Sunday, November 23, 2008

I preached this

I don't get to preach very often. In a good year, it is maybe three or four times. This means that doing so is a very big deal for me. Last Sunday, was one of those times and I thought I went well. Because I talk fast and occasionally stutter, it is absolutly necessary for me to write exactly what I want to say and the memorize it, so here it is:

I was in Target this past week, and I noticed that the Christmas displays are completely up. Of course, it did not really surprise me, because I was in there a few weeks ago just before Halloween and I noticed that they had already begun to sneak Christmas decorations out in a couple of isles. It seems that retailers are dead set on making the Christmas season last two months. However, it seems that extending this time is really not in our best interest. After all, there is already a problem with Christmas blues. I am sure that you like me have heard that December is the highest month for depression. It seems odd though doesn’t it? We work really hard to make December one of the happiest months of the year, but instead people get more depressed that month than any other. In fact it seems that overall we have a problem with happiness. A recent study showed that the United States is the 16th happiest country in the world. Sixteenth out of 97 is not bad, I guess but considering that the United States is the wealthiest country with one of the highest standards of living, you might think we would be happier. In the past fifty years, Americans have worked really hard to be happy, to the point that some have said we are addicted to happiness, but the overall happiness of the average American has not increased in the past fifty years. I suppose given the current state of the world we could find a lot to be unhappy about, but I think happiness is something that all of us want, so this leads to the question are you happy now?

I believe that today’s scripture, the beatitudes as they are commonly known speak a lot about happiness. But first, it is probably best if we define happiness, because the word happy is one that is maybe a bit overused in our language and a word we take for granted. A strict dictionary definition of happy is characterized by joy. I think that is a very good definition, but I want to take it a bit further. They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words so I want to show you a video that I think best portrays this idea of being characterized by joy.

I can not watch that video without smiling, and I think it shows the key to being happy. To be happy is to be characterized by a contagious joy. To be happy is to have such a deep seated joy with in us that is so evident that it makes those around us happy as well. I don’t know about you, but I think such a joy is more than desirable, and I want to know where to get it, which is why we turn to the beatitudes.

The beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are probably one of the best known teachings of Jesus. However, it may also be one of the least understood; how exactly do the meek inherit the earth, what does it mean to be poor in spirit, and what does blessed mean anyway? To that last point, John Wesley made a very interesting observation. In his notes on the New Testament and in his sermons on this scripture, Wesley pointed out that blessed is better translated happy. When one reads the beatitudes in this way, I think it makes a lot of sense and goes a ways to showing us how we can have a happiness that is characterized by contagious joy. I think that one could spend hours mining the beatitudes for its deep richness, but I know you don’t want to listen to me for that long, so instead we will briefly touch on three.

The first is “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Or rather happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. This of course leads to the question what does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Righteousness is a very churchy word, that is often used in the negative light of calling someone “self righteous.” However to be righteous is to be in right relationship with God. In his letter to the Romans Paul makes clear how one is in right relationship with God, “righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21) When we confess our sins, accept that a creator God loves us, and then proved God’s love through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our lord then we are made righteous. All of use gathered here struggle with the sins of pride and selfishness. These temptations threaten to pull us away from a right relationship with God. When we are prideful and selfish then we essentially make ourselves the most important thing in our little world, instead of God. Doing this makes it impossible to be in right relationship with God. Righteousness is not a once and done deal but a process of continued repentance and renewal. Because of this we must hunger and thirst for this righteousness. Food and water are the essentials to life, we hunger and thirst for them so that we may live. In the same way, righteousness is the essential to happiness. We can not be truly happy, we can not have a contagious joy unless we are in a right relationship with God. The good news promised to us though is that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will be filled. Have you ever tried to feel a cup to the very top without spilling over? It is just about impossible, and when we are filled from a relationship with God the happiness can not help but spill over and spread to others.
The second beatitude to look at is this one: Happy are the pure in heart for they will see God. Part of our Methodist tradition is that we view the Christian faith as a religion of the heart. This means that we see our faith as something that affects our inner most being. We are Christians not because of what we do but because our hearts have been changed. So how exactly is one pure in heart? Again I think that our Methodist tradition has insight into this. When the first Methodists met they were dedicated to following three general rules: 1. Do no harm 2. Do all the good one can 3. Attending to the ordinance of God. The first rule is fairly simple, do not purposely wrong or hurt another. The second rule is to be born out of a love for neighbor, and this is closely tied to the third rule. The ordinances of God are things like public worship and private prayer. The third rule deals with our relationship with God. Jesus gave the greatest commandment to love God and the second one like it to love your neighbor as yourself. The three general rules speak to this. By loving God and being in personal relationship with God, that love spills over and we love our neighbor by doing all the good we can and by doing no harm. This sounds great, but we all know that we fall short. We do harm, we fail to do good, and we let the ordnances of God fall to the wayside. Again, this is a process of repentance and renewal that our tradition calls Christian perfection. To be pure in heart is to fully love God and neighbor. When we journey in life to always more fully love God and neighbor, then we are pursuing being pure in heart, and once again this leads to a deep seated, contagious happiness.
I sincerely believe that being in right relationship with God will lead to true happiness. However, there can be a problem with focusing on happiness, and that is that sometimes we are not very happy. To be human is to suffer and to suffer is to experience grief. I think that is why the third beatitude to look at is so powerful. “Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” This is so paradoxical, how can one mourn and be happy at the same time? If our happiness is grounded in God’s extravagant love and grace then not even grief can take it away. This does not mean that we should not grieve in the face of suffering. Grief is part of life and we must allow ourselves the chance to grieve appropriately. However, this beatitude reminds us to keep grief in perspective, and to keep our perspective on the eternal. I think one of the most powerful testimonies I have heard that reflects how one can be happy in mourning is that of Horatio Spafford. Many of you by this point have no doubt heard this story, but it is worth repeating. Horatio was a successful Chicago lawyer in the nineteenth century. He suffered a string of personal tragedies. First his son died of Scarlet fever and then a year later many of his investments were destroyed in the great Chicago fire. Spafford realized that these traumas were having a toll on his family, he decided to take them on an extended holiday in England. Right before leaving Spafford was delayed by a business meeting, but he sent his family along. Unfortunately the boat his family was on sunk. His wife survived but his four daughters drowned. Heart broken, Horatio Spafford boarded a boat to join his wife in England. The story goes that when he passed over the place where his daughters had died, he sat down and wrote the hymn “It is Well with my soul.” Even though Horatio Spafford was grieving from a terrible loss, he was able to keep things in perspective. I am sure he missed his daughters terribly, but because he was in right relationship with God he could still happily proclaim “It is well with my soul.”
How is it with your soul? Are you happy now? I know that we all desire happiness, but many people look for it in the wrong place. The happiness that the world can offer, no matter how great, is always temporary. True happiness, happiness that is best defined as contagious joy, only comes from being in right relationship with God. This means accepting and being filled with the love of God that is been made known to us through Jesus Christ. It is my prayer for all of us that we can find this sort of happiness, and no matter what troubles and tribulations we feel in this world that we can sing joyously “It is well with my soul”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

When You Were Young

Here are the rules.

1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

Buenos Aires (Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Addicted (P.O.D.)

Hit the Floor (Thousand Foot Krutch)

Pride Away (Kutless)

All I need (Bethany Dillion)

I Can't Do This (Plumb)

All Who Are Thirsty (Kutless)

Vision of You (Shane & Shane)

WHAT IS 2+2?
Wings of Kynareth (Jeremy Soule)

Again (needtobreathe)

All Over You (Live)

I Miss You Here (downhere)

Little Girls (Carol Burnett)

Me Oh My (Five Iron Frenzy)

There is a Kingdom that won't come down (Tree 63)

Stuck in a Glass Elevator (Myriad)

Return to Tatooine (John Williams)

I Climb (Thousand Foot Krutch)

We Rock Harder (Fine China)

What a Friend we have in Jesus

Death Warrant for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan (John Williams)

New Years Eve (Five Iron Frenzy)

Again (Kutless)

Diverse City (Toby Mac)

Breathe Today (Flyleaf)

Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Smashing Pumpkins)

Get Down (Audio Adrenaline)

The Way (Fastball)

Adia (Sara Mclachlan)

All Day Everyday (Pillar)

When You Were Young (The Killers)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

To many games!

Between the 2nd week of October and the fourth week of November there are over 400 video games coming out! Now a lot of these are games I am not going to play, like Dora the Explorer games, but there are still a lot of good games coming out.
Of course I am indulging as much as I can. A couple of weeks ago I got the excellent Fable II. At midnight tonight I will be getting Gears of War 2 (and then playing it for a couple of hours). Next week it will be Call of Duty: World at War and then the week after that it will be Left 4 Dead. Even though they have already come out I am also hoping to get Fallout 3 and Star Wars the Force Unleashed Honestly, this is more games than I need, and honestly these don't keep me fully occupied until like March or April or 2009, then something is wrong (and yes Abigail you can quote me on that). However those game are only part of the games coming out that I think look really good and that I want to play. So in my mind this seems like a good time for a list, so in the dramatic descending order here are the
"Top Five Games I want, but probably won't play because there are to many games coming out!"

5. Dead Space
This survival-horror game came out last month, and I probably won't get around to playing it. All of the reviews and impressions make this sound good. Given the single player nature, this is a game I want to play but probably would not buy. Maybe in June or July of 2009 I will get around to renting it.

4. Far Cry 2
I was not a big fan of the first Far Cry, but this game is related mostly in title only. Far Cry 2 is an open world FPS, an idea that really should have existed before now. This game also has a detailed map editor, which is something that should draw me like a moth to a flame. Under normal circumstances it would, but with so many other games, this one has to get a pass.

3. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
I have always had a soft spot for Mortal Kombat, and this game pits Mortal Kombat classics like sub-zero and Scorpion against comic book characters like Batman and the Flash. It sounds like all kinds of awesome, but Soul Calibur IV was my fighting game this year, and there is only enough room for one.

2. Tomb Raider Underworld
I enjoyed Tomb Raider Legend a lot more than I thought I would when I played it. However, I was resigned that I just would not get around to this game. That was until I played the demo last night. It was fun and really good looking. Now I really want to play the whole thing. However, like Dead Space I will probably be lookng to rent in months from now.

1. Endwar
This is a strategy game that is completly voice controlled, and it works really well. Of all the games that I will miss out on, this is the one that I wish I could find some way to get.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Official Procrastination Post

I am suppose to be writing a paper, but clearly I am a bit distractable. When I write papers, I have long listened to music. Throughout undergrad I listened to soundtracks and instrumental music. However, in seminary I have taken to the habit of listening to worship music, as I have found it helps me be ever mindful on Christ who should be at the heart of all of my seminary papers, so that is what I was doing. For the most part the songs are an undercurrent to I am writing, sometimes I am very aware of the songs and sometimes they are just kind of there. However, while writing one song really jumped out at me and I had to stop and listen to it. I have heard the song before multiple times, but this time the lyrics really struck me. The simplicity of the words combined with their intense spiritual depth is striking. The song is called Only Grace by Matthew West. You can listen to it in the video, and read the lyrics below.

There is no guilt here
There is no shame
No pointing fingers
There is no blame
What happened yesterday…has disappeared
The dirt has washed away
And now it's clear

There's only grace
There's only love
There's only mercy and believe me it's enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
There's only grace

You're starting over now
Under the sun
You're stepping forward now
A new life has begun
Your new life has begun

An’ there's only grace
There's only love
There's only mercy and believe me…it's enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
There's only grace…

And if you should fall again
Get back up, get back up
Reach out and take my hand
Get back up, get back up
Get back up again

There's only grace…
There's only love…
There's only mercy and believe me it's enough…it’s enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
There's only…there’s only…grace…

There's only mercy and believe me it's enough…it’s enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
There’s only…grace……
So get back up…get back up again…
Get back up again.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Decision 2008

Thanks to a very helpful Voter guide put together by the Indy Star, for the first time I know who I am going to vote for in every single elected position. Usually for stuff like Surveyor or corner I pick at random.

However, we all know the presidential election is the big one this year, and I know who I am voting for, so I want to give my reasons. Early this Tuesday morning I am going to cast my vote for Barack Obama, and here is why:

What I like about him
1. I really, really like his energy plan. I appreciate that he wants to fully invest in alternative fuels instead of drill, drill, drill. Oil is not the answer, and if we even have the possibility of being completely off foreign oil in ten years then we need to pursue that. Over the summer I listened to the speech where Obama laid out his energy plan and I was sold then.

2. I also really like Obama's health care plan, and if that makes me a socialist, then so be it comrade! Really the whole socialists argument is borderline stupid. Since Regan republicans have been throwing out the S-word in regards to health care. Often the rally cry is "Do you really want a bureaucrat making health care decisions for you?" The reality is a bureaucrat already makes decisions about our health care, the only difference is the one currently over seeing us is some pencil pusher at a HMO. I would much rather have the responsibility of health care in hands of the American people instead of a corporation. Health care has become a basic human need much like education, law, and public safety-which are already socialized. When it comes to health care Barack Obama does not go as far as I would, but in my opinion he is taking steps in the right direction.

What I don't like about McCain
Of course I am not just voting for Barack, I am voting against McCain, and I am doing so for some very specific reasons.

1. McCain is in favor of school vouchers and I am strongly opposed to them. There needs to be education reform, but vouchers is wrong. Vouchers are essentially a vote of no confidence in public schools. The idea is it will make under-performing schools work harder to be more competitive. The problem is the under-performing schools are usually under-funded, under-staffed, and under appreciated by the community and students. In my opinion the first step would be to get all schools on equal grounds. For example, it is not fair that Carmel High School has $3,000+ TVs just to show announcements on while IPS schools have to rely on community organizations to buy basic books. Before we start abandoning the schools that we pay for, lets level the playing field first.

2. If McCain had picked someone other than Sarah Palin then it would have been a much harder decision for me about who to vote her. The chick is crazy, and I do not want to see her as president. She claims to be a maverick, but every single investigation on her has shown that she plays politics as usual, and she plays dirty. Given McCain's age and the fact that he is a POW and a cancer survivor (which both statistically shorten his life expectancy), create odds I don't want to bet against.

What I don't like about Obama
I do not align with a particular party, which means there are things I don't like about Obama as well, even though I think he is the best choice.

1. I don't like that he has no military experience. The role of commander in chief is a big one, and any military decision risk the lives of soldiers. Given the gravity of those decisions, it would be nice to have someone making them who has been the shoes of the person who's life is being risked.

2. The one thing that almost pushed me to voting for McCain (and actually for Bush in 2000) is the understanding of the constitution in regards to supreme court justices. I don't particularly care for the Supreme Court, as it currently has unconstitutional power which it wields with NO checks and balances. Traditionally republicans believe in a more strict interpretation of the constitution, where it is important for judges to hold up the original intention of the document. While democrats traditionally believe that judges should view the constitution as a living document that needs to be reinterpreted in light of new contexts. I tend to line up a bit more with the republican view on this one. This means I would theoretically be more in favor of potential McCain judges over Obama Judge appointments. I know that groups like Focus on the Family are up in arms about this issue, and are fully convinced that Obama will appoint judges who will ever cement Roe v. Wade and make homosexual marriage legal. Those are hypothetical only, and while I might sympathize a bit with their position, a bunch of maybes are not enough for me to vote against who I think will make the better president.

As a side note, I do want to point out that on Tuesday I will actually be voting for more Republicans than Democrats overall, and that is the first time I have done that.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Perfect Halloween

I suppose I should point out that technically it should not be considered "perfect" because there was not a single kid who came by trick or treating, but other than that it was great.

The evening started with a going to Chipolte for a free burrito. They were doing a promotion that if you came dressed as a burrito then you got one. So I made a tinfoil hat, and we were off. Then we got back and we played Zombies. I have been able to convince several people to play this game over the years, and I really like it. In Zombies the goal is to escape a town that is being over-run with the walking dead. In a typical game of Zombies it can be a tad drawn out as it winds down to a really exciting end game. Earlier this week we bought an expansion for the game called "School's Out Forever". This expansion really helped make the game play better. The map was smaller and really did feel a bit like a college campus, and the game played a lot quicker but still had a lot of zombie goodness.

While we were playing this game we also watched X-Files. We watched one episode that appropriately enough involved a soul sucking monster that turned people into zombies. The second episode was very Halloween-ish as it involved an evil doll that caused people to kill themselves.

The Halloween themed fun was finished off by playing some horror themed Halo. One of the game types in Halo is called Infection where a couple of people start as "zombies" and when ever a zombie gets a kill that person comes back as a Zombie. Because it was Halloween they had specially created maps for this game type, including one that was black and white to give a classic Rommero feel

It was a good time :)