Friday, February 29, 2008

Software Development and Theology Development

I've been wondering recently why I approach theology, doctrines, and church the way I do. And then it occurred to me it's because that's how I've been trained and practiced for over a dozen years.

In the software development universe, the absolute is the laws of physics. That's the basis on which the computer hardware runs, and the software runs on the hardware. As understandings and applications of physics improves, we get better hardware. With better hardware, we get (arguably) better software. As both hardware and software improves, we find new problems to which solutions can be applied.

In the process of developing software, there are numerous constraints: hardware, money, time, acceptable quality, among others. The choice of tools and development methods and processes can affect results. The development team is a huge factor in the overall process and result.

Software development is dynamic. Tools, languages, algorithms, processes, methods, and entire paradigms that worked yesterday may not work for the next set of problems. Or they may no longer be considered the best or most efficient way of doing things. Because software development involves people and profits, change is often difficult for those involved. However, products, people, and companies that refuse to change are usually found left behind. Coming back from such a debacle is nearly impossible.

Software development is a process of trial and error. No matter how wonderful and precise the plans may be, no matter how great the tools might be, no matter how minimal or grandiose the procedures are, ultimately it comes down to writing code, testing it, and then fixing any problems that are found. Because this is a human endeavor, no one working on anything other than the most trivial solutions believe that an error-free solution is feasible. It comes down to analyzing the errors (bugs/defects) and then determining which ones directly impact the results and fixing them. That doesn't mean searching for and identifying defects, even if they aren't particulary important, is ignored. It turns out from time to time that small defects observed are actually symptoms of much larger issues.

You might ask, what does this have to do with theology, doctrine, and the church? Actually, quite a bit. As in software, there is an absolute - God - but our understandings of God and how we apply what He says is far from precise or perfect. As our understandings increase, our goal should be to put the new ideas into practical applications that solve real problems in the real world. As our understanding grows, we may even find problems that prior to this we didn't even think were problems.

On the other hand, we quite likely will come across cases where our previous understandings, our doctrines, and our practices are inadequate and possibly even wrong. In these cases, resisting change would be the absolutely worst thing we can do. We cannot be afraid of abandoning or changingn even what some call the pillars of faith, if further understanding and practice show them to be wrong or inadequate.

Like software development, I think the development of theology should be a trial and error process. They are both far too complicated to try to come up with a grand scheme and assume it is all correct. In theology like in software, we should consider prioritizing those things that are more important from those that are incidental, and work to fix bugs in those that are more important. This doesn't mean, however, that the less important things are ignored. Rather, we should continue to critically and objectively evaluate and analyze all points of theology and doctrine. As in software, we may find that some of these minor things lead us to better understandings and revisions of larger and more important things.

Personally, I approached software development from a mostly intuitive stance. When analyzing problems and evaluating possible solution approaches, there was often one or two that intuitively made the best sense. I would then have to come up with justifications as to why these were the best, but usually the deductive approach showed that my initial intuitions were correct. When looking for defects, I would "sense" something wasn't quite right, even if it wasn't obvious or even visible. Usually, there indeed was a problem, although it could take many attempts and long hours to actually discover the precise problem. There were, however, times when analysis revealed that everything was working the way it was designed.

The point I'm getting to is that for those of us that are more intuitive, when we sense discrepancies or when we feel discomfort after hearing or reading something, more often than not, a problem does exist. It may not be readily apparent what the problem is, but often, careful analysis will uncover real issues. On the other hand, when we sense that ideas can go together to form a better, coherent whole, it is often pointing in the right direction.

Intuition is often dismissed as lacking in reason and a way of leading people astray. But I believe that intuition is one of God's gifts. Intuition can envision solutions and sense problems that dedutive methods alone may overlook. I believe the world needs both, and the development and applications of theology, too, need both.

Last night's dinner party

Last evening, Elise invited a number of the night-shift nurses over for a dinner party. (Started in time for anyone working to still be able to make it and go to work.) There were five that came.

The menu I planned was Japanese and Indian. (Our kids thought that combination was a bit odd...)
  • Chirashi-sushi (sushi rice mixed with seasoned shiitake mushrooms, french cut green beans, eggs, sesame seed, pickled ginger, and sprinkled with finely cut seaweed)
  • Hosomaki-sushi (rolled sushi each with one of seasoned and braised carrots, seasoned egg, or cucumber with a touch of wasabi)
  • Inari-sushi (seasoned tofu pockets filled with sushi rice)
  • Kuromame (sweet seasoned black beans)
  • Cauliflower and kidney beans curry
  • Basmati rice
  • Vanilla ice cream with mandarin orange and cinnamon topping

The guests said that Elise is spoiled...

A few links to comics on this leap day of 2008...

Hey, it's still February! :)

On another blog site, Adventist Perspective, I came across three newly posted comics to give you food for thought until the next leap day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Discipleship: Trusting and Serving, Part 2

The title of this week's lesson, Lesson 9, in the Study Guide is Following the Master: Discipleship in Action.

For the past few weeks I've been more comfortable with the themes, directions, and conclusions brought out by the Study Guide. When I began to go through this week's lesson I didn't suspect anything to be different. But... I don't go through these lessons to complain or be critical, but my discomfort-o-meter needle went into the yellow and orange zones again.

What possibly could I find problematic with the theme of service as a part of discipleship? Isn't this what I believe discipleship is really about? Isn't the lesson finally coming around to what I believe about discipleship? Yes, but... I think the lesson takes it too far and seems to place the emphasis in the wrong place.

Most of us, I believe, are quite familiar with the concept of legalism. It is commonly understood as attempting to gain merit with God through obedience to His commandments, particularly the ones that begin, "Don't." It leads to a religion of avoidance of sin in order to achieve some sort of perfection.

Is it possible to go the other way? Can there be a legalism of "Do's?" Can the good fruits, the results, of salvation be mistaken for salvation itself? Or turned into a way of obtaining merit, or somehow proving that a person is a true disciple? Can acts of service become legalism? I think this is why my discomfort-o-meter jumped up this week. I found statements and questions in this week's lesson that together, could easily lead to this kind of legalism.

Adventists (or any other Christian) that tend to minimize the commandments in favor of emphasizing action, might inadvertently fall into this kind of legalism. Those that emphasize doing good and social action over strict commandment-keeping might be in danger here. Instead of falling into pride for their good commandment-keeping, they might fall into pride for all the compassion, love, and mercy that they show. Both ditches are just as bad. I'm speaking to myself here too, because I very much fall into the service side of the equation.

Some specifics that raised my discomfort this week follow.

In Sunday's lesson, the final paragraph ends, "Inspired by Jesus, she began her service immediately upon recovery." The implication made by this statement is that Peter's mother-in-law's call to action was the healing. While that may be true, the application seems to stretch the story in order to make this point. I find it much more likely that because she now felt well, she went about doing what culture and society expected her to do; what she would have been doing anyway had she not been ill. Why does Luke, in particular, note the immediacy? I think it simply has to do with Luke wanting to show to his readers that her recovery was indeed immediate and complete. I don't think it had anything to do with service, per se. When the detail of the story is stretched, one can get the wrong impression that a true disciple must immediately jump into service action after becoming saved. This seems to ignore the whole point of the earlier lesson where teaching and training as emphasized as necessary preparation...

In Monday's lesson, the "lesson," according to the Study Guide, from the story of the paralytic lowered from the roof is the actions of the friends and how they pushed aside and scaled all obstacles to help their friend receive healing. Is Luke's point in including this story to show future disciples that they too, must do all they can to overcome obstacles? Or is this once again trying to make a major point about an incidental detail? My reading of the passage (Luke 5:17-26) seems to show to me that the point of this passage is that salvation (healing, forgiveness) comes to those who believe. This story appears to illustrate how those that are physically paralyzed are much easier to restore to complete health (physically and spiritually) than are those who are paralyzed spiritually. In the overall flow of Luke's accounts, this story serves to show Jesus as God by forgiving sin. It seems to be less about the people than about Jesus.

Tuesday and Wednesday appear to share a similar theme: persecution and hardships. This is where my discomfort-o-meter really triggered. Tuesday's final paragraph reads:

The important point to remember is that following Jesus will cost us big, one way or another. If it does not, then perhaps something is wrong. Maybe we are deceiving ourselves. In the end, we must realize that our witness and life of discipleship, of discipleship in action, can lead to dissension and division among even those to whom we are the closest. It does not always have to be that way, but Jesus wants us to realize that it can, and not to be surprised by it when it does.

Even the last sentence, though bringing a bit of perspective on the whole thing, still retains the assumption that a disciple of Christ will experience persecution and hardships. Wednesday's lesson ends with the following questions:

In other words, what could it cost us here, in this life, to be actively involved in discipleship? What changes do you need to make in order to be truly a disciple of Christ?

Again, the assumption seems to be that discipleship must involve sacrifice and cost. And if a disciple isn't experiencing them, then something is wrong and changes must be made. How is this different from ascetics or individuals that go around beating themselves? If I'm not receiving persecution from the community around me, or if I'm not having difficulties with at least some of my family, must I go out and deliberately do and say things that offend them so that they will persecute me? Is there a difference between observations about what can happen, and turning that into almost a command and a test of discipleship?

In many parts of the world, yes, Christ's disciples do face persecution and hardship. But in many other places, particularly in the United States, most do not. Does that mean we aren't doing enough, or we aren't doing the right things? I don't think so. Jesus was speaking to disciples at a time when following Him would lead directly to persecution. If Jesus spoke to us today, in North America, I have a feeling He would state it much more in terms of possibility rather than immediate certainty.

Finally in Thursday's lesson the final paragraph reads:

Again, as we can see, discipleship is action. Those who become disciples are those who obey, who do the things that Jesus commanded. With these words, Jesus utterly destroys any notion that salvation is purely an intellectual assent to certain doctrinal truths. Though that is certainly part of what it means to be a disciple, it does not end there. Disciples are those who follow Jesus, and we follow Jesus by obeying Him—and we obey Him, not in order to be saved, but because we already are saved, in Him.

I first have an issue with the sentence, "Jesus utterly destroys any notion that salvation is purely an intellectual assent to certain doctrinal truths." The impression I get from this statement is that there is in fact a place for doctrine in salvation. What happened to salvation by faith through grace alone?!

Now going back to the paragraph as a whole, what did Jesus command and what does it mean to obey it? 1 John 3:23-24; 1 John 5:1-5; John 13:34; John 14:15-24; and Romans 13:9 make pretty clear what Jesus' command is. When 1 John 5 says that God's children keep His commandment, it is in the context of what came before: 1 John 3. When John 14 talks about keeping Jesus' commandment, it is in the context of what came before: John 13. Paul, in Romans 13, agrees with John's formulation of Jesus' commandment.

To wrap things up this week, I am once again somewhat disappointed with what I got out of the Study Guide. I got the impression that in order to be a true disciple, one must do certain, specific things. I don't accept the (implied) need for all disciples to experience persecution and hardships.

I don't think Jesus' disciples are supposed to go around looking for things they can do. I think that Jesus' disciples are simply to live the lives that God has given them, in places God has placed them, and relate in a loving, accepting, and forgiving manner with all the people that God has placed in their circles. I do agree that love will show itself in action. But to concentrate on action makes the deeds and the service more important than love. It makes service into an idol. It turns service into legalism. And I cannot go along with that. I must watch myself that I don't fall into that trap.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sermon: God Doesn't Judge You

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today's sermon comes primarily from John 12:31-50, and also brings in Romans 8:31-39 and 1 John 4:13-18.

The topic is judgment; specifically what does John's gospel account record about it? What does it tell us what Jesus himself said about his and God's judgment?

Obtaining a clearer understanding on the topic of divine judgment and punishment is key to understanding more clearly the nature and character of God.

Next week's sermon, "What God Judges," continues the discussion of judgment from this sermon. I will discuss how the Old Testament record really does give the same portrait of God that John paints.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A sunny winter day

Blind Slough

The air was a bit colder today than it has been the last few days, but the skies were clear and blue.

This afternoon, we had lunch at Helse's and then we drove down Mitkof Highway all the way to the fish hatchery at Blind Slough. There was really no other place to stop due to snow and ice still covering much of everything. I had hoped that maybe Blind River Rapids area might be cleared of snow, but there was no such luck. The parking area had a foot or two of snow sitting on it.

We got out at Blind Slough and walked about the bridge area (where people go swimming during warmer days). Elise tried to walk on the crust of ice on top of the snow banks and snow fields but discovered that it wasn't strong enough to support her. The kids and I, being considerably lighter, were able to walk on the crust. I fell through a couple of times in the soft areas.

The area had obviously been used by the snow machines during the big snow a week or so ago. Now, the ice was definitely too thin to support anything substantial. Standing atop the bridge, we could hear the ice cracking below.

Testing the ice

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Discipleship: Trusting and Serving, Part 1

The title of this week's study, Lesson 8, in the Study Guide is Experiencing Discipleship.

The opening page of the Study Guide contains the following statements:

  • Discipleship is an experience. To be a true follower of Christ, we need to have an experience with Jesus.
  • Head knowledge is not enough... To be a disciple of Christ, you must have had a personal experience with Him, one that has changed and is still changing your life.

I fully concur with the direction and theme of this week's lesson. There is an additional facet added to the definition of a disciple. Putting it with last week's definition, now a disciple is a learner/follower of Jesus Christ who has and is having a personal experience with Him. Whereas the opening weeks of this quarter's lesson gave a rather rigid view of disciples and discipleship, as we enter the second half the overall picture seems to be getting much more malleable and subjective. After all, no two individuals are ever going to have the exact same discipleship experience.

Although every discipleship experience will be different from all others, I believe that the ultimate purpose of the experience is the same for all. God will allow and lead each of His disciples in ways that are custom tailored to accomplish His purpose. Just because another of God's disciples doesn't act like us or believe exactly like us (and they may even behave in ways and believe things that we think are wrong) doesn't mean they aren't true disciples. (In fact, some -- many, even? -- may not even be Christians...) Therefore here is another reason for the warning against passing down judgment on others.

What is this purpose of discipleship? When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he responded:

Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31, ESV)

My "broken record" mantra is that to love God is to trust Him. To love others is to serve them. Thus the title of my post, Trusting and Serving. That is, I believe, the purpose that discipleship is aiming to accomplish. Trusting and serving are the examples of Jesus' life and if we are to become more like Him through our walk with Him, then we are to learn how to trust God more and serve others more. I add Part 1 because this week's lesson is mostly about the trusting aspect. Next week looks more at the serving aspect. However, neither can be totally separated and neither can one be studied in isolation from the other. Because to trust God is to serve others. Conversely, one cannot really and selflessly serve others without trusting God.

Upon going through this week's lesson, I discovered that nearly all of it (and actually all of it, if some points and applications are stretched a bit) can actually be found in Mark chapters 8 and 9.

Mark 8 and 9 contain the following major stories, in order:

Mark 8 and 9 Lesson Comments
Feeding of the 4,000   Bread of Life discussion follows feeding of the 5,000.
Demand of a sign (by the Pharisees)   Crowd demands sign immediately preceding the Bread of Life discussion in John 6
Warnings against being deceived (the yeast of the Pharisees) Wed. - Olivet discourse Deceptions may take different forms, but their goal is to take our eyes away from Jesus
Discussion about bread (mentions the feeding of 5,000) Sunday - Bread of Life discourse The point of both discussions is that Jesus is the Bread of Life and He is able to supply everyone's needs; to consume the Bread of Life is to trust Him in everything
Healing of a blind man   2-stage healing, partial and then complete healing; illustrates the need of the disciples in their spiritual vision
Peter's confession   The first stage of spiritual sight restored (John 6 has an earlier confession of Peter following the Bread of Life discourse)
Peter rebuked Thursday - deny self, take up your cross, and follow Me Shows how the disciples are still not seeing clearly
Cost of following Jesus - self-denial and death Thursday - deny self, take up your cross, and follow Me With the disciples now having partial spiritual sight, by expressing their confidence in Jesus as Messiah, they are able now to receive the more difficult teachings; i.e., the true Messiah is going to follow a path of rejection, suffering, and death.
Transfiguration Tuesday In the midst of confusion the disciples are facing, God provides evidence that Jesus is the Messiah (A Glimpse of Heaven - George Knight, commentary on Mark)
Jesus foretells his death and resurrection   Jesus continues to try to explain His real mission
Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy   Illustrates the contrast between lack of faith and confusion vs. belief; illustrates the nature of Jesus' mission (A Glimpse of Hell, Knight)
Jesus, again, foretells his death and resurrection   Jesus again tries to explain the real nature of His mission
Who is the greatest? Jesus illustrates with a child Monday - Children and Discipleship Children are an illustration of both trust/dependence and humility/service
Anyone not against is for   The real test of discipleship - selfless service
Priorities in following Jesus Wed. - Olivet Discourse The importance of not falling to temptations and deceptions, but rather to persevere

By looking at the experiences found in Mark 8 and 9, I draw out the following points which I think represent types of experiences that today's disciples of Jesus experience. We shouldn't be surprised when we experience them.

  • Deceptions that attempt to take our eyes away from Jesus and back onto self.
  • Feeding on the Bread of Life in order to satisfy our spiritual hunger.
  • Opportunities to help us grow in our trust in God.
  • At times, fuzzy vision and confusion because God's ways are so different from ours.
  • Difficult lessons, some which may take multiple repetitions before we "get" it.
  • Opportunities to share our faith.
  • Spiritual highs.
  • Spiritual lows.
  • Choices about who/what to ultimately trust.
  • Choices about who/what to place at the center of our lives.
  • Temptations to walk the easier road.

What does it mean to "deny himself and take up his cross and follow me?" Many sermons have been given and treatises written upon this subject. A succinct answer that I've formed this week is based on this:

The cross represents the place in time and space where Jesus demonstrated full trust in God, and demonstrated the depths He would go to serve the people that He created.

Thus to "deny... take up his cross... and follow" in my mind is to have the same motivations as Jesus did upon the cross -- to fully trust in God and place the needs of other people above my own desires. It is to live my life with the same love, passion, purpose, and mission as Jesus lived His life. This, I believe, is experiencing discipleship.

Spring is here...

Until winter comes around again, that is.

The last couple of days the daytime temps have been in the 40s and even into the 50's. It's feeling almost summer-like :)

Of course, everyone is bracing for one more bite of winter before real spring arrives. The forecast says we'll get cold again next week.

Recipe: Hearty Vegetarian Black Bean Chili

Here is my variation on black bean chili. The basic recipe that I adapted was for a black bean and pumpkin chili. This variation is hearty enough to be a complete meal all by itself. Add a salad if you would like a bit more variety on the table. The "heat" level is easily adjusted by altering the amount of jalapenos (and its insides) and the cayenne pepper. The amounts I give are for a moderate heat level.

I start with dry black beans. If you prefer canned beans, you will need to adjust when to add the beans and how long to cook them.

While at the store, I forgot to purchase pre-packaged corn chips, so I resorted to making my own.

Hearty Vegetarian Black Bean Chili

About 8 servings as a main dish

  • 2 cups dry black beans (makes about 4-5 cups cooked)
  • 1 Granny Smith apple
  • 3 tbsp. water
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves gralic, crushed
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 hot chili pepper, such as a jalapeno, minced (remove seeds and insides if you prefer less heat)
  • 2 total, red, yellow, or orange bell peppers; diced
  • 1 cup ground vege-meat (such as Morningstar's Meal Starters)
  • 1 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 to 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 tbsp. dark red chili powder
  • 5 tbsp. loosely packed, chopped, fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
  • Corn tortilla chips (optional)


  1. Soak dry beans according to package directions. (Overnight soak retains the bean shape better; quick soak results in easier digestion -- take your pick). Drain and rinse, then begin cooking according to package directions. After about 30-40 minutes, take off heat. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water. Drain and rinse beans. Set aside for later use.
  2. Peel and roughly chop apple. Place apple pieces in a food processor or blender, add water and sugar. Blend until mixture is a puree. Set aside.
  3. In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and onions and saute until onions start to become tender. Add both hot and bell peppers and contiue to saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add vege-meat and saute until heated through.
  4. Add crushed and diced tomatoes, apple puree mixture, reserved cooking water from the beans, beans, corn, salt, black pepper, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Mix to combine well. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the beans are tender to your preference.
  5. Add cilantro, stir to combine, and let simmer for another 5 minutes or so.
  6. Serve hot with (optional) cheese sprinkled on top, and corn chips on the side.

Corn Tortilla Chips


  • Corn tortillas (as many as you need)
  • Some extra virgin olive oil (amount depends on how many chips you make)
  • Salt (optional)


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400F.
  2. Cut corn tortillas into quarters. Brush both sides of each wedge with a thin layer of olive oil. Alternately, pour a small amount of oil onto a plate and swirl the tortilla wedge on the plate to coat both sides with a thin layer of oil.
  3. Arrange oiled wedges onto a baking sheet or stone, making sure they do not overlap. Bake for 7-9 minutes, until edges start to brown and the chips are crisp.
  4. Take out of oven. If salting, place the chips into a large bowl, sprinkle some salt and toss to coat. Place chips on cooling rack. They will get dry and crunchy as they cool.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A disappointment

It's been a few weeks in the making but today we learned that we will not be adding a new family to our church after all. The job here just was not a match. It is disappointing for all involved, but we trust that our God has good things in store, again for everyone involved.

This reminded me of my own experiences that are now nearly two to three years past. (Yes, hard to believe that our adventure was conceived that long ago, although we didn't know it at the time that we would end up in Petersburg.) I recall going through times of questioning, doubts; of wondering what in the world God was trying to do, of wondering if I was even on the right path, and why things kept going in ways that I didn't think was right. It was a stressful time, but also a time of incredible personal and spiritual growth. I wouldn't want to go through it again, but I am happy for the experience.

My blog records show me that I get random hits from all over the world. There is a good chance someone reading this might be going through a season, perhaps an extended one, of uncertainty and aimlessness. Maybe a time when nothing seems to be going right. I'm not in your exact shoes traveling your exact path. But as one who has traveled a similar journey, I think I can empathize. I've been through depression, and anger, and the temptation to toss in the towel and opt for the easier, more certain, more comfortable, but less fulfilling paths. Through my experience, I've gained confidence in my God. I know that He does not let His children down. It may feel like it. It may seem like a long time. But when the time is right, when the circumstances are right, He will clear the way. It takes active waiting. Passive and sleepy waiting won't do. You have to remain alert and ready. Use this time of waiting to develop deeper levels of trust and faith in God.

I think that in a way, the periods of active waiting that we sometimes go through are smaller versions of waiting for Jesus to return. Perhaps it is in these smaller versions that we learn how to wait for Jesus Himself. And maybe it is in these smaller waitings (because the end does come) that we are assured that the end of the greater waiting will eventually come to pass. While we are actively waiting, we continue to engage life, we continue to learn, we continue to interact with the world, we remain alert to signs from our God, and we follow the signs wherever they may lead.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chipping ice

Now that the big snow has gone away and temperatures have been warming up into the low 40s, I've started working on chipping at the ice that covers our driveway and path to the front porch. It's a slow, tedious process of sprinkling ice melt on the ice, waiting for it to work and soften/thin the ice, then hacking at it with a shovel and throwing the blocks of ice that are loosened. Repeat. Some of the ice is thin, but there are places where it can be four inches thick, and those don't chip away. I have to leave those behind and hope that they will eventually melt away enough to be chippable. I suppose I could go and obtain a large pick axe...

One would think that once the temps get above freezing the ice would go away, but it doesn't work that way. They just stick around. The only way to speed up the process is to break the ice apart so that when (and that's a rare "when") the sun shines, the darker ground warms up and helps speed up the melting. Dry conditions and high winds also assist by evaporating the melting vapors. However we've been getting rain rather than sun or wind. Rain does not help at all. It just sticks with the ice and makes everything much more slippery.

So that's the start of my week.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sermon: Family Tree

The following is the full text of the sermon I gave at the Presbyterian Church this morning. I brought along my voice recorder but forgot to take it out and turn it on. All of the kids that would normally be in church were away from town at a swim meet, so the only children at church this morning were ours. So I elected to skip the children's story, which essentially made the same point as the sermon. With all the children and some of the accompanying family members with them, the gathering this morning was relatively small. But it was a warm fellowship and we were warmly welcomed.

Texts: Genesis 5:1-2; John 1:11-13

When you think about and picture genealogies and the Bible, what comes to mind? Boring…, monotonous…, irrelevant…, useless…, waste of space…?

When you are reading in the Bible and come across a genealogy, what do you do? Do you know what I do? I usually skip over it. It isn't very interesting… To me, anyway.

But they're in the Bible. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia lists 41 such lists in the Bible. So it seems that they must have some significance.

Most of us are interested in knowing about our ancestry; but other than the few individuals that are truly fascinated with genealogy, most of us don't think too much about it most of the time. On the other hand, it seems that the Hebrews placed quite a bit of importance and value on it. So we wonder, why?

It is first important to recognize that the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, were not written primarily for us. In fact, I imagine that if we could interview the authors today, they would express quite an astonishment that their writings had survived for millennia. This is the first clue in discovering the significance of genealogies in the Bible. They were recorded by family for family.

If, while rummaging through the attic or basement of a relative, you found a copy of your family tree going back a dozen or more generations, wouldn't you be at least a little interested and excited? Wouldn't you want to know from where you came? Doesn't knowing your ancestry give you some sense of identity and belonging? Wouldn't it give you a sense of a place in history?

I think that for the Hebrews, reading and hearing the genealogies gave them a sense of identity, of belonging, and of history. Maybe as the family patriarch recited one of these lists, a great-grandson or great-granddaughter would recognize some of these names and think to himself or herself, "That's a part of me."

The genealogies, served a couple of more practical purposes, however. What value do you place on a real estate title deed, or an automobile title? What value do you place on an employment offer or contract? What value do you place on a legal will? For the Hebrews, the genealogies were all this.

Where they owned property, how much of it they owned was determined by ancestry. You might recall that as the Israelites went into Canaan to possess the land, both Moses and Joshua gave each of the tribes allotments of land. And then in turn, each of the tribes would give each heads of family a portion of the tribe's land, and so on.

The land passed from father to son, all through history. Inheritance didn't happen quite like we experience it today where each child gets a fraction of the parent's property. Rather, the land belonged to the family and stayed with the family. That's why a son asking a father for a portion of his inheritance, like the prodigal son of Luke 15, was unthinkable to the Hebrews.

For the Hebrews then, the land and the people were inseparable. That may explain why they disregarded so many of the prophets that told them to surrender and go into exile. Their tie to their land, it seems, was stronger than their loyalty to their God. Their genealogy was their real estate title and their legal will.

For the Levites, their genealogy was not title, but an employment contract. You might recall that the tribe of Levi was not given any land allotments in Canaan. What they were given were specific jobs in service to God. These jobs were hereditary, passed from father to son. And you might recall that only Aaron's descendants were permitted to be priests. All other Levites could serve in the sanctuary, and later, the Temple, but never as priests. Later on, King David made further job specializations and assigned certain Levitical families to each. Their genealogies determined what job they held.

Upon the Jews' return from their Babylonian exile, the genealogical records were once again important. For the Levites it determined once more who could serve as priests and who would serve in the other worship functions. In fact, some Levites who could not provide sufficient evidence of their ancestry were barred altogether from serving.

Those of the tribe of Judah would once again serve as the leaders and administrators of the people. For the Hebrews, family and property were at the center of their lives. Everything revolved around those two things. Their family tree provided evidence of family belonging and property possession.

This background is all well and nice, and perhaps even a little bit interesting, but what does it have to do with any of us? Most of us, I'm pretty sure, aren't obsessed with family trees, genealogies, and ancestry.

If you're asked, "Who are you?" how would you respond?

Many of us probably would respond with our names -- "I'm Mark."

After an awkward silence we might continue with what we do -- "I'm a pastor…"

And if it looked like the questioner still wanted a different answer, we might respond with where we live -- "I live in Alaska, Southeast, specifically. In Petersburg, on Wrangell Avenue…"

And assuming this was something we had to answer, maybe if something important depended on giving the proper answer, we might talk about our family: children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, etc. in an effort to establish and prove our identities.

Come to think of it, our responses may not be too far from Hebrew thought: Property, job, family… Are these our determinants of our identity, value, and worth? If so, maybe the genealogies in the Bible may have more to teach us than we first thought.

Did you know, or ever pause to realize, that the genealogies in the Bible end with Jesus? Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are the last such lists in the Bible. Matthew begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus. Luke begins with Jesus and ends with God.

In some important ways, I think the ancient Hebrews and Jews were quite a lot like us today. Like us, they were searching for their identity.

Some, like the Pharisees, sought to gain favor with God by being meticulous in obeying the law. They thought that by doing and being right in all things, their value in God's eyes would increase. The priests of Jesus' time sought to maintain their position and power as priests, because that, they thought, determined their value and worth. What they did and how people perceived them, how much power and wealth they had, they thought determined their identities.

Then there were the more common and ordinary folk. The merchants, the fishermen, the ordinary laborers. They didn't think they were that valued, but at least they weren't tax collectors or the Romans.

It really wasn't that different from today -- everybody was basing their value and worth by comparing against someone they thought was worth less.

Jesus came and shattered that notion and flattened out the family tree.

The apostle John, in the prologue section of his gospel account writes about Jesus as follows:

John 1:11-13 (ESV)

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

When it comes to your true identity, your true value, your true worth physical ancestry doesn't make one bit of a difference. Physical ancestry and family ties, property and wealth, the jobs and roles a person has often determine what the world values in him or her, but God does not see things that way.

All who believe in Jesus are given the right to become children of God. Through Jesus, the family tree is flattened to just two levels: God, and everyone else.

It doesn't matter who you are, who your family is, what you have or don't have, what roles you play in this world, You can be a child of God, and everyone around you are brothers and sisters.

Our God isn't someone distant and far away, but very close and personal. We don't have to search back a dozen generations for Him. We don't have to wish that someone great from our past is alive and listening. Our God is with us. He is alive. And He hears and He answers.

When John, the Apostle, writes about becoming children of God, he doesn't mean simple adoption. The Apostle Paul, in his writings, uses the adoption metaphor, but John does not. John writes here about a miraculous transformation in which believers become natural children of God. John writes about this in more detail in the discussion of Jesus with Nicodemus in chapter 3. What John is describing here is the journey of recreation.

Earlier we heard read from Genesis 5:1 the following:

"This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God."

And Luke 3:38 reads:

38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Humans were originally created as children of God. John tells us that Jesus came to restore that relationship between God and us.

Later in his gospel, John gives an account (in chapter 8), where some of the Jews thought they had a special "in" with God because they were descended from Abraham. Jesus tells them that their physical descent means nothing. It's what is in the heart that determines whether a person is a child of God or not.

Implicit in becoming a child of God is that we no longer have to do anything to prove our identity or value or worth. Our identity is that we are sons and daughters of God himself. Our value and worth are infinite because God's love for us is infinite. There is nothing God won't do for us to be with him forever.

All it takes is a simple, "Yes," from our hearts to his invitation.

The next time someone asks you who you are, how about responding with, "I'm God's child." Or how about a more cryptic, "I'm Abba's child." It's just a thought.

But don't you think that would raise a few eyebrows, at least? Maybe even create an opportunity to share the love of your Father God that you've experienced.

Here's one way of understanding and explaining this gospel of Jesus Christ:

For God so loves you and me, he gave an ultimate demonstration of his infinite love in Jesus, so that when He gives his invitation for us to become his children and live forever, we'll want to say, "Yes Lord, I accept. Make me your child today."

I believe this is the message that God wants us to share with the people in this world, the people around you -- those friends and family that may still be keeping God at a distance.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sermon: Do You See Him?

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today's sermon comes from the following passages: John 12:19-46 and Luke 18:35-19:10.

The theme of the passages above, for the purposes of today's sermon, is the concept of "seeing." The focus is on the Greeks asking to "see" Jesus in John 12. I explore the significance of the Greeks coming and Jesus' response, and how all this can help us to better understand what John means when he writes about seeing and sight in his gospel account.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Theme and Variations (On Stew, That Is)

Over the past few weeks I've tried a number of experiments on the basic theme of stew. The initial inspiration came from a Japanese cook book my mom sent. The original recipe wasn't actually a stew at all but a meat and potatoes dish. (Yes, even the Japanese have a meat and potatoes dish! It's not seasoned in a way with which most Americans would be familiar, however.)

So the basic concept, the theme, is this:

  • Start with an onion or two, 3 to 6 small/medium russet potatoes, and 3 - 6 carrots.
  • Cook in some butter and oil.
  • Add a protein source: stew meat, chicken, mushrooms, beans, tofu, gluten (vege-meat), or the like.
  • Add stock: chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, mushroom stock, Japanese dashi stock, Memmi (Japanese noodle soup base), or the like.
  • Add seasonings: soy sauce, miso, salt, pepper, canned tomatoes, wine, sugar, basil, oregano, parmesan cheese, chili powder, garlic, ginger, hot peppers, etc. (Not all listed together at once, of course!)
  • Add other vegetables as desired: green beans, corn, cilantro, or others that fit your fancy and tastes.

As far as cooking steps, the basic theme is this:

  • Melt butter (about 1 tbsp.) together with another tbsp. of vegetable oil. (Can be olive oil if your variation is going to be Italian-like.) Turn heat up to medium.
  • If using garlic, ginger, or hot peppers (all crushed, grated, or minced), saute for about half a minute.
  • Saute onions until they start to become soft. Add the diced potatoes and continue to saute for 3-4 minutes. If using wine (2-4 tbsp.), add it now.
  • If using meat or mushrooms, add them and continue sauteing for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Add stock (usually about 1 to 1-1/2 cups) and other seasonings (except for tomatoes). Taste for balance.  (This is key. Start with less seasonings than you think you need and add more until it tastes right.) Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  • If using tomatoes, after about 15 minutes, add to pot. (If you add it too soon, the potatoes don't get soft. I learned this from a Cook's Illustrated sample that I just got, plus my own experience.) Continue simmering.
  • Add any other soft vegetables you want to use and continue simmering for another 5 minutes or so.

Here are five variations that I've personally prepared. I didn't use any meat because the rest of my family are vegetarians. (However, we do use non-vegetarian stock.) Use these as examples and experiment with your own ingredient preferences.

#1: The Basic

  • Onions, potatoes, carrots
  • Butter and oil
  • Soy curls (I soaked this for about 15 minutes in hot water together with some soy sauce and black pepper)
  • Memmi stock (about 3 tbsp.)
  • Soy sauce (about 3 tbsp.), red wine, sugar (about 1 tbsp.)
  • Green beans (I used frozen ones)

#2: Italian-style

  • Onions, potatoes, carrots
  • Butter and oil
  • Garlic (a clove or two)
  • Garbanzo beans (1 can)
  • Vegetable stock, white wine
  • Canned diced tomatoes (1 can)
  • Salt, pepper, oregano, basil

#3: Lots of Mushrooms

  • Onions, potatoes, carrots
  • Butter and oil
  • Ginger (about 1 tbsp. grated)
  • Mushrooms (about 3-4 cups chopped, or more, if you like) - button and shiitake
  • Mushroom stock
  • Soy sauce, red wine, sugar

#4: Miso-based

  • Onions, potatoes, carrots
  • Butter and oil
  • Mushrooms
  • Japanese dashi stock
  • Miso (about 2-3 tbsp.), soy sauce, red wine, sugar

#5: Chili-style

  • Onions, potatoes, carrots
  • Butter and oil
  • Garlic (a clove or two), jalapeno pepper (adjust amount to your heat tolerance)
  • Black beans and pinto beans (total of about 3 cups)
  • Vegetable stock
  • Salt, pepper, white wine, sugar, parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup grated), chili powder (3-4 tbsp.)
  • Canned crushed tomatoes (1 can)
  • Frozen corn (1 cup), fresh cilantro (about 8 sprigs, chopped)

Was there a cover-up?

Over at the Re-inventing the Adventist Wheel blog, there is a new interview with Tom Norris. I mention this because the overall direction that Tom wants to see the Seventh-day Adventist chruch go is very similar to what I spoke about in my sermon two weeks ago.

In the interview Tom talks about alleged cover-ups by the General Conference regarding Ellen White since 1888 and how that has resulted in confusions and divisions within the church since then, and has also resulted in the church losing and becoming ineffective in performing its mission. Tom argues that in order for the church to move forward, it must honestly acknowledge and admit the mistakes of the past and recover what the gospel really is.

I link to the post not because I agree or disagree with it (for me, it's actually both to varying degrees), but because I believe it is more dangerous to have tunnel-vision and only see things in the way we are accustomed to seeing.

(Added April 2, 2008: Response from the White Estate.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Slushy, wet, and ugly

In case you're wondering why I haven't written more about what's going on here, or haven't posted any pictures; the reason is that there's nothing happening really worth writing about.

The weather has turned to normal Petersburg conditions; i.e., wet, cloudy, and with all the snow from last week now in various states of thaw, quite slushy, slippery, and ugly.

Most of the snow from our house roof have fallen. When a couple hundred pounds (or more) of snow/ice pack fall three stories, it makes a LOT of noise. And you definitely do not want to be standing anywhere nearby. There's still a small sheet up above our bedroom. I don't know if it will ever slide and fall. I'm hoping that all the sliding and falling is done because I don't like being wakened in the middle of the night to a loud crash and fumbling around in the dark trying to wake up and figure out if it's something I need to concern myself with.

I've finished all of my sermons for this weekend. I just need Elise to run through them to make sure I'm not completely off the mark with any of them.

So that's the story of this week.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Discipleship: What is the Role of Doctrine?

(Edited after first posting. Addendum at end of this post.)

I think most of us agree that knowledge, nor doctrine saves; i.e., salvation is not the reward for having acquired sufficient knowledge or having (or even living) sound doctrine. This observation leads to an uncomfortable situation: What then is the value of doctrine? Why do churches and Christians in churches spend so much time in teaching and preaching (giving and receiving)?

Augustine of Hippo is attributed with saying something to the effect of, "Love God, and then do whatever you want." If salvation is obtained by grace, apart from any knowledge or works, then I think it is right fair and necessary to raise the question of what role doctrine plays in Christianity.

Before I proceed to work through my thoughts on the matter above, here are a few specific observations on this week's lesson (Lesson 7: Preparation for Discipleship).

I was listening to an audio discussion of this lesson earlier in the week and one of the comments made was that this should have been the first lesson of the quarter. I concur with that assessment. Some weeks ago, I was annoyed that I had not, up to that point, encountered the lesson's definition of "disciple." Well, this week we get one. It's on the Sabbath page: "A disciple is a learner/follower of Jesus Christ who constantly seeks to become like the Master." If this was given in the first lesson, would it have averted some of the confusion of the earlier weeks? Perhaps; perhaps not. But it is good to finally get some grounding as to what the lesson defines as a disciple.

There was just one little troubling bit I encountered this week. It has to do with the set of questions at the bottom of Sunday's page. It reads:

How content are you with the work that you are doing for the Lord? Should you be doing more? Could you be doing more? What is holding you back? In most cases, is it not your own pride and selfishness?

Now, I think I understand the intent of these questions... Yet... It seems that the response that these questions are designed to evoke are negative ones; e.g, "I'm not content. I could and should be doing more. Yes, I'm selfish! And here's how..." These questions, from my perspective, are subtly leading. They seem designed to evoke a sense of guilt and shame... I mean, except for the rare individual who has a great deal of confidence and faith, how many are really going to respond, "I'm quite satisfied with my service for the Lord. I'm doing all I have been asked to do. God is not asking me to do anymore." It sounds almost arrogant, does it not? Yet true humility should allow us to answer that way if we are doing what God has asked us to do...

Here's one last musing, having nothing to do with this week's lesson subjects, but strongly related. In the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), it is interesting to observe that Jesus first requests something from the woman. He opens up to her a need He has before He offers her something she needs. What can a disciple of Jesus learn from this little detail?

Now I return to my musings on the value of doctrine...

In pondering this question, I got to thinking about some possible analogies. Would I want to place myself under the knife of a young person who just made the decision to become a surgeon? Or would I prefer someone who has at least had some internship with an experienced surgeon?

When, say, a high-school graduate decides that he or she wants to be a surgeon, they (not proper English, but repeating "he or she" gets tiresome...) undergo many, many years of training. When that decision is made, they have become a member of the wider world of the medical profession. (Work with me here -- I know things don't quite work like this in the real world -- but for analogy's sake...) I think this is similar to a person making a decision to believe and trust Christ. This person becomes a member of the Christian family. They are saved.

At this point, the budding surgeon to be and the brand new Christian are similar in that they have very limited knowledge and experience of their new world. But they are excited about it, and they can tell others about what they do know. The trouble occurs when they try to go beyond what they already know. If the budding surgeon tries to actually perform surgery, the chance of success is pretty slim. If the brand new Christian tries to teach or do more than they are equipped for, they could actually cause harm to the Christian body.

The only proper thing to do is for the surgeon-to-be to undergo a program of training (or we could even call it, discipleship). It begins with pre-med training, and then medical school, followed by internship and residency and specialized training. Along the way, the medical student goes from just knowledge acquisition to field training. Many years down the line, the student has acquired sufficient knowledge, skills, and experience to qualify them to practice on his own. This step can be likened to a disciple becoming an apostle. Yet the surgeon still requires and should welcome continuing education, because this helps them cope with changes that come about in their practice environment. Most will collaborate with others in order to enhance and assist with their professions.

Likewise, the ideal situation for Christians is to also undergo a program (I don't necessarily mean formal, structured schooling) of discipleship. During this training we acquire knowledge about God, His character, and His purposes. As we do, we also undergo hands-on training where we work together with God to accomplish His purposes by exhibiting His character. As Christians mature, we may spend less time being discipled and more time in the role of an apostle and mentor to younger disciples. But never do we eliminate being discipled. We continue to learn, to be taught, to work with one another to help us refine our portrait of our God. We do this so that we can be more effective in our mentor and apostle responsibilities.

Doctrine is simply teaching. In the gospel accounts, I noticed that Jesus did a lot of teaching of his disciples. Most of it seems to have been the discussion type of teaching. Reading through some of the accounts, it seems that Jesus would have preferred to not have the crowds around so that He could spend more time with His disciples, teaching them.

This observation goes against the grain of the current trend of thought where we often hear that it is more important for Christians to do good works than it is to teach and preach doctrine (or teachings). Perhaps the thing we can take away from this week's lesson is that learning and doing have to be in balance. We continually learn so that we can continually improve our service. God can use misguided efforts by Christians (after all, Paul tells us that "all things work together for good..." Romans 8:28) but wouldn't it be better if our efforts were more closely aligned with God's purposes and character?

So to wrap it up, my conclusion is that doctrine indeed has nothing to do with salvation, but everything to do with a person loving his or her God. Effective doctrine helps us to know how to better love God and leads us to put it into practice.

Addendum: A question I have... If a "doctrine" doesn't actually seem to help us better love God and put that love into practice, is it really a necessary "doctrine?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An extra sermon to prepare this week

Last week I was asked by the Presbyterian pastor to fill in for him on the 17th while he is away on vacation. I accepted, and then got to wondering what I should talk about... I considered taking one of my past sermons and reworking it. I thought that maybe I coul preach the same sermon on both the 16th and the 17th. And then in one of those things that usually only happens in other people's lives, I had a dream in the night -- literally -- where I saw myself leading a discussion on the significance of genealogy in the Bible and its significance to us as 21st century Christians.

I haven't been sleeping through the night recently -- various concerns, having a cold, etc. During those times when I'm awake, I do some praying in bed. I do recall praying about the sermon I was asked to give sometime during the night before I had the dream. The dream was so vivid, so unexpected, and so strong was the theme that I could develop into a sermon, I took it to be both a sign and a message that I should work out the sermon on the topic of genealogy.

For Sabbath, I'll continue working through John. This week I will discuss John 12:19-50. The sermon title is Can You See Him?

On Sunday, the sermon title will be Family Tree. I've worked out the children's story/sermon so far and now need to write out the sermon for the adults.

(P.S. BTW, this is post #500 in this blog.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Manual Snow Removal: An Olympic Sport?

The winter storm wasn't quite as severe as it could have been; in fact, it's no longer in effect, thus ending a day earlier than the original forecast. That is good.

Nevertheless, there was still quite a bit of snow to be moved away from the driveway. Both sides of the driveway, however, are five six or seven feet high already. Finding place to put all the new snow becomes that much more difficult.

Our main removal equipment is a bit scoop that is run along the ground to scoop up the snow, and then it is pushed and turned up or around to dump the snow in it. The scoop itself is almost like a sled. As long as the contents aren't too heavy, it isn't too difficult to make a run up a slope with it and dump the contents at the top.

As I was scooping, pushing, running, climbing, dumping; I wondered why this couldn't be an Olympic sport... After all, the more physically fit a person is, the longer they can go. It involves the whole body -- upper and lower. There's some tactics and finesse involves in figuring out how and where to dump the snow... Okay, so maybe all this is just strange and weird. It must be the cold I'm suffering from combined with the monotony of pushing around endless white stuff that got me thinking along these lines.

I heard that a boat sank in our harbor last week due to the weight of the snow. The weather is supposed to warm up tomorrow and rain is in the forecast for the week. Rain on existing snow makes for a lot of added weight. People are up on their roofs (particularly the asphalt shingle roofs, because they don't shed snow) shoveling off snow. We have mostly steep, metal roofs (they're meant for the snow and ice slide off), so I am not going up there.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sermon: Free Food

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today's sermon discusses John 12:1-19. The bulk of the sermon, however, is another story, an allegory of sorts. It could possibly function as an extended children's story/sermon. Following the story I get into John 12, the story of a feast (at Bethany) within a feast (Passover), and the different people's reactions to Jesus.

The focus is on Mary, the example that John, the writer, gives to his readers to imitate in responding to Jesus' offer of grace. All the other characters offer contrasting responses the John presents as examples not to foll0w.

When I was originally planning how to present today's sermon, I was working things out along the line of how "free" food was frequently encountered at companies I worked at, conferences I attended, wedding receptions, etc. In each of these cases, I wasn't expected to "pay" for the food, but to just accept it as part of my benefits of employment, attending the conference, or accepting and attending the reception. Anyway, things didn't quite work out along those lines, as you can tell.

I had also planned to spend much more time in the sermon working through the theology of grace (in John 12:1-19) and the possible responses to it, but again, somehow telling a story seemed much more appropriate for today than dry explanations...

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Calm Between Storms

As noted in the previous post we had quite a bit of snow yesterday. If the weather as forecasted comes true (there is a winter storm warning out for all of Southeast Alaska tonight and through the whole weekend), we could see anywhere from two to five (or more) feet of snow by Monday. (My muscles ache just from thinking about it.)

Today, however, was one of those days that lets you know in no uncertain terms why people choose to live here rather than some other place. I have a bit of a cold so I was debating all morning whether or not to actually go snowshoeing. I'm happy that I did, because even though the temperature was just in the teens, with the sun shining brightly, my black jacket and snow/rain pants soaking up the rays, it was quite warm and pleasant.

I have too many photos to put individual ones on this blog post. So click on the gallery image and you will be taken to a gallery web page where you can browse through the individual photos.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

And yet more shoveling

Okay, that was a LOT of snow that fell last night and today. I went out to shovel the path from the street to the back of the house. There were places where it was 2-1/2 feet deep. It was a LOT of work. Behind the back porch, the snow was even deeper, probably around 3 to 3-1/2 feet. I had to clear all that out to make sure there was an open pathway to the oil tanks in case the truck came by to fill them before the snow packed down or melted down.

With snow from the roof falling onto the back porch, there was a LOT of snow there, too. The weight of the snow coming down hsa broken some of the gutters above the porch. As long as only the gutters within reasonable height are broken, I can probably fix them myself. But there are gutters along the front and back of the addition, and they are WAY up high. I don't own any ladders that will go that high and even if I did, I don't think I would risk climbing up there. So if those break off, I'll have to call in the Gutter Guys or some other handyman type around here to fix it.

I'm not sure how to prevent the breaking in the future. I guess I can be more vigilant about knocking the snow off the edge of the roof. It's interesting to note that the front side doesn't have any gutters except for above the addition. Going into town I looked at the houses along the way and only about half of them have gutters. It probably has something to do with the possibility of snow.

A few days ago I noticed a large plastic drain pipe under the back porch. I wonder if it's supposed to be connected to the missing gutter behind the laundry room. There's a gutter section that's been sitting around, though I haven't found any down tube for it. Hmm...

Anyway, so we are experiencing a full-blown winter here. Last year, since we were in an apartment, all the plowing and shoveling and everything else was done by the manager. This year, well, no such convenience.

The clouds are thinning this afternoon and IF the forecast holds, tomorrow could be a fairly nice, though breezy and cold, day. And then there is another possibility for a big, winter storm over the weekend. It doesn't look like we will see significant warming until next Thursday. Maybe I am ready to see and feel the Outside (as in outside Alaska, specifically the Lower 48) world soon...

When does 1 inch = 1 foot?

When it's the weather forecast.

Or it sure seems like it whenever I look at the forecast. It keeps saying there will be 1 inch accumulation, but then when the storm hits, it ends up being closer to a foot (or more). Only when we are well within the storm does the forecast change to something along the lines of 6 inches of accumulation...

Last night when I went to bed, there was no snow and the winds were calm. around 1:30 a.m., the power went out and the battery backup units in our house started beeping. One of them automatically shuts down the computer connected to it, but the other one I didn't get to in time so it just blinked off before I could get it into hibernation. The power came back about 1-1/2 hours later.

That should have clued me in to how much snow and wind we were getting. I got up this morning and saw that it was snowing and what was on the ground looked fairly deep. Little did I realize how deep. I didn't have long to find out because when Elise came driving back from work, the pickup did not make it all the way into the driveway. After some effort, spinning wheels, going back and forth, she managed to get it all the way out of the road.

I went out there to push away the snow. Elise took the smaller shovel to dig out under the pickup. The center of the driveway had perhaps 8 inches and the sides where the snow drifted into had 1 to 1-1/2 feet of fine, light powder. (Though it doesn't feel very light after shoveling it around for a while.) After some considerable effort the snow was cleared sufficiently for the pickup to make it into the garage. The neighbor boy from across the street was plowing his driveway and he came over to help push away the berm that the city plow left behind at the entrance to our driveway.

I was covered head to toe in snow. Because there is just so much piled-up snow all around, I ended up having to lift the huge snow scoop up onto the existing piles, or leaning into the slope to push the full scoop up and over the top of the piles in order to dump the snow. Which meant that I ended up with my whole body in the snow much of the time.

With all this fresh snow, if the weather clears up tomorrow like it is forecast to do, I just might go out snowshoeing again.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Discipleship: Gospel for Outsiders

The term Outsiders was coined by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in their research work published as unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity... And Why It Matters. It is a term used to describe "those looking at the Christian faith from the outside. This group includes atheists, agnostics, those affiliated with a faith other than Christianity..., and other unchurched adults who are not born-again Christians." (pp. 17)

How does the above relate to this week's Sabbath School lesson (Lesson 6: Ethnicity and Discipleship)? At least here in North America, race and ethnicity is not quite the barrier (at least that I've seen, but that is not to say that there are no barriers) to becoming a Christian disciple as was the case between Jews and Gentiles of the first century AD.

Can we find a similar barrier in 21st century North American society and culture that Christians face and must learn to overcome? I believe that this can be found in the Outsiders surveyed in UnChristian.

Similar to the Jews of the first century, Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, I think have tended to be quite insular and tribal. We believe we have "the truth" and everyone who is different from us then falls into the category of "wrong." When we place people into the "wrong" category, the natural tendency is to look down on them, discriminate against them, and see them as less worthy than others. It doesn't matter what ethnicity they are, or what their external appearance may be. We can be just as prejudiced against the tribe that we label "wrong."

We feel most comfortable with others like us, so when we share our faith and when we look for people open to accepting Jesus, we look for people that look like us. In the process, we unconsciously and even consciously avoid people that don't look like us, think like us, act like us, or share our general values and outlook on life. So it is my proposition that for most of us in North America, race and ethnicity can be a barrier much the way it is described in this week's lesson, but we must look beyond physical appearances to discover our prejudices. Only then can we see where we are so unlike Christ so that we can have the Holy Spirit bring down those prejudices so that like Christ, we become able to make disciples of all nations and all tongues and all peoples.

To me, this week's lesson is a departure from previous weeks as it appears to be less about discipleship in our own lives, but rather, about us going out to make disciples. A number of examples from Jesus' life is used to illustrate the principles.

I do have one small nit to pick with the lesson. Actually, it is in the teacher's notes (English version, page 73). The teacher's commentary reads, "... She was no better than a dog, one of those kunaria, the wild mongrels that roamed the streets scrounging for scraps to steal..." Firstly, kunaria is not the correct Greek work. The Greek New Testament and various concordances use either kunarion or kunarios. The bigger problem is the definition given to these terms. The correct definition according to all the dictionaries, word studies, and commentaries I've researched say that this "dog" means "little dog" or "puppy," rather than a mongrel or a stray.

Why make a big deal of this? Because the definition of this one word can drastically change how we see Jesus in this narrative in Matthew 15:21-28 (parallel: Mark 7:24-30). If Jesus was indeed calling the Canaanite woman of this story a mongrel or a wild, stray dog, then it certainly would have been an insult and the woman would be perfectly within herself to be offended and leave. But Jesus called her a "puppy" and she heard something completely different. Jesus called her, not as some worthless stray (as would have most other Jewish rabbis, I imagine), but as one who belongs in the master's house and one who is loved. Rather than insulting and discouraging her, Jesus encourages the woman's faith.

Here again we see Jesus working with the cultural expectations, yet placing a twist in it that causes everyone to pause, think, and reevaluate. I think there is a lesson for us as we go about seeking to turn people towards Jesus and change perceptions and ideas. If we try to do or teach something too different from what is accepted and expected, we may turn people off and do more harm than good. Jesus' example is to push the boundaries, but no so much as to cause offense. Push just enough so that things becomes a little uncomfortable and gets people to think.

The main impression I came away with is how those outside the "system" seemed so much more open and willing to accept Jesus. They eagerly sought out Jesus. They seemed to recognize Jesus' identity more clearly than those within the "system."

Jon Paulien, in his commentary on the Gospel of John (out of print), chapter 12 (vv. 27-28) alludes to the idea above and how it precipitated Jesus' crisis. It was, Paulien suggests, the temptation to forego the cross and rather, go to the Gentiles because He would be far more accepted by them than by the Jews. (A number of other commentaries also suggest this.)

I think the primary lesson I get out of this week's study is the opportunity of making disciples for Jesus among the Outsiders. But to do that will quite likely require my prejudices, tunnel vision, comfort levels, expectations, actions, words, etc. to be adjusted. Some of these I imagine will require some very drastic adjustments.

Another lesson from this week is how God is constantly trying to show to me that He is much bigger than what I make Him out to be. On the other hand, my tendency is to continue to make Him smaller. How do I do that? By placing Him inside the box of systems, theology, tribalisms, and exclusivity. I want a god that fits into my expectations and comfort zones. In other words, basically, I want to be my own god. But God keeps hounding me to see the true, big God that He is, that I'm not god.

One last lesson from this week's study is how much easier it is to send the gospel into all the world than it is to make disciples in all the world. Anyone can easily send the gospel: Send some money, support missionaries, even go and do short-term mission work or do some evangelism. Making disciples, however, is a long-term effort. It requires much more living than preaching. And frankly, I don't think Christians, including Adventists, are doing a good job in this arena. We spend great amounts of resources in sending the gospel, but it appears comparatively little towards discipleship. We may be seeing huge numbers of decisions for Christ through sending the gospel, but is there enough being done to guide all of these "decisions" to continue making decisions for Christ each and every day? What can I do to change the balance? What can you do?

Thaw, then freeze, and more bitter cold

Monday and Tuesday saw a bit of thawing, resulting once again in slushy, mushy, splashy, squishy, slippery roads, sidewalks, and generally everywhere. It continued to snow off and on. Monday, of course, because it was just above freezing, the snow was heavy and wet.

Yesterday, by noon the temperatures had once again fallen below freezing and strong winds had picked up. The Narrows were very choppy, and snow was falling horizontally. Many people think yesterday may have been the strongest combination of snow and wind to occur in fairly long memory here. One might almost call it a blizzard.

I went walking about to run some errands today and discovered that the unplowed areas have around 2 feet of snow. On the way to the post office I took the trails that cut through the muskeg and go up to the ballfield, and then through more muskeg out to the big grocery store. I tried to go up a short embankment but discovered that there was no way I could walk through it as the snow came all the way up above my knees. And then from the post office I thought I'd go on the foot/bike path, but that was unplowed. When I stepped into it, I discovered that the snow came all the way up to my thighs. I quickly retreated back to the road and walked down to the city along the side of the road. The plows have been busy, but the roads are getting quite narrow with large piles of snow all along the sides of the roads.

According to the forecast, the temperature once again will dip into the single digits tomorrow night before slowly warming up again into the 20's and then into the low 30's early next week.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A big icicle

We almost hit 30 degrees today. We also got another 3-4 inches of snow. There's been a little bit of melting occurring along our roof, resulting in a few large icicles.

This is right outside Amy's bedroom window. What is happening is that the warm air from the heater travels up to Amy's room (a straight path up the stairs), and then the heat escapes up and melts the snow right above the room, resulting in these large ones. The rest of the house doesn't have them quite this large. I'm guessing this one is around 4 to 5 feet in length. There are a couple more (not in photo) that are nearly as large.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sermon: Marching Orders

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Alternate title: Why I Choose to Remain a Seventh-day Adventist Christian

This week I take a brief break from the gospel of John and tackle a different topic, as you can see from the above alternate title.

From time to time as I look at my spiritual experiences and the beliefs I hold, I am challenged by the following questions: Why am I a Seventh-day Adventist Christian? What keeps me one?

If I don't have good answers to the question, particularly the second one, it's either time to start searching for a good answer, or find a different faith or even belief system.

Today's sermon is my current answer to these questions. I get back to the original marching orders for the Adventist church: the three angels' of Revelation 14 (plus a bit more that follow - Rev. 14:6-16). I make an attempt to reframe the message to be more applicable to the 21st century world and its concerns.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A walk in our "backyard"

Since the large amount of snow fell earlier this week, I've been meaning to go out snowshoeing, but hadn't quite gotten to it. For one reason or another by the time I was done with all that I planned to do, there wasn't too much daylight left.

Today, I decided to just go out and worry about the other things later. So I spent a couple of hours tromping through the snow covered muskeg. The muskeg stretches all the way from our backyard to the airport. I didn't go quite that far -- probably about halfway there before I started the loop back. With the temps in the teens and 20's, the snow is still quite powdery and fresh, with light snow continuing to fall today. We might see another four or five inches of snow by tomorrow morning.

I saw one small deer while out. It was having some difficulties navigating the deep snow. The snow came to its belly. It couldn't just walk through it, but had to leap to make progress.

Here's what our "backyard" looks like in winter when it's covered with snow. I have no clever captions for these photos. They're just "muskeg."