Archives for January 2011

Going Down in a Blaze of Glory

Text messages

How many of you use your cell phones for text messaging?

Do you text a lot? A little?

Do you get any automatic text messages? For instance, do you…like me…get the weather every day on your handset? For instance today…

[ Read them this morning’s forecast. ]

Along with the weather at 8:30 each morning, around 7:30 every night my cell phone gets a message with a Bible verse. Sometimes the Scripture choice seems very random…a verse that appears meaningless within the limits of old-fashioned "Short Message Service" (SMS) messaging of 160 characters1.

Other times it appears spot-on…something the Lord Himself could have caused to be beamed from heaven, through Verizon’s cellular towards, and to my phone.

And if you do the quick mental math, the timing of the daily Scripture means that one came through as I was leading Bible study this past Wednesday…and everyone had the opportunity of hearing a rather disconcerting…but cool…"Droid" as it arrived (since I didn’t turn the ringer off).

After we wrapped up our study, I read the message to those who were hanging around:

Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his. — Numbers 23:10

[Read more…]

“For Those Who Will Believe”

Expository preaching

Last week I said that I was preaching my first…and perhaps last…expository sermon. As anyone who has listened to me know, I am more of a topical speaker…although one who attempts to make sure it is Scripture that is speaking about the subject, not me.

As fate would have it, however, this sermon will be expository too. Winslow asked me to preach on the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13…and I need a bit more time before I do that…but I figured it would be good to instead discuss one of my favorite prayers in the Bible…as recorded in John chapter 17.

Now…that’s a fairly long prayer…so we won’t be dissecting it quite verse-by-verse…but I will be attempted to "expound" on some major points it contains.

So here is Alan’s expository sermon #2…although I am not longer convinced future ones are unlikely…some scriptures beg for special focus. 🙂


The Night Before

Although I was in the Navy for a few years…I did not face combat…I never even handled a weapon.

Even so I can imagine a little how it must feel the night before a major battle. For instance, visualize being with the rest of your platoon the night before D-day. What would you be doing? What you would be talking about?

There is a saying that there are no atheists in a fox hole…so…

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You Are Not Alone

Jesus with happy manEarlier this week I got a Facebook suggestion from Diane Kendall to "like" the Facebook page of an organization called YANA1. For those not familiar with Diane, she is half of the John and Diane Kendall husband-and-wife team that is such a significant and welcome part of the Antrim community, including owning one of my favorite stores, Place in the Woods2. (Not to mention they have some great kids too!)

So…I take any recommendation from Diane or John seriously, whether it be for good running shoes, proper food for our pets, or a Facebook page to check out….

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Do You Have the Time?

Preaching Styles

Who is your favorite preacher? No…I won’t take it personally if it’s not me! 🙂

But, who is your favorite preacher?

Now, why?

What appeals to you about his (or her) approach? Is it because you are big on theology, and they dig deep into the word, even leveraging their immense knowledge of Greek and Hebrew? Or because they are great storytellers—sucking you into their narrative and, as you exit back to reality, you are left with an unforgettable point?

Or maybe it’s their voice? Their execution?

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Do Views Exist On a Linear Trajectory?

Often when we see the excesses of a given group—political, religious, or etcetera—we connect them with one end or the other of the given categorization’s spectrum. It is as if we pull out some graph paper, draw a straight line, and are convinced that anyone’s view can be plotted on it. A little bit left of X, a little bit right of Y…a bit more liberal than A, a bit more conservative than B.

And we lionize that thoughtful, considerate, and mystical class that falls right in the middle…you know…the “moderates.” (Although it should be noted that in this paradigm a moderate is a big fat zero.)

Sometimes thinking of viewpoints this way makes sense. Denominations are often connected in overall thought with differences only being a matter of degree and non-essential doctrines. The same is true with politics—is it not fair to consider Code Pink to the left of, but on the same half of the line, as Democrats? The Tea Party, albeit somewhat of an unruly son, the child of Republicans (perhaps with some Libertarian DNA snuck in)?

But what of organizations and viewpoints the great majority would find excessive? Where would you place skinheads? Anarchists?

Individual lunatics?

The reason I ask is because I believe, at least with politics, part of the reason people choose to apply the linear paradigm is because they can use it to assign guilt by association. See a racist?! Clearly it shows the natural result of Republican thought!!! See an anarchist?! Those darn Democrats have struck again!

But are either fair? The anarchist example might be best. Should they be plotted around Democrats or Republicans? Given their other (likely) viewpoints and the folks they hang out with (e.g. at a G20 protest), it would seem fair to plot them left of the Democrats—on their end of the spectrum. However, given the Republican’s historical (but not necessarily constant or recent) commitment to as few laws possible and minimum government, shouldn’t it go (heading right on our graph paper) Republicans -> Libertarians -> anarchists?

Which is it?

I suspect most of us could easily expand our plotting to 2D…for example a Libertarian would be to the right and either above or below (depending on what the Y access defines). But would that really be be enough for every case? How about 3D?

I don’t believe so. I would argue some viewpoints, and definitely some people, exist in a totally different dimension. Their thought universe is wholly different than pretty much anyone else’s who has at least one foot in reality. To even speculate about connections to Democrats or Republicans is at best disingenuous and/or illogical, and at worst outright character assassination. There is no benefit; do we really believe if Democrats would tone down their language anarchists would suddenly embrace the rule of law? Or if the Republicans would stop their war-like metaphors skinheads would start embracing African Americans?

No, there is no benefit to connecting thought-outcasts with mainstream organizations other than to demonize our opponents. It isn’t an honest discussion, it is a strategic attack.

I have focused on the political because, I’ll admit, it’s easier for me to come up with examples…but it has theological implications.

To mimic Greg Gutfeld on Red Eye, if you don’t agree with me you are a Sabellian anarchist who is a closet member of the John Birch Society and believes in the Moral Influence Theory!

Reacting to a Shooting

Pistol with bloodThis past Saturday a lone gunman allowed the demons in his mind to escape in the form of a deluge of bullets, starting with one into the brain of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. By the time bystanders were able to wrestle him to the ground six people had been killed (including a nine year-old girl) and fourteen more had been injured. As of writing this article, Congresswoman Giffords is holding on in intensive care, but she is not out of the woods yet. This morning President Obama and his wife held a national moment of silence for our country to corporately remember the dead, the injured, and their family and friends (who are also victims of the demented assailant).

When a tragedy happens (especially of this magnitude), people naturally want to understand how it could occur—and to have swift judgment and punishment of the perpetrator(s). Every initial indication is that Jared Lee Loughner acted alone (and that he was a psychopath with a strange brew of political beliefs), but anyone watching, reading, or hearing the news know that our predilection for blaming was instantaneously in full force. We were informed that the rhetoric of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and conservatism in general drove the shooter to target the congresswoman and spray her supporters with deathly lead. Myriad liberal talking heads, and the majority of the media, were quick to incriminate the aforementioned list—although the media often did it by (for example) "innocently" juxtaposing mentions of Sarah Palin’s map that had a gunsight over Congresswoman Giffords’ district during last November’s election with discussions of the gunman’s motivation. (When they wanted to really establish the connection they quoted Giffords herself stating that Palin’s "targeted list" could lead to violence—"When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action"1).

And depending on your political bend, you were likely either joining the condemnatory chorus or decrying how hypocritical it was that those who said not to jump to conclusions about motives when Major Nidal Malik Hasan gunned-down thirteen at Fort Hood last year now couldn’t wait for the smoke from the bullets to clear before damning various people and groups.

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Scribbling On the Back of an Old Envelope

EnvelopeIn the preface to his book, The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan fondly recounts his college years, where he was able to learn from the minds of some of the 20th Century’s greatest minds, including astronomer G. P. Kuiper. He notes:

It was from Kuiper that I first got a feeling for what is called a back-of-the-envelope calculation: A possible explanation to a problem occurs to you, you pull out an old envelope, appeal to your knowledge of fundamental physics, scribble a few approximate equation on the envelope, substitute in likely numerical values, and see if your answer comes anywhere near explaining your problem. If not, you look for a different explanation. It cut through nonsense like a knife through butter.1

Although those thoughts were related to a scientific approach, it seemed to me that they were also completely applicable in the theological realm. Even though some spiritual concepts are "simple" to comprehend (or should be), Christians (especially our scholars) often spend the majority of their time trying to wrap the infinite with finite words. We want to be able to explain exactly how salvation works, how God is both three and one, how Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine—the list goes on ad infinitum. Although there is much that can be elucidated, frequently we seem to be trying to describe the indescribable. [Read more…]

The Hand of God

A Father’s Hand

In this week’s bulletin article, "A Father’s Hand," I compared my holding Augie’s hand to how our heavenly Father holds ours. I won’t regurgitate all of it now…but before I wrote that I used my Logos Bible Software 4 to look up every occurrence of the word "hand" in the English Standard Version. There were enough that it had to split the results into two pages…and a huge hunk of the results spoke of the hand of God.

Enough that all this sermon is going to be able to do is lightly touch on the subject…but hopefully in a way that by the end you’ll not only want to have that hand touch you, but that you’ll realize just whose hand is reaching down from above.

Whose had?

And let’s start with the question of whose hand…

Looking through all the uses of "hand" in the Old Testament, my favorite book was Isaiah. In his poetry and prose I couldn’t help but connect our Lord’s hand with our Lord’s majesty. For instance, let’s turn to Isaiah 45:11-12:

11 Thus says the LORD,

the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:

"Ask me of things to come;

will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

12 I made the earth

and created man on it;

it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,

and I commanded all their host.

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A Father’s Hand

Heavenly Father's handMore often then not, when I run errands close to home I am joined by a most affable companion. For instance, if I ask Augie if he would like to go to T-Bird I am guaranteed a hearty "Yes please!" At this point whenever he sees me throwing on shoes and the like, he assumes it is his duty to escort me and immediately says, "Bye bye mum mum."

And I am not complaining :-)…although "mum mum" isn’t always so amused at his energetic willingness to abandon her…

Getting from the house to the car is generally a safe and effortless task, but Augie is still a bit small for the front deck’s stairs, so he prefers to hold my hand. As a whole my grasp is fairly light, but once a few weeks ago he started to slip and my grip quickly tightened, keeping my munchkin from toppling over. [Read more…]