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Archive for November 2009

Census Anger?

In the message on 2 Samuel 24 “A sacrifice that costs nothing”, I mentioned that I would blog about the difficult Bible question: “Why was God so mad about the census?” Wasn’t David simply counting people? Well, today, I am trying something new…a video blog. The answer to that question can be found in the video below!

Angry at Census? from CCC Omaha on Vimeo.

Is English a big deal in the Middle East?

In my last blog I talked about my first impression of the culture in the Middle East and how different it is than I expected. Another aspect of my experience in this part of the world was to learn about the role of the English language. When I tell somebody about my trip they usually ask me, “Do they speak English?” The answer is, “Many of the people speak some English, but I was surprised at how important the English language has become.”

For instance, in one of the countries I visited, English as Second Language (ESL) programs are booming because they recognize that English is the language of the business world. In fact, professional job interviews are done in English and not in Arabic, so the better you speak English the better chance you have of getting a higher level position. In some of the other places I visited, English is also important because their economy relies on tourists from Europe and the West and so its obviously important that they know English.

There are many ministries in this part of the that world that use ESL training as a great tool to build relationships with the Arabic speaking people. As I had an opportunity to sit in and observe a few of these programs, I realized it would be very easy for a guy like me who is a native speaker in only one language (English) to teach ESL and yet also build relationships with Arabs and just show them the love of Christ in my own language. I had this experience as I sat down in a coffee shop after an ESL class and just started talking to two Arabic men. We talked for an hour about all kinds of things and they asked me all kinds of questions. They got to have a conversation in English and I got to build new relationships in my own language.

I should also say I appreciated the integrity of the ESL programs that I visited. They do not teach ESL as a way to slip in teaching about Jesus or as a way to manipulate people. They truly provide excellent ESL programs that are focused on teaching English. They have developed reputations in the community as programs that provide excellent ESL training with teachers who really care about their students. What an excellent way to be salt and light!

Baptism as Drama

Baptism is a drama. It re-enacts the power of the cross of Jesus Christ and puts on display the work of Christ in a human life. I had the joy of explaining this to a young woman who is going to be baptized along with about 15 or so other people this weekend at Christ Community Church. With each person seeking to be baptized, a pastor or an elder at CCC takes time to sit down, hear their story and talk about what baptism means.

Baptism is a celebration of salvation whereby a believer dramatizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in the act of being submerged in water. A person being baptized is identifying with the death-penalty of sin. Without the death of Jesus on behalf of a sin-broken world, we’d all drown at the bottom of the baptistry – weighed down by sin’s fatal verdict.

Paul says it this way in Romans 6:1-5

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

Because baptism is a reenactment of Jesus’ experience, we fortunately need not drown our baptismal candidates! The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is also our experience. Sin kills us. Sin buries us. Sin separates us. But only till the grace of God applies the cross of Christ to our lives and raises us from the dead – just like Christ!

This little one-act drama we call baptism, then, serves as perhaps the most significant symbolic act a Christian can experience. It portrays the daily dying to sin and self that real Christianity can’t get around. It puts on display the resurrection power of God in raising Jesus from the dead and the finality of sin and death’s defeat! Mostly, it gives us hope and practical power to live a life of unity with Jesus and victory over sin in our life.

Come watch the drama and share in the joy of people made new by Jesus!

Chuck Norris

After the message about David’s Mighty Men – 2 Samuel 23 – and the profound parallels between Benaiah and Chuck Norris, I have had some great emails, facebooks and other references to the nearly infinite powers of Chuck Norris. Here are some of my favorites:

* Chuck Norris can divide by zero
* If you are playing scrabble and you spell Chuck Norris, you automatically win…forever
* Chuck Norris does not wear a watch. HE decides what time it is!
* Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.
* Outer space exists because it is afraid of Chuck Norris
* Chuck Norris has already been to Mars. That is why there are no signs of life there.
* Superman owns a pair of Chuck Norris pajamas
* Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table of the elements because he only recognizes the element of surprise!

And in case you missed the sermon:
* When Chuck Norris does pushups, hes not pushing his body up, he’s pushing the earth down
* When the boogeyman goes to bed at night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris
* Chuck Norris can lead a horse to water AND make him drink
* Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo is hiding.

Oh, and just for fun. Go to Google. Type “Find Chuck Norris” and click “I’m feeling Lucky.” You’ll crack up!

Silence is Golden?

Earlier this week I blogged on an Newsweek article about silence. The article explains that C.S. Lewis mentions in his book, “The Screwtape Letters,” that he envisions hell as a very, very noisy place and that the Devil dests music and silence.

In the Middle Ages, Christian scholars believed that Satan did not want human beings to be alone with God, or with each other, fully alert and listening.

I was intrigued with that statement. I decided to not listen to the radio or music while in the car. I also committed to not listening to my iPod Nano while working out or watching TV while on an elliptical or arc trainer.

Three days into it….so far so good. Weird, but good.

With that little bit of silence or escape from noise I’ve discovered I am thinking more, thinking more of other people, singing or humming songs from Sunday and planning more. In my commute, I’m also hearing a variety of noises I never heard before. I’ve heard the sounds of other cars, the rattles and creaks of my ’97 Honda Accord, how the road makes different sounds depending on the lane or type of road.

How about you? Do you have moments of silence to flow over you during the day? Time to just sit and think or observe life, without noise washing over you?

Hell is very, very noisy

At least, that is what C.S. Lewis states in his book, The Screwtape Letters. Mr. Lewis describes Satan as one who detests music and silence and whose goal is to make thewhole universe a noise.

Julia Baird in her Newsweek article “The Devil Loves Cell Phones” adresses an issue we all struggle with. Silence. Whether it is music playing in the car, iPod, or via Muzak or the tendency to have the TV as white noise – we are daily emmersed in noise.

This past week I have been hunting. Which entails sitting still in the woods for hours on end. It has been during those times that I have had time to think, evaluate, pray and reflect on life. I have seen nature flow before me, I have seen shadows move and stars shift in their heavenly positions. It was for the most part – a worshipful experience.

Time at first crawled by minute by minute. However, after several days of hunting and sitting, time started going by fast and I eventually was surprised that an hour had passed by without once looking at the time.

After hunting and reading this article, I have decided that for the next few weeks I am going to keep the car radio off and look for opportunities to say no to filling my life with noise. I’ll keep you updated on my progress in grabbing nuggets of silence.

Predicting Jesus – Schedule

Predicting Jesus

Wanted to put a word for Gathering this weekend. This three-week series will be an exploration in the world of Old Testament Prophets. John Holmes will take us inside the mind of God’s special spokesmen from antiquity whose message spoke boldly to their own world as well as the future. Here are some of the questions John will be addressing:

Why are there prophets in the Bible, and how did God speak to Israel through them?
Where did they come from (they weren’t priests, they weren’t kings)?
Where women prophets legitimate in the life of God’s people?
How did God speak to the prophet?
What happened to the prophet if what they said did not come true?
Where they listened to?
Why did so many of them meet an unfortunate end?

Come on out and bring your questions as well! Keep in mind what the schedule will be for this series. We’re on this weekend – John Holmes. We’re off next weekend (Thanksgiving Weekend). And then we’ll be back on for two more weeks!

December Outreach Run

December is a month when all of our culture remembers the manger. Sure, it is often disguised as commercialism, TV specials and gaudy decorations, but the origin of it all is the baby in Bethlehem. As such, it is the perfect time to be reaching out in love and with the message of Jesus. It is our best time of year to include friends in our circles of influence and take the practical love and generostiy of Christ to a needy world.

Here are some great opportunities:

1) Operation Angel Tree – buy gifts for kids whose parents are incarcerated and might not have gifts under their tree. Details in the Atrium.

2) Christmas Caroling in Nursing Homes – Join one of many groups spending time with Seniors who can feel especially lonely this time of year. Worship leaders can tell you the details.

3) Ministry options – From filling shoeboxes of goodies for kids in Uganda to buying food for Omaha families in need, different ministries in the church are taking initiative to share God’s love. Check with your ministry leader for details.

4) Morning in Bethlehem – December 12, at CCC – Families with preschoolers will love the opportunity for a morning of interactive storytelling, crafts, and family-oriented experiences to remember Jesus as the center of Christmas.

5) Lee Strobel – Bestselling Author, Journalist, Amazing Speaker will be speaking at CCC December 12 for a special Saturday Service and then at both Sunday morning services on the 13th. Sarpy will be having Lee via video the same day! He will be speaking on the Case for Christmas in a service that will be optimal for newcomers.

6) Choir Outreach – The Choir will be presenting a powerful performance called “The King” – Saturday December 19 in the evening and Sunday December 20 during services in the Worship Center only.

7) Christmas Eve – Everybody goes to church on Christmas eve, right? Bring your friends to this fantastic night of singing carols and looking to the manger for the power, hope and love of God-who-became-human.

8) Birthday Parties for Jesus. If you have kids, consider having a birthday party for Jesus. It is a simple way to gather kids in your neighborhood together for fun and an opportunity to tell the REAL christmas story. Check it out at the kids ministry booths in the Atrium.

This year, consider how you might impact your family, friends, coworkers or neighbors! Be intentional about using your life for Christ in December!

My first impression of the Middle East

Wow! That’s my genuine reaction after making my first visit to the Middle East. In so many ways this place is at the center of world history both in the past and in the present. Living in a place like America where we have so much freedom and no real enemies near our borders, I was not really sure what to expect.

In early November I spent time in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia (actually North Africa), and I can honestly say it was much, much different than I anticipated. All of these countries are dominated by Muslim Arabs, although there is some historical Christian presence as well. Here’s how it was different than I expected:

It was not at all scary or intimidating. Ok, I confess, even though I have traveled quite a bit internationally, I had some typical western trepidation about being in a land full of Arab people. Sure, perhaps I was a bit naive, but I realize that with all that has gone on in the world and in America over the last number of years, we have been programmed to fear Arabs and in particular Muslims.

I quickly realized that these places are full of people trying to live their life and take care of their families just like us. They are full of people who are going about their day, conducting business, learning new things, relating with people, and trying to better themselves.

At one point on my trip I struck up a conversation in English with two young Arab men who were probably in their mid 20’s. We talked for nearly an hour and I realized these are two guys that could be my good friends if I were there longer.

Family (clan, tribe, etc) seems to be the most important thing in these cultures. Perhaps nothing drives these cultures more than their commitment and responsibility to family. I was even told that for most of these people, family takes a higher value than religion. They are taught to honor, support, and value their family above all else (not just immediate family, but extended family, which could be in the tens of thousands). To disgrace or dishonor the family is reprehensible, and this is taught to them at a very early age.

I have to say I found this highly admirable. It’s certainly something we have lost in our society and it is not something I realized was so important in Arab cultures.

Arabs are very relational people. Similar to the family dynamic, these are very relational cultures. Muslims are very kind, considerate people who value relationship. In Jordan they have a cultural rule that anybody that lives within 7 houses of you in any direction is your responsibility in case of need. So if a neighbor 6 houses down is having some great trouble, you are to go and assist them. Um, yeah, I don’t even know my neighbors 3 houses down, much less 7. And I certainly don’t know if they are having big problems they need help with.

One day we were in a remote village south of Amman, Jordan, and we were up on a hill taking pictures of a key ministry site. There were kids out playing and an older Arab man on his front porch watching us. Next thing we know, a boy probably 12 years old came out of the house with a cup of coffee for each of us. They were all smiling and welcoming us and even asked us to come in. It made me think, “when is the last time I invited my neighbor in for coffee?”

In future blog posts I will share more about my time the Middle East, but I wanted to make sure you had a good first impression.