January 24, 2011

Part 2: Curses for Disobedience

Yesterday, we looked at the rich rewards that God promises his people when they put him first and obey him. I'm not suggesting a "health and wealth" gospel, because I will be the first to tell you that Christians were also promised suffering, but God is always there providing for the ultimate needs for his people.

I find it interesting that there are 53 verses in this chapter that warn Christians against disobedience, compared to the 14 verses that talk about blessing. This is something we must pay attention to. This should remind us of something we already know: it is easier to do the wrong thing than the right thing, many times. God thought it was important to articulate the ways in which we so easily bring detriment to ourselves and others by our sin--and ultimately looking to people or things for our happiness and not him. I cannot think of a more timely passage for our nation--and for myself. The Israelites struggled with this and here we are--thousands of years later--still struggling with it. The sin in our hearts is still there. We may not be planting olive trees or herding cattle, but we put our value and stock in our worldly possessions faster than our 4G phones can upload a youtube video.

I hope that you will take the time to reflect on this passage and the daily decisions that you make. It's still January, and I have been using this month for a lot of self reflection. I pray that God will work in all our hearts to value Him more than anything else on this earth. He is pearl of great price.

Deuteronomy 28:15-68

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

20 “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. 21 The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. 23 And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. 24 The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.

25 “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away. 27 The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, 29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you.30 You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat any of it. Your donkey shall be seized before your face, but shall not be restored to you. Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, but there shall be no one to help you. 32 Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless. 33 A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually, 34 so that you are driven mad by the sights that your eyes see. 35 The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.

36 “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away. 38 You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41 You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity. 42 The cricket shall possess all your trees and the fruit of your ground. 43 The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.

45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lordyour God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. 51 It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish.

52 “They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. 53 And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.54 The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, 55 so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. 56 The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, 57 her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.

58 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lordyour God, 59 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. 60 And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. 62 Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. 63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

64 “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see. 68 And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

January 21, 2011

Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010

My Dad sent me the findings from the Barna Group's 2010 study on the church. I thought it was interesting and would like to share them with you. I feel very blessed to have grown up in a community where theology and learning the Bible was emphasized not only at home but also in my elementary school. These building blocks enabled me to get to a point in my teenage years where I wanted to learn and absorb more of what the Bible has to offer--and I still do to this day. There is SO much to learn and always an opportunity for growth. My community group at Grace DC further drives this point home each week when we discuss the sermon from the previous Sunday and pray together. We also do community service work together.

Community and learning more about the Bible do not just happen by osmosis--one must take the initiate to go out and seek these things. I can tell you from personal experience that the rewards far outweigh the initial "hassle" of learning because once you build a solid foundation, it sets the stage for every aspect of your life.

I pray that God will continue to work in my heart to seek him more and further his kingdom.

And now...for the results:

Change usually happens slowly in the Church. But a review of the past year's research conducted by the Barna Group provides a time-lapse portrayal of how the religious environment in the U.S. is morphing into something new.

Analyzing insights drawn from more than 5,000 non-proprietary interviews conducted over the past 11 months, George Barna indicated that the following patterns were evident in the survey findings.

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans--especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other examples include the finding that few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence. Further, a growing majority believe the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God's presence or power, but not a living entity. As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.

2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago. Examples of this tendency include the fact that less than one-third of born again Christians planned to invite anyone to join them at a church event during the Easter season; teenagers are less inclined to discuss Christianity with their friends than was true in the past; most of the people who become Christians these days do so in response to a personal crisis or the fear of death (particularly among older Americans); and most Americans are unimpressed with the contributions Christians and churches have made to society over the past few years. As young adults have children, the prospect of them seeking a Christian church is diminishing--especially given the absence of faith talk in their conversations with the people they most trust. With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, as well as the increased religious plurality driven by education and immigration, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance.

3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
When asked what matters most, teenagers prioritize education, career development, friendships, and travel. Faith is significant to them, but it takes a back seat to life accomplishments and is not necessarily perceived to affect their ability to achieve their dreams. Among adults the areas of growing importance are lifestyle comfort, success, and personal achievements. Those dimensions have risen at the expense of investment in both faith and family. The turbo-charged pace of society leaves people with little time for reflection. The deeper thinking that occurs typically relates to economic concerns or relational pressures. Spiritual practices like contemplation, solitude, silence, and simplicity are rare. (It is ironic that more than four out of five adults claim to live a simple life.) Practical to a fault, Americans consider survival in the present to be much more significant than eternal security and spiritual possibilities. Because we continue to separate our spirituality from other dimensions of life through compartmentalization, a relatively superficial approach to faith has become a central means of optimizing our life experience.

4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
Largely driven by the passion and energy of young adults, Christians are more open to and more involved in community service activities than has been true in the recent past. While we remain more self-indulgent than self-sacrificing, the expanded focus on justice and service has struck a chord with many. However, despite the increased emphasis, churches run the risk of watching congregants’ engagement wane unless they embrace a strong spiritual basis for such service. Simply doing good works because it's the socially esteemed choice of the moment will not produce much staying power.

To facilitate service as a long-term way of living and to provide people with the intrinsic joy of blessing others, churches have a window of opportunity to support such action with biblical perspective. And the more that churches and believers can be recognized as people doing good deeds out of genuine love and compassion, the more appealing the Christian life will be to those who are on the sidelines watching. Showing that community action as a viable alternative to government programs is another means of introducing the value of the Christian faith in society.

5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for. That may not be surprising in a Church in which a minority believes there are moral absolutes dictated by the scriptures.

The challenge today is for Christian leaders to achieve the delicate balance between representing truth and acting in love. The challenge for every Christian in the U.S. is to know his/her faith well enough to understand which fights are worth fighting, and which stands are non-negotiable. There is a place for tolerance in Christianity; knowing when and where to draw the line appears to perplex a growing proportion of Christians in this age of tolerance.

6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. Partly due to the nature of today’s media, they have no problem identifying the faults of the churches and Christian people.

In a period of history where image is reality, and life-changing decisions are made on the basis of such images, the Christian Church is in desperate need of a more positive and accessible image. The primary obstacle is not the substance of the principles on which Christianity is based, and therefore the solution is not solely providing an increase in preaching or public relations. The most influential aspect of Christianity in America is how believers do--or do not--implement their faith in public and private. American culture is driven by the snap judgments and decisions that people make amidst busy schedules and incomplete information. With little time or energy available for or devoted to research and reflection, it is people’s observations of the integration of a believer’s faith into how he/she responds to life’s opportunities and challenges that most substantially shape people’s impressions of and interest in Christianity. Jesus frequently spoke about the importance of the fruit that emerges from a Christian life; these days the pace of life and avalanche of competing ideas underscores the significance of visible spiritual fruit as a source of cultural influence.

With the likelihood of an accelerating pace of life and increasingly incomplete cues being given to the population, Christian leaders would do well to revisit their criteria for "success" and the measures used to assess it. In a society in which choice is king, there are no absolutes, every individual is a free agent, we are taught to be self-reliant and independent, and Christianity is no longer the automatic, default faith of young adults, new ways of relating to Americans and exposing the heart and soul of the Christian faith are required.

January 16, 2011

Katie's BIRTHDAY!

In order to properly usher in Katie's quarter century, we rented a bus and drove all over DC. The evening was enhanced by Charles' iPod and the leftover glasses from Elvis' birthday party! Our driver approved of the jams being played as she could often be seen boppin' back in forth and singing as we cruised the District.

Ready to go! Next time, we will remember to bring a sweet DVD for the TV.

Lainey and Charles--our DJ's!

Carolyn and Jordan

The Birthday Girl, Laura and Meg sporting their Elvis glasses

Kern and me--yes, I am wearing one the silk scarves given to me by Elvis the night before!

The Birthday Girl thanking everyone for coming

The crew in front of the Lincoln Memorial

The guys in front of the Capitol

"Core Group" - the six of us all moved to DC about the same time in 2008 and we've been making it happen ever since...

Kern (draped in Elvis' scarf) and me doing the classic prom pose in front of the Capitol

January 15, 2011

Happy 76th Birthday Elvis!

Each year the Mississippi and Tennessee State Societies host a birthday celebration to the honor the KING - Elvis! This year, we continued the tradition at Top of the Hill.

Decorations and glasses, courtesy of the kind of folks at Graceland!

The Societies' presidents--Anna Katherine and Kelly--introducing Elvis

Charles and me after we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Elvis

Bling, bling Elvis!

My faithful social co-chair serving cake--Elvis only had 3 pieces...

January 11, 2011

An Adult's Adventure to Disney

Since I'm a quarter century old, it was time to go to Disney World again! Fortunately for me, one of Kern's best friends from growing up was getting married there in January so it was the perfect excuse to visit a couple of theme parks. We arrived in Orlando on Sunday evening and got up bright and early for Magic Kingdom on Monday morning.

Day One: Magic Kingdom

The Christmas decorations were still up on Main Street!

Buzz Lightyear ride in Tomorrowland. Kern had about 100,000 more points than I did...

Kern in front of the Speedway

Super pumped for the teacups!

After Kern spun me, I felt nauseous for 30 minutes.
Guess that's part of the experience?

Minnie's house!

The steam engine train that goes around the whole park

Ah, Cinderella's castle

The Castle at night before the fireworks

The fireworks were my favorite part of the day.
Magical.

Main Street at hour 13 of our Magic Kingdom adventure

Of course I had to make on last stop in the confectionary before we left...
had to get a snack for the ride home!


DAY TWO: EPCOT

I really enjoyed the World Showcase. I like shopping in Japan, eating in France, and going on a Viking adventure in Norway.

Soarin' and the GM Test Track were two of the best rides we went on all week. Soarin' consisted of feeling like you were hand gliding across American--complete with a misting of orange scent over an orange grove in Florida and the "wind" whipping through your hair! The GM Test Track let you experience a taste of what all cars go through to pass safety inspections. We then went 60mph around the track!
As a child, I barely remember Epcot. I associated it with a giant golf ball.
Boy was a I wrong!

I went to England and made a call!

Yep, that's the Eiffel Tower behind Kern.

Wedding Festivities Begin!

Brittany and Sam at the rehearsal dinner in Downtown Disney

Mr. and Mrs. Sones depart the wedding in Cinderella's coach pulled by 6 white horses!

The Disney wedding pavilion

Sam and Brittany


Kern wanted a picture with the horses

The cake--complete with a glass slipper!

Princess!


January 09, 2011

Prayers for Arizona

I am still in shock about the shooting massacre that took place in Tuscon, AZ on Saturday, January 8th. As I watched the news reports roll in, I felt an mixture of emotions: sadness, anger, confusion, hatred towards the shooter and heart break for the victims' families.

I felt sad because innocent people were hurt and killed.

I felt angry because this is AMERICA and we are not supposed to have senseless violence. That is what our soldiers are fighting to protect for us abroad and it brings a new worry when we have to consider it on our own turf.

I was confused because of the conflicting reports.

I hated the shooter. I realize that he is probably suffering from a mental disorder, but I hated his actions. I hated that he thought this was the way he needed to express himself.

My heart ached (and still does) for the victims and their families. I cannot imagine the pain and agony they are experiencing right now.

As I began to sort through my feelings, naturally I wanted to ask God, "Why? Why do innocent people have to die or be seriously hurt like this?" There is no earthly answer that will satisfy me. This evening at church, we sang the hymn "In the Hours" by Helen Parmelee. If you would like to listen to it, click here.

1. In the hours of pain and sorrow,

When the world brings no relief

When the eye is dim and heavy,

And the heart oppressed with grief

While blessings flee, Savior Lord we trust in Thee!

While blessings flee, Savior Lord we trust in Thee!

2. When the snares of death surround us,

Pride, ambition, love of ease

Mammon with her false allurements,

Words that flatter, smiles that please

Then ere we yield, Savior Lord be Thou our shield

Then ere we yield, Savior Lord be Thou our shield

3. When forsaken in distress,

Poor despised and tempest-tossed

With no anchor here to stay us,

Drifting, sail and rudder lost

Then save us Thou, who trod this earth with weary brow

Then save us Thou, who trod this earth with weary brow

4. Thou the hated and forsaken,

Thou the bearer of the cross

Crowned of thorns and mocked and smitten,

Counting earthly gain but loss

When scorned are we, We joy to be the more like Thee

When scorned are we, We joy to be the more like Thee

5. Thou the Father's best beloved,

Thou the throned and sceptered King

Who but Thee should we adoring,

All our prayers and praises bring?

So blessed are we, Savior Lord in loving Thee

So blessed are we, Savior Lord in loving Thee

You see, sin like this makes God sad. The Bible tells us that he grieves over the sins of humanity. We do not understand why he allows tragedies like these to occur, but we must trust that, like the tapestry of our own lives, God is using this to bring glory to Himself in some way, even though our finite minds cannot comprehend how this might happen. Being angry at God during a time like this is counterproductive, because in times like these, we must cling even closer to him: In the hours of pain and sorrow/When the world brings no relief/When the eye is dim and heavy/And the heart oppressed with grief/While blessings flee, Savior Lord we trust in Thee!

It is my prayer that this tragedy would bring more people to know Christ, strengthen the bonds between current Christians with Christ and show the world that our hope is not built on earthly things. In times where we do not understand the “why” we must be thankful that we have a heavenly Father who controls all things and can see the big picture.

Don’t forget to pray for the wounded and the families of the deceased. Also, pray for our country, its leaders and your fellow Americans.

God Bless America.