Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sermon on The Mount

I have been leading a study (and begin another this Sunday) on the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is a study about a section in the gospel of Matthew (chapters 5-7)where Jesus lays out several challenges about what it means to be his disciple. Even if you are not familiar with Scripture, you might be familiar with several images and quotes from the beginning of Jesus's teaching ministry in the Gospel of Matthew.
Such quotes include:

"Blessed are the meek"
"Blessed are the peacemakers"
"salt of the earth"
"you are a city on a hill"
"turn the other cheek"
"rain falls on the just and unjust"
"don't toot your own horn" (paraphrase of Matt. 6:5)
"you can't serve two masters"
"judge not that you be not judged"
"do for others as you would like done unto you"
"consider the lillies of the field"
"knock and the door will be opened"

Anyway, I have been teaching a 6 week series on this section of Scripture, and have found one book to be the most helpful in both understanding the text, and in helping me with ideas on how to teach what Jesus said to people. That commentary has been the Christbook. The Christbook was written by F. Dale Bruner while he was a professor at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA. It is excellent because it gives lots of teaching hints, in depth study, as well as historical background in the interpretation of each verse. There are several reviews of the commentary, and now it is revised and updated. The best Bible commentary I have ever read.

The Most Dangerous People on Earth

I read through some lengthy portions of the book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters in the bookstore the other day. It was a very interesting book. The premise is that evolutionary biologists can come up with the best explanation to some of the most confusing questions about human behavior. I am not sure I buy the answer to every question (such as the size of human testicles and the shape of the human phallus assume that human females are biologically hardwired for multiple sexual partners), but several of the explanations of human behavior were compelling.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things I discovered is how much of our nature is hardwired to percieve adolescent, young adult, and single adult males as a threat. And, how subsequently young, unmarried males (15-35??)become the most dangerous folks on the planet.

As I read, I first began to think about this as I was agreeing with the author's assesment of why most suicide bombers are muslim The book says terrorists are willing to sacrifice their lives for the promise of 72 virgins because they are young males without status, whose reproductive possibilities are limited by polygamy among older wealthier males, and who live in societies with very little mobility among social strata. (So, if we want to win the war on terror provide wives for young muslim men. Also, I wonder how the broad gender descrepancy in China with young men outnumbering young women 2 to 1 is going to change the world if this is true.)But, as I read, I discovered many other ways folks percieve younger males as a threat.

Then, I began to take a look at the world we live in. What do we fear? Gangs? Gangs are populated by adolescent and young adult males. Terrorists? How many suicide bombers are men with families over 30? Very few to none? War? Wars are fought primarily by males under 30. Who are the primary victims of murder? Young men (even though the murderers are often older).

There is another half of this equation that we learn from history. Young men are often the folks that are courageous and bold enough to bring about social change. Martin Luther King Jr. was 26 when he led the bus boycotts. Calvin was the same age when he led the Swiss Reformation. Jesus was 30 when he started his ministry with men in their late teens and early twenties. The Biblical David was a teenager not yet able to grow a beard when he slew Goliath. Martin Luther was in his twenties when he began his wing of the reformation. Adolescent men and young adult men are the ones historically that have brought about social change.

If you doubt my theory on the power of young adult men in world history, look at where many of our great influencers have been found. Marx and Darwin were university professors. Osama Bin Laden, for all intents and purposes, is a youth minister funding camps for unpriviledged boys and young men. Hitler's Nazi party was a youth movement made up of low-income young men. Martin Luther was a professor/priest before the reformation, influencing young adults with profound questions. For good or for ill, and despite of the political incorectness of the statement, the future of our world is going to depend on how we listen to, treat, and share power with young men. Especially young men on the margins of society.

Now look at our society. Look at our rates of divorce. Look at how many young men are raised without fathers in the home (like me). Look at how we devalue young men in our society. Take time to think about how much more difficult it has become for young men without a trade and without money to go to college to get by. Then ask, what does that say for all of us in the future?

Anyway...this is something I have been thinking a lot about, and I would love to hear if you have any more input.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The innadequacy of words

I just returned from visiting someone who is dying. Bart was moved to hospice yesterday, and he is probably not going to make it through the weekend. He has a rare lung disease, and he has cancer in his liver and kidney.

His wife Edna was frightened. It seemed most disconcerting that they were giving him morphine, because in her mind giving someone morphine means that it is the beginning of the end of life. Bart was barely coherent, but Edna was scared.

When it was time for me to leave, I asked Edna if I could pray for her. I started to pray, and every word I seemed to utter seemed to be so inadequate. I started to doubt myself. I started to doubt I had the words right. I started to doubt I even had her name right, even though we had spoken several times.

Yet, when we got done praying, she started sharing conversations her and Bart had recently about when he dies. I always see this as a good sign, especially when it connects with the prayer I prayed. When prayer prompts thought and memory, I tend to trust the Holy Spirit is active in ways I cannot describe with words.

As I left, I started to think about the nature of these kinds of visits. It does not matter how many hospitals I have been to, I am always on the edge of my seat as I visit someone in them. It does not matter how many classes I have taken about dealing with death, when the death angel is in the room my words seem pitiful. I feel helpless.

Leading worship often creates the same experience. I do not want to go through the moments as I am in worship. I want my words to be led by God's Spirit. Yet, there are many times when Iam praying over the offering or leading the invocation that my words seem very hollow.

Maybe I am helpless, and maybe my words are hollow. But, I also believe that words have power. Power to heal, strengthen, and comfort. Power to hurt and harm. And it is by God's grace that somehow he take the words of my heart and communicate them as love and grace to someone else. A miracle.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

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Last Sunday we participated in an activity called "Crop Walk" at our church. Basically it is a fundraising walk that helps combat world hunger and local homelessness. Our youth joined in with the walk, as did other people from our church as well as 14 other churches throughout our community. CROP stands for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty. In total, our church had 26 people contributing $880 dollars to the cause. Most of that was raised by our teens.

This first picture is of Dawn Martinez, Reggie Hale, my fiance Jennifer and I. The total walk was just over 3.7 miles. Dawn, Jennifer and I finished just ahead of the 70 year old women with walkers.

The second picture is of James and Reggie resting and waiting for their youth leaders (Jen, Dawn and I) after they finished the walk.

The third picture is of Tiffany and Lindsay. They are both 8th grade girls. They finished strong and had fun!

This is a picture of Julia, one of our high school gals that hates to have her picture taken.

This is a picture of me with a full water bottle just before we left on our walk. It is important to stay hydrated when it is over 80 degrees and you are walking in a big crowd!