Passed a nativity set yet this Advent season? Take a look at the Real Live Preacher’s expanded Christmas narrative for a desanitized description of the Christmas narrative. The RLP is putting the story out in 8 parts, starting a few days ago and going until Christmas. Ever thought about what the Virgin Mary’s parents thought when their daughter came home pregnant??

If you like the RLP’s description of Christmas, check out Phillip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew

I lurk on a yahoo mail group dedicated to clown ministry. I’ve felt that I’ve had this calling for years to do something with clowning, and just haven’t managed to do more than sketch out some ideas and do some research. But, that aside, a guy by the name of Bob Smith expressed an idea today that just seemed to be worth sharing and expounding upon.

He was giving his advice to a woman who was asked to teach public school kids about clowning. Given the concept of ‘separation of church and state’, she wasn’t sure that she would be able to use her Christian clowning in a public school setting, and yet she wanted to use her clowning gifts in a way that ministers to others.

Mr. Smith’s response differentiated between doing things with a CHURCH focus and doing things with a CHRISTIAN focus. He pointed out that by interacting with the kids, she’d be ministering to them, whether or not she was presenting the Christian gospel message directly. Spending time with the kids, treating them as folks with value, praying for them, and using the gifts God gave her to spread smiles, whether or not God is an explicitly mentioned player in the clown troupe, ministers to and potentially through the kids as they clown to others.

When we work to explicitly spread the Word, by quoting scripture or giving out Bibles, then we’re working with something of a church focus. Our aim is to show folks the truth about the Gospel so that they may accept it and join the body of believers, who are the church. When we work to show the Word’s effect in our lives, and use that effect to minister to others, then we’re working with a Christian focus. God may or may not use that particular instance of ministering to bring someone into His kingdom, but we are still showing some tiny sliver of the impact that the Gospel makes in our lives.

As we look at our lives, and how we use the gifts we are given to minister to others, we should be careful to not focus solely on a CHURCHianity focus to our efforts. New folks whose posteriors are plopped into pews are wonderful to see on Sunday mornings, but they’re not the sole evidence of the impact we’re called to make. We are called to spread the Word, ’tis true, and more explicitly to be able to give an answer for the hope that is within us. But the pop quizzes are few, and the practicums are many.

I think I was on the impacted end of an answer to a prayer that I didn’t make. You see, I’m about five and a half weeks away from our due date for our little girl. And in two weeks, I was supposed to be in a training class three hours away for a week. I knew it was horrible timing, pregnancy-wise, but figured that odds were good that I wouldn’t deliver while I was out there, and decided that even if I did deliver out there, I didn’t have any reason to worry about the birth itself. It would be quite inconvenient, but I didn’t see it as putting our baby or me at risk. Babies are born in hospitals all over the country every day. No reason to think that a doctor at a hospital in town X couldn’t do just as well at delivering a baby as a doctor in town Y.

This afternoon, I got an email saying that my class had been cancelled. That’s unfortunate, as this was really the only class session that I could even have attempted to attend, and the material is stuff I need to know in the very near future. Other sessions were either even later, or would have required me to fly. Airlines and doctors usually don’t like that whole flying thing in the last trimester. So, I went to tell my husband that the class had been cancelled and I wouldn’t be going away for a week after all. He smiled and said something to the effect of “Remember I told you I had been praying for a while last night??”. Well, he never said that he had been praying that the class had been cancelled; I think it more likely that he was praying that God would handle the situation and keep the baby and me safe. But, whatever he specifically prayed for, the answer to that prayer is that the class is cancelled and I will be safely here.

So now I’m thinking, …., if the way to keep our baby safe was to keep me local that week, guess we ought to get the nursery done in a hurry!

Occasionally, I look over my list of recent entries, and the categories to which they’re assigned. Basically, that gives me an idea of what I’ve been thinking/writing about of late, and usually highlights for me any imbalances on where I’m spending my cranial cycles. Looking down over the list, you’d get the impression that my ‘Christianity’ category thinking has been sorely lacking. Truth is, the thinking’s been there, just not the writing.

I’ve been reading a book called “Lifestyle Evangelism” that I checked out of our church’s resource center. Its basic premise is that the idea of evangelism being a spiel you give some stranger about the importance of Christ in their life is completely wrong. Not only is it the wrong approach, in terms of effectiveness (I’m not a big fan of folks cold-calling me for relatively minor decisions like swapping my mortgage – big life decisions like where to put your faith and trust just don’t belong in a cold-call kind of setting), it’s not really the truest form of evangelism. Dr. Aldrich’s position is that evangelism is really an outpouring of our lives as they reflect Christ’s impact on us. Our evangelistic outreach really comes as we reach to folks in their ordinary, world-weary situations, and come to know them and their concerns, and then are able to come alongside of them to show how Christ can impact them, in their day-to-day travails.

In other words, we’re to live with, interact with, and minister to folks in their specific situations – whether that be a homeless person seeking their next meal, or the guy who seems to have it all in the corner office. There’s not a blanket answer or cold-call patter. The cold-call patter approach is actually directly against the vein of “Love one another” – there’s little love for an individual expressed in a rehearsed script repeated ad infinitum to spiritual “targets”.

Examining our first case, our theoretical homeless person has physical needs that Christ has promised to meet; in the second case, our theoretical executive may have a need for meaning in their life, or a sense of peace and balance, or a need for a loving marriage, or… To help our theoretical executive, the answer isn’t as simple as going down to the soup kitchen to make a hot meal. His or her kinds of needs are typically hidden away, seen only by folks who’ve taken the time to form a relationship.

The book’s been very interesting, in showing the qualities necessary in a believer for lifestyle evangelism, and the qualities necessary in a church that’s interested in developing lifestyle evangelistic believers. Both encouraging and challenging, especially as I poke at it for myself personally, and try to figure out how it would apply to, say, kids – both my own and the kids I come into contact with via Sunday school or via Pioneer Girls.

Anyway, culling my thoughts here seems to clarify them a bit for me, although may cause me to muddle them for everyone else… if you have any comments or want to discuss this stuff, bounce me an email or drop something in the comments for this entry.

“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.” – Teresa of Avila

From a site called Pew-Fellows, which I ran across via Nu Cardboard. Nu Cardboard connected me to Pew-Fellows via a discussion on when it’s too late to repent. Pew-Fellows caught me as soon as I started reading the various question and answers – they’re generally well-considered and gentle. No flaming, no vehement arguments (that I’ve seen so far, anyway). Interesting articles all written by young Christians (young in age, though not necessarily in their time in faith) who are younger than 21. Check out Ben’s article on the trouble with perfection for an example.

The quote from above just catches me today in the right vein – had to capture it here to remind me again and again. A great application of 1 Cor 12:27

Just in the mood to share. . .

Need to make a menu for dinner Friday, work on my Bible study for today, and make it to bed before midnight, but there are too many things swirling around in my brain. One set of friends is excited over the birth of their baby, another set of friends is mourning their miscarriage. We all know how to handle the happy event, but we don’t know quite know how to deal with the loss, though both are equally as important. Everyone will want to swarm around the new arrival and his happy parents (welcome to the world, Cambell Ray!), but I suspect M and B will have a quieter time of it, though they may need the support of people around them even more than the exhausted new parents.

In both cases, these pregnancies had been long awaited and hoped for. Both couples were ecstatic to find out that they were pregnant. The pregnancy that resulted in a healthy baby boy would have been the pregnancy I’d have counted as higher risk. But biology, science or no, doesn’t always work as advertised, and babies that are loved aren’t always born.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) Quoting a verse is an quick-fix comfort, both for me and for our mourning Christian friends. May I be a more tangible comfort, an instrument of God’s promise of comfort, for our dear friends.

Sunday, the day of rest. Too bad my daughter doesn’t appreciate the value of a good nap on a Sunday. Some friends of ours invited us over for lunch today after church: wonderful way to spend an afternoon, eating together and just having a chance to get together and talk. As hurried and jam-packed as the rest of the week always is, and as tempted as we often are to fit some of the overflow from the week into our Sundays, it’s definitely refreshing to just, well, REST on Sunday.

Our Sunday school lesson a couple of weeks ago had to do with resting on the Sabbath. The Sunday school kid answer to why we rest is “because God did”. And why did God rest? “Because he was tired”. The Almighty? Tired? Nah. He rested to show us just how good it feels.

Challenged my Sunday school kids last Sunday (5th graders) to one-up me on memory verses. Each week, they get a new verse they’re supposed to memorize. As a Sunday school teacher and also a Pioneer Girls leader, I’ve given out more than my fair share of memorization assignments. But, being the adult rather than the kid, I’ve usually slid by and just memorized the reference and the basic intent of the verse. Uh, I wouldn’t let my kids get away with that, but somehow I justified it for myself. So, this quarter my 5th graders can stop me in the hall on Sunday, when I’m out in the mall, or wherever, and ask me to recite the memory verse (or any of the ones we’ve learned in past weeks).

To try to learn our verse (Hebrews 11:3), I’ve spent time each evening reading it, rereading it, and reciting it. My problem is that I tend to swap in similar words, or to mentally rephrase the verse and come up with a different spin. Not going to cut it (Proverbs 30:5-7).

I now have a bit more sympathy for my kids. For those in private school, they’ve got the verse I assigned to them, the verse for school, the verse for Boys Brigade or Pioneer Clubs, and then all of their regular school work (spelling tests, geography quizzes, science tests, . . .) on top. And we adults think we’ve got a lot to think about and remember!

By the way, the lesson for the week was about the various theories of how the world was created and how what the Bible says fits in. I’d be interested in hearing from some scientific creationists, if any shouldst ramble ‘cross this site. The kids and I had some interesting discussions. . .

As my husband points out in his comment to my last post, I made an error of omission, describing the tree from which Eve ate as the ‘tree of knowledge’, rather than the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I apologize for the misquote. The Word of God is infallible; I am not.

I actually realized my misquote last night, and had shrugged it off as being defensible in the context of my argument. As I looked at last night, self-awareness would inevitably require some sort of understanding of good v. evil to be able to evaluate threats to one’s self, to evaluate decisions within some sort of context. I’m no longer so sure of that argument. True, there’d have to be some knowledge of ‘good outcome’ vs. ‘bad outcome’, but those wouldn’t have to correspond to what we typically think of as good vs. evil. There seems to be a basic understanding of a baseline standard of good that a self-aware computer system might or might not “agree” with. For instance, most moral systems of the world agree that killing is not moral. Now imagine a system that didn’t agree with that tenet. Whether humans believe that tenet from a humanistic point of view (e.g., humans wouldn’t last very long if we went around killing each other off) or from a divine edict point of view (thou shalt not kill), the end result is that there’s benefit to each of us if we don’t go around knocking each other off indiscriminately, and thus whether one agrees with a divine edict, the end result is that we agree that killing is wrong. A computer system might or might not see such benefit, and I think we’d have a hard time proselytizing a computer to recognize divine edict.

I’m no theologian, so my arguments are a mix of limited understanding, limited faith, and some amount of blind acceptance. (Most things in life that we take as true end up being such a mix, unless something’s in our particular area of expertise.) I believe that man was created in God’s image, and that thus the things we take to be fundamentally true and good are those that He values. I also believe that we couldn’t clearly describe those values, that they’ve been muddied in us. “We know it when we see it”, ends up being our descriptor of what’s truly good. If we can’t describe it, then we can’t teach a computer those values and, more importantly, clearly define their applications. So, we couldn’t program a system to have the same value system embedded within us.

That returns me to my argument that man won’t ever be able to create a truly intelligent computer, because that computer won’t know what is good versus what is not good. (Man didn’t have knowledge of evil until he ate of the fruit, so knowledge of evil must not be a condition of intelligence.) Man can’t teach it, so the computer can’t know it.

If we ever create a computer that we believe is intelligent, beware what power we give it or that it can obtain. Hitler was an intelligent person with a values system most folks would say didn’t match what we understand to be good. If we examined his values, I believe we’d find several that were warped (in very significant ways!), but that his core set still resembled our own. Now imagine an ‘intelligent’ creature with a very different value system. If warped values can achieve massive evil, what could missing/incomplete/diluted values do?