April 2010 Archives

WOW Hits 3rd Century AD

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Here is a performance of the earliest known manuscript of a Christian hymn to contain both lyrics and musical notation:

It is known as the Oxyrhynchus Hymn, and it is from the third century AD. Thanks to New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre for pointing this fascinating hymn out on his blog.

Now that you’ve heard an example of how the early church worshipped God, reflect on how your church worships. What is your favorite praise song or hymn? Share your favorites in the comments.

Intergenerational Ministry: God's Plan for the Most Effective Evangelism and Discipleship

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Editor’s Note: This week’s guest writer is John Vincent. He is the state director of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Oklahoma. As you will see from the following article, he has a heart for all ages.

Girl Eating a Peach Children often grow up too fast and too soon today in our society. David Elkind’s book, The Hurried Child, has the subtitle “Growing Up Too Soon.” He states that the influences of music, books, films, and television portray children as precocious and seductive. “Such portrayals force children to think that they should act grown up before they are ready.”

God has designed two loving, caring family units to forge security, value, and significance in the lives of children. His two family designs are the core and extended family (husband and wife, children and grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) and the spiritual family, the local and universal church.

Both family units can provide exactly what the modern, hurried and harried child needs: rich relationships across the ages. Age segregation leads to isolation. When children primarily have close relationships only with other children their age, they are robbed of meaningful intergenerational relationships.

Batting Practice When children are shown God’s caring, personal, focused love, they bloom and blossom as they experience his acceptance, security, and significance. Family reunions enriched me personally as a child and teenager. Caring adult men of our family not only played baseball with me, but they also talked personally with me. I was drawn to them by their “life stories.” As they shared past personal experiences and events, I learned lessons about life.

Children need to feel fully accepted, secure, and important. There are many children who suffer from loneliness. Surrounded by others their own age, they can still feel isolated and alone. These feelings become even stronger when they also have no contact with other age groups. The Lord designed marriage and families to counteract loneliness. “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

The Lord also designed the family to provide for the lonely. “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land” (Psalm 68:5, 6).

God’s parent-child relationship is to be one of intergenerational mentoring. Parents are to model the message of whole-hearted love for God both by their lifestyles and verbal teachings.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Intergenerational relationships benefit both the younger and older generations. The older adults can pass on the heritage of teaching God’s character and works to the younger generations.

Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come (Psalm 71:17, 18).

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty— and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works— and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness (Psalm 145:3-7).

Donald Keene Intergenerational ministry becomes a purposeful priority to older born-again Christian adults. Gerontology, the study of aging, defines this intergenerational purpose of life by the term “generativity.” Generativity is the growing conviction and desire of older adults to pass on what they have discovered to be the most important issues of life to the younger generations. The Psalmist Moses shared the brevity of life and the importance of using each day wisely for God.

Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:10-12).

King David reflects on God’s faithfulness as he passes this on to the younger generations:

The LORD makes firm the steps of those who delight in him; though they stumble, they will not fall, for the LORD upholds them with his hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing (Psalm 37:23-26).

Father and Son Surfing King David also teaches children to fear the Lord. “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD” (Psalm 34:11).

The Lord Jesus described his genuine believers in terms of his spiritual family. He called them children of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). He stated that his believers (children) are his spiritual family and closer to him than his natural family.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

At the cross he declared to his disciple John that Mary was to be his spiritual mother, and he was to be her spiritual son in a family relationship. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).

The Apostle Paul also taught that the local church is an intergenerational spiritual family. He viewed himself as a spiritual father to the churches.

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:14, 15).

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children (1 Thessalonians 2:11).

He also practiced being a spiritual mother. “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, NIV).

Portrait of a Girl He organized the church as a spiritual family with adult believers practicing family roles.

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:1, 2).

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us (Titus 2:1-8).

The Apostle James viewed the church as a believing, obedient spiritual family ministering across the generations to both orphans and widows. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

The Apostle John taught the process of spiritual growth in terms of the church’s family roles.

I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one (1 John 2:12-14).

The church as Christ’s spiritual family has a tremendous purpose in reaching children and their families with the Gospel. Just as families grow and multiply, so the church is to grow and multiply. There are many spiritual orphans (James 1:27) without believing parents and families. The church can reach these spiritual orphans with the Gospel and then incorporate them into the loving, caring spiritual church family. The intergenerational relationships of the church family befriend, mentor, and develop these children. The church can influence their unsaved parents who can then be saved and brought into the church family. The children will receive God’s love and acceptance, security, and significance through intergenerational relationships in both their family and the church family.

This type of purposeful ministry can give a local church great joy and satisfaction. Adults are encouraged to continue to grow and to serve in reaching children and their families and to invite and welcome them into the church family.

At eighty-five years of age, Caleb led an intergenerational ministry to claim his portion of the promised land. Older adults can serve to reach children by serving as loving spiritual grandparents. Charles Swindoll describes Caleb’s challenge and satisfaction:

Remember Caleb? He was eighty-five and still growing when he grabbed the challenge of the future. At a time when the ease and comfort of retirement seemed predictable, he fearlessly faced the “invincible” giants of the mountain. His story is told in Joshua 14. There was no dust on that fella. Every new sunrise introduced another reminder that his body and a rocking chair weren’t made for each other. While his peers were yawning, he was yearning (Day by Day, 218).

Bored Ballerina A mother wished to encourage her small girl’s interest in the piano and so took her to a local concert featuring an excellent pianist. In the entrance foyer, the mother met an old friend, and the two stopped to talk. The little girl wandered off unnoticed by her mother. The girl’s mother became concerned when she entered the hall and could see no sign of her daughter. Staff was notified and an announcement was made asking the audience to look out for the little lost girl. With the concert due to start, the little girl had still not been found. In preparation for the pianist’s entrance, the curtains drew aside to reveal the little girl sitting at the great piano, quietly picking out the notes of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

The audience’s amusement turned to curiosity when the pianist entered the stage, walked up to the little girl, and began playing. The pianist sat down beside her, listened for a few seconds, and whispered some words of encouragement. He then began quietly to play a bass accompaniment and then a few bars later reached around the little girl to add more accompaniment. At the end of the impromptu performance, the audience applauded loudly as the pianist took the little girl back to her seat to be reunited with her mother. The experience was inspirational for everyone, not least the small girl.

Intergenerational ministry in the family and the church family can guide and encourage children to trust in Christ, grow spiritually, and to serve Christ for a lifetime. Let’s get involved in intergenerational ministry that counts for eternity and God’s glory. The benefits abound for both the children and ourselves.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is there a need for intergenerational ministry to children today? If so, what are the needs of children that this ministry can meet?
  2. Have we become too age-segregated in our churches? Do we meet, fellowship, and serve too much only with our own age groups? Why or why not?
  3. What motivates you about this kind of ministry?
  4. What hinders you from becoming more involved in this type of ministry?
  5. What is the next step you feel the Lord is leading you to take concerning intergenerational ministry?

Credits: Girl Eating a Peach: Bruce Tuten / Creative Commons, Baseball: Mike Baird / Creative Commons, Donald Keene: Aurelio Asiain / Creative Commons, Surfing: Mike Baird / Creative Commons, Girl: Rolands Lakis / Creative Commons, Ballerina: Rolands Lakis / Creative Commons

John has served as a pastor for thirty-five years in the Midwest. His heart for strong intergenerational relationships began through close relationships as a child and teenager with his grandparents and their older adult friends. He has developed and led Heritage Family Groups of mixed ages in churches he has pastored.

Making Jesus in Our Image: A Brief Introduction to the Historical Jesus

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Theological Thursdays

Have you ever joined a conversation where you didn’t know what was going on because you don’t watch LOST or American Idol (or am I the only person who doesn’t watch them)? The TV shows we watch, the music we listen to, and even the books we read form a cultural shorthand that we use in conversation. If I have trouble answering a question and reply “Can I Phone-A-Friend?” or “Can I use a Lifeline?”, you instantly know what I mean.

Child Christ Teaching the Pharisees We’re arrogant if we think we, as twenty-first-century readers, can pick up a Bible and understand everything Jesus said exactly as his first-century listeners would have. Jesus grew up hearing the same stories his audience did. They had a cultural shorthand we don’t share.

Understanding what is said often requires knowing about the speaker as New Testament scholar N. T. Wright illustrated with the statement, “I’m mad about my flat.” If the speaker is British like Wright, she is enthusiastic about her living quarters, but if she is American, she is angry about a punctured tired.1 I work in the roadside assistance department of a major rental car company. I remember the first time a caller with a British accent had “locked the keys in the boot.”

Me: “Why did you do that? Take your boot off and take the keys out.”

Caller: “No, in the boot of the car!”

Me: “Your car is wearing boots?”

Who Is the Historical Jesus?

Mary Annointing Jesus' Feet The historical Jesus is the attempt to reconstruct the life of Jesus of Nazareth using historical methods. In other words, it is the attempt to find out what Jesus was really like. Attempts to reconstruct the historical Jesus can be traced back to eighteenth-century German philosopher Hermann Samuel Reimarus. Enlightenment scholars used reason to reconsider and question all kinds of ideas including religious ideas. During the Enlightenment, scholars like Reimarus began questioning how historical what the Gospels said about Jesus was. And for the last 300 years, scholars have been deconstructing and reconstructing Jesus.

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight recently claimed in Christianity Today that most historical Jesus scholars assume the Gospels are historically unreliable. He writes, “Historical Jesus scholars construct what is in effect a fifth gospel.” N. T. Wright countered in another Christianity Today article, “Not all historical Jesus scholarship is skeptical in intent or effect. Genuine historical study is necessary—not to construct a ‘fifth gospel,’ but rather to understand the four we already have.”

McKnight responded on his blog to Wright that there is a difference between the historical study of Jesus and the Historical Jesus. The historical study of Jesus has been beneficial. It has helped us understand Jesus’ first-century context. As I stated at the beginning of this article, that is vital to interpreting what Jesus said. The Historical Jesus is a “new Jesus” constructed with historical methods who is different from (and supposedly more closely resembles the Jesus who actually lived 2,000 years ago than) the Jesus in the Gospels. McKnight says he has hundreds of historical Jesus books on his bookshelf, and he can count on less than two hands the ones that are not attempting to construct a new Jesus. He acknowledges that Wright is one of the scholars included in that handful of books.

There was an avalanche of historical Jesus books in the 1980s and 1990s. The Jesus Seminar was central in this so-called third quest for the historical Jesus. The different quests for the historical Jesus is an entirely other article. Maybe we’ll take a look at them on a future Thursday.

Fleischer Superman Cartoon Superman was experiencing a revolution of his own during the 1980s and 1990s. Writer and artist John Byrne took over the Superman title in the 1980s. He decided to revamp the beloved superhero. No longer would Superman assume “the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter” as he had during the 1940s in Max Fleischer’s famous Superman cartoons. If you were a fan of the 1990s Lois & Clark as I was, then you’re familiar with Byrne’s Superman (and if Smallville’s Clark ever actually becomes Superman, that show seems to be following a similar portrayal). Clark Kent was not mild mannered; he was charismatic and outgoing. Nor was Clark a disguise. Clark was his true identity; Superman was his disguise. It is no coincidence that while artists were deconstructing our fictional Messiahs2 that the Jesus Seminar was deconstructing the Biblical Messiah. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, postmodernists were deconstructing and questioning everything.

How Many Jesuses Are There?

McKnight argued that the historical Jesus is a new Jesus. In the cover story of the April 2010 issue of Christianity Today, “The Jesus We’ll Never Know,” he presented three additional Jesuses.

Nicodemus Meeting with Jesus First, there is the “Jewish Jesus.” The white-skinned, blue-eyed Jesus on flashcards you were shown in Sunday school is not what Jesus looked like. Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew. Historical studies have helped us recover Jesus’ Jewish context. His Jewishness would have contributed to the cultural shorthand he used.

Second, we have the “canonical Jesus.” This is Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. This is somewhat of a simplification. We have not one Gospel but four. There are subtle differences between the portrait of Jesus each Gospel writer draws. The main concern of Matthew’s Jesus was the kingdom of heaven while Mark and Luke’s Jesus was concerned with the kingdom of God. The study of the differences between the Gospels (especially the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is called redaction criticism. We don’t have time to discuss that here. Redaction criticism will have to wait for another Thursday. Parish priest and blogger Doug Chaplin suggests that “perhaps the point of the four witnesses is not to allow us to either harmonise or reconstruct Jesus, but to meet for ourselves the one who is witnessed in such diverse ways.”

Third, there is the “orthodox Jesus.” As the church has reflected upon the scriptures, it has formulated doctrines that help the church understand Jesus. Jesus is the second person of the trinity, he is 100 percent God and 100 percent human, etc.

Finally, McKnight reflects:

The question for me is this: Whose Story will we tell? This leads to a chase question: Will it be ours, the Story we fashion on our historical methods, or will it be the Church’s Story? I’ve chosen, after a decade of working in this field and being as rigorous with methods as I could have been, to opt for the Church’s Story. It’s the gospel.

Methods of Historical Jesus Study

Jesus in the Temple The definition of the historical Jesus I gave was: the attempt to reconstruct the life of Jesus of Nazareth using historical methods. Scholars use a variety of historical methods to reconstruct Jesus’ life. Here is an overview of just a few. The first comes from McKnight’s CT article, the second from Wright’s reply, and final two from New Testament scholar Darrell Bock’s online-only response, “Abandon Studying the Historical Jesus? No, We Need Context.”

One historical method used is double dissimilarity. This was a favorite of the Jesus Seminar. A saying or action of Jesus is historically reliable only if it is dissimilar to both first-century Judaism and early Christianity. The idea is that it if you are an early Christian it would be a boon for you if Jesus had said or did something that supports what you believe. So you might claim that Jesus did to add credibility to your belief. Because we can’t rule out that his happened, the Jesus Seminar dismissed anything that was similar to Judaism or early Christianity.

If it is not obvious, double dissimilarity is terrible history. Wright rejects double dissimilarity and instead proposes double similarity. Jesus must have been recognizably Jewish and at the same time recognizably the starting point for Christianity.

Multiple attestation is another historical criteria that can aid in the study of Jesus. Basically, the more sources the better. If a saying or action is recorded in all four Gospels (or at least all three Synoptic Gospels), there is a pretty good chance it actually happened. Even better if you can also find it in an apocryphal book or other historical document from the time such as Josephus’ writings.

Another helpful historical method is embarrassment. If a related saying or action could have embarrassed the early church, why didn’t they just leave it out? Maybe because it actually happened. For example, why make up John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. It makes Jesus appear subordinate to John.

Making Jesus in Our Image

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Cover Philip Pullman, the British author probably best known for his young adult fantasy series His Darker Materials, has a new book titled The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ that just came out earlier this month. In it Mary has twins. While Jesus promotes love and happiness, Christ is essentially his power-hungry evil twin. It is part of the Canongate Myth Series that has contemporary authors retell ancient myths. Retelling myths is quite in vogue at the moment. Look how profitable the various retoolings of the vampire mythos have been.

But when it comes to Jesus, we can’t just retell the story however we want. Or can we?

Multi-hyphenate theologian, medical doctor, missionary to Africa, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer published the classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus in 1906. He observed that scholars had looked down the well of time and thought they had seen Jesus when they were actually looking at their own reflection in the water at the bottom of the well. Their research said more about them than it did about the historical Jesus.

The first quest for the historical Jesus began in the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Schweitzer published QotHJ which essentially mopped the floor with the last 200 hundred years of scholarship on the topic (or, as Wikipedia eloquently puts it, he “significantly undermined the two-century old attempt to discover a historical Jesus”). It effectively ended any research on the topic for the next several decades. In other words, Schweitzer’s monograph on the topic was so brilliant that no Biblical scholar for half a century afterward had the balls to do any further research in the area. Research on the historical Jesus was considered dead until revived by Ernst K√§semann in a 1958 lecture titled “The Problem of the Historical Jesus” that kicked off the second quest.

Over a hundred years have passed since Schweitzer published QotHJ, but as McKnight observed in “The Jesus We’ll Never Know,” not much has changed. The historical Jesus reconstructed by scholars looks a lot like the scholars doing the reconstructing. McKnight proclaims that the “neon-light days for the historical Jesus are now over.” I feel he was too ambitious in his pronouncement. New Testament scholar Craig Keener pointed out in his CT response, “[q]uests for the historical Jesus come and go, but no sooner are postmortems pronounced for one than another quest in a new form seems to rise.” McKnight is right that the once steady flow of historical Jesus books in the 1980s and 1990s has come to a trickle, but that just points to the end of the third quest. I have no doubt there will be a fourth quest. Maybe ten years from now. Maybe sixty years from now.

Even we evangelicals who prize our “authority of scripture” have the tendency to shape Jesus to support our causes and ideals. I have a book on my bookshelf that was published in 1925 titled The Man Nobody Knows. It was a bestseller in the 1920s. The author Bruce Barton made Jesus out to be a capitalist and the founder of modern salesmanship and advertising. But then how is that much different than Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan? He makes Jesus out to be a Mediterranean peasant critical of the establishment. He sees early Christianity as an educated, middle-class scribal movement away from the peasant roots of Jesus into a more bourgeois movement.

At the beginning of his class on the life of Christ, McKnight passes out a personality test to his students. They are supposed to imagine Jesus’ personality and answer the questions as they think he would. Then he passes out the test again, but he asks the students to answer about their own personality. The students tend to imagine that Jesus is like them. Introverts think Jesus is introverted; extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.

McKnight wryly comments, “Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves.” You can never completely rid yourself of bias, but if you are aware of your bias, you can be more careful as you read the Gospels. Are you becoming more like Jesus or are you making Jesus in your image?

1 N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 9.
2 In the 1990s The Death of Superman storyline, Superman even dies and is resurrected.

Matthew D. Miller is editor of Popsickle. He lives in Oklahoma City and enjoys reading, writing, and programming. He also writes a series of space opera short stories called Map Makers.

Do Televisions Have Souls?

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The Western Nostril - TV Evangelist Comic Strip

On Monday Emily Whelchel shared with us about her trip to Africa. The Western Nostril is a comic strip from South Africa by brothers Patrick and Alex Latimer. The strip is filled with wordplay like the pun above. And one of the characters is always wearing a colander as a hat. Don’t ask why.

What are your favorite comic strips? Do you have any puns of your own? Make us laugh in the comments.

Introducing Theological Thursdays

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“He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14, ESV)

Paul is telling the Ephesians to man up! It’s time to learn some doctrine.

The feature articles every Monday offer practical analysis of pop culture and Christianity. Each Monday you dive into how Christianity is relevant to culture. Practical is good. We here at Popsickle like practical. But to successfully understand how Christianity relates to pop culture, you also need a strong Biblical foundation, so we’re launching:

Theological Thursdays

Starting this Thursday, we are beginning an intermittent series called Theological Thursdays. Tune in this Thursday for the first installment. We’ll be discussing the Historical Jesus.

Restoring a Continent

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The students milled around me, asking a thousand questions in broken English. “How old must you be to drive an automobile?” “What is the temperature in the United States?” “How are your schools?” “Do you know the ‘Honorable’ Barack Obama?” The students proudly wore school uniforms that were worn and faded with age. Their black school shoes were tattered from overuse. Their white teeth shone brightly in contrast with the darkness of their skin.

Africa Kids.JPG I was speaking to school children in Eldoret, Kenya. I had been trying my hardest to answer everything they asked me until the question of one older boy stopped me in my tracks. “You came to Africa to help us, yes?”

I nodded slowly as I looked around the group and faced the sincere eyes of the children. “I did come here to help Africa, yes.”

The boy, Moses, watched me patiently as if he wished to decipher the true meaning behind my words. “How do you plan to help us?”

“How?” I stammered. My mind raced. What did he mean, how? I wanted to help. Wasn’t that enough?

“You say you want to help Africa. How will you help us? We are hungry. Many have AIDS. Kenya is in great need. How are you going to change these things?” I detected no sarcasm in Moses’ voice. He truly wanted to know my plan to help his people.

I shook my head, feeling helpless. “I do want to help you. I do…but I’m only sixteen. I’m here to teach you more about Jesus Christ for now, but as time passes, I know that God will give me the opportunity to do more for Africa.”

“What will you do?” Moses pressed.

My heart sank as I dodged the question. “Let me think about it,” I finally said.

I traveled to Kenya, Africa for two weeks when I was sixteen years old. I experienced many things while I was there that impacted my heart to its very core. I rode in a rickety canoe across Lake Victoria. I encountered armed street children who were high from sniffing glue. I touched a wild cheetah and went on an African safari. I had the opportunity to meet the child that I have sponsored since I was a freshman in high school. I tasted ugali and mandazi. I bartered in a Kenyan market. I stood in small buildings with dirt floors and no electricity, and I listened to people who had nothing in the literal sense of the word sing again and again, “He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all…” I embraced AIDS orphans and saw the face of poverty with my own eyes. When I stepped off the plane back onto familiar Texas soil, I was changed completely. I saw nothing the same way.

Sad child in Africa.JPG When I first arrived back home, I made several promises to myself. No longer will I ever use the term “I am starving” when there are millions of people across the globe who know the true definition of starvation. I now think before I make small, meaningless purchases when 80% of the earth survives on less than $10 a day. If I am not careful, I will spend quadruple that amount of money when I go to the movies or the mall. I try to appreciate school more than I ever have before, because there are children who would give everything they have to be able to attend school a few times a week.

With every meaningless promise I made to myself, Moses’ earnest voice echoed through my thoughts. “What are you going to do to help my country?” I had gone to Africa with a plan to change things for the better, but I left with the feeling that Africa had changed me.

I have wanted to go to Africa for as long as I can remember. The thought of traveling to that forsaken continent always intrigued me. In my young mind, I would imagine myself sweeping through Africa with food and clothes and restoring each country to health and happiness. I was eager to immerse myself into the tribal cultures. I could see myself speaking fluent Swahili and leading murderous headhunters to Jesus.

When I actually traveled to Africa, my expectations had changed, but I still was sure that my visit would make an impact—and it did. The people were astonished and grateful that a girl from America would come and visit them. My team painted a school. We built restrooms. We fed the hungry. We preached the good news about Jesus. However, when I arrived to see the mass hunger, disease, and poverty, I realized with dread that “saving Africa” was far beyond the grasp of my small hands. I could not save Africa on my own.

There are approximately one billion people in Africa, and about 300 million of them are children. One in five of these children are currently orphans. Africa is lost in patterns of drought, warfare, corrupted governments, and the lack of education. This continent needs our help to get back on its feet.

Even if you never once travel to Africa and see these issues for yourself, you can still have the opportunity to lend the African people a hand. There are so many humanitarian efforts that are focused on improving the harsh conditions and poverty in Africa. You can sponsor a child with an organization such as Christian Relief Fund or World Vision. When you sponsor one of these children, you transform his life and the lives of his family—and even the lives within the child’s surrounding community! You can support efforts like Invisible Children that are focused on ending wars and genocides in Africa. You can donate (or raise) money for world hunger programs by sending letters, starting fundraisers, and talking about these issues with your friends. If you have no money to send and no time to spend, then pray for the restoration of Africa. This continent desperately needs your prayers. I wear a bracelet every day that I purchased while I was in Kenya to help me remember to pray for the needy in Africa and around the world.

When I traveled to Kenya, it changed my perspective on the entire continent of Africa. After I was able to personally experience these stories and memories for myself, Africa was no longer a faceless, mysterious continent that I read about in National Geographic or heard about on World Vision ads on my computer screen. I saw poverty with my own eyes, and I now cannot follow Christ’s will and not try to make these issues better. James 1:27 talks about how true religion means helping orphans and widows in their distress, and as a Christian, you have been given a calling to follow this verse.

On my own my simple efforts to help Africa do not amount to much. However, if the body of Christ can work together to end poverty in Africa, then we can make a difference together. Matthew 17:20 says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” I am not asking you to move a twenty thousand foot mountain. I’m asking you to make a difference in the lives of people who need your help. Eradicating poverty in Africa is surely within our reach.

Emily Whelchel is a high school student in Amarillo, Texas. She enjoys writing, playing the guitar and piano, and working at an inner city ministry in her spare time. She has a passion for Africa. Check out her blog.

Driving a Font

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You just witnessed the future occupation of “motor typography.” Okay, not really, but these typographers do design a font with a car. And here is the result:

iQ Font Sample

You can download the font for yourself. It is a case study in collaboration. This font wasn’t created by a typographer meticulously kerning characters alone in a dark studio.

A professional race car driver drove a car in the shape of each letter. A film crew filmed the car from above. A computer programmer developed a custom application that tracked special colored dots attached to the top of the car and converted the motion of the vehicle into a font.

This font was designed as a promotion for Toyota. Does its commercial purpose change its status as art? Let us know what you think in the comments.

The High Price of Meat

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Pot Roast Earlier this week I threw out a pot roast. My roommate cooked it weeks ago. It was growing mold in the fridge. I dumped the whole thing in the trash. Carrots, potatoes, gelatinous broth, and meat—all in the trash. It was a big chunk of beef. Maybe six or seven dollars worth.

In Genesis 1:28 God blessed Adam and Eve and then charged them with the responsibility to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” A little further down scripture reminds us that God viewed his creation and that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We are the rulers of the earth—God’s very good creation—but are we responsible rulers?

This is not an article about vegetarianism. This is an article about the ethics of meat. My goal is not to convince you to stop eating meat. But I do want you to think about where it comes from.

Certainly I recognize that meat is a staple in the diets of many. There are still nomadic people groups in parts of the world that follow migrating herds of wildlife as their livelihood, such as the nomadic people of the Asian grasslands. Their existence depends on the procreation of wildlife. In ancient times they made talismans that illustrated wildlife copulating. The fertility of the animals guaranteed there would be food for the next season. Meat is an integral part of our diet as humans.

Fish Market But the society I live in is far removed from hunting for meat. It’s been almost twenty years since I killed and gutted fish. (Looking back, I’m surprised my dad let me do that so young.) In the past two decades, I’ve only seen the cuts of meat—never the living animal or even the carcass.

We live in a society that eats a lot of meat. Three meals a day. Seven days a week. But other than cash, what’s the cost of meat?

National Geographic’s April 2010 issue broke down how much water goes into meat:

  • For one pound of beef: 1,857 gallons
  • For one pound of pork: 756 gallons
  • For one pound of chicken: 469 gallons

And the USDA’s February 2008 Amber Waves explains how much corn goes into a pound of meat:

  • For one pound of beef: 7 pounds of corn
  • For one pound of pork: 6.5 pounds of corn
  • For one pound of chicken: 2.6 pounds of corn

These figures are important for us as meat eaters to know. The fact that chicken requires less than half as much grain as beef makes chicken the more sustainable choice.

There’s an old Regina Spektor song called “Pound of Flesh.” The song tells about a dialogue between the narrator and an emaciated man who is bed-bound. He asks the narrator to spare a pound of flesh to cover his bare bones. The narrator replies, “Take a pound, take two. What’s a pound of flesh between two friends like me and you?”

Have you ever thought of giving up a pound of flesh? It’s easy to think of meat as food, but remember that it’s from an animal that gave up pounds of flesh. A living creature died for that meat. Thinking about the muscle tissue that grows around my bones makes it hard for me to take meat for granted.

There’s an old prayer from the Choctaw Indians. “Deer, I am sorry to hurt you, but the people are hungry.”

I love this prayer, because it honors the animal. The hunters recognized that life is sacred and that the deer must make the ultimate sacrifice so that the people can live. Because American society is mostly removed from the actual killing of animals, it’s easy to take for granted their sacrifice. As humans we can take a life, but only the Divine can give the breath of life. Remember that you can never undo a death.

My mom used to tell me to clean my plate because there are hungry people all over the world. Wasting meat is manifold in its offense. Not only is it insulting to the hungry, it’s disrespectful to waste the flesh of a creature that died so we could eat.

I’m not against the practice of raising animals for meat, but I do think that there’s a tremendous responsibility that we overlook as consumers. So I’ve made changes in my life to show my respect for the creatures that die so I can eat. I reduced the amount of meat I eat. Going a day or two without meat is common for me now.

Fellowship I don’t eat meat when I’m eating a meal alone. I know this sounds silly, but I think meat should be eaten during times of fellowship. I eat it in the company of friends and family. When the prodigal son came home, the father killed the fattened calf for a celebration (Luke 15:29). I save meat for special times.

When I’ve bought meat lately, I’ve done my best to buy free-range meat. If a chicken has to die for me, I want to do my best to make sure it was treated like an animal—not like a factory product—during its life. Also, I feel better about eating the less desirable cuts of meat. Now the meat parts that go into hot dogs don’t seem so gross. I’ve even started eating cow tongue.

The documentary Food, Inc inspired me to be a more responsible food consumer. It was nominated for best documentary at the 2009 Academy Awards. The thing I really love about Food, Inc is the conclusion. After an exposé on controversy in the food industry, it empowers consumers by telling you that you vote on food industry practices at each meal. Want food producers to make more ethical decisions? Support responsible producers.

What can you do to be a responsible consumer of meat?

Credits: Pot Roast: Food & Spirits Magazine / Creative Commons, Fish: Lucas Jans / Creative Commons, Fellowship: ktylerkonk / Creative Commons

Daniel J. Lay installs museum exhibitions in Shawnee, Okla. He caught and gutted fish at age 4. He is not a vegetarian.

T-shirt Theology

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"God Said It" T-shirt

We launched Popsickle Monday with an article about the Bible. When you take your Bible off the shelf and spend a little time reading it everyday, you will struggle with how to apply those words written thousands of years ago to your life today.

You may have heard the oversimplistic phrase, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Rob Bell counters this attitude in Velvet Elvis. He writes, “When you hear people say they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, it is not true. They are telling you what they think it means.”

Christian blog Letters from Kamp Krusty created the above t-shirt to give a more nuanced statement on Biblical interpretation. (I discovered the t-shirt through Exploring Our Matrix, a blog by Biblical scholar James F. McGrath that anyone interested in the intersection of religion and sci-fi should read.) The more nuanced statement doesn’t fit as nicely on a t-shirt. Maybe there’s a reason most theology is written in books instead of on t-shirts.

Would you wear this t-shirt? What are some other oversimplistic sayings Christians use? Sound off in the comments.

Don't Keep Your Bible in a Vault

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It was like a scene out of Indiana Jones or James Bond. There were mysterious figures with names like Kando and Mister X.

Qumran Cave 11 A Bedouin stumbled among the dusty cliffs along the shore of the Dead Sea. He was searching for his lost sheep (or goat in some accounts). The year was either 1946 or 1947 (or possibly even earlier). He threw a rock into a cave—and crash. The sound of breaking pottery. The now broken pottery revealed seven 2,000-year-old documents—the Dead Sea Scrolls!

Predictably, archaeologists swarmed to the area. Eventually 15,000-20,000 fragments making up 900 scrolls were discovered in eleven caves. Found among these scrolls are the earliest known copies of every book of the Old Testament (except Esther) and many apocryphal texts.

Despite an army of highly-trained archaeologists combing the area, the original Bedouin had an uncanny knack for finding additional caves containing scrolls before the archaeologists. The Bedouin was able to remove 80 percent of the 500 manuscripts sequestered in what was designated as Cave 4 before the archaeologists discovered the cave. The archaeologists were forced to buy them through a mysterious middleman known as Kando.

Fast forward to 2010 and it is less Indiana Jones and more Adrian Monk, the dysfunctional detective from the TV series Monk. The Dead Sea Scrolls are locked in a specially-monitored, climate-controlled vault in Jerusalem. Each time a scroll is exposed to light, humidity, or heat, it deteriorates, so only four specially-trained curators have access to them. Even without such exposure, the scrolls are still deteriorating. Modern science can slow the deterioration but not stop it.

Very few scholars have had first-hand access to one of the greatest discoveries of the twentieth century. The Biblical Archaeology Society published a two-volume book of photographs of some of the scrolls in 1991. The photographs were mysteriously obtained by California State University professor Robert Eisenman. To this day, Eisenman refuses to reveal how he obtained the photographs.

In the 1950s, the scrolls were photographed. It is the only time the entire Dead Sea Scrolls collection has ever been photographed. Because—like the ancient scrolls themselves—photographs deteriorate over time, the photographs are also stored in a climate-controlled vault. It is important to preserve the photographs, because they show writing that is no longer visible on the scrolls themselves.

Isaiah Scroll.jpg If you took the scrolls out into the air and light, they would fall apart. We often make the mistake of equating the Bible with these ancient scrolls. Many people think the Bible is outdated. If you really tried to live by the Bible, all its advice and wisdom would crumble when faced with real-life situations. It might work in your little church community but take it out in the real world, and it will fall apart.

But the Bible is not fragile. It is a “double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible will not deteriorate. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). The Bible is not outdated but “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Countless men and women have died for the right to read, translate, and print the Bible.

Space-age technology is helping bring the Dead Sea Scrolls into the twenty-first century. Retired NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Greg Bearman is leading a project begun in 2008 to digitally photograph all 15,000-20,000 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and make them available online. A small team of scientists working in a climate-controlled laboratory painted grey to provide the correct light are using a 39-megapixel digital camera to carefully photograph each fragment. They will also photograph each fragment with a digital infrared camera and a multi-spectral camera designed by NASA. The multi-spectral images will also help preserve the physical scrolls. It will allow the water content of the scrolls and other properties not detectable by the naked eye to be monitored.

The New York Times reported in August of 2008 that the project may take two years. The Guardian reported the same month that the project may take up to five years. It has already been almost two years, and no pictures are available online yet. The entire text of the scrolls wasn’t published until 2001—over half a century after their discovery—so five years isn’t very long to wait for high-resolution photographs of the entire collection to be available to the entire world.

Although the Dead Sea Scrolls aren’t available online yet, if you have a hankering to view an ancient Biblical manuscript in your web browser, you can check out the entire Codex Sinaiticus online. The Codex Sinaiticus is a 1,600-year-old copy of the entire Bible hand-written in Greek. It is the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. In addition to its importance to Biblical studies, it is also important to the history of the book. It is the oldest substantial book still in existence.

Codex Sinaiticus Website.png The British Library took high-resolution photographs of each page of the codex. Using a web-based interface, you can flip through the codex and zoom in and out of the pages. To the right of the page is a transcription (an exact copy of what is written on the page but typed with a Greek font making it easier to read—if you can read Greek). Underneath the transcription are Russian, German, and English translations of the text.

In the past only a handful of scholars with the time to track them down and get permission to access them and the financial backing of a university could get access to ancient manuscripts. The internet is changing this. Already any undergraduate or interested layperson with internet access can view the Codex Sinaiticus. Soon the entire world will have unparalleled access to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As part of their “From Parchment to Pixel” exhibition, the British Library has published a five-part series of interviews with members of the team that digitized the Codex Sinaiticus that you can listen to online. One of the interviews is with Rachel Kevern who helped with the transcription. She helped convert the transcriptions to XML.

Not all of the pages of the codex have survived intact. There are some fragments as small as a thumb and containing just a few letters. One of Kevern’s duties was to locate where on a page a fragment belonged. She compared the task to the popular TV series CSI. She was able to locate one fragment from Joshua with just four letters on it by looking at what letters were on the other side of the fragment. She was frustrated by another fragment in Joshua with just three letters on it that she was never able to locate. There were simply too many places in Joshua where that combination of three letters occurred.

We too often keep our Bibles on the shelf like the Dead Sea Scrolls in their vault. The Bible is just as relevant to the issues you face today as it was to the issues the disciples faced 2,000 years ago and the issues Abraham and Moses faced even thousands of years before that. Take your Bible off the shelf. Open it up. Spend time in God’s Word during a quiet time everyday. You’ll be surprised at the things God has to say to you!

Credits: Cave Photo: Ian W Scott / Creative Commons, Isaiah Scroll: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Matthew D. Miller is editor of Popsickle. He lives in Oklahoma City and enjoys reading, writing, and programming. He also writes a series of space opera short stories called Map Makers.

Mark Your Calendar (or Just Subscribe to the RSS Feed)

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A thought-provoking article about pop culture and Christianity will be published each Monday beginning April 5. Popsickle will be exploring how Christianity is relevant to culture. Mark your calendars now (or just subscribe to the RSS feed), so you don’t miss the great articles on these topics in the coming months:

  • Doctor Who
  • Intergenerational Ministry
  • Vampires
  • And more!
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