Friday, March 30, 2012

Stumbling Toward Victory - Exodus 12

    A train wreck.  That’s our goal today.  We’ve got three trains in action and moving toward this room.  The first train is the Passover passage - Exodus 12:1-13 - explaining the first Passover in Egypt.  The second train is the Palm Sunday passage - John 12:12-19 - explaining Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.  The last train is more customized and personal.  It is the train of our individual lives.  Today, our goal is to guide all three of these trains into a cataclysmic collision that changes our lives.
    Each of these three trains actually carries the same theological baggage cars: wavering, death, and victory.  Looking in each car of each train will be key for crashing everything together. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Community Art Project: Exodus 12

12:1 While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you.

It's Bigger Than We Thought ...
When God sets you free,
It's not just a "new day;" 
It's a whole new calendar.

   Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household.

  If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat. The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.

We Will Rejoice - Isaiah 25:6-9

One of our texts for Easter Sunday is Isaiah 25:6-9.

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will spread a wonderful feast
    for all the people of the world.
It will be a delicious banquet
    with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
    the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
He will swallow up death forever!
    The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
    against his land and people.
    The Lord has spoken!
In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
    We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
    Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

We might use this video to help proclaim this passage.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Retro Poem #2: Initiator

Because you chose me,
   I choose you.
Because you first loved me,
   I now love you.
Because you have always been faithful to me,
   I want to be faithful to you.
Because you rejoice in me,
   I rejoice in you.
Because you long for me,
   I long for you.
Because you will not turn from me,
   I will not turn from you.
Because you remain in me,
   I remain in you.
Because you are patient with me,
   I will be patient with you.
Because you will not force your will on me,
   I will not force my will will on you.
Because you suffer with me,
   I suffer with you.
Because you initiate,
   I respond.

(Written in 2001)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Community Art Project: Exodus 7-11

Exodus 7 (A Plague of Blood)
14 Then the LORD said to Moses ... “announce to [Pharaoh], ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you, “Let my people go, so they can worship me in the wilderness.” Until now, you have refused to listen to him. 17 So this is what the LORD says: “I will show you that I am the LORD.”  ...
 20 ... As Pharaoh and all of his officials watched, Aaron raised his staff and struck the water of the Nile. Suddenly, the whole river turned to blood! 21 The fish in the river died, and the water became so foul that the Egyptians couldn’t drink it... 
Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. He refused to listen ... 

Friday, March 23, 2012

God Plaguing Us - Exodus 7-11

   This is a long and complex passage.  You will probably have unanswered questions after I’m done talking.  That’s OK.  There is no way I can talk about everything here, so I want to make some observations that can help us understand this strange text and apply it in our lives today.   Ten observations about the ten plagues.

1. Yahweh is God of all the earth.  In the English text, any time you see the word LORD in all capital letters, that is a textual symbol that the Hebrew word used is YHWH (or Yahweh).  Yahweh is the special Hebrew name for God.  The background for the plague story is a battle of Egypt’s gods and Yahweh Israel’s God.
    Moses comes to Pharaoh and says, “This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go ...”  But Pharaoh responds, “And who is the LORD?  ... I don’t know him, and I won’t let Israel go.” (5:1-2).  This is the essential conflict of the plagues.  Yahweh is making himself known to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh is learning to submit to the God of all the earth. 


2. Yahweh wants all people to worship him.  Before the plague of the flies, God says, he is sending this plague so that “you will know that I am the LORD and that I am present even in the heart of your land” (8:22).  Before the plague of the hail, God said, “By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth.  But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth...” (9:15-16).  
    God wants all people everywhere to worship him.  This was a radical concept.  Back then, each tribe or nation worshiped their own collection of gods.  The gods were regionally or topically based - the god of this area or this issue.  No god asked for everyone’s exclusive worship - only some worship from some people.  Yahweh’s claim that he is the One True God of All the Earth was - and is - radical.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Pineapple Story

This is a video of a sermon by Otto Koning, a missionary to Papua - now part of Indonesia.  He tells the hilarious and poignant story of how God set him free from owning his pineapple garden and transformed his life and ministry in the process.  It's a little old - from the 70s - but still deeply meaningful and relevant.  (Thanks to Bruce M. for the recommendation.)

You might also be interested in the book:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Retro Poem 1: You & Me

[[I'm going to start a retro poem series - posting an occasional from my earlier years.  I thought I'd start with a simple, funny one, from my college years. ]]

You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
You, Me
It's just you and me --
Let's get married.

Magician's Nephew Review

Emma and I started the Chronicles of Narnia series.  We decided to read chronologically - probably easier for a kid.  We're both loving it.  (It's the second time around for me.) Two parts of the story really stand out to me.
1) Alsan creates Narnia by singing.  We often think of God's voice as a dry booming voice.  Lewis's singing Alsan brings out the powerful beauty of God.  I love that Lewis can do something that changes how we think about God.
2) The people who are attuned with God love Aslan and Narnia, but the people who are greedy and out of sync with God find Aslan and Narnia to be torturous.  Goodness is offensive to them.  Somehow that rings true and makes sense on a primal level.  Also - it could explain much about the coexistence of heaven and hell.  They could be the same "thing" experienced in different ways.

The Josh rating is a strong 4 Js: JJJJ.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Grace (Eventually) - Review

I love Anne Lamott.  I wish she would spend long hours relaxing on the back porch or drinking coffee at the kitchen table with our family.  She would add laughter and depth and love to every situation - and yes, by her own beautiful admission, maybe a little drama too.  But the fact that she freely admits that is part of why I love her and wish we could hang out.
Grace (Eventually) is Donnie-Miller-esque, except that Lamott wraps each chapter into a beautiful little package and - at the same time - ends chapters in intriguing little wandering phrases.  Lamott compiles a range of stories in which she has failed, succeeded, worried, shouted, cried, laughed, trusted, doubted, and loved.  The beauty of her writing is that she draws us into her life and shows us the mysterious action of God there.  In the process, she opens us to our own lives and the same mysterious action of God in us.
I've read a few books by Lamott, but this one is definitely the most "liberal."  She rails against Bush, like a wounded lover, watching her ex dance with the prom queen.  She offers positions on euthanasia and abortion, which I don't support.  However, the benefit in reading Lamott, with all of her frankness and obvious love for God and people, is not agreeing with what she says but understanding the innate humanity of her experience.  She opens my heart to people with whom I disagree, and that is worth the price of any book.  (Though this one was a gift from my friend Gina.  Thanks!)
As hinted by the title, the main point of the book is Lamott's wrestlings with her life struggles and how she finally finds grace - eventually.   Simply opening that struggle to the public is a great act of courage, and it encourages us to stay on the trail of grace even in our darkest times.  Lamott makes me want to write, and to write a lot.
While Grace (Eventually) is not as good as some of Lamott's other books, I still recommend it.  The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Israel and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Time - Exodus 6

(This is a sermon by Matt Banner, our assistant pastor.)

    One of the most famous children’s books is also one that I enjoy.  It is called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst (Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Spl Ltd edition (September 22, 2009).  In it, it tells the story of Alexander, how everything goes wrong for him.  It starts out like this:

    “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…..I think I’ll move to Australia.”

    And things just get worse for poor Alexander.
  • At breakfast, his 2 brothers, Anthony and Nick, get prizes in their cereal.  He just gets cereal.
  • On the way to school, he has to sit in the middle of the car.
  • At school, his teacher doesn’t like his drawing of an invisible castle.
  • He sings too loud.
  • He left out the number 16 when counting (who needs 16 anyway)
  • His best friend leaves him to become his third best friend.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Korea Tip 130: English Counseling in Korea

Sometimes we need help.  That's OK.  It is a sign of health to reach out for the help that we need.
However, when living abroad, it can be hard to find the help that we need.  In Korea, English speaking counselors are hard to come by.
As a pastor, people sometimes ask me to recommend a good method for getting counseling here in Korea.  Unfortunately, there aren't any therapists comfortable doing counseling in Cheonan (where I live).   However, there are other options:

10 Plagues - God, gods, and nature

Next week, I'm preaching on the 10 plagues in Egypt.  I've been thinking about this video all week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Community Art Project - Exodus 6

 1 Then the LORD told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Akeela and the Bee - Movie Review

My friend Matt has been recommending this movie for a long time.  Despite it's potentially nerdy and boring main event (a national spelling bee), Akeela and the Bee is moving and poignant, hopeful and provocative.
Akeela attends a substandard school in South Los Angeles, but she is an exceptional speller.  With encouragement from her teacher, she enters the school's spelling bee.  Her principal sees her as an opportunity to rejuvenate the school and enlists an outside expert (Samuel L. Jackson) to coach her.
As Akeela slowly studies and advances in the national spelling bee, she, her coach, her family, her school, and her broader community are slowly drawn into a beautiful process of healing.  One of the most moving bits of the movie is when the community comes together to help Akeela practice.  It really demonstrates the power of community and the power of one person to make a difference in the life of others.
This may not be Oscar worthy, but it is hands-down the best family movie I've watched in a long, long time.  The Josh rating here is a little difficult.  It barely inches into 5Js: JJJJJ - mostly because I think we should all watch it and be inspired to go and love-likewise.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Korea Tip 129: Brunch in Cheonan

As far as I know Alameda is the first restaurant in Cheonan to serve western style breakfast food.  Not to knock McDonalds, but a McMuffin can only go so far in restoring the feelings of home.
Alameda is a small, owner-chef cafe near the Galleria.  Look across the street for the Cafe Bene and keep walking in a straight line.
The atmosphere is simple-chic, and the food is very good.  The owner serves as chef, and his girlfriend is the friendly waitress.
Sarah ordered the Alameda Brunch - with pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, and - oddly - a small garden salad.  Even giving it the bonus of being the only place to get Western breakfast in Cheonan, this was still a very good meal.  Everything was well prepared and well presented.
I ordered the grilled mushroom salad, and I have to say that it was the best restaurant salad I've had in Korea.  (I have to add that restaurant caveat because my sister-in-law makes a mean spinach-pecan-strawberry salad which may be the best I've ever had anywhere.)  The greens were varied and fresh.  The mushrooms were also varied and well seasoned.  There were even chunks of fresh cheese.
Even the music was great.  The only downside to Alameda is the price.  Plan on paying around 15,000 a person.  At that rate, it's a little to much to become part of our regular circuit, but when we get the hankering for pancakes, waffles, or knock-out salads, now we know where to go.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Beyond Failure - Exodus 5

He was a young man at the top of his game - a star athlete, a top scholar, tall and good looking.  Then, God called him to be a missionary.  At this point in his life, being a missionary was the farthest thing from Jerry’s mind.  He went outside to a lake to talk with God in private.  He told God the long list of reasons why he shouldn’t be a missionary.  Slowly, God answered all his objections.  
At last he had one more complaint - the heart of his worries: “God, I can’t be a missionary.  I’m no good at that kind of stuff.  I’ll fail for sure.”
Then, he felt like God answered him very clearly: “OK, then, will you fail for me?”  That was the heart of the issue.  Was he willing to be faithful to God even if it meant failing?  
That question is the first main point of our Exodus text today.  God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt.  Moses and Israel put their faith in God.  They took a radical step of faith and obedience.  They went to Pharaoh and asked him to let them walk out of Egypt.
(Don’t get distracted by the details of their request.  This is an example of Middle-Eastern bargaining.  The opening offer is to go into the wilderness to worship, but hidden inside that, both Moses and Pharaoh know that Israel is really asking for freedom.)
So after taking this radical step of faith in God, we would expect God to reward their faith and to set them free.  Not exactly.  Instead of freedom, they get more oppression.
Pharaoh’s response is really shrewd here.  By making the Israelites work harder, he does three things.  First, they are now so tired they don’t have any energy to fight for change.  Second, they will now be happy simply to return to the old levels of oppression.  (At least, it was better than this!)  Third, he turns the Israelites against each other.  The Israelite foremen attack Moses and Aaron and call on God to judge against them!  Epic fail!
Sometimes faithfulness leads to failure.  Sometimes obeying God makes our lives harder.  Don’t be confused by all of the beautiful promises in the Bible.  They are true.  Being a Christian is awesome.  Following God is absolutely the best way to live.  ...  But sometimes it really sucks!  Sometimes we suffer because we do the wrong things.  Other times we suffer specifically because we do the right things.
So here is the first main point of Exodus 5.  Will you follow God even if you fail?  Will you be faithful even if it makes your life harder?  Will you value obedience over success?

Community Art Project - Exodus 5

 1 After this presentation to Israel’s leaders, Moses and Aaron went and spoke to Pharaoh. They told him, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go so they may hold a festival in my honor in the wilderness.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Korea Tip 128: Filing US Taxes

This is a guest post by David Reed.  (Thanks David!)

Taxes can be daunting, but luckily in this day and age there are several outlets for getting assistance.  Before we get started I have to tell you first and foremost, I am NOT a tax professional.  The information included in this post should not be taken as authoritative or all-inclusive.  If you have questions about your taxes or are unsure in any way contact a tax professional.  For this post I will be using the IRS information posted here:  All page numbers listed are from this document.

Now that the legal bit is out of the way lets get to work.  I am going to assume you have filed your taxes before in the States and understand the general process.  I will assume you know how to fill out a general 1040 or 1040EZ form using an online program (Like Turbotax) before and dont need a step by step walk through.  The purpose of this post is to take you through the Expatriate process which is just a couple of extra steps.

First, the federal government states that there are only five different programs that they approve for doing your taxes online.  However, they dont tell you which programs these are.  I have found two of these: Turbotax and Taxact.  I have used Turbotax in the past and found it very simple and intuitive but it costs $30 to file your state taxes.  This year I used Taxact and although it only costs about $15 to file your state taxes, it isnt quite as intuitive as Turbotax. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Exodus 4 - Dialog

This is a late entry to our Exodus 4 community art project.

Exo 4:13 But Moses said, "Please, Lord, send someone else."

For Your glory, Lord,
     Please, won't You send somebody else?
For I am weak and flawed and broken –
     Unfit to go for You.

I will go with you –
     Not beside you, but within you.
Where you are weak and flawed and broken,
     My glory can shine through.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Escaping Our Excuses - Exodus 4

First read Exodus 4:1-17.

    We’ve all used excuses a time or two, and sometimes they’ve even been true.  This week I scoured the internet to find some of the worst excuses of all time.  These are the top ten excuses people gave for missing work or school.
10. I'm still drunk from last night.
9. I am stuck in the blood pressure machine at the pharmacy.
8. I tried to dye my hair blonde, but it came out green!
7. I won't be able to come to work next week.  We’re trying for a baby, and the doctor     says next week is the best chance.
6. The train had a flat tire.
5. My boyfriend has a 111 degree temperature (44 celsius). 
4. I can’t come to school today because my brain is full.
3. Please excuse Henry for being late. He was stuck in the bathroom without any toilet     paper.
2.  [This one is the runner-up for being crazy but true.]  Her cat was bleeding all over the     place.  An abscess in it’s belly exploded.  But the vet really helped out and wrote     her an official excuse: “Please excuse Sheryl for being late to work today. Her cat     had a hole in it.”
1. [This one gets the grand prize for the follow-up plan.]  I was playing fetch with my     dog, and the ball took a bad hop and broke a window.  When I went to check out     the damage, I stepped on a big piece of glass and cut my foot really bad, so I     can’t work today.  ...  The trick to making this excuse stick -- he put a pebble in     my shoe for the next couple of work days to remind him to walk gingerly due to     his "stitches."

    We all have excuses.  Some are better than others, but we all have them.  Sometimes we use them to get out of work.  Sometimes we use them to make up for our failures.  Sometimes we use them to avoid God. 
    Here’s the thing about our excuses.  We think they are going to get us what we want.  But in reality, our excuses just form traps to keep us in our selfishness, irresponsibility, or unhealthy lifestyles.  If we want to really be free, we have to escape our excuses.  Our excuses keep us stuck in the status quo, but God calls us into the adventures of the unknown future.