Thursday, April 26, 2007

A recent Pic of The Boy

"Let the Python Eat Its Tail."

You know how there are some very difficult issues that one would love to stay out of. The abortion debate is one of them.

I declare right now that I would like to run away. Right away.

But I can't. I simply can't run away.

You see, I want to be gracious, empathetic, caring, and yet at the some time, strong, bold, and protective of young life. And it feels like an impossible road to go down. And so I say nothing. On top of that, I'm nervous that my words will offend someone who reads this. And more, I feel the weight of the exceptions (danger to the mother’s life etc). I am not unaware of the reality and complexity of our society’s sexual ethics. I want to be seen as reasonable. And I've been in one or two situations where I've had my head bitten off. And my head has been twice shy.

But I can't be like this any more.

John Piper wrote THIS today about a ruling in the US Supreme Court about Partial Birth Abortions. (Don’t click if you don’t want to read something disturbing). It has some deep and obvious clarity. At one point:

This use of catch phrases is surely tired. “Right to choose.” “Equal rights for women.” The grandchildren of the sixties are waking up to the vagueness and danger of those phrases. Right to choose what? Anything? All laws that protect children limit the rights of moms (and dads) to choose. You can’t choose to starve them. You can’t choose to lock them in closets for three weeks. You can’t choose to abandon them. You can’t choose to strangle them five minutes after they are born.

And “equal rights for women”—equal with whom? Equal with the irresponsible dad. Dad has sex and bears no responsibility for the baby. Mom should be equally able to have sex and bear no responsibility for the baby. Young people are looking at this and saying: Something is wrong with this picture. Maybe our lives are as broken as they are because our parents have twisted their hearts and minds so deeply to justify equality in irresponsibility.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lost in Translation

My Statcounter tells me that I have a reader in Rio de Janeiro. He/she is reading with an online translator. The Statcounter sends me to the translated page, which is pretty cool. So I have three questions:

1. I'm keen to know who you are, my Brazilian friend. Can you email me jmoff / hotmail?
2. Anyone else had readers in far places? Care to share your story?
3. I wonder: Can you learn a language by reading your Blog in with an online translator?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

...but one thing is necessary

You know the story of Mary and Martha in the Gospels? Mary sitting listening to Jesus? Martha consumed with her tasks? And then Martha angry at Mary? And appealing to Jesus? Who will surely side with her?

Isn't this verse stunningly timeless to your life:
But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
It ain't rocket science...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thomas Sermon #5: The 'Black Swan Event’

Read the TEXT, and the previous posts.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is, I'm told, a New York trader and a specialist in uncertainty. (there's some irony in that, btw?) His claim is that the things with the highest impact in our lives come from the most unpredictable events. Smart idea, huh? Things you couldn’t foresee. Events like September 11, which is especially raw for New Yorkers. Last Tuesday, his book is released on Amazon: The title: "The Black Swan: The impact of the highly improbable"

Fascinating idea, right? Apparently he talks in the book about the 'improbable', and it's relationship to high impact events. These improbable events he calls 'black swans'... that no amount of white swans could have prepared us for.

To borrow Taleb's idea, the Scripture testifies to the fact that Jesus' Resurrection is the ultimate in ‘Black Swan Event’: No one expected that he would rise from the dead.

But he did.

And the case is then made from Scripture that this is the HIGHEST of all impact events, with the Apostolic message of forgiveness (V19-23) reaching even to you who read this Blog, if you believe. For it means, that Shalom is possible as forgiveness and grace is preached and lived.

So, for the cynic, there can be a way forward: There can be blessing if you 'believe without seeing'.

And I think that is attractive. Seriously attractive.

Are you a cynic, or a skeptic? Well, one has gone before you! And Thomas believed. And he was blessed. And that story was written that you may believe that Jesus is Messiah, and that by believing you may have life in his name. The very point John makes: (v30-31):
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Here endeth the sermon...

Comments, questions, complaints?

Thomas Sermon #4: Philosophy 101 and the Resurrection

Read the TEXT, and the previous posts.

It important to affirm something here: What I am about to say is Philosophy 101: No one can say – "I haven’t experienced 'it', therefore 'it' can’t happen". No matter what 'it' is. So you can’t say – "I have never seen anyone come back to life after being dead, therefore no one can come back to life".

One of my favorite cartoons (I believe it was from John's Dickson's 'A Sneaking Suspicion') depicts two babies – twins growing in a womb, and one says to the other: "Don’t be dumb, who ever heard of life after birth." They can’t say: "I haven’t experienced 'life after birth', therefore 'life after birth' can’t happen". You get the point, right?

Have you ever watched (perhaps when you were younger) a caterpillar build a cocoon around itself and emerge a butterfly? If you had tried to tell me the process before I'd seen it, I simply wouldn’t believe you. But just because I’ve never seen it, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

The classic case in Philosophy is the case of the Black Swan. In the 17th Century Europe, it was assumed that all swans were white. No one had seen a Black Swan. Until they discovered in Australia Black swans. Jet Black swans. And even back then it challenged all sorts of notions about what you can and can’t be certain of. You cannot say that because I have never seen a black swan, That there is therefore no such thing as a black swan.

You cannot say: 'Swans aren’t black'.
You cannot say: There’s no ‘life after birth’.
You cannot say: 'Slugs can’t become butterflies'.
And you cannot say: 'Dead men can’t rise'.

All of these are possible, even if initially rare to our eyes. (That's the point, right?)

Last point comin'...

Thomas Sermon #3: Believing Thomas

Read the TEXT, and the previous posts.

So V26 – One week after Easter Sunday– hence we read it this morning (At Church April 15). They are all together with Thomas this time. Jesus appears and says: "Shalom Aleichem" (A point made previously). Then he turns to the First item of business:


Says Jesus, V27:
Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.
We don’t know if Thomas took up Jesus request. Did he reach out to put his hand into the bloody wound (as depicted above in Caravaggio's Doubting Thomas')? I suspect not. Half his dare has been answered (he’s seen the 'marks'), and that is enough.

And then you get this Climatic moment in John:

Spontaneously, outrageously, shockingly, appropriately, insightfully Thomas blurts out the truth, v28:
He answered: 'My Lord and my God'.
So personal: My Lord and My God. So Messianic: My Lord. And so Trinitarian: My God – this person standing here is God himself. God enfleshed.

If Thomas was wrong, Jesus would have corrected him as others do in the Bible . But no. V29:

Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'
We tend to think of Thomas as blessed for getting his request. I kind of wish that I was blessed the same way. But Jesus says that the one even more blessed is the one who doesn’t have this royal treatment. They simply come to believe without this proof.

Now Thomas is an understandable cynic. I’d be just like him if I were there. But Jesus has given him a way out of cynicism.

More comin'...

Thomas Sermon #2: Doubting Thomas

Read the TEXT, and the previous posts.

So spare a thought for Thomas.

V24 tells you that he wasn’t there the day Jesus showed up. Maybe he was running an errand. I would feel ripped off if that was the case. We don’t know where he was, but I’m kind of glad he wasn’t there. As a friend of mine says: "The Gospel’s need at least one Thomas."

But the other 10 disciples say (V25)

"We have seen the Lord."
Now – no doubt he has many thoughts running through his head: He has 10 friends he knows and loves, and every one saying that they’ve seen him. Does he believe them or not?

He thinking: maybe they ALL have post-Messianic stress disorder, or maybe they are pulling his leg, not unlike a cruel high school group who tell some gullible girl "Oh yes, the party IS fancy dress". Maybe he’s got his head saying: Dead men don’t come back to life again.

So he thinks – I’m not buying this – joke or not. V25:
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.
And as he says it, the risen Jesus hears it! Somewhere and somehow, he hears it! It’s like Thomas is daring Jesus.

What a intimate and gruesome request, by the way?

More comin'...

Thomas Sermon #1: "Yes they can."

Read the TEXT, and the previous post.

For the Cynic, there is a Way Forward (v24-29)

The central claim of Christianity is this: That one man, Jesus, rose from the dead as Messiah. He revealed (among other things) that there really is life after death. Really. Like it's not just wishful thinking. And that will motivate you to live in peace through the proclamation of forgiveness now. As J├╝rgen Moltmann once wrote:

The Resurrection hope makes people ready to live their lives in love wholly, and to say a full and entire Yes to a life that leads to death. It does not withdraw the human soul from bodily, sensory life; it ensouls this life with unending joy. [JMM: Great verb!]

But a common response the Resurrection of Jesus is cynicism:

  • That can’t happen.
  • That’s crazy talk.
  • Dead men can’t rise.

And the Christian response to that is:

  • Yes it can.
  • No it isn't.
  • Yes one has.

So spare a thought for Thomas.

More comin'...

Thomas Sermon Text: Believing Thomas

This is the text for my sermon on Sunday. John 20:19-31:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld."

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe."

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
My question for the sermon was:

What does the Resurrection of Christ mean for your life?

The text has three things:

1. For the Fearful, there is Peace (v19-23)
2. For the Cynic, there is a Way Forward (v24-29)
3. For the Reader, there is Life (V30-31)

I'm only going to Blog on Point 2, if that’s OK with you'all.

Comin' soon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On becoming a Roman Catholic

Before moving to New York City, I met very few Protestants who were interested in becoming Roman Catholic . But I've met quite a few here in NYC. It's got me thinking. Becoming a Catholic is a very serious business and ought not to be treated lightly. I think that the Catholics themselves would say that. And I would agree, but for entirely different reasons.

I can't imagine doing it, and I'm troubled by it. There is too much extra stuff there that I couldn't bring into my heart -- there is too much theological, soteriological, ecclesiological, pastoral, and political stuff. But I won't go into that now. Instead, I have been trying to work out what the appeal is.

What would make you do it?

Now this is all a bit of fun (so please don't take this too seriously), but I reckon that there are at least six kinds of Protestants interested in the Roman Church:

1. Rebellious Protestants – who kind of reject their Spartan evangelical upbringing and enjoy telling their parents during summer vacation that they are now going to mass!
2. Mystery Protestants – who kind of reject the hype and loudness and 'certainty' of their Protestant church, and seek to simply sit in quiet mystery for a moment.
3. Unity Protestants – who are confused about the 100,000 different options and splits that the Protestants are famous for! 'If you don't like it, then start another church' stuff! And these Protestants find some assurance in the fact that Rome at least has the appearance of unity – even if he has to live in Rome.
4. Historical Protestants – who simply admire that the denomination is older than their pastor! :)
5. Political Protestants – who find the stand of Rome against some things inspiring: like abortion and euthanasia and ordaining women as priests.
6. Admiring Protestants – who admire one or more particular Roman Catholics (Like Richard Neuhaus, or Henri Nouwen or some friends maybe) and seek to find out what 'they have that I don't have'.

Have I missed anyone in my list?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sermon Help: By 'x' all people will know...

I am speaking on John 13:34-35 at our Maundy Thursday service:

Jesus said: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
So its by your love for one another that anyone else could then pick you out from the crowd as a follower of Jesus. And not something else.
My question: What would that something else possibly be? What do you think it is? What does the secular media think it is? What do Christian people think it is? What do 'Church shoppers' think it is?

By 'x' all people will know that you are my disciples, if you 'x'."

What could 'x' be if it is not love? Take a stab at it and be creative.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In Appreciation of C-SPAN...

Does anyone wish to speak in appreciation of c-span? I watch it when I can (which is not often). But since I do not own cable, c-span will be my friend during the lead up to the Presidential primaries. Kinda makes me wish I was sick and stuck on the couch. With c-span, there is never a dull moment.

Anyone agree? And/or write a comment, or a word, or an ode or poem in appreciation of c-span?


Church Update

Thought you'd like to know:

Yesterday, we started a second morning congregation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We now have a 9:45AM service at East 37th St, and an 11:15AM service at East 87th St. We share the vision of transforming New York City by establishing new churches, and this is our next step. Lots of hard work, but, as the Scriptures say, 'thus far, the Lord has helped us'.

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I've come,
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.