All posts by Owen

Pope begins Bible-reading marathon

Yesterday I wrote about how important it is to make an effort to read the Bible daily.  It appears that the Pope is of a similar mind, and earlier this month, he started a week-long Bible-reading marathon:

RAI state TV began its program called “The Bible Day and Night,” with Benedict reciting the first chapter of the book of Genesis — the holy text’s opening verses about the creation of the world.

The marathon will feature more than 1,200 people reading the Old and New Testament in over seven days and six nights.

Besides Roman Catholics, members of other religions, including Jews, Protestants and Orthodox Christians will participate.

Every few chapters the reading was being interrupted for Christian or Jewish religious music, and opera star Andrea Bocelli led the first interlude Sunday by singing Bach’s “Praise the Lord.”

Hopefully this will inspire more than just a temporary hightened appreciation for scripture, but will cause people to start reading the Bible for themselves.

Reading the Bible Daily

One of the main things I don’t think Christians do enough is read the bible.  I know I don’t.  I went years where I never opened the bible, only hearing it occasionally when I would go to church.  We think to ourselves, “I get it, I know the story.  God created everything, the Jews left Egypt and wandered in the desert.  Jesus came and died for our sins.  What else do I need to know?”  We treat the bible as if it’s some stale source of theology that is best left to our preacher, instead of what it is – God’s primary way of communicating to us.

I recently made a decision to start reading the bible again, setting the goal of reading at least a little bit every day.  It’s hard to do.  We have so many other things filling up our time, it seems like we can’t spare any.  But that’s not true.  Sure, we have a set amount of time every day, and we can only do so much.  How we fill up that time shows us our priorities in life, and trying to make time for bible reading has made me realize that my priorities aren’t entirely in order.

Before I know it, after I get home from work and relax, it’s really late and I still haven’t made time for the bible.  Somehow, I found time to watch a couple of youtube videos, read a ton of news stories, email my friends, IM people on gchat, comment on facebook photos, listen to music, play a bit on my guitar (that I’m still learning), and countless other fillers.  All that, but somehow I have “no time” to read the Bible.

Even after a short time of concentrated effort at reading the Bible regularly, I feel the positive effects.  Being in the word reminds us of who God is, what he has done, and what he promises to do in our lives.  It also connects us directly to our faith.  Protestant broke off, in part, because we felt that everyone had the right to read scripture for themselves.  We don’t need it spoon-fed to us.  We’ve taken something that our ancestors struggled for, and thrown it aside.

Beyond grounding us in the Lord, reading the Bible regularly also corrects us.  It reminds us of God’s standards.  The longer we are out of the word, and out of Christian fellowship, the more we think that we can just live “good,” lives.  Good, of course, being defined by ourselves, and generally loosely.  The Bible lets us know God’s standards very clearly.  We can’t hide from what’s written on the page, and it serves as a useful tool to check ourselves and our behavior.

If you’re not already, I encourage you to take up the same challenge I have placed before myself.  Read the Bible every day. Set a time, perhaps right before bed, and pick a book.  Just start reading.  Don’t treat it as some obscure, dense text.  View it as the living word of God.  You’ll be amazed how just this act can deepen your faith, understanding, and peace.

Pope Decries Godless Nature of Modern Societies

Pope John Paul II did a lot to bring Catholics and Protestants together, and deservedly holds a special place in the heart of American protestants.  He was culturally and socially conservative, which provided the bridge across which our intellectuals crossed, creating a conversational dialogue on issues fundamental to the faith.

Pope Benedict XVI has largely followed in his footsteps, at least doctrinally.  Culturally, there has been a bit of hostility because of certain statements, but on the issues, he is following the path John Paul’s laid.  As Cardinal Ratzinger, under John Paul, Benedict was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job is to “promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.”  This organization used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition, so you can imagine that they take Catholic teaching pretty seriously.

This past weekend, Benedict opened “worldwide meeting of bishops on the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics:”

“Today, nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture,” said Benedict, who has been pushing for religion to be given more room in society.

A document prepared for the meeting rejects a fundamentalist approach to the Bible and said a key challenge was to clarify for the faithful the relationship of scripture to science.

Benedict is spot on.  It seems that the more material wealth a society has, the less spiritual they are.  Mother Teresa noted the same thing:

There are different kinds of poverty. In India some people live and die in hunger.

But in the West you have another kind of poverty, spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God, do not pray. People do not care for each other. You have the poverty of people who are dissatisfied with what they have, who do not know how to suffer, who give in to despair. This poverty of heart is often more difficult to relieve and to defeat.

Last week, I read 1 and 2 Kings, and the same principal was noted there.  David lived most of life in extremely difficult circumstances – a hard life on the run from Saul.  David’s son, Solomon, reigned over a period of peace and unparalled prosperity.  David was far closer to God than Solomon, who fell away and built places of worship for all of his non-Jewish wives.  David, whose constant companion was suffering, felt the need and closeness of God.  Solomon, who lived in comfort, filled all of his material needs and found no need for God.

Christians all around the world, but especially in the developed, wealthy West ought to pay special attention that we don’t allow material wealth to crowd out God – because the material only provides temporary satisfaction at best, and often not even that.

Into the Fray

I spent a significant portion of the past few years overseas, and so I’m not always up to speed on American pop culture.  As such, I sometimes feel like the man from 2002.  I first heard the band The Fray when I returned to America a year ago, and they were already well-established.  I must admit, I wasn’t a big fan when I first heard them – I’m not really into Emo or anything close – though they have grown on me.

The Fray
The Fray

I randomly came across this article last week, I didn’t know they were a Christian band.  It’s worth a read and explains some of their origins:

The band members’ lives were largely formed in Denver churches where they helped lead worship, and in the Christian school three of them attended. Slade, 24, and guitarist Joe King, 25, were several years ahead of drummer Ben Wysocki, 21, at Faith Christian Academy. Wysocki and guitarist David Welsh, 21, played in the same worship band.

They have an interesting take on how they choose to label themselves and share the Gospel:

The band avoided Christian record labels, saying God called them to the secular market instead. “I feel he would be disappointed with us if we limited ourselves,” Wysocki says.

Slade says he used to “write all Christian lyrics” until he had an epiphany while working a shift at Starbucks: “None of my friends outside the church understood any of my songs; we had a different set of vocabulary,” he says. “So I went home and threw away all those songs.”

Slade says he used to “write all Christian lyrics” until he had an epiphany while working a shift at Starbucks: “None of my friends outside the church understood any of my songs; we had a different set of vocabulary,” he says. “So I went home and threw away all those songs.”

“If I handed somebody a double grande mocha latte and told them, ‘Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ they might throw it back on me.

“If we grow up in the church, it’s easy to think it’s our Christian duty to preach to every single person because God is the most important thing. And he is, but I’m a musician first. This is my job. We’re not pastors. We’re not preachers. We’re not even missionaries.”

Slade likens his job to any other. “If you’re a painter, paint, but you don’t have to have Jesus in every picture. Paint well, and if you paint well enough, they might ask you why you do that.”

I was most glad to see them talk about facing the pressures and temptations that any famous band would:

The recent changes include learning to deal with the temptations that often accompany fame—including female fans who are looking for more than just an autograph.

The men say they take the temptations seriously and serve as accountability partners for one another. If any member of the band were caught with a woman, Welsh jokes that the other guys wouldn’t just reprimand him: “We’d skip right to murder.”

“There’s also this subconscious pressure,” says Welsh, the only unmarried member of the group—and he’s getting married in a few weeks. “You don’t want to disappoint yourself and the three guys you’re spending most of your life with.” He adds that their years of friendship make it easier for them to speak frankly with one another.

Still, they admit that one of their biggest struggles is staying grounded in their relationship with Jesus.

“We’re all just learning that there are a lot of more proactive things that need to be done,” says Welsh, adding that with time on the road, they’re rarely able to attend their home churches. “So,” he says, “a lot of that now falls into our hands.

Do you listen to The Fray?  Do you agree with their take on doing one’s job well, and letting the Gospel come in after that?  I get what they’re saying, but I’m afraid it borders on a kind of mentality that pushes evangelizing to the back burner, when in fact, it is our Great Commission.

The Fray’s most famous songs are Over My Head, and How To Save A Life.

Rosh Hashanah

Last night I attended a Rosh Hashanah service put on by Jews for Jesus.  I was very active in Jewish circles in college because of the peculiarities of campus politics, and am a huge supporter of Israel.  I took some classes on Judaism and Jewish history (when I was a Study of Religion major), and am one of those Protestants who emphasize the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, is the beginning of the ten Days of Awe, which culminate in Yom Kippur.  According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, God opens three books.  In one are the righteous, whose names are immediately sealed – they’ve passed the test.  In the other two books are the names of the wicked and people who are neither completely wicked nor righteous.  Those people then have ten days (Days of Awe) to prove they are righteous through repentence, prayer, and good deeds.  The books are then sealed on Yom Kippur.  If you make it in to the Book of Life, you’re good for another year.

The basis of the holiday is Leviticus 23:24,25: “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.”  The trumpet blast is from the shofar (ram’s horn), which plays a central role in Rosh Hashanah.  Apples dipped in honey also play a prominent part, symbolizing the desire for a sweet year ahead.

Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah

The Jews for Jesus service last night was interesting, and they’ve done some reappropriating of the meaning of several aspects.  For example:

The blast of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah is not just a call to repentance, but a reminder of Jesus’ return. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Messiah will rise first” (1Thessalonians 4:16).

Rosh Hashanah also provides for a very clear contrast between Judaism and Christianity on the point of salvation.  According to Jewish tradition (and it’s not written in the Bible), we save ourselves through good works.  If we don’t do enough during the year, we have those ten days to really prove we’re worth it.  Ultimately, it’s a challenge that none of us can pass, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).  We have all sinned, and God requires a sacrifice to attone for it.  Jesus was that sacrifice who, once and for all, writes our names in the Book of Life.  Moreover, the works we do can never get us anywhere near pure enough to get into the presence of God, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)

That said, Rosh Hashanah is still a good time to reflect upon the past year and reexamine our life.  It’s also a great opportunity to thank and praise God for the sacrifice he made on our part, so that we don’t have to be worried about taking a test that we could never pass.

Fasting with Ease

After hearing a sermon yesterday about letting God come into our lives and clean out some areas that we may have been keeping from Him, I decided to put it in practice.  I had been planning on fasting on Wednesday, which is the weekly day of fasting and prayer at my church, but after the message I felt the need to start right away.  I didn’t want to, and tried to convince myself that Wednesday would be fine.  I’d do the handover tonight, recommit to God, and fast on Wednesday.  No dice.  No matter how much I tried to convince myself, I just knew that I had to start today.  If was really giving it over, this was a way to show my commitment.

Funny enough, I’ve had no real problem keeping the fast.  This is only my fifth or so time fasting, I’d never done it before moving to DC.  I’m learning that it’s something that definitely takes discipline and will, and a certain amount of training and experience help.  Though like yesterday’s morning prayer, I think God was helping easing me into the practice.

Halfway through the day I took some time to pray.  I’m quite blessed with where I work.  It’s a huge concrete complex of offices and shops that cater to busy businessmen (junk food, convenience stores, Starbucks, etc.), but there are also some interesting little mini-parks landscaped into the area.  These places are completely empty and unused.  Nobody takes advantage of them, even though they do actually provide a nice break from the stress of the office.  I’ve singlehandedly cajoled more people into the tables and benches than the place has probably ever seen.  One of the mini-parks makes for a nice, calm, tranquil place to pray, both because of the environment and the fact that there’s never anybody there.  People don’t even walk by.  But hey, so much the better for me 🙂

Near the end, though there was some considerable temptation to break the fast.  Someone brought in incredible homemade fried chicken.  It looked and smelled amazing, and everyone was telling me that it tasted even better.  Of all the days to not only get free dinner, but a homemade meal!  Fortunately, however, God did take away what would have been the worst temptation of all.  On Monday evening, as I was leaving, I noticed someone brought in homemade brownies.  They were gone by Tuesday.  Those I would not have been able to resist!

Changing Your Attitude with Morning Prayer

I got up early this morning to pray.  Early.  Five o’clock early.  That may not seem excessive to many, but it’s absurd for me, who usually goes to bed around one.  Making it even more complicated, I didn’t get much sleep this weekend.  Although that’s not really news, I rarely do.  Normally, people are supposed to sleep in on the weekends and come back to work on Monday refreshed.  I, however, actually sleep more during the week than on the weekends.

My church has a prayer meeting every Monday at 6am, and a lot of the youth go.  I’ve always considered it too difficult, and only gone once before (when I had a plane to catch at 8am, so it was already getting up early, and church is on the way to the airport).  A friend explained that getting up at 5 was a bit early for him, too, but that he considered it making a small sacrifice for God, and that the prayer really helped get the week off on the right foot.

Needing a good start to my week, I decided that, paradoxically, taking even more sleep away from an already sleepless week might actually make me more refreshed.  Funny enough, after only about 4 hours sleep, I had no problem getting up on time and making it to church for prayer.  So far, so good.  Though I don’t always expect it to be this easy, I think God was just easing me in.  The morning prayer takes about an hour, and starts off with reading a couple of psalms followed by group prayer.  Baptists – so on your knees, no weak sitting-in-a-chair prayer!  We have a small breakfast before going our separate ways to work, and it gives us the chance to wake up a bit more.  I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, deep prayer always puts me in a state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness.

I got to the office around 7:30, and was feeling pretty good.  Amazingly, the whole rest of the day I had a wonderful, almost carefree attitude.  Everything went smoothly, and my heart was filled with joy towards everyone I interacted with.  “Want me to write or check something?  Sure!”  “Hey person who just cut me off in traffic, I hope you have a great time after work!”  The morning prayer really seems to have had an elevating effect.  Taking my normal attitude and view on everything up a couple of notches.

My friend was absolutely right.  It is a sacrifice, but one well worth it that puts everything in perspective for the week ahead!