27:19 we find out that it was Pilate's wife who had the dream: "While court was still in session, Pilate's wife sent him a message: 'Don't get mixed up in judging this noble man. I've just been through a long and troubled night because of a dream about him.'" Seeing as how Pilate's wife isn't in the opera and it's much more dramatic to have Pilate sing about his own dream, I see why the change was made. Doesn't really change a whole lot so it's not that much of a big deal. But boy am I glad I don't have prophetic dreams like that.

03 April 2006

JCS: Hosanna & Simon Zealotes

Listen Along!
107 - Hosanna
108 - Simon Zealotes

I realized that there's only about 13 more days until Easter and I have 16 more songs to go so I am going to be doubling up a few songs that follow chronologically and have similar themes. "Hosanna" and "Simon Zealotes" are too such songs.

"Hosanna" is essentially Palm Sunday: Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey while the people sing Hosannas (I really can't stand the sound of that word) or, in the case of JCS, they sing, "Hosanna Heysanna Sanna Sanna Ho / Sanna Hey Sanna Ho Sanna." Say that 5 times fast. Meanwhile, Caiaphas and those nasty ol' Pharisees are plotting and "moaning at the crowd" as ol' JC puts it. What I like about this telling of the story is that Jesus' proclomation that if they shut up the rocks would begin to sing sounds happy. We can read that he says the same thing in Luke 19:40, but there's something about the tone of Christ's voice in JCS that gives you the feeling that he's enjoying the moment. And why not, it's one of the few happy moments he has left on earth: a disciple to betray him, another to deny him, a flogging, and a crucifixion. I imagine that Christ would be happy this day. Sure, these are the same people that in 5 days will turn on him and be instead calling, "Crucify him, crucify him!" but for right then and there, he was fulfilling prophecies and feeling his father's approval.

"Simon Zealotes" is sung by takes place directly after "Hosanna" and it features Simon the Zealot (a disciple of Christ, but not Peter) singing about how this whipped-up crowd that Jesus has control of could easily be prompted to rebel against Rome and begin the revolt that so many of the Jews imagined that Christ would lead if he really was the Messiah. Here again, the politics of being a country under occupation continue to color in some of the outlines that the Bible spells out. How could so many people, even those witnesses to miracles and teachings, still not believe in Jesus as anything more than a good Rabbi? Simple, their reading of the Torah revealed a warrior Messiah who they imagined would come to deliver them from the Romans. And then you get Jesus "love your enemies" Christ. Not exactly what they were looking for. Christ's message failed to reach them, not because of who he is, but of what they were expecting and the fact that it was counter to what God had actually been planning. Now there's a lesson for ya.


by Ben

I read Joshua 3-6.

As previously mentioned, the people of the history books live God. They don't merely live for Him, they live Him. Everything that they do is consumed with reverence, understanding, and trust in God.

We see this very clearly in these chapters. Starting off, the Israelites are preparing to cross the Jordan. Before doing this, Joshua orders them, "Sanctify yourselves. Tomorrow God will work miracle-wonders among you."

After a Red Sea-styled parting of the Jordan, the Israelites cross "and not one wet foot." They build a marker/memorial of God's power using stones from the dry riverbed of the Jordan. Waters begin to flow, only after all of the Israelites are across.

Chapter 5 brings us the re-circumcision of the People of Israel. This act is a very literal cutting away of their negative heritage: the "parents" who had gone against God and been the cause for the desert wandering.

Chapter 6 contains the famous story of the walls of Jericho. After seven days of marching around the city of Jericho, the Israelites (following God's orders) yell and the walls come tumblin' down. (After three days, I'd have gotten a little bored of marching and listening to trumpets without any result)

However, the Israelites are living every moment with God. They trust Him. All of their recorded actions can be seen as testament to their Creator. When I think about my life, I feel pathetic by comparison. This history occurred approximately thirteenth century B.C.! With all of the improvements in the last 20 years, I could do much more to live God (let alone 3,000 years!). This gets me thinking about how I can better live for God in the simple things of my everyday. But moreso, it forces me to rethink my entire life. Yes, I work for the church and for God, but does my every action display it? If someone were to look over my life, as a whole, would they see God? How about if they took a snapshot of one moment? What would they see then?

02 April 2006

JCS: This Jesus Must Die

Listen Along!
106 - This Jesus Must Die

Ah, Pharisees. Right after Judas, probably the second most hated (disliked) villain in the Jesus story. But, here again, Jesus Christ Superstar gives a little bit more insight into the usuall one or two-dimensional ne'er-do-wells we assume they are from scripture. Well, they are ne'er-do-wells, but a little bit more complicated than we might first expect.

Everyone is aware that Jesus was a threat because he upset the power balance in Israel of the day. This guy seemingly comes out of nowhere and begins teaching, healing, and forgiving sins in the name of God. Whaaa? The Pharisees believed they had the monopoly on the word of God and clearly didn't want the competition from some dirty carpenter's son who lacked the strict training and learning that they had. So, yes, there's that selfish motivation of course.

And then there's the other side, which the song captures, attributing the foresight to Caiphas, "I see bad things arising--the crowd crown him king / Which the Romans would ban / I see blood and destruction, our elimination because of one man / Blood and destruction because of one man . . . The stakes we are gambling with are frighteningly high! / We must crush him completely - - / So like John before him, this Jesus must die / For the sake of the nation, this Jesus must die." Caiphas sees Jesus as a threat to their already embattled nation, Israel, from the occupying Roman legions. Should Jesus drum up enough support and begin a revolt, Israel would be crushed and would face even greater pressue under the boot of the Romans. So, in this respect the Pharisees were genuinely worried about something other than their own skins. Maybe.

It really is amazing to me how many layers the Roman occupation adds to the Jesus story when its taken into consideration and placed in the proper context. It really fills in the gaps and smooths in the cracks in a story that reads well, but has a couple of logistical leaps missing.

But, as I do my research, I realize that those gaps really are filled in, and in the Bible no less. D'OH! Check it, John 11:45-52:

45That was a turnaround for many of the Jews who were with Mary. They saw what Jesus did, and believed in him. 46But some went back to the Pharisees and told on Jesus. 47The high priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Jewish ruling body. "What do we do now?" they asked. "This man keeps on doing things, creating God-signs. 48If we let him go on, pretty soon everyone will be believing in him and the Romans will come and remove what little power and privilege we still have."
49Then one of them--it was Caiaphas, the designated Chief Priest that year--spoke up, "Don't you know anything? 50Can't you see that it's to our advantage that one man dies for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed?" 51He didn't say this of his own accord, but as Chief Priest that year he unwittingly prophesied that Jesus was about to die sacrificially for the nation, 52and not only for the nation but so that all God's exile-scattered children might be gathered together into one people.

So, we get jiving here between the two. I think the dates are off a little, this scene comes right before Jesus and co. enter Jerusalem, right after the raising of Lazarus. JSC puts it on Palm Sunday. So, not too far off there either. Not one of my favorite songs, but it's fun to sing all the different parts :)

01 April 2006

he's baaaaaaaack

so the prodigal has returned.

sorry guys. no excuses. just an apology.

but i'm diving right back in...this evening i read philippians. and it rocked my face off.

(pauses for a moment to reattach facial features, feeling a bit like mr. potato head)

where's my angry eyes?!

anyway....it seriously was very good.

keying in on two parts:

1:21 For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

Paul makes this absolutely amazing, thrilling claim. he's saying everything i am is about Christ. how i live, breathe, sleep, talk, act...it's all him. somehow the message he wrote to the church in Colossi was really alive in him...that is "Christ in (Paul!), the hope of glory!" Christ in Paul, spilling out, pouring out, flooding out and overwhelming his everything. what is Christ? think about your own answers for a moment. then realize that that's what Paul was saying his life was. Bam! this verse, no matter how many times i read it, bowls me over every stinkin' time.

but it also hurts because it feels so different. it somehow in my mind pedastalizes Paul. the thought process being, "i'm nowhere near that. i wish my living was Christ, but instead it's unbearably self-centered and absorbed. it's sinful, menial, and undeservedly prideful."

but (BUT) (BUT!!!), Paul does present some hope later on. which is why it's always important to remember these epistles were letters. that they're meant for total consumption. the whole gives insight to the part. in 3:10 Paul says "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings..." and in 12 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED ALL THIS...phew...Paul was human. he was still growing and learning and pressing on. and so must i. a lot of times when i run, this verse is in my head. and i push myself HARD. coming down that home stretch i chant it harder than the baddest Gregorian monk you've ever seen. and it gives me vigor to plow tough through the finish. but in life, it can be harder to keep that perseverance strong. but, slowly i'm realizing, and this verse is reminding me, that in the middle of my doubts and struggles, my hurts and the overwhelmed feeling i am sometimes consumed with, i can press on. and in all of that pressing on, somehow my life will be Christ's. my life will be Christ's.

JCS: Everything's Alright

Listen Along!
105 - Everything's Alright

I just helped some friends move already this morning and boy are my arms tired! Well, that's not really a joke, but it will explain if my typing is really off.

"Everything's Alright" is the continuation of the annointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene. It also features Judas saying that the money spent on the perfume could have been spent on the poor, which I incorrectly reported was in yesterday's song (Judas comments on Mary being a prostitute, not the perfume in "Strange Thing Mystifying"). Ah, more Mary confusion. By tradition we've started to hold that the prostitute that Jesus heals is Mary, for some reason, despite the lack of proof within the Bible (but how we ignore the fact that Judas is Jesus' half-brother boggles my mind). Jesus did drive seven demons out of Mary (Luke 8:2) but nowhere does it say that she was a prostitute (or Jesus' wife, HA!).

Judas' response to the annointing with, "That money could have been spent on the poor," is met with an interesting response. Jesus' response, in turn, is also kind of weird: "Jesus said, "Let her alone. She's anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don't always have me." I think Jesus is setting down some priorities here. Perhaps our worship of Christ is more important than ministry, maybe even much more important, than the other 4 purposes of the Church (evangelism, ministry, mission, fellowship). This is just me interpreting here, I'm not really sure. I guess this is just me asking at this point: is that how you would interpret this passage? And I'll leave it with that, finally, a short one :)