Monday, December 31, 2007

Help to read the Bible more in 2008

I've posted some thoughts before on trying to be a better Bible reader. Even if I were able to read the Bible 12 hours a day every day, I'm sure I would continue to find new ways of understanding passages than I ever had before, and would probably feel the need for more Bible study.

My friend Daniel suggested reading the Bible online. As a way of getting yourself to read more regularly, rather than just trying to fit it in in the mornings or evenings, why not read the Bible the same way you read most other important things in your life? I seldom have time for books that I like, but I always manage to check my e-mail.

I found something on the ESV's website where they have a variety of Bible reading plans where you can read the text online every day with a pre-prepared website, or if you're an avid blog-reader like me, you can get an RSS feed of the text sent to your blog reader daily.

Why not decide that every day before you check your e-mail, you will first read the passages for the day? Even if you don't get it every day, wouldn't you be a better person for trying it?

Here is the link to the ESV's page of Bible reading plans.

May God bless you in 2008!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Use Your Allusion: The Witch of Endor

The witch (or medium) at Endor is a Biblical allusion. It comes from I Samuel 28. King Saul was at a very low point of his life, and was actually nearer to the end of his life than he realized. At Samuel's direction, he had driven all of the witches and necromancers out of the land to please God. But now, the Urium and Thummim were not working, the prophets received no messages for him, and Saul knew that he was no longer receiving God's guidance. Along with this, Samuel had died, and was no longer there to instruct Saul in how to follow God.

Saul asked his men if there were any witches left, and they told him of this particular witch in Endor. He went in disguise, not revealing his identity to her. She verbally acknowledged that the king had executed and driven out her type, and she hesitated to offer her services, but when he insisted that she would not be harmed, she agreed. As soon as she saw the spirit of
Samuel rising up, she became afraid because she realized that Saul had tricked her. Samuel told Saul through the medium that God was displeased with him because of his repeated disobedience, and that he would die. Saul was overwhelmed, but ended up remaining a while longer at the witch's house, even allowing her to cook a meal for him.

It is a depressing passage of Scripture to see Israel's first king stooping so low that he seeks comfort from the evil people God had commissioned him to destroy. This marked Saul's complete separation from God, at least as I see it.

--------------------

This is not an allusion that is used all the time, but it's good to at least be aware of where it comes from. To talk about "The Witch at Endor", it sounds like it could have easily come from mythology or Sci-Fi movie. I have always found it interesting that in the Star Wars movies, the Ewoks lived on the forrest moon of Endor. (I'm sure the locations are not one and the same, but I've wondered "Why the same name?"...it's bound to be borrowed from the Biblical story)

I've found it interesting how many times in my life I've had teachers try and explain away the fact that the ghost of Samuel really did appear in this case. Most commonly, I've been told that "The reason that witch got scared was because this was the first time it had ever worked!" How could she have a career/reputation as a medium if she was unable to do what she claimed? I realize that necromancy was closely associated with hallucinogenic drugs in these times, but that to me is not enough of an explanation for this passage to say that she usually just got people high.

I find a lot of those shows interesting where people claim to talk to the dead relatives and friends of audience members. Part of me wants to believe it's true, and the skeptic in me wants to laugh at all of it. As Christians, I think we are foolish to ignore the real existence of evil in the world around us. It doesn't shake my faith at all to acknowledge the possibility of someone having some sort of spirit in them, as the witch was reputed to have at Endor. What a great victory Satan has if he can convince us that he isn't real. We may not encounter demonic activity through ghosts and boogey-men experiences, but we see the prevalent greed, corruption, and pride around us, and we can know that plenty of people are believing the lies that Satan tells us so skillfully. If we seek stability from sources other than God--especially if we try to circumvent God as Saul had done--we set ourselves up for demise, as did Saul.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this passage, or on the uses of necromancy?


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Addendum: It just occurred to me that I have referred to a "Jonathan Edwards" in the last two posts, though unintentionally, and for completely unrelated reasons.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

I'm reposting something I've already posted before, because I think it's still relevant and valuable. I have always felt it is important to set high personal standards and goals, and at the turn of a new year is a great time to do that. Jonathan Edwards had some resolutions that I found challenging:
Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), from the Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humble entreat Him, by His grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ's sake. [I will] remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general.

Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

Resolved, Never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

Resolved, Never to do anything out of revenge.

Resolved, Never to speak evil of any one, so that it shall tend to his dishonour, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, Never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession which I cannot hope God will accept.

Resolved, To ask myself, at the end of every day, week, month, and year, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better.

Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

Resolved, After afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them; what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

Resolved, Always to do that which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Warning

I still have another thing or two from old Gospel Advocates that I want to retype and put on here. This is one from a section of poetry that they shared. This one is from 1890.
[Sister Holland, of Petersburg, Tenn., has kept the lines below for over thirty years. She thinks the warning given may profit others, so gave it us for republication.]

Young ladies all attention give,
You that in wicked pleasures live,
One of your sex the other day
Was called by death's cold hand away.

A while before this damsel died
She found her tongue was speechless tied,
At length she opened wide her eyes
And found her tongue was libertized.

She called her father to her bed,
And thus in dying anguish said:
"My days on earth are at an end,
My soul is summoned to attend.

Before Jehovah's burning bar
To hear the awful sentence there.
From preaching you would keep your child,
Pleasures wanting vain and wild.

To frolics you would let me go,
And dance my soul to pain and woe.
Now, dear father, do repent,
And pray, and read your Testament.

Your soul is blooming for the grave;
You have a precious soul to save;
Your children teach to serve the Lord,
And worship him with one accord."

It's Nacho Cat: Stairs

Nacho has lately decided that the stairs going up to our bonus room are one giant scratching post. We're working to re-educate her about this, but it's taking some persistence.

For Christmas, I took Nacho to the vet for her annual vaccinations. So my gift to Nacho is her peace of mind in knowing that she'll be "Disease Free in '08".

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Queen

This is a video of the 1957 Christmas message from the Queen of England...a revolutionary thing in its time. This year, she is going to give her Christmas message through Youtube by the influence of her grandchildren. I found her appreciation of religion and morality that she states in this speech very refreshing. This is one speech that she wrote entirely on her own without using any professional writers to tell her what to say.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Use Your Allusion: Pavlov's Dog

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) won the 1904 Nobel Prize for physiology for research he had done on the digestive system. He was known especially for experiments in behavioral conditioning involving his dogs. Every day, before feeding his dogs, he would ring a little bell. Eventually, he got his dogs to where he could ring the bell, even if there was no food, and the dogs would still begin salivating.

There is not a single defined condition where you would use this allusion, but generally, if someone gets into a pattern of always expecting one thing to follow another, in a way they become like Pavlov's dog.

I've claimed before that the theme song to the show Mama's Family has this effect on me. Every day, it came on at 4:30pm, right as my dad was getting home. I always had to turn the show off 5 minutes into it because that's when we would eat dinner. When I hear it, I still get hungry and I remember smells of chicken, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese.

A good example of this is also in the hit TV series The Office, where Jim does a similar experiment on Dwight. Several times a day, every day, Jim gets an error "ding" noise on his computer, and when he does it, he immediately offers Dwight an Altoid mint. I'll let you see the episode for yourself if you want to know the outcome. :-) It's one of my favorite scenes from any of the shows.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's Nacho Cat: Turtle!

When we first moved to Old Hickory, this turtle came prancing past our house on the sidewalk. I had some fun picking it up and looking at it (while it tried to bite me and scratch me). Nacho kept sniffing it, and I was afraid she was going to be bitten. Still, it's cool when you can get different animals together in one shot.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Prayer Request for the Rose Family (Updated)

After I got home from church today, I got a phone call from a Rose Bud member, calling to tell me about a very bad accident. Stephen and Elizabeth Rose were on their way to church with their two children, Tanner (9 yrs old) and Brooklyn "Brookie" (3 years old). Because of the discovery of natural gas in Rose Bud, there has been a lot of heavy equipment being moved around. On that long, winding road to Rose Bud, on the way up Joy mountain, somehow a large vehicle with oversized equipment lost control, and flipped over on top of the Rose's vehicle and crushed it.

Stephen was life flighted over to Little Rock, where he is in critical condition. Elizabeth was badly injured, but is stablized in the hospital in Searcy. Both of their children, Tanner and Brookie, were killed in the accident.

They have a large family at the Rose Bud congregation that is very close knit. While we hope and pray that Steve and Elizabeth survive, we are devastated at the loss of Tanner and Brookie. Please keep all of their family in your thoughts and prayers. I can't imagine a more painful situation to go through than what they are currently experiencing.

Update: Steve is stablized now. He received a lot of damage to his face especially, and has already had a couple of operations for reconstruction. I'm not sure yet if he has been awake, or has learned of what has happened to his children. I know that now they are saying that he doesn't have brain damage at all, which is a blessing. Elizabeth has a lot of broken bones, but no injuries that she won't be able to mostly recover from. She is aware of what has happened, and is certainly grieving her losses. The biggest tragedy of all of this continues to be the deaths of Tanner and Brooklyn.

Second Update: Here is the news clip with pictures of the family and the scene of the accident. It's not pretty. Please continue to pray for this precious family.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Use Your Allusion: Scheherazade

Scheherazade is a legendary Persian queen, and the storyteller of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. There was a Persian emperor named Shahriar who had been cheated on by his first wife, and as a result, he never trusted any women. He would marry a new bride each day, but would condemn her to death on the following morning so that she would never have the chance to cheat on him. After 3,000 other wives, all who were executed, he ended up marrying the beautiful Scheherazade, who was a bit wiser than the others.

On the first night, Scheherazade began telling him an enchanting tale, but left it unfinished. He was so curious to hear what would happen next, he spared her life on the next day so that she would continue her tale and he could hear the end of it. She managed to keep this routine going for 1,001 nights.

By the end of the story, they had three children together, and Scheherazade had taught the emperor much about integrity and kindness through the things woven into her tale. She was not only spared, but continued to be the emperor's consort.

This allusion was used a lot in Stephen King's book Misery. An insane fan keeps an author locked in her house, breaking his legs to keep him from getting away. Though she intends for them both to die together, he postpones it by continuing to write a new book. She is so eager to see what will happen in the story, she holds off on killing him. King must have drawn a lot of his inspiration for this book from the life of Scheherazade.

When you are in a position where you are forced to distract someone with something interesting for your own safety or wellbeing, you might compare yourself to Scheherazade.

12 Days of Christmas

My good friend Brent sent this to me in an e-mail. Brent doesn't e-mail often, but when he does, it's always something worth reading or sharing. This is an incredible version of the 12 days of Christmas sung by an a cappella group.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I need your help! Technology in Ministry

I am preparing for a brief presentation in January at a meeting of local ministers. The topic for the meeting is "Wired for Ministry". My specific portion is going to focus on teaching ministers how to utilize networking websites (MySpace, Facebook, and also blogging) to connect both with their members and with potential converts.

As a second part of my presentation, I am compiling a big list of websites that ministers would find useful. (I won't be going over these in a speech...this will be a supplementary handout for them to take home and possibly utilize on their own time.)

Is there a website that has been especially helpful to you as a Christian? It could be anything: Bible studies, time management tools, software downloads, sermon ideas, illustrations, etc.

If you have a suggestion or idea, please leave me a comment!

Thanks for your help!
Mark <><

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's Nacho Cat

This is a very fun place to sit if you enjoy torturing dogs. They can bark and pitch fits, but they can't reach you. :-)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No Room In The Inn

This is from an 1883 Gospel Advocate from around Christmas time. No author was named.
When our Lord was born, St. Luke tells us, the Virgin Mother wrapped the infant Savior in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger-cradle, "Because there was no room for them in the inn." This fact is significant. it was not by accident, but by divine foreordination that such was the case. Thus our heavenly Father would especially teach us that the fundamental law of the kingdom of Christ is to deny self, and, in the exercise of pure love, to serve others.

In the inn of Bethlehem we have a striking type of the heart of man, when wholly occupied with self, or filled with worldly cares and pleasures. In such a heart there is never any room for Jesus. The truth may come to it through the preaching or reading of the word of God, or the startling events of his providence, but only as Joseph and Mary came to the caravansary in the City of David, to be turned away to find a lodging-place elsewhere. Only in the humble heart that is emptied of self, and in which the cares and pleasures of this present life have but a secondary place, is Christ born and the true Christmas joy experienced.

The Gospel Advocate

I'm going to be making a few posts from things I found while researching a recent paper that I wrote about David Lipscomb. I try to spend a lot of time looking at primary sources, which in Lipscomb's case, was the Gospel Advocate. In reading through all those old pages (in awful microfilm form), you experience a lot of serendipity. There were a few things I found either touching or amusing that I would like to share.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Yearning for Resurrection

I'm sitting here far too late to be starting a sermon on Saturday evening with an awful case of Preacher's Block. My heart is very heavy for a family with whom I've spent the last several hours in the hospital. We pray for healing and comfort, but I just don't know what's going to happen. This situation is pressing on my mind heavily, and it's hard to come up with creative and engaging sermon ideas when all you can think about is the painful effects of sin on the world in which we live. Sometimes, I think being a preacher is way too easy and rewarding of a job, and then on days like today, I feel so inadequate to my task, that I wonder what good I could possibly do. Sickness and death are such ugly things. In our struggle to walk in the way of the righteous, we truly face a terrible enemy. The effects of evil are so devastating that without becoming allies of God, there is nothing we have to face them with.

There are many passages that I like that talk about the coming of Christ. My favorite passage that deals with death and resurrection is from Isaiah. If you've never read it, I'd encourage you to read through it slowly, and really think about all that he's contemplating. It's a powerful passage by someone struggling to keep his heart right while waiting for the Lord to make all things right. Sometimes I think it's harder to wait than others. Today is one of those days.

Isaiah 26

A Song of Praise
1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.

2 Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith.

3 You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.

4 Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

5 He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.

6 Feet trample it down—
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor.

7 The path of the righteous is level;
O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.

8 Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, [a]
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

9 My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.

10 Though grace is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil
and regard not the majesty of the LORD.

11 O LORD, your hand is lifted high,
but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame;
let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.

12 LORD, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

13 O LORD, our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.

14 They are now dead, they live no more;
those departed spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
you wiped out all memory of them.

15 You have enlarged the nation, O LORD;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land.

16 LORD, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer. [b]

17 As a woman with child and about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, O LORD.

18 We were with child, we writhed in pain,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth;
we have not given birth to people of the world.

19 But your dead will live;
their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust,
wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.

20 Go, my people, enter your rooms
and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until his wrath has passed by.

21 See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling
to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her;
she will conceal her slain no longer.

Footnotes:

  1. Isaiah 26:8 Or judgments
  2. Isaiah 26:16 The meaning of the Hebrew for this clause is uncertain.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Use Your Allusion: From Dan to Beersheba & A Few Thoughts On Pronouncing "Augustine"

The phrase "From Dan to Beersheba" is a Biblical allusion that shows up most often as a concept, rather than as an exact phrase. As you can see on the map, Dan was the Northernmost part of the kingdom, and Beersheba was the Southernmost. So when you say anything about, "From Dan to Beersheba," what you mean is, "From one end of the country to the other."

I actually made a post a while back where I retyped an old old article from the Gospel Advocate, which described the origins of the Donelson, Una, and Pleasant Hill churches of Christ. The title of the article was, "'From Dan to Beersheba:' Or From Donelson to Una. 1865-1872."

There were 10 passages I was able to find quickly where both Dan and Beersheba are mentioned together in Scripture, such as when a census is taken of the fighting men, when God inflicted punishment on much of the kingdom, and when the people are gathered to celebrate the Passover when it had not been celebrated in a long time.

"Dan" is pretty easy to pronounce. "Beersheba" is generally pronounced by us Southern folk "Bear Sheeba". In Hebrew, the pronunciation is actually more like, "beh-EER sheh-BAH." I generally just go with the common pronunciation, because when you whip out Hebrew pronunciation, it's really obvious that the only reason you're doing it is to try and sound smarter than everyone else.

So again, when you want to talk about anything that is sweeping across the nation, you can say it is happening, "From Dan to Beersheba."

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On a separate note about pronouncing things, I always like discussing Augustine of Hippo with people. He's one of my favorite historical figures. When people ask that question about, "If you could meet anyone from all history and have a meal with them, who would you pick?" Augustine of Hippo and Jimmy Page are two of my top choices.

Augustine is fun because no one can agree on how to pronounce it. In Florida, the city is always pronounced, "St. AUgustEEN." But the people I've known (including a HUGSR student from Africa) with the same name insisted it was pronounced "auGUSten."

Actually, I think either pronunciation is correct. So at this point, if someone else brings Augustine up first, depending on which way they pronounce his name, I try to pronounce it the other way to make them feel like they're doing it wrong, then in my head I laugh. :-)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Which Character from The Office are You?

This was my break from reading boring books and taking notes about ancient Corinth.



Which Office Character Are You?

You are Ryan. You are extremely smart and perceptive, and it irritates you to no end when inferior people try to tell you what to do. Sometimes, though, your critical eye makes you come off as aloof and bitter to others, and it may take awhile for people to get to know you.
Find Your Character @ BrainFall.com

Friendship

The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.
- Mark Twain

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It's Nacho Cat...or not

So I am not posting a picture of Nacho today...but could this be her evil Nemesis?

Remember The Darkness?

There was a band out a couple of years ago called The Darkness with a lot of cheezy glam-rock style songs. Their biggest hit was, "I Believe In A Thing Called Love". The most noticeable thing about the band was the incredible falsetto voice that the lead singer had...and constantly used. They're broken up now, but we really got a kick out of them. Even though they were cheezy, they were really talented.

Now there's a Mexican band that Carolina loves who is totally ripping off their sound called Moderatto. It still cracks me up every time I hear them. Some of the melodies of their songs are direct ripoffs of Darkness songs. Even so, it's really catchy.

I used to make fun of some Mexican heavy metal bands we'd hear on the radio who were ripping off the rap-metal Limb Bizkit sound. I liked calling them "Limp Tortilla".

Bob Dylan and Christianity

My dad has always liked Bob Dylan. I never could stand to hear him sing his own songs, though I like listening to other people singing them. Lately, I've become a bit fascinated with him. I still don't think he sings well, but he's a brilliant lyricist and poet.

Though I'm not sure what his views are at this point in his life, I just learned that in the late '70's he converted to Christianity. (Apparently it was huge news at the time, but hey, I was just a fetus, so how would I know?) It was pretty unpopular with some of his fans and fellow musicians. A hit song of his during the time was called You Gotta Serve Somebody. Shortly before being shot, John Lennon recorded Serve Yourself in response to Dylan's song, with some pretty pointed, profanity-filled rants.

I find it interesting the way people react so strongly and viciously to professed Christian faith. This was apparently Dylan's experience. During the early '80's, Dylan refused to play his older secular works, and delivered declarations of his faith from the stage. I really like a quote of one that I found from him:
Years ago they... said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No I'm not a prophet" they say "Yes you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No it's not me." They used to say "You sure are a prophet." They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, "Bob Dylan's no prophet." They just can't handle it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stanley Jordan

Autumn Leaves is one of my favorite chord progressions to jam to. A guitar enthusiast in my youth group named Chet just introduced me to Stanley Jordan. I have nothing to say about this other than that my mouth is hanging open in amazement.

It's Nacho Cat

She isn't supposed to be on the bed, but her persistence and my lack of feline disciplinary aptitude allow her to be on here anyway occasionally.

Papers

I have some excellent pictures and such of recent thanksgiving activities, along with several things I've been pondering that I want to post about. But alas, I have two papers due between now and Dec. 5th, and I need to not make many posts on here until I get my other stuff done. Let's hope the papers turn out well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It's Nacho Cat: Caption my Cat

Here's my Nacho picture of the week. We got very tickled at this one. What do you think is going through her head? If I inserted a caption above her head, what would it say?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Golden Compass and the Death of God and a plug for Mars Hill Audio

So if you haven't already gotten 50 Fwd::Fwd::Re::Re::Fwd::Fwd:: e-mails about the Golden Compass movie coming out, I'll fill you in on what I've been hearing. I had been excited about this movie because I love science fiction and fantasy, it has an excellent cast, and it has excellent visuals. But apparently, Philip Pullman is an avowed atheist who wrote this trilogy called His Dark Materials in an effort to do the opposite of what C.S. Lewis did with his Chronicles of Narnia. The books apparently speak for themselves pretty well, but Pullman has come out and said that with these books, "I am trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief".

Apparently the first two books are there to draw you in to the story, then the third one is where all the extremely anti-God stuff comes out. Basically, the whole climax of the books is that the main characters are out to kill God so they can do as they please. (If my sources are accurate)

This puts me in a bit of a dilemma, just as I found myself with the DaVinci Code stuff. I want very much to read the books and see the movies so I can decide for myself what I think about them. On the other hand, I have enough credible information to make me think I don't want my money going to support anything of this type. Then again, if someone from my church sees it and then comes to me with tough questions, I'd hate to be ignorant about what they're asking me. And once again, as a movie lover, I would really like to see it in the theater because it looks like a fantastic production.

--------------------------------------------------------

This brings me to my second part of the post. I've made plugs before on my blog for the Mars Hill Audio Journal. I don't want my blog to be overused for advertising, but I am so fond of this effort, I will probably bring it up from time to time. My good friend Jonathan introduced me to the journal.

Basically, it is a scholarly journal in audio interview form. Ken Myers is the host. He brings in people--most often who have recently published a new work on something relative to Christianity and culture--and interviews them about their work. It isn't a biographical kind of interview like Leno or something; it's very focussed on a topic of choice. Myers is extremely intelligent and gifted at what he does. The motto for the publication is "A bimonthly audio magazine of contemporary culture and Christian conviction." I've been subscribing for about 3 years now. It's a little pricey, but it's worth every penny. It's available in cassette, CD, and now MP3 format. (MP3 downloads are definitely the cheaper option, but I like getting the CD's)

Rather than just talking about current trends in astonishment, the journal looks very deeply into history, music, culture, and philosophy from the last few centuries to help shed light on where modern actions come from. Even if we aren't aware of our history, we're certainly influenced by it! It also gives excellent treatments on hot topics in contemporary culture.

If you want to take the journal on sort of a test drive, I highly recommend their free podcast called "Audition". The latest installment has an interview with Alan Jacobs about the Philip Pullman Trilogy.

If you would like to give your minister a good gift, or if you spend lots of time in the car and are tired of the radio stations, you should really consider the Mars Hill Audio Journal.
Some issues have caught my attention more than others, but this has been an invaluable resource for me to try and navigate through the philosophies of my culture and to decide where I stand on a lot of critical issues.

If you are interested:

Here is the link to the Mars Hill Audio Journal website.

Here is the link to the Audition Podcast website.

Here is the direct link to the interview about Philip Pullman's new trilogy as an MP3.

Here is the link to click on if you want to subscribe to the Podcast. (It will open your ITunes application)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Use Your Allusion: Quasimodo

Quasimodo is the hunchback from Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He is an ugly, deformed bellringer of the cathedral in Notre Dame. He also becomes deaf because he is always around the loud ringing of the bells. He is devoted to Esmeralda, a gypsy dancer on trial for witchcraft. He tries to save her from the scheming Archdeacon named Frollo (who also is the one who raised Quasimodo when he found him as an infant). Through Frollo's efforts, Esmeralda is finally hanged. At her death, Quasimodo throws Frollo from the top of the bell tower. Years later, the skeletons of a woman and a misshapen man are found together in Montfaucon, the criminals' burial vault.

Quasimodo is a tragic protagonist, and a type of noble savage. Though his story is a sad one, he is a pretty commonly used allusion for humorous means.

Basically, whenever you see someone or something awfully deformed, you might refer to them as Quasimodo--or in light of Quasimodo--as a sort of cruel joke or mockery. ("Hey! That must be Quasimodo's dog!" Or when you see someone in the morning before they've had time to get cleaned, groomed, and ready: "Hey, it's Quasimodo!") The fact that "Quasimodo" is fun to say and humorous to the ear encourages this sort of usage.

Quasimodo's story was made into a Disney Movie in 1996. Regrettably, I haven't seen it yet.

And now for a bit of Allusion trivia, can any of you tell me which Adam Sandler movie makes a reference to Quasimodo?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Technology in Ministry...or not


Define irony. I was looking for websites with information about using technology in ministry, and I found this website for a company that assists churches in enhancing their technology. I'll have to confess, this is one of the most low-tech websites I've ever seen, and I don't think they're going to get many customers this way.

What's your blog's readability?

I thought this thing was kind of neat. My blogger friend Lisa had a post about it on her blog, so I decided to try it.

Here's how mine scored. I'll let you decide if that's a good thing or not.

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans

Please find some criminal to go after instead

This morning I had a ticket on my truck underneath my windshield wiper. Carolina and I had been unloading some stuff from my truck, and had needed to swap around the vehicles in order to start parking the car in the garage again. I left my truck parked in front of my house, and figured that rather than go out again last night and move it, I'd just drive it today, then park it in the driveway when I got home.

But a Corporal from the Mt. Juliet police department (I'll withhold his name) gave me a ticket at 3:51am. Apparently, I'm not allowed to park my car in front of my own house between the hours of 1am and 5am. And why did I decide it was ok to leave my car there last night? BECAUSE THE POLICE OFFICER WHO LIVES DOWN THE STREET FROM ME LEAVES HIS CAR PARKED ON THE ROAD IN FRONT OF HIS HOUSE EVERY NIGHT.

I'm one of those types who tries really hard to be respectful of police, and I even contribute annually to a charity that assists families of officers killed on the job. I never make "oink" noises or donut jokes, I don't buy gangsta rap music about cop killing, and I don't support people who do any of those things. In an effort to be respectful, I'm going to pay this ridiculous ticket. But Mr. Corporal, next time, could you please find some criminal to go after, rather than sneaking around a completely silent street in a safe neighborhood giving tickets to people who pay taxes and try to make your life easier? Surely you could find something better to do. At least you could be consistent in applying the law to my neighbor as well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It's Nacho Cat

Last year Carolina and I found a calendar called "Why Cats Paint" featuring paintings and artwork done by cats. Of course, we decided to try and get Nacho to start painting. Some of these kitties are bringing in between $10,000-$20,000 per piece. We got some fingerpaints and set her up a little studio in the bathroom and she was completely disinterested. I still hope that one day I can use her like my personal ATM/Golden Goose, but it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon.

Although at this point my cat is not a painter, she's quite the model. She's a very photogenic cat, I think, and she enjoys posing for the camera. Carolina and I have already taken far more pictures of her than what anyone should probably take of their pet.

Because I just can't keep them all to myself, I'm going to start a second weekly blog post for as long as I have decent pictures called, "It's Nacho Cat". (Pun intended, sadly) From time to time I have put lots of pictures on here anyway, and Carolina just took a really nice batch of photos at our new house with the leaves changing, so we might as well use them.

So here's the first official installment of Nacho's modeling pics. I'll give you a pic, and you can give me a suggestion of what you think might be going through her head. :-)

P.S. Some of you have sent me messages on Facebook asking why I have missed the last two weeks of "Use Your Allusion". I've either been out of town or insanely busy. I even had one picked out for last week, but just couldn't justify the time it would take to type it out. I plan to have a new one for this Friday. Thanks for asking!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fall Fest

We had our annual Fall Festival at Old Hickory last night. It was lots of fun. I'll post a little more about it on my other blog, but I was proud of my outfit.

It is funny when you know people are staring at you, but are trying not to appear like they're staring at you. Many of the people at church genuinely could not figure out who I was (as in "Who is in that costume?"). Harriet, who was working at the main desk, glared at me from the moment I got out of my car. It wasn't until Carolina spoke that she figured out who we were. I had a good time!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Use Your Allusion: Brobdingnagians

In Swift's Gulliver's Travels, book II, Gulliver encounters a race of enormous giants called Brobdingnagians. The kingdom of the Brobdingnagians is peaceful and orderly and has no known enemies, but the king of Brobdingnag keeps a standing army anyway. Supposedly, the kingdom and government are established on principles of reason and logic.

The giants are used in Gulliver's story to satirize the grossness and selfishness of mankind. The king of Brobdingnag even refers to Gulliver's human race as "the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth".

"Brobdingnagian" can be used as an adjective to describe something or someone huge or colossal (such as the cost of our present war in Iraq).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

HUTB

From the time I got to Harding, I always said, "Why do they have all these other restaurants on campus? Taco Bell would be perfect here, but I bet it will never happen."

Then for 4 years, I lived on the west side of town, and the closest Taco Bell was all the way over on the east side of town. And what happens as soon as I move away? BAM! Taco Bell. Now in Harding's Student Center. Lucky.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ONE-LINE WISDOM

I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.

Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.

The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference.

The butcher backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

When fish are in schools they sometimes take debate.

The short fortune teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

A thief fell and broke his leg in wet cement. He became a hardened criminal.

Thieves who steal corn from a garden could be charged with stalking.

We'll never run out of math teachers because they always multiply.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.

The math professor went crazy with the blackboard. He did a number on it.

The professor discovered that her theory of earthquakes was on shaky ground.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Back from Arkansas

Carolina and I went to Arkansas this last weekend. It was the closest thing we've had to a vacation since December, and it was much needed. I went there to perform a wedding for some of our friends from the church in Rose Bud. As far as I can tell, everything went smoothly.

In between wedding events, we made it a point to see as many people as we could. It's amazing how many friends you can make in one place. We made the rounds at Harding's campus, and went to as many people's houses as we had time to. Some we managed to see out in public, but only briefly. And of course, there were several people we didn't get to see. Hopefully, none of them will take it personally. There are only so many hours in a weekend.

I think the highlight of the weekend for both of us was getting to go to church again in Rose Bud. We have really missed everyone there. It was great to see that Phil Thompson is doing a good job there. (Not that I really doubted he would) The church is still strong and friendly. Attendance was good, so we got to see almost everyone. I think the most important people we got to see were Wayne and Ruby Davis. Wayne has Lou Gehrigs' disease. When I got to Rose Bud, Ruby's health was already not so good, but Wayne was pretty lively. He's a true cowboy. At this time, the disease has caused his muscles to deteriorate to the point that he can barely take a few steps, and has to use a wheelchair most of the time. He's kept an amazing attitude, and has been truly inspiring. Before we left Rose Bud, he asked me if I would do his funeral, and we talked about some of the details. In all likelihood, the next time I go to Arkansas may be for his funeral. He's ready to go whenever God calls him.

We went and had lunch with a crowd of Rose Bud people at the Rambler, and I sat next to Wayne. It was very special to me, because I'm aware that every time I see him might really be the last time. I really care a lot for him and his whole family, and I'm glad I had another opportunity to tell him so. He always lets me know that he thinks of Carolina and I like his children. In fact, most of the Rose Bud church views us that way. They take a lot of ownership in who we are, and they have every right to.

It was a visit that we had really needed to make. Things are going well for us in Nashville, and things are going well for our loved ones back in Arkansas. I see all of this and I know again that God is good.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Turned in my keys

Well, I turned in my keys today and had the final inspection on the house we'd been living in by the church building (the green one on Jones St.). I guess that's some kind of landmark or something. As soon as our new house is presentable enough, I'll put up some pictures. I'm glad to say that my landlord, who I've known for much of my life, continued to be the kind of stand-up individual I had always thought he was. It's nice when people don't let you down.

Use Your Allusion: Xanthippe

Xanthippe (Ξανθίππη in Greek) was the name of Socrates' wife. Though we don't know that many bits of factual information about her, there are quite a few stories about her. She was apparently much younger than her husband, and she had a reputation for having a very sharp tongue. Supposedly she was the only person to ever beat Socrates in a discussion.

One story goes that after having a very heated quarrel, she emptied the contents of a chamber pot on his head and he responded, "After thunder, there generally falls rain". Later in life, apparently Socrates remarried, but in reflecting on Xanthippe, he said, "Marry or marry not; in any case, you'll regret it."

Quite a few works have alluded to Xanthippe, including Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. If you want to refer to a woman as a nagging wife with a sharp tongue, you can say she follows the ways of Xanthippe.

I think it's best put by Henry Fielding in his book The History of Tom Jones, where he describes a shrewish woman named Mrs. Partridge:
She was, besides, a profest follower of that noble sect founded by Xantippe of old; by means of which she became more formidable in the school than her husband; for, to confess the truth, he was never master there, or anywhere else, in her presence.
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On a personal note, while I certainly do not consider my wife a Xanthippe, one of the things I liked most about her was her ability to outwit me and to keep me in my place, and she's much funnier than I am. People tend to flatter ministers too much, and we probably like it too much. She's very good at keeping me in my place as I need it.

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This is one of those allusions that people might appreciate unless they understand it. You could tell a woman "You remind me of Xanthippe; the wife of Socrates himself!" She might be flattered if she doesn't know any better. I found this entry at the online Urban Dictionary where some girl is rather proud to have an "amazing" name after a woman in ancient Greece.

It's kind of like a few years back when Reebok named one of their womens' shoes after a mythical creature, the Incubus, because the name sounded cool. Then some women started to protest when they learned that Incubus was actually a demon who would go around lying on women in their sleep in order to rape and impregnate them. Hence, it is very important that if you're going to use an allusion, you had better know to whom or to what you're alluding!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Carpet Ball

I recently went on a retreat with my youth group to Camp Christian in Burns, TN. It was a really great weekend. The kids were well-behaved and participated really well. I had good help from the parents, and therefore we also had great food to eat and snack on. I also discovered a new game while I was there called Carpet Ball.

The game is like a dumbed down version of pool. You have a long wooden table kind of like a trough with a carpet-coated interior. (Apparently, it looks best when you use superbad 1970's carpet like what is pictured) You use one set of pool balls (solids on one end, stripes on the other). At each end of the table is a big pocket where the balls can be knocked into.

Each person sets up his/her balls in whatever way they desire, then the two players take turns pushing the pool cue ball towards their opponents' balls. The goal is to knock the other balls in without the cue ball going into the pocket. If the cue ball goes into the pocket, then whatever balls were knocked in that particular turn are taken back out and placed again on the table wherever the player desires within the lined-off area. The game is over when one person knocks all of the other person's balls into the pocket.

It doesn't look like it'd be that hard to build one. It was a lot of fun!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Evangelical

I've been trying for a couple of years to get someone to give me a good definition of what an "evangelical" Christian is. I can't as of yet discern whether I am one or not. One friend told me that basically anyone who would fit in with James Dobson's audience could probably consider themselves evangelical. Then again, it seems that many who use this label tend to downplay the importance of baptism and the Lord's Supper, which makes me feel a good bit distanced from the bunch. But I think on social issues I fit in pretty well with them. Is being evangelical more about one's theology or sociology? Can you get more than two or three "evangelicals" to agree on a strict definition of what an "evangelical" is?

So again, how should one define "evangelical"? And if any of you do consider yourselves evangelical, please tell me what it is about you that makes you one.

Just curious.

Maker of the Universe

I'm a huge Phil Keaggy fan. He's one of the most talented guitar players alive, he's a brilliant songwriter, and he's a passionate follower of Christ. Much of his music I like is instrumental acoustic guitar stuff. But many of his songs have lyrics, and he has a very Paul McCartney-ish voice that I enjoy.

I was listening to a live DVD of him that I have, and I noticed a song I hadn't payed much attention to before called Maker of the Universe. The basic idea is that when Christ died, he died by elements which he himself had created. To me, this really deepens the idea that God gave his only Son for us, providing our perfect sacrifice. God not only gave the sacrifice, but he even provided the means by which his son suffered and died.

These words really made me feel a deeper appreciation for what God has done for me, and I thought I would share the lyrics with you here.
The Maker of the universe,
As Man for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o'er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him it's face
By His decree was poised in space.

The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.

The throne on which He now appears
Was His for everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Use Your Allusion #6: The Boulder (or Labor) of Sisyphus

This is one of my favorite allusions. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king of Corinth who committed a variety of misdeeds on earth, and was relegated to punishment in Tartarus.
His punishment was that day after day, he was compelled to push a large boulder up a steep hill. Every time, as soon as he got it to the top, it rolled down again. Thus, he had to begin pushing it up again and his labor never ended. So if you are stuck in some sort of labor that seems both endless and fruitless, you can refer to it as a labor (or boulder) of Sisyphus, or as a Sisyphean task.

I think this particular allusion can be useful in churches of Christ as we discuss the idea of "restoring" the early church. When I took John Mark Hicks for Restoration Theology, the point was made that we can never really "restore" the early church. Restoring should be thought of as an ongoing process toward which we are always working. I personally disagreed with that, and I argued that while we might not be able to attain moral perfection, to restore the doctrines and practices of the early church is something I believe is somewhat attainable. I stated that the Restoration Movement is in fact a boulder of Sisyphus if it's not possible to ever reach what we're working towards.

In the end, I think that the selection of a better metaphor (at Dr. Hicks' prudent suggestion) helped to clarify. Education seems to be a better comparison. While we can never have exhaustive knowledge of all things, we can learn and mature in a very real sense, and we can stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before us. Because of doctrinal intricacies and cultural differences, it might not be possible for us to be a facsimile of the early church, but we can--and I think we have--made good strides in returning to basic Christianity.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

MUSE

I'm a hard listener to please. I can pick apart most anything I hear, and I seldom like newer music because I prefer the older original music that inspired it. That aside, I've recently found a band that I can finally get excited about other than Radiohead. (I may post some thoughts about their upcoming CD later) As much as I love Radiohead, there new stuff always leaves me wishing they could go back to their OK Computer days. I miss some of their catchier stuff. The new stuff is good in its own way, but OK Computer was a landmark album, and I don't think they've topped "Paranoid Android" since then.

When I was on a Mexico mission trip this summer, a video came on for a band called Muse that I hadn't seen or heard before, and I really loved it. It's a song called Knights of Cydonia. It's kind of like spaghetti western meets kung fu meets space lasers. The video is pretty entertaining, but the song was really well written with lots of dynamics.

So I bought their latest CD on iTunes called Black Holes and Revelations. It is just not often enough that I've bought a CD by a recent artist where I like listening to the whole thing. Sure I love Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, because every song on their albums is usually worth hearing. But now, too many artists have gotten away with releasing one catchy song with junk for the rest of the CD. That's been the blessing of iTunes with the ability to only get the good ones.

But this time I splurged, and have been happy with it. I've been listening to the CD in the car back and forth from wherever I've been driving, and it continues to be good. They've been accused of being a Radiohead rip off, and the lead singer does have a very Thom Yorke-like voice. But they have some really original sounding songs, and not every song sounds alike by any means. Nearly all of them have lots of variation within the structure of the songs. If you like Radiohead, you might want to try Muse.

The other good thing about them is that they tour around the US some, from what I can tell. I've wanted to see Radiohead for years now, and they almost never come around here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A couple of bits of my weird sense of humor

Please feel free to disregard this post. This is entirely for my own sake. There were a couple of passages I came across last week that struck me in a way that they hadn't before.

For one, Don quoted from I Corinthians 9:27 where Paul says he "buffets" his body (ASV). I got to thinking that I also like to buffet my body. Particularly at Cici's Pizza and at the New China Buffet.





With the teens, I studied from Luke 15, which has 3 parables about something being lost, then found again. First a sheep, then a coin, then the prodigal son. What if the first and third were more closely connected? When the son comes home, the master orders the servants to kill and prepare the fatted calf. What if he had ordered them to prepare a fatted sheep instead, which also happened to be the sheep that had originally been lost? It would be a bummer for the sheep.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Use Your Allusion #5: Newspeak

If you haven't read George Orwell's 1984, it's a fascinating book. Of course, it didn't happen exactly as he predicted it would, writing in 1949.

It is a story about ultimate government control of everything in a person's life. One of the ways that government maintained control was by getting people to use "newspeak". This was a reduced, simplified version of English designed to simplify and ultimately cripple people's minds.

Instead of saying something is "good", "great", or "fantastic", you would have only the adjective "good". Something could be "good" or "doubleplusgood".

So when you refer to something as "newspeak", you're saying that someone is feeding you bad, oversimplified information with bad pretenses.

On a personal note, I often lament how dumbed down our language is actually becoming. I'm convinced hip hop music must have something to do with it, but pop culture at large is certainly a culprit.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Moving

Monday, Carolina and I closed on a house, and we are in the process of moving/shopping/painting/etc. We've spent enough at Lowe's to feed a small army. I think it's going to be a good home for us. I've determined not to slack off on my job or my grad school, so it looks like it's my blogging that will have to be cut back for a few weeks. It's going to be a crazy few days ahead! Keep us in your prayers!

As soon as my life starts resembling a routine again, I'll start posting more routinely. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My Beautiful Hometown

There's a gentleman here at Old Hickory that I go to church with who is an excellent photographer. Actually, there are a couple of them! But this man, named Richard, is retired and manages to take quite a few photographs. He often has his camera with him, and is always looking for new shots to snap. He's been a good friend to me since I got to Old Hickory. He always volunteers when we need help around the office. He's always piddling with something interesting, and always has something to talk about. He's a very gentle soul.

He sent me several pictures of downtown Nashville that he took last week. This one is my favorite. It was such a nice day outside that he made zero adjustments to the picture...it really was this nice. He makes a few bookmarks using his pictures that he sells on the side. He really has a gift for taking pictures. I may well end up framing this one. I remember how good it felt as we were making the drive over to Nashville from Arkansas with all our remaining stuff in our cars. Seeing this beautiful skyline gave me a warm feeling. It's good to be home.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Use Your Allusion #4: Cleaning the Augean Stables

The fifth labor of Hercules was to cleanse the stables of King Augeas. Augeas of Elis had an immense heard of oxen whose stables had not been cleaned in thirty years. To complicate the matter, his fields were so large that many other animals were brought to live and graze in them.

Hercules was challenged to completely clean the stables in only one day. He accomplished this by tearing a hole in one side of the stables, then in the other side. He diverted the waters of the Alpheus River through the stable to clean out all the mess left by the many large oxen.

When someone has to clean up a giant mess, it can be referred to as "cleaning the Augean stables". This is sometimes used to describe the work of a new government trying to come in and clean up the work of a preceding corrupt government.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

From our trip to Memphis

The other weekend, Carolina and I drove over to Memphis to see some friends and family. Actually, for a 1 night ordeal, we did an incredible amount of visiting. We began by seeing my grandparents in Henderson, TN. It had been a long time since Carolina had been there especially. We ate at a favorite local restaurant near Freed called Bell's. I had an amazing double cheeseburger! The next morning we ate with them, and saw our friends Luke and Erica, whom we hadn't seen in quite a while. They did visit one day a month ago, but Carolina was in Mexico. It was good to see them and their handsome young son Mayz. We then went on to Memphis.

I started having feelings of deja vu. "Hey, Robert and Angela have a grocery store like this near their apartment! Hey! They also have a Lenny's!" I finally realized that we had driven a back road way to Memphis, which led us directly to our friends' apartment. So instead of waiting until later, we stopped sooner to see them for a while.

Then, we drove down to the very edge of the Tennessee/Mississippi line in Memphis, where our friends Poncho and Vyaney live by a beautiful golf course. They just had their first child: a wonderful son (Alfonso--same as his dad), and we wanted to make this trip especially to see them. We're very happy for them.

It's weird how just a little over 3 years ago, I was engaged to Carolina, but was living in an apartment with Poncho in Searcy. I had just begun preaching at Rose Bud. He was a good roommate. He has a great sense of humor, and is always in a good mood. It's weird to think that not quite four years later, we would both be married, both living in different cities, and he now has a son. Life moves awfully quick.

Friday, September 14, 2007

S-E-A-R-C-Y

For some reason, rap seems to be the music of choice in describing Searcy, Arkansas. The lyrics in this video aren't as funny as Kodak and D'Lee, but I still find it entertaining.

When you can walk to work, sometimes your cat follows you to the office.













Carolina and I came over to the office tonight. Having my Great-Grandmother's funeral this week has caused me to get severely behind on both work and grad school stuff. I'm going to be really pushing it to get both sermons done tomorrow.

Though she doesn't do it all the time, Nacho has always enjoyed following us when we go on walks. When we had Dora, we always walked as a family of four; two humans, a dog, and a cat. Tonight she followed us over to the office, and after closing off all the doors besides my personal office room, we let her join us in here. As you can tell, she made herself right at home. I continue to be fascinated by my cat.

Use Your Allusion #3: Hubris

Hubris is a term for excessive pride and arrogance. Traditionally, this is the sort of insolence which leads a person to violate the moral code of the gods, and even to challenge them directly. Capaneus
is a classical example of hubris. He was supposedly an enormous, strong man with great wealth and power. In some literature, there's a story that he temporarily saved himself from death by clinging to a protruding rock on a cliff during a raging storm. Still hanging high over the waters, he proceeded to taunt Zeus with his skill and fortune. Upon the moment of his boasting, the rock suddenly broke off, and he fell to his death.

Proverbs 16:18 - "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Martin Luther on the Importance of Sexuality

I'm in Dr. Richard Oster's class on the Corinthian letters this semester. Frankly, trying to balance it with everything else I have going on has been rough. Even so, I'm learning all kinds of new things. He has an excellent commentary on I Corinthians that we're reading for the class.

This week, we've been studying I Corinthians 7, which has a lot of instructions about sexuality, marriage, divorce, and some about slavery. He included a quote from Martin Luther that I found rather fascinating. Sexuality in our culture is way overemphasized in some regards, but is under emphasized in others. It carries with it a bit of taboo, and it is often portrayed as a puerile sort of thing. Guys are portrayed as thinking about nothing besides sex, and it's fairly expected that people will do little to restrain their passions. Hence, in condemning the bad behavior it is easy for Christians to take it a step further and condemn sexuality itself.

I knew of a preacher near Rose Bud who actually got fired several years ago because he used the word "sex" in the pulpit! Paul places a high level of importance on married couples being united in this way, and he even seems to present one's libido as a perfectly viable reason for choosing to marry (though that is certainly not the central point of marriage). You won't find anything in Paul's writing that suggests one having sexual desires is to be equated with spiritual immaturity.

Even if you don't agree with Luther's conclusions--I personally don't, I think he understood how seriously Paul viewed the role of sexuality in the life of a Christian:
One spouse may rob and withdraw himself or herself from the other and refuse to grant the conjugal due or to associate with the other. One may find a woman so stubborn and thick-headed that it means nothing to her though her husband fall into unchasteness ten times. Then it is time for the man to say: If you are not willing, another woman is; if the wife is not willing, bring on the maid. But this only after the husband has told his wife once or twice, warned her, and let it be known to other people that her stubborn refusal may be publicly known and rebuked before the congregation. If she still does not want to comply, then dismiss her; let an Esther be given you and allow Vashti to go, as did King Ahasuerus (Esther 2:17).

(Quoted from Ewald M. Plass, ed., What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for Active Christians (St. Louis: Concordia, 1991), paragraph 2811)
Had you ever thought about bringing up what is happening (or not happening) in the bedroom before the congregation for church discipline? Yikes! It seems that he is viewing sexual deprivation on the same level that most Christians commonly view adultery.

Thoughts anyone?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mary "Ma" Jones 1917-2007

This morning I woke up at about 5am, and absolutely could not stop tossing and turning, which is extremely atypical for me. Something felt very wrong. I got up and shuffled about the house a bit, used the bathroom, and tried going back to bed, but it didn't do any good. I didn't manage to get back to sleep until about 7am. I got up, and went over to vote. After I got back, I saw that my phone had messages. I had an urgent one from my dad from about 6am. I hadn't heard when they called.

My great grandmother died at 5:30 this morning. After finding that out, it makes me wonder again exactly what all dimensions are involved in our connections to one another in this world. Perhaps it was coincidence that I was tossing and turning while she was dying, and perhaps it wasn't. I'll never be able to prove one way or the other. Come to think of it, I'm going to add that to my list of questions for God. Is our connection to the people we love more than just emotions and occasional physical contact? Is there some deeper connection?

But that's not really my concern right now. I lost Ma today. I lost Pappa, her husband, back in July of 1991. That was my first experience with death, and sometimes I still get teary eyed thinking about how badly that hurt. In fact, a few months ago my emotions resurfaced in a way that caught me off guard, and I wept for nearly half an hour. Love for family runs deep. When I was born, 1 of my great great grandparents was living, 6 of my great-grandparents were living, and all of my grandparents. I still have all of my grandparents, but Ma was the last of my greats. Considering that I'm 27, I feel rather fortunate to have known so many of my ancestors when many people never even meet their grandparents.

Ma was always gushing forth praise and encouragement. Just a few weeks ago, Carolina and I had stopped by to see her at the nursing home where she's been staying, and she told me how proud she is of me, and how if Papa were still around, he would be proud of me, too. I'm proud to have been her grandson. One of my best memories of her was when I was about 5 years old and I had a little football from an Antioch High School football game at her house. She was in her late 60's/early 70's and she grabbed my football, took off running and challenged me to catch her. Until fairly recently, she was still in very good physical condition.

She was always meticulous about her yard and her home. Probably a little too much. Our joke was always that she kept even her toilet seats so clean you could eat off of them if you had wanted to. She always kept orange cream Popsicles and various hard candy around her house. She had a weakness for candy. She had turned 90 a few weeks ago, and I think she had 1 tooth left. There's plenty I'll miss about her.

So now, I am reminded again of how much my faith means to me. She was a Christian. The only hope I have of seeing her again is in believing what I'm taught in Scripture that one day she'll receive a renewed body without the frailties of old age. I'll see her again. I'll see Papa again. Who knows how many years I have to go until then? Perhaps all the time I have to wait in between will make our meeting that much sweeter.

I wish I hadn't lived so far away for the last 7 years. At the same time, she was proud of what I've been doing with my life, and I know that more than anything, she wants me to be a Christian and to encourage others to do the same.

So for now: Ma, I love you. I will miss you. I'll try to learn from your example how important it is to place a high priority on loving other people, and sharing my blessings with those around me. When I take communion this Sunday, I'll remember that one day, we'll all gather at the great feast of the Lord, and we'll be at peace. You wanted to go home, and God has given you rest.

(And to borrow your favorite salutation, from every birthday/Christmas/graduation/wedding card you ever gave me:)
"All my love",
Mark

Friday, September 07, 2007

Use Your Allusion #2: Deus Ex Machina

Deus ex machina literally means "The god from the machine". In ancient Greek drama, this was a term used for a mechanical device which would lower a god onto the stage to intervene and provide a solution to the conflict at hand. Currently, this term is still used of works of literature and drama. The modern usage of deus ex machina is to refer to any rescuing agency introduced by a writer to bring about a desired conclusion, usually without much regard to logic, character, or the situation.

Some examples would be commonly found in James Bond movies, where 007 always seems to have exactly the right device to solve whatever situation he is in. This was also something I dislike about the Superman movies. No matter what he gets attacked by, he just happens to have the power to undo whatever his attacker is using against him. (Bullet to the eyeball? No problem!) I'm sure there are better examples than these two, but hopefully you get the idea.

Next time you see a solution to a problem in a story that really seems to come out of nowhere to save the day in an implausible way, you can call it a deus ex machina.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Balancing Evangelism and Spiritual Growth with Teens

Teenagers are at a very bizarre stage in life. On the one hand you can talk to them about mature concepts, to which they can make intelligent--even brilliant--responses. Then 15 minutes later, they're wrestling on the floor, destroying furniture, throwing food at each other, or laughing hysterically at fart noises.

Above all, teens are impressionable. I'm convinced that campus ministries are some of the most important things happening for the future of Christianity. If people aren't reached while they're young, they'll probably be too busy and consumed with their lives later to think about following Christ. This all leads to a dilemma for me.

I see how vital it is that our teens be reaching out to their friends who are lost. We need to train our kids early to be missions-minded, believing that without Christ there is no hope for anyone. There are many lost teens whose parents might allow them to come and participate in church activities, providing us with an opportunity to share the gospel with them and hopefully to convert them. But there is a problem.

Monday we had our teen olympics at church, which were a lot of fun. We did all sorts of relays and games, and eventually drank a lot of Gatorade. But there was a boy riding his skateboard around, looking at us, though pretending not to be looking at us. I thought, "We need to be reaching out, even if he is slightly younger than the youth group aged kids." So I went over and told him to join us. I patted myself on the back for being evangelistically-minded, and hoped I'd just earned an extra star in my crown. The kid participated well and seemed to have fun. But the more comfortable he got, the more uncomfortable he started making everyone else. He started telling us lots of random things about his family, his hobbies, school stuff, etc. We managed to be friendly and to placate him.

Then we went inside for a meal, and some of the older teens made their way back outside to play some football. In the absence of the adult chaperones, this little guy proceeded to start using some very unsavory expressions and attitudes. One teen told me that when this boy started using foul language, an older teen of ours told him to quit, after which he started using more. Someone said, "Did he just drop the F-bomb?" To quote Corn Bread's response (a nicknamed teen of ours): "He didn't just drop the F-bomb; he threw it down." At that point, one of our older ones told him he'd have to leave if he was going to act that way, so he did.

When you invite in people from the world, you get people from the world. People who don't share our values, our teaching, or our personal accountability to God. This young guy is a very mild example of what can be found in the lives of those who don't know God. As someone responsible for guarding my teens' souls, I want to keep bad influences away from them. On the other hand, the worst thing I could do would be to teach them to avoid all people in the world because they have sin in their lives. If that were the case, the Church could never grow. Rabbit-hole Christians accomplish very little in helping to spread the Gospel.

I'm struggling with how to balance giving our teens the nourishment which they need for proper spiritual growth with the practical training they need to be missions-minded. When is a child ready to start reaching others with the gospel? What if I start pushing them to bring all their friends and we get so many problem kids that our youth group is unable to properly function? If I spend more time dealing with discipline than in teaching them, the whole thing becomes self-defeating. Yes, mission trips with focussed activities (door knocking) are good for them to do, but they need to be reaching out to the people they deal with in normal settings, too. They have so much to learn, and I don't want their growth stunted by a competing voice of darkness, but if they don't learn to rescue people from darkness, what good will they be? Not to mention, they're all in different stages of growth. Some can't handle what others can.

This is a tension I've been feeling lately, and I'm not quite sure what the solution is. I know for sure they need to be learning at home and not just from me. If the parents aren't setting the pace for their Christian development, I'll be much less effective. I guess it's all in God's hands. He's managed to keep his church alive and thriving for 20 centuries now despite similar--and even worse--problems. He can keep it going through these things as well. I would just like to know sometimes that I'm helping in the way that I ought to.