Monday, May 30, 2011

Thankful on this Memorial Day

I saw a cartoon with several people complaining about the heat, the price of gas, the quality of food at a picnic. Then one guy turns around and sees a graveyard which is the final repose of soliders who have given their lives in service of their country, securing the freedom which we celebrate. He responded, "I don't think I'm going to complain about the high cost of anything this weekend."

The Art of Manliness shared a bit of the story of the Band of Brothers, World War II's Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (highlighted Stephen Ambrose’s book and the HBO miniseries). They describe them as follows...
"The men of Easy Company were a highly elite group; they made it through the demanding training of Camp Toccoa (including endless runs 3 miles up and 3 miles down Georgia’s Currahee Mountain), parachuted into Normandy for D-Day and Holland for Operation Market Garden, fought the Germans and the freezing cold in the Battle of the Bulge, liberated concentration camps, and secured the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountaintop retreat.

And yet these men never bragged about their service when they returned home. They simply got to work in building a life for themselves–enjoying their families, participating in their communities, and relishing the simple things in life."
There are now less than two million survivors of World War II alive today. If you have a chance, listen to the stories of those who have made it back from war, as we remember with gratitude those who did not. May God bless those those who serve and have served their country, and we thank the people and families of those who gave their very life in such service.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Start with the WHY

Mark Howell (my favorite small group blogger) highlighted a TED talk by Simon Sinek called "Start with Why. It's got some great illustrations, and I love these two quotes:

Martin Luther King Jr. said "I have a dream!" not "I have a plan!"

"What you do serves as the proof of what you believe."  (Ironically, this was really the take home lesson in our recent Bible study in James 2 :)

Here is the video for Simon's TED talk:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Insights from James - Part 3

This week our men's Bible study group looked at the third chapter of the book of James. As usual it was a great time of learning and fellowship. Not only did we discuss cars, rifles, unusual forms of dancing, and philosophy, we also strove to understand how tame the tongue and what it means to seek wisdom. The focus of our discussion yesterday was verses 13-18, about wisdom.
"[13] Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. [14] But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. [15] Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. [16] For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. [17] But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. [18] Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness."  (James 3:13-18, NIV)
I won't try to give an expository sermon here, but these are some key insights from our study:
  • In essence wisdom = seeing things from God's perspective
  • Likewise humility = a right view of yourself
  • v13: Understanding God's view gives us a right view of ourselves, helps us see others as God does, and compels us from His love to care for them.
  • Wisdom then is not a body of safe information you get (like accumulation of knowledge) but rather an ongoing sensitivity to the Holy Spirit which tunes us in to how God sees us and the world
  • Envy demonstrates a misunderstanding of God's view, and selfish ambition displays a wrong view about ourselves
  • Why is it key that wisdom is pure? You can understand and live out several of these virtues from a very wrong motive (as legalists) without being wise.
  • Peace-loving, being a peacemaker, is not being a doormat. It's not a worldly peace defined by a lack of an external conflict, rather a Jewish peace of Shalom - a deeper harmony based on unity in God.
  • Note the other attributes of godly wisdom: considerate, submissive, full of mercy - these are all characteristics that place other people as equal or more important than yourself. That's the key to Christ-like humility, and a faith that honors God. 
Are there other insights or takeaways you have from this passage?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Public service announcement on cooking pork

I read this over at 22 words and just had to pass it along...

The USDA has changed its stance on how to cook pork, and now asserting that it's ok if pork is a bit pink. More specifically, 145 degrees for whole meats including pork steaks, roasts and chops. (Why is this? The main risk for pork was the parasite trichinosis, but that really hasn't been seen since the 1950's.)

The Huffington post has another article confirming the change and hailing the new guidelines, as they note the old ones were "waaaay out of date and universally ignored by Chefs and skilled cooks."

What about chicken you ask? Great question! The safe temperature for cooking chicken remains the same, 165 degrees F, due to the very real threat of salmonella which is common in commercial chicken. Good hygiene and proper temperatures are important for handling and cooking poultry.

Ground beef and ground meets other than pork should still be cooked fairly well, up to 160F. Even if you love rare steak, there's really no advantage to getting all red inside your burger.

Beef steaks still have a 'recommended' temp of 145F (due to threat of E.Coli), but steakhouses would go out of business going more than 130-135F when the customer requests it rare-medium rare. Why do people cook it at lower temperatures without problem? Well, the harmful bacteria tend to be on the outside, and the searing of the steak over 300 degrees instantly kills them. Note! This is why if you cook medium rare steaks you should not poke holes in with a fork! You'll push any contaminants to the inside which will not reach sufficient temperature to kill them.

Thought you might like to know :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Insights from James - Part 2

Our discussion of James 2 in my men's Bible study was quite interesting. There are two main themes in this chapter. The first is about showing (or not showing) favoritism. The key there is not that we can't recognize who is poor, rich, old or young, but that we tend to judge people based on external appearance, and to discriminate against them based on this faulty judgement. The text reminds us that we too will be judged, and that mercy triumphs over justice.

The most challenging part about James 2 is the teaching on the relationship between faith, deeds, and salvation.

- v14 asks if faith unaccompanied by works can save us? (v20 answers it's foolish to think so)
- v19 points out that even demons "believe" - that's not enough
- v21 suggest Abraham was "considered righteous" for his deeds (v22 expands that his faith and deeds were working together)
- v24 "You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone." (NIV)

So, what's the problem?

- Hebrews 11 talks about the supreme role that faith plays in salvation and righteous living, noting that Abraham was a man of faith
- Romans 4 and Galatians 3 seem to be crystal clear that salvation comes through faith alone, and in fact say Abraham was made righteous because of his faith. For example: "We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness." (Rom 4:9, NIV). Also v24: "God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."
- Eph 2:8-9 is also clear: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." (NIV)

Are these two authors teaching a contradictory view of salvation?

The answer is clearly: No. Paul is focusing on the angle of the means and cause of our salvation (repentance that results in faith in what Christ has done to save us from our sins) while James is simply looking at another angle - the natural result or demonstration of a faith that in fact saves is a manifestation of a changed life, of good deeds that spring from understanding and living in God's love. Paul's target was non-Christians (Jews) who were trying to justifying/save themselves by their good deeds and following the law. James is speaking to Jewish Christians (especially those suffering from persecution) who would prefer to rest on their laurels of believe and live life the way they want.

How do we confuse this? We've reduced the word "believe" to mere mental assent. (The demons believe in Christ.) Faith is believe in action. If you tell me that you believe an old wooden chair will hold you, but will not sit in it, then your believe is not faith. Faith is demonstrated by sitting in the chair. The act sitting down isn't what makes it faith, but shows it. The same Greek word 'pisteuō' is sometimes translated as 'believe' and other times 'to have faith'. The original readers didn't see two words - it is the modern mind which cheapens the idea of believe to an intellectual agreement. The other point of confusion is that the greek word 'dikaioō' sometimes means  "declared righteous" (as in Romans 4:2, 5:1, 5:9) but can also mean "demonstrates righteousness" (as here in James 2:21, 2:24, 2:25). The completed work of Christ on the cross, an act of grace received by faith, is what justifies us (makes us righteous), but our deeds and love for one another demonstrate that this righteousness has been made real in our lives. I John 1:6-7 point out that if we walk in darkness, with no fruit or good deeds, our faith is a sham and the truth is not in us, while if we walk in the light, then Christ's blood in fact has paid the price for our sins.

Its no coincidence that Ephesians 2:10 follows v8-9: "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." We are saved in order that we might do good works - it is not true that we must do good works in order to be saved. This is a critical distinction, but one that should be clear from studying all the passages mentioned above.

Monday, May 2, 2011

KJV 400th Anniversary

On May 2nd, 1611, the King James Version of the Bible was published by the Church of England. Today marks the 400th anniversary of this landmark translation. It's not the first English version, but the most influential in putting the Scriptures into the language of the common man.

The online bible YouVersion is celebrating today with a virtual flash mob - a reading of the entire King James Bible in just 400 seconds, at noon today. Those who register get assigned a random chapter to read. I have to laugh at 'random' - out of the 1189 chapters of the Bible which did I end up getting? James 2 - the very chapter I'm studying this week in my men's Bible study!?! How cool is that :)

James 2, KJV
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.