Archive for January, 2008

A friend sent me a devotional today on the woman at the well. It got me thinking.

Last night I was listening to Chuck Swindoll on the radio. He was talking about Nazareth, and Nathanael’s comment, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Swindoll went on to explain that Nazareth was the location of a Roman army barracks, and a center for prostitution, gambling, corruption. Jesus had “seen it all” growing up. Makes you wonder how many people suspected Mary was really pregnant by a Roman soldier, especially when Jesus bore no physical resemblance to his “dad”, Joseph. And it gives more meaning to Jesus being tempted in ALL ways like we are, yet without sin.

But that’s not all! Look at Jesus’ geneaology in Matthew 1 sometime. Do a little study on the four women mentioned there. (That’s amazing in itself! Rarely were women allowed in such a listing – even though they were the ones who did the literal labor!) They are all somehow outside the accepted “Who’s Who” of Israel. Let’s see, one woman (a Canaanite) has a child through incest, another (an Amorite) was once a prostitute, the third (a Moabite) is an immigrant, and the last an adulteress, (who was married to a Hittite)! Is that “messy” enough for you??? Sounds pretty contemporary to me!

It’s in that light that we can see Jesus talking to the woman at the well. He doesn’t see her in the same way that others see her, or that she sees herself. The failures and shortcomings – sin – are not the sum total of her life. Instead, He sees His imprint, His image in her life, and gives her hope that He can remove the stains of her life. Better yet, He uses those very stains when they are offered to Him – for His glory! Her humility, her honesty, her offering, are what give credibility to her message to the village, and what attract people to come hear words of hope from Messiah! Jesus enters the mess and ambiguity of their lives to give hope right where they are.

It is just the opposite with the majority of the Pharisees. They see themselves as above the “mess” of life, and do not believe God has anything to do with the untidiness of human dealings. Their own sin remains “hidden”. Ironically, it’s not really hidden. Jesus sees it, and so do others. But because of the lack of humility, honesty and offering of their life “as is”, Jesus cannot work with them. The first become last. But the last….they are first!

I am repeatedly amazed as I read the Big Story of God, at how willing He is to enter the messiness of human life – from the very moment of the fall! He keeps seeking us, wading into the muck of our existence, and responding if only we turn our face toward Him. It seems very small shreds of faith on our part are attractive enough for the Eternal One to make an investment of time, energy and love. Oh sure, He gets frustrated, angry even, when we willfully disobey. But He always provides a way to come back to Him.

I am learn to accept Him entering my messiness to continually bring restoration and healing! May I turn with the same offer as the woman in Samaria – “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out.” (Jn 4:29 The Message)

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This is really good and can help keep the “Spirit of Christmas” alive even after the season is over!

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One of the benefits of living in the Twin Cities is living in close proximity to John Piper and his Bethlehem Baptist Church. Many of my friends have been very excited for us to go see him. We did some research and found one of the 3 campuses is very close to where we are staying. It was in a high school auditorium, so that was a different atmosphere from what we expected. Because of the three campuses, Piper rotates and speaks live at a different one each week while the others receive a live video feed. We were pleased to actually attend a service he was speaking at in person!

It was a little interesting that we had a conversation on the way to church about Calvinism and Armenianism. We both grew up in Armenian background churches and the message we heard from Piper was quite strongly Calvinistic. I am by no means a theologian so I sometimes miss the subtle nuances, but this was pretty clear about pre-destination and the new birth. You can hear the podcast version or see the full text.

The main text of the message was 1 Peter 1:13-25. I won’t go through the whole sermon but here are some of the highlights:

Imperishable was a big word that Piper spent some time unpacking. It is used three times in the text and refers to our inheritance, value, and seed.
Inheritance – We are “born again to a living hope.” So the emphasis falls on the hope of our new life. It lives—and will not die. It inherits an imperishable inheritance. That’s the emphasis. Our new life in the new birth is forever. We will never die.
Value – The blood of Christ is of infinite value, and therefore its value never runs out. It is an imperishable value. That is how we are ransomed. That’s the price of the new life we receive in new birth. And Jesus paid it for us.
Seed – The seed that comes through the word of God is imperishable, and therefore the life that it generates and sustains is imperishable.

Piper also spent some time unpacking his thoughts about salvation. He says that the Holy Spirit calls us to salvation. We can reject or accept this salvation, but ultimately if God has called us into heaven He will make Himself so irresistible that we can’t reject salvation. This is where Calvin really shines through. It lead to some interesting discussions afterwards!!

I really liked what Piper had to say about the Living Christ is our Living Hope to carry us through each day.

Finally Piper talked about the role God plays and we play in our new birth. He focused only a little time as these are topics for future sermons. Here is the excerpt:

1) He ransomed us from sin and wrath by the blood of Christ and paid the debt for sinners to have eternal life. 2) He raised Jesus from the dead so that union with Jesus gives eternal life that never fades away. 3) And He called us from darkness to light and from death to life through the gospel and gave us eyes to see and hears to hear. He made the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ shine in our hearts through the gospel. And we believed. We embraced Christ for the treasure that he is.

We like much of Piper’s writings so we are going to check out the downtown church to see what the atmosphere is like and see how it compares to other churches we’ve experienced in the Twin Cities. We’ll keep you posted!

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“We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.” – Jesse Owens

Let’s look at the 3 main “Dream Points” of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech:

  • “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
  • “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  • “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will they be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

All men are created equal – I would say that we get close to this one sometimes, I would agree that we are all created equal, but don’t have equal opportunities based on other factors – birth place, educational opportunities, etc. I don’t think it is fair to say that the “American Dream” is truly obtainable by everyone. There are great stories of individuals who have overcome and shown that they are equal, but there is still much work to be done.

Judged by the content of their Character – I don’t think this would be true across the board either. Racism is a beast that just won’t go away in many pockets around the country. It is sadly something that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. African-Americans (and other ethnic minorities) sometimes live up to the low/negative expectations that the majority culture has placed on them. Successful minorities are often rejected by their community as “selling out”. I think it is a great tribute that Barack Obama is having real success as a presidential contender, but his run has also showcased some of the underlying race tensions still in the US from both sides. There have been many other notable standouts who have been judged based on their ability not the color of their skin.

Sitting in Brotherhood – What is brotherhood? Webster’s says that brotherhood is being like brothers or having fellowship/association. This may be one that we are the closest to really reaching. Up and down the social ladder you can see blacks (and minorities) hanging out with “white” people. I think individuals are often engaged in similar pursuits and they are able to individually put aside color of skin and other differences in pursuit of a common goal and enjoy true fellowship/brotherhood.

As I re-read and discussed this with my wife, we have very different opinions and perspectives. I think we have grown up in different worlds and seen different things. It is possible that my thoughts are skewed by the small pocket of the country I grew up in (rural Ohio) and lived (rural Indiana). I may be unfairly projecting my experiences onto the rest of the country. I believe in MLK’s dream and want to see it come to fruition. I have been actively engaged in helping to spread the dream throughout different parts of my life.

Please share your thoughts with me today.

I also wrote a tribute to Jesse Owens on my running blog.

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The birth rate among teenagers 15 to 19 in the United States rose 3 percent in 2006, according to a report issued Wednesday, the first such increase since 1991. The finding surprised scholars and fueled a debate about whether the Bush administration’s abstinence-only sexual education efforts are working.

I personally think abstinence is the best idea for anyone who isn’t married. But I think the reality of life is far removed from that. It is way too simple and places too much expectation on teenagers and even unmarried 20 somethings.

Teenage birth rates are driven by rates of sex,contraception and abortion. In the 1990s, teenage sex rates dropped and condom use rose because teenagers were scared of AIDS, said Dr. John S. Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University.

But recent advances in AIDS treatments have lowered concerns about the disease, and AIDS education efforts, which emphasized abstinence and condom use, have flagged.

Perhaps as a result, teenage sex rates have risen since 2001 and condom use has dropped since 2003. Abortion rates have held steady for a decade, although numbers from 2005 and 2006 are not available.

We could look at this data and say “well at least they aren’t aborting the babies,” but that would seem to miss the point as well. [In fact abortions are at their lowest point since 1974, according to a recent report].

The lone bright spot in Wednesday’s report, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was that the birth rate for girls 14 and under dropped to 0.6 percent per 1,000 from 0.7 percent. Birth rates rose 3 percent among teenagers ages 15 to 17 and 4 percent among those ages 18 and 19.

The largest increase came among black teenagers, but increases were also seen among whites, Hispanics and American Indians. Birth rates among Asian teenagers continued to drop.

Unmarried childbearing reached a record high in 2006, according to the disease control centers, with unmarried mothers now accounting for 38.5 percent of all births. Births among teenagers and unmarried women tend to lead to poor outcomes for their children.

The last sentence aside, the actual data presented shows that some programs are working, at least a little bit. So what does this mixed bag of data really mean? Why hasn’t this really been an election year issue?

I think politician’s have been so conscious of trying to get re-elected that they are afraid to make any real legislation that could impact things such as teen birth rate, abortions, and extra-marital sex. It is easier to say, “I am pro-life” and do nothing to end abortion or its many causes. The Evangelical movement has really dropped the ball on this area of life. Instead of trying to legislate morality and imposing mean-spirited legislation, why aren’t we offering love and hope? The Catholic church has long out-lawed any form of contraception, it would rather doom families and little children to poverty than to provide an avenue for family planning.

Yikes, I just said a dirty little word “family planning.” I don’t mean using abortion, but actively using birth control methods, while promoting abstinence. It is profane that we think today’s youth are all going to abstain and therefore we shouldn’t talk about safe sex or condom use. I may be a little cynical, but one cause of the AIDS epidemic in Africa is that many missionaries refused to believe that condoms could be an effective tool.

I guess this has become a somewhat rambling diatribe, but the report above from the New York Times really got my mind thinking. I’ve written before about my “un-Christian” thinking about abortion. It just upsets me that we are so passionately pro-life but don’t really do anything to try and make a difference in the world with our beliefs.

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This week’s speakers are:

[retracted] from Kansas City, Ks.

[retracted], were missionaries to Sierra Leon for 8 years. When she was diagnosed with MS, they were unable to return. He was working with World Partners of the Missionary Church, a small denomination made up of approximately 400 churches focused on raising up missionaries and support for global missions. World Partners sent him to the U.S. Center for World Missions for a time. He left the U.S. Center to become co-director for Adapt-a-People Clearinghouse, where he worked to begin to identify people groups before there were any people group resources. For the next three years he participated in a ministry of mobilization and helping churches adopt people groups. He has a Masters Degree from Fuller Seminary in missiology. He’s taught courses at Bethel College and is an approved instructor through Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He’s also served as a missionary “coach” for several years. They are using their gifts to reach Iraqi Muslims in the Kansas City area.

Remember that Alumni are welcome to attend for free!