Jesus on WikiPedia

In writing a post this evening about the 2008/9 Wikipedia Selection for schools (“WikiPedia to go (an offline download for schools)”) I briefly scanned the opening paragraphs of the site’s article for Jesus.

WOW.

The first content issue the article raises is in the first sentence of the third paragraph, which reads:

…though some scholars argue that other texts (such as the Gospel of Thomas) are as relevant as the canonical gospels to the historical Jesus.

Score one point for Elaine Pagels and the modern-day gnostics. See my Christmas day post from 2005, “Modern day gnosticism,” for why it is misleading to suggest that Pagels’ fringe views on the “gospel of Thomas” deserve mainstream attention and respect.

Pagels and gnosticism aside, I find this extensive article about Jesus from the WikiPedia Selection for schools to be very thought provoking and worthwhile to consider as a Christ-follower, parent, spouse, Sunday school teacher, and leader in my local church congregation.

I think it could be a great activity for an adult or youth Sunday school class to review and analyze this article, in light of the beliefs, theology, and worldview of the local congregation in which it is studied.

Do you know what you believe? Do you know why you believe those things? Can you articulate and explain your beliefs, by reading an article about Jesus Christ ostensibly written from a secular perspective?

These sound like great challenges as well as opportunities for modern-day Christians. 🙂

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Reflections after a fantastic Pilgrimage (Presbyterian Cursillo) weekend

My wife and I just returned this evening from a fantastic renewal weekend with members of our church congregation as well as other Protestant church members from around Oklahoma. This event was Oklahoma Presbyterian Pilgrimage (or OPP) #40. Presbyterian Pilgrimage was formerly known as Presbyterian Cursillo, a movement which began in Spain after the Spanish Civil War as a means to renew the Catholic church and reunite the country. Because of World War II, however, the first Cursillo was not held until the late 1940s in Spain. Eventually in the late 1950s the program came to the United States. The current WikiPedia article for Cursillo contains a less detailed description of the movement’s history than the one we were provided at our weekend. I do not want to focus this post on the history of Cursillo, but will point out that recently the Presbyterian version of this renewal event was renamed “Pilgrimage” because of a trademark/licensing issue on the name with the Catholic church. From what I understand, the Presbyterian license to use the name “Cursillo” permitted ONLY Presbyterians to attend these weekend events, NOT people from other Protestant denominations or people not affiliated with a church denomination. Apparently, the Catholic church opposes Presbyterians using events named “Cursillo” for the purpose of evangelism and sharing the gospel with non-Presbyterians. I find this situation both surprising and disheartening in our day in age. I’d like to think that anyone who is a Christ-follower would support others learning about Christ and God in any way they can, regardless of the name of the event. After experiencing a Presbyterian Pilgrimage weekend myself I am delighted, however, that Presbyterian Pilgrimage leaders have found a way to continue these renewal events and keep them open to ALL PEOPLE (Presbyterians or not.) In the case of our Pilgrimage weekend, people representing ten different church congregations from around Oklahoma participated. It was a fantastic and energizing experience.

The registered website for Presbyterian Cursillo / Presbyterian Pilgrimage (www.cursillo.com) appears to have most of its content taken down (including the history page.) I’m guessing the name change situation is the reason for this missing content. The official Cursillo Movement website (www.cursillo.org) provides a little background, but disappointingly asks visitors to order a commercial, print-based publication to learn more about the movement:

If you wish to learn more about the Cursillo® Movement, please order “Cursillo – What is it?” (publication 719) from the on-line Cursillo® Bookstore or contact your Diocesan Cursillo® Movement Secretariat.

Evidently, the gatekeepers of content for cursillo.org do not yet fully understand the power and potential of digital texts. 🙁

I’ll conclude my historical points about the Presbyterian Pilgrimage movement here, because I want to focus the bulk of my post on some reflections as well as notes I took during the weekend.

At the outset, I want to first encourage anyone who has not participated in a renewal event like Pilgrimage to do so if you can. There are other similar programs, including Walk to Emmaus, which are based on the Cursillo model and have a similar format. The chance to spend three days with other believers learning more about Christ, reading the Bible, spending time alone in prayer and meditation, and experiencing together the overwhelming joy and love of a caring community is certainly one that should not be missed. I hope in the not too distant future my wife and I will be able to return to a OPP event as members of the volunteer staff.

I also want to say that I am NOT going to reveal all the aspects of Pilgrimage, because part of the fun of the weekend is enjoying the surprises which are part of the program and have been prepared by the staff as well as other 4th day volunteers. I had never experienced a retreat or renewal event as powerful as this one before. I had some good experiences attending summer church camps when I was growing up, but those experiences were not anything like Pilgrimage. My wife attended camp at Montreat several years when she was growing up, and said those experiences WERE comparable to Pilgrimage. I knew this would be a wonderful experience and powerful weekend, but I must say it exceeded my expectations in many ways.

I want to take some time this evening to record some reflections and digitize many of the notes I took during the excellent presentations from the weekend. I’ve learned that if I don’t take time to do this QUICKLY after an event, life seems to just zip on by and I often never return to this task of processing, documenting and sharing many of the things I’ve learned. Last May I attended (again) the annual men’s conference at Mo-Ranch in the hill country of Texas. I still want and need to process, record and share many of the things I learned there (particularly because our keynote speaker was Rick Ufford-Chase and I found many of the things he shared to be quite illuminating considering many of the recent controversies in our denomination) but unfortunately I have not done that yet. My notes from that weekend are stashed on a shelf somewhere in our house, and hopefully I’ll make time to do the same thing with them sometime before long that I want to do with my Pilgrimage notes tonight. Here we go…

There were many learning points and “takeaways” from my Pilgrimage weekend, but this one was perhaps the clearest message I heard this morning from God as I sat quietly outside, prayed, and strove to clear my mind of thoughts, ideas, and song snippets:

Rest my son. Rest thy mind and rest thy body. Allow my spirit to enter and fill you with my peace.

I have needed a weekend like this one for many weeks and many months, really, and I treasure the opportunities it provided to not only deepen friendships and develop new friendships, but also to draw closer to God and seek guidance for my life as well as my marriage with Shelly.

I’m now going to share the notes I jotted down during our Pilgrimage teaching sessions. I could attribute these to each individual speaker, but because of potential confidentiality issues I am not going to. So, credit the notes below to “the staff of OPP #40.”

IDEALS

We CAN act on our choices, this is what defines us as humans as different from animals
– say: I will be brave and change my thinking
– the key to being human is choosing NOT to merely act on instinct
– we have the will to act on our choices

At times we can be in danger of forgetting our humanness
The real test of being human is to live out loud
– how much do we stretch ourselves to be better each day?

Ideals can simplify our lives in some ways because they clarify what we already know that we think
– when we recognize our ideals we have more control over our environment
Ideals are revealed in our relationships
Ideals can change
Be bold: change your name

Question to discuss: How are your ideals recognizable to others, and what would make them worthy of you?

In moments of transparency our ideals can be revealed
– when we admit a mistake or a shortcoming, often those are some of the most important moments when we reveal ideals
We MUST practice our ideals
– some experts say only 7% of communication is verbal (most is non-verbal) [THIS MAKES COMMUNICATION VIA TEXT BLOGS INHERENTLY LIMITED, DOESN’T IT?!]

What goes in a man’s mouth is not what defiles him, it is what comes out
One of our table group members said she’s always had such great respect for Billy Graham, because he never held himself out to be a perfect man

I think that often when I’m hearing a speaker talk at a conference or event, it is when they tell a story about their own shortcomings or a failure they’ve experienced that I begin to connect with them most directly and personally
– I wrote this idea in the following way:

When people share a story of their own brokenness or failure, often we connect most directly with them.

John Eldridge’s new book “Walking with God” was highly recommended by a participant, it uses very real language to which she could easily relate

Often we want to respond automatically to a situation with our instincts, but our challenge is to instead respond IAW (in accordance with) our ideals.

GRACE: AN INVITATION TO BE RESTORED

We need to pay attention to the words of familiar hymns

1 John 4

God’s grace is an invitation to be restored in our relationship with Him
grace = getting what we don’t deserve and doing nothing to deserve it
if your fists are clenched you can’t receive anything
“When I let go of the plan to go to seminary, God’s grace worked through other people”
Grace is the act of letting someone love you
Grace is God reaching out with abundant love
palanca is a gift of grace at Pilgrimage

Question to discuss: Where have you seen or experienced God’s grace in your life?

forgiving yourself is one of the most important things we all need to do
it can be a great challenge at times to accept others as they are and simply love them, yet that is what we are called to do

LAITY: THE PRIESTHOOD OF BELIEVERS

Jeremiah foretold that God would forgive us and “remember our sin no more”
II Corinthians: We can become a new people through Jesus Christ

Question to discuss: What was your response to the last time you were asked to serve in your church or community?

On average (according to some studies) spouses in the United States talk to each other just 12 minutes per day.

In a church of one of the participants, small groups are called “rock groups” (building in the Rock)

FAITH: LIVING IN GRACE

faith is given to us as a gift
grace is an invitation from and a gift from God
faith is our response

is my faith just a seed that hasn’t sprouted yet?
Has an intense desire to express my faith sprouted up?
Does my belief in God have any bearing on my life?

one of our speakers was an atheist from age 18 to 30

God works through people and our stories

no matter how much rhythm one of our speakers had as a young person, he still had to PRACTICE it to be good (on the drums)

palanca = to lift up (we interpret this at Pilgrimage as a “gift of grace”)

PIETY: PRACTICING THE PRESENCE

piety is how we grant consent to allow God into all aspects of our life
– it is the intentional process of spending time with God
– we must turn loose of the control
– we must make regular investments in our relationship with God

GRATITUDE AND JOY

Cited Psalms: 46, 134, 28:2, 100:1, 150
We should all reaffirm our relationship with Jesus Christ

Recommended book: “God is Closer than you think”

STUDY

Study is the consequence of our God-given abilities to learn, reason and reflect
– study is putting the whole of our humanity at the service of truth
– it is 1 way God knows we are seeking Him

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is God-breathed

We should strive to grow in conformity to God’s will

Why study? To pursue truth (a means to sanctification)
Resources we have:
– scripture
– church sermons
– Sunday School classes
– small group study classes
– Christian books
– Bible dictionary
– Christian music

Find out why a Pastor chose a particular passage of scripture for a message and then research it in depth

Key element to the Christian life: daily routine of prayer and scripture reading

Process of study:
1- Prayer
2- Reading
3- Interpretation

Question to discuss: Do you believe in your heart the Bible is God-breathed and divinely inspired?

Recommended websites by a participant at our table:
www.earlychristianwritings.com (unfortunately the site is offline because it has been suspended for some reason)
www.crosswalk.com (it strikes me as having way too much advertising)

There are HUGE differences in the perspectives and biases evident in search results for Google searches on Biblical topics

NASV is (according to some sources) the most accurate English translation of the Bible

Some Pentecostal believers see big problems with the concept of the Christian trinity, and engage in “unity versus Trinity” debates

SACRAMENTS

the word “sacrament” is not in the Bible
Sacro in Latin means “oath of allegiance”
– a life or death pledge

Sacraments point to 2 truths: God IS and God is WITH US
– since the Reformation, two sacraments have been maintained by Protestants: baptism and communion

A sacrament has two primary elements: An outward sign and an inward grace

John 13:1-7

Akumal is an amazing destination on the Yucatan

A sacrament is much more than a ritual, a memorial, or a re-enactment
– it is flesh meeting spirit

Baptism: the sacrament of belonging
– a Biblically required sign of incorporation

The torn edges of the bread during communion show and should represent the torn flesh of Christ on the cross

When we have met face to face with God, in Christ we have the power of reconciliation within us

Recommended book: “How to spell PRESBYTERIAN”

We are extensions of Jesus’ incarnation in this world

the bread and the wine are SIMPLE things which remind us of POWERFUL things

sacraments prepare us to do battle

ACTION: COMMITTED IN LOVE

You have a timeshare in your local church

service does not equal “serve us”

Mark 10:43 – God has a covenant with us through Christ

Story of no piety: “I just did for God”
– the story of someone who had good intentions with no direction

Ask God for directions without the noise of business (everyday life)

“my new action was to BE STILL”

Genesis 2:7 – Don’t be so busy you are out of breath

Think of a 3 legged stool as your firm foundation with Chris
1- Study
2- Piety
3- Action

All should be equal and balanced

piety key: listening for directions

Action because of him, not for Him (we’re not earning stickers here / earning our way into heaven via works righteousness)

A litmus test for determining whether we are within God’s will with a particular new commitment?
– wait at least 24 hours before saying yes
– pray about it
– consult with spouse
– am I full of peace and joy with respect to this decision?

Question to discuss: If you were an action figure, what works of yours would be superpowered?
– wisdom
– communication skills

Key is delivering a message (any message) with Christ’s love
– we are called to show and share Christ’s love to a suffering world

SIN

sin is universal, personal, and has corrupted creation
– sin distorts your view of God’s colors
– satan is the adversary
– Peter was Satan when he was thinking of himself and his will

wages of sin: include alienation from others, from God, and from his will

sin is about killing the abundant life available through and in Christ
– we can become anesthesitized to sin (numb – like the Pink Floyd song when they sing “I am comfortably numb”)

3 keys to overcoming obstacles and sin
1- Repentance: turning away
2- Confession: confronting sin, acknowledging it before God
3- Discipline: overcoming sin with instruction, correction, and training

remedies for sin are not automatic
Satan is a LIAR

Your sin is NEVER too big for God

LEADERS TO THE FRONT

focus on what it means to “dwell in Christ” in our own lives

John 15:4 – remain in Christ
Christ’s call to us: to be called to transform the world
False impressions of Christian leadership: it is not necessarily positional, just for wealthy folks, or for people talented in management or leadership

1 Timothy 3:5 you must manage your family to manage the church

Worship God through music: 1st take in the words into your heart
If you live fully as a Christian, others will be influenced by you

Hebrews 13:7
1 Chronicles 16:11 Seek God’s presence (study and pray)
Romans 15:1
Testimony: to tell your story
1 Peter 3:15 – set Christ as Lord
1 Peter 5:3 – do not lord it over, be an example

Story of a church member who dutifully prepared the elements for communion for 30 years, in the background, not in the spotlight

1 Timothy 4:12 set an example, do not feel put down because you are young

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: THE THEME OF DAY 3

EVANGELISM: REFORMING THE WORLD

the Bible does not talk about “a river of life recirculating in me!”
– this is a how-to
Matthew 28: the great commission
Red Green Show oath of the men (story of the “man’s prayer”)

Changing doesn’t mean becoming more involved or changing the quality or quantity of our activities necessarily

1892 David Ross Boyd planted hundreds of trees and grass seeds in Norman Oklahoma
– become the symbol of the seed sower for OU

We are seed sowers, God is the gardner

“evangelism” = good news

Colossians 3:12 – clothe yourself in the fruits of the spirit

Changing your environment is being YOU in your environment
– helping people belong so they can believe is key
– before inviting someone to church, befriend them

Discussion question: What can you do to change your environment for Christ?

A HOLY VISION

Tom Thule: a successful life is to know God and to make him known

For 3 centuries when Christianity started, it grew in homes, marketplaces, even catacombs (not in church buildings or synagogues after the very early days)

“Christianity was made for the road”

“Sanctuaryism” has isolated Christianity from the world in many situations

James 2:7 – faith without works is dead

To deny oneself for the sake of others is to show grace in action
The Christian life is so much more than a formula
the key is living in surrender to Christ motivated by PASSION

Passion is the basic ingredient that enables us to live the Christian life
– it lets us let our light shine
– passion drives us to live in unity and harmony every day and everywhere, even when no one is watching

Isaiah said: Here I am, send me!
– this was said with passion, undergirded by his desire to live and serve God
– he belonged to God and nothing could separate him from God

Creativity + Passion can lead to huge transformations in our neighborhoods

passion is a fundamental Christian characteristic
– read the book of Acts to see and hear about passionate Christians: their infectious desire to know God, be on his team, and share Him with others

You will try these things and see them actualized, you will do things you never thought you’d dare to do

Belonging to God is no abstract theory
– it is not simply elevator music for your soul

We belong to God: we have experientially affirmed this belief this weekend

Sam Kiser’s formula: Attitude + Self-Discipline = Transformation
– attitude: glorify God through my life
– transformation: that others may know Him and the power of his love

this leads to elevated trust in God
– the impact of being accepted unconditionally for who you are is potentially huge and something everyone should experience

the authentic Christian life
– a life to live, not a statement to make
– it is for “between Sundays”
– it can only be lived if you belong it God

Forever God is faithful. Forever God is true. Forever God is with us. FOREVER!

Question to discuss: What does knowing you belong to God mean to you, and the Christian life you desire to live?

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

This weekend starts with an inward look
Now our focus is on our Christian community
break down the walls
be lavished with gifts of grace
we have a community to help us
book of Acts: details an amazing time
Acts 2:42 – fellowship of believers
Remember piety / study / action = tools for us to use daily
Passion is like the train horn, energizing us for our work

Let Christ take the lead, let Jesus be the light
Accountability: remember “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD)

Question to discuss: Who is your Christian community?

REVIEW

We asked you to trust us, and you have
Seeds grow when they are attached to the true vine
Food, music and grace during this weekend is like cement binding us together

Allow God to use you in the transforming of the world

TOMORROW: HOPE AND PROMISE (What now?)

Greater purpose of pilgrimage and this weekend: transformation of the world

God is ready and working at revealing himself to you: through the church and people He’s put in your life
He created me for a purpose, to call the world to Himself

As long as we are here (living on earth) God has a purpose for us to transform the world

Individually we are small and incapable
– God is REALLY big, and really loves us

We were NOT designed to “go it alone” in life
You can’t baptize yourself or serve yourself communion (think about it)

4th day community: renewal groups
piety: seeing God, study and action
Family reunions for Pilgrimage: Altreas

in the end all these are tools to remind us of the hope we have in God to live out the purposes of God

sharing testimonies in the final worship service is NOT about pilgrimage or thanking the staff: these are mere methods for advancing God’s purposes

OTHER THOUGHTS AND IDEAS FROM THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND I JOTTED DOWN:

Someone should make a free iPhone app for the Presbyterian Book of Order and for the Book of Confessions (this is available as a freely downloadable PDF)

We should have a family foot washing at home like we did saw this weekend: this was very powerful and meaningful
– we also should celebrate communion together at home as a family

I need to see the movies:
– Powder
– Shawshank Redemption (again)
– We Were Soldiers (Mel Gibson)

We saw the old movie “The Music Box” Saturday night. It was rather cheesy but funny and made a good point.

The purpose of Pilgrimage is to change our environments for Christ

We do and act for GOD, not for money, for school, for others, for recognition

There is a partial Biblical translation titled “The Word on the Street”

Did man say it was bad or did God say it was bad in his Word?

I want to learn to make bread from flour I grind myself

Other recommended books:
– The Shack
– AKA Lost

Dwight Mission is a nearby Presbyterian camp which offers a great Memorial Day weekend camp for families that we need to consider attending

That’s it! All my notes from Pilgrimage! This was a fantastic weekend experience and a great blessing to me as well as my wife. Maybe we’ll record a podcast sometime soon to reflect more on our experiences.

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God’s Politics

I don’t consider my self a very political person but in the light of upcoming elections both in the US and in Canada where I live, I remembered a book sitting on my self I read a while back.

What I love about the book is that it doesn’t promote any particular party but speaks about what both parties (although this is a US book, Canadians have their own versions of Republicans and Democrats with a few bonus parties thrown in there) need to consider. Of particular interest to me is the fact that traditionally, Christians have focused their energies around a few key issues and forgotten that Jesus spoke very little about what are being aspoused as “family values”. Not that these hot button issues aren’t important but the book paints a broader picture around God’s Politics.

In Canada, you have about 3 weeks and in the US, you have about 7 to read the book. Go ahead, I’d love to hear your take.

Reasons for Stories of Faith

Our Friday morning men’s group at church is continuing a study of Dallas Willard’s book “The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God.” Among other projects this fall, I have started a new project titled “Stories of Faith Podcasts” with our youth deacons. I’ve started a webpage (still hidden from direct linking from the main website because we’re not ready for the official project announcement to the congregation) for this initiative, as well as a WordPress.com blog where we’ll link episodes into an RSS feed. Right now we just have 1 episode, which we recorded Sunday night.

Stories of Faith Podcast

I still need to create the Feedburner feed and link it to the main page on the church’s website.

This morning I was continuing to read Willard’s book (along with Matthew Chapter 5) and came across this passage, which spoke to me as a justification for why initiatives like our “Stories of Faith Podcast” are so important and needed in today’s world. On page 64 Willard writes:

It is, frankly, hard today to think adequately of God– or perhaps to think of him at all. Our intellectual history works against it, and we certainly do not get much training for it. Frankly, our daily experience, under pressure from many quarters, constantly keeps us from thoughtful living and “dumbs us down,” in many ways– especially theologically. But the resulting lack of adequate ideas and terminology does great harm to our faith. It insulates our real life from what we say we believe. We cannot, even by a miracle, believe a blank or a blur, much less act on it. There is now “what” for our minds and lives to lay hold of in such a case– or it is the wrong “what.”

To trust in God, we need a rich and accurate way of thinking and speaking about him to guide and support our life vision and our will. Such is present in the biblical language, of couse, and it continued to be carefully crafted in the works of Christian writers well into the twentieth century.

Still today the Old Testament book of Psalms gives great power for faith and life. This is simply because it preserves a conceptually rich language about God and our relationships to him. If you bury yourself in Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life.

While the content, style and form of user-created content like that included (and to be included) in our Stories of Faith podcast series may be a far cry from the carefully chosen language of the Old and New Testament books of the Bible, I believe that God continues to speak through his people. I hope this podcasting initiative, and more specifically this COMMUNICATION, learning and evangelism project, will enable more people within our congregation and in other places and times to “think more adequately of God” and obtain more “rich and accurate ways of thinking and speaking” about Him.

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Exploring the Biblical World Through Google Earth

I’m teaching a five part course this fall at my church in Edmond, Oklahoma, titled “Exploring the Biblical World Through Google Earth.” The course description is:

Google Earth (http://earth.google.com) is a free software program providing opportunities to explore our world via an interactive, 3D environment. In this class we will explore the Holy Land with Google Earth, discussing ways we can utilize this powerful, virtual environment to better understand the historical and contemporary context of the Bible and the life of Jesus.

I’ve started a Moodle website for this shortcourse and invite you, if you’re interested, to join in the learning we’re going to do and share there. The enrollment key for someone NOT attending face-to-face in Edmond is “guest.” I’ll be adding more resources to this site in the weeks ahead, but I’ve started and I would love your input, suggestions, and participation.

Palestine 1992
Creative Commons License photo credit: fiahless

I may eventually Ustream these classes live if our local bandwidth at the church permits it, but for our first class this week on Wednesday, September 3 at 6:30 pm US Central time I’m just planning to audio-record our session and post it later as a podcast. Please join us and share your ideas if this is of interest. I am particularly interested in locating and including Google Earth resources which others have created and identified that specifically tie Biblical events and themes to Google Earth via KML/KMZ files and/or Google Maps.

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TouchBible: a Bible iPhone web app

Thanks to John Bennett (via Twitter) I learned about TouchBible, a web app providing searchable access to the Holy Bible for the iPhone and iTouch from iBibleZ. This is a preview of the application on YouTube:

TouchBible does not offer as many translation options as The Bible Gateway, but does offer the following versions currently:

English

  • King James Version (KJV)
  • American Standard Version (ASV)
  • English Standard Version (ESV)
  • Bible in Basic English (BBE)
  • Darby Bible Translation (Darby)
  • Webster’s Bible (WEB)
  • Youngs Literal Translation (YLT)

Chinese

  • Chinese 汉语/漢語
  • 和合本 – Chinese Union Version (CUV)

Have you found and tried other online searchable Bible web apps for the iPhone? I used a searchable Bible program on the Palm I used a number of years ago, and have REALLY wanted to have a searchable Bible on my iPhone. The downloadable NT Bible which iBiblez offers is actually just an html attachment you can view using the iPhone’s mail feature. It does support selection of individual NT books and chapters, but not keyword searching. Hopefully developers with iBiblez or other groups will use the iPhone SDK to create an actual application which runs entirely offline and permits Bible searches with multiple translation versions. I’m sure we’ll see that before long!

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Podcast7: 10 year old reflections about Jesus on Christmas Eve

Our 5th grade Sunday School class of 10 and 11 year old students recorded a seven minute podcast today, which is going to be played during our family Christmas Eve service at church this year.

[powerpress]

This podcast is available in several formats:

  1. As an audio-only mp3 file
  2. As an enhanced podcast (requires free QuickTime Player software or iTunes software)
  3. As a YouTube video (published later in 2010)
  4. As a VoiceThread digital story

 

You are welcome to leave feedback for our students on the VoiceThread or here as comments. Merry Christmas!

An amazing video from Casting Crowns

A friend showed me this video from a concert by Casting Crowns today. Wow.

This is a completely unique take on musical interpretation than I’ve seen previously in videos or live stage performances. Very creative, as well as moving. I love this song. I first learned of Casting Crowns several years ago, listening to Air1 Radio when we lived in Lubbock. (Here in Oklahoma, I listen to K-LOVE more than Air1 now, when I listen Christian radio.) I think the band started as a youth group praise team, and they continue to serve in that capacity as well as play concerts. Their music is definitely inspired by the Lord.

Their official website is www.castingcrowns.com. They have more YouTube videos linked from their website. I think it is great Casting Crowns has embraced the use of new media sites, like YouTube, to share their music and their gospel message with the world. Seeing this video adds a different dimension to the experience of listening to their music and allowing the message to penetrate my mind and spirit.

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FPC Edmond Sermons online

This past weekend I worked to format and publish about 15 sermons from mid-April through the present from our church in Edmond, Oklahoma, as podcast recordings in a new podcast channel submitted (and now approved) by iTunes. Anyone who is interested can either download sermon podcasts as mp3 files separately, or subscribe to the sermon podcast channel in iTunes.

Sermons from First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma

Many of these sermons are fantastic, and I commend them all to you. David Leard’s treatment of the often challenging verses from Ephesians 6 in his July 22nd message, “Everything in Its Place” was particularly good. (Those are very challenging verses to preach on and about.) I also really enjoyed John Gruel’s message on June 24th titled “Twelfth Man.” (Even though I’m not a big fan of Texas A&M!)

It is WONDERFUL, from a personal standpoint, to now have asynchronous access to audio recordings of these these inspired words from our pastors. This past weekend after I published these and our family was driving back from Lubbock to Edmond, my wife and I were able to listen to two of the sermons she had missed this summer because she had been taking care of children’s ministries needs and missed worship.

We are VERY blessed to have four gifted pastors at our church, and I’m thrilled their weekly messages are now available as a globally accessible podcast channel. Listening to a sermon at church (or somewhere else) is certainly just PART of the experiences and the community into which we are called as Christians to live each week, but it can be an important part– especially if it inspires us to change our thinking and our behavior in positive ways in the week that follows! 🙂

podcast

Great questions about God

My now 9 year old son asked some great questions last night in the car to my wife and I as we drove home from his “celebration” birthday dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Oklahoma City. We had actually spent quite a bit of time together yesterday, going to a Boy Scout Troop sponsored event in the morning to help cub scouts design and cut out their Pinewood Derby cars. In addition to getting his car designed and cut out (with a very nice band saw and power sander, the likes of which we do NOT own or have access to) we purchased some paint and a small hand saw we were able to use to cut out the back part of his car and make some “fins.” We were able to apply two coats of paint, and have his car well on its way to being completed in advance of “the big race” which will happen at an upcoming pack meeting in the spring.

I am struck by how questions like these seem to follow more QUANTITY time that is spent together rather than QUALITY time. I agree with those who observe “quality time” only comes when you spend “quantity time” with someone else, whether that person is a child or a spouse. The idea of “quality time” is a myth, whose source I’m not sure of, that says you can squeeze in equally valuable amounts of time needed to raise children between an overwhelming array of diverse demands and commitments. That may happen infrequently but I don’t think it happens regularly. When you spend quantity time together, however, quality time seems to happen more often.

Here are some of the questions Alexander posed to Shelly and I last night, which I think reflect some remarkably deep thinking for a 9 year old:

  1. Why doesn’t God speak to us in our dreams like he did in the Bible?
  2. When Jesus comes back to earth, is he going to be born again in a stable like he was the first time?
  3. Is there going to be a “Bible 2” when Jesus comes back and chooses new disciples?
  4. Do angels have to get permission to come down to earth and do things? Can they see us from up in heaven?
  5. Is heaven like a second world? Is God on other planets in other worlds?
  6. What is the purpose of life: Why are we here? (This last one was actually my question I had posed to Alexander a few days back, that we discussed some more.)

No doubt these ARE tough questions, and in trying to answer them last night in the car as we drove home, I was glad Shelly was there to help me attempt some answers. As I’ve written and noted before I don’t think either of us have “all the answers” when it comes to Biblical truth, but I do think and believe that God has the answers and He continues to reveal His truths to us as we read His word and seek Him in prayer, fellowship, and study. So these are some of the answers we shared with Alexander (and his listening younger sisters) last night in paraphrased form.

Why doesn’t God speak to us in our dreams like he did in the Bible?
God DOES speak to us today through the Holy Spirit. God sent his Holy Spirit down to earth at Pentecost after Jesus had gone back to heaven to be with God, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us as we seek God and pray to Him for guidance and direction. Most of the Bible (all of the Old Testament and all of the NT before Pentecost in the book of Acts) was written about times before the Holy Spirit came down to earth. God spoke to his people, often his leaders, through dreams and visions. God still speaks to us and calls us to live out our individual and unique calling– our “mission” on the earth. God sometimes still speaks to us in our dreams, and this is his Holy Spirit speaking to use. [I DIDN’T SAY THIS AT THE TIME BUT AM ADDING IT NOW: WE HAVE TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND KNOW HIM TO BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE HIS VOICE. WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO DISCERN OUR OWN VOICE, ASKING FOR ITS OWN DESIRES, AS WELL AS OTHER VOICES WHICH TEMPT US OR CHALLENGE US TO ACT IN WAYS CONTRARY TO GOD’S WILL. GOD DOES SPEAK TO US, BUT WE HAVE TO WORK EACH DAY ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM TO KNOW HIM AND KNOW HIS VOICE.]

When Jesus comes back to earth, is he going to be born again in a stable like he was the first time?
The Revelation of John, which is the last book in the New Testament, tells that when Jesus comes back to earth He will come riding in the clouds and come to judge the nations. Jesus won’t be born again in a stable like He was the first time, when he comes back to the earth physically He’ll come back in power. This is one reason why it is so important for us to tell others about Jesus and about the Good News that he offers to every one of us. When Jesus comes back he will take those people who know Him and call Him their Savior up to heaven to live with Him forever. This is one of the most difficult things to remember and understand: God made us all to live forever. We are all spiritual beings living in our bodies right now, but our spirits will live forever. What we do in life is a preparation for eternity. We need to remember also that we don’t know the day and time when Jesus will return. Some people claim they know when Jesus will come back, but the Bible reminds us that no one knows. We should always be ready. As Christians, we can have confidence that no matter what happens– whether some tragedy strikes us and one of our family members is killed, or anything else bad happens– wars, or crazy times– we know that in everything God is in control. God will provide for us and take care of us no matter what happens.

Is there going to be a “Bible 2” when Jesus comes back and chooses new disciples?
I am not certain, but I don’t think so. Most Christian and Biblical scholars today believe that the era of Biblical revelation is over, when the books of the Bible were written and shared with God’s people, although God DOES continue to communicate and speak to his people through his Word, prayer, and his Holy Spirit. As we read the Bible, we see that Jesus rarely did things like miracles in the same way more than once. When Jesus healed blind people and gave them sight, he did it each time with a different method. The Bible says that Jesus will return to judge the nations, not to lead another life of teaching and ministry. It is our job now to tell others about Jesus and share his his love. [I DIDN’T SAY THIS BUT WILL ADD IT NOW BECAUSE I’M THINKING OF IT: JESUS CAME TO EARTH AND PAID FOR ALL OUR SINS BY DYING ON THE CROSS. JESUS DID THIS FOR US ALL ONE TIME, ONCE AND FOR ALL. IT IS DONE, AND IT IS FINISHED. JESUS WILL NOT RETURN TO LIVE A REPEAT OF HIS EARTHLY LIFE, BECAUSE HE HAS ALREADY DONE THAT– SHARED HIS TEACHINGS, AND GIVEN UP HIS LIFE, AND THAT PRICE FOR OUR SINS HAS BEEN PAID IN FULL.]

Do angels have to get permission to come down to earth and do things? Can they see us from up in heaven?
Again I will admit that I don’t know the answer to this for sure, but we do know that angels are real and are the messengers of God. I think that angels are the servants of God, and do what God tells and asks them to do. If we think about the angel Gabriel going to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a baby, and he was going to be the Savior of the world, we see that God told the angel to do that. The angel Gabriel didn’t decide on his own to go to Mary and tell her something. I think that one of the main things which differentiates us as humans from the angels is that we have “free will,” we can choose what we want to do: whether to do good or evil. Some people will say that we really don’t have free will because God knows everything and has already decided for us (God is omniscient.) I do believe God is omniscient and omnipotent, but I believe we still maintain free will amidst that reality, based on what I have read in the Bible and in my own spiritual walk of faith. Yes God knows my choices before I make them, but that does not change the fact that he lets me choose. So to answer the question, Yes: I think angels do have to get permission for everything they do here on earth. I think angels are God’s servants and messengers on earth, and they do what God commands. Perhaps angels can and do look down on us from heaven. I think that everything they do, however, is something that is within God’s will. Angels don’t have free will.

Is heaven like a second world? Is God on other planets in other worlds?
I think we have to remember that heaven is a place and a concept that we really can’t fully understand and grasp with our limited human minds. As humans we live in time, which moves one direction (forwards) and has a starting point and an ending point. God is not like this, and neither is heaven. We know from the Bible that God has always existed: He had no beginning and will have no end. God is infinite. Our minds can say “infinity” but we can’t really comprehend what it means. So I am not sure about a lot of things when it comes to heaven. We know that heaven exists, that God lives there, and that we will all go one day to live with God if we claim Jesus as our Savior. Maybe there are parallel universes in the world, like we’ve discussed in talking about physics and the universe. Yes, we believe God is the God of the entire universe, not just our world here on planet earth. I believe there are other worlds, and yes– God is the God of those worlds too. The universe is an enormously huge place, and we are barely able to comprehend and understand its enormous size. There is a lot we don’t know about the universe, but we do know that God is the creator and ruler of all of it.

What is the purpose of life: Why are we here?
When I asked this question to my son again last night (yes we did have a lot of lighthearted conversation at dinner, but this was one of the more serious moments) he responded as probably many people in our culture would and do today: “To be happy?” In responding to his ideas, I was reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” that is part of his speech and sermon series I purchased on iTunes about a year ago and am listening to again. In that letter, he reminds us that our purpose here in life is not to merely be happy and seek to satisfy our own desires and needs: Our purpose is to understand and do the will of God. God wants us to be happy, but there are times in our lives when we will not be happy. There are things which are worth struggling and even fighting for that will not bring us earthly happiness, but rather may bring us earthly suffering. Ultimately, we are called as God’s people to do God’s will on earth, and that is our purpose. We are here to worship and glorify God, and do His will.

That was a lot of heavy conversation for a late Friday night! I was amazed by the depth and thoughtfulness of Alexander’s questions about God, and was also thrilled to have him asking us (his parents) questions like these that he is working through. As we prayed together last night when he went to bed, I thanked God for Alexander’s inquiring mind and the questions he is seeking answers to. I prayed that God will continue to bless him in his life, and provide answers to these questions as He continues to reveal himself to Alexander.

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