Monday, March 31, 2008

Review: The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible

Last week the shipment from containing The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible arrived. With it my search for the "perfect" Bible came to an end -- or at least until something better comes along. It is available (as far as I know) only through

It isn't obviously, "perfect," but it comes fairly close. I use QuickVerse on the computer but what I've been finding is that the computer screen, no matter what the marketing materials say, is not always the best way to read and compare multiple Bible translations. I've also never gotten used to taking notes on the computer version. The few times I did, the notes got lost and I couldn't find it. (Was there a "save" button somewhere...?)

Printed Bibles, even if they are as big as a parallel Bible, are still more portable than a laptop PC: printed Bibles don't need electricity or batteries; notes don't get lost into digital ether; there is much more text that can be shown and the eyes to take in with a single glance; and sometimes, locating passages while bookmarking ones you want to return to is much easier with a printed Bible.

The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible (EEPB) was most recently updated in 2007 and in its selection of the four translations, includes three very recent ones: English Standard Version, New Living Translation 2nd ed., and The Message. The other translation is the New King James. Also included in the preface are several introductory papers on the types of translations and why it is useful to have multiple ones.

I was looking for a parallel Bible that contained at least the ESV and the NLT. TMSG was a desirable feature, but not strictly necessary. In the EEPB I finally found the right combination. Instead of the NKJV, I would have preferred the New International Version or Today's New International Version, but alas, that was not to be. And (currently, as of this writing) at $40, I think this was a very good deal.

While reading and comparing, I discovered how many of the translation footnotes differ between the translations. This is actually quite helpful because I am able to get an even better sense of the ambiguities in the manuscripts and choices made by the translators.

The font size is fairly small. This is of no handicap to me (at least not yet) because I've always preferred really, really tiny print, even when I write my own text. But for those who prefer larger print, this may be a nuisance.

I wish the margins were a little larger so that I could write in more notes. However, because there are four translations side by side, it is fairly easy to find some whitespace in which to jot down tiny notes.

I also think that a cross reference system from one of the translations, if included, would have been useful. But I suppose that would have turned an already large Bible into an even larger one.

I heartily recommend the EEPB to anyone who needs or wants a parallel Bible containing some of the newest and (IMO) best translations of the English Bible.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I thought about washing our pickup truck...

But then it started to snow -- even though there's sun filtering through the clouds.

The last several days have been fairly dry and mostly sunny. Yesterday was quite nice -- so much so that we spent some time out on the back deck of our friends' in the afternoon (air temp was about 40-45F). The city crews have been out all last week sweeping up from the roads all the sand and dirt that was used on the snow and ice during the winter.

This morning the skies were somewhat cloudy, though there were still blue patches. It strated to get more overcast around mid-morning, though still dry. I looked out across the street and saw that our neighbors had just finished cleaning their SUV, inside and out. So I thought today might be a good day to do that with our pickup truck as well.

I went into town, first to drop Shelley off at work, and then search for a car wash wand with a brush on the end. (It's a little cold to get my hands into the cold water with a wash mitt.) I didn't find it at the first stop, so I began to walk on to the second hardware store. That's when the snowflakes began to fall. I found what I needed and went to check out. When te clerk saw what I had, he accused me of bringing down the snow. I passed blame to my neighbor.

It's been snowing ever since.

Sermon: Courage and Hope

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Guest Speaker: Cheeko Cotta

Key Text: Joshua 1:6-9

The sermon is about how we look forward to the hope of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, as we wait, we must have courage to weather the trials and problems that come our way.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Are you like Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, or someone else?

While doing my daily blog browsing, I came across a blog that referred to a site with a intriguing personality test: The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test. To get your results, you will have to register at the site. (It's a matchmaking type site, so you must be over 18.)

Here's my result:

"Correct me if I am wrong," he said, "but am I right in supposing that it is a very Blusterous day outside?"

"Very," said Piglet, who was quietly thawing his ears, and wishing that he was safely back in his own house.

"I thought so," said O-wl. "It was on just such a blusterous day as this that my Uncle Robert, a portrait of whom you see upon the wall on your right, Piglet, while returning in the late forenoon from a-- What's that?" You scored as Owl!

ABOUT OWL: Owl is considered highly educated because he can spell his own name (WOL) and he can even spell Tuesday... although he doesn't always get it right. Owl is a good sort, really, although he can be a bit of a stuffed shirt, and he tends to overlook the smaller details in life - like the fact that his bellpull is actually someone's tail.

WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are confident and you feel capable of dealing with whatever life throws at you. You know that you can handle just about everything... mostly because you know how to delegate the job of actually handling things to the people around you. You aren't one of those Bisy Backsons, who rush around trying to do everything at once. You prefer to stay at home and reflect on life, rather than go out and live it.

Sometimes, you know, you need to stop waiting for things to come to you and go out and get them. You need to go enjoy the weather, smell the fresh air, and pay attention to the little people in your life. They may not be as great as you... but maybe they could use your help.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New PC

A few weeks ago when our tax refund showed up, I purchased/ordered a new PC. This is to replace the one that was being used by the kids and Elise for school and such. The old PC, even after I basically updated all the hardware, never worked quite right. Since we have no big-box electronics stores, nor even a hole-in-the-wall part-time computer supplier, the only choice is to order in. Shipping to Petersburg is always a major purchase decision factor. HP was offering free shipping, so that kind of sealed the deal.

The PC is the lower end of what is currently available, though I bumped up the memory to 2GB so that even with shared video memory, there will be sufficient left for Vista to work with. Otherwise, the whole PC measures about the size of a family Bible or a large 3-inch 3-ring binder filled with paper.

It arrived earlier in the week, but I only started the setup process yesterday. I spent much of the afternoon and the evening trying to get the files and settings from the old computer transferred over. Windows Easy Transfer my #%&@! There was nothing easy about it. The network based transfer failed three times, the USB drive transfer failed twice, and the final solution to create the transfer file on the old PC and then use file sharing to transfer was about 90% successful. There were a number of files which for some reason would not transfer. I had to finally resort to Microsoft's SyncToy to synchronize all of the document folders between the old and new.

I think everything is pretty much ready to be opened up to use by the family. I need to move the PC downstairs, and then move the old PC elsewhere so that I can try to figure out why it's been so unreliable. I think there is some sort of hardware and software conflict, perhaps with the hard drives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Today was a wonderful spring day. A few snowflakes fell during the night, but by morning the skies had started to clear. It was sunny and dry all day long.

That was the good. Now the bad. I fell off the bicycle while making a turn around a corner. There was a car behind me and I was trying to turn onto a side street to get out of the way. I (obviously) took the corner too quickly for the conditions -- loose sand on the surface. I felt the wheels lose grip and slide out. There was nothing I could do. I was well padded with jacket, insulated pants, thick gloves. In coming down I must have hit my left thigh on the top tube or something like that because it's been quite painful ever since. Going down stairs has become difficult. So that's the only thing bruised (well, maybe my ego too... there were witnesses...)

On a different topic, our little cat Vivvy was meowing insistently about something this afternoon after I returned from grocer shopping. Wherever I went, she was there yowling at me. I thought that was highly odd. When was the last time she yowled like this...? It was when Stripey (our big cat) found himself stranded outside. And then I suddenly realized that when I was on the back porch earlier, I thought I had heard a cat meow. It was so quiet that I thought maybe it was a stray or a neighbor's cat.

I made the connection and went out back. After a few moments Stripey came crawling out from the space between the back of the house and the hot tub. He was more than happy to end his outdoor adventure. The strange thing is, no one recalls when the doors might have been left open for him to escape.

Discipleship: Working with Recipes

The title for this, the last lesson in the series on Discipleship, in the Study Guide is Lesson 13: Patterns of Discipleship.

Going through this week's lesson, one of the thoughts that came to mind that I considered writing about was in regards to Design Patterns, Architectural Patterns, component reuse, and code reuse. These are all subtopics within the field of software engineering and development. And from my perspective, I think there are a number of analogies to be made between those and this week's lesson topic. But after thinking about it, I decided against it because the analogies would only make sense to people already familiar with it.

Anyway, here are a whole bunch of questions that I have as I look back over the quarter.

We've spent thirteen weeks on the theme of Discipleship. What have we learned? Do we know any more than when we started? Are we doing anything differently than we have before we started this series? Has spending three whole months on this topic been of any benefit?

What is discipleship? If it has something to do with the formation and development of disciples, what is a disciple (of Jesus Christ, that is)? Am I a disciple? What characterizes a disciple? Am I doing enough? Or is that even a good question to be asking? When is introspection and self-examination appropriate? Is it ever appropriate? If it is, is there a point where introspection becomes navel-gazing? Where?

Can a person exhibit qualities of a disciple and not be one? Can a person not look like a disciple, and yet be one? Who is to judge? Is it okay to judge one's self? Or is even doing that treading on dangerous ground?

I've been reading Philip Yancey's Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? I came across a few sentences that, although speaking of prayer, seems appropriate to expand to the whole topic of discipleship.

A media-saturated culture conditions us to expect a quick fix to every problem. Relationship problems, however, rarely lend themselves to quick and easy solutions. I have not seen, for instance, that shelves of books on “how to save your marriage” have had any discernible effect on divorce rates. If relating to another person proves so resistant to formulaic advice, how much more does relating to God? (p. 159)

I think discipleship is about relationships -- both vertical and horizontal. Discipleship is about how a person relates with God and how that relationship translates into how he or she engages the world. The danger of any treatment of discipleship is to take what is taught as formulas and try to apply everything precisely in the manner taught, expecting results that were offered for following the formulas. Discipleship isn't mathematics -- it's more sociology and psychology. There are broad principles, but specific applications vary from person to person, from place to place, from time to time, etc.

Here's another. Yancey had been describing prayer routines of a number of individuals and groups. He's discovered that simply following prescribed methods doesn't work. Some practices just aren't a good fit for him and his personality. And so he concludes this part of his discussion:

The routine of prayer for Judy Morford bears little resemblance to that of Henri Nouwen, not to mention his Trappist adviser. I must find my own way to pray, not someone else’s. And as life changes, my prayer practice will no doubt change with it. A person battling chronic illness will pray differently than a college student who mainly worries about final exams and a noisy roommate. Taking a mission trip, getting married, managing a houseful of kids, giving care to an aging parent – every major life change will have its effect on prayer, both its practice and its content. The only fatal mistake is to stop praying and not to begin again. (p. 163)

Again, I think it is appropriate to expand the whole of discipleship into the above passage:

I must find my own way to follow Christ, not someone else's. And as life changes, as my relationship with Christ changes, my discipleship practices will no doubt change with it... Every major life change will have its effect on discipleship, both its practice and its content. The only fatal mistake is to stop following Christ and not to begin again.

While thinking about all this last night while lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, my mind stumbled upon the metaphor of recipes as it pertains to cooking. (I think this metaphor is more appropriate for a general audience than the software engineering ones that I mentioned above.)

Cooking, at its very basic, is a task performed to produce material that is fit for our consumption. It can be as basic as washing some carrots. Or it can be more complicated such as a Torta Barozzi. (BTW, I have not even attempted this.)

For me, I enjoy the process of cooking. I also want others to enjoy what I create. Recipes are critical for both the process and the result. About a year ago when I really started to cook on a regular basis, I followed recipes almost slavishly. Since I've been cooking a couple (and sometimes more) dishes nearly daily, I've come to learn techniques, food chemistry, herb and spice combinations, etc. that are common across many dishes. As I've become familiar with certain recipes, I don't always pull out the written formulas. Even when I do, it's more often to make sure I hadn't forgotten an ingredient or missed a key step. However, when I'm trying a new dish, I will usually (though not always) follow the recipe pretty closely and carefully.

What I most enjoy though, is improvising on recipes, with techniques, and with ingredients. I browse through cookbooks, or the collection of recipes that I've used in the past, and then try to come up with the broader theme upon which I can improvise. It may be to use up produce or other ingredients that are about to hit their "best used by" dates. Or it may be that I want to try a new ingredient that I found. Or I might simply want a slight twist to a familiar dish. When the improvisation is successful (meaning the family enjoys it too), I find tremendous joy and a sense of accomplishment -- much more than if I had slavishly followed a formulaic recipe. Not only that, but I now have a new recipe, as well as ingredients, spice combinations, techniques, etc. to add to my cooking arsenal. Now sometimes, the results aren't quite as successful as I'd have liked, and I use those as "learning experiences." I try to analyze what went awry and try to do those things differently the next time around.

Getting back to the topic of discipleship, I wonder if the examples, the stories, and even the commands in regards to discipleship that are found in Scripture are like recipes. Maybe as a new believer is just starting to discover fellowship with Christ, he or she might want to closely follow some of the "formulas" of discipleship in the Bible. As they get familiar with a few of the techniques, is it possible that God wants his children to experiment with new and different ways of following him? Sometimes they might be wildly successful and other times these experiments may turn out to be "learning experiences."

Lately, I've been growing into the impression that there is a lot more of God than is found strictly in the Bible. I think that God wants us to push the boundaries that we have made for ourselves and explore more of what is outside the fences. I think that God finds joy when he sees his children going beyond the formulas and patterns that are already known, and to discover new patterns and methods that draw God and the person closer together. I think that the person, too, finds great joy discovering what is new. It doesn't take much of a stretch to think that there is much greater joy in what is new than in simply following what is already known. Following Christ, being a disciple, doing discipleship, should not be a drudgery. Joy shouldn't be something just at the end -- it should be available all along.

Lest someone think I'm advocating a free-for-all, that is not it at all. In cooking, the end result must be at least palatable; but the desire is to create something extraordinarily good. In discipleship experiments, the end result is to strengthen a person's relationship with God. I believe that Christians have for too long minimized (if not in word, then in practice) the role of the Holy Spirit as a guide to truth and fellowship with God. We do not take seriously enough the statement made by Jesus (John 16:12-15),

"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you." (NIV)

Is there more to truth than what the Bible records and what we have interpreted? Is there more to discipleship than what the Bible records and what we have interpreted? If we take Jesus' statement seriously, then I believe the answer is "yes" to both questions. I believe we need to give the Holy Spirit (which is, after all, the Living Word living within each of us) at least as much authority and credence as we do the written Word of God. I acknowledge that this could lead to more subjectivity and less objectivity. But I wonder, is that such a bad thing? The Bible is a tool, not the end or even an end. Jesus, getting to know him, letting him love us, and learning to trust him, is the end. That is the goal of discipleship, which is yet just another tool...

... Just like a recipe.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Some Losses

This has been a season of losses. It feels like we have experienced more than the usual share. We've had people come into our lives, and then leave. We've had a number of deaths. People we've come to know move on and away. Is it because the community is so small that even one loss is felt deeply? Is it because the community is remote that moves away feel like connections being severed?

This week in particular, we learned that girl about Amy's age, one that we've come to know suddenly passed away. The family spends the winter away from here, so they are elsewhere. Nevertheless the death touches many families, most who have known one another for much longer than we have.

Things are also different because the circle of friendship extends much more beyond the usual denominational lines that is typical in a larger community. We went to a time of prayer and sharing organized by one of the other families. As much as I tried to offer words and prayers that were common across faith lines, I found that I could simply not avoid forming words that are influenced by my beliefs. I hope that in my efforts to offer words of comfort and encouragement, I didn't confuse, or worse, offend.

A family that we've come to know well are moving away today. While the parents and older boy are doing last-hour preparations, we are watching a couple of the younger ones at our house. And so it is with sadness that we bid farewell.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White Easter...

We didn't have a white Christmas. We did get a white Easter. For a couple of hours this morning the snow fell quite fast and hard (snow falling hard -- is that an oxymoron?) and coated everything with up to an inch or so.

Around here, it seems more appropriate to have new Easter boots and coats rather than new Easter dresses...

White Easter  White Easter

Elise returned from work somewhat later than expected. A patient arrived 10 minutes before the end of her shift and caused the delay. Once Elise returned we had a quick breakfast of waffles and berry sauce, and some scrambled eggs (with Morningstar Meal Starter bits and green onions). Following that Elise took Amy to the hospital for her coffee deliveries, and then over to our friends' so that she could do some gardening (yes, in the snow and rain).

Sermon: What Must I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Based on Luke 10:25-37. This passage records a lawyer's question posed to Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life" and Jesus response that includes the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In this sermon, I work through the above passage and conclude with how it demonstrates the Easter theme of Jesus' death and resurrection. Once again I am indebted to Kenneth Bailey's, Through Peasant Eyes, for the cultural and literary exegesis of the passage.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Community Good Friday Service 2008

As has been tradition here, short messages are given on each of the seven last words of Christ. As the secretary for the Ministerial Association, I was given the task of assigning each of the words to one of the pastors. I assigned myself the fourth word.

It's a challenge to condense all that I could say into around a 3-minute period. I don't want to leave anything critical out, yet I can't leave in anything that are even slightly tangential or detracting from the central theme. So it was a case of edit, edit, and more edit.

The service was once again at the Lutheran church. Each word was interleaved with music. Some of the speakers went longer than others.

The following is the text of my message. I used some dramatic intensity, literally shouting out a few of the emphasized words and phrases in the text below. Afterwards, I felt just as exhausted as I do after giving a sermon of the usual 20-35 minutes. The only thing I can figure is that usually, the energy and emotions put into a sermon are probably spread out over the whole time (or comes right near the end), but for something like tonight, everything is concentrated into just a few minutes.

All scriptural texts are taken from the English Standard Version. (Emphases are mine.)

The Fourth Word: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Matthew 27:45-46, Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

For three hours Jesus was silent. Darkness, unnatural darkness, covered the land; as if creation itself sought refuge from the horrors inflicted upon the Creator. Where is God? The onlookers are certain that God's curse is upon Jesus; certain that God has abandoned him. Jesus cries out words that seem to confirm their darkest thoughts.

Jesus, the Son of God, who was with the Father from the beginning of eternity now knows what it feels to be forsaken and abandoned.

Have you ever felt forsaken and abandoned? By others? By God? Do you ever feel as if God is absent? Did God truly abandon Jesus while he suffered? Does God abandon you? Is God ever absent?

Following the Last Supper, John records Jesus saying (John 16:32), "Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me."

Jesus believed that God would continue to be with him through his sufferings.

Peter, in one of his letters, looking back on Jesus' crucifixion wrote (1 Peter 2:21-24):

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Peter wrote that Jesus left an example for us to follow when we go through times of trials and suffering.

Here are at least two examples that Jesus left for us:

First, Jesus, even when all feelings and emotions said otherwise, clung to his faith in the love of God for him. Jesus continued to trust that whatever happened to him, God's loving purposes would be accomplished through it.

Secondly, Jesus continued to seek to show God's love and grace, amid his sufferings and agony.

  • To the soldiers nailing him to the cross.
  • To the thief who asked for forgiveness and assurance of salvation.
  • To his mother.

All of us go through difficult times. Jesus showed us the way through those times of trouble. The way through is through continuing to trust in God and through bringing comfort and healing to those who are also suffering. Through our loving and compassionate actions, we become the presence of God in the lives and hearts of those who are feeling forsaken and abandoned. God's mystery is that as we offer comfort through empathy, we in turn, I believe, open ourselves to receive comfort.

For Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Superb, Sensational, Spectacular Spring

For once the calendar and the day agreed. Today was a pretty good day for the first day of spring. It's about 8 on a scale of 10 -- a high, thin overcast that let in plenty of sunshine all day long.

Yesterday was something completely different. We had rain, wind, snow, and sun. But today, that is all past, at least for one day. It was enough for plenty of people to be out walking and running. I went out again on the bicycle to the AML cargo terminal and back around the airport -- about 11.5 miles and 43 minutes. I've been doing a bit more riding around, and that seems to have helped because my knees and legs weren't bothering me at the end of the ride. The last time I rode the same route, I was feeling some pain.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Discipleship: Sharing the Gospel

This week, the lesson looks at the topic of "the gospel in the context of the great commission." (Lesson 12: Mission and Commission.) The big questions for this week are, what is "the gospel," and why should we share it?

The Study Guide (Tuesday) suggests a definition for "gospel" based on Mark 16:15-16: "Believe it [the gospel], and you shall be saved; reject it, and you shall be lost." Um... Do you see a problem with this? It's circular. It assumes that gospel is already understood to mean something. But what is it?

There is a tangential issue here. The lesson bases both Monday and Tuesday's materials primarily on the section in Mark 16:9-20. This is a section of Mark's gospel that isn't considered to be authentic (the Teacher's comments in the lesson notes this). It is considered as later emendation of editors and redactors to create an ending of Mark's gospel that wasn't so abrupt and unsatisfying as it actually was. Or perhaps the actual ending of Mark was lost and this was again, editors' and redactors' attempt to put back a satisfying ending. In any case, the ending appears to take thoughts and materials from Matthew, Luke, and Acts. So although there are no serious theological issues with the ending of Mark, I personally would be reluctant to use it as basis for deriving any definitive conclusions.

With that out of the way, there is still the unanswered question, "What is the gospel?" The Winter 2008 issue of Leadership Journal has as its theme: Is Our Gospel Too Small? In one of the articles, An Efficient Gospel?, by Tim Keel, the author relates being asked at a summer camp where he was one of the counselors, "If someone were to ask you what the gospel is, what would you say?"

One definition is the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Another definition is simply, "Good News" and more specifically the good news about Jesus Christ. Tim writes a few paragraphs later:

I learned what the right answer was supposed to be... I discovered that "gospel" was a word that many Christians used as shorthand for the means by which a person could go to heaven after they died. Over time they had perfected the science of explaining "the gospel" in a simple and efficient way.

The gospel was understood to be a series of propositions meant to "save" someone. When these propositions were followed logically and sequentially, and subsequently accepted as truth in faith, the subject was assured of their eternal destiny...

But then Tim asks whether this definition of "the gospel" is sufficient. Is it adequate? Is it too small?

I ask the same question in regards to the definition of gospel that is implied in the Study Guide. (The information that Jesus died and was resurrected in order to show God's love and make forgiveness and reconciliation possible; and believing this information to be true results in salvation.) After spending one day (Sunday) on how disciples interact in practical ways with the world, the lesson returns to discussions about how the gospel must be preached and people brought to a knowledge of salvation (Monday), how the gospel must be understood before it can be preached (Tuesday), and the importance of using Scripture to prove the gospel (Wednesday and Thursday).

Tim observes that Christians are very good at emphasizing the Redeemer and eschatological themes of the gospel, much like I outlined in the previous paragraph. But he suggests that to focus on just these makes for in inadequate gospel. The gospel must have power in the here and now as well. He writes:

A reduced version of the gospel will have little to say to such questions [ethics of technology, gender and sexuality, environment, just economy, etc.] No wonder so many have determined that the church and "the gospel" have very little to contribute to the world...

People are not asking the traditional gospel question much anymore. Asking, "If I died tomorrow, where would I end up?" does not generate much life. But asking people, "If you had just a few years left, what kind of life would you want to live?" generates enormous energy. It is a question of hope, something our balkanized world sorely needs.

I believe the gospel is much broader than just, "Jesus, the Savior, died, rose, and is coming back. If you want to be saved, believe in Jesus." I believe sharing the gospel is much more than simply preaching those words. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have spoken, "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words."

But if we don't preach the words, won't people be lost? If we think that, I think we are limiting God. There's a lot of emphasis placed upon conversions and baptisms, of getting people moved from the "lost" column into the "saved" column. Organizations make goals out of numbers. But I wonder, when we turn godly desires (seeing more people come to trust in God is, I believe, a good and godly desire) into numerical goals (making conversion a goal to be achieved, I fear, is wrong), do we somehow shove aside God and the Holy Spirit and try to do their work? Do we sometimes believe that a person's eternal destiny is dependent on what we do or don't do? (Does that make us God?) I think that witnessing and evangelism as often performed and advocated employs on both ends fear, guilt, coercion, and perhaps even outright deception at times in order to "achieve the goals."

I wonder what would happen if we stopped counting "decisions" and baptisms? I wonder what would happen if we made getting to know Jesus more important than making more church members? I wonder what would happen if instead of spending so much on lengthy, preaching evangelism, we spent as much or more on showing lives lived trusting in God and serving others? I wonder what would happen if we stopped talking at people and instead listened first and then dialogued? I wonder what would happen if instead of developing people filled with religious knowledge, we turned our attention to building people that know how to both receive and give love?

What is the gospel? I think the answer is tailored to and customized for each person. It is God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, coming to meet the unique needs of each person in unique ways. For some, they may need the message of unconditional acceptance first. For others, they may most need the assurance of forgiveness and freedom from guilt. For yet others, it may be that they mostly need to have hope beyond this life. The gospel is any message given at the right time that reveals a true aspect of God that can bring a person closer to Him. The gospel message, for any given person, might change over time. The results of the gospel, however, is ultimately about a person learning to receive God's love and then in turn learning to trust that love. And as a result, they become able to replicate and reproduce this kind of love as they relate to others.

Recipe: Braised Parsnips and Carrots with Pear

It was sometime last week while browsing through some recipes, I came across one using a combination of parsnips, carrots, and pears. I was too lazy to look it up again, so I fashioned my own as follows. The combination seems unusual and unexpected. But it went over quite well with the family.

Serves 4-5 as a side dish

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large d'Anjou or Bartlett pear, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. each ground allspice and nutmeg
  • 1 to 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 parsnips, sliced into about bite-sized 1/8-inch thick slices
  • 2 to 4 carrots, sliced the same as parsnips, and about the same quantity
  • 1 tbsp. pear vinegar (see notes below)
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. water


  1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. When melted, add pear slices and stir for a minute or two to coat with butter. Add salt, allspice, nutmeg, and sugar. Stir to combine.
  2. Add parsnips and carrots, the pear vinegar (or substitute), and water. Stir to combine. Bring to boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Take off heat, stir to thoroughly mix with syrup, and serve.


  • I happen to have some pear vinegar that I found on sale. The ingredients say that it contains pear juice, cider vinegar, white grape juice, vanilla extract, and some pear flavorings. For a substitute for 1 tbsp. of this pear vinegar, I'd try maybe 1 tsp. cider vinegar; 2 tsp. of pear, apple, white grape juice, or plain sugar water; and around 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. of vanilla extract.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter Weekend coming up

This coming weekend is Easter weekend. That means my schedule gets a bit busier than usual. But nothing quite like the pastors over at some of the more liturgical churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopal). The Lutheran pastor has seven sermons from this Sunday through next Sunday.

I just have a short devotional at the Manor (assisted living facility) tomorrow morning, a short (3 minutes -- and believe me, that is hard) Community Good Friday Service message, and the regular Sabbath worship sermon. I have the latter two completely drafted, so all I have left is to put something together for tomorrow.

As far as I know, the homeschool drama group, Mum's the Word, will be presenting a Reader's Theatre at the end of our church service on Sabbath. Because of that I tried to keep my sermon at 20 minutes in length.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Reflection: The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees

Last week's Sabbath School lesson included a discussion on the leaven (or yeast) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Here is the passage, in context, with the incident immediately preceding included (Matthew 16:1-12):

16:1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (English Standard Version)
Why do I bring this up again? Because in the last couple of weeks there's been a flurry of e-mails going back and forth about whether or not there is a Sunday law being secretly pushed through. The best information is that there is no such thing and it is all rumor.

How does this relate to the passage in Matthew? Back in chapter 15, Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees for their outward show (or signs) of piety. At the top of chapter 16, Jesus speaks out against the religious leaders' demand for signs to prove Jesus' claims. In other words, for the Pharisees and Sadducees, validity of religion is all in signs. The problem is that they were selective about which signs they would take as valid. If the signs didn't fit into their mold, into their expectations, then the signs were dismissed. Jesus showed mercy and compassion, but because these didn't fit the leaders' Messianic expectations, they were dismissed -- not only dismissed but they were turned into a basis for accusations -- for providing assurance of forgiveness and for violating Sabbath rules, among others. In other words, the Jewish leaders failed to recognize Jesus because they were so concerned about signs and what they thought the signs were supposed to look like.

And that got me wondering if at least some Seventh-day Adventists aren't in the same boat. Adventism has some historic views on what the approach of the end of time is supposed to look like. Never mind that throughout history prophecies are only really recognized after their fulfillments. So a segment is on the lookout for signs. And in looking for presumed signs and a fixed notion of what they are supposed to look like, could some be missing Jesus altogether? Could some, by focusing on signs, actually be promoting teachings that lead people away from Christ?

For me, Sunday laws and other so-called signs of the end are just footnotes or endnotes. As long as my focus in on Jesus Christ, whatever happens, happens. If Sunday laws don't take place at all, or take place much differently than historically conjectured, it won't affect my trust in my Savior. My readiness for God to take me home doesn't depend on some timeline of events that people have created. Rather, I am always ready because my trust is based not on signs, but in a living God.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

March Snow Storm

Winter returned in full force today. As I was lying in bed, staring out the window, I couldn't figure out why it was so white outside. (I wasn't wearing glasses.) I thought that maybe it was just rather foggy out there. When Elise returned from work she asked if I had seen what it was like outside. No, I hadn't. It was then that I discovered that it had snowed overnight, and was still snowing.

The temperature is hovering a couple degrees above freezing, so after the initial accumulation of 2 to 3 inches, it's not getting much deeper. I went out for a walk -- out to Hammer's Slough and back -- a couple of miles. It was somewhat breezy, and the snow was very wet.

Click on the contact sheet to jump to the photo gallery.

Contact sheet (click to jump to gallery)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sermon: Love is the Glory

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today's sermon is based on John 13:31-14:31. This chapter contains the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) Jesus' statement, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6-7).

The section of John under discussion for the sermon begins with Jesus speaking quite a bit about glory and glorification (John 13:31-32). (Earlier in John we learned that Jesus came to glorify the Father.) This is immediately followed by the "new commandment" to "love one another: just as I have loved you" (John 13:34). Today's section concludes (John 14:31) with Jesus giving the reason for all of his works, the purpose and nature of glory, which is to show love. By Jesus showing that he loves the Father, he shows that the Father loves all the people in the world.

The pervading theme in throughout John chapter 13 through 17 is love: love of God, love for God, love for one another. Thus it is in this context that I believe John 14:6-7 is best interpreted and understood. In fact I believe that the way, truth, and life that Jesus spoke of are fully explained by him immediately in the following verses, in the remainder of chapter 14.

So in this sermon, I make an attempt to explain from the broader context how the pat, surface reading of, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," while correct, may be rather inadequate. I discuss how I believe Jesus intended a much broader understanding and application of his statement.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Discipleship: Confronting Fear

The predominant theme of this week's lesson (Lesson 11: More Lessons in Discipleship) appears to be fear. Is it wrong to fear? Is it wrong to feel afraid? Is fear sin? Can fear be sin? Is there such a thing has healthy and good fear? What are some ways in which fear might have positive results? Negative ones? These are some questions that rose in my mind while going through this week's lesson.

What might be the fundamental reason behind all fear? Is it perhaps the observation that things are out of control and that no one is really able to control them? From a strictly human perspective, when things go terribly out of control, when circumstances are beyond our abilities and means to bring under reasonable control, isn't it true that fear is often the result? When tragedy strikes, when finances are difficult, when our lives appear threatened, isn't the tendency to look at ourselves and then realize that there's nothing we can do? And then we panic.

What about if we look at God? What do we see? Do we see a god that is asleep at the wheel (like what the disciples saw in Jesus during the earlier storm)? Do we see a god that is limited (like what the disciples thought about Jesus prior to the calming of the earlier storm)? Do we see a god that is absent (like what the disciples might have thought about Jesus during the later storm)? Do we see a god that is angry, capricious, punitive, vengeful (like many skeptics who look at the Old Testament God, or perhaps the disciples after they realized -- after the calming of the earlier storm -- that Jesus was in fact the very same Old Testament God)? If we have an inadequate picture of God, we will tend to not fully trust Him (or at all), and thus once again end up looking back at ourselves to try to control the cause of our fears.

Or maybe we start out trusting in God when fear strikes, but like Peter when walking on the water, after a little while take our eyes off God and become overwhelmed by the environment and look at ourselves once again. And like Peter, we end up giving in to fear and begin to sink.

Or perhaps like most of the Jewish rulers (and probably most of the people) during Jesus' ministry, we want to see some signs because we think signs will convince us that God is trustworthy. Fear is most often a result of visible and tangible problems. Do we think that if we see visible and tangible proofs of God's existence that we will no longer fear? The gospel accounts claim otherwise. Even in the presence of God and His signs, those who chose to base their beliefs on their senses would never be satisfied. They would never let go of their desire to control things on their own.

I performed a search in the New Testament on the use of the word "fear." I discovered that in nearly all instances of Jesus using this word, it is basically in the phrase, "Fear not," or "Don't fear." In the March/April 2008 issue of Discipleship Journal, there is an article, "What's Wrong With a Little Worry" by Jerry Bridges. In the opening paragraph he writes that in the New Testament, 27 Christian character traits are taught. The most numerous is love, followed by humility. The third most frequently taught trait is trust in God, occurring at least 13 times.

I think that the emotion of fear itself is morally neutral. It is a signal, similar to pain, that something is amiss. I believe that how we act on that signal determines whether fear results in sin or not. If we act by looking away from God and instead to ourselves, when we fail to keep our trust in God, that's when fear becomes sin. After all, sin ultimately is a separation from God. Fear, when it comes down to it, is the temptation to believe that God cannot be trusted; that He wants less than the best for us; that preservation of the things of this world, including our possessions, our families, and even our own lives are more desirable than living with God.

I just have a couple of other comments in regards to this week's lesson.

In Tuesday's lesson the following paragraph appears:

“What a contrast between the Bread of Life and the leaven of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and yet how easy to get them confused. All disciples of Christ need to be aware that belief, or following traditions, or defending the faith are not always the same as being a disciple of Christ. How easy, once we get established, even comfortable, in what we believe, or in how we worship, or in how we practice our faith, to let these things become ends in and of themselves, instead of a means to an end. That end, of course, is to be a faithful disciple of Christ, doing His will and revealing His love and His character to the world.” (emphasis and italics supplied)

I think this is a fairly bold statement. But is it enough? Is it enough to be just aware, or should disciples go further? Should disciples question and challenge beliefs, traditions, faith assumptions, etc.? Should disciples experiment in ways that run counter to accepted norms? Are there some things that are off-limits to questions and challenges? If so, how does one make a determination where that line is?

Thursday's lesson brings up the issue of what to do about claims made by atheists and agnostics. The assumptions are that disciples ought to witness to those who reject god, and that those who reject god (small 'g' is intentional) are likely lost.

If the atheist's or agnostic's only view of god is such that it results in a conclusion that he cannot be trusted, isn't rejection a more honest response than attempting to hold on to a belief in such a god? If this god is seen as vengeful, capricious, hateful, etc. shouldn't such a god be rejected? If an honest and thoughtful search through the Bible results in a person coming to such a conclusion, would the true God condemn them for rejecting a false god?

Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (NIV, John 14:6-7) What could Jesus have meant by "I am?" Did He mean the physical person of Himself as Jesus? Or did He mean something much broader? Could Jesus' words be understood (especially in the context of John 13-17) as follows?

I am love, self-sacrificing love. My love made and showed the way to God; My love revealed what is really true about God; My love gives real life to anyone who seeks it. No one comes to the Father except through My love. If you seek this kind of love, you will come to know and trust the Father. When you reveal this kind of love to the world, they will see Me as I really am, and that in turn will reveal to them the kind of God that the Father really is.

If supposing this above restatement of John 14:6-7 is true (and at this point in my thoughts, I do believe that is true), how might this affect how we witness, how we conduct evangelism, how we relate to the so-called Outsiders to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New, Old Dryer

With a newly acquired hand truck, we (Elise, Shelley, and I) moved out the old clothes dryer and brought in the "new" old one. Fortunately dryers are lighter than washers, so it wasn't too much effort to lift both up and over the heater. Both of them successfully made the trip through the narrow passages and corners.

I discovered that the plug on the replacement unit was different. I first tried to work out the old one on the old dryer, but after a few minutes it became apparent that it would be much easier to just get a new cord and plug. Off to the hardware store and back, and then about half an hour spent removing the old cord and replacing it with the new, we moved the unit into place, attached the vent, plugged it in, and with fear and trepidation pushed the button to start it... And it started.

That's about it for the excitement around here. We got a few more snowflakes this evening, but it hasn't really stayed. Last night's snow has also pretty much gone away. All that's left is the old, hard ice from a month ago.

Recipe: Garbanzo (Chickpea) Pasta Sauce

Last night while browsing through several little cookbooks my mom sent, I came across a recipe for a pasta sauce using garbanzo beans. The printed recipe, however used things like clams and squid; which, even if I were okay with them, the rest of the family definitely would not be.

That triggered an exploration in my thoughts of how to use garbanzos as a base for a different kind of pasta sauce. What follows is what ended up getting prepared. As it turns out, the sauce tastes much more substantial and "meaty." If I could find a way to turn the garbanzos into more of a ground-meat like texture (rather than a puree), I might prefer that so that the sauce looks and feels more like a meat sauce.

I'm not a huge garbanzo fan, nor are our children, but Shelley claims this is "the yummiest pasta sauce ever." (She has said that of a few other sauces I've made in the past, so take her comment under advisement.)

I served the sauce over a plate of multigrain spaghetti. I figured that as long as the sauce was on the healthy side, I might as well use something more substantial than regular pasta.

Garbanzo (Chickpea) Pasta Sauce

Serves 4 to 5

  • 1 cup dry garbanzo beans
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/2 can (about 7 oz.) crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 2 tsp. dry basil (or about 1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (more if stock is unsalted)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped


  1. Soak and cook garbanzo beans per package directions. Drain. Set aside 1/3 of the garbanzos. Place remaining 2/3 of the garbanzos in a food processor, add 1/4 cup of water and puree. If the puree gets too thick in the food processor, add more water until the beans are completely pureed. Set aside the puree.
  2. In a large skillet or medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add onions and garlic; saute until onions start to turn golden and edges start to brown. Add olives, crushed tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper, garbanzo puree, and stock. Stir to combine and continue stirring until the mixture begins to simmer.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low, add remaining whole garbanzos, parmesan, and parsley. Stir to combine. Let simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, to combine flavors. Keep sauce over low heat until ready to serve.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: Signs of Life

Signs of Life: Back to the Basics of Authentic Christianity, by David Jeremiah

If there was a practical, written guide or manual for Christians individuals, groups, and churches for the 21st century, I think it might resemble Signs of Life. The Christian life is presented as a set of positive contributions to and interactions with the world. Dr. Jeremiah combines both the practical aspects of social justice with the critical motivation of solid Biblical theology. In other words, how a Christian understands and views God and their relationship with Him, is the motivation behind the acts of the Christian. In this way, Signs of Life avoids becoming yet another social justice treatise while at the same time avoiding the other ditch where good theories are promoted but there is no translation of the theories to everyday life.

The contents of the book itself are given as a 40-day devotional, similar to a number of other popular works in recent years. The 40-days are divided into six sections.

  1. Signs of Life
  2. Dusty Shoes: Living a Relevant Life
  3. Worn-Out Knees: Living a Yielded Life
  4. Rolled-Up Sleeves: Living an Authentic Life
  5. Open Hands: Living a Generous Life
  6. Outstretched Arms: Living a Compassionate Life

Each day includes illustrations and stories, Scripture passages, a key thought, a key verse, and a few questions for reflection or discussion. Signs of Life is solidly based on Biblical teachings, particularly those of Jesus. Obviously the primary use of this book should be for the reader to discover new ways, or be reminded of old ways to both draw closer to God and to live out their Christianity. That said, if you are preparing sermons or talks, or even if you're just leading discussions in the area of discipleship and Christian living, there are many wonderful illustrations and quotations that can be pulled out to provide emphasis to your sermons or discussions. I've used it this way several times already.

I think the best aspect of Signs of Life is that it provides a positive vision of an authentic Christian. It shows the positive qualities for which Christians ought to be known. Far too often, Christians are focused so much on avoidance that we enter a fortress mentality and literally close the doors to our lives. We become known for what we don't do and for shooting arrows out of the fortress into the "attackers" and "enemies" outside. We might occasionally gather into a band, rush out of the fortress to raid and take prisoner (aka, evangelize) a few of the "enemy" before retreating back into the fortress. Rather, Signs of Life is adamant that Christians come to see the people in the world not as the enemy and to engage them in positive, loving, generous, and compassionate ways.

Winter Returns

Late afternoon I started to see a few snowflakes while coming out of the grocery store. By evening the scene is once again that of winter. I just hope that this isn't the start of another major snow storm. I'm blaming the return of snow on the changeover that I did on my bike from studded tires to street tires. (I'm superstitious in that way.)


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Roasted Asparagus and Honey-Mustard Chicken

The latest (March 2008) issue of Sunset magazine has a feature on using some green, in-season vegetables. This being Alaska, on a remote island, well, there's not much in the way of in-season. However I did find some pretty good looking asparagus at around $3.00/lb. (which is actually quite good here), so I got a bunch and tried out the Roasted Asparagus recipe from the magazine. I used more salt than the recipe suggests. Using high quality extra virgin olive oil and high quality parmesan or Parmesano-Reggiano I think are the keys to getting that extra little bit of taste and flavor from the asparagus. (In other words, don't cheapen out on the igredients.)

Amy doesn't like asparagus, though she did admit these were better than the "regular" asparagus (whatever "regular" means...) The rest of us thought they were very good.

For myself, I also cooked a couple small chicken breasts and made a honey-dijon mustard-lemon juice sauce. I thought it came out quite well, but since no one else in my family usually eats chicken, I have no other points of comparison.

I marinated the chicken for about an hour in some cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, garlic, and basil. And then I pan grilled it for about 13 minutes over medium to medium-high heat. Meanwhile I combined some honey, lemon juice, dijon mustard, some sugar, a bit of salt, and a bit of water for a sauce. I thickened it a bit with some corn starch right before taking it off the heat.

We also had some corn (from frozen bag and cooked) and also had some garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes.

March Miscellany

Here are a few odds and ends that don't quite have enough by themselves for whole posts by themselves.

Both Shelley and Amy attended baby-sitting and CPR classes last week. They are now certified baby-sitters. I'm the only one in the family who doesn't know CPR. Hmm...

The clothes dryer that came with the house died today. Fortunately (well, we'll see if it still works) we have one that we moved up from Oregon (actually came from California -- it's 15 years old, so that may die too -- hmm...) that we need to move up to the house from the garage. I measured the openings in the path that it has to take in order for it to move in (and the old move out), and it looks like there is enough space so that we don't have to do major furniture moves or wall surgery. The only hiccup is that we are going to have to lift the dryer up and over the heater at the bottom of the stairs.

With the roads no longer icy or slushy, Amy's been riding about on her new bicycle. She says it goes much faster than her old one. (Actually, the reality is that the physics of transforming energy into motion is much more efficient.) Anyway she experienced her first flat last week, though she knew nothing of it. I walked down to the bike and saw a rather deflated tire. I got to try out the glueless patch made by Slime and discovered that it works quite well. The problem with previous glueless patches I've tried is that they didn't really stick and stay well. The glue used with regular patches tends to dry out after a few months, making the patch kit useless until the glue is replaced. The one from Slime is very sticky and doesn't dry out. Highly recommended.

Since I was working on Amy's bike, I checked the brakes on my bike and discovered that the front ones had completely worn out. So I replaced and adjusted the brakes, and they work so much better now.

The last few days we've experienced a combination of heavy rains, high winds, and when the clouds break and the sun shines through, some breathtaking scenery. We're also seeing the return of the bald eagles to the trees and posts along the beach. Spring is coming when the eagles show up again. I'm not sure where they go during the cold, winter months, but most of them disappear, leaving just a few to be seen.

Over the last several weeks I've been taking in a series of seminars on video on the subject of dark matter and dark energy. There's been three of us meeting twice a week for an hour at a time. This Wednesday concludes the 24 lectures. It's been a fascinating journey from Newton to Einstein, to the recent discoveries and current theories and speculations as to what really makes up 95% of the observable universe.

404 Church Building Not Found

From the ASBO Jesus blog:


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Sermon: An Example Of...?

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Based on John 13.

John 13 contains the recounting of Jesus washing the disciples' feet during the Last Supper. Jesus tells them, "I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you."

What is the example to which Jesus refers? Is it the literal washing of one another's feet? Is it the symbolic as well as real attitude of humility and act of service? What if we look at the entire context of chapter 13 rather than just the first part of the chapter? How does Jesus' "new commandment" to "Love each other; just as I have loved you," later in the chapter work into the example that Jesus gave earlier in the chapter? Is there something deeper and more significant about the foot-washing example than just the literal washing of feet, humility, and service?

Friday, March 07, 2008

A comment on recent (2005) Adventist church action

See this link for a Church Manual amendment from the most recent General Conference session in 2005. I posted a brief comment about it below the post.

Okay, so I looked back at the 1995 church manual as well as the 2005 version. The amendment actually only altered a few words and added one bullet point between the two versions. So my initial impression was off the mark; I originally thought that everything in the above blog post was new to the 2005 version.

However, as I posted in the other blog's comments section, why aren't most of the sins that the Old Testament prophets and Jesus spoke against included in the enumerated list of reasons for discipline? As long as different sins are being listed, why not list the ones that God seems to be concerned most about? Is it because those sins frequently don't directly affect the external reputation of the chruch? Is it because sins of neglect (of love, mercy, compassion, hospitality, humility, respect, forgiveness, etc.) are so much more difficult to observe than sins of commission? Is it because to start disciplining for sins of neglect means everyone would be disciplined?

Hey... Isn't that what discipleship is about? Why does the church manual have a whole section dealing with the reactionary type of discipline (basically punishment) but little in the way of how to develop the desirable Christian qualities? If we spent more time, effort, energy, money, and other resources in working to develop the positive qualities, I have a sneaky suspicion that the whole current section in the church manual on church discipline could shrink to almost nothing.

Most of the earlier comments that I made still stand. From experience I know that policies like these are far too often used to destroy people, even if the actual text pays lip service to safeguarding the spiritual and relational interests of people. Policies are used as excuses, as legal backstops for people to do mean and horrible things to another person. So I also stand by my statement that I think policies are written by the Devil. If not written by him, I think at the least he's quite pleased when increasing numbers of them become part of God's church. In my opinion, organizations ought to seek to reduce the number and specificity of policies rather than increase them.

Earlier comment:

No matter how the wording in it tries to spin it, it strikes me of "legalese." The whole amendement appears to be the organization attempting to protect itself from lawsuits and of having to pay out on lawsuits when church members are disciplined and dismissed on the grounds listed in the policy. It sounds like the stuff people have to agree to and sign when accepting employment.

What really bothers me is that some of the wording in the policy is so open-ended that basically anyone can be disciplined for just about any reason. And because this is part of the official Church Manual, the disciplined have little or no recourse. Thus the organization is very well protected and insulated -- just like secular businesses and governments.

I've wavered in my thoughts on whether or not church is a business. I've come to the conclusion that the church is not a business and should not be run as one. As soon as the church, any church, is run primarily using business models based on business concerns, all decisions basically come down to, "Will we make or lose money?" This is the absolutely wrong question when running a church. In other words, concerns about increasing tithes, concerns about paying out over lost lawsuits, should be the least of the concerns. Rather, "Is the church, at all levels, treating every person with love, mercy, compassion, and respect?" should be the primary modus operandi of any church that claims to follow Christ. Sadly, I have rarely seen this to be the case in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Policy statements like the one linked from this post grieve me and really make me question why I continue to be a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To me, it seems like something that was written by the Devil. I wonder, how is this different from the intertestamental Jews who kept creating more and more regulations (policies) about what it meant to belong to Judaism?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bookshelves! (and other things)

After 19 or so months of most of our books sitting in boxes, quite a few of them came out to see the light today. We had been through all these boxes during all this time, but we now have a few bookcases so that we don't have to go searching through half a dozen boxes to try to find the book that we need.

Elise ordered four bookcases from IKEA in Seattle, had them sent to the Alaska Marine Lines (AML) port in Seattle, and then had them barged up to Petersburg. She picked them up on Monday and spent yesterday and today assembling them and putting them up.

Today was another spring-y day. It was a bit more cloudy, and by evening rain started to fall. But being optimistic, I swapped the wheels with studded tires on my bicycle for wheels with thinner and smoother (and lighter!) tires. With the weather warming up a bit more, my gear shifters are also starting to work a little better. I suspect that in the cold the shift cable gets stiff and the shifter fails to hook the end properly. The end result is that on my rear cog, I can only get about four gears out of the eight that are available. Today was the first time since last autumn that I was able to shift through all eight.

Our church has set dates for the Quit Now smoking cessation seminars. I sent in an ad to run in the local paper. We begin on Thursday, March 27 and meet seven times over the course of about two weeks. Since I'll be the presenter, I'll need to review the materials and make sure I know them well enough.

Book Review: Dethroning Jesus

Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture's Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ, by Darrell L. Bock & Daniel B. Wallace

In recent years, the claims being made against Jesus as the Christ have increased. The authors of Dethroning Jesus, Bock and Wallace, note that many who make such claims respect Jesus and many of his teachings, but they do not accept that he claimed to be the Christ, the Redeemer. Bock and Wallace have coined a new term for such a view that excludes Christ from Jesus: Jesusanity. Dethroning Jesus is an apologetic work to counter the claims.

The authors look at six specific claims of Jesusanity and analyze their merits.:

  1. The Original New Testament Has Been Corrupted by Copyists So Badly That It Can't Be Recovered
  2. Secret Gnostic Gospels, Such as Judas, Show the Existence of Early Alternative Christianities
  3. The Gospel of Thomas Radically Alters Our Understanding of the Real Jesus
  4. Jesus' Message Was Fundamentally Political and Social
  5. Paul Took Captive the Original Movement of Jesus and James, Moving It from a Jewish Reform Effort to a Movement That Exalted Jesus and Included Gentiles
  6. Jesus' Tomb Has Been Found, and His Resurrection and Ascension Did Not Involve a Physical Departure

Obviously, this being a short review, I cannot go into details on any of the above. I'd like to briefly summarize the conclusion to each of the claims that Dethroning Jesus makes (numbers below correspond to numbers above).

  1. This is a response specifically to Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. Bock and Wallace explain how Ehrman rejected Biblical inerrancy and swung all the way to the other side of the ditch. Bock and Wallace object to the way Ehrman "spins" the available data regarding transmission errors. Bock and Wallace discuss how although Ehrman does not directly say so, by spinning the data (by omitting important counter evidence) and with his writing, he gives the impression that the New Testament is full of errors, particularly to readers who are now well-versed in textual criticism.
  2. This is a response to Elaine Pagels and her claim that the Gnostic Gospels present an earlier, and therefore, more accurate description of Jesus. Bock and Wallace specifically discusses Judas and goes through some of the key reasons why historically, gnostic flavors of Christianity could not have been a viable alternative.
  3. This is a response to claims that Jesus was really just a teacher of wisdom. Through a brief analysis of Thomas, Bock and Wallace show how it describes salvation through knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. In doing so, Thomas removes any need for faith and belief in salvation. Bock and Wallace discuss reasons why Thomas could not be an authentic, early gospel account.
  4. This is a response to claims that Jesus' real significance was that he tried to reform earthly society. Bock and Wallace give Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem as one work that promotes this kind of political and social justice view of Jesus. In this view of Jesus, he is seen as just a social reformer. Messianic claims are rejected and seen as later additions to the gospel accounts. Bock and Wallace discuss how and why Borg and Crossan's arguments are inadequate and faulty.
  5. This is a response to James Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. Tabor's premise is that Jesus is only human and his story is purely human. It was Paul who took Jesus, infused him with divinity, and brought him to Gentiles, thus birthing what would eventually become Christianity. Bock and Wallace argue that this premise is based on faulty use of and appeal to evidence.
  6. This is a response to the fairly recent Discovery Channel's documentary on the supposed find of the "Jesus Tomb." Bock and Wallace note that even many liberal scholars who are not favorable to Christianity reject this claim due to faulty assumptions, faulty statistics, and faulty interpretation of evidence. Bock and Wallace go through a number of reasons why this claim can be rejected.

Bock and Wallace do not present all of their evidence within the pages of their book. Rather, they use this book to reference some of their earlier works. Thus Dethroning Jesus should not be viewed as comprehensive apologetics to the claims above, but rather as summaries. Readers wanting more depth and details should go to the referenced primary sources.

Dethroning Jesus ends with a concluding chapter that summarizes the six claims and why the arguments for Jesusanity are inadequate. Bock and Wallace notes however that, "A negative case against Jesusanity doesn't constitute a positive case for a more traditional [exalted Jesus] view." This is followed by a very brief section on why sufficient evidence does exist to believe and hold to an exalted -- i.e., Christ, Messiah, Redeemer -- Jesus view.

Will Dethroning Jesus convince anyone to change their minds who a priori rejects Jesus as Christ? Probably not. On the other hand for those who, due to the recent attacks, are harboring questions about the Bible and the Jesus described in the Bible, I think this book gives sufficient evidence showing that the claims of Jesusanity are not necessarily as strong as its proponents would like everyone to believe. Rather, there is sufficient evidence to continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Discipleship: Handling Stress and Pressure

This week's study on the topic of discipleship deals once again with a grab-bag of subtopics and brings it under the theme of pressure. The official Study Guide's title for Lesson 10 is Discipleship Under Pressure. The titles of each day from Sunday through Thursday use the term "Model." So one might expect these lesson to provide models for disciples to follow and apply. But that is not the case when you begin to read the text. These models are given as examples not to follow.

Going through this week's lesson, as I tried to figure out what positive things I could glean from these topics, I found myself going through the following thoughts --

When people face stress and pressure in their lives, what do they do? What do they turn to? Many people turn to various forms of addictions. It's a coping mechanism. Religious people frequently turn to their religion. Of these, Christians often turn to the Bible and God. Is this right, wrong, of indifferent? Or maybe the more relevant question is, how do Christians turn to the Bible and to God? In turning to them, do Christians attempt to "use" them to relieve and deal with their stress? Is "using" the Bible or "using" God right, wrong, or amoral? Is it right to expect solutions to all of life's problems in the Bible and in God? (What about the book of Job, for instance...? Or Ecclesiastes...? Or Lamentations...?) If religion, if the Bible, if God isn't really about solving life's stresses and pressures, then what are their purposes? What value do they have in and for life? After all, the Twelve disciples were right there with Jesus, and if anyone could have had answers to all life's problems, they should have had them.

I then summarized the "Models" of this week's lesson in my own words. It turns out that all of the inappropriate responses to pressure brought up in the lesson falls into the category of human desires:

  • Desire to change the world to make it look like what we think it should look like. (Power Model)
  • Desire to obtain worldly security and comfort through worldly means. (Greed Model)
  • Desire to force and coerce people to make them see things our way. (Thunder Model)
  • Desire to seek revenge upon those whom we believe have wronged us and are expressing perspectives contrary to our own. (Thunder Model, again)
  • Desire to do God's work our way; relying on our own wisdom and strength, our own pride and self-confidence. (Repentant-Peter Model)
  • Desire to avoid personal conflict and danger. (Flight Model)

It's interesting that everything in this list arises out of self-centeredness. So that got me thinking about how negative stress and pressure arise. Do they arise purely from external circumstances? Or are they generated internally? Do we bring them on to ourselves? Or do we exacerbate the stress and pressure when we dwell on them, internalize them, and mope about how they negatively affect us?

Looking at the list, I observe that Jesus, in one way or another, experienced the temptations to succumb to each of the desires. In other words, Jesus faced the same stresses and pressures that His disciples did. But He did not respond in the ways that His disciples did. What made the difference? Did Jesus simply find some Bible texts and claim the promises? Did Jesus pray and then somehow everything turned out right? Did Jesus' prayers ever seem to go unanswered? Did Jesus ever feel like His Father was distant and unresponsive?

Then my thoughts wandered to how we tend to react to stresses and pressures. And that seems to be the key to understanding this entire lesson: we tend to react. Whenever we react, we've already lost the battle. We've already placed ourselves under the power of people, things, and events that are causing stress. We've made ourselves slaves to circumstances. Reacting is our last ditch, and usually ineffective, attempt to reassert control over our lives and our environments.

I think that the main lesson for us this week is how to not become victims of stress and pressure; how to maintain control even during periods of stress and pressure so that we do not react in sinful and selfish ways.

How was Jesus able to remain in control of His thoughts, words, and actions, even when the stresses and pressures became extreme? I think there are four parts (at least) to how Jesus effectively dealt with stress:

  1. Jesus knew and was confident in His identity. He knew He came from the Father and was returning to Him. He was the "beloved Son" of the Father. (John 13:3-4 and Luke 3:22)
  2. Jesus knew and believed that His Father would never leave Him alone. (John 8:28-29)
  3. Jesus knew the purpose for His life and death. (John 12:27-28, 18:37)
  4. Jesus lived, not for Himself, but for others, and so He had a much greater motivation than just fulfilling His own desires. (Philippians 2:1-11)

I believe Jesus practiced the so-called spiritual disciplines such as prayer, studying Scripture, meditation, etc. But He didn't do these things only when things became stressful. He didn't do them simply to find answers and solutions to His immediate problems. He practiced these disciplines to be sufficiently prepared for when the stresses came upon Him. These disciplines kept Him in close relationship with His Father and gave Jesus the confidence and assurance about His Father, about Himself, and about His work. So when He encountered stresses and pressures, He could rely upon and trust in His Father and upon the relationship that was already there, even during those times when Jesus could not feel or sense His Father's presence.

And so once again my study circles around to the idea of trust: discipleship is about trusting God. It's about developing a relationship of trust with our Father. It is about listening to Him as He teaches us who we are, how much we matter to Him, and about the work that He wants us to do for Him. When we abide with our Father and really know who we are, we no longer have to react to stresses and pressures. We become able, in our Father's strength, to live above stresses and pressures. We are able to maintain our witness to God's character, even during the difficult times.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Faux Spring Day

Today continued yesterday's clear skies. Daytime temps rose into the 40s. The roads have become mostly dry. But everyone says don't be fooled. We remind each other that last year, March brought 80 inches of snow...

Anyway, taking advantage of the few times during winter when it's relatively warm and roads are dry, I took down my road bike from the stand where it's been hanging since last summer and took it out for a jaunt down the road. It was a wonderful feeling to once again travel under one's own leg power at speeds up to 25 mph.

My body is no longer well conditioned. After 40 minutes, the right knee began to ache and leg muscles began to tighten up a bit. My sit-bone area started to feel a bit sore.

When the roads dry out, they get dusty. I kept eating clouds of dust as cars drove past kicking up the dust.

It better rain for the rest of the week so I can get some work done!

Dinner parties

Since last Thursday we've been having some kind of dinner gathering every other day. Last Thursday, it was a group of Elise's coworkers. Saturday, we had people over for lunch. Yesterday, we had the family of one of Shelley's coworkers over. Today, the monthly Ministerial Association meeting is at the Adventist Church.

Yesterday was a tad stressful because Shelley informed me during mid-afternoon about the invitation she had given to the family. Thus after dropping off the girls at their drama class, on the way back into town I had to come up with a menu. Originally my plan was to simply have leftovers for supper. Well, all of a sudden that plan flew out the window and into the Narrows...

I settled on using some of the leftover sushi fillings to make some more rolled sushi; a simmered vegetables and noodles dish; and a garlic-ginger beef dish. Stopping at the grocery store, I came across a display of big, juicy strawberries. I added that to the menu as a topping (with whipped cream) for vanilla shortcake.

I have yet to bake a cake that comes out of the pan without sticking and falling apart... I followed the directions, to the letter and punctuation marks; but for some reason the top always wants to stick. Fortunately since it was going to be cut up anyway, it didn't matter that it didn't come out of the pan quite right. Our guests brought a strawberry cream pie, which coincidentally(?) went quite well with the shortcake.

I didn't measure what went in, so if you decide to try these, make sure to test for taste.

Simmered Vegetables and Noodles
  • Udon noodles, cooked or fresh (or other asian wheat noodles)
  • Vegetables (examples: snow peas, bell peppers, leafy greens, cabbage, carrots, green onions)
  • Tofu, cut into about 1/2 inch cubes
  • Mushrooms, cut into about 1/2 inch pieces
  • Soy sauce (1/4 cup or so...)
  • Dashi stock (1 to 2 cups)
  • Sugar (2 or 3 tbsp.)
  • White wine or rice vinegar (1 to 2 tbsp.)


  1. Depending on the vegetable, chop into bite sized pieces. (1/2 to 2 inches)
  2. In a large, deep saute pan (I used a 14-inch pan with 3-inch sides) combine soy sauce, dashi-stock, sugar, and vinegar. (Soup should be fairly salty with a hint of tangy-sweet.) The total liquid should be about 1-inch deep. Heat until it begins to simmer.
  3. Arrange noodles, vegetables, tofu, and mushrooms in pan. Make sure all ingredients are covered, or nearly covered, by the soup. Once soup begins to simmer again, reduce heat to maintain simmer, cover and cook 15-25 minutes.

Ginger-Garlic Beef

  • Top sirloin steak (3/4 to 1 lb.), sliced into 1/8-inch or thinner slices
  • 1 tbsp. grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2-3 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup dashi stock
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. toasted seseame seeds (optional)
  • 2 green onions, chopped (optional)


  1. Combine ginger, garlic, soy sauce, stock, sugar, and sesame seeds in a small bowl. (The sauce should be pungent, salty, and with a hint of sweetness.) Set aside.
  2. Heat non-stick frying pan on medium-high. When hot, stir-fry the steak slices for 2 to 3 minutes. Add sauce from step 1. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to maintain low simmer, cover and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so.
  3. If using green onions, add to pan and cook another minute or two.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A web site to check on web sites

Sometime back in 2006, McAfee acquired a small development team that created a web application that can provide indications as to the safety of another web site. It is SiteAdvisor at

The first way to use it is to simply go to the site and type in the URL of the web site that you want to know more about. It gives you a status of the site: green, yellow, red, or unknown. The colors provide an indication to the safety of the site under query. Green is good, yellow may have some safety problems, and red means definite safety problems have been found. Unknown means that the site has not been checked yet.

The second, and more automated way, is to download and install a piece of software from the SiteAdvisor site. It comes in both free and pay versions. The pay version adds the ability to block suspect and dangerous sites, and can tag dangerous links in e-mails. Otherwise there doesn't seem to be any difference between the two. Both provide visual safety status of a web site on the web browser, and in search results color codes the links on the page. This allows you to keep from even visiting potentially harmful sites and possibly having spyware and other malware from infecting your system in the occasional situations where any protection you already have isn't sufficient to deal with new threats.

The one problem (and a biggy) I found is that Windows OneCare declares that the SiteAdvisor software is incompatible with OneCare and in order to return OneCare's status to green, SiteAdvisor has to be uninstalled. Since the two appear to have complementary functionality that doesn't really overlap, I hope that one of these days, OneCare will be fixed to stop complaining about this problem.

Book Review: Swimming Against the Current

Swimming Against the Current: Living for the God You Love, by Chris Blake

This book is a collection of (mostly) short essays and stories about the Christian life. Just about every one contains something that made me want to highlight, bookmark, and share with someone. (Of course if I did, it would have taken me so much longer to finish and would have defeated the point of highlighting and marking.) I've got about two dozen stickies in the book marking some of the most insightful items. I've read a number of the pieces or excerpts from some during Sabbath School and Worship. Many lend themselves well to uses as illustrations in a larger setting or devotional thought pieces used by themselves.

The book itself is organized into three parts: Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly With Your God. Each part contains chapters that attempt to describe what each of those might look like in the real world. Some of them are visionary. Others make observations about the dichotomies between what actually is and what Jesus and the Bible actually say. And others challenge conventional thinking and classical theological views. Many of the chapters articulate much more clearly, much more graciously, and much more humorously thoughts that are in my mind but I haven't really been able to put into words.

There are chapters that deal with some of the more controversial topics: homosexuality; the meaning of "sanctuary;" the nature of "truth;" the institutionalization of Adventism; the importance of doctrines and distinctiveness; the implications of true freedom and liberty.

The pervading theme of the book is that those who really want to follow Jesus, who really want to draw closer to God, should examine their beliefs, methods, and actions to see if they are simply conforming to what society, government, and churches say they should believe and do. Simply swimming with the current doesn't necessarily bring a person closer to God. Most of the time, it does not. To really get to know and to see God better often means to turn the accepted values and norms upside down and swim against the current.

A new couple in town

We had a new couple with us in church yesterday. They already have family connections here in town so they will be a permanent fixture here. Coming from a Hispanic culture, their expectations of involvement in church activities is already quite high. They most recently came from a much larger congregation (it's hard to be smaller than us...).

So in the span of one week, we had to see one person and a possible family leave us, but were surprised by this couple showing up as new arrivals in town. Life, and the God who works through it, are full of surprises.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sermon: What God Judges

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today's sermon is primarily from Daniel 5. The key texts are vv. 22-23.

Today's sermon can be seen as a continuation of the discussion on judgment from last week. Last week we observed that God does not pronounce judgment and condemnation upon individuals. This week we see how God's pattern throughout the Bible is to pronounce judgment against places, nations, and systems that are opposed to His nature of love and righteousness. We see how God always warns and always provides a means for individuals to leave the places that are the destinations of God's judgment.

In this sermon, I explore the primary reason why people choose to accept God's means of escape (salvation) and the primary reason why people choose to reject God's offered gift. The reasons are one and the same: love.