Friday, December 02, 2016

"Behold" = time to pay attention


Luke 2:10:
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;

I’ve always loved the part of the Christmas story where the vast host of angels show up. There’s something about the way a calm and “normal” night was disrupted by the heavenly visitors that intrigues me. I imagine what it would have been like for the poor shepherds, minding their own business when the sky lit up. Talk about shocking. If it were me, I would have run.

Even more specific than the appearance of the angels, I’ve been drawn in this story to the angel of the LORD’s initial greeting, “Do not be afraid; for behold...” In more modern translations the word “behold” is not included. However, I believe this word is key to the story.

I have a friend named Dave. When we were younger, we both were volunteers in the same youth ministry. One year we were running a fall carnival with games, bounce houses and a wagon ride complete with hay bales to sit on. Dave, in an attempt at humor, stood by the hay ride all night shouting to any passerby, “HEY!” When they looked at him, he would point to the hay bale and laugh. Like Dave, Luke is drawing the reader and  grabbing his or her attention. “Behold” means “look” or “hey!” and there is a sense of urgency behind this word. The person speaking wants his or her hearers to pay attention.

And in this use in Luke’s gospel what was there to ‘behold?’ For the shepherds, the announcement is a sign of good news, of joy, a baby and messiah come to earth.

I was curious, were there other instances in the Bible where the word “behold” is used referring to the Messiah? I found two places which I believe serve as bookends for Jesus’ story. If this ‘behold’ in Luke is the central proclamation, the other two are no less significant.

The first is in Isaiah 42:1-4:
“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;
My chosen one in whom My soul delights.
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 “He will not cry out or raise His voice,
Nor make His voice heard in the street.
3 “A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 “He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

The first thing that hits me about this “Behold” is the picture of a Servant who looks a lot like Jesus: delighted in by God, full of the Spirit, and gentle in word and deed. His primary mission is bringing justice, a word used three times in this passage. We sometimes read this word through a North American legal lens, but the Hebrew perspective of justice is producing honorable relationships, bringing peace - shalom- to individuals and the nations. Most scholars would equate this Servant with Jesus.

The other bookend “behold” comes at the end of Jesus’ life from the mouth of Pontius Pilate in John 19:5: “Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the Man!’”

In each instance, the voice inviting the hearers to “behold” is not the person himself, but rather someone else inviting people to pay attention. Unlike the other two instances, here the “behold” points to a prisoner, and yet this is not dissimilar from the servant seen in Isaiah. Behold- here is one who came to sacrifice all to generate justice to the nations.

As we enter into the Christmas season and hear or see the word “Behold” in readings, carols, or greeting cards, may we pay attention and see the bigger picture:
A Servant bringing justice
A Savior and messiah

A Sacrifice for the nations

Monday, November 21, 2016

Remembering Memory


In mid October I had the privilege of participating in a United Methodist national youth leadership conference in Malawi. I was there to teach on entrepreneurship as one component of the program.

While there, one of the young men I met was named Memory. He was a part of the hosting church and was helping out with the sound system. I was amazed by his “MacGyver” nature, he was always fixing things or making the technology work with minimal resources. He's in the photo with me above.

Over the duration of the event I was able to get to know Memory and his older brother Ezekiel and to hear a bit of their story. Both were active members of the host church and had experienced the sadness and loss of their father.

Memory has a dream, to go to University and complete a business degree. In a larger sense, I learned from numerous conversations, higher education is a dream for nearly every young person I met; Malawians see schooling as a path out of the extreme poverty they live under. In fact, I heard two primary requests while I was there, “please help me continue my education” and “can you help me get an internet phone?” The interesting thing was, these were not random youth I was meeting on the street, these were young people who have been called into leadership by their local churches. What was sad to learn is a student can attend University for about $50 per month and that’s still an amount that is out of reach.

A jarring observation for me was a lack of older adults in our interactions. Due to AIDS and  other illnesses, 67% of the country is under twenty-four years old. This reality brings a lot of promise, but also a lot of challenges. If education is out of reach for so many, the future is not promising.

As a ONE member I support the bi-partisan Education for All Act and I encourage you to support it too. This act will be one more link in the chain to help young people like Memory have access to schools. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out a way to support students like Memory and the other young leaders in Malawi who are hoping and dreaming for a pathway to attend school. For more information and to join me in using our voices to seek change check the ONE.org site: Education for All

So I remember Memory today. And pray and act to see he is able to complete his business degree.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Cultural Hooks

The Acura NSX ad hit my Twitter feed this week. In the commercial a car is crafted to the soundtrack of David Lee Roth shouting and screaming, music building with percussion, and finally Eddie Van Halen’s signature guitar. It’s the intro to Running with the Devil, a big hit from the late 70’s.



The curious twist is when the song is really kicking off, the words “What he said” appear on the screen. No lyrics are every sung. The message is clear (at least for me), if you buy this car you’re running with the devil too. It’s a brilliant piece of marketing. At least for a child of the 80’s who grew up on Van Halen and what is now called, “Classic Rock.” And with a price tag of $150,000, people my age are probably exactly the kind of people Acura is targeting.

Or are they? I watched the commercial with my 18 year old daughter who loves cars. I’m not sure where in our family this comes from, but she could be classified as a motorhead. She loved the ad, the way it played up the car, the streamlined body, the powerful engine, but when I asked her after we watched it, “What do you think ‘what he said’ meant?” She thought it had to do with the screaming; the fact this car is so awesome you too will want to scream (and maybe that’s correct). But she missed the cultural hook.

This commercial got me thinking about the Bible. Not in the, “how can I stop running with the devil” way, but rather the many times the characters or writers of the New Testament quote the Hebrew scriptures with one tiny fragment when they might have intended it to be a cultural hook.

One needs to understand that people in Jesus’ day had basically memorized the entire Old Testament. Since there were very few copies of the texts, students (which was pretty much all of Jewish society), would spend time memorizing the entire set of 39 books. When a religious leader wanted to make a point, he would quote one part of the passage and expect his listeners to fill in the rest.

For example, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he quoted Psalm 22, verse 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) And a reader can easily stop there. However, if a person reads on (or has memorized) the entire Psalm, some very rich insights emerge. I encourage the reader to do this.

In addition, the writer of the book of Hebrews does something similar in numerous places in the book. For example, in Hebrews 2:12 the author also quotes Psalm 22:22 which again points to the entire Psalm and the work of Jesus.

There is more to be written on this topic, but I’ll stop for now. My commitment this week is to be more mindful of how I use cultural hooks as well as to identify where cultural hooks are being used all around me. I also want to check more closely when I find these hooks in literature, poetry, or my reading of the Bible. And I’ll especially be on the lookout for them when I watch the advertisements during Super Bowl 50 tomorrow.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Lost World of Genesis 1



I remember as a sophomore transferring to Fresno Pacific College, a Christian college in Fresno CA. I went there expecting it to be like summer camp all year long. I remember now my shock when, in my first course on the ancient world, I read the Enuma Elish and discovered that other civilizations had stories of creation that were similar, yet different from the Bible. Before this time I lived in a bubble that the only creation story ever told was the Biblical one.

Through study I've come to realize there are multiple creation stories from the Ancient Near East and, because humans are curious, each culture has sought to explain the world and humanity's place in it.

I recently finished the book, The Lost World of Genesis 1 by John H. Walton. In it, he seeks to unpack the creation story of the Bible while placing it in the context of creation narratives from the nations around the Israelites at that time. Walton argues the original hearers of Genesis 1 would have understood the creation story in a vastly different way than we do today and we would do well to step back and consider this point of view.

Walton presents a case the creation story is one of purpose, rather than material creation. That the questions the Israelites were asking were more about how things work and function rather than how God made something from nothing. The ancient Israelites assumed God created, it's just they were more concerned with function and purpose. He concludes his book with something I had never thought of before, the Day 7 section in Genesis 1 would have sounded similar to other stories' temple passages; which would mean the creation story is about God creating and dwelling in his temple. And that on Day 7, when the text says, "God rested," the image is God sitting in his temple ready to rule.

I've spent a lot of time in the Bible and this was the first time I'd heard Walton's point of view. I found it intriguing and made me want to study more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The gift of skilled artisans


I was reminded today of a piece of art I saw when I was in Bogota in 2008. This quilt is one of 3 and was made by local women who had been displaced by violence in Colombia. As one can see from the photo, this quilt depicts a village scene, which, apart from the two boys fighting in the top, is happy and peaceful. The other quilts in the series present a much darker reality. (That's Emily in the bottom right, one of the leaders of the MCC - sponsored tour)

The quilt came to mind when I read this story today.

3Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. 34 And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.35 He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.36 So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded.”

I've read this story many times and have often thought about how cool it would be to have these kinds of abilities. My great-grandfather was a master carpenter/contractor and built a number of landmarks in Long Beach, CA. My grandfather built furniture from scratch, sometimes using just a photograph as a guide. And my mom has skills making fridge magnets and other cool items, but unfortunately, none of that skill got passed on to me.

As a teacher, and someone who would love to learn artistic skills, the phrase that really jumped out at me is verse 34. Both Bezalel and Oholiab had the ability to teach others. Not only were they skilled artisans, but they both had the ability to teach; a combination that can't always be assumed.

As a teacher, I want to be a person who combines knowledge with skill. I also want to find ways to make things with deep meaning like the women in Colombia. They used this medium to share a powerful story of hurt and loss. Their craftsmanship helped me to enter into their story.

Now I need to find more people like Bezalel and Oholiab to teach me how to hammer a nail or paint a picture.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dark Ink




"The strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink"- Chinese proverb.


Thanks for my friends Paul and Sally Nash who write Marker Posts and Shelters. I came across this proverb this week. It got me thinking about the numerous articles, tweets, thoughts, and videos that come across my desk each day. With most I think, "This is so amazing, I'll never forget this." And yet, as the proverb so aptly states, with only a few exceptions, these great ideas soon vanish like mist. 

So, encouraged by this proverb and the practice of Paul and Sally who blog regularly. I'm embarking on a regular blogging track. I'll be writing on whatever struck me that day. It might be a video I saw on Yahoo News. It might be a tweet, or a section of a book I'm reading, it might be something I read that morning as I sat with God. 

I know occasionally this will be read by others, but my reason for writing is so I don't forget what I'm learning along the way. 

I titled this post "dark ink." I'm hoping this practice and discipline will build a bridge to memory. 




Sunday, May 03, 2015

An unlikely activist




I'm an unlikely activist.


When I was a college student I was focused on preparation for ministry and ‘saving souls.’ My dreams, plans, and desires were how to be more effective in youth ministry, camps, mission trips, etc. I strove to be a person who made an impact, and what mattered was how the now impacted the ‘future coming glory.’


I recall one instance on my college campus where a student group was showing a film relating to to the actions of the CIA in El Salvador. At the time, I couldn't be bothered to go and see it, I wasn't into 'social justice.'


After a number of years in full-time ministry my story slowly began to change. Etched into my memory is a trip to Mexico, where our group lead a vacation Bible school (VBS), and one of the activities was a craft. On this day we had children glue beans and macaroni to a plate to make a picture. The VBS was held in a home and at the end we gave the leftover macaroni and beans to the hostess. As we were cleaning up to go back to our basecamp and American style dinner, I noticed the hostess sweeping the dirt floor to pick up the beans and macaroni that had fallen during the craft. It suddenly hit me that for her beans and macaroni were FOOD not craft materials. My North American cultural arrogance hit me hard. I determined at that point never to do a craft that included food items again.


My path toward activism continued to change after my wife and I went to Great Britain to live and work. My eyes were opened to a global world which was different than my sheltered American upbringing. I met followers of Jesus from a variety of cultures who thought and lived very differently to me.


While living in the UK I was able to travel to a number of countries, including Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was just after the war in the late '90's and I saw firsthand the devastation of extreme poverty. I had seen poverty in Mexico, but the depth of poverty in this war torn country was shocking.


That trip, and others around the globe like it, have shaped me in profound ways. My own naive college-student ideas of both theology and what 'social justice' meant has shifted.


In 2006 I heard about ONE and the work it was doing to alleviate poverty in Africa. My family had lived in the UK during the turn of the millennium when the "Make Poverty History" campaign began and at that time had tried to participate and promote it. Because the goals were similar, I signed up for ONE.


ONE is a bi-partisan organization which describes itself on the website ONE.org as: ONE is an international campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa because the facts show extreme poverty has already been cut by 60% and can be virtually eliminated by 2030, but only if we act with urgency now. Cofounded by Bono, we raise public awareness and work with political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency so governments are accountable to their citizens.”


As a point of entry into “activism”, with ONE it was easy to feel like an activist- the website is set up in such a way that all I needed to do was click and I was able to send a message to my congressperson on issues of poverty in Africa, mosquito nets, immunizations, and electricity. I was what some call a 'clicktavist' and it felt good to help.


My family moved to Wichita in 2013 and through conversation with the ONE headquarters I have become more involved. I agreed to the role of Regional Faith Leader (RFL) for Wichita. By this step I have moved deeper into activism.


The role of RFL led to me attending the ONE Power Summit in Washington DC at the beginning of March. I gathered with about 150 fellow ONE members from around the USA to learn more about the issues of global poverty to hear from policy makers from across party lines, and to spend a day on Capitol Hill talking to Senators and Congresspersons about issues of electricity, immunizations, and global HIV/Aids treatments. It was fun to visit Kansas lawmakers with fellow Kansans to talk about these issues.


I've come along way from college when I wouldn't see a film because it had to do with peace and justice. I now actively promote these issues because I see the Kingdom of God as much more than "pray a prayer so you can go to heaven when you die". I believe that the Church is called to make a difference here and now in this world. As Jesus says in Matthew 25:40: The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’


Please join me and the other 6 million ONE members from around the world by adding your voice to speak up for the world’s poor at ONE.org

I plan on writing more about ONE and issues of poverty in the future. Stay tuned.