Archive for January, 2009

This year’s St Paul Winter Carnival was cold.  No way around the fact.  It was 7 degrees when we wandered around Rice Park looking at the Ice Sculptures and then headed over to the State Fair Grounds to see the Snow Sculptures.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  A part of the carnival is the Securian Frozen 5k and Half Marathon. I almost ran it last year but decided not too.  However, I did run it this year and was faced with -11 air temperatures on race morning.  After a mishap with the cold a few years ago, race directors setup a system to help ensure the safety of participants and volunteers.  Due to the cold temperatures, the race was shortened to a 1/4 marathon distance or 6.55 miles.  You can read my full review over at Team Cross Runs.  Just for a point of reference, the air temp has to drop below -25 before they actually cancel the race!  The picture at right is a runner in my club after the race.

Yes, I’m a little crazy but there were over 600 people who actually ran the half-marathon and more were in the 5k.  We enjoyed this year’s sculptures.  Last year (pictures) we went before they were completed but it was still amazing to see the intricate detail that went into each piece of ice/snow art.  We were also able to talk a little bit with some of the artists.  It is amazing to watch them use a chain saw for large cuts and then  switch to a Dremel for fine tuning.  In the ice sculpting they even used blowtorches to help seal two pieces of ice together.  It was fascinating to watch.

This year we arrived in the evening after the awards had been announced so we got to see them in all their glory.  It also made it a little less personal and more like an art gallery.  I think overall this year’s sculptures were better than last, though I’m not an expert on fine ice/snow art!!

Here are pictures of the winning sculptures:

Fountain of Unicorns (zoomed in)

Hormel McSwine & Friends

You can see a full album of my pictures here.  There is so much to do during the Winter Carnival that it could really consume all of your weekend.  We enjoyed the parts that we saw the last two years and maybe we’ll take part in other events in the future.  Right now a few hours in the cold is good enough for one weekend!!

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I think we all now that at some level our new President is going to sign some type of  economic stimulus package.  We may disagree on the need or scope of the package, but we all would agree that if you are going to do it, it needs to be done right with accountability and ensuring that we get the post bang for our buck.

Unlike some of the first “bailout” money which helped line corporate coffers and plush resorts, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan has some real potential to impact real people, with real issues.

Obama’s original plan included:

  • Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
  • Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
  • Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
  • Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
  • Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
  • Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.

A version of this bill has already passed through the House of Representatives.  I received an action alert from a hunger related organization in Minnesota with some encouraging news that current bill included:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance: $20 billion to provide nutrition assistance to modest-income families and to lift restrictions that limit the amount of time individuals can receive food stamps.
  • Senior Nutrition Programs: $200 million for formula grants to states for elderly nutrition services including Meals on Wheels and Congregate Meals.
  • Afterschool Meals: $726 million to increase the number of states that provide free dinners to children and to encourage participation by new institutions by increasing snack reimbursement rates.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Program Information Systems: $100 million to improve state management information systems for the WIC program.

Obviously alleviating hunger is an important part of ending poverty and ensuring everyone has a chance to be successful, especially during a recession. Food is often cut from family budgets so that they can continue to live in a warm house.  Obviously conservatives are against government handouts, even in the form of food aid, but that is sad.  Two of these hunger related items will have a lasting long-term impact on the economy.  Improving the management of WIC programs is an investment in the future of the important program which assists mothers and new born babies – ensuring proper nutrition.  Another is the after-school meals.  For many students the only food they recieve is at school and for many more, the only hot meal they recieve is at school.  Again this is an investment in the education of our future generations.

Call your Senator today and say:

Food insecurity impacts nearly 10% of our population.

The most effective response to hunger in this economic crunch is to improve low income (your state)’s  access to and participation in federal domestic nutrition assistance programs.

Food assistance also helps unemployed citizens make the transition back to self-sufficiency.

Increased participation in these programs also brings millions of additional federal dollars into the state’s economy.

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Joshua commands the sun to stand still in the sky
Image via Wikipedia

Besides their similar sounding name Jesus and Joshua have a little in common.  Keep reading to see how Tim pulls the Gospel story out of the Book of Joshua for us.

Most of the message came from Joshua 9.   This chapter is a foreshadowing of the covenant we have with Christ.  The Gibeonites should have been destroyed… just like us.

1) Grace Joshua 9:1-15 tells the story about the Gibeonites deceptive attempt to secure a peace deal and covenant with the Israelite people.  The Gibeonites were smart folks with some inside information.  They new about God’s command to the Israelites to destroy everyone around them from Deuteronomy 20:10-18.  They were given a peace treaty by Joshua because, he didn’t seek God’s opinion on the matter.

2)Grace that points towards all the nations and all the people. Joshua 16-27 shows how God extended His grace and blessing to the Gibeonite people, despite their lies and deceptions.  The Gibeonites were cursed to become Israel’s servants due to their deception, but they were an integral part of the history of God’s people.

– The tabernacle was built in Gibeon so that they would have an integral part.

– The temple was also built in Gibeon, by the Gibeonites.

– The Gibeonite people are actually transformed by the covenant of God and the grace that comes with it.

The end of Joshua 9 points towards the fact that the Grace of God is available to all nations and all people.

Now is when it gets a little tricky!

3) Grace is what it is because God’s judgment and wrath are real. Look at that again: Grace is what it is because God’s judgment and wrath are real.  What do you think about that? Tim Keller is a good resource to help with this issue.  Tim passed out an article from Keller called The Importance of Hell. Another resource is Keller’s book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

Judgment and wrath was actually the first step towards grace for the Gibeonites.  They were afraid of getting killed so they (through deception) sought peace.  God’s plan of judgment is pretty clear in the following verses:

Genesis 15:13-15 Leviticus 18:24-25 Deuteronomy 9:4-5

It is interesting to note that in Joshua 9:18 the Israelites were upset that the Gibeonites were going to be allowed to live.  Why should they be shown Grace?  The Israelites liked to see people die! Interestingly, today we are the exact opposite, we expect to see God’s mercy and are upset by the fact that God destroyed all the other people mentioned in the earlier passages. We like the power to decide what is right or wrong and don’t like when it is passed down to us, especially from God. We long for personal expression which includes setting our own rules and boundaries. We then take these ideas and project them onto God, instead of listening and seeing what God’s has already told us about Himself.  If we read the Bible it confronts our idea of individuality and our concept of our self.

But if each of us individually had our own rules and laws we would end up with billions of different systems and rules.  As individuals what makes up our determination of right and wrong or when grace or wrath should be expressed?  In Joshua 10:1-13 we see that God actually goes to war to keep His covenant of Grace.  He commands Joshua to go help defend the Gibeonites from Adoni-Zedek.  This should be encouraging to us, if we are the Gibeonites and Satan is Adoni-Zedek – then it is safe to say that God will wage war to defend and protect us.  Joshua’s army also had to march all night, 20 miles uphill to go protect them (vs 9). Similarly Christ wrestled all-night and carried the cross up the hill to Calvary, where He died for our sins.

In verses 12-14 we see that God helped Joshua by holding the sun in the sky all day.  The opposite happened during the crucifixion – Christ was being cast into our darkness, taking our sins and offering us grace. Christ took God’s judgment and wrath on Himself so that we might have eternal life.

You can follow the sermon’s live on Twitter if you are so interested.

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I got this in an e-mail.  It is a little funny.

60 above zero:
Floridians turn on the heat.
People in Minnesota plant gardens.

50 above zero:
Californians shiver uncontrollably.
People in Duluth sunbathe.

40 above zero:
Italian & English cars won’t start.
People in Minnesota drive with the windows down.

32 above zero:
Distilled water freezes.
The water in Bemidji gets thicker.

20 above zero:
Floridians don coats, thermal underwear, gloves, and wool hats.
People in Minnesota put on a flannel shirt.

15 above zero:
New York landlords finally turn up the heat.
People in Minnesota have the last cookout before it gets cold.

All p nnesotans close the windows.

10 below zero:
Californians fly away to Mexico .
People in Minnesota get out their winter coats.

25 below zero:
Hollywood disintegrates.
The Girl Scouts in Minnesota are selling cookies door to door.

40 below zero:
Washington DC runs out of hot air.
People in Minnesota let the dogs sleep indoors.

100 below zero:
Santa Claus abandons the North Pole.
Minnesotans put the extensions on their ice augers and go fishing.

460 below zero:
ALL atomic motion stops (absolute zero on the Kelvin scale.)
People in Minnesota start saying…”Cold ’nuff fer ya?”

500 below zero:
Hell freezes over.
Minnesota public schools will open…
…. 2 hours late.

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Yes that is what we are entering as we watch Obama become the first African-American president. Attending an MLK Day Rally yesterday it was quite apparent that for many in the black community this is a huge leap forward.

In some respects MLK’s dream has come true, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Below is a prayer from St Francis of Assisi and the text of MLK’s speech to reflect on as we celebrate our new prez.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

And (I highlighted some key parts in bold)

I Have a Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.[I would say that 2009 is not the end but a new beginning.] Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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 one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four 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 today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

You can view audio and video of the speech as well.

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Who would have that Deuteronomy would have so much great stuff in it? I mean obviously, it is part of the Bible so it is good.  So thanks to David for teaching out of Deuteronomy and making it relevant to our life in Christ.

The journey begins in John 5, at the pool in Bethesda. Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees give Him a hard time about it. He challenges them and ultimately says this in 5:45-47:

“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Jesus is saying that Moses wrote about Jesus and accused the Pharisees way back in Deuteronomy 29-30. Many scholars think that Deuteronomy is the foundation for understanding the entire Old and New Testaments.  David says that it is a simple story of being enslaved and finding freedom in Jesus but it is still very complex and fraught with lots of theology. Much of the book contains rules, laws, and covenants the most important of which comes at the end.

What is a covenant? A covenant is a solemn promise or one way agreement.  The marriage covenant is maybe the most practical to understand. It is both a personal and intimate agreement between two parties to love each other unconditionally and a legal agreement or oath (29:12). David shared this thoughtful phrase:

I will be what I should be even if you aren’t and I will lay down my life for you, no matter what. Even when you make me mad, I won’t do something bad just to get even.  I love you so much that I’ll continue offering my best, even at your worst.  That is part of God’s covenant with us, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.  This is also an ideal for what a church community should look like. A “covenant community” is based on unconditional love and acceptance of each other for the mutual benefit of all involved.  This was what my college campus was based on, sadly we are all sinful humans and often fall short of the ideal.

Mystery of a Covenant

This is where it gets tricky! God had given the Israelites certain rules and regulations regarding a variety of different sacrifices, procedures for celebrating Him, and much more.  He was quite emphatic as we learned last week in Numbers. He even says in 29:20 that He would never forgive and blot a person from the earth. Where’s the love in that? But then a few verses later (30:3) God says we can be restored and given life.

So which is it? Punishment and consequences or love and grace? Can we really have both? Is God’s blessing conditional or unconditional? YES and NO.  Let’s go back to Genesis 15 where God made the Covenant with Abraham. Do you remember the story, Abraham cut in half all these different types of animal carcasses and laid them out? During that time period it was somewhat common that a servant would do this and then walk through the middle indicating that if he broke the promise just made, he should be torn into half.  It should have been Abraham that walked through the sacrifice, but instead God did, saying symbolically that if we screw up He will be torn to pieces or ripped apart for our sins.  We can see this as a foreshadowing of Jesus death on the Cross.  When God walked through the sacrificial ceremony He set in motion a way for us to be redeemed.

Hero of Our Covenant

Everyone and every good story needs a hero.  By now you should be able to guess who the hero of this story is… JESUS! Galatians 3:6-14 lays it out pretty clearly (13-14):

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Isn’t that awesome? Jesus was torn into pieces so that we wouldn’t face the wrath of God as described in Deuteronomy!

Jesus was glad to die for us, can we humble ourselves and submit to His Grace?

We ended the service with this great promise from Deuteronomy 31:8:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

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I don’t remember exactly how I found the post entitled Bible & Homosexuality: Enough with the Bible Already but it obviously intrigued me enough to click on it and read through it. I’ll be clear I’m not completly comfortable with a lot of the statements he made throughout his post but you can get the main point from this quote:

For some, I believe the Bible has become an idol. Some place the Bible above Jesus’ compassion and love, Jesus’ radical inclusivity, and hold steadfast onto what they believe to be the correct interpretation of a small amount of verses that speak about same-sex relations. To those who repeatedly start quoting Leviticus and Romans verses as soon as anyone brings up the topic of homosexuality, I’d suggest perhaps you stick your Bible back up on the shelf for awhile. Perhaps it should collect a little bit of dust. And maybe, just maybe, you need to go out and grab coffee with someone who’s gay. Maybe you need to hear their story, learn about what they’ve been through, how they’ve experienced Christians and the church.

I haven’t sat down and explored the life of a gay person, but moving to Minneapolis we have been exposed to more openly gay people in the last year than my entire life combined.  I would love to hear your thoughts about this issue and topic.

A few months ago at breakfast with Christy I said, “the longer we live here the harder it is going to get to be opposed to civil unions and domestic partner benefits.”  Yes I think homosexuality is a sin (one no worse than my own), but if I was lying on my death bed and my mom forbid the love of my life to be at my side, I would die a painful and lonely death.  Say it ain’t so Joe, if you aren’t “married” it is possible for your parents to dictate who is allowed to see you or find out information about you (given that you aren’t able to to dictate otherwise).  That seems completely unfair and stupid.  Where is the love of Christ in that?

I have made quite the journey in my thinking about this issue.  It may not be complete but the more I understand and know the Bible, if you believe in Jesus then you can’t believe in hating another human being made in His image.

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