Friday, March 28, 2008

A Theological Question concerning Sacrifice and Suffering

I have a question. This is not a hypothetical question meant to spurn discussion, but a real question that I've been thinking about this week. Here goes:

Why did Jesus have to suffer the way that he did, or did he even have to? Obviously, I understand that Jesus was required to die as a substitutionary payment for our sins. Given the foundation laid out in Exodus, I understand that Jesus' execution was necessary. But what I can't figure out is why was Jesus hit, beaten, spit upon, mocked, falsely accused, and scourged.

Under Mosaic Law, the animal that was to be sacrificed as a payment for sin was quickly and humanely killed. Why wasn't this the case with Jesus?

Was there some theological, divine reason that Jesus was punished above and beyond his sacrificial execution? (Did God have a purpose in it?)

Or was it simply man's doing that Jesus was made to endure these things in addition to the sacrificial death he was to bear? (Were the Jewish and Roman leaders just being a bunch of jerks?)

Why couldn't Jesus have simply been executed the way that the animals were under Mosaic Law?

This isn't a rhetorical question. I expect some answers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Simon Says: How much fun can a worship service really be?

For Easter, Granger Church played a really big game of Simon, using glow sticks and Daft Punk.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gary Lamb; Revolution Church; Canton, Ga; and the Easter Egg Drop

Gary Lamb is one of my favorite preachers to listen to. He is the pastor of Revolution Church in Canton, GA. Last Saturday, they held an Easter Egg Drop for the community. They had a helicopter fly over a public park and drop 50,000 plastic eggs filled with candy for the children and parents below. A few of those eggs were filled with a certificate for free Xbox 360, a Nintendo Wii, a Ps3, etc. Just to be clear that it wasn't just candy involved in the event.

As a church hosting this event, they were expecting between 3 and 4 thousand people to show up for the Egg Drop. The population in Canton, Ga is approx. 18,000 people. It should also be noted that Revolution Church is only a few years old and their weekend attendance is less than 1000 people.

Police estimate that more than 17,000 people showed up for the Egg Drop and the logistical nightmare that followed.

Do the math.

For Better or for Worse

Monday, March 24, 2008

Abusive Animal Stunts for Easter??

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had this to say about the Easter Weekend Services at Church by the Glades:
According to its news release, Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Florida, intends to display an Asian elephant named Judy at the church this Easter weekend.

Elephants like Judy who are forced to participate in publicity stunts are trained through domination, fear, and punishment. Sharp metal bullhooks and electric prods are the standard training tools of the industry. Captive elephants are subjected to beatings, prolonged confinement, physically difficult routines, and exhausting travel. The agony these magnificent animals must endure daily is the dirty little secret of the entertainment industry.

Judy's lonely and unnatural life is in sharp contrast to what she would experience in the wild. Elephants are highly social animals who live in matriarchal herds, protect one another, forage for fresh vegetation, play, bathe in rivers, share mothering responsibilities for the herd's babies, and travel up to 30 miles each day. Their ability to feel pain—as well as sorrow, joy, and happiness—rivals our own.

Unfortunately, PETA didn't actually do their homework. Church by the Glades actually brought Judy the elephant in courtesy of Vanishing Species, a conservationist group that has rescued more than 300 animals and utilizes those animals humanely for educational purposes furthering conservation efforts. Judy's "stunts" and "physically difficult routines" consisted of her leisurely standing in the grass in front of the church occasionally being hosed off to keep her cool. And the one aspect of Judy's life that they conveniently leave out is that if she were indeed reintroduced to her "life in the wild", she wouldn't actually last long because she has already been "semi-domesticated". It wouldn't be in the best interest of my dog, Memphis, if I just opened the door and let her go free. It's no different for Judy.

My wife used to support PETA in college, but their antics like this proved to be too much to handle. PETA takes what is essentially a good idea and just simply takes it too far. Animals should be treated humanely by people of course, but animals are not people. This is where they get it wrong. Not to mention the fact that they obviously have no common sense. Attacking the concerted efforts of a conservationist group and a spiritually evangelistic group is a serious waste of time and resources. Why don't they give more focus to our overcrowded dog and cat shelters? That's what I'd like to see. Less focus on the lone elephant that resides in South Florida and more focus on the thousands of homeless dogs and cats that reside in South Florida.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lights will guide you home, and I will try to fix you....

(ht: TJ)

Song: Fix You
Artist: Coldplay
Film: Passion of the Christ

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Good Friday - The Day of Atonement

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

South Florida's inflation rate highest in nation

Keep repeating the mantra folks: Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather.

The forecast for the next couple weeks is highs in the low 80's and lows in the high 60's. Did I mention that this was the second warmest winter on record for South Florida? The only winter that was ever warmer was in 1932. We haven't had much chance for bonfires because it has been so warm.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Michigan Pizza

We've been living in South Florida for 7 years now. One thing I've missed: Michigan pizza. You see, South Florida is the 6th burrough of New York City. Down here, all the pizza is New York style pizza. That means that the crust is too thin and the sauce is too sweet. Even the cheese isn't quite right most of the time.
What makes Michigan pizza different? No, its not the water. (I roll my eyes every time I hear a New Yorker say that its "in the water.") The sauce is bolder, not necessarily spicy, just bold. Also, the crust is thicker; the slice doesn't "flop" or require folding. I'm not sure what makes the cheese different, or if its just that they use more of it.
But I digress. We've discovered Michigan pizza in South Florida. Jet's is a Michigan pizza chain with locations throughout Florida - I don't know why. The bad news is that Jet's is exactly 14 miles from our house. Now we're going to see how determined I am to get good pizza.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pastoral Blog Cliches

I'm not sure why exactly, but I subscribe to quite a few blogs that belong to pastors. I suppose, when you subscribe to enough of them, you start to see the similarities. Here are a few cliches that I've noticed on blogs that belong to pastors:

  • 'My beautiful wife' syndrome - apparently, every pastor out there is married to the most wonderful, smart, beautiful woman in the world. Also, she is "way out of his league." She is his perfect helpmate. The church's children's ministry couldn't get by without her. Their 6 children would be lost, stupid, and starving without her. I understand because I myself married out of my league, but I resist the urge to shout it from the proverbial rooftop with every post on this site.

  • 'Next week is going to be the most exciting week ever at our church' syndrome - there are only 52 weeks in the year. How many of them can really be the most exciting week at church? For that matter, how many of the topical teaching series can really be the coolest, biggest, most exciting series to date? I'm not trying to poo-poo the presence of excitement in the church, but consistently inflated excitement doesn't really make much of a difference.

  • 'Last week was the most exciting week ever at the church' syndrome - I'm not sure which is worse; the 'last week' syndrome or the 'next week' syndrome. Either way, every week can't be the most exciting week ever. So try and save those exaggerated postures for when it really counts.

  • 'Sunday/Monday night mind dump' syndrome - last time I checked, I wasn't really a big fan of watching someone else take a dump. Why would this be any different? I very rarely read anything of interest in these play-by-play recaps of each weekend's church services.

  • 'Verse of the day/week' syndrome - a devotional is one thing. A devotional disguised as a site that might actually contain something interesting is something else entirely.

  • 'Six million pictures of my kids' syndrome - if it is your first child, I'll give you a pass for one month. After that, change the name of your site to

  • 'My favorite sports team' syndrome - pastors are family men first, and sportsmen second. Boy do they like their sports. I like sports too, but not enough to constantly post again and again about my favorite teams/players and their current happenings. Much like your children, it usually stands to reason that no one else is as interested or as excited as you are.

Some of you may ask, "Lew, why do you spend so much time reading pastors' websites?" My answer is, "I don't know. I just do." And if you are reading this and thinking that I'm possibly talking about you specifically, well, that just isn't the case. It isn't called a cliche for no reason. It is called a cliche because everyone is doing it.

Also, there are obvious exceptions to some of these syndromes. I'll give you a couple examples. One fellow has devoted much of his blog to the adventure of adopting two boys from Russia. That is actually pretty cool to read about. Another fellow has devoted much of his site to story of his abused/rehabilitating granddaughter and her struggles. These tales are far from the "look at my child" syndrome, as they are gripping in their emotional weight and serious in their need for corporate prayer.

Hopefully, this site hasn't succumbed to a 'syndrome' of it's own.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rock Band: the death of Guitar Hero and free time as we know it.

I've heard the complaints about Guitar Hero and I've agreed with them. Why spend the time and money on Guitar Hero when you could spend that same time and money on learning to play a real guitar? Well, reports have shown that the popularity of Guitar Hero has actually increased the incidence of guitar lessons. Reports have even shown an increase in the purchase of sheet music for those songs which are featured in Guitar Hero. So I guess the naysayers, myself included, were wrong.

A friend of mine got Rock Band for his PS3 last week. Our first night playing together as a four-piece band was awesome. We lost track of time and rocked out until almost 4 in the morning. The idea of sitting in front of a television by myself with a fake guitar never appealed to me. As a matter of fact, I am really not that much of a gamer. We own a PS2, but we rarely use it. According to the gamers, Guitar Hero doesn't hold a candle to Rock Band. I haven't played Guitar Hero, but I can say that playing Rock Band was one of the most fun times we've had.

It certainly didn't hurt that my wife and I both have musical backgrounds. She is a drummer, so that made it that much easier for her to get the hang of the drum kit. Take my word for it, drumming is not easy. I can belt out a vocal and I've also played bass, so I was prepped as well.

I don't care who you are or what you think, this game was awesome. Unlike most games that have you competing against each other, the cooperation needed for this game makes it truly unique. When everyone in the band is in the groove together, it is a great feeling. And you never know what it might lead to. I still have my bass. And my wife would love to buy another drum set. When we moved to South Florida, we lived in an apartment for 4 years. She tried to rock out on the drum set once and had 3 people call the cops, so we sold the set (a 7 piece Tama with a double bass pedal). She has regretted it ever since.

In the meantime, we'll keep faking it at our friend's house.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pandora - The Music Genome Project

I am hooked on Pandora. Its kind of hard to explain. Pandora is kind of like an online radio station based on the research done by the Music Genome Project. First, you are prompted to name a favorite artist or song, and then Pandora builds a streaming radio station based on your preferences. You can add multiple songs and artists to each station and Pandora will extrapolate the necessary data in order to custom build each station.

If that sounds confusing, it's my fault. Just go to Pandora and check it out. It is free, and definitely worthwhile if you are a music lover like myself.

I've got a handful of stations built (Jack Johnson, stoner rock, grunge, bluegrass, romantic piano, Frank Sinatra), but I have a couple of Blues stations that have become worth their weight in gold as far as I'm concerned. They're loaded with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hendrix, Clapton, Elmor James, John Lee Hooker, and many more. I really wish that I had discovered Pandora sooner.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Gospel - Jesus Died for my Sins or Something else entirely?

Only we could confuse something so simple. Only we could read the story of Genesis and the Exodus and not understand the part that Jesus plays in that story. Only we could make it about us, rather than about God. Only we could downplay it, twist it, distort it, forget it, and otherwise negate it altogether - The Gospel.

Here goes: Jesus died as payment for our sins. Placing our faith and trust in Jesus and His act of substitutionary atonement alone makes us right with God. What actions may follow are exactly that: actions that follow. What additions we may choose to make to that simple equation are simply that: additions.

Any other way you'd like to confuse something that is so simple a child is supposed to understand it?

I'm sure there is. Too bad. The Gospel really isn't that hard to grasp. Or accept for that matter.

This will be the last of my posts on the topic of Beliefs and Practices. If you missed any, simply click on the link to the left that reads: Beliefs and Practices.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

And the hits just keep on coming....

Two years ago, our closest friends went on a short vacation to North Carolina. Upon their return, they announced that they would be moving to North Carolina. It was a crushing blow for us. Now two years later, its happened again. Our friend went on a short trip to Georgia last week. She returned to announce that she and her husband, our closest friends once again, will be moving to Georgia. She is leaving in two weeks.

No one in South Florida is from South Florida. And no one in South Florida stays in South Florida. It sucks. We just have to remember to keep repeating the South Florida Mantra: Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather. Warm Weather.

I've been reading through the book of Psalms this month. It is a hard book for me to read. I know that there are a lot of Christians out there who just adore Psalms - many of them are worship leaders, but I just don't usually appreciate that book the way that some do. This morning would be an exception.

Here is Psalm 73:

Truly God is good to those whose hearts are pure.

But as for me, I came so close to the edge of the cliff! My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.

They seem to live such a painless life: their bodies are so healthy and strong.

They aren't troubled like other people or plagued with problems like everyone else.

They wear pride like a jeweled necklace, and their clothing is woven of cruelty.

These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!

They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others.

They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth.

And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words.

"Does God realize what is going on?" they ask. "Is God even aware of what is happening?"

Look at these arrogant people - enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

Was it for nothing that I kept my heart pure and kept myself from doing wrong?

All I get is trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.

If I had really spoken this way, I would have been a traitor to your people.

So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.

But what a difficult task it is!

Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked.

Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.

In an instant they are destroyed, swept away by terrors.

Their present life is only a dream that is gone when they awake. When you arise, O Lord, you will make them vanish from this life.

Then I realized how bitter I had become, how pained I had been by all I had seen. I was foolish and ignorant - I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand.

You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

But those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Teaching at an Elementary School

As I'm beginning to write this post, I've just finished teaching a third grade class. I've also taught first grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, and sixth grade. It's been interesting, to say the least. I think I'd like teaching and I do think that I'd be good at it. Although I would probably prefer to teach older students, like middle and high school.

Sixth Grade - they're like little adults, almost. The sixth graders were the students that I could most easily identify with and relate to. We had communication that bordered on real conversation. Plus, they were the most resourceful at amusing themselves with their free time, not looking to me for guidance or entertainment.

Fifth Grade - they just about ignored me altogether. That might sound like a bad thing, but it isn't necessarily so. Rather than focus their attention on me, they choose, instead, to constantly pick at each other and test each other's limits.

Fourth Grade - I had been warned that this class had a couple of potential troublemakers. Here's the thing, though: I am a former troublemaker. I wasn't a troublemaker in elementary school, but I can still identify with where these guys are coming from. And they seem to sense that from the start. One thing I noticed about these so-called troublemakers: when there were rules in place, they sought to break them. But when they were given a "sense" of freedom, they went about doing their own thing quietly. I had a visual of the raptors consistently "checking" the high-voltage fence in Jurassic Park.

Third Grade - this was that "in-between" class. They are not infants. But neither are they adults. Ugh. They were all nice kids, and well intentioned, I'm sure. But trying to keep their attention, keep them in their seats, and keep them semi-quiet was a near impossibility. Like fifth grade, they were intent to pick on each other constantly. It was like Lord of the Flies in the classroom, and I was the pig. I was actually looking forward to this class, because I was charged with teaching them about Geographers. Well, highdy-ho, I was a geography major in college, so this lesson was right up my alley. In all honesty, the geography portion of the class actually went well.

First Grade - This was probably the easiest class to teach, though not my favorite simply because of its ease. I think the rule of thumb for them was: don't keep them doing any one thing for too long. This is probably a good rule for any teaching situation, but especially so with the younger children. I think the reason I really enjoyed first grade was because the day really flew by, being broken up into small chunks as it was.

I don't have children, so any experience I can get in dealing with children is definitely worthwhile. I am intrigued to find out which children I am drawn to and can identify with. While playing kickball during recess with 3rd-6th graders, I found myself sticking up for the little guys and giving them a chance to play a more important role in the game. It was obvious that certain children - whether they be a "girl", "too young", "the fat kid", "too small", or socially or mentally challenged - were never given the chance to contribute to the game in a meaningful way. Being the adult on the playing field, I had the opportunity to change that and turn their little "social order" upside down. Unfortunately, I still was not able to kick the ball past the pitcher - kicking that thing is really harder than it looks. Really.

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