Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Psalm

The book of Psalms is very beautiful. “Psalms” means songs. It has songs and poems to represent every imaginable human emotion. In my Disciple Bible Study group last week, our text suggested that we write our own psalm.

Here’s mine:

O Lord my God, you are my rock and my defender.

I praise you early and late.

Your love is better than all earthly life has to offer.

Protect my spirit from the words of the unbeliever,

I pray. Give me courage to speak your name.

Your love holds me up forever, and

My heart will always seek the beauty and truth

Of your love.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Saint John's Bible

In 1970, Donald Jackson, one of the world’s foremost calligraphers, told Diane Sawyers in an interview that his life’s greatest ambition was to write the Bible. Not long after that, Saint John’s University in New York City commissioned Jackson to direct the writing of the Bible as a series of illuminated manuscripts. This is the first time in about 500 years that a Benedictine Monastery has engaged in handwriting an illuminated Bible.

The Bible will all be written on vellum using quills, hand-made ink and pigments, and gold leaf. Computer technology is used only to set the layout measurements so the page content will be consistent in size. It is like the handwritten manuscripts made by medieval monks before the invention of the printing press.

Jackson has been working on this mammoth global project, directing and teaching, for over 20 years. A number of calligraphic artists from many countries participate in the work; Jackson himself is British. The Saint John’s Bible is scheduled for completion in 2009 and the total cost is estimated at around $4 million.

Saint John’s displays much of the Biblical manuscript online at this linked site. It is incredibly beautiful.

Why is Saint John’s doing an illuminated Bible? Here’s the reason, as the site’s author explains:

The goal of The Saint John’s Bible is to ignite the spiritual imagination of all peoples throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium, in a way that is relevant to the 21st century. It is a prophetic witness to the Word of God in our day and beyond, an opportunity for learning and scholarship and a dignified expression of the Benedictine vision: "That in all things God may be glorified.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Homeless--Any Prospects?

Every night, nearly 200,000 homeless veterans sleep on the streets. “A disgrace,” says former Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Jesse Brown, “that we have men and women who served in American uniform who are out on the streets with no place to go and few prospects for a better life.”

The little bit of information above came from the web site, linked here, of Dignity Memorial, a homeless veterans’ burial program that provides free, appropriate funeral services for qualified homeless veterans. That’s a generous gesture.

But what about their lives? Are they to be left alone under a bridge or on a park bench until death, and then washed, dressed, and buried in a decent way? I believe I see some irony here.

A Google search shows this linked web site of National After much beating around of the proverbial bush about studies and assumptions, the author says

the total number of homeless people in the United States is “approximately

3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children,” according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. That is a disgrace.

The United States has the reputation of being one of the most advanced, wealthiest, least hungry nations in the world; many generous Christians live in this country, and the church is not persecuted. Why would so many people be destitute? Is our love too small?

Mark Labberton is the author of a Christianity Today article entitled “The Lima Bean Gospel.” He posits that the church today does not give much evidence of obeying the gospel call; maybe it isn’t politically correct to be zealous, and we worry about that. Labberton says:

Jesus Christ, the Lord of Creation, Redemption, and Fulfillment, calls the church the salt and light of the world. Jesus seems to have had in mind a community engaged in vigorous, self-sacrificing mission that goes to great lengths to enact costly love, that inconveniences itself regularly to seek justice for the oppressed, that creatively serves the forgotten, all to portray that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Depending on where we look in the world, however, that church seems to have gone missing.

We should take a close look at ourselves. When Jesus said we should love God with our whole beings and love our neighbors as ourselves, he meant it; he said those two commandments embody all the ten commandments.

If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we would be loving sacrificially. It's pretty clear that we are usually quite willing to go to great lengths to ensure satisfaction of our own needs. So, logically, if we loved others as ourselves, we'd be more than willing to help people who suffer dire need.

The fact that we, the whole body of Christ, are not willing to act in sacrificial ways shows that our concept of God's love is indeed too small.

As Labberton points out, our God is the creator of the universe, including “300 kinds of hummingbirds” and great diversity among human beings. He says Christianity has been accused of being too bland and weak to offer any answers to the huge diversity of overlapping cultures today. We act as if our love—our gospel—is small.

The only answers, he argues, that will show Christ to the world “will require us to consider again that very thing Jesus says is central to God's kingdom, the most life-enlarging and non-homogenizing reality: love.”

The Bible says we should show our love in actions, not just talk about it:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence. 1 John 3:17-19

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. If the Christian church worldwide wanted to, it would act out this love, the sacrificial love of Christ. And then 200,000 homeless veterans would not have to wait around until they die to get help. Over 3.5 million other homeless people, including children, would not have "few prospects."

*I borrowed this picture from the "Oldtimer Speaks Out" blog; Oldtimer said the picture came from Flickr .

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rob Bell

My friend sent me a Time Magazine article about Rob Bell, saying, “This is something you really need to read.” So I did. I didn’t know a thing about him.

Rob Bell—who is that?! I asked this question when I read that articles in the Chicago Sun-Times and Christianity Today called him “the next Billy Graham.” I did some investigating, because that’s quite a claim to make about anybody.

Rob Bell is the pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandview, Michigan. He looks like a good ol’ American boy in his twenties; he founded Mars Hill, a protestant, nondenominational, evangelical mega-church that meets in a converted shopping center. He is helping lots of people “find the Big Jesus” in new ways.

A BeliefNet article by David Kuo, linked here, says this about Bell:

Chances are you haven't heard of Rob Bell. You will. In 1999, he, his wife Kristen, and a group of friends started Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan because they wanted to create a community where God could be experienced in a non-traditional way. They didn't know how to do it or what would happen. They just knew that they wanted to be part of a community where people loved coming, questions were welcomed and love abounded. The church grew from zero to 10,000 in less than two years and Rob Bell has become a phenomenon.

And so, I tell you the same thing my friend told me: “This is something you really need to read.”

Here are some amazing, innovational things Bell does to show people who Jesus is—and this is the sure-enough real Jesus of the New Testament:

  • After a sermon he gave called “Love Wins,” a widespread bumper-sticker campaign started, and you can read about it and hear the “Love Wins” sermon at this linked site: Also, you can buy “Love Wins” bumper stickers and get the first one free, and start spreading this great notion at this site.

  • He and some people in his church do short videos (about 15-20 minutes) called NOOMA, in which he generally tells a story that powerfully illustrates things about God. You can view some or even buy some at this linked site.

Reading about what Rob Bell does gives me hope for the world. It makes me think of this passage from Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost, Peter says,

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Friends--Lost and Found

I just received an amazing phone call from a family I thought I had lost for good. They live in Monterrey, Mexico, now; I lost touch with them when they moved to Monterrey from Reynosa, on the Texas border.

I met them when I went on several mission trips to Reynosa about eleven years ago. V. was the pastor of the church where we stayed while we did our work of tearing down an ancient church with generations of possums living in the walls. We went back and stayed with V.’s people again a few months later to begin building a new church.

We comfort-loving Americans learned to work under bad conditions, as it rained most of the week. We learned to serve and love other people because of unconditional love. Our hearts were touched and broken by the terrible poverty we saw. People lived in lean-tos made of wooden pallets, Styrofoam, pieces of tin and cardboard. Their floors were dirt. Pairs of houses shared a water faucet. Every yard had an outhouse. In spite of pain and troubles, they worshipped God with a free openness that we rarely see in this country—a sweetness of spirit, a certainty in his power and love.

We met with a youth group in a large church in a more prosperous part of the city; they did not know about the poverty and suffering in their own city. They asked us, “Why have you come so far to help people you don’t know?”

We looked at each other and said, “Uh, well….”

They said, “Is it because you have Jesus in your hearts?”

That was it. “Yes,” we said. The rest of the week, three of the youths worked with us. We were brothers and sisters in Christ. By the end of that week, we loved them and didn’t want to leave; we were especially close to V. and his family. V. and his wife came to the United States and spent a week with us.

For about six years, I kept in touch with V. and his wife through e-mail, but I lost them when they moved to Monterrey four years ago. I had tried everything I knew to find out where they were. Then tonight, there they were, on the telephone. They are visiting their son in the United States. I am full of joy to have them back at last!! Praise be to God, who gives blessing after blessing!