Three Things: Three Course Meal

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Here’s some food for thought for the weekend.  What would be your best three course meal?  This topic of conversation first came up when I was in Uganda and we were somewhat sick of eating food with largely no taste or flavor.  So here’s my meal:

1. Appetizer- I would open up my meal with a Tri-tip Chopped Salad from Stonefire.  Its a restaurant in Santa Clarita, down the street from the college.  Every time I go, I get this salad.  Delicious!  You put their BBQ sauce on it.  And as a bonus, it would come with their bread sticks on the side.

2. Main Course- This is a tough one, but I think I have to say the Pasta Milano from Macaroni Grille.  It is so good, and I haven’t had it in awhile.  Thankfully, if I ever end up moving back to NH, they have one in northern Mass.  I remember when I first moved out here, I saw a Macaroni Grille and thought, wow, what a stupid name for a restaurant.  Do you grill macaroni?  The question remains.

3. I’m not a huge desert guy.  I generally don’t ever have room for it, because I love the main course so much.  Of course I love anything peanut butter, but I can’t really think of a desert that I would love.  So I’m going to throw in another main course.  I would have Baby Back Ribs.  From where, I’m not totally sure.  I really like some of Chilli’s, and had some AMAZING ribs in Kentucky a couple years ago.  I’ll be back in Kentucky in a few weeks, and I’m salivating just thinking about their meat.  mmmmmmmmm…………

So what’s yours?

We’re All in This Struggle Together!

As I have written here before, we’ve been going through an inductive study of Colossians in our High School Sunday School class. I lay out the concordances, commentaries, and theologies on the tables, and we walk through the verses, step by step. The goal is to help the high schoolers read and understand the Bible, and study it for themselves. They are also getting familiar with the tools, and learning what question to ask.

Once in awhile, we really see the light come on in the heads of the kids, and this past week, we had another one of those moments. We were covering 2:1-5, and Paul begins the passage talking about how he wants the Colossians to know the great struggle that he has for them. Paul’s struggles and tribulations weren’t news to them, but he wanted them to know why he struggled, which he explains in 1:28-29, saying that he desires them to presented mature in Christ.

As a side note, it is interesting to note the use of a pronoun in verse 29. Paul isn’t trying to be noble and self-promoting, but says that he struggles with God’s energy, not his own. Paul says he is struggling, toiling, growing weary, while he is striving with HIS energy.

But WHY does Paul want them to know the struggle that he has? So that their hearts may be encouraged, like their hearts being knit together. He wants them to know that he is experiencing these trials, he is enduring them, why he struggling, so that they will be encouraged. When they are falling into trials and tribulations, they know that Paul endured great trials, but not because he was a great, strong guy, but because God’s power is working through him. Paul knows that trials lay ahead of them, if they are not already enduring them.

But there is some interesting language used at the end of the passage that brings it all together. Paul tells them that he rejoices to see their good order adn the firmness of their faith in Christ. Upon some study, one of the students was excited to see that these the first word was often used as a military term. “The word described the orderly line of soldiers, without ragged sections or breaks.” Then the second term, stability, “comes from a word that is used to describe something as firm, stiff, strong, or solid. It can depict a castle or bulwark.” (“Studies in Colossians and Philemon” by Homer A. Kent Jr.)

2004_1656.jpgPaul’s message seems to be clear. The trials and tribulations that he has faced was not a unique situation for a believer, and that those believers, too, would face opposition. The nearest opposition was this heresy that Paul continues to address. It is mostly assumed to be a form of gnosticism. But Paul is not worried about the well-fare of this small church. He knew they were standing strong, ready to face an opponent that would challenge its very foundation, Jesus Christ. Their faith would be tested through false teaching, but Paul knew that they were knit together in love, founded in true doctrine, and would stand as one unit, against the enemy.

“Culture Shift” by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

If you know anything about the men that I look up to in the current evangelical environment, you know that Al Mohler is one of my favorites. He always offers a keen, Biblical perspective on whatever is happing in our world or in our culture. In a time where people are more concerned with political correct speech, Mohler stands out with his Biblically-correct speech. That is why, when I found out he was finally putting out his first book, (that’s right, he’s never written a book before this) I was pretty pumped. Even though I figure I’d be getting the book for free at the Together for the Gospel Conference next month, I couldn’t help but buy the book immediately. As it turns out, Mohler still hasn’t written a book…

That isn’t to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy his first book, “Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth”, it just isn’t really a book. It is closer to a collection of blog essays pumped up to be a collection of essays. The book is made up of essays dealing with a plethora of issues. Mohler addresses hot topics from abortion, public education, the separation of church and state, war, torture, freedom of speech, and recent disasters such as Katrina, the tsunami, and Hiroshima. With each topic, Mohler offers a succinct description of the debate, and how Christians have usually been approaching the subject unbiblically.

Mohler’s greatest concern isn’t necessarily trying to tell Christians how to think. You’ll notice that each chapter just offer a paragraph or two on what a Christian is to do. That is because Mohler isn’t trying to tell people how to think, more how not to. He is encouraging mainline, evangelical Christianity to stop reverting to the ‘christianese’ it has been speaking, and to search the Bible for a true, Christ-like perspective.

There are a few chapters that I absolutely loved. The first is one on how our society is raising a generation of wimps. Parents are following their children everywhere, saving them from any sort of pain, from rejection to the skinned knee. We are raising kids who can’t stand correction or admonition. They are getting to college and many don’t know how to swim in the currents of academic criticism. He points out how our schools are gradually giving out more A’s, and it isn’t because the the work is improving, but the standards are being lowered. Not every kid is going to be an outstanding student. Not every kid is going to excel on the fields. Not every kid is going to be the prom queen or king. It is a great chapter that every parent should read. I know I found it helpful and will be re-reading it as Micah grows older. (turning 1 this week!)

Another chapter that was fascinating was on the topic of abortion. Sonogram machines are being used to prevent abortions, and some of those that are pro-choice corner are saying it is unfair and basically brainwashing. Speaking of these places, one Planned Parenthood vice president had this to say: “From the time they walk into these centers, they are inundated with information that is propaganda and that has one goal in mind. And that is to have women continue in their pregnancies.” Now pick up your jaw off the floor. She says the ultrasound technology, “isn’t a matter of providing more knowledge, but an attempt to manipulate women.” So much for fighting for the woman’s right to choose. Now she’s fighting for the right to kill the child. The mother’s rights have largely been abandoned by many in the fight.

Mohler has another chapter on the changing perspective on abortion, mainly in the pro-choice corner. Many are beginning to come to out and say that they realize that abortion is a sick, depraved practice. He sights a debate that was had on slate.com between two pro-choice personalities. An interesting portion of the chapter was where the woman arguing that abortion wasn’t as bad said that she saw the time coming where unwanted pregnancies would “join obesity and smoking as unacceptable behavior in polite society.” Mohler, in reaction, wrote, “Taken by itself, this is a truly amazing comment. At the very least, it suggests that, in Katha Pollitt’s social circle, obesity and smoking are taken as genuine moral issues, while abortion- the killing of an unborn human- is not.”

Overall, the book was a very interesting read, and one that I would fully recommend. Being only 160 small pages, the reading doesn’t take long, and the topics are addressed thoroughly, but succinctly. But, Al, I’m still waiting for a book. I’d still love to have him sit down in one topic, flush it all out, and write the insightful masterpiece he is capable of.

Jr High Winter Camp 2008: Day 3

The final morning mostly consists of packing up the disaster zone that previously been a cabin. I’m pretty sure that a few health codes were broken, and am going to start working on a ‘stench-alarm’ that will go off when the air conditions become stained with the smell of unbathed boy, and become too dangerous to inhale. We went through the traditional, “Whose toothbrush? Whose sock? Whose underwear? (that one hardly ever is answered, condemning many pairs to trash)

The final session was focused on Paul’s mantra of making himself a slave to all so that he may win the more. The main concern for almost every human, especially Americans, is the claim to freedom. The Christian, instead is called to make themselves into slaves, often forsaking personal liberties and freedoms, in order to win more to Christ. This was a great message for a bunch of self-centered Jr Highers, calling them to live with other people in mind, rather than just themselves.

He pointed out that slavery in the Old Testament allowed for slaves to obtain freedom after a certain amount of years. But the option was there for them to continue willingly serving their masters and make themselves slaves. Interestingly, there isn’t a recorded occasion of a slave doing this. It just isn’t natural for humans to do. But when we see the testimony of Christ in Philippians 2, we see our Savior humbling himself, not considering equality with God something to be grasped, and became man. He was obedient, obedient to death, even death on the cross.

One thing that EVERYONE has in common is that everyone likes being served. Everyone likes for someone to serve them and help them. He challenged us to think about our world would look if Christians everywhere became servants and slaves willingly, on account of the Gospel. Not to look to do things for self-serving purposes, but to constantly have others in mind.

The meeting ended with a few final songs from the band, who played a few bluegrass numbers. We ended up clearing a lot of our seats to the side and had a little hoedown to ourselves in the back, wrapping up a fun weekend with just having a good time with each other. Soon, the meeting ended, ending a fun camp. The bus arrived, and we headed down the mountain. For most of the kids, the real battle starts now. Nothing of what happened at camp will mean anything if their lives don’t carry out the change.

We appreciate any prayer you can give us. These kids are surrounded with temptations and calls to live against everything the Gospel demands of them. They are still growing and desperately need the power of God to follow through on their decisions and convictions. It’s a long road, but Lord willing, the grace of God will lead them down it, meeting them in their weakest moments and pushing them on in times of feasting.

Jr High Winter Camp 2008: Day 2

Day two started bright and early, probably a little too early for many of the boys in my cabin. After a delicious breakfast of waffles, we hung out outside for awhile, waiting for them to set up for the morning chapel. The leaders all sat on an oversized wooden swing, and had boys duel with snowballs for our entertainment. Soon, the boys thought it would be a good idea to turn on 5 and throw the snowballs at us. Matt and I quickly dispelled the wisdom in such an action after applying a white wash and snow down the shirt. They must at some point learn that they don’t mess with leaders. Only each other at the command of the leaders.

In the morning session, Darin spoke from the parable of the branch and the vine in the Gospel of John. Again, he pressed upon the idea that it is not all about us. When people look at the tree, they don’t say, “My, what wonderful branches!” No one marvels at the production of the branches, because the branches are just tools used to grow the fruit. The true source of the fruit is the tree, and the branches are just tools.

He also spoke about the production of the fruit itself, and said that so often we attempt to duct tape fruit on. Darin would say things like, “Hey, check out this fruit. Yeah, I went on a missions trip. Check me out.” God isn’t impressed or glorified when we ‘do’ things or speak ‘Christianese’, while our hearts remained unchanged. Instead, we must acknowledge our dependence upon the vine, and produce the fruit that He has prepared for us.

After the morning session, we prepared and sent off the group that was going to the mountain for skiing and snowboarding. Since about half the group was staying behind, I stayed back with them. I have never been one to ‘embrace’ the mountain, but I was actually a little disappointed I wasn’t going out to the mountain. One of the downsides to the camp was a lot of downtime, and then after everyone left for the mountain, it felt like a lot of energy and life had been sucked from the camp.

After lunch, we had a scavenger hunt that made us run all over the camp making snow angels, throwing snowballs, finding clues, counting steps, and screaming “I’m a Little Tea Pot”. My team, affectionately named “The Steve Holts”, made a valiant attempt at victory. After a lot of running around, we got all our answers the right way (we didn’t ask the camp staff to answer them for us like other teams did).
Much of the afternoon was spent tubing, where we pushed the course to the limits, sending as many people down the course as they’d allow. Since there weren’t that many in line at this time of the day, we pretty much could do whatever we wanted. Later on in the free time we played some games inside. I taught them how to play ‘Phase 10’, and they even had a ‘Rock-em, Sock-em’, which only another leader would play with me.

Eventually, the rest of the group got back from the mountain. They were full of stories, and some were a little too red, spurning my advice to where sun-block. After showering (minus the boys in my cabin who unfortunately thought bathing was for losers), we had dinner and our evening session.

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Jr High Winter Camp 2008: Day 1

This past weekend was the second of our two winter camps, but this time it was the Jr High variety. For our Jr High winter camps, we go to a camp that is run by the camp and we join a few other churches there. The camp that we had been going to for as long as I have been doing Jr High winter camps had been going down hill the last few years. Administrationally, it had been slipping and too many things were spontaneous or last minute. As far as teachers go, it was usually more miss than hit. Last year was a good year, but it wasn’t necessarily appropriate for a winter camp environment and audience.

This fall I got a calendar of speakers from the normal camps in the mail, and one in particular jumped out at me. Pondorosa Pines Christian Camp had Darin McWatters speaking to at a Jr High/High School combo weekend. Darin works up at Hume Lake overseeing the high school camp and Joshua, the college program up there, among other things. He was the singer/songwriter in the band formerly known as Everybodyduck, and generally a cool guy who appreciates jeans and a t-shirt. He’s a very effective camp speaker, communicates well with students, and remains faithful to the Word of God. So just like that, we decided to change camps for an opportunity to guarantee a good speaker.

Day One

Unlike the last camp we had, this one got off without any problems. Everyone showed up on time, and we didn’t have any problems with paper work or payments. We got going the earliest we ever have and we off to camp. Since Leah and Micah weren’t coming, I was able to ride on the bus for the first time in a long time.  We played “Outburst!” on the way up, and before we knew it, we were ascending the mountains!

Upon arriving everyone unloaded, I checked everyone in, and we found our way to our cabins.  When I walked in the Registration building, I was surprised to see Danny Lee checking his church in.  For those of you who don’t know Danny, he was the recruiter from Master’s that stayed at my house when I was in high school.  He interviewed me and helped convince me to go to Master’s.  Then we went to Seminary together, where is still taking the 12 year plan, while working at his church. It was nice being there and getting to catch up with him throughout the weekend.

There is nothing like being at a camp for the first time, trying to find where in the world your cabin is in the dark.  Thankfully, I was able to find the path and made it safe and sound through the woods.   Upon arriving at the cabin, I couldn’t find my stuff.  My first thought was that Russ, one of our leaders, had left it on the bus on purpose.  This all traces back to the year when he left his bags on the bus and was left without baggage and a sleeping bag for three days.  To this day, he thinks I hid his bags on the bus.  I keep telling him I wish I had thought of it, because it would be hillarious, but alas, it wasn’t me.

Then I found out from another person that they had announced they had my bags and Russ volunteered to take them.  When I heard this, I thought I was a goner.  He played stupid, like he didn’t know what happened.  After a little while, I found my sleeping bag and pillow in the snow between two cabins, and a straggling Jr Higher had my backpack of clothes.  I usually know where my stuff is when we’re unloading at camp, because Russ keeps threatening for payback for something I didn’t do, but failed to do that this year.

When we came together for our first chapel, Darin spoke on John 3:25-30.  It is the passage about John the Baptist deferring to Christ.  He spoke on how part of elevating our faith is subjecting ourselves to Christ and decreasing so He must increase.  It isn’t that he needs that which we can give to him, but that everything in John’s ministry was Christ’s.  He used the illustration of the Best Man and that his responsibility is to rejoice and support the Bridegroom.   The Best Man serves no other role other than to be happy for the groom.  It would be insane for the Best Man to take the attention at the service or to even kiss the bride.  That isn’t his role or his place.

The whole weekend was a great message of telling the Jr Highers that they aren’t the center of the universe.  They aren’t the most important thing since sliced bread, and that they must submit themselves to a holy and righteous God.  Their value is not in who they are in and of themselves, but in the God who has redeemed them.

After chapel, we had church time, where we spoke about how we need to defer in our lives.  Then we had free time where a bunch of us went to the tubing hill and had some fun there until 11pm.  It was nice and icy, so we were cruising down pretty quickly.  After a late night corn dog snack, we headed to our cabins for the night, which is always half the battle with Jr Highers.  I want to take this opportunity to apologize to Ian Graves, Matt Graves, Roger Morby, Dave Scott, Bob Hastings, and whoever else was a leader who had the misfortune of being my leader in the cabin at camps.  I guess this is cosmic payback.

Day 2 and 3 to come!

Luther No Longer a Heretic, Can Finally Rest in Peace

In case you missed it, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Martin Luther actually wasn’t a heretic. According to the Pope, Luther never intended to split the Catholic Church, which is actually true. He never intended to split, but was trying to invite a dialogue and discussion over the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Many don’t realize this, but the 95 Theses he nailed to the church doors was written in Latin, not German, which was the language of the people. If he was trying to insight a rebellion, he would have written them down in a language the people could understand.

Pope Benedict XVI says that he was trying to cleanse the Catholic Church, and for that should not be condemned. Benedict is attempting to be seen as a benevolent, uniting force, but is fighting quite a bit of history in order to do that. Luther was condemned as a heretic by Pope Leo X, and called “a drunken German who will change his mind when sober”. He carefully researched Luther’s statements, and declared that he must recant 41 of these statements or face excommunication. This was done with a Papal Bull, or an edict, called ‘Exsurge Domine’. In the ‘Decet Romanum Pontificem‘ on January 3, 1521, Luther was officially excommunicated.

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According to Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), all Popes are infallible, that is without mistake. Even Pope Leo XII (1885) went as far as saying that the Pope holds ‘upon this earth the place of God Almighty’. These are tall responsibilities and privileges that
Popes have claimed for centuries. Vatican Council 1 in 1870 declared that when a Pope speaks ‘ex cathidra’, which is when a Pope is teaching or preaching, his words are declared truth and teachings of the whole Catholic Church. There is no doubt that they teach that Popes are infallible.

This begs a question: Is Pope Benedict XVI declaring that Pope Leo X was not infallible? It seems as if Benedict is correcting Leo, saying he was incorrect. Of course this wouldn’t be the first time that Popes have contradicted themselves, just the most recent example. According to Vatican I, if you don’t believe that Peter was the first Pope, you are anathema. This stance was softened by Vatican II, and by Benedict, who has reached out even to the Muslim world, in an effort to build bridges to Catholicism throughout the world.

An interesting side discussion would be, what in Catholic terms, does this do to Luther’s eternal soul? Is he now released from purgatory? Was he in Hell, but now gets a direct promotion to Heaven upon further review?

We won’t know anything for sure, but Benedict is going to release his findings in September, so we will sit by idly, waiting with baited breath! One thing I can say for certain, Luther doesn’t care what Benedict thinks of him right now.

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Side Note: an interesting Catholic view of Luther’s life. Though often difficult to follow due to odd language, sentence structure, and numerous links, it is none the less interesting to read a Catholic perspective on Luther.