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.

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.

Salt and Light: Jesus’ Teachings in Matthew 5:13-16

This week in our “Gospel Encounters” adult Sunday School class we will continue our study and discussion of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5. Following verses 1-12, which we call “The Beatitudes” and we discussed last week, Jesus explains to his followers how we are called to act as both salt and light in our world. The Message presents these teachings in clear language:

‘“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.’

Here are the slides we will use during class to discuss and explore these verses.

Starting at the 1:16 timestamp, we will also view this depiction of these teachings by Jesus.

In the interest of time, I will likely just reference but not play the following videos, which include some of the cultural references to “a city on a hill” for me. These include President Ronald Reagan in his farewell address from the White House.

Another reference these verses bring to mind is the lighting of the warning beacons of Gondor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.” This is the depiction in Peter Jackson’s third movie in the series, “The Return of the King.”

Last of all, the well known children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine,” has a very important second verse, which proclaims, “Jesus is the Light.” We will discuss tomorrow how this is a vital distinction. Unlike ancient and modern gnostics, as reformed and evangelical Christians we believe Jesus is the light of the world, and it is only through his grace and power that we can come to know our Father in Heaven and receive forgiveness for our sins. We are not the light, but we do seek to share and reflect the light of Jesus in our lives to a dark world hungering for truth, righteousness, love and all the fruits of God’s spirit.

God Empowers Us to Serve Others Through Trials

Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson, as well as sermon, both focused on why we have pain and suffering in our world. These are tough topics for anyone to address. I was and am thankful to for the opportunity to facilitate this lesson at church for several reasons, however. This has been a topic on my mind and heart more frequently than usual in the past few months. It’s also, according to Barna research, the most common question asked by people about God everywhere. “Why does God allow pain and suffering in our world?”

One idea which emerged during our class discussion yesterday is this: While we often (or always) “come up short” understanding the grand plans of God and how individual cases of pain or suffering fit into them, as Christians we often DO experience situations where God empowers us to serve others through our trials and through the trials of others. As one of the speakers in the longer video we watched yesterday explained, often our best response when someone comes to us in pain and suffering is to embrace them and cry with them. We may not have “the answers,” but do have the capacity to love and support each other. We can embrace others and embrace God through faith, and have confidence that God is the one opening the door for us to love each other through our struggles and our dark valleys.

This is also one of the most important ideas which emerged for me yesterday during our lesson: God invites us to call upon him and use the name of Jesus to bring strength, peace, healing, and love into our darkest and most painful moments. I have experienced times like these in my own life, when I have literally cried out to God for help and assistance to bring me back from the abyss of despair. It’s a bad place to be, and an especially bad place to be ALONE. But that’s exactly one of the key messages of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: We go nowhere alone. God goes with us, and he promises to never abandon us or forsake us. What good news this is to everyone facing the suffering and trials of this life! We may be uncertain about the timetable of God’s cosmic plans and how our lives fit into them, but we can be certain about His reality and His provision in our times of need.

The name of Jesus is powerful! Do not hesitate to call upon the Lord when you are feeling isolated or alone, when you are suffering and full of despair. Call upon the name of Jesus to fill you with God’s Holy Spirit in all circumstances, whether they are filled with light or darkness. This is the Good News of the Gospel, that Jesus came to save us from our sins and the destructive power it has in our world. God wins. And we’re on God’s side. This is good news.

A couple more items from yesterday’s lesson.

Here’s the short video I shared with our class, as I gave a brief summary and enthusiastic recommendation of The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Sarah and I were able to spend about 4 hours there last week during our visit to the area, and it was fantastic!

Here is a 44 second time lapse version of my sermon sketchnote yesterday, on Eric Laverentz’s (@ericlav) message, “The Problem of Sin.” I drew this and exported this video with the ProCreate app for iPad. Learn more about creating sermon sketchnotes in this chapter of “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.” I added quite a bit more to this chapter over the weekend, but still need to add more to the chapter on “Narrated Sketchnotes.”

It worked well to use the website mentimeter.com yesterday to get members of our class to respond to a question using their smartphones. I used this as an opening question on the screen when class members came into class, “What is your favorite encouraging Bible verse?” This was a good way to start a relatively “heavy” lesson on pain and suffering.

May God bless you richly this week as you seek Him and strive to better understand His call upon your life. Make no mistake, God will open doors for you to not only draw closer to him in relationship, but also serve others with whom you have contact today and this week as you ask Him to.

Praise God for His love and the revelation of His truth through His Holy Word. Have a great week!

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