Advent Devotional — Sunday, December 16

12/16/2007, 8:30 am -- by | No Comments

Sunday, December 16, 2007
Third Sunday in Advent
Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed — and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.” (Luke 2:34-35, from the Morning Reading in The Divine Hours)

Last year, I had the privilege of pronouncing a blessing on our first daughter, Grace. “May He make you brave and beautiful,” I said. “May God use you to speak beauty to a cold and dead world.” A blessing I found lovely, and one I was proud to give our daughter.

In contrast, I’m not sure I’d want to pronounce on Gracie the blessing Simeon here pronounces on Jesus. It reveals that from the very start God had a purpose in Jesus’ life: to cause the rise of some, and the fall of others. In a sense, Jesus was to be a flashpoint: the central question of how one viewed God would be answered by how one viewed Jesus. Those that rejected Jesus, despite their piety and religious standing, were found to be rejecting God. And those that accepted Jesus, despite their sin and notoriety, were found to be accepting God. Indeed, Jesus’ life and person caused the secret thoughts of all these people to be laid bare; how a person looked at Jesus was a far more reliable indicator of their spiritual state than their actions.

To be a flashpoint, to cause some to rise and others to fall, to cause great social upheaval, is to live a life that rarely ends peacefully. Laying bare the thoughts of those that have a vested interest in keeping those thoughts secret is not a rewarding task. Setting up a Kingdom which is opposed to the kingdoms of this world inevitably will bring the wrath of those worldly kingdoms against you. In a sense, Simeon’s blessing on Jesus was not completely a blessing.

I am beginning to understand why Simeon told Mary that Jesus’ life would cause a sword to pierce her soul as well. When I prayed that God would use this baby girl to speak beauty to a cold and dead world, I was giving her a double-edged blessing. A pornographic and death-dealing world does not understand beauty. A world where art is a consumer product, or just another instrument to titillate and shock, is a world that does not know beauty. A world which misunderstands beauty will not understand someone who speaks beauty to it; such a world may even dislike the one who speaks beauty to it.

I, of course, do not want Gracie to be disliked by the world. Like Mary, I wish more than anything for my child to have a peaceful, ordinary life, with prosperity, peace and many loved ones. And yet for her life to be meaningful, for her to speak beauty to a world which does not understand it, or do whatever worthwhile task God calls her to, her life cannot always be easy. I pray that both Gracie and her parents have the strength to endure whatever faint echoes of the cross and the sword we have to face.

Why We Believe: Vol. 7

12/15/2007, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

This and following weekends, we will share the brief salvation testimony of each Bweinh!tributor. Read the previous six right here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about crisis theology, and what I believe or do not believe about it. My testimony isn’t really one of dates and bright lights shining down from a cloud, but I tried to write it as a series of events, periods of time that sort of explain my coming to faith, and struggles within it.

One — It is a sticky June evening in 1996 and I am reading one of those ‘Keys for Kids’ devotionals that come in the mail for free from Northern Christian Radio. I can’t stand my mother’s Twila Paris music (and I never will), but there’s something in this little devotional story, long forgotten, that makes me look in the back at the ABCs of Salvation, and pray it, piece by piece.

Two — It is a chilly February evening, a Wednesday, during my middle school years. My Bible Bowl team is laughing over a commercial, somehow tying it into what we are studying. We debate personal standards about alcohol, and how God will treat us in heaven. We don’t even close in prayer, but I know God is pleased that we’ve been working out with quite a bit of fear and trembling.

Three — It is rally time in 2001 and I am at Whispering Pines camp in Manton, Michigan. Jeremy Kingsley is speaking in his funny Southern dialect, a down-to-earth retelling of how Jesus drove out Legion. I think, God, this is how your Word is supposed to come alive! That camp is where my first emotional experiences with God were: before I learned to trust or distrust emotion.

Four — I think to myself, some time near New Year’s in my sophomore year of high school, that I should probably be reading the Bible daily. I fall asleep in the middle of a chapter of 1 Corinthians that night, and wake up in the middle of the night to turn my bedside lamp off and take my contacts out.

Five — We have been at Dayton Center Wesleyan for four years, and I am graduating. My application for Houghton has been sent in with my personal testimony on it, but it is appropriately, honestly unfocused.

Six — I am talking to Chloe on the phone on a summer evening after our first year of college together. We get off the phone and I am kneeling by my bed, face buried in the too-soft comforter, asking, Why don’t I know what to do with my life? I hear a word, and perhaps it really was audible. Wait.

Seven — I don’t know whether or not I want to stay at this tiny church in Belfast. The people are wonderful and well-meaning, their faiths sincere, but is it the kind of Christianity that I profess? Am I just tying into a place for security? All of this goes through my head as I play the piano for worship that October morning — but in the middle of the second song, I think the Spirit witnesses to mine and I know I am where I should be.

Eight — I am sitting at my computer on a cold, rainy December day, thinking of how to turn a lifestyle into words. The songwriter’s version of Abraham’s story is pinned up on my bulletin board, and I think his summary is where I will leave my testimony. It may not be a doubtless faith, or a 700 Club-worthy one, but it is who I am.

So take me to the mountain
I will follow where You lead
There I’ll lay the body of the boy You gave to me
And even though You take him
Still I ever will obey
But Maker of this mountain, please —
Make another way.

Holy is the Lord, Holy is the Lord
And the Lord I will obey.
Lord, help me,
I don’t know the way.

Advent Devotional — Saturday, December 15

12/15/2007, 8:00 am -- by | No Comments

Saturday, December 15, 2007
Grant us grace to heed their [the prophets’] warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer…” (The Prayer Appointed for the Week, in The Divine Hours, from The Book of Common Prayer)

Well, we have reached the ten-day countdown to Christmas Day. My feelings as a kid and as an adult on December 15 are very different things. As a kid, December 15 felt like a day when you could officially start believing Christmas was near. I’d counted days since the middle of October, keeping a lonely vigil over the calendar even when no one else was interested. But by December 15, reality was beginning to sink in everywhere: school was beginning to slow down for the Christmas break; even delinquent present-buyers were requesting my wish list; and even the snap in the air said that Christmas was near. And so I could respond with the joy of childhood abandon.

Fast-forward 20 or 25 years, and my response to December 15 is altogether different. For one thing, church responsibilities sink in hard and heavy at this time. Is the concert together? How are things looking for church this week and next? Christmas Eve falls on a Monday, which is just cruel to a pastor, because you basically have to have everything ready by the end of the previous week, as well as the regular Sunday service. By December 15, reality begins to sink in everywhere: you’ve got job responsibilities to attend to, as well as all the usual family and travel arrangements, and Christmas is coming soon, like it or not! No more do I respond to that inevitable date with childhood joy; now it is greeted with a healthy dose of adult dread (OK, with some joy mixed in). The reality of Christmas’s coming is different for different people; for some, it is a cause for joy and celebration, and some dread its arrival.

This prayer realizes that there is a spiritual truth that parallels this common feeling. The coming of Christ means different things to different people. For those who are prepared for his coming, it is a cause for joy; the prayer identifies this group as those who have heeded the prophets’ warnings and forsaken their sins. Their hearts are emptied of all selfish and fearful motives, and there is room for Christ to come in and take control; Christ comes as the deepest longing of their hearts. But for those who have failed to prepare spiritually for Christ’s arrival, for those who are still clinging to selfish and evil longings, the coming of Christ is not a cause for joy but for fear. Because they have loved rather than renounced things that are not pleasing to Christ, His coming is most unwelcome, interrupting their lives.

This is part of the meaning of Advent. We are called on to spiritually prepare ourselves anew for the Christ who is always coming. As we would do in our homes before a visitor arrives, Advent asks us to clean up and prepare our hearts so that Christ’s presence in our heart will not be an unwelcome intrusion, but an occasion for joy.

My Year in Review (Part One)

12/14/2007, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

After spending 10 days in picturesque Sackets Harbor, celebrating Christmas with my family and watching my son get married, we packed up our stuff and left for Alabama on New Year’s Eve, so…

January 1st of 2007 found us in Winchester, Virginia, groggy and road weary, threatening a Burger King drive-thru speaker with Klingon curses in an attempt to get some breakfast for the road. After a 15-minute wait behind a dozen cars, and 5 minutes with no response to our hails, we eventually gave up and drove off in frustration. Rounding the corner of the building, we found a hand-lettered sign announcing they would not be open on New Year’s Day. Looking back at the dozen cars that had lined up behind us, we considered trying to tell them, but then laughed an evil laugh and got back on the highway.

In order to get my family up and on the road early, I had started singing about “The Platypus” (our massive luggage carrier). I learned this trick when my kids were younger — sing a silly song about what you have to do, and it gets them laughing and keeps them from falling back asleep. It works even better when they’re adults; we continued all the way home, eventually writing a rock opera, based on Bohemian Rhapsody, centered around the Platypi (as he came to be known):

I’m just a Platypi looking for a family!
He’s just a Platypi looking for a family!

We arrived home, reintegrated ourselves into society, and spent the rest of the month digging out from Christmas debt. I ended “The Great Rodent Wars,” vanquishing the last two diabetic rats who had terrorized our house by attacking the water lines, then turned 46 (outliving my father by 7 years and counting). We were named Associate Pastors of the church we were attending, then watched the Pastor and his wife get ambushed at a board meeting a week later, forced to resign. We were also no longer welcome and thus began our next search for a new church.

February came and Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl, against the mighty Chicago Bears, led by Rex “One-Year Wonder” Grossman. It was not a close game, and afterward Peyton thanked everyone, especially Rex, for making such a wonderful year possible. The Philadelphia Flyers continued their worst year in recent memory, driving hard to finish dead last in the NHL — no easy task.

I personally spent the month battling The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in an attempt to accomplish the almost-impossible feat of having my daily newspaper delivered daily. In an exchange of emails, they blamed me for living in a bad neighborhood where people apparently stole newspapers; then the director of circulation accidentally forwarded me an email from the local carrier: “You should see his newspaper box! It’s right on the street, practically screaming, ‘STEAL MY PAPER!’ ”

I emailed them back, pointing out that I could move the newspaper box off the street, but then I would be the only house without a newspaper tube on the mailbox post — plus she would have to get out of her car to deliver my newspaper on foot. I also mentioned that the thief must be quite prolific because, being OCD, when my paper doesn’t show up, I methodically drive to every coin box and convenience store in my neighborhood looking for a replacement — and every time, not one box, not one store in my entire neighborhood had any papers! That seemed to turn the tide, and my carrier stopped skipping my neighborhood on busy days.

March made my wife and I fondly remember a trip we had taken the year before, to Pine Mountain, Georgia. We stayed on a mountaintop where we (or at least I) could watch the sunrise over the mountain every morning from our balcony. It was such a wonderful trip that, even though money was still tight, we planned a return trip for March ’07. Everything was fine until we actually went on the trip. My wife did not want the nice hotel on the mountaintop this time; she wanted a rustic lodge she had spotted the year before, which advertised cabins with jacuzzis. But the cabins were $200/night, so we took a lodge room.

We drove up Friday night, but my wife had forgotten her dramamine, and the winding roads left her quite ill. We went to bed early and later discovered “rustic lodge” means “no insulation in the walls.” We were awakened by people in the next room at 10 p.m., arriving for what appeared to be some type of party/screaming contest. The next day we shelled out the $200 so we could spend the entire day and night stretched out on luxurious couches in a beautiful cabin, suffering from stomach viruses and watching lame movies on the Hallmark Channel.

The Flyers finished dead last in the NHL; Syracuse got snubbed by the NCAA Tournament, even though they won 24 games (10-6 in the Big East); and a close friend died of cancer after a 2-year battle that brought him back to the Lord.

But on March 30th an email arrived that rewarded a lifetime of hard work — and negotiations began with media mogul Steve Maxon regarding a position opening up at Bweinh!

Maybe my life was working out…

Advent Devotional — Friday, December 14

12/14/2007, 8:30 am -- by | No Comments

Friday, December 14, 2007
The glory of this new Temple will surpass that of the old, says Yahweh Sabaoth, and in this place I shall give peace — Lord Sabaoth declares.” (Haggai 2:9, from the Midday Reading in The Divine Hours)

It’s hard for us to imagine the devastation the citizens of Judah must have felt. During their almost 50 years of exile in Babylon, the old men and women had kept hope alive by telling their children and grandchildren stories of their homeland. Now, finally allowed to return, there is merely rubble where the beautiful temple once stood. Their homes are all gutted or gone; their neighborhoods have become fodder for jackals and squatters; nothing is as it once had been.

Along comes Haggai, who probably registered in the public mind as something of a cruel nuisance, whipping his followers into an excited frenzy, convincing them that they could restore their home to a glory which even exceeded the glory of the past. Perhaps this was a nice notion, but common sense said it could not be achieved, at least not anytime in the near future. And there was no need to waste the efforts of young men and women on rebuilding old buildings when they needed to tend to their families and prepare for the grim new reality they all faced in their situation.

There is something of the dreamer in every faithful Christian, which is not satisfied simply by coping with “reality,” but re-imagining it completely. The Christian questions the wisdom of the world, because the world’s wisdom essentially boils down to coping as best one can with the reality that life is grim and that nothing of eternal import exists. So we tend to our retirement accounts, the things that give us pleasure, and enjoy a few fleeting moments whenever we can.

But the Christian cannot be satisfied by existing peacefully within this the grim worldview. The Christian has to look forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God, has to believe that it has started in a unique way with the coming of Jesus and will be brought in its fullness when He comes again. The Christian has to believe that the desolation we see with our eyes is not the whole story, and that life is so much more than simply coping as best we can with this reality. The Christian has to believe that the Kingdom is here and is coming. Like the faithful in Haggai’s day, we assure others that what we see is not all there is; and like them, we keep building even when it doesn’t make sense. We work on building a Kingdom that cannot yet be seen because it is that Kingdom that has given us life.

Joke of the Day, 12/14/07

12/14/2007, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

A cowboy walked out of a bar, and a second later, came back in, mighty mad.

“Okay,” he yelled. “Which one of you sidewindin’ hombres went outside an’ painted mah horse bright red while I was a-drinkin’?”

No one answered. The cowpoke drew his six-shooter and yelled, “I said, which one of you mangy polecats painted mah horse red?!”

Slowly one of the cowboys at the bar stood up. Six feet eight inches tall, he pulled a small cannon from his holster. “I done it,” he growled.

The first cowboy put his gun back in the holster. “Uhhh… I just wanted to let you know the first coat’s dry.”

Best of Bweinh! — Childlike Faith

12/13/2007, 2:45 pm -- by | No Comments

In honor of his birthday (that’s right, two in two days), here’s an article from MC-B, previously published in June 2007.

Matthew 18:2-4 says that in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we must become humble like little children. I’ve been told occasionally that this kind of humbleness means following God with an unquestioning faith, like a toddler trusting his or her parents to make everything all right and handle the affairs that are beyond a less developed mind.

God wants us to trust him for all of our needs, and there are parts of God’s plan that don’t make sense to us from our position here on the ground; these things are beyond question, especially in light of other Scriptures. However, anyone who has experience with toddlers or young children can verify the fact that “unquestioning” is almost the worst possible choice to describe these (perhaps besides “clean” and, in some cases, “courteous”). The question “Why?” seems to be the one most often asked by toddlers in their desire to better understand the world around them.

My hope is that we truly would be like children in the faith, constantly seeking answers about God and His creation. One trend that seems to be present (though perhaps decelerating, thank the Lord) in the modern American church, especially when viewed from the outside, is a distrust for intellectual pursuits and a reliance on simplistic populism to spread the gospel message. Some preach that the Gospel message is simple, which it is, but also that it is simplistic, which it is not. Why bother considering your faith intellectually if all you need to guide your walk is “feeling” God?

As a result, to the academically inclined, spiritual belief is viewed as symptomatic of intellectual death, and sometimes intellectual debate or theological discussions, which are the church’s best ways of asking itself “why” and “how” questions, are viewed by churchgoers as almost pharisaical* and not focused enough on the Spirit or the relational aspect of salvation. The emotional experiences that we associate with God are important, but they do not detract from (nor are they even completely separable from) the intellectual and/or theological roots of our faith.

Sometimes, a “because I said so” from our Father is the most complete answer that our deficient minds can process and we must therefore be content, if not satisfied, with this answer. However, we should not presuppose this answer before we ask, and believers should always ask questions of God, themselves and others, so as to be prepared to engage the world on a strong intellectual footing.

*This post brought to you by the 365 New Words-A-Year Page-A-Day Calendar.

Romans Playoffs: Round 1

12/13/2007, 11:30 am -- by | No Comments

It’s time once again to add to the Pantheon of Biblical band names! You’ve selected 21 of the best submissions from the book of Romans, and here are the first five matchups among them.

Past winners? Kindred (Genesis) and Stripe for Stripe (Exodus).






Ask Bweinh! Poll — The Twelve Days

12/13/2007, 10:15 am -- by | No Comments

Which of the famous gifts in the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ song would we like to receive?

Rank Gift Points
1. 5 golden rings 35
2. 6 geese-a-laying 19
3-4 (tie) 3 French hens; 9 ladies dancing 16
5. 10 lords-a-leaping 14
6. 11 pipers piping 9
7. 8 maids-a-milking 7
8. 4 calling birds 6
9. 12 drummers drumming 5
10. 2 turtle doves 4
Other 7 swans-a-swimming; a partridge in a pear tree 2

Advent Devotional — Thursday, December 13

12/13/2007, 8:30 am -- by | No Comments

Thursday, December 13, 2007
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the winds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he
Of the things that are, that have been and that future years shall see.

(Of the Father’s Love Begotten by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius; from the Evening Prayer in The Divine Hours)

This hymn illustrates Christ’s eternal nature: He is both Alpha and Omega; both the source and the capstone of all things in all times.

What does it say that such a One chose to take on flesh and to lay in a manger? This is the question that will confront you if you choose to face it in the next couple of weeks. We, who know all too well the limitations of the human experience, have to ask what it means that God would willingly take on those limitations. What does it mean that the Almighty decided to need diapers? What does it mean that the one who called together God’s people from the four corners of the earth suddenly had to walk like the rest of us, plodding over the soil?

Perhaps the message is this: before we follow Christ to the cross, we must follow Him to the manger. Before we, like Peter, assert our ability to follow Christ to death, we must first demonstrate our ability to follow Him into a seemingly lesser life, a life the world does not always understand. In fact, maybe our inability to follow Christ to the cross is directly related to our unwillingness to follow Him to the manger. Maybe we are incapable of following Christ to death if we have not first followed Him to a new kind of life.

Perhaps the call of the manger in our lives means willingly giving up income in order that those around us may have more. Perhaps it means moving out of a privileged neighborhood into another. Perhaps it means a call to sexual chastity, even celibacy, in a promiscuous world. Perhaps it means choosing to drive in less car than you could, live in less house than you could, and eat less food than you could. Perhaps this is what is involved with going to the manger: taking the things the world calls power and laying them aside, taking your birthright and giving it away.

Quote of the Day, 12/13/07

12/13/2007, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

“When Christmas bells are swinging above the fields of snow,
we hear sweet voices ringing from lands of long ago,
and etched on vacant places
are half-forgotten faces
of friends we used to cherish,
and loves we used to know.”

— E.W. Wilcox

Jobsquatch, Vol. 3

12/12/2007, 3:00 pm -- by | 3 Comments

The question of Job Tate’s existence is far from settled. As morning broke, Tom thought he and Steve had enough evidence to prove it already, but Steve refused to go home when they were so close to possibly capturing the noble beast. Who was right? Was Tate toying with them? And can any man hope to see Job Tate’s face — and live?

On the day Americans celebrate as Job Tate’s birthday — we bring you this brave journey, captured on video.

Part one is here; part two is here, but now we bring you — the final chapter, right here!

Battle of the Bands XXXIX

12/12/2007, 12:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Moving on is Strive — and the Romans playoffs await!

The next contestants are below, from the first part of Luke!


Bible Discussion — Luke 1:1-38

12/12/2007, 12:00 pm -- by | No Comments

This week, looks at the beginning of a brand new book for us, Luke 1:1-38.

Genesis: 1-4 | 5-9 | 10-14 | 15-18 | 19-22 | 23-26
27-29 | 30-32 | 33-36 | 37-39 | 40-43 | 44-46 | 47-50
Exodus: 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-11 | 12-14 | 15-18
19-22 | 23-26 | 27-30 | 31-34 | 35-40
Romans: Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Ch. 5 | Ch. 6 | Ch. 7 | Ch. 8 (I)
Ch. 8 (II) | Ch. 9 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15-16

Luke always lets you know exactly what he’s doing at the beginning of each passage, and here he states in clear and beautiful language the purpose for this epistle. He has attained a clear spiritual and chronological understanding of the Gospel that Theophilus has staked his life on, and he wants to be sure his friend has that same clarity as a sure foundation.

Two godly women set an example for their husbands — and us — as they agree to play challenging parts in the coming of God’s Kingdom. For one, a pregnancy was beyond hope and for the other, it was beyond imagination.

An account of the ministry of Jesus, as written by Dr. Luke to his friend Theo. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the most-quoted for the Christmas season and by the Peanuts Christmas special.

Both Zacharias and Mary asked Gabriel “How?” types of questions in response to his declarations, but only Zach was punished… Hmmm.

1:29: “[Mary] wondered what sort of greeting this might be.” She wondered if the angel’s greeting — “The Lord is with you” — was really good news, or whether it might just be terribly inconvenient to her life plans.

Elizabeth was also from the lineage of Aaron, which made John the Baptist a priest from both sides.

Mike: No Business Being Pregnant
David: Zachariah
Connie: Theophilus
MC-B: Zechariah’s Division
Steve: Struck Mute

Continued here!

Jobsquatch, Vol. 2

12/12/2007, 11:15 am -- by | 4 Comments

Some refuse to believe Job Tate exists, but Steve and Tom knew it was true. After spending a fitful afternoon failing to find any woman in Vermont that could serve as “Tate bait,” the brothers return to home base — only to find a surprise waiting at the top of the stairs. Is this enough? Can the boys go home?

On the day Americans celebrate as Job Tate’s birthday — we bring you this brave journey, captured on video.

Part one can be seen here.

Now — onto part two, right here!

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