MLK in 140 characters

In his post “If Dr. King Had One Tweet To Share…” Scott Williams offered a challenge to postulate what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s tweet would be at this stage in our collective history. This was my response (exactly 140 characters btw.)

Maintain your focus on HIM, do not lose hope, we struggle together with HIS support for goals bigger than all of us -Love WILL overcome hate.

Charlotte MLK Day Parade
Creative Commons License photo credit: James Willamor

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PreSchool Christmas Message for 2008

This December I helped my wife at our church record four different preschool students (ages 4 and 5) read the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Since these kids can’t read, I told them what to say in short phrases, and then edited out my own voice from the draft recordings we made.

Shelly took photos of all the preschoolers dressed up in their Nativity scene and Christmas story costumes, and today edited together the photos (in iMovie HD6) using the combined and edited Audacity file I created for her from the childrens’ recordings. Her final video is going to be shown Christmas Eve at our church’s 5 pm family service.

This was Shelly’s first iMovie to create by herself from start to finish. I’m quite proud of her! 🙂

I’m not sure which production I think is better, this one which is completely in the voices of the preschoolers, or last year’s video production which was a combination of her voice with the preschoolers. We certainly put more hours into last year’s video. I do love hearing scripture through the voices of children!

When I was recording these verses, read by children, I got “goose bumps” several times. Reading God’s Word and hearing God’s Word read aloud can be a powerful experience.

May God richly bless you and your family this holiday season, wherever you may be on our planet. What a blessing that God sent his only Son into our world to redeem us and allow us to know him intimately. Through the voices and perspectives of our children, I think we can learn a great deal about how we are best-advised to both approach the throne of God as well as the challenges of our everyday lives: With a simple and pure faith.

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An amazing 4 year old tells the birth story of Jesus Christ

Matt Craven’s 4 year old son does an AMAZING job retelling the entire birth story of Jesus Christ in this 2 minute and 46 second YouTube video.

Wow! Retelling is a fantastic way of assessing comprenhension, and also a great way to cultivate oral communication skills. Great job, son of Matt! 🙂

Thanks to my wonderful wife for sharing this video with me tonight!

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Thoughts on NOVA’s special – The Bible’s Buried Secrets

Today during my five hour car drive up to Kansas, I listened to a WGBH Forum Network podcast on the NOVA documentary The Bible’s Buried Secrets which aired this past week. As with several other NOVA specials in the past, this documentary is available entirely online for viewing, along with extra features which did not make it into the two hour TV documentary. Since I was not able to see this on November 18th, I’m going to be glad to watch the special sometime on my own schedule with members of my family at home in upcoming weeks.

NOVA The Bible's Buried Secrets

One of the quotations which stood out most in the podcast for me was the following statement:

You can’t really inquire when you are dealing with fundamentalists.

This comment was made with respect to Christian fundamentalists, who the speaker (I think it was Dr. Lawrence E. Stager, professor, archaeology of Israel, Harvard) remembered from his childhood growing up in the midwestern United States. He was making a point that it is useless to try and suggest people should seek for the truth / inquire for more information and insight when those people are Christian “fundamentalists.”

I think it is VERY unfortunate when Christ-followers project the impression that they “know all the answers” and have all the mysteries of the world figured out. I am not a relativist or an adherent to postmodern philosophies, and I do believe in both the existence of Truth (what one of my college philosophy instructors used to call “Big T Truth”) and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I certainly would NOT consider myself “a fundamentalist,” however, if that definition means someone who is not continuing to search for understanding and truth, and acknowledging the limits of human understanding of divine mysteries.

I’m looking forward to watching this NOVA special in its entirety and discussing the multitude of issues it raises. I think Christians should be “seekers” of truth their entire lives, no matter how old or young they are. Based on the conversations in this WGBH Forum podcast, I think our family will have a lot to discuss after seeing it.

My thinking during this podcast was highly colored by the fact I’ve almost finished reading “How to Watch TV News: Revised Edition” by Neil Postman and Steve Powers. Certainly the idea that documentary news like this program is created and designed primarily with the goal of attracting viewers rather than pursuing the truth (which is a point made by Postman and Powers) comes through in the podcast discussion. The sharp time limits imposed by production budgets as well as the producer’s perceptions of what “trailer park America” wants and can cognitively handle were also discussed by the panelists in this podcast.

Often I think people get into trouble when they portray a group of people as having monolithic beliefs and perceptions, when in reality there is actually a great deal of diversity in beliefs, perceptions, as well as customs among members of that group. While I consider myself “a believer” in God and and his Son, Jesus Christ, I also very much consider myself “a seeker” for truth and increased understanding of many topics and issues, including Biblical archeology. I don’t feel threatened in the slightest by the suggestion that as humans, we should inquire more deeply for truth and knowledge, in the context of Biblical history or any other subject. It seems almost unbelievable that Galileo faced persecution and the threat of death by the Catholic Church in the 1500’s when he challenged its heliocentric view of the universe. I do not view the advances of science as correlating to zero-sum losses in the realms of faith and religion. I think it is wonderful to have opportunities to be appropriately challenged to think critically about what I believe and why I believe those things, and I suspect this NOVA special will provide more opportunities to “grapple” with ideas of both faith and history.

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Podcast8: Exploring the Biblical World via Google Earth: All Sessions Available as Podcasts

UPDATE 26 Dec 2014: This podcast is apparently no longer listed in iTunes, and the referenced Moodle server/site is offline. I updated, however, the direct MP3/audio links below to these recorded podcasts from 2008. I also updated the podcast feed.

I played podcast catch-up this evening and published the last two sessions of the five course adult class I taught this fall at our church titled, “Exploring the Biblical World via Google Earth.” These five episodes are available in a podcast feed and directly in the iTunes Store (for free, of course!)

Exploring the Biblical World Through Google Earth

I have also updated the Moodle course for this class with embedded flash-player links to each session recording.

Session1: Ur / Iraq
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Session2: Egypt / Sinai

Session3: Judea / Israel / Palestine

Session4: Paul’s Missionary Journeys

Session5: Turkey / Anatolia

Podcast of Exploring the Biblical World Through Google Earth Classes

I have added audio recordings of my “Exploring the Biblical World Through Google Earth” classes as a podcast to our class Moodle website. So far we’ve had two classes, we’ll have three more in this particular Wednesday night series. The five weeks immediately following this class I’ll offer “Lifelong Learning via iTunes University,” which also has a Moodle course component hosted on the same server.

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UPDATE: I’ve added embedded Flash player links to the Moodle page for our class podcast. (For info on how I did this, see my post “Embedding mp3 audio files with a free flash player in Moodle, a wiki or a blog.”)

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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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The Age of Reformation: 1517-1648 (Seeds of Reform)

These are my notes from Ken Rees’ presentation at FPC Edmond, 10/25/2006

The point we have been making up to this point in this class is that roots of Christians in reformed traditions go back much further than the reformation

In 1517, the world was quite different: (1517 was when Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door)
– 4 nations of Europe (Spain, Portual, France and England) have strong monarchs
– Germany was more a collection of states with German speaking people, hadn’t been
– Italy more like city-states of ancient Greece (one is Vatican City)
– Renaissance was in full-flower (hard to put a date on it, people do argue about what it meant and means) – Michaelangelo and Da Vinci were at work
— in Medieval times, people were encouraged to stay where they were with their thinking
— now you have people thinking in new directions, starting to adopt the idea that the human is the center of the universe (growth of humanist movement)
— people becoming more interested in the human side of things, idealistic conceptions of humanity

Key technologies into the West
– gunpowder from China
– compass (had really limited mariners before this time)
– most important: printing press (just around for 60 years) – turned
– “America” recently discovered by Columbus, Cortez just starting conquest of Mexico, age of exploration

Muslim world: In last 50 years they were kicked out of Spain (Iberian Peninsula)
– occupy north Africa, Middle East, most of Greese and into Eastern Europe
– Ottoman Turks are a rising power

Africa is an unknown continent except for some posts where traders stop

Eastern Orthodoxy
– Constantinople: Fall meant that eastern Orthodoxy suffered a huge reversal
– center of orthodoxy has now moved to Russia, which had been evanglized by
– Russia had been ruled for a time by the Mongols, have shaken them off and emerging as a strong
– Moscow developing as replacement for Constantinople as center of orthodoxy

Other roots leading up to 1517
– 14th century: had been rival popes
– John Wyeclif became leading Oxford professor in 1372, entered the controversy about whether all authority over humans flows from God through the Pope regardless of the morality of church practices
— argues that the English king can discipline corrupt church officials
— rejected the idea of levels of sanctity for believers
— argued every righteous believer is equal in God’s eyes (dominion founded in grace)
— he was a zealot

These were novel ideas that the church hadn’t been
– Wyeclif “got this” message by studying the scriptures, going back to the source
– he wanted to see the whole church structure shorn of its wealth which had corrupted it
– felt the church didn’t need to be ruling like princes
– went beyond that: Said Rome doesn’t have all that authority vested in one person
– started studying Revelation and came to believe (and preach) that the Pope was the antiChrist

Focused on idea that God knows all the believers who will be in his church
– if that is true, how could we bargain with God via indulgences and penances?
– Wyeclif claimed these acts didn’t and don’t have anything to do with our salvation, because God knows who the ‘saved’ are
– encouraged focus on good preaching, not the sacraments
– at this time many priests were largely illiterate, many learned their job
– had some powerful friends among the nobility

Stayed at Oxford, and eventually crossed the line and argued that in scripture no where did it say for communion that the bread and the wine literally become the body and blood of Christ
– that caused his supporters to finally kick him out of Oxford
– preachers he taught went out into the countryside, sharing the message that everyone is equal in the eyes of God
– peasants started to question paying
– group was called the Lollards, were harshly put down by the English government who feared a broader peasant revolution

John Hus was a professor at the Univ of Prague
– picked up on Wyclif’s ideas in 1396 and began preaching them
– was excommunicated
– pled his case at the Council of Constance but was handed over to the Inquisition
– refused to recant and was burned at the stake in 1415

Biggest reason Martin Luther was able to lead the reformation starting in 1517 was Guttenberg
– by 1517 there were not only printing presses, but also publishers
– other reasons: Luther was fortunate to be in a good position
— may have been a more persuasive preacher, persuaded some princes that gave him sanctuary

Another important transitional figure: Erasmus
– was a scholar’s scholar
– didn’t have the zeal to overturn everything, he had a zeal for truth
– in the universities there was an argument that the Renaissance leaves you open to search for truth wherever you can find it
– Erasmus learned Greek to translate the New Testament from Latin into Greek
– published “A Handbook of the Christian Soldier”
– he stayed within the church, because he felt his mission was to reform the church
– later he was accused of laying the egg that Luther hatched as the Reformation

Another thing that happened in 100 years is the Papacy lost more of its power and influence
– had lost a lot of moral authority when there were two popes, three popes, some popes going to battle
– Pope wanted to be a partron of the arts like other Kings were, wanted to me a Medici
– cost a lot of money to build the Basilica of St Peter, church resorted to selling indulgences
– offering people the chance to buy salvation, and buy salvation for others to liberate them from purgatory

All that is left now of the temporal power of the Pope now is Vatican City
– that is the remnant of the former power and authority of the Catholic church

First time Luther heard the sermon on indulgences and become enraged
– had been a monk, and also a professor
– Luther was overburdened by the power of sin in his life early on
– in 1515 he began to study the book of Romans, when he found “the just shall live by faith”
– came to understand it is not something you have to DO to become free of sin: justified not by your own doings, but rather by the act of Christ on the cross

Luther decided the entire idea of “treasury of merit” was a crock
– idea was that the “saints” had stored credits in heaven, who had more than they needed
– that was and is why many people appeal to the saints for help

1517 Luther posts 95 theses to Wittenberg church
– argued that authority does not reside with humans
– we are invited to approach God through Christ on our own
– we have that level of freedom: we don’t need the intercession of people living and dead (priests and the Saints) to approach God
– source of authority was and is NOT the church
– says scripture is the authority for our faith and practice

University training in general at this time did not have different degrees
– Wittenberg was not a theological seminary: but everyone studied theology
– everyone who obtained a university education probably until the last century had a background in theology from the university

Popes at that time were paying large bribes for their positions
– parish priests tended to be less literate, and just knowing the liturgy they’d learned on the job

as we moved into the 16th century, more people were learning to read and had access to the written word

Earlier Popes going back to Benedict said there were 7 sacraments
– Luther said he could just find scriptural support for 7 sacraments: The Lord’s Supper and baptism

Luther called for the priesthood of all believers
– tried to narrow the gap between the priesthood and the pew
– before that time often, the cup was only taken by the priest
– now, both the cup and wafer were taken by the people
– in the past during communion, the priest used to take communion facing away from the people, similar to how the priest would go into the holy of holies

Luther did NOT have the radical idea that Wyclif had that the bread and wine were just symbolic
– Catholic church believed in transsubstantiation (trans: cross over from physical elements to the literal body and blood of Christ)
– Luther came up with idea of consubstantiation (con: idea of “with” – elements maintained their physical characteristics but also become the bread and body of Christ.

Luther was immediately attacked by the church, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther
– German king declared Luther an outlaw
– Duke of Saxony hid Luther, during which time he translated the Bible into German and got it to a printer

Luther was a Renaissance man in many ways, he was also a musician
– said we shouldn’t just listen to a choir doing chants in Latin, he said in the early church they sang hymns
– he introduced congregational singing into the life of the church
– he wrote several dozen hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

Luther viewed salvation as NOT mediated by a sacrament

KEN ACTUALLY CITED “I FOUND A WEBSITE THAT SAID LUTHER DID NOT ADOPT BAR SONG MELODIES” – NO INDICATION OF THE WEBSITE SOURCE!

Luther’s message of freedom provokes a peasant revolt which was ruthlessly put down after he failed to support the peasants
– later in life, teaching veered into anti-Semitism

Augsburg Confession was written in 1530 without Luther:
1- salvation by faith alone, not works
2- All authority is from scripture, not Roman Church
3- Church is the priesthood of believers
4- essence of Christian living is serving God in any useful calling, lay or clergy

MY THOUGHT: LACK OF STRONG CENTRAL AUTHORITY IN GERMANY AT THIS TIME WAS CRITICAL TO LUTHER’S CONTINUED SURVIVAL AND THE GROWTH (EVENTUAL SUCCESS) OF THE REFORMATION

Ulrich Zwingly in 1519 in Switzerland, influenced by Erasmus and more radical reforms of Luther, lead movement toward austerity
– trying to avoid idolitry at all costs
– were first to get the principle of infant baptism
– couldn’t find scriptural support for infant baptism, so said it had to be for believers “of the age of understanding”
– were called “anabaptist”
– believed in freedom from state authority
– were pacificsts, believed in individual conscience, didn’t have a church hierarchy (congregationalists)
– setup confession in 1527: wanted to be witnesses in a transformed style of living
— saw themselves called to be Nazarites like Sampson
— foresweared accumulation of wealth
— this idea was so radical: no princes supported Zwingly
— tried to lead a popular movement, took a lot of heat
– pushed into rural areas of Eastern Europe, Jakob Hutter was one of those leaders (Hutterites)

1532 radicals under Jan of Leiden, similar to David Koresh and Branch Davidians

Differences between Lutherans and Anabaptists: Anabaptists were just surviving, not very widespread
– Lutheranism established itself as a force to be recognized
– Omish had their roots among the Anabaptists

Separation of Church and state, focus on independent thinking are roots of our form of government here

Man being qualitatively equal before God is rooted here

Next week: Calvin!

Age of Catholic Christianity 70-312 AD

Notes from Pastor John Gruel’s lecture at First Pres Edmond 9/20/2006

Stratification of church which evolved during this period:
– Martyrs: (the Saints) those who died for the faith
– Confessors: those who stood
– The lapse: those who sin / fall short

Question came up: can renouncers be forgiven?
1- one answer: the church can’t forgive, only God can forgive
2- some said yes, the church can forgive sin
— at one time, a Bishop that was forgiving people who had been caught in the sin of adultery (Callistus)
— made analogy to Noah’s ark, clean and unclean animals together

2 groups
– those who said church must be kept pure, society of saints
– church is school of sinners, we need to be able to forgive

Sense that martyrs for who they were had a special level of holiness, had extra merit
– started talking about “treasury of merit” that eventually led to the selling of indulgences, praying to martyrs

Confessors were also thought to have a higher status

Cyprien, bishop of Carthage, said he wasn’t sure about martyr and confessor thing
– if you could make the penance match the level of sin, then you could forgive
– the decision of whether someone could be readmitted into the church laid with the bishop
– church started becoming this mix of worthy and unworthy
– power of the bishop to convey divine forgiveness

Main body of the orthodox church marched forward with “school of sinners”
– penance became a sacrament during this era
– salvation was at that point in the hands of the church, and specifically in the hands of the bishiop

When the church granted the power of forgiveness to the bishop, catholic christianity was complete

this model of leadership drove the church well through the era of the Roman empire

Christianity caught on, there was increasing interest among people of reason, the intellectual class
– some people like Paul began to write in a fashion more understandable to Greeks, communicating the gospel in a contextual way
– Tertullian was against this, didn’t want to reconcile the teaching with greek thought and philosophy

Are faith based approaches during this time, and reason-based approaches like what Paul wrote
– go to Acts 2 and read Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (fidaistic – faith based, more from the Hebrew tradition)
– go to Acts 17 and read Paul’s sermon in Athens (more contextual style)

These shows the contrast in these two preaching styles

struggle with gnosticism
– showed that greek thinking could be a threat, because of an inability to engage greek thought leads to heresy

Had a school developed in Christian gnosticism, was engaging the gnostic thought but providing orthodox answers
– fast forward to the 20th century
– think about CS Lewis: doing the same thing that Pandues was doing
– communicating with the philosophers of the day with where they are, he speaks their language, and inserts an orthodox theology
– read some of “The Abolition of Man”
– Francis Shaeffer also did the same thing

Sept 19th in Wall Street Journal
– what Pope Benedict thinks
– Christianity is informed by dialog between reason and revelation, the dialog between Athens and Jerusalem
– faith and reason are essential in the Pope’s view now

Student Clement become one of the first really Christian scholars
– combines with Christian thought and scripture
– “Just as the Jew had the law to teach his heart and guide him to the gospel, so too the Gentile had philosophy”

Origin succeeded Clement around the year 200
– carried on his work
– trying to bring all Christian truth into focus
– both stressed the aim of philosophy as the ethical, by focusing on that ethical they could reject the gnostic claim that creation is evil

Origin is noted for system for interpretation of scripture, threefold model
1- literal and plain meeting
2- moral application
3- spiritual and allegorical application (how does it relate to Jesus)

Origin: not all his allegories are as direct as Nathan’s story of the sheep to David, relating to Uriah and Bathsheeba

Origin was one of the first to do systematic theology
– at a basic level: this is taking the things we know from scripture, the doctrines we develop from those (revelation, creation, etc) and try to make those fit together in an organized way
– a system of thought that it all links together
– challenge is: there are always grey areas
– Origin did this for his desire to fit this into greek thought and philosophy
– got himself in trouble because he was kind of a universalist

Universalism holds that some day God will reconcile all people to himself

Clement and Origin took that risk of going too far to accommodate Hellenistic thought

Different philosopher-theologians crop up in history to interact with different types of thought: St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas

Podcast1: The Age of Catholic Christianity by John Gruel

This podcast is a recording of a Wednesday night adult Christian education class taught by Pastor John Gruel of First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. John’s topic was “The Age of Catholic Christianity 70 – 312 AD: Persecution and Orthodoxy.” Among many reference texts for this lesson is Bruce Shelley’s “Church History In Plain Language.”

Program Length: 1 hr, 6 min, 2 sec
File size: 15.9 MB

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  1. Text notes from this lesson
  2. Bruce Shelley’s “Church History In Plain Language.”
  3. First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, Oklahoma
  4. “Enter the Mystery” by Michael Popenhagen on the Podsafe Music Network

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