Thursday, February 26, 2009

Transient Memoirs

Attention please, airport security restrictions will be in effective until 5am, only ticketed passengers and airport employees with proper identification may remain in the terminal building, all other individuals must leave the terminal building at midnight.

I am to a point now where I am actually analyzing this statement that so plagues me and describes my plight. Here I sit in Chicago O’Hare Airport at 2:30 in the morning staring at an empty terminal that will soon be filled with life. Who does that voice, I mean someone had to record that universal lady robot announcer voice in order for it to be reused millions of times for little infomercials like this that so irritate innocent people like me. What is the terminal building exactly? If only ticket passengers and employees with proper identification are allowed in the terminal, why is it that I was ejected by a security guard after showing him my ticket? So yes, it is that early or late, depending on your state of mind and point of view, so early or late, that I am beginning to go a little loopy, so I figured I’d write to entertain. Generally my blog entries are pretty thoughtful and have some kind of new insight to share, but this, no, this one, this one will not be that way, this blog entry will be my first of pure comical relief. Without further postponement (drum roll please), I give you free entertainment at my expense.

I wake up this morning (Wednesday) with great excitement, I could barley sleep the night before, you know the kind of excitement you feel as a child on Christmas eve, you want to sleep because you know you will sleep and the morning will seemingly arrive quicker, but you cannot because enthusiasm has released so much adrenaline into your body that you find yourself staring at the ceiling and wondering why you can’t sleep. I finally do fall asleep because I wake up this morning, ready to conquer the day. My mind was already in my future destination, but physically I made myself get up and go to work. The day went by pretty quick up until about lunch time.

My friend Andy and I started what we have coined urban food endeavors. Basically, we notice little hole in the wall joints, the type of places you would not go alone, and decide to go try them out. We have found some great food and some not so great food. I’ve began inviting other friends along to this because Andy is in and out of town so much. I wanted to just catch up with Jake today before I left to go out of town so I decided we’d go grab some lunch, but not any lunch, no, go out on an urban food endeavor. I find this little joint called Man’s Grille. It is an old factory worker’s diner that used to be for the Chrysler plant, but since it shut down, it is still going on its own and now known simply as Man’s Grille. I do not exaggerate in my description here, this is a true account of our adventure. You walk in and it smells like week old bacon grease, we walk to the back to escape the smell to sit in what looks like an addition to the original building. This addition though looks like an old men’s shower room, seriously, small cheap tile up to about shoulder height and mirrors placed about every three feet. You can still se the top of the concrete block walls that hey painted over revealing the old yellow tobacco colored base. There are NASCAR signs everywhere and an extension cord duck taped to the wall to provide electrical support to the other booths form the one electrical outlet in the room. They bring your menu out, which is hand printed. After deciding on an inner city delicacy you are met by a huge plate full of food hidden beneath the most gravy I’ve ever seen served at one time. When I saw my meal I looked around at everyone else’s table to see maybe if I just order something disgusting. Nope, every meal I saw was smothered in gravy. It is just that kind of joint. The food is mediocre, but the atmosphere is unforgettable. I will end this description with a quote from Jake as he text messaged me from the bathroom after lunch…”Never again!”

After lunch I come back to work feeling like I would actually like to throw up, but can’t so I just settle with drinking as much water as possible. The day really starts to fly by then because I realize it’s almost time to get off and then that means I can go to the airport and fly home, Jacksonville, FL. Becca wanted to borrow The Dark Knight so I brought it with me to work. She got off work, Harry & Izzy’s, and brings me this brownie smothered in hot fudge, caramel, pecans, whipped cream, ice cream and a cherry on top in exchange for the movie. Of course, that did not last long on my desk and only added to my desire to throw up. I’ll be honest; I still have a lump in my throat and wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to puke it all up. After setting up all my away messages and making sure someone in my department will back me up while I’m gone, I gaze upon what I see as pure glory at the moment, a clock that reads 4:30PM. Time to go home! I race home to grab my luggage and meet Andrew who has already been there waiting for like 10 minutes.

I arrive at the airport full of joy and excitement! My bag weighs two pounds over the limit so I take a pair of shoes out of my bag. Now I’m walking around the airport with a pretty nice looking messenger bag with a pair of shoes tied around the strap. I board my plane to start my trip back home to Jacksonville, FL. I get on the plane headed towards Chicago, this strikes me as odd, but I’m not one to stress out, so I just roll with it and figure I’ll figure things out when I get to Chicago. I get off the plane with about an hour to spare until my flight from Chicago leaves to go to Jacksonville, FL, or so I think. I go check out the departing flights screen and do not see any flights going to Jacksonville, FL. Now I am really starting to wonder if I am being punk’d and looking around for Ashton, but he nor a camera crew are anywhere to be found. I decided I’d be responsible and instead of trying to figure all this out myself I would help provide a nice Southwest rep some job security and ask them. I ask about the next flight going to Jacksonville, FL and she responds, “Honey, you’re going to Jackson, MS, right?” Epiphany strikes in my mind as the unusual circumstances of me having a layover in Chicago and not being able to see a flight to Jacksonville on the departure list come together. When I booked my reservation for this trip I must have selected Jackson instead of Jacksonville. I’m not sure how I can be that absent minded anyways, but it is what I did apparently. My friend Danae likes to tell me that I need to get a wife to help me not be so disorganized. I admit to the nice lady what must have happened and we share a couple good laughs about it all because honestly, it is funny so I laughed at myself. She says she can get my on a flight to Jacksonville, FL in the morning from Chicago and rearrange my returning flight to go straight from Jacksonville, FL o Indianapolis on March 3, when I am returning, or at least when I planned to. I know what this means…a lot of money, another dumb out of pocket expense I could have avoided by just slowing down. Apparently God has given me this charming personality for good too, she gives me some kind of discount and only charges me $34 to change all the flight info. So I walk away from the counter relieved and thankful. I get about 10 steps away and another great realization hits me on the forehead like a run away train. I checked a bag in Jacksonville, FL and that bad boy is going to Jackson, MS now. I get all the appropriate numbers and call and make another lady laugh. She says she will catch the bag in MS tonight and have it flown to Jacksonville first thing in the morning (Thursday).

This now grants itself to an interesting opportunity. Now I get to mimic one of the movies I’d say is one of my favorites, The Terminal, with Tom Hanks. Staying all night in an international airport, how fun, what great adventures I can get myself into here. Tom Hanks fooled me. This is nothing like that movie. I find a couple of comfy leather chairs in the back of the terminal and start to get comfortable. I fall asleep for maybe 10 minutes before I am awoken by the shuffling of new arriving feet to Chicago. I’ve suddenly become that weird dude you see when you get off the plane where ever your destination is, shoes off, head phones on, sitting in one chair while another holds my feet. I finally get comfortable around midnight after all the flights have come and gone and try to sleep, ah peace. Nope, cleaning crew shows up to do their daily tasks. I keep fighting sleep and literally watch the clock minute by minute, which feels like hours. I finally put on my headphones, listen to a good soundtrack, Crash, and find a comfortable position to sit/lay in. It feels like I have been sleeping for hours when a security guard wakes me up. I look at my watch and realize I have only been asleep for 20 minutes. He says, “Sir you will have to leave the terminal until it opens back up again in the morning at 5.”

This makes me question that annoying public service announcement:

Attention please, airport security restrictions will be in effective until 5am, only ticketed passengers and airport employees with proper identification may remain in the terminal building, all other individuals must leave the terminal building at midnight.

I have my ticket leave me in peace! So I move and am now in the ticketing area and I will have to go back through ticketing and all that jazz in the morning.

All this I write as I sit beside a very odd person, which seems like the mass populace in the Chicago airport at 3 in the morning, a lady to be exact wearing bright blue sweat pants, what look like genuine cowgirl boots, a heavy winter Tommy Hilfiger coat, and a very nicely trimmed goatee. She just decided to take her boots off, which revealed a stench that honestly is making me gag. How do you gag while not making any rude noises or facial expressions? No I am not kidding. It’s been quite the adventurous trip thus far one I am sure to not forget for a very long time. Thanks for reading this huge blog, hope you enjoyed! Leave a comment, let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Poetic Sunrise

I started writing poetry when I was 16. I go through stages of inspiration and since I left Jacksonville I haven’t been poetic in any sense outside of writing my blogs. So here is something that hit me this morning, Hope you enjoy.

Gazing upon the clouds as the sky fades form blue to gray and reveal the glory of the night in stars wishing somehow you weren’t so far. Good deeds fill my days as a vain façade distracts attention from the brokenness in my eyes, windows to my heart that is falling apart as I write.

600am another morning at the pier, latte in hand, early rise to somehow escape these snares. Entangled by the darkness and barbed wire extensions of a dark heart that cries out with no sound. Silence fools them into believing its quiet when chaos screams louder than before in that moment as the sun breaks the oceans end with a glimpse of something that wakes me before the earths rotation reveals it, the thing I truly long for.

It warms my face and helps numb the pain I seek to escape in clouds and this sunrise. Morals are in disarray strength always fails creating endless homogonous cycles of this sad tale, a broken being looking for light, hiding from fear, no fight all flight. The means to an end seem to leave one desiring more, just to be good or do right in itself leaves a void in a young man’s soul so he sits on the shore awaiting the hope he needs, looking into the clouds as the tears stream down his flesh reminding him of his depravity and utter need, need for just the warmth of the sun, the son, indeed, will light your path, set you free, give you hope, and release you from the prison of endless sunrises and cloud watching.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mafioso Jesus

Yet again I’ve come across some new funk from the master of funk Himself, Jesus and His beautiful message. There are a couple terms that I’ve heard tossed around here and there as I’ve dibbled and dabbled in the church culture, church discipline and causing one to stumble. These have always been taught to me as separate ideas and I have honestly never investigated how connected these two really are. I have not been looking for anything in particular as I read the Gospel according to Matthew, yet God keeps showing me big things that are really changing a lot of things I’ve thought and been taught. One thing that is consistent as I have read this book is that God is crazy in love with His creation and His children.

Before I get into this I’d invite you to read Matthew Ch 18 first for yourself. I’m not big into just telling people what I think without letting them do their own reading because truth be told my thoughts cannot dictate others’. Honestly please follow this link and read exactly what I read in Matthew Ch 18.

Here we find guys doing what guys do best, competing. They are arguing over who will be greatest in the kingdom and Jesus introduces an abstract physical object as an answer, a child. He takes this innocent child and tells them that it is the humility it possesses that they must seek in order to become greatest. I used to work at an elementary school with Kindergarteners, by far one of my favorite jobs to date. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher at one point in time. This age group stole my heart because of their innocence and humility. There was no arrogance and pride, no shame, no ego, just a pure person being 100% themselves. Jesus tells these grown men who are arguing about being great in a kingdom, which in their mind would be imagine along the lines of something like their idea of a kingdom or empire in their day, Rome, to be great in a kingdom they need to be like a child. This is a different approach isn’t it?

Now comes this grandeur idea of stumbling or causing one to stumble. Jesus has now established those who follow Him to become like a child to be great in His kingdom. Now Jesus says something that sounds to me more like a statement or threat you’d here on the Soprano’s or another Mafia show than actually something from a gentle loving God. Listen to this line, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).” If I were to just sum up my God with that statement I would say that He may wear a tailored suit, drive a black Cadillac, keep a trunk full of unregistered guns, and own the complete Rocky movie collection. But thankfully, Jesus doesn’t toss around vain threats. If Jesus feels this strongly against someone who causes one to stumble, stumbling must be a big deal then. What does stumbling mean though, like in the language it was written in? The Greek word for stumble is skandalizō and means:

1) to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall, metaph. to offend
a) to entice to sin
b) to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey
1) to cause to fall away
2) to be offended in one, i.e. to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority
3) to cause one to judge unfavorably or unjustly of another
c) Since one who stumbles or whose foot gets entangled feels annoyed
1) to cause one displeasure at a thing
2) to make indignant
3) to be displeased, indignant

So anyone who causes any of this Ý is better off having a huge stone wrapped around his neck and thrown into the sea to drown. I’ve always thought this was talking about older Christians and younger Christians only. But Jesus proves me wrong and says woe to the world for it causes His children to stumble and woe to those who are agents of whatever means of stumbling one may fall into. Jesus doesn’t jut leave us to point the finger at those bad bad men who make us stumble though, like always He turns the responsibility back to us and challenges us personally in an intense way. This idea of amputation is pretty gnarly if you ask me. Jesus takes this sort of thing seriously though. He says that if your eye or hand causes you to stumble then cut that bad boy off because it is better to enter life (eternity) crippled than to stroll into an eternity of fire pretty with a bad set period.

This is where it all comes together though, Jesus sets into the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus says that when one sheep wanders off, which has the same idea of stumbling that the shepherd will leave 99 of His sheep to find this one. The good shepherd, Jesus, God the Father, is so in love with His creation that He is willing to leave the little one’s who are not wandering alone to go find the one because He cannot bear the idea of loosing even one. This is encouraging because often times when we “back slide” or fall away people try to put the guilt tourniquet on us when in all actuality God is running frantically looking to find us. That is what Jesus has to say about those who do stumble that are His children, He will leave the flock to find them.

The next section is an extension of His finding the wandering sheep to us applying it within the context of a church community.

Duh Duh Dun! And the ominous music rolls in…church discipline…oh no! Church discipline has this bad idea behind it, it just makes people’s skin crawl. I think of the movie Big Daddy with Adam Sandler when his friend, Nazo, says, “Oh, yes. They make terrific pair. They went together like lamb and tuna fish.” Ewww…lamb and tuna fish! That’s how the idea of church discipline makes me feel at first blush. It often times has a bad wrap because people have “practiced” it in a unbiblical way, they have used it as a heavy sword, swinging it around like a blood thirsty warrior rather than a deeply concerned friend petrified to see this person deal with the consequences Jesus lays out earlier in the chapter (the whole Mafioso drowning deal). So church discipline is an extension of this idea of stumbling, God searching for His wandering sheep, church discipline is the extension of God’s church, His body seeking out the wandering sheep. Now instead of going to someone trying to force them to change or they will be kicked out we should be begging them to turn away from whatever is causing them to stumble because it comes at a large costs that we, friends, brothers, sisters, cannot bear to see take place. If it does come down to being discipline out of the church then Jesus says something that would be very familiar to His Jewish audience, The idea of something being bound and loosed on earth as it is in Heaven based on the account of two or more witnesses.

Here is where I’ve learned of a verse used compulsively out of context. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:19-20).” Jesus says again, that means a continuation of what He was just saying, which had to do with church discipline, which is all about reconciliation and bringing back wandering sheep to the good shepherd. Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them. You know what this means? Where there is agreement to discipline someone from the church because they are unwilling to stop wandering, stumbling, or causing others to stumble, God says He is there in agreement with us, like what we are doing here is done up there, in His kingdom. Isn’t that marvelous?

I was so excited to put all this together. I now it is a long post, but something I felt needed to be explained and written about. May you know that God will come looking for you if you are a wandering sheep, not because He wants to punish you and make you feel bad, but because He wants to save you form consequences. God is no Italian trunk mobster, He is a gentle all loving, Holy God who wants nothing more than to reconcile His flock. If you are lost, fallen away, back slidden, or wandering, have hope that there is a God looking for you!

Random Persuasiveness

I went to lunch with a friend from work yesterday. We went to Penn Station. As the cold wind rolled across my skin my mouthed water for what would be a delicious Philly cheese steak but in one swift moment I was a little bothered and saddened. I don’t know why this bothers me so much, I’m not sure sometimes if it is even healthy to get so bothered by this. We cross the street to be spoken to, not at, in a loud voice about worshipping a living God. Then without even making eye contact this guy hands me a little pamphlet. I took it and decided for once I would put my criticism away for a moment to actually inquire to the internal pages of this little book. After I got back to work I read it. Here are some things I read (in the tract and on their website) that gave me a little bit of concern:

If however, you choose to go to heaven, you must do several things…

First, second, third, you must also, finally…

…only write in if you have made a decision to be saved…

Before I continue though, let me say this; I am all about seeing the Gospel of Jesus spread to the end of the world. It is what we are called to do by Jesus Himself. I believe when Paul says that no matter what the Gospel is being spread and we should rejoice in that, even if we don’t agree with intentions, motives, or methods. I don’t have it all figured out and wrestle between being passive assertive or aggressive when it comes to presenting/preaching/announcing the good news. I’m simply unpacking my thoughts about this experience and the feelings I walked away with.

If you have talked to me within the last month or been keeping up with my blog you know I am reading the book of Matthew. This is the story of Jesus and His ministry. I’ve studied and studied so far and like I have said before, don’t see a ton of what I’ve been taught or told actually in the ministry of Jesus. The title of this particular tract I received is, “This Could Be Your Last Five Minutes Alive” I remember growing up and always getting asked, “Son, if you were to die right now, do you know where you’d go?” Although these questions have importance and are valid because Jesus was all about securing people’s eternal life, I have a tough time believing that people actually respond to this. You actually never see Jesus or Paul open up a dialogue this way.

The presumption of these tracts is that the one receiving it actually believes in Heaven or Hell, or even God. This is a dangerous assumption to make though. If I assume someone knows Spanish I will begin speaking Spanish to them. If I were to be spoken to in Spanish I would squint, tilt my head, and smile nervously because I don’t understand what they are saying. My language is different than theirs so I will naturally not understand where they are coming from or where they are going. Giving someone who does not believe in God, Heaven, or Hell a tract that begs the question where will you go after you die is like that. You are asking them the wrong question.

This tract gives a very clear step process for getting saved. First, second, third, then, finally… I also don’t see Jesus running around with sterile steps. This is not to discount the reality that there are small steps to following Jesus and it is a journey, but I doubt that you can simplify it down to 5 steps. Paul tells the Philippians to continue to work out their salvations. This is not to say one must work for salvation, but it is to say it is a work to continue in it and grow. That looks different for everyone.
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized (Acts 16:29-33).
This looks a bit different from the statement made in the tract, “If however, you choose to go to heaven, you must do several things.”
I’m not sure that telling someone about Jesus is as simple as taking a day off work and standing on a corner yelling at strangers about what they need to do. Hasn’t this hurt people for too long? Ok, so, yes, maybe this has worked in the past, maybe they get an occasional person that responds, but I’d say overall these efforts are inefficient. As I read the Gospel according to Matthew and study Jesus’ ministry, as I reflect on the books of Acts and the early church, I am persuaded that there are never any random occurrences where you tell someone who doesn’t want to listen anyways about doing something they don’t want to do. God softens hearts, we go about our lives telling about who Jesus is and why He is so important, and He will do the saving, not us, not little tracts, not websites, or even cool new age things. I remember talking about this a little in my old evangelism blog too, check it out.
I hope this challenges you to get personal with the message of Jesus. I hope that the question wouldn’t be how to spread the Gospel but why aren’t you? If it is good news, if it has transformed your life, wouldn’t you want to tell people who you know would listen, people you care about, people you have connections with? God’s Word will not return void, but I doubt anyone is actually learning about Jesus through randomly selected scriptures and a persuasive argument about impending death. Hope this stirs some things in you as it did me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Crumbs, Dogs, and Treason

I walk into my local coffee shop and see my friend reading a book; he looks at me, and just shakes his head. “The more I read the less I realize I know…” What book? The Bible. I agree completely. A lot of times we drag our presuppositions into the Bible when we read it, often times missing out on small details that make things more beautiful or make more sense. We read it too quick sometimes, treating it like a book written to a bunch of over privileged Americans in 2008 when in all actuality it was written to a very Jewish audience (The Gospel According to Matthew at least) in the ancient middle-east. Something was illuminated to me the other night while I continue my journey through this book.

I’m in chapter 15; I’ve been in Matthew for what seems like a month or so. Another friend I talked to today responded to me telling them I was still in Matthew with, “Geeze, you’ve been reading that forever.” Yes, it does seem like it, but it has been such a rich read. Most people can tell you the story of this Canaanite woman who has a sick daughter that she wants healed. Most people will tell you that Jesus was impressed by her persistence in asking Him after being rejected the first time she requested the healing of her daughter. Cute story right? If it were that simple it would be disappointing to know that Jesus just gives in to something as long as you are persistent.

This all got me thinking. Why did Jesus reject her? What in the world made her think her second request would be granted? Why is Jesus impressed so much that He calls her faith great? This little story had me really thinking a lot, so naturally I decided to dig a bit deeper than just reading straight through and missing something. This is what I found in my digging, this is the natural progression of questions in my mind.

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity…what vicinity? Tyre, the vicinity in which Jesus withdrew to in verse 21. Where is that? Pull up a map of ancient Israel and find Tyre and Sidon. They are outside of Israel. Jesus came to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Gentiles are woven into this grace, but Jesus came primarily for Israel, God’s people are Israel. When Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” she knew what that meant. She has been dealing with this for years; it is tattooed into her heritage, the separation of Jew and Gentile. Keep in mind that when Jesus moved, people knew, when He walked He always had a crowd following. Now this woman kneels before Jesus and cries, “Lord, help me!” Kneeling is something you do before kings, or emperors, like Cesar. Jesus replies, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” What children? The children of Israel, the lost sheep He was sent to. Toss it to dogs…Jesus calls this woman a dog, what is going on? Again, nothing new to this woman’s ears, she is used to segregation between Jews and Gentiles. God wanted His people to be separate. Jesus says this in the context that everyone understands; it is not offensive like we read it, but a simple truth. She is not a Jew and for centuries now the Jews have called Gentiles dogs. Now that is wrong and Jesus calls it out and tests her. Jesus says she is a dog and she cannot eat what is meant for the children. This is where she flips the script and does something unexpected and quite amazing, considering the environment, socially and politically.

Without skipping a beat she responds, “Yes it is, Lord, even the dogs eat crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” This kneeling Gentile woman, who is a citizen of the Roman empire and thus subject to Cesar’s kingship, this woman says that even though she is a dog she can eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. The master’s table. Keep that word in mind. The word translated as Master in the Bible I am reading (NIV) was actually written in the Greek with the original word kyrios.

κύριος (kyrios)

a) he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding; master, lord
b) the possessor and disposer of a thing
c) the owner; one who has control of the person, the master
d) in the state: the sovereign, prince, chief, the Roman emperor
e) is a title of honor expressive of respect and reverence, with which servants greet their master
f) this title is given to: God, the Messiah

Those are the definitions of the word used here. All of these are pretty impressive for one to call another, but pay specifically close attention to d; The Roman emperor. This woman said Jesus was worthy of this title and that He was the owner of her and all that there is in calling Him master, kyrios. But wasn’t Cesar the Roman emperor at that time? The empire of Cesar worked upon the principle of peace through victory, meaning there would be peace with him as emperor through victory, military, oppressive, non-humanitarian, type of victory. That is called treason! What is treason?

Trea-son (tree-zuh n)

a) the offense of acting to overthrow one's government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
b) a violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or to one's state.
c) the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

The penalty for treason in the Roman Empire was crucifixion. This woman, in front of everyone, who was a citizen of Rome, called Jesus master and Lord, kyrios, she said her allegiance was with Him and not Cesar! This is huge! This is why Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

It is so convenient to be a Christian in America isn’t it? Simply by calling Jesus Lord or master this woman risked her life. To do it in such a public setting took faith bigger than I have probably. Calling yourself a Christian doesn’t cost much in our culture, you may even get some perks from it, like around tax time. What great faith this Canaanite woman had. May we learn to have great faith like this. May we be willing to seek allegiance with Christ and flee from anything that is not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Celebrating Black History Month

As you may know this month, February is Black history Month. My skin pigment crawls with shame looking at the history those before me with similar skin tone made. I am very proud to celebrate Black History Month and think it is a very important thing to reflect on. We celebrate all that the African-American population and their predecessors have and are doing in culture that they were once not allowed to. I generally will write up something special about Martin Luther King Jr. around this time, but I decided to do something different. No, this is not a blog about President Obama either, although it is a great accomplishment that African-Americans have come from not being allowed to drink out of “white” water fountains to now having the most prestigious office in the world, our modern day empire, America. For now I am going to turn my attention to someone who is becoming one of my new hero’s especially in the African-American sector.

In the 70’s when the residual pain of the Jim Crowe Laws was running around oppressing people unjustly there was something brewing in New York. A young man named Erskine Dodson and his wife Phyllis were just introduced to Jesus. After searching around the city for Bible teaching “black” churches they were unsuccessful. The people who led them to Christ were a very nice “white” couple. It was socially unacceptable at that time for an African-American to attend a Caucasian church congregation. After much prayer and discerning the will of God Erskine decided to do something totally irrational by society’s standards. Erskine and Phyllis decided to go to this “white” church. He and his wife only wanted to learn of this living God and Christ they now followed. He was alienated and ostracized by his family, friends, and pastor. His pastor, at the time of a “black” congregation he was attending, actually called him an “uppity negro.” His family told him that he thought he was too good for them because he didn’t want to be with his own people. What a thing to go through. I could never imagine.

Here is where the celebration can begin, a celebration of rich African-American history and the struggle of one man and his wife to seek God’s will in spite of society’s disdain. He and his wife started attending and growing at this new “white” church. They saw his great passion for learning and teaching the Word of God that they paid for him to go to seminary. I attended a meeting last night at the church he is Pastor of. I met him because he was one of my Professors at Bible College. He and his wife have been married since and now share a truly rich story worth celebrating. Following the will of God is not always comfortable, especially in the context that they had to. Now, because of his following Christ, many have come to follow Christ all the more. This story of an oppressed African-American couple should be celebrated. This month especially, there are so many stories of success, courage, perseverance, and pride to celebrate. So here’s to Pastor Dodson and his beautiful story, ministry, heritage, and ultimately, identity in Christ.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shrewd Snake

As you may know by reading or keeping up with me that I am on this new venture to rediscover the Gospel that I say I believe and live my life for. I prayed and pray continuously that God would let me read this like it is the first time and open up truth and understanding to me. It’s been a couple weeks, maybe even close to a month and I am only in chapter 11. I have been amazed by the things I am learning. If you read my blog, Education, then you know how I feel about Christians being intelligent and knowing their stuff. Along those terms I discovered something amazing that Jesus says that many have misunderstood, including myself, and applied incorrectly and in such a way that limits it true meaning.

First let’s play catch up. John the Baptist preaches that one is to come grater than He is and that the kingdom is near. Jesus comes and says the kingdom is near. Then Jesus teaches what we modern day readers have refer to as The Sermon on the Mount that describes what the kingdom is like. The n He heals the lame to fulfill prophecies and to show what the kingdom looks like. After all this He talks to His disciples and sends them out. This is where we find ourselves and this little piece of brilliance God showed me. It is pretty cool if you ask me.

Jesus is talking to His disciples in chapter 10 verse 16. I’ve listed several versions of the same verse for those of you who like to see different translations:

Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove (MSG).

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (KJV).

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (ESV)

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (NIV).

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (NASB).


My first reaction to this…”What the heck does that mean?” Wise as a snake? Innocent as a dove? Obviously Jesus did actually speak these words to me so I am curious as to what the original writer recorded Him saying. The New Testament would have been recorded in Greek since that was the major language of the day. The original word used in Greek that we read as cunning, shrewd, or wise is phronimos which means prudent

Ok so be as prudent as a snake. Well what the heck does that mean? Is there another place in the Bible that the word prudent and a snake are used together or is this some kind of ancient hip lingo I don’t understand?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made (Genesis 3:1a, NIV).

The Hebrew word used here for crafty is aruwm, it looks like this ערום in Hebrew and means…prudent. The snake is more prudent than all the other animals.

What des prudent mean? These lexicons I use to look up all these cool ancient terms always translates to English. So naturally I went to English dictionary to find out what prudent meant. Prudence is characterized by being marked by wisdom and judiciousness. Take a look at the rest of the Bible and you will see this word prudent and some of its derivatives are used quite often. The Bible is all about wisdom, especially the book of Proverbs.

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, [a] get understanding (Proverbs 4:7, NIV).

Prudence/wisdom is a big deal in the Bible. But what was the result of this prudence and the fact that the snake had more so than any of the other animals God had created? The serpent was able to fool man into betraying God. That is a pretty smart snake I’d say. The serpent was more prudent than all the other animals it was created among and therefore possessed great power to convince man.

So Jesus is telling them to be smarter than the others they will be among.

Jesus sends these man out with a command to be like the serpent, wiser than all the other animals. Jesus uses this parallel brilliantly because men who knew and grew up on the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) would know exactly what He meant by telling them to be as wise or prudent as a snake among the people they are being sent into. Like for me, a croissant and vennti mocha from Starbucks are the major things that I eat and drink. The same rings true for Jewish people and wine.

The Greek word for innocent used in this verse as a characteristic of the dove is the word akeraios which means unmixed in the context of wines. Jewish culture knows wine. It was one of the primary dietary elements, along with bread.

I tried to be a refined gentleman once and go on a wine tasting tour. You know when you don’t like the wine you are tasting, that really big bottle that is covered in paper that they allow you to spit into? I filled that bad boy up. The contents of that bottle are disgusting. The wines are mixed along with saliva and maybe bits of cracker and cheese. Bottom line…ewwwwww! On the other end of the spectrum there are very expensive wines that are aged and are made with a specific grape and fermentation process. Mixed wine is no good! Basically the idea of innocence like a dove means unmixed wines. What that means to these disciples is that they are not to become one and mix themselves with the people they will be among. Among those people they are to live and work, but not become like them.

Shrewd as a snake and innocent as a dove. What a brilliant statement right? May you be prudent, more prudent than all the others you are among, but may you be unmixed and pure. May you go like Jesus commands and be wise.

Monday, February 2, 2009

02/02/09 Update

It’s 2009 and I have yet to give an update of how my life is going. Life is good, life is changing, life is a gift that I have a hard time managing. This is how I feel about life.

I finished up all the classes I need in order to graduate from Crossroads Bible College in December, so no more Bible college for a while. I am only taking an online class and a Saturday class that only lasts 5 weeks right now. To tell you the truth it is kind of odd to have this light of a workload lately. I feel like everyday is Friday during the week. I go to work, get off, hit the gym (most days), read a bit in my coffee shop, and then go hang out with friends. Like this Thursday night after I help a friend clean up some warehouse they need help with I’m going to hit the gym and then meet up at another friend’s house to play poker and watch the office. The poker is obviously just for fun and we will be playing for Starbursts® because otherwise everyone gets mad because I typically knock people’s chips down, yell out things like, “Love that money!” and overall just act the fool in order to make fun of my being horrible at poker rather than letting it bother me. I am actually able to read books that I want to read now, like because I want to, not because it is an assignment. I have read 3 books since the beginning of the year so far!

I’m still working with the same insurance company I have been with. I am in a different position now so that is fun. It is a cool deal, I actually get to use my personality strengths at work, for my actual job. I get to analyze stuff and get paid for it, awesome! I am very fortunate to have this job, God has been very good to me.

Speaking of God, I am trying to unlearn and learn things about Him and me this year. It started with this tension of what I’ve been taught vs what I’ve learned for myself about Jesus and all the implications of who He is. I randomly came across this book called The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren in the library one day. I generally buy my books, but I’ve heard a ton of drama surrounding this cat so I decided maybe a rental would be best. One of the best books I’ve read in quite some time, honestly. Nothing crazy new was learned, more like my questions and such were affirmed. Basically McLaren begs the question that there has to be something more to Jesus’ message than what we see today. I’ve been going through a rough time with indecision and restlessness too on certain things so I read Proverbs and Acts most recently to gain new perspective. I wanted to get back into the Gospels again, but I didn’t want to drag all my Christian baggage and paraphernalia into it. I prayed that God would make me dumb and let me go into this reading like it was the first time I’ve ever read it or read about Him. I must say, so far so good! I’ve been shown some amazing truths and characteristics of Jesus and His message already and I’m only up to chapter 11. I really, honestly, with every fiber of my being, believe that Jesus and His message can change people’s lives and hearts forever and change this city, Indianapolis. I’m looking forward to just learning about Jesus purely for myself by going through this Gospel written by Matthew so I can go out with a message I truly understand for myself all over again.

If you’ve kept up so far in this blog and you are a family member or a close friend you are probably sweating, have a bulging vain in your forehead, and are dying to just scream, “What about the ladies?!” Not sure why, but the question about me and a girl is always on people’s minds. Nope, nothing still. I’m more confused than ever sometimes. Either fear, timing, heart break, or rejection have plagued me thus far. I’m confident that God knows what is best for me though. I have this idea of who and why and it makes up for a fairytale like story. I dream about it and would do almost anything for it, but if it is not right then I know what God has in store will be much much better and will blow me away. No sympathy please, I’m truly ok. God will work it out, I just have to be patient and discerning.

Let’s see, random things….I saw Taken last weekend, what a great movie, I had no idea there was so much vengeful thinking in me…We had a foot of snow last week so sledding and pulling doughnuts in empty parking lots filled my nights and heart with joy. I am still a Big Brother. I took him (Tank) sledding for his first time Saturday. He loved it. My ankles and knees were giving me trouble so I went down like 9 times with him then sat in the truck and watched him for a good 45 minutes go up and down this 30 foot hill we found. I’m looking more and more forward to the Spring time up here. I’m building a bike to ride, getting my tattoo extended down to a full sleeve, and busting my butt in the gym! This is my story so far up here…I’m sure there are tons of details I left out or things you’d like to know and I apologize in advance. If you have anything specific though, please shoot me an email at asloope@gmail.com.

To all my friends (I use that term very carefully so when I say friends, I don’t mean associates) and family, I love you and if you are far from me, I miss you. Yes indeed, I do miss Jacksonville and its beaches everyday!