Thursday, June 26, 2003

Yesterday, I was browsing a few sites put together by the United Methodist Church and featured on their website. I thought one was done pretty well--far above the average from what I have seen of the church--and I wanted to call it to your attention. It' is called The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millenia. It's an attempt to present some basic bible learning in a way that is contemporary and that helps people see both the historicity and the contemporary nature of the Bible. They do a pretty good job of having a straightforward narrative (which they call "The Highway") while still allowing you to jump around within the site or to sites outside of the narrative (which they call "Byways"). They keep the text brief, but have links to more extensive articles. Similarly, images are kept small and fast-loading, but all that I have encountered can be loaded in a separate window for more detailed viewing. They also incorporate sound (when desired, not obtrusively whether you want it or not) in appropriate contexts. All in all, I think it's pretty well done (kudos to the United Methodist Women), and I encourage you to take a look.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Tomorrow, a friend of mine begins her first pastoral assignment at Sleepy Hollow United Methodist Church in Falls Church, Virginia. Would you join me in praying for Pam?
Lord, bless Pam as she begins to shepherd a part of your flock. Prompt her in the preaching of your Word; guide her in the pastoral care and counseling she provides; strengthen her in her sense of calling to be Your servant; encourage her to spread the Gospel to others in the area; feed her spiritually for the work that you will send her way; and teach her to love those around her as you love each of us. Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Could Summer in Baden Baden be the best 20th-century novel you've never heard of? It's quite possible. A "fictional" retelling of parts of Dostoeyevsky's life ("fictional" because virtually all the details are accurate) is paralleled by the journey of an unnamed narrator to visit the Dostoeyevsky museum which is in the home where the great writer died. Within these parallel stories, Leonid Tsypkin ruminates on literature, compulsion (especially gambling and sexual attraction), the meaning of being Russian and--significantly for the author--Dostoyevsky's anti-semitism. Tsypkin's prose is hypnotic; consisting of paragraph-long sentences that are packed with images, ideas and startling insights. His description of Dostoeyevsky's death is a wonderful example:
A thin, scarcely perceptible thread still connected him with this world, but it, too, was growing weaker with every minute--the dying man was sinking inexorably into a deep, bottomless abyss resembling the hollow cone of a volcano, although it seemed to him that he was actually clambering up the highest mountain in the world, much higher than any other he had climbed or attempted to climb, and it seemed that he walked up a straight, light, crystal path, moving so easily that he did not appear to be going up at all, but descending, and at times he even thought that he was floating on invisible wings, and at the end of this path, on the very peak of the mountain, a bright sun shone, reflected in the crystal over which he was gliding and, when he reached the summit and the sun momentarily blinded him, he saw how low and insignificant those mountains were, where he had struggled upward before--nothing but tiny, wretched hills, and from the summit of this gigantic mountain was unveiled before him not only the earth with the vanity of its inhabitants, but the whole of the universe with its huge bright stars, and for a moment there were revealed to him all the terrible secrets of those distant planets, but at that moment the sun was extinguished and he sank down into terrible, fathomless darkness.
The entire scene of Dostoyevsky's death is beautifully rendered--as memorable in its own was as Prince Andrei's death in War and Peace--and it's worth the time and effort it takes to read this short book.

Tsypkin only published this one work, and yet based on it I think he has to be considered one of the great masters of the last century.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
--John 15:2
This verse came to mind this morning as I walked by the hanging baskets of flowers on my front porch. It has been raining almost daily for nearly a month now, and that means that the plants and flowers don't get the attention they need. My baskets were in woeful shape, so I took a few minutes to pinch back the dead flowers, prune the withering leaves and encourage the thriving parts of the plant to produce more flowers and add more beauty to the house and the neighborhood.

Can you imagine, though, if God were as negligent a gardener as I am? When rain came to our lives, what if He tended to ignore us until things were better? How sad that would be. When the weather gets worse, that is when my plants need the most care...Just as when life's challenges hit, that is when we need the most tending. So Lord, I pray that you prune me as your vine: tend me in good weather and in bad so that I may bear abundant fruit in your Kingdom. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I don't know if these are some kind of chain letters, but I've received a couple emails recently about praying Psalm 91. The emails make extravagant claims about the efficacy of this prayer, and in my attempt to be less skeptical about such claims, I read the emails and looked into the prayer method. I'm glad I did, because regardless of how well the prayer works, I am glad to have it as another way to pray for someone who needs prayers.

The "method" is essentially this: revise the Psalm so that the pronouns are replaced by the name (or a pronoun) of the person for whom you are praying. For example, if I were praying for someone named "Mary," I'd put her name in appropriate spots. So instead of the standard opening lines:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
I would instead pray:
Mary dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and she abides in the shadow of the Almighty.

She will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."

For he will deliver her from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
So instead of the psalm referring to "you" (the reader), you refocus it on the person for whom you are praying. What results is a prayer that is confident in its supplication and beautiful in its phrasing. If there is someone on your prayer list, give it a try. Maybe those extravagant claims will turn out to be true.

Monday, June 16, 2003

I spent yesterday with my kids, my wife and my parents.

That's what I call a real Fathers' Day.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Since our move, mornings have really changed for me. They used to be a period of heavy activity, followed by a long commute. At first, I just took the opportunity to sleep a bit more. Now, though, I'm getting up about when I used to, but since I have no commute, I take a more leisurely approach to mornings. I spend more time talking with the Lord in prayer, and I've recently started taking about 20 minutes for "pleasure" reading (so that list at the lower right might finally start changing again...). We let the boys sleep longer, and yet still (usually) let them have more time to ease into their day. I often get some house-stuff done--this morning, for example, I unloaded the dishwasher, started cooking beans for a lunch soup, and pinched back some flowers--and generally just feel more refreshed going into the work day. I just offer these comments here as a public praise to God for the way he has helped us through and into this new life.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

I don't do this often, but...

You are Proverbs
You are Proverbs.

Which book of the Bible are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks to Irene for the link.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Friday, June 06, 2003

The reading is always thought-provoking and inspiring over at Mute Troubadour. The recent post on "emergent pastors" really caught my attention. Now I'm not exactly sure what the term "emergent" means in this context, but you can get a pretty good idea by reading the traits and scripture passages listed. In thinking about it, I wondered if there weren't any Old Testament passages that might tell us something about "emergent pastors." The one that immediately came to mind is the one from which this blog takes its title, Isaiah 6:8. Perhaps as motivation we could also look to Ezekiel 34: 20-24. Beyond that, though, I haven't come up with much. So, if you have ideas, post them here (if my comments miraculously seem to be working), or better yet, head over to Mute Troubadour and post there.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Since moving to Richmond, I've lost 10 pounds. People are beginning to notice, and the inevitable questions come: "Which diet are you on? Atkins? Zone? WeightWatchers? Jenny Craig? California-Watermelon-and-peach-ice cream?" They always look disappointed when I tell them the truth. I'm not on a diet. I did, though, start monitoring what I ate. Yes, I got a program where I enter what I eat, and it tracks calories (and lots of other things too). The program is called DietPower and it is the easiest to use, most fully-featured program I found. It's shareware, and it's cost is in line with commercial products, but I think it's worth it. I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they are the type of person who would monitor what they eat, because it helps me make choices.

Sometimes, I'm just hungry, and I'd be as satisfied with an orange as a candy bar. Of course, that isn't a fair comparison, so let's say an orange or a banana. If I want to lose weight, I should choose the orange most of the time, since it has about 1/2 the calories. Both are healthy, but if I'm just staving off some hunger, then the program helps me choose the right food. On the other hand, if I determine I need more folate in my diet, I can easily search and discover that the asparagus sitting in my refrigerator is loaded with folate. That kind of information makes this product less of a "diet" program and more of a lifestyle change program. And after all, that was one of the main reasons we moved.

In that same vein, yesterday my family joined the neighborhood YMCA. I went this morning for an orientation on the fitness equipment, and I'll start the workout plan they gave me soon. My wife is attending her orientation as I write this. We'll also be getting our kids involved--they are on a waiting list for swimming lessons, and we've signed up my oldest for soccer in the fall. I think it will be a wonderful place for our family to focus some of our time in a way that is fun, supportive of Christian mission, and healthy.

Monday, June 02, 2003

I think we are pretty close to selecting a new church. Shady Grove United Methodist Church (Short Pump) is located very near our home. Oddly, there is another Shady Grove UMC in the Richmond area, so it took me awhile to find their website. It's an old church--founded before the Civil War--but it's among the fastest growing Methodist churches in Virginia. This is in part due to the amazing growth that this area has seen, but they also seem to be an active church that is reaching out to the community in powerful ways. I hope to explore more and get to know them better, but it may not be long before I'm changing the link beneath "my church" in the right column of my blog.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

In Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, Richard Foster talks about the power of healing prayer. He claims that it is not uncommon for beginners in the ministry of healing prayer to have dramatic success, but then to notice an levelling off of the effectiveness of their prayers. It's as if God encourages the beginner, but then does not allow us to set our expectations too high.

I have to admit when I first read this chapter, my cynicism and doubt levels increased noticeably. It's not that I don't believe in miracles--even contemporary miracles--because I do. But I am very cautious about believing such claims, because I know how easily they can be abused. Even more, though, I doubted whether I could ever have such a ministry; whether my prayers could ever really call the Holy Spirit into action. As I've said before, my faith is often smaller than a mustard seed...

But I've been praying for more faith and for a willingness to open my heart to the possibilities of prayer. The night before last, I had a small witness to the power of prayer. My oldest so began screaming in the middle of the night. He was having one of those half-wakened nightmares from which he couldn't escape. We couldn't wake him up or sooth him with words, rubbing his back, or trying to hold him. We were desperate. Finally, I put my hand on his forehead and began praying that the Holy Spirit would come and sooth him. In a matter of seconds, he had quieted down, and after less than 5 minutes of praying, he was asleep. We heard him yell out a couple more times that night, but they were isolated incidences. I'm sure it wasn't his most restful sleep, but he was not thrashing around in fear.

I won't so easily doubt such claims as Foster's in the future. There really does not seem to be a limit to what prayer can do and how we can affect our lives and the lives of others by calling on our Savior.

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