27 June 2008

Condoning, Condemning, and Cardboard

I thought these devotional thoughts from Eugene Peterson go well with the Cardboard Testimonies video I found on my friend's blog.

Condoning is the way of the sentimental humanist, the person who cannot bear to see others suffer the consequences of his own actions and wants to make everything all right with Mercurochrome and Band-Aids. Condemning is the way of revengeful barbarians, people who cannot bear to face themselves and who want to make everything all right by getting rid of the offense. Condoning and condemning are both wrong for the same reasons: they refuse to take seriously the integrity of the other person, and to accept the fact that personal choice has personal consequences; they refuse to accept children as persons in their own right and not just extensions of the parent; and they refuse to take seriously the promises of God, to believe that God is capable of bringing good out of evil, healing out of suffering, peace out of disorder, resurrection out of crucifixion. They refuse to believe in Jesus Christ.

Jesus stood up and spoke to her. "Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?"
"No one, Master."
"Neither do I," said Jesus. "Go on your way. From now on, don't sin."
- John 8:10-11

Cardboard Testimonies video:

18 June 2008

A Planet that Groans

"As long as we continue to croon romantic ballads about God as a heavenly sweetheart . . . we're going to have difficulties facing a planet that groans under a curse." from page 10 of Jim McGuiggan's new book, _Celebrating the Wrath of God: Reflections on the Agony and the Ecstasy of His Relentless Love_

I just thought this was a though-provoking teaser from a book I'd like to read.

15 June 2008

What Did You Expect?

What Did You Expect? (a version of a sermon preached today in Round Rock, Texas)

Can Jason really go to grad school? Surprise. He did.
Can anything good really come out of Oklahoma? Surprise. Braum’s.
Surprise, indicated by sudden raising of the eyebrows, usually leads to one or a blend of three responses: fear, joy, or confusion. Joy is the response that comes from finding the surprises that God has in store.

I was trying to make sense of something. A widow, Luisa, and her family. Grief. Depended on God for every handful of flour and every drip of olive oil. I sensed God saying, “Get up, and go,” so I finally went over there. I said, “Here, I thought I would bring you some oranges.” I gave them a big sack of oranges. They were too sour for me so I was glad they started cutting them up and sharing slices around to several of her children—the youngest, a 10-year-old. I wanted to see if they really were hungry enough to eat these sour oranges. So I found out that not a single person out of that whole sad-faced house could stand to take even a second bite of the oranges I had brought. Except, one granddaughter. She started sucking on a half orange held by her mom and every time her mom would pull it away, the little girl who could hardly stand on two legs would scream, “Aaah!” And momma would hold that sour orange back up to her mouth and, “Suck, suck, suck.” We kind of laughed for a little while because the oranges were so ridiculously sour and because of this little girl, but then, we went back to grief and for a few more minutes we sad there depressed, tears streaming down the ten-year-old’s face. I thought, “Well, the oranges didn’t really count for bringing something to encourage them. What else can I give them?” And that’s when I thought of this story in 1 Kings 17 where God does something remarkable. It began to make sense of my life and what I was experiencing.

1 Kings 17:2-16
Then the Lord spoke his word to Elijah: “Leave here, turn east, and hide beside the Cherith River, which is east of the Jordan River. You can drink from the stream, and I’ve commanded ravens to feed you there.”

Elijah left and did what the word of the Lord had told him. He went to live by the Cherith River, which is east of the Jordan River. Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening. And he drank from the stream.

But after some time the stream dried up because no rain had fallen in the land.

Then the Lord spoke his word to Elijah: “Get up, go to Zarephath (which belongs to Sidon), and stay there. I’ve commanded a widow there to feed you.”

He got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town’s entrance, a widow was gathering wood. He called to her, “Please bring me a drink of water.” As she was going to get it, he called to her again, “Please bring me a piece of bread, too.”

She said, “I solemnly swear, as the Lord your God lives, I didn’t bake any bread. I have one handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I’m gathering wood. I’m going to prepare something for myself and my son so that we can eat it and then die.”

Then Elijah told her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home, and do as you’ve said. But first make a small loaf and bring it to me. Then prepare something for yourself and your son. This is what the Lord God of Israel says: Until the Lord sends rain on the land, the jar of flour will never be empty and the jug will always contain oil.”

She did what Elijah had told her. So she, Elijah, and her family had food for a long time. The jar of flour never became empty, and the jug always contained olive oil, as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

So I thought about that story and thought, “God must have commanded this widow to give me something! That’s it! What is it?” She had all these kids around and I thought, “Well, they don’t have a bunch of CDs like I have. They probably know how to sing.” So while everybody was silent and sad-faced and exhausted looking, I said, “Could you all sing me a song?” They looked at me with a little surprised, but not too surprised and Luisa said, “Well, can you sing us a song?” So I tried to think of an appropriate song to sing. I had just made up one a couple weeks previous and it was short and sombre so I sang it:

Make me humble,
Make me grateful.
Make me laugh and make me cry;
Bring me to my knees.
You’re so merciful and I’m so in need—
To be what you created me to be.

Well, it took about 15 seconds for the family to come up with the first of several songs to sing. The kids began leading praise songs around God and Jesus. We had church right there in the middle of that. I realized, with surprise, that God brought joy to me through a widow and her family who seemed on the surface not to have anything to share with me. But they did. How did they have something I needed?

And who is the Lord of creation? Who is the Ruler of rulers and CEO of the universe, but Jesus, son of Joseph of hometown Nazareth, the Lamb of God who looks like it’s been slaughtered? Would we ever have thought that he had something we needed? I don’t know that I would even have noticed him walk by.

Isaiah 53:2,
. . . He had no form or majesty that would make us look at him.
He had nothing in his appearance that would make us desire him.

And yet, he is the King of all ages. The indescribable and ultimate gift to humanity and the only hope for all creation. All wisdom, power, honor, and strength belong to him! The Lamb—surprise!—has everything we need! As the song goes, “Who would have thought that a Lamb could rescue the souls of men?”

And what are his people like? Who follows this Lamb?

Matthew 4:24,
. . . People brought him everyone who was sick, those who suffered from any kind of disease or pain. They also brought epileptics, those who were paralyzed, and people possessed by demons, and he cured them all.

Are you one who is being brought to Jesus?
Or, are you one who is bringing others to Jesus?
I think we take turns, don’t we? Sometimes bringing, sometimes being brought. Sometimes we’re ravens, naturally obedient to God and not even surprised by our own dependence on him. Sometimes we’re Elijah, trusting God confidently enough to ask the first widow or street kid we come across for something we need. Sometimes we’re the widow or her son, good-hearted enough to let faith grow and all we really need is a friend whom we can serve with our last handful of flour and last drip of olive oil. We take turns at these different characters, but let’s never take God’s turn. Never get tired of expecting God to surprise us—taking care of us and letting us take care of others in the most unfamiliar circumstances.

One time there was a house with a woman standing on its front porch with a cigarette and a scowl. She cussed at people who walked by. She would go inside and slam the door if you tried to say, “G’day,” to her. But if we hadn’t gone inside, we wouldn’t have realized that her husband (I can’t remember his name) was taking the best care of her that he could. And inside that house he had a small gathering of whoever would come. And he was preaching the Good News to them and leading them in praise songs. That’s where we got to hear the Good News. That’s where the Kingdom came—in the least expected place.

Good Father, please give me the ‘get up and go’ to seek your providence in the people and places I least expect. In the name of the One who is much greater than what we expected, Amen.

14 June 2008

Human Microbiome

Six Tribes of Bacteria Live in Your Inner Elbow

The crook of your elbow is a special ecosystem that provides a bountiful home to six tribes of bacteria. Even after you wash, there are still 1 million bacteria living on every square centimeter.

These bacteria are what biologists call commensals, helpful rather than harmful organisms. They moisturize your skin by processing the raw fats that it produces.

The bacteria were discovered as part of the human microbiome project, a study researching all of the various microbes that live in people. The project is in its early stages, but has already established that the bacteria in the human microbiome collectively possess at least 100 times as many genes as the 20,000 or so in the human genome.

The bacterial cells also outnumber human cells by 10 to 1.

Humans depend on their microbiome for essential functions, including digestion, leading microbiologists to conclude that a person should really be considered a superorganism.
New York Times May 23, 2008
Genome Research May 23, 2008
Science May 22, 2008

(Were You Aware… 80% of Your Immune System is Located in Your Digestive System?
So, to effectively promote your immune system health, you need to look no further than your intestinal tract. Probiotics (Greek “for life’) can be a great way to start promoting your digestive health and overall health as well.)

Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Isn’t it wonderful that your body is its own living ecosystem, teeming with beneficial bacteria?

Well, for some it may prompt you to grab a bar of antibacterial soap and run for the shower, but you couldn’t wash all the bacteria off your body if you tried -- nor would you want to. Unfortunately, modern society is unhealthily obsessed with being “clean,” despite the fact that “commensal,” or beneficial, bacteria play a large role in keeping you alive.

You and Your Bacteria: A Symbiotic Relationship

There are 70 known tribes of commensal bacteria that could be living on your body right now. The word commensal comes from the Latin term “com mensa,” which means “sharing a table.”

Take, for instance, the Nile crocodile and the tiny Egyptian plover bird. The bird flies into the crocodile’s mouth, makes a meal out of the leeches and other debris on its gums, and in turn the croc gets its teeth cleaned. This is a symbiotic relationship at its finest.

Similarly, the bacteria that inhabit your body are serving a great purpose.

Those in your gut, for instance, feed on sugars you eat and convert the hydrogen they produce into methane. The bacteria on your inner elbow, meanwhile, process the raw fats it produces and in turn moisturize your skin.


The Price You Pay for Killing Your Bacteria

There are about 100 trillion microorganisms -- bacteria, fungi and more -- living on and in your body. Despite this magnitude, science is only beginning to unravel their impact on your health.

Most obviously, it’s known that altering the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract can weaken your immune system and cause trouble to your digestive functions. But bacteria have an impact well beyond that. Even the National Institutes of Health cites research showing that “variations in the composition of microbial communities may contribute to chronic health conditions, including diabetes, asthma, obesity and digestive disorders.”

For instance:
The types of bacteria in a baby’s gut may determine their risk of being overweight or obese later in life.
Gut bacteria play a role in fighting colon cancer.
The disappearance of H. pylori, the bacteria responsible for peptic ulcers, may contribute to the obesity epidemic, as it regulates the production of leptin and ghrelin.
A daily dose of friendly bacteria known as probiotics might help treat autism, irritable bowel disease, acne and premenstrual syndrome.
How to Nourish Your Body’s Friendly Bacteria

The healthy bacteria that reside on your body are constantly under attack. The biggest offenders?

1. Antibiotics
2. Antibacterial soaps
3. A poor diet, specifically one high in sugar, grains and processed foods

While antibiotics and antibacterial soaps simply kill all the bacteria in and on your body -- both good and bad -- a poor diet actually feeds bad bacteria. Eventually, the disease-causing bacteria will be able to overtake the good bacteria, and this is when disease results.

So, what can you do to keep your body’s ecosystem thriving and, most importantly, in balance?

1. Avoid antibiotics if at all possible. Only take them as a last resort, and when absolutely necessary. If you do take antibiotics, be sure to take a high-quality probiotic supplement upon finishing the treatment to replenish your body’s good bacteria.

2. Avoid antibacterial soaps. They will cause the production of resistant bacterial strains and are toxic. Plain soap and water is all you need.

3. Eat a diet tailored to your nutritional type. This will give you the foods your body (and its bacteria) will thrive on.

4. Avoid sugar and grains, which feed bad bacteria.

5. Eat organic meat and dairy products, as conventional varieties can contain high levels of antibiotic residues.

6. Eat fermented foods like kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, or, my favorite, natto. These foods are naturally rich in good bacteria that will help to keep your gut bacteria in balance.

7. Take a high-quality probiotic supplement, particularly while you get your diet on the right track.

03 June 2008

My Friend's in Australia

My friend and teammate, Shawn, is in Australia at the moment. He's been bloggin' and I wanted to share his blog with . . . you guys. I'm living in Austin, TX now where "you guys" is not a gender-specific call. Nicole and I are experiencing a bit of culture shock of our own here, but it's mostly good.

We're especially excited about getting to know the people in the Round Rock congregation.

Well, here's Shawn's blog: http://everythingshawn.blogspot.com/