Wednesday

The importance of "standing stones"

Two weekends ago, Mike, Stephen and I traveled to Limon so that Stephen could play in the Rotary basketball tournament that took place at the high school gym. It was quite the deal. Kids grades 3 - 6, boys and girls, from all over the eastern plains of Colorado participated. Swink's 6th grade boys took second place. You can see pictures of the tournament at WritingPlaces.com in the photo galleries section under basketball/Limon Rotary Club Tournament.

Because of the many teams that were playing throughout the tournament, the scheduling was such that after two games on Saturday, Stephen's team had to wait until 7 p.m. Sunday night to play in the championship game. With gas prices the way they are, we decided to stay around Limon to see what there was to do, rather than go to a mall in Denver. Well, we found that there isn't much to do, at least on Sunday afternoons, but we had fun anyway. We had our cameras. What else did we need?

Before heading out on our "explore" - to borrow a phrase from Winnie the Pooh - Mike collected some area maps and found a wildlife preserve out at Kinney Lake. At this little lake we saw lots of birds along with a covey of quail that I frightened out of hiding quite by accident. I missed the pictures of the quail because they quickly hid in some high grass, but I did get to see them. There were also some cows out there that were really annoyed when we parked our van. However, other than staring us down, they were no threat. That was fun for about an hour. Kinney Lake isn't that large and the sky was too washed out for good photos, so we decided to move on. We did get some pictures of a windmill out on the prairie, as well as an abandoned house, and then we drove over to Genoa to see what there was in that neck of the woods.

The mostly abandoned town was a photographer's paradise. Sort of. We took some pictures of the town, including this one:





Mike and I have a twisted sense of humor so we got a good laugh over the fact that the Christian Prosperity Crusade's sign was hanging on a building that could only be described as derelict ... bedraggled ... tumble-down. The building was full of what appeared to be dust-laden junk. Had the Crusade become so prosperous that they needed to now store stuff that they really didn't need?

But we started thinking about what the Crusade had been. Was it a charity organization that had sought to bring good will and prosperity to the people of Genoa? Had it been a project of hope, turned to dust? Or was it a crusade of prosperity preachers who claimed that God would bless individuals who supported them with great riches and nice new cars?

Clueless, we did a web search and other than finding another person's pictures of the building, we found nothing. There was no history on this movement on the Internet. And, the town of Genoa's history only consisted of a rather anemic link on Wikipedia. So where are the standing stones?

The building is a standing stone, I suppose, but there is no information readily available to show what God did in that place, or what was attempted in God's name. And that's the important part.

"So, wait. What are standing stones?" you may be asking at this point. There is some good information about them at followtherabbi.com. They are essentially huge rocks - monoliths - that ancient peoples erected to mark a spiritually significant event.

In the Bible, a clear example of this is when Jacob set up a stone at Bethel after he had the dream of angels walking up and down a ladder in Genesis 28. The standing stones marked the fact that God had met him there. It's purpose was to remind Jacob but it was also built so that people would ask questions. Standing stones are like any monument that we set up here in America, except that they had spiritual significance. Ancient people usually set them up to tell others about what their god had accomplished.

A form of standing stone might also be a feast that reminds us of what God has done such as Thanksgiving, Passover, Christmas or Easter. True, they aren't huge rocks, but they are reminders. Other reminders could include something that you buy, such as a ring or some other token to signify something that was important. I once read a magazine article that talked about collecting small rocks at special places. The article suggested writing the place name on the the rock with permanent marker and collecting the stones in a jar. The gathered stones would help remind the family of their trips together.

You know, this could also be a practical way of keeping track of spiritual milestones, thus providing a visual reminder of what God has done. Visual reminders help us share our story with others as well so that they too can learn about God's goodness.

So what happened at the Christian Prosperity Crusade building that made it significant in the town of Genoa? What has happened in your life that might be an encouragement to others? What has happened in your church or anywhere else that a visual reminder could serve to share about God's goodness? Let us know.

P.S. Okay. There was something to do on a Sunday afternoon. We could have visited the Wonder Tower, but Stephen was getting hungry and well ... we decided to feed him. Maybe next time.

Monday

New article on prayer

Hi everyone, With spring break now over it is easier to write. Check out my article at Suite 101 called
Thinking, feeling, and the will make prayer vibrant

Now onto graduation! Yikes!

Friday

An example of persistence in prayer

Here is Chuck:



Chuck is our family dog. He's a daschund/beagle mix and the color of his fur matches my kitchen cabinets. I think the fact that he blends in so well with our cabinets pleases him because Chuck's favorite place is the kitchen.

Whenever I get ice for my drink, open the refrigerator, or open a Ziploc bag I can count on Chuck charging up the stairs or through his dog door to sit at my feet. He's there most of the time when I fix dinner as well, especially when I am cutting meat. Chicken is his favorite beyond anything else. Mike will feed Chuck the entire skin and fat from a Walmart roast chicken, saying, "I'm killing him with kindness...".

Another favorite of the dog's is green chili. He loves the spicy stuff and sits around licking his chops for a little while between bites, but he always goes back for more. It's a hoot.

As you can see from the photo, Chuck has huge brown eyes that are very expressive. He has many things to say: Pet Me, Feeeeeeed Me, Go Away, Please, will you let me snuggle next to you on the couch just this once?, Let's go for a walk, How dare you?, I want a treat, etc.

When I'm in the kitchen cutting meat, his eyes are demanding. I look down and there he is eyeballing my every move, no matter how small. When we eat dinner, Chuck is there under the table with his head on someone's knee. His eyes become Oliver-like. You can almost hear him say, "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

"I've already fed you, dog," I respond, but Chuck doesn't move. He sits there waiting.

The dog is no dummy in his pursuit of snacks. When our grandchild Ethan was a little squeaker, Chuck would follow him. If Ethan was holding something to eat Chuck was right there ready to pounce on whatever the little guy dropped. The dog has no shame. After all, he has learned that if he waits long enough, he'll get something. However, sometimes he has to wait a long time but he never gives up.

There was once a widow who wanted justice so she went to a judge to get it. The judge, however, was not a nice man so he told the woman to take a hike several times. Despite that the woman kept returning determined to get what she wanted.  

Finally the judge said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’" Luke 18: 4 - 5.

Jesus told this story during his ministry to show his disciples that they should never give up in their prayers. The lesson still holds true today. Maybe Chuck proves it.

Thursday

Have you seen this?

Have you seen this letter on the Internet?

Apparently, according to some biblical code that ebiblefellowship was able to crack, Jesus is coming back to get his church on May 21, 2011 and God will destroy the earth on October 21, 2011. The author states "No man knows ...".

No man knows? That's an interesting statement. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 24:36:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

What part of Jesus' words are not clear?

Jesus also said in the same chapter verse 4 and 5:

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many."

In the same chapter, Christ gives us things to watch for: "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."

There will also be persecution among other things. Revelation talks about the Antichrist, but this person is not part of ebiblefellowship's "prophecy."

I'm really wary of stuff like this. The only way to check it is to refer to scripture and pray for wisdom. We can watch for the signs, but as we have seen within the last week in Japan and the Middle East, wars and earthquakes happen almost everyday in our world. All we can really do is just be ready for the Lord to come back at any time.

None of us has assurance of tomorrow or even the next hour anyway. We need to trust the Lord and not get too caught up in trying to find a definitive answer to Biblical prophecy.

Tuesday

He, she, it? Gender-neutral argument is revived

Today, Crosswalk.com announced in its "Religion Today" news briefings that the brand-spanking new 2011 translation of the New International Version has hit the shelves. But, many people are upset because of the gender-neutral content. For those who don't know, gender-neutral means that instead of using male pronouns in verses that really mean everyone translators will insert neutral or more inclusive pronouns. It is not a novel idea; the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has been doing this for years.

Here is an example from the New International Versions:

In the 1984 NIV version, Galatians 1: 1-2 reads

Paul, an apostle--sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead and all the brothers with me ...

While the 2011 version reads:

Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters[a] with me ...

Since [a] indicates a footnote here it is:

Galatians 1:1-2 The Greek word for "brothers and sisters" (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in verse 11; and in 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18. Note that the translators did not change the phrase "sent not from men nor by a man." The original Greek used words that specifically translate as "man" or "men."
What is wrong with this? Fundamentalists are highly agitated over this because they fear that the translators have given in to what started as feminist arguments for more inclusive language. But, if the Greek word indicates both men and women, what's wrong with putting that in? Doesn't it make the Bible more inclusive rather than just a book written by men who lived in a culture that considered women property? And is it not a more accurate translation?

One of the fears of fundamentalists is that pronouns for God will become female. But I ask ... who ever said that God was a male? Who said that God was a female? In my opinion, God is neither. God is God. In the scriptures God describes Godself with male and female attributes. Observe:

Luke 13: 34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing."
Here is a list of such usages compiled by the Women's Ordination Conference.

And here is a male attribute: "Our Father, who art in heaven ..."

In all this, those of us who like the gender-neutral language - at least those who think like me - do not like God being turned into a goddess in order to appease radical feminist. God is holy and to be respected for whom God is. God is much larger than any label that I use to describe God.

In the Bible, God, and the writers who describe God, use male and female terms so that humanity can relate. Jesus did this all the time in parables and so did the prophets.As for Jesus, it is perfectly correct to describe Jesus as a man. Jesus, who is God, is an actual historical figure who was a man. If you think about it, Jesus had to be a man because there was no way his culture would have identified with him if he had been a woman. This is evidenced by the way the men in the Bible treated women. For example, women were not counted in Biblical times. Scholars figure that the numbers of people that Jesus fed in the gospels can be doubled because of that custom. Another more moving example is found in John 8 where we read that a woman was brought to Jesus because she was caught committing adultery. But with whom was she committing adultery? It definitely takes two to commit adultery. Why didn't the Pharisees bring her adulterous accomplice before Christ?

The attitude of Christ toward the woman - he saved her from being stoned - demonstrates the attitude that his followers were to have toward women. They were to respect them and treat them as equals. The twelve apostles lived this out in the church since scripture talks about several women were ordained as ministers. Later on in the church's history, this example was ignored and certain denominations exclude women from leadership roles.

In some denominations that do not exclude women, there is often an underlying attitude that a man is better when it comes to ministry. I'm not entirely sure why this is true but it is. Women have to rise up against that attitude and do what they believe God has called them to do.

Another example of our attitude toward women shows in this gender-neutral argument since some are fighting its appropriate usage in the scriptures. In this regard, don't pick a fight with those who know the Greek language unless you know it at least as well.

We need to trust that our translators who are interpreting the scriptures do not have an agenda, or at least less of an agenda than in the past.

We need to drop our prejudices and remember that Paul wrote: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

"Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals"



I just added a review to Suite 101 on this fantastic devotional called "Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals." You can either purchase the book at through the link or connect with www.commonprayer.net to read some of the prayers. I find the book challenging and refreshing.

Revelations of Divine Love

On Sunday my discussion group looked at a portion of "Revelations of Divine Love," by Julian of Norwich.

I wrote something about it at Suite 101. You can read it here.

It's Fat Tuesday and the Coptic Christians are protesting

I've been watching the news this morning while enjoying my Solar Roast coffee and checking e-mail. I've learned that Egyptians - Coptic Christians to be exact - have taken to the streets to protest the treatment they are receiving. Of course the story isn't as big as the earlier protests, but it is something about which Christians from around the world should be praying.

As an example, here is a news brief I got this morning from Crosswalk.com.

Egyptians Protest As Church Torched and Coptic Homes Attacked

A mob of 4,000 Muslims attacked a church and Christian homes on the outskirts of Cairo Saturday. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the mob was a reaction to the relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, which is forbidden under Shari’a law. The woman’s father was reportedly murdered by a cousin for refusing to sanction the honour killing of his daughter, and the cousin was in turn killed by the woman’s brother. The attack on Sool allegedly followed the cousin’s funeral. The mob initially prevented fire fighters from containing the damage to the church. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council, told Reuters news agency that the army would rebuild the church before Easter holidays. More than 1,000 Christians and Muslims banded together afterward to protest the attacks.

In case you're wondering, Coptic Christianity is an ancient branch of the church, which was started in Egypt some 1,900 years ago or so by the same Mark who wrote the gospel. They have a fascinating history that you can read here and are credited with starting the monastic movement. They even developed a system for blind scholars to read manuscript long before the invention of Braille.At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, "the Coptic Church was unfairly accused of following the teachings of Eutyches, who believed in monophysitism. This doctrine maintains that the Lord Jesus Christ has only one nature, the divine, not two natures, the human as well as the divine." However, the Encyclopedia Coptica says that the church has never believed this. Like other Christians they believe that Jesus was human and divine:

"Copts believe that the Lord is perfect in His divinity, and He is perfect in His humanity, but His divinity and His humanity were united in one nature called "the nature of the incarnate word", which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Copts, thus, believe in two natures "human" and "divine" that are united in one "without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration" (from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy)."

I don't see the difference between what we call Christianity and what the Copts call Christianity. What western Christians believe is that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. I think the Copts just explain it better. From what I've read, it looks like the Copts and the Roman Church are trying to reunite. We'll have to see what happens. In any light, the Copts need our prayers - not just because they are fellow believers but because they are people whom God loves.

Meanwhile, we are having a pleasanter time of it here in our country. Today is Fat Tuesday, more properly known as Shrove Tuesday or Shrovetide. Many Christians are preparing for Lent by, uh, pigging out. Lent is a traditional time of sacrifice. My husband Mike, who is a recovering Catholic, told me the other day that it's a way to gear up for Lent.

I remember when we lived in Michigan that these pastries were sold on Fat Tuesday:

Paczek (pronounced POONCH-eck).


"The Polish tradition is for Christian households to make paczki by using up all the sugar, lard and other treats that they will be forsaking during the 40-day penitential season of Lent, starting on Wednesday. Paczki devotees say eating the 600-calorie pastries makes it easier to give up sweets in the weeks ahead."

600 calories? One article in my Google search encouraged people to eat Paczkis but to watch the calories. How? By only eating one bite? By the way, Mike adds a bit of cultural lore here ... his mother, whose maiden name is "Urbanski", is the daughter of Polish Catholic immigrants. He recalls her referring to the kids as "pooncheck" as a term of endearment. According to mom, the term literally refers to a sweet pastry; when used as she did, it is like calling a child "sweetie."

Blessings.

Monday

A new book

My next review is of the second edition of Bruce L. Shelley's "Church History in Plain Language." Though I'm still on the first chapter, I thought I'd offer a "preview review."

So far it's good. Shelley's writing style is smooth and easy to understand. Shelley has divided the history of the church into eight sections:

The Age of Jesus and the Apostles
The Age of Catholic Christianity
The Age of the Christian Roman Empire
The Christian Middle Ages
The Age of the Reformation
The Age of Reason and Revival
The Age of Progress, and
The Age of Ideologies


So why am I reading a book on church history?

I developed an interest in the subject while studying Spiritual Formation at Northwest Nazarene University. That program is in many respects like a survey of Christian literature, so we read a lot of material from the early Christian writers. We also studied a little bit of church history and through that I found a whole new world that was previously unknown to me. I am always amazed by the rich history that forms the background of the service, or mass, of the Catholic church. This is also true for the Greek Orthodox and some of the older Protestant denominations like the Episcopal, Lutheran and United Methodist. As a Protestant who attends a relatively new denomination that was founded only a century ago - in the church a century is "new" - I was not aware of our history, except for what I had read in the gospels and the book of Acts.

There is much to learn, however. Here are some questions that I have and that you may have:

* How were the books of the Bible selected?
* How and why did the early Christian churches - Roman, Eastern, and Coptic form?
* What are the sources of our doctrines?
* Why did we fight the Crusades?
* Why were the different orders of priests and nuns formed?
* What influences have the Catholic saints and other church patriarchs and matriarchs had?


I'm sure there will be more questions as I read so I'll let you know if I make any earth-shattering discoveries.

Here is a quote from the author to consider regarding the importance of knowing church history:

"As a consequence of our ignorance concerning Christian history, we find believers vulnerable to the appeals of cultists. Some distortion of Christianity if often taken for the real thing. At the same time other Christians reveal a shocking capacity for spiritual price, hubris. Without an adequate base for comparisons they spring to the defense of their way as the best way - their party as the superior party. Finally, many Christians engage in some form of ministry without the advantage of a broader context for their labor. When they want to make the best use of their time or their efforts, they have no basis for sound judgment."

Pretty interesting, huh?

In closing, I want to thank the people who said that they "liked" my blog on "Positive and Negative Thinking" on Facebook. I always feel a little funny writing posts like that because I know that I am imperfect. More confirmation about that post came when I was reading an article about the civil rights movement in "Our State" magazine called "A Part of Us All." For those who don't know on February 1, 1960 - years before Selma and Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus bridge - four black men sat at the counter of a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, asked to be served and then refused to leave when they were denied because of their skin color. These four men were part of a larger movement across the country that sparked momentous change in the way our nation treated people. In this article, the writer related some of the dastardly things that black people suffered such as being burned, hanged, their churches bombed, mutilation, murder. Pictures of these happenings are hanging in the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro. He then writes:

"These images are not here to disgust us or depress us. They are here to remind us that racism needed to be acknowledged before it could be changed."

I think this applies to problems in the church, and anywhere else as well. If we don't acknowledge problems they will never change. Thus, more people will leave, or stay and become embittered, and be discouraged from service. The resulting negative reputation in the community brings shame to Christ when it all comes down to it.

Well, enough of that for now. Blessings to you as Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday on March 9.

Thursday

A couple of things ...

There's a great interview with Bono, the lead singer of U2, an outspoken Christian and a well-known philanthropist, over on The Poached Egg. You can read it here. Thanks for bringing this to our attention over on Facebook, Lola.

Also, I finished "Condoleeza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me." You can read a review of this well-written biography at Suite 101.

Positive and Negative thinking

I've been doing some thinking about Richard Simmon's first step in permanent weight loss since I wrote about it earlier this week.
  • Think positive
Not bad advice, especially when there is so much that is negative in our world.

However, I don't think Simmons - nor the apostle Paul for that matter - meant that we were supposed to be Pollyanna - someone who thinks that life is just peachy when death and destruction are everywhere. That's a little extreme, but it makes my point. I think we're supposed to be realistic as well as positive.

We want to always accentuate the positive. We want to encourage people when they're down. We want to bring positive solutions to negative situations. We want to have a positive mindset.

But, we don't want to ignore the negative things that are going on around us. Historically speaking, if people had glazed over the negative these things would not exist:
  • Civil rights for blacks here in America.
  • Women's sufferage
  • The nation of Israel
  • The United States of America
  • Free speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of the press
  • Child labor laws
  • OSHA
The list could go on. The things I listed plus many, many other positive changes are a result of people paying attention to the inner voice and not being content to sit back and be comfortable in the status quo. They did not ignore what was negative, but instead confronted it and did the hard work that was needed to make change.

Change is hard work. To change anything we have to overcome ourselves and people who are comfortable with the status quo. Sometimes, it seems that getting them to change is almost as hard as swimming in the ocean off Point Loma when your feet are caught in the kelp. Is that negative thinking? Yes, but it's also realistic.

Despite difficulties, things can be changed. Change is possible. Our ancestors have proved it.

Another thing that makes change difficult is that people who do not want to change can be downright mean. It happens everywhere - in the church, in the community. Sadly, I have found through my experience in the church both as a layperson and as a pastor's wife that no one is more miserable than someone who does not want to listen to God. The longer someone goes without listening to God, the more that person's misery increases, and that often translates into meanness. This drives people away from the church, which is bad enough, but it can also drive them away from God.

The unfortunate thing is that these people would never call themselves mean. They feel justified in the way they treat others because they are "mature" Christians and are doing good things for the church. Their attitudes, however, are not good for the church.

In regards to prayer, Thomas Merton wrote that we are in a dangerous place if we ever think that we know what we're doing. To echo Merton, I say that we are in a dangerous place if we ever think that we know how to treat everyone. When we think that we have cornered the market on Christian love, we should immediately ask the Lord to make us more sensitive to those around us. The reason? Not everyone is the same. We are all complex creatures, each with different pasts and experiences that make us who we are.

Are these thoughts negative? I suppose, but I've seen this go on for so long that I'm quite weary of it and want to expose the problem so that God can heal us. I'm tired of people trying to gloss over the negative so that everyone will just live in peace. That's not peace. Peace is found after dealing with inner and outer junk in our lives and, with the help of God, overcoming it.

I read recently that one should always present a possible solution when criticizing. So what's my solution? Ask God to search your heart every day. Confess your sins and ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart in the areas that he points out. Ask God to fill your heart with love for people. Didn't Jesus say that this is how people would know that we are his disciples - by the way we love each other?

I was watching the news today with one of my sons and heard that the Supreme Court ruled that Westboro Baptist Church has a right to picket funerals of soldiers. I agree that they have the right, but they are very mean. I don't understand how they can justify their behavior and attitudes when the Bible clearly says that we are supposed to love people. In this vein, I don't understand why Christians don't forgive or why they gossip or maybe we should just say talk about other people. This is not love.

I've been in the church a long time and the lack of love really grieves me. It seems like that many of us have a little bit of that Westboro Baptist Church attitude within us. We just don't show it as prominently as they do - we'd rather do it behind the backs of others and in the secrecy of our inner circles of friends. Sometimes we may even disguise it as concern or a prayer request. Most of the time it's just talk. This talk spreads like a cancer and it leaves the talked about person wondering what he or she did wrong. They leave the church because no one will accept them.

This should not be folks. As a pastor's wife I watched this happen and was not able to say anything. Now I can. If I've made you angry think about why you feel that way. If you feel proud of yourself for not being this way, pray. We all have work to do in this area. God make us willing.