Thursday, May 31, 2007

Which is It?

"more often than not"


"more often than naught"

Either one works, at least in some cases.

Is this Cussing?

I've mentioned before that The Message is a great version of the Bible just for reading; it twists your view ever so slightly so that you see things you've never noticed before.

Last night, I have to admit, the version shocked me. I was reading in Acts 8 about how the former pagan magician/wizard-cum-Christian Simon was enamored of all the miracles being performed by the apostles Peter and John, and how he offered them money in exchange for the ability to lay hands on others to give them the Holy Spirit.

Most of us are familiar with the traditional rendering of Peter's response: "May your money perish with you...".

Stop for a moment. Let that soak in.

Now read it from The Message: "To hell with your money! And you along with it."


My first response was shock. And then, as I realized that's exactly what Peter had said, laughter, not at the seriousness of the situation, but at how blind I've been to the seriousness of the situation. Once again, The Message enlivens the Word of God so that it's not just black text on a white background. This was real life, and Peter was serious about the offense made by Simon.

Praise be to God that Simon apparently cleaned up his act. I've never thought much more about Simon, except that he was sleazy. Now, after reading this text, I like to think that Simon started growing up at that point, and within a few years, was a lighthouse on a hill displaying to the world the glory of God.

First Tier Medical Helpdesk

Jonesy made an interesting observation today; he compared general practitioner doctors (the "family doctor") with front-line tech-support people. And that comparison made a lot of sense to me.

The GP's job is basically to say, "This is not a problem; this is a problem. That's not a problem; that is a problem," and then to pass the problem on up to a higher-level of tech support.

I want my doctor to be the higher level to start off with! Or failing that, at least not to charge me an arm and a leg, two weeks wait time, three days of missing work, and four days of drinking nasty chemicals, fasting, and getting poked and prodded, before getting bumped up to the higher level.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Worship With Your Body

In the church tradition in which I grew up, "worship" has been limited to a fairly narrow, rigid set of acts that have been determined to be "scriptural", with little room for variation (compared to the variation one might find in general "Christendom").

Over the past few years I've begun to question that mentality, which among other things looks askance at lifting of hands during worship, especially when I read such passages as 1 Timothy 2:8 which reads:
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.
Just now while doing some clean-up work on old email, I came across a message from a friend who made an interesting statement on an unrelated topic. She wrote:
I have often thought of how the Jews used their bodies in worship: hands, bowing down, etc.
And that clicked with me. Worship should involve the whole person, not just a portion of us. I've never understood what the value of raising hands might be, or of bowing, or of dancing (well, except for being happy), but this makes sense. Such activities involve our bodies in worship, and not just our minds, and thus draw a fuller portion of our spirits into worship.

I'm not suggesting we have a free-for-all in our assemblies; we do have a call to conduct ourselves decently and with order. I also realize that some folks just can't get past the mental block we've grown up with, and I would not want to exercise my freedom at the expense of their discomfort or offense. But it seems to me that by eliminating physical involvement in worship, we've short-changed ourselves from participating in an even closer communion with the source of true Life.

Of course, I reckon this now means I'll have to learn to kneel ....

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Happy Shavu'ot!

As I understand it, today is the Jewish holiday of Shavu'ot, or "Feast of Weeks", or as it's called in the Greek of the New Testament, "Pentecost".

It celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai to Moses and the Israelites, fifty days (hence "Pentecost") after the first day following the first Sabbath of Passover week. (My details may be slightly hazy.)

The other significant Shavu'ot for Christians occurred about 1500 years after that first one, and is detailed in Acts chapter 2. Following is a brief comparison of the two events.

(in Jerusalem)
Occurred 50 days after Firstfruits (the first day following the first Sabbath of Passover week, when the Passover lamb had been slain).
Occurred 50 days after Firstfruits (the first day following the first Sabbath of Passover week, when the true Lamb of God had been slain).
Commandments of God were written on tablets of stone Commandments of God were written on human hearts (Jere. 31:33; 2 Cor. 3:3)
The commandments were written by the finger of God. The commandments were written by the Spirit of God. (Heb. 8:10)
Three thousand were slain (Ex. 21:1-8, 26-28) Three thousand were born again (Acts 2:38-41)
The letter of the Torah (Law) was given. The Spirit of the Torah (Law) was bestowed (Rom. 2:29, 7:6).
The earth shook, fire descended, a mighty rushing wind blew, and they heard God's voice
(Exodus 19)
A mighty wind blew, tongues of fire descended and many voices proclaimed God's message (Acts 2).
God took a group of slaves and made them into a nation that has survived persecutions, pograms, dispersion, and the Holocaust. God took a group of illiterate Galileans and made them into a church that has survived and thrived for over 2,000 years.
Jewish tradition holds that when God spoke to Moses, He not only spoke in Hebrew but His voice split into 70 voices so that all the nations should understand. All of the strangers from distant lands that were in Jerusalem during this celebration understood the message in their own language.
Two loaves of leavened barley bread (not just the grain, as at other feasts) were brought to the altar of God. Two sinful peoples, Jews and Gentiles, were brought to the altar of God.
(Adapted from, who credits John Hagee.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Jesus Lives; here's a toaster

Rob Bell, in his book "Velvet Elvis", writes:
I was just talking to a woman who decided to move into the roughest neighborhood in our city to try to help people get out of the cycle of poverty and despair ... Some other women in our church heard about Michelle and asked her for lists of what exactly the families in her neighborhood need. ... They then circulated the lists until they found people who could meet every one of the needs. It's like an underground mom-mafia network. Michelle told me at last count they had helped 430 families, and they are making plans to expand their network.

"Jesus lives; here's a toaster."

These are the kinds of people who change the world.

The Good News is Good News for Everyone

Rob Bell in his book, "Velvet Elvis", writes:
Imagine an average street.... Person X lives in a house on this street. Next door is a Hindu, and on the other side is a Muslim. Across the street is an atheist, next door to them an agnostic, and next door on the other side, someone from Ohio.

Imagine Person X becomes a Christian. ... Let's say she starts living out Jesus' teachings.... She is becoming more generous, more compassionate, more forgiving, more loving. Is she becoming a better or worse neighbor?
The good news of Jesus is good news for Person X. It's good news for Person X's neighbors. It's good news for the whole street. It's good news for people who don't believe in Jesus.
...the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or unbeliever.
[But,] Oftentimes the Christian community has sent the message that we love people and build relationships in order to convert them to the Christian faith. So there is an agenda. And when there is an agenda, it isn't really love, is it? It's something else. We have to rediscover love, period.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Church as a Blessing Machine

We reclaim the church as a blessing machine not only because that is what Jesus intended from the beginning but also because serving people is the only way their perceptions of church are ever going to change.
Rob Bell, "Velvet Elvis", p. 166

Renewing Creation: Jesus vs Caesar, Part 2

Rob Bell in his book, "Velvet Elvis", writes:
Not only were these first Christians subverting the dominant power structure of their world, but they were confident that the resurrected Christ was working in them and through them to reclaim God's dream for the world. ... [Luke wrote that] "God's grace was so powerfully at work in them that there were no needy persons among them."
Remember, the [Roman] caesars claimed they were the ones who provided for everyone and saved everyone and made the world a better place. For these first Christian, the question was, Who is Lord? Jesus or Caesar? Who orders society? Who provides for you? Who puts food on your table? Who brings peace to the world?

To be a part of the church was to join a countercultural society that was partnering with God to create a new kind of culture, right under the nose of the caesars. These Christians made sure everybody in their midst had enough to eat. They made sure everybody was able to pay their bills. They made sure there was enough to go around. The resurrection for them was not an abstract spiritual concept; it was a concrete social and economic reality. God raised Jesus from the dead to show the world that Jesus is Lord, and it is through his power and his example and his Spirit that the world is restored.
Everybody's god in the first century had risen from the dead. To claim a resurrection had occurred was nothing new: Julius Caesar himself was reported to have ascended to the right hand of the gods after his death. To try to prove there was an empty tomb wouldn't have gotten very far with the average citizen of the Roman Empire; they had heard it all before. This is why so many passages about the early church deal with possessions and meals and generosity. They understood that people are rarely persuaded by arguments, but more often by experiences. ... They saw it as their responsibility to put Jesus' message on display.
And so these first Christians passed on the faith to the next generation who passed it on to the next generation .... It is our turn to rediscover the beautiful, dangerous, compelling idea that a group of people, surrendered to God and to each other, really can change the world.

Renewing Creation: Jesus vs Caesar

Rob Bell, in his book "Velvet Elvis", has this to say:
In the first century, the claim [made by early Christians] of restoration [of the originally-created paradise cosmos] had numerous social, political, and economic dimensions to it. The world was ruled by the Roman Empire, and the Roman Empire was ruled by a succession of emperors called caesars. The ceasars claimed they were sent by the gods to renew creation. Caesar Augustus believed that as the son of god, he was god incarnate on earth, the prince of peace who had come to restore all of creation. He inaugurated a twelve-day celebration called Advent to celebrate his birth. Sound familiar? His priests offered sacrifices and incense to rid people of their guilt. One of his popular slogans was "There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved than that of Caesar." Another phrase they used often was "Caesar is Lord." Throughout the Roman Empire, the ceasars called on people to worship them as the divine saviors of humankind, and a city that acknowledged Caesar as Lord was called an ekklesia.
Christians will recognize how the early church co-opted these phrases for their own new Lord, Jesus, and even called their assemblies by the name ekklesia (church), thereby contrasting the claims of the caesars with the claims of Jesus.

Rob then goes on to point out the stratified nature of Roman society, with Roman citizens ranking higher than non-Roman citizens, men ranking higher than women, free persons ranking higher than slaves, etc. Then Rob writes:
...Paul claimed that "in Christ" ... there was "neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female". He is calling the entire culture into question, insisting that through this risen-from-the-dead Jesus, the whole world is being reorganized. And in this new reality, every person is equal. Everybody. Paul is the first person in the history of world literature to argue that all human beings are equal.
Wow. Kindda makes you appreciate the contributions of Christianity to world culture, huh?

Renewal or Annihilation of the Earth?

The church culture in which I grew up is pretty much wedded to the idea that this physical earth and universe will be annihilated when Jesus returns, and then we'll all live in a spiritual realm called Heaven. The typical passage used to support this idea is 2 Peter 3:7ff:

7But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

11Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,

12looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

13But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

But notice the new heavens and new earth; there's no mention that it's merely a spiritual realm. It might be spiritual, or it might be physical (or it may be this dichotomy doesn't even make sense once we understand better).

But I'm leaning ever more toward the idea that this earth and cosmos was originally intended to be permanent. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the cosmos became broken, and now can't exist forever in its current state. Death, not just for Adam and Eve, but for the entire cosmos, entered into the cosmos.

Rob Bell, in his book "Velvet Elvis", highlights some interesting passages that touch on this topic.
Matt 19:28 - Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory....
Acts 3:20-21 - ... He may send Jesus Christ, ... whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
Col. 1:19-20 - For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
If Adam had not sinned, the Curse of death and decay would not have entered into the cosmos, and presumably the cosmos would have existed eternally.

In speaking of regeneration and restoration of all things and reconciliation of all things, not just humans, to God, these passages indicate not an erasure of the physical cosmos, but a repairing of it like it was intended to be.

When Peter writes of the heavens and earth being melted and dissolved by fire, he does so just a few verses after he had written about the pre-Flood world having perished. The first destruction of the earth did not do away with the physicality of the earth; I'm unsure that the second destruction of the earth will either. It seems clear that the current cosmos will be melted down into nothingness, but is that a true nothingness, or is it just a nothing-but-bare-framework nothingness?

Like so many doctrines I grew up with, I find that the certainty with which these doctrines were taught is not quite so clear-cut when you approach the scriptures with a more open mind.

We know that the physical body of Jesus was raised from the dead, although it was raised incorruptible. Why should the physical universe be any different? It is destined to die, thoroughly, but perhaps it too, as Paul writes in Romans 8, will be freed from the bondage of corruption, under which it is currently groaning in travail.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Perils of Aging

An 80-year old man goes for a physical. All of his tests come back with normal results. The doctor says, "Chuck, everything looks great. But at your age tell me how are you doing mentally and emotionally? Are you at peace with God?"

Chuck replies, "God and I are tight. He knows I have poor eyesight, so he's fixed it so when I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, POOF! the light goes on. When I'm done, POOF! the light goes off."

"WOW, That's incredible" the doctor says.

A little later in the day, the doctor calls Chuck's wife. "Ethel," he says, "Chuck is doing fine! But I had to call you as I am in awe of his relationship with God. Is it true that he gets up during the night and POOF! the light goes on in the bathroom, and when he's done POOF! the light goes off?"

"Oh, bother!" Ethel exclaims. "He's peeing in the refrigerator again!"

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Gates of Hell

This next blurb is interesting enough to warrant a direct quote from Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis":
One account in the book of Matthew says that Jesus was talking to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. This is one of those details that is easy to skip, but it is significant. Ceasarea Philippi was the world center of the goat god, Pan. People came from all over the world to worship this god. There is a cliff with a giant crack in it that the followers of Pan believed was the place where the spirits from hell would come and go from the earth. The crack was called the Gates of Hell. They built a temple for Pan there and then a court next to it where people would engage in sexual acts with goats during the Pan worship festivals.

And Jesus is there with his disciples. As good Jewish boys, they never would have gone to this place before. It is twenty-six miles from Galilee, where Jesus and his disciples are from. What was that walk like? Did Jesus even tell his disciples where they were going? Can you imagine them talking to each other behind his back? "When our parents find out about this, we are so busted!" The whole experience would have been riveting. Where are we going? What are we doing? What is our rabbi going to do next?

He tells them at Caesarea Philippi that upon this rock he is going to build his new witnessing community, and the Gates of Hell won't be able to stop it. He is essentially saying that those kinds of people -- the ones with the goats -- are going to join the Jesus movement and it will be unstoppable. How would you as a disciple even begin to process this statement?

Choosing Disciples

Rob Bell, in his book "Velvet Elvis", explains life for boys in the Jewish culture of Jesus' time.

Starting at age 6, every boy was educated in the books of the Torah (the Pentateuch). School was most likely held in the local synagogue and taught by the local rabbi. At the end of this four-year or so stage, the students would generally know the entire first five books of the Bible by heart.

The students who showed promise then went on to the next stage, while the other ten-year olds went home to learn the family business as an apprentice. By age thirteen or fourteen, these students would have the entire 39 books of the (Jewish) Bible memorized.

Only the best students would continue from here, applying to the rabbi to become one of his disciples. Only those the rabbi deemed capable of becoming like himself were accepted. The others typically went home to learn the family business.

As a disciple, the student would stick to his rabbi like gum to a shoe, leaving his family and friends and home.

When Jesus went and collected his disciples, he collected students who had dropped out or had been rejected and sent back home to learn the family business, like James and John, learning the fishing trade from their father Zebedee. Jesus later tells them, "You did not choose me; I chose you."

These boys may have been 14 or 20; we just don't know.

As Rob says,
Jesus took some boys who didn't make the cut and changed the course of human history.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Are We Aware of God's Presence?

Rob Bell, in his book "Velvet Elvis", points out that when Jacob woke up from his dream at Bethel he said,
Surely YHVH is in this place, and I was not aware of it.
Rob goes on to ask if God might be where we are, and we're merely unaware of it.

A Short Tutorial in Counting Hex

Apparently the AACS doesn't want their keycode for playing DVDs to be published (like they have a right to prevent someone from publishing a hexadecimal number -- hmph).

Just for the sake of being cooperative, even though I think they're in the wrong, I'll refrain from publishing that number in this tutorial.

When counting in hexadecimal, think of an odometer from an older car, which has the numbers 0-9 painted on the "wheels" of the odometer. As each wheel turns, the number increments by one, from 0 to 1, then from 1 to 2, all the way up to when 9 rolls over to become 0 again. When that wheel rolls over to zero again, the wheel just to the left increments by one.

Hexadecimal works the same way, except that the numbers on the wheel don't stop at 9, but include A to F after the 9 before rolling back around to 0. Counting in hexadecimal works like this:


... and so on. When you get to really big numbers, it's sometimes easier to break them up with hyphens to make them easier to read. Like so:


Sorry I had to blank out that one number in my example above; as mentioned, the AACS doesn't want that number published.

I hope this little tutorial has been helpful.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Interesting Number

There's a lot of buzz on the Internet about this number:


One guy said it's an IPv6 address on his network. Another guy used it as an encryption key in a short little program he published on Slashdot. Someone else pointed out that if anyone attempted to decrypt his program they might be in violation of the DMCA. (There's a lot of vitriol aimed at the DMCA and DRM and AACS and the RIAA and MPAA on the Slashdot site -- something about these things being anti-consumer.) There is an amazing number of references to this number in various forms all over the Internet.

I find it all rather interesting.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jesus' Teachings on Hospitality Changed the World

Darryl Tippens, in his book "Pilgrim Heart", speaks fascinatingly of the role of hospitality in the early church.
According to social historian Rodney Stark, the revolutionary practice of hospitality helps to explain why the tiny Jesus movement became the dominant religion of the Western world by the fourth century. (p. 54)
The English word "hospitality" does not quite capture the meaning of the Greek word used in the New Testament. Philoxenia actually suggests loving foreigners or aliens. This is a challenging, paradoxical love: a kinship, friendship love extended to a stranger, someone not related or known to us. No one before Jesus had taken hospitality this far, but the early Christians became inflamed with the spirit of philoxenia, and this radical love of those on the margins (the sick, the hungry, the homeless, destitute widows, wayfarers) took the ancient world by storm. The evidence of its radical power is documented by the church fathers and historians of the ancient world. (p.55)
Tippens goes on to mention how Christians became known for their hospitality, even to pagans, in two catastrophic plagues that killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, in AD 165 and 260. (5000 people a day were dying in Rome at one point; two-thirds of Alexandria's population was wiped out.) During this time, Christians did something new in the world; they took care of the sick and weak and dying, often getting sick and dying themselves. This apparently made a great impression on the survivors, particularly the pagans. From this grew the Christian tradition of building hospitals and orphans' homes and Habitat for Humanity and The Salvation Army, etc.

How Big is Your God?

In the C.S. Lewis book, "Perelandra", is this interesting statement describing (in allegorical form) God:
He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped; Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed and does not distend Him. (p. 214)