Takeaways from Curt Gruel’s Presentation about Christian Faith from a Surgeon’s Perspective

Last Sunday during our “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” Sunday School class, Curt Gruel was our guest speaker. Curt is a very unique Christ follower. He was an orthopedic surgeon and the doctor in charge of the medical residents at OU Medical Center for years, and then went to seminary to (eventually) lead the “Heartpaths Spiritual Direction” program here in the Oklajoma City area. Curt has been my personal “spiritual director” for the past five or so years (at least since I was teaching STEM in Yukon Public Schools, before coming to Casady School) and is someone I deeply respect. Curt is also an artist, and has about 50 of his prints on virtual display at The Studio Gallery OKC. This Sunday (tomorrow) our class will be recapping Curt’s inspiring and theologically deep presentation from last week, so I thought I’d share the “tweeted takeaways” I shared during his presentation from my Christian Twitter channel (@pocketshare) and also provide a little summary analysis of ideas he shared or referenced in this post.

I created a “Twitter Moment” of the 9 tweets I shared during and immediately after Curt’s Sunday School presentation on my primary / professional Twitter account (@wfryer):

Here are some of the important concepts and terms Curt mentioned, which I plan to explore in a bit more detail in tomorrow’s Sunday School class recap:

  1. Empiricism
  2. Process Theology
  3. Biblical Inerrancy
  4. Johannes Kepler (We should reference both Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei)
  5. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

To help us better understand the context and history of both theological and scientific thinkers as well as their ideas, I’ve started a timeline using the Knight Lab’s Timeline tool. I’ve titled it, “Faith and Science.” It is embedded below. I’ve started with five dates, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (33 AD), the fall of Jeruselem (70 AD), and the years of death for the three scientists mentioned above: Copernicus (1543), Kepler (1630), and Galileo (1642).

Responding to Stephen Fry’s Arguments Against God

Inspired by the sermon on September 1, 2019, at First United Methodist Church in Manhattan, Kansas, today our adult Sunday School class in Edmond, Oklahoma responded to a controversial and challenging video interview shared by Stephen Fry back in 2015. I recorded an 18.5 summary of our lesson today using Explain Everything on my iPad.

Here are the slides from today’s lesson, which include links to referenced videos and articles:

The video which we analyzed and responded to is, “Stephen Fry on God | The Meaning Of Life” from 2015:

Ian Paul points out in his article, “Stephen Fry and God,” that Fry was likely referencing a David Attenborough interview and video (“Sir David Attenborough’s view on Science & Religion – Life on Air“) from 2008 when he discussed the eye boring parasite.

Before closing our lesson today with “Joys and Concerns” and prayer, we watched Sean McDowell’s video, “How Do We Know God Is Good? 3 Reasons.” If you watch any of the videos linked and referenced in this post, this is the top one I recommend!

Bible Study Assisted by Google Home

This week Rachel and I have started a morning Bible study together, reading through the Gospel of John. This is something we’ve talked about doing for many months, but we finally decided to do it over the weekend. I think this was prompted, in part, by her sharing of her testimony / faith witness Sunday morning in our “Gospel Encounters” Sunday School class. As we read about the testimony of John the Baptist, I was reminded of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the fact that parts of the book of Isaiah (referenced in John 1:23) were included with the scroll fragments found at Qumran. I thought this discovery was made after World War II, but since we have a Google Home in the bathroom adjoining the room where we were sharing our study, I asked aloud, “Hey Google, when were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered?” The Google Assistant replied with the dates, 1946-47. How cool to be able to verify information like that during our Bible study, just using my voice! It was like we had a digital librarian right on hand, standing by to readily answer our questions when needed!

‘This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No,” he replied. “Are you the Prophet we are expecting?” “No.” “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord ’s coming!’” Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.’

John 1:19,21-28

Later, as we discussed the importance of having direct access to the Bible and these words from the disciple John, I mentioned Vatican II (“The Second Vatican Council”) in the context of the Catholic church making fundamental reforms in the way Mass is and was conducted. (The priests turned around to face the congregation instead of the altar and cross at the front of the church, and the mass changed from being shared in Latin to the local vernacular language of the congregation.) Again, I thought Vatican II took place during the 1960s, but I confirmed by asking Google Home… it was held from 1962 to 1965.

It’s wonderful to have access not only to the Internet, but to a search assistant via Google Home during Bible study!

Thinking about Christian bumper stickers

So this is an unusual find this weekend. One of Alexander’s roommates shared this with me. You can ask for 10 random “Christian” bumper stickers from the website below, or select 10 that you want for free. I definitely do NOT agree with all the messages included in their bumper sticker menu, but I DO agree with many of them. In most cases, these short messages encourage some worthwhile, critical thinking. Some reference Bible verses, most do not.

As an example of a bumper sticker message with which I disagree: We don’t simply need to require / mandate prayer in public schools to remove all ills, like drug abuse or premarital sex from teen and adult culture. I happen to work at a school that mandates chapel for all students, and I can tell you this is not received well by many of the students. At some point I will write a blog post reflecting on mandatory chapel. I am definitely a fan, and I love having chapel services at our school, but it is recklessly naïve for people to think we simply need to mandate prayer and Bible reading in schools and this will heal all of our society’s ills like a magic wand. God has the power to heal any of us at any time, but the mechanism of his healing for our culture is not via a mandated school Bible curriculum in public or private schools. If you’re a little fuzzy on historic problems with mandated religion, refer to the English Wikipedia article for the “European Wars of Religion:”

It is true bumper stickers on our cars can provide an opportunity to encourage people to think about questions of faith, morality and propriety. I don’t think putting a bumper sticker on your car is going to realistically lead to immediate, life changing decisions for people to turn their lives over to God and reject evil, but it’s worth considering whether or not this is something you want to do. Check it out: www.christianbumpersticker.org

I think a more random selection of these bumper stickers could be used as a catalyst for excellent conversations in a Sunday school class, about our beliefs and the ways in which we are called to advocate for and work for God‘s kingdom on earth.

The Gospel Encounter of the Apostle Paul (Part 1)

Last week in our “Gospel Encounters” adult Sunday School class on February 3, 2019, we started a multi-part study on transformative experiences of the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus. These were the notes I took during our class discussion:

We started by using the KWL strategy about Paul’s life and conversion: What do we KNOW, what do we WANT to know, and what have we LEARNED?

Some of the things class members shared that they know about Paul, his life and his conversion to become a follower of Jesus were:

  1. Saul was a persecutor of the early Christian church
  2. Saul was highly schooled (reminded us of Pastor Mateen Elass)
  3. He was “a Pharisee’s Pharisee” (someone who ardently followed all the directives and prescriptions of Jewish law)
  4. He was born a Roman citizen
  5. He was zealous
  6. Paul wrote most of the letters included in the New Testament
  7. Paul had important arguments with the Apostle Peter, over the historic requirements of Jews to follow dietary restrictions and men to submit to circumcision
  8. Paul went on several important missionary journeys
  9. Saul was a tent maker by trade
  10. God annointed Paul as His missionary to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles (non-Jews)
  11. Paul’s letter to the Galatians addresses the toxic organizational structure of that early church, and includes his teachings on how to properly handle church leadership and organization

Things we WANT to know include:

  1. Where was/is Tarsus? (a historic city in south-central Turkey)
  2. How did a person become a Roman citizen?

We read the 9th chapter of the Book of Acts from the New International Version, which is the first of three accounts of Paul’s conversion which are included in Acts. (The others are in Acts 22 and Acts 26.) After reading this chapter, we watched the 5.5 minute video, “The Road to Damascus – Saul Takes his Journey.” Since this video was published by the Mormon Church, I shared the same disclaimer I have before when sharing Mormon videos: Some of the videos shared by the LDS church (like this one) are outstanding, but my use of them in teaching does NOT constitute an endorsement or recommendation of LDS theology.

After watching the video, we discussed in small groups and then shared together things which stood out for us, after reading Acts 9 and watching this video. Some of the standouts were:

  1. Paul’s conversion experience was VERY dramatic
  2. The events detailed in scripture and depicted in the video required obedience on the part of both Paul and Ananias.
  3. The video did a good job portraying the tenderness of Paul after his conversion experience, it’s both understandable and reasonable that he was extremely humbled by this experience on the road to Damascus.
  4. In his communication to Ananias, God reveals his plan for Paul to be his missionary to the Gentiles, bring them the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  5. Paul’s response to his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus included baptism, an act in which his old identity (Saul) was washed away and he was reborn into his new identity (Paul)

This coming Sunday (tomorrow) we’ll continue our study of Paul, his conversion experience, and the lessons we can glean from this powerful Gospel encounter with Jesus Christ!

Biblical Interpretation and the Role of Women

For our “Gospel Encounters” adult Sunday School class on January 27, 2019, Pastor Dave Moore led us in a verse packed overview of Biblical Interpretation and specifically a deep dive into the roles of women in the church and society, as highlighted primarily in the New Testament. These are the whiteboard notes and Bible verses from which Dave taught:

A friend of mine on Facebook had asked me some excellent questions regarding the role of women, and specifically some of the verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this past January. After seeking direction and counsel from both our lead pastor (Eric Laverentz@ericlav) as well as Dave, I recorded and shared a 10.5 minute video for him of my best understanding of these passages and the overall perspectives of Christians on the roles of women in the church.

Women have and continue to play extremely important roles of leadership, service, teaching, and prophesy in the Christian church. If you are seeking answers yourself to questions about this topic, I hope this video and the verses Dave Moore shared with our Sunday School class are helpful and instructive to you.

‘“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. ‘

Acts 2:17-18 (NIV)

My Gospel Encounter with Bob Sprankle

Today in our adult Sunday School Class, I shared a 3.5 minute narrated slideshow titled, “My Gospel Encounter with Bob Sprankle.” I created this video after writing a 9 part, short script and collecting old photos of Bob and I. I combined these on my iPad using the free app Adobe Spark Video, as described in my book chapter on “Narrated Slideshows” in Pocket Share Jesus.

Building on the four part framework for sharing your story / sharing your testimony that our church staff wrote back in August in the post, “Going Deeper Into Your Story,” I am encouraging members of our Sunday School class to use this model to frame their stories of “everyday Gospel encounters” as well as “bigger” stories, like our testimonies of how we came to faith in Jesus Christ.

We used Psalm 71:15-18 as our focus verse today, recognizing how God calls us to witness to others about his acts and powerful works in our lives. This is a verse I’ve included on the “Why” page of the dw4jc.com website.

‘My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord ; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. ‘

Psalm 71:15-18

In “Going Deeper Into Your Story,” we are encouraged to use a four part framework for composing and sharing our Gospel encounters with Jesus: Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Each of these phases are explained in the post. It can be challenging to know how to share our stories of faith, and this framework can be very helpful as a “template” we can use to fill in our background and the significant events in our story which we want to share with others in a concise, effective way that points primarily to Jesus, God, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

I definitely like and have used this four part framework, but the second element, “crucifixion,” suggests that this model is only focused on stories about the darkest and deepest valleys of our lives when God intervened. Those are stories we may be called to share, but there are also important Gospel encounters which may not fit under the dramatic category, “crucifixion.” For that reason, today I suggested also thinking about and praying about Gospel encounters in our lives we can share which are more everyday events. God is at work all around us, all the time. Our busy lives and full schedules can be impediments to our ability to discern and “see” God’s work in our week. With this in mind, I substituted the word “crucifixion” with “encounter” in this four part framework.

In my secular work with teachers and students using digital storytelling, I’ve found it helpful to break the process down into a few, simple steps. Today for our class, I shared the following 4 steps for creating a narrated slideshow as a digital story:

  1. Brainstorm your topic and story.
  2. Script: Write your story in chronological order, keeping in mind Adobe Spark Video limits you to 30 seconds of narration per slide. This is likely the most challenging and time consuming step of this workflow.
  3. Find Photos: Either locate photos you have taken and save them to the device you’re using to create the digital story. In my case, this was the Photo Roll of my iPad. If you don’t have photos, Adobe Spark Video lets you search for icons from The Noun Project. You can alternatively find copyright-friendly images from websites like Unsplash. Insert these photos into Adobe Spark Video.
  4. Record: Find a quiet spot and record the audio narration for each slide of your story. Then export your final video and upload to YouTube for sharing via social media, email, a website, etc.

After watching my example narrated slideshow about my friend, Bob, I asked class members to respond. We used “the two lenses of analysis” for digital storytelling which I learned about presenting lots of workshops from 2006 to 2009 for Storychasers. These lenses are “content,” when you focus on elements of the story, and “technical,” when you focus on technology details and process elements.

Our closing challenge in today’s lesson was to think about Gospel encounters we can share in the weeks and months ahead, either in person or as short, narrated slideshow videos. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to offer a Saturday morning workshop in February or March this year on the process I modeled and explained today using Adobe Spark Video.

Here are the slides we used in today’s lesson. If you find these ideas helpful, have questions or feedback, please reach out to me via Twitter (@wfryer) or my electronic contact form, which will send me your message via email. I pray God will empower you to be bold and courageous as you share your stories of faith, walking with Jesus Christ.

The Last Supper and Atonement: Luke 22:7-36

Tomorrow in our adult Sunday School class, “Gospel Encounters,” we will continue our study of The Last Supper by reading Luke 22:7-38, watching the video from The Lumo Project based on these verses, and also watching and discussing the outstanding Bible Project video, “Sacrifice & Atonement.” Here are links to the slides we will use and these video resources.

The Lumo Project video for Luke 22:14-38 is not embeddable but is freely available / viewable via Bible.com. Learn

I will not likely share the audio from this video and speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in tomorrow’s class, but have included in our slides (slide 10) and will embed it below. I LOVE this exhortation from Dr. King, which is based (I think) on this passage from Luke 22. Yes indeed, “We all can serve!”

Gospel Encounter: The Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-35)

Tomorrow in our adult Sunday School class, “Gospel Encounters,” we will be reading and discussing The Last Supper as recounted in the 26th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, in verses 17-35. These are the slides we’ll use during our lesson. Please feel free to use them and any of the ideas/resources which are included for your own Christian teaching and learning. (My slides are licensed CC-BY. Linked video content, however, is shared by others under varying license terms.)

After reading this scripture together, we will watch this six minute depiction of the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples, focusing specifically on what Jesus SAID and DID during this time.

If we have time, we may watch The Lumos Project’s video about Matthew 26:1-35. (It’s free to watch from the previous link, but not embeddable or readily downloadable.) In the Lumos Project version, a narrator reads the words of the scripture while actors re-enact the scenes. Both are powerful and valuable for better understanding this pivotal episode in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. I’m choosing to share the LDS website version (the video embedded above) because it is a more detailed and theatrical presentation, which seems to provide a more immersive peek into the world and life of Christ. (As noted in my slides, the use of this LDS video should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the Mormon Church or LDS beliefs.)

I plan to focus some of our discussion on both the Old Testament and New Testament contexts for “atonement,” and will show The Bible Project’s excellent six minute video, “Sacrifice and Atonement.” Note a freely downloadable version of this video is available on their project website, which does not include the request for project donations included in the YouTube version.

If you live in Edmond, Oklahoma, or the Oklahoma City area and are able, please visit our church (First Presbyterian of Edmond) and consider attending our Sunday School class! You can check out past lessons as well as our upcoming schedule, continuing our focus on “Gospel Encounters” both historical and contemporary, by visiting pocketshare.speedofcreativity.org/ge/.

Gospel Encounters: Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus

Today in our adult Sunday School class, continuing our focus on both historical and contemporary “Gospel Encounters” with Jesus, I shared my personal testimony as well as a framework for “Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus.” This is based on a four part framework explained on our church‘s new website, “7 Core Practices,” detailed in the post from August 2018, “Going Deeper Into Your Story.” Here are the slides I used during today’s lesson.

I referenced a video about part of my testimony which I recorded and posted to YouTube in September 2011, titled “God Answered My Prayer in Pilot Training.”

I initially wrote about this on my professional blog in August 2006, before I created this separate space as my “Christian blog.” It was initially named “Eyes Right,” before I changed it to “Pocket Share Jesus” to align with the “Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” book and evangelism empowerment project.

This was the first time I shared parts of “my story” publicly which followed the events described in the above video. Those experiences from my life in February 1994 are likely things I will never put online and share digitally, but I am glad to have an opportunity to share them in person with others with the hope and prayer they will serve as an encouragement which points others to Jesus Christ.

I hope and pray today’s lesson highlighted the ways God has and continues to be active in my life and the life of our family. I also hope it was an encouragement to us all to share our own Gospel story with others. Check out 7corepractices.com for more inspiration and practical suggestions about ways we can serve and share Jesus Christ in our homes, workplaces, and communities. Also check out www.dw4jc.com for suggestions and strategies for how we can share scripture, our stories, and our witness of God’s Holy Spirit being active in our lives using digital media.

* Added 27 October 2018: I shared a modified version of these slides, with a few photos from pilot training which I dug out of our garage, in a presentation for our Friday Morning Men’s group on October 26, 2018.

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