Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Top Three Tuesday

1. A Year in Photos. I can't believe I've been doing Top Three posts for nearly a year and haven't sung the praises of my friend Rach's website yet. Her photos rock my socks off and make me want to try my hand at photography again. Take a look.

2. "The World That Made New Orleans" by Ned Sublette. This book explores the history of New Orleans from the time of the first known settler to Hurricane Katrina. I'm a self-admitted history geek, but I can't imagine anyone not getting sucked into this well-written story.

3. Thai Tom. There was once a time when I refused to go anywhere near Thai food because of a bad experience, but thankfully someone convinced me to try Thai Tom this year. Everything is made fresh by a cook that moves too fast to see at times and the place is never empty. I have a feeling that I'm going to crave Thai Tom's phad thai the same way I now crave Mexican food from my hometown for years to come. If you're ever in the U-District and have $8 to spare, you should most definitely check it out.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Top Three Thursday

Classic YouTube Version

1. Evolution of Dance. I might have put this on a Top Three list before. Even so, it deserves viewing again. This guy starts with Elvis and goes to modern dance in six minutes. It makes me laugh every time.

2. Classical Guitar. "Canon in D" holds a special place in my heart and this guy makes it sound awesome.

3. Here It Goes Again. I wonder if I could set up the treadmills at the Y to do this. Then again, with my coordination, I would probably hurt myself :)


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wandering Wednesday

...or "A Tale of Two Churches"

When I moved to Seattle in 2007, I immediately set out to find a faith community that I fit into. My "shopping list" for a church was pretty short. Solid preaching, close community, and no pressure to be part of every ministry since that's what my other six days of the week were for. I tried a fairly well-known church in the city but figured out after of couple of months of being ignored by everyone and walking out with my ears almost bleeding from the extremely loud music that it wasn't the place for me. But this story isn't about that church.
In October 2007, I started attending Church A. It's an established, multi-generational church in a local neighborhood. The first time I showed up I was only alone for 30 seconds before someone found me and started introducing me around. I was invited to the young adult Bible study and quickly found my first Seattle friends. Even though I had a great community vibe going, I felt like I was supposed to go somewhere else. After Christmas of that year, I continued to meet with my Bible study group but started to look for a different church for Sunday mornings.
I found Church B in early 2008. It's a fairly new church plant about 20 miles north of my house. Even though the commute left something to be desired, I enjoyed the type of music and preaching that I found there. The heard the Holy Spirit talk to me in ways that I hadn't heard in months. I joined a Bible study group there and tried my best to get connected to the larger community. Even after months of attending the church, though, I didn't feel very connected because it was clear that the focus of the church was suburban married couples with kids. Also, my theology did not align exactly with their theology which made for some tense moments in the Bible study group.

That's where I am right now. For the past week, I've been thinking about both of these churches. I'm part of a Bible study at each church (for better or for worse). I have friends and at least a form of support structure at both churches. At Church A, I feel a strong sense of community. At Church B, I strongly feel the Holy Spirit but not much solid community. What should I do? I don't want to be a "church shopper" that constantly changes churches. But I want to be at a place where I feel both a strong sense of community and the Spirit. Should I stay and talk to the pastor of Church B about my concerns and hope it works out or should I return to Church A? Is my view of church unhealthy? Is the church there there to meet my needs or am I here to meet the church's needs? What is the purpose and end of church? I must sound like an awful person, but this is starting to dominate my thoughts.

Oh, and I just heard the first ice cream truck of the year pass my house. That thought was an extra bonus for ya :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saturday: Resting and Anticipating

"The next day - on the first day of the Passover ceremonies - the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, "Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: 'After three days I will be raised from the dead.' So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he came back to life!" (Matthew 27:62-64)

There's some debate about what Jesus was doing, spiritually, between his death and resurrection. Some say he descended into hell while others say he went to Paradise (different from Heaven) to get the faithful and take them to Heaven.

Back on Earth: What I find kind of funny about the waiting period was that the Pharisees remembered Jesus' promise to come back from the dead after three days, unlike the disciples. Maybe Jesus infuriated the religious leaders just enough that it stuck out in their minds more than the people that spent every day with him. Maybe the loss of sunlight, the earthquake, and seeing people that were supposed to be dead walking around made them fear that Jesus might actually make good on his word, and they didn't want him to have a way out of his grave. I don't know. So, while the disciples returned home to observe the Sabbath and mourn their loss, the Pharisees made sure the tomb was sealed tightly and guarded.

For me, on this day of anticipation, I'm thinking about the words from Psalm 27: "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

"From the sixth hour until the ninth hour [noon to 3pm] darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'...And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice ['It is finished' according to the gospel of John], he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life...When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27:45-54)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday: Following to the Extreme

So much happened on the Thursday of Holy Week that it's hard to even know where to start. On this day, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples, washed feet, gave commandments and last instructions, prayed, got betrayed by Judas, and endured the first part of his trial by the Jewish leaders.

I guess the part of Thursday that I want to focus on is Jesus praying in the garden. I think what we forget (or, in the case of Calvinists, deny) sometimes is that even though Jesus didn't have a sin nature, he had free will. We think that Jesus went to the cross because he didn't have another choice. He did. He could have left us in the dust and would have been justified doing it. Instead, he agonized for hours, doing what I find myself doing a lot when God tells me to follow His will. He said "I don't want to...please don't make me...for Your glory, Your will be done." And this wasn't a sighed "Fine, whatever your want. I guess if I have to." It was a soul crushing, blood sweating, tear jerking "I will follow you to the extreme, even to my own death, because this is what the world needs and You want."

I think we shy away from the extreme. We don't want the discomfort that comes from going beyond what we're personally in control of. We don't want to show extreme love because it's easier to keep hating our enemies. We don't want to show extreme mercy because it's much more fun to say "You deserve it. Get what's coming to you." We don't want to show extreme faith because there's something in the back of our minds that screams "You're gonna get burned." Through praying in the garden, Jesus showed us what it meant to obey God to the extreme even though the human instinct is to run, hide, and stay comfortable.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wandering Wednesday

After reading all four gospels, I have to admit that I don't know exactly what Jesus was doing on the Wednesday of Holy Week. So, instead of guessing, I'm going to do my usual Wednesday thing.

Ever since this weekend, I've had this internal debate raging in my head. It all started at the conference I went to about Missionality and Kingdom. During one of the breaks, I listened to people talk about their plans for Friday. What sparked my debate wasn't what they were doing on Friday, but what they were calling it: Dark Friday. I may have had my head stuck in the Southern sand a little too long, but I don't think I had ever heard it called that before. To me, it was always Good Friday. Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I think that what we name something conveys meaning and needs to be thought through carefully. If you think I'm being silly about this, feel free to stop reading. You won't offend me. Honest.

What should Friday be called? Maybe it can and should be called both Good Friday and Dark Friday. Here's my analysis. Calling it Dark Friday may convey the deep sense of mourning that Christians feel when we think about the death of Jesus. That Friday was a dark day, even literally at one point right before Jesus gave up his spirit. Jesus experienced a level of agony, both physically and mentally, that I will never experience. His family and friends watched their loved one go through an ordeal that was meant for only the worst criminals. But I feel like calling it Dark Friday doesn't tell the whole story. It was a dark day, but it was a good day also. It was a Good Friday because Jesus' death had meaning and purpose. At the moment of Jesus' death, the price was paid and sin was forgiven. No other sacrifice would ever be needed beyond Jesus. That's good news!

I think where I land on this one is that I will always call it Good Friday. Not because I want to deny the suffering that Jesus went through, but because I want to honor it. Calling it Good Friday may confuse people that are not familiar with Christianity, and that's a good thing. Being able to explain why we call the death of someone that we claim is God in the flesh 'good' is an opportunity to share about forgiveness and, because of the Resurrection, new life. But that's just my thoughts. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesday: Confronting Shallow Religion

I don't have a cute analogy to describe what Jesus talked about on the Tuesday of Holy Week, so I'll get right down to it. As I was reading today's passage out of Matthew, Jesus' words gave me that uncomfortable, convicted feeling that I hate but need to learn to not shy away from. My thoughts went something like this on my first read through: "Wow, Jesus is really giving it to those Pharisees. Go Jesus. Give them what for. They deserve it. Oh. Wait. Ouch. That was a low blow there Jesus. Surely you're not talking to me. Oh, you are." (Clearly, I think in a lot of short sentences.)

In Matthew 23, Jesus goes after the shallow religion of the Pharisees in what is traditionally called the Seven Woes. It basically goes something like this. "You are hypocritical people that fail to practice what you preach. You only do what will gain you status in the eyes of those that watch you, and you live to be watched and honored. You teach far and wide only to spread your own stunted form of religion and life. You live by the letter of the law, but fail to see why the law really exists - to teach you to truly love God and care for others. You may look healthy and vibrant on the outside, but I can see that you're long deceased inside. You despise those that try to teach truth and rather kill them than face reality. Despite all this, I try to extend my love to you but all you do is push it away."

Confrontational truth. It's not just for the Pharisees anymore.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday: Cleaning House

I have a confession to make. I'm a bit of a slob. (My family and friends are probably laughing at what an understatement that is right now.) I let surfaces pile up to the point that they no longer serve their original purpose. For example, at this moment, I have so much stuff stacked on my kitchen chairs that I have to sit on the couch to eat. I look at my chairs every day and wish for a couple of seconds that they were empty and useful, but it never gets farther than that.

This confession has a point beyond letting the wired world know that I'm bad at cleaning. In some ways, I think that my spiritual life reflects my apartment's need for a good maid service. I feel like I've got clutter in my soul. I have secret (and not-so-secret) sins that are piled up. I look around every day and think "I should probably get rid of that", but that's usually all it amounts to. Hanging on to sin is so comfortable and requires no hard labor on my part.

This week is Holy Week in the Jesus-following world. It starts with Palm Sunday (which was yesterday) and goes until Resurrection Sunday (a.k.a. Easter). Growing up Baptist, Holy Week was a blip on my radar most of the time. I knew that Jesus had to be doing something on the days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday (the day that Jesus died), but I didn't really look into what that was. It turns out that on Monday Jesus was cleaning house. And not just any house. He spent a part of Monday throwing people out of the Temple in Jerusalem. In a show of righteous anger, he overturned merchant tables and ran off anyone trying to bring in items to sale. They had turned a place that was supposed to be for prayer and worship into a sin-infested business venture.

The Temple in Jerusalem is no longer around, (the Romans took care of that around 70AD) but God still has His temple on earth. It's the souls of those that claim Jesus as their own (1 Corinthians 3:16). Today, the Monday of Holy Week, is a day of temple cleaning. It's not something that is easy and Jesus may look mean for a while, but the ultimate purpose is to return things back to the way God meant them to be.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Top Three Thursday

1. "Kings". I only heard about this new TV show a couple days ago, but now I'm hooked. It's based on the story of Saul and David from the Old Testament, which I always knew would make for a great drama. If you don't mind watching shows online, you can find old episodes here. They rock!

2. "Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn & John. I have this song on my iPod and every time it comes on I feel like I'm in a movie. There are just some songs that are like that.

3. Sound of Music Flash Mob. For those that don't know, a flash mob is a group of people that agree ahead of time to meet at a certain time and place and do something unusual, like standing still in the middle of Grand Central Station for 5 minutes and then moving on like nothing happened. I've seen lots of flash mob videos over the last couple of years. This video takes the cake though. I would so totally be part of something like this if I could.