One Hundred B'rakhot

How did you do? Refer to last Thursday's post if you aren't sure what the assignment was.

And if you haven't already, give it a shot tomorrow - consider this a challenge.

If you attempted the excercise and listed 100 things for which you can say "blessed are You God," my guess is that you found it a little harder than you anticipated. I sure did.

It bothered me that it was so difficult - I generally think of myself as a pretty thankful person. I work hard to come at God with more than just my requests and gripes, and to be thankful for the things He's done for me. But when I try to list 100 of the things for which I can give God praise, I had a hard time.

The day started with me running late for a 7:00 o'clock meeting. As I drove through the drive-thru of our neighborhood Starbucks, I wrote on my pad "B'rakhot #1 - Thanks for the coffee." Then the Starbucks lady came to the window and handed me my cup. "Thanks for the coffee," I said.

For some reason, the fact that I said the same thing to the coffee lady that I said to God troubled me. I think that's a good thing, because it put the whole excercise of saying 100 b'rakhot in an entirely new light. The 100 b'rakhot isn't just about being thankful. It's about being thankful, but it isn't just about being thankful.

The idea of the whole excercise is to see the things that reflect God's attributes and character in the world around us - not just the stuff that God gives us.

It's hard to break out of the 10-year-old-at-Christmas mentality. You know what I mean - we say "thank you" to your parents for the gifts, but it's often rushed and insincere. After all, parents are supposed to give gifts at Christmas, aren't they? Gifts had shown up under the tree for years, so we grew to expect that they'd be there again. We were thankful, yes, but were never "awestruck" by the fact that our parents continued to give us gifts even though we really didn't deserve them.

The 100 B'rakhot excercise reminds us to be awestruck at what God does for us on a regular basis. It reminds us that even the most minute things reflect the character and attributes of the Creator God. From the minds that created the technology and innovation that make my alarm clock work every morning, to the fossil fuels that power my commute to work and school every day - God created them all. The wildflowers that spring up along the median of a metropolitan freeway reflect the creative nature of an infinite God, and the value He places on beauty and excellence. The smile of a 2-year old covered with donut crumbs reminds us of the hope God gives for tomorrow, and the wrinkled smile of a ninety-year-old bedridden saint (also covered in donut crumbs) reminds us of the hope God gives for eternity.

Blessed are You Lord, (Baruch atah Adonai), Maker of heaven and Earth, for You have done great things.

Challenge For Tomorrow:

One of the books I'm reading this Summer is titled A Royal "Waste"of Time - The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, by Dr. Marva J. Dawn.

It's a wonderfully interesting discussion of the theology of worship. I say "wonderfully interesting" not because I agree with Dr. Dawn on everything - we end up on opposite sides when we answer several of the questions she asks. But, the questions themselves scratch some itches I've had for a long time. They're thought provoking, and challenge many of the ideas that threaten to derail worship from the way God originally intended it. It's a good read.

Dr. Dawn starts several of the chapters with sermons she's given at various lectureships and churches where she's been invited to speak. One of those sermons struck a chord with me, and challenged me to try something. I wanted to post the idea here before I give it a go. That way, I can take several of you down with me when it's harder than it seems.

The following is an excerpt that can be found on page 219 of Dawn's book, in a sermon entitled "One Hundred B'rakhot."

The habit that I want us to consider this morning is the Jewish practice of trying to say at least 100 B'rakhot a day. That word B'rakhot is the plural form of the noun B'rakha; as I mentioned earlier, it comes from the verb at the beginning of the Hebrew prayer, "Blessed are you" or "Baruch atah." Can you imagine what it would be like if you tried at least 100 times a day to say sentences like these: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, that you have created men and women with intelligent minds who have invented alarm clocks so that I woke up on time this morning"; "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, that you have caused the sun to shine and the rain to fall so that the fruits of the harvest could be made into this breakfast cereal"? How might this change our attitudes?

What the Jews sought - and still seek - to accomplish by saying 100 B'rakhot a day was to find Joy in every aspect of life because of their sense that God is behind it all. Since we eat packaged food, and live in packaged houses, and have plenty of appliances and conveniences, it's quite easy to forget that God is the source of everything. The value of saying a B'rakhot is that we keep remembering that God is King of the universe after all, and therefore He's in control of all that happens. And because he is, everything will be quite all right.

So who's with me? Pick a day this weekend and see how close to 100 you can get. Write them down and report back on Monday. The gauntlet has been tossed down. Let's see how you do.

All Wet...

Henderson Hills Baptist Church is notorious for many reasons, the most notable being that two years ago on Monday they served as the hosts to a pretty infamous wedding party: mine.

But more recently, the church is entrenched in a controversy regarding baptism and church membership. Several weeks ago, the elders of the church put a proposal before the congregation requesting a bylaws change. If approved, water baptism will no longer be a requirement for membership at Henderson Hills.

Although the elders presented the proposal, senior pastor Dennis Newkirk is taking the brunt of the criticism from local and national Southern Baptists. And if the old boxing rule "he who loses his cool first loses" holds true, the critics of Henderson Hills lost this debate in the first round. They're mad. In fact, the Baptist Messenger (The Oklahoma Southern Baptist's periodical) has dedicated an entire issue to a campaign against Henderson Hills' proposed bylaw change. Add that to some search-and-destroy missiles from the blogosphere and about all that's left is vulture food.

Both arguments are arguments from silence. The Scripture doesn't explicitly link or separate water baptism and local church membership. The Southern Baptists argue that church history has linked baptism and membership from the days of the Church Fathers. True, but the church has linked a lot of other things throughout history that we're not so proud of. In fact, if we want to go there, for a good part of church history, a person was baptized in a corner room of the church so that they could be baptized completely nude. They weren't dunked backwards, but went straight down into the water with the pastor's hands on their head. If we want to point to church history to validate our arguments, let's go whole hog.

History - even hundreds of years of history is not a source of Truth. Yes, we should tread softly when it comes to rethinking ideas that have been held for hundreds of years, but the argument "we've always done it this way," does not carry water. We have to deal with the Text, and if we can't prove a belief from the Text, we must tread even more softly.

Where Scripture is silent, we have the freedom to act wisely. When we encounter an issue for which there is not an explicit principle or command in Scripture, it is perfectly acceptable to make decisions using the wisdom God gave us. That's why we have wisdom in the first place.

But when we make wise decisions about issues not covered by a principle or command in Scripture and then apply those decisions as laws for others to follow, we start to opperate in sketchy territory. In fact, over the years we've developed a term for that kind of behavior: legalism. Remember the Pharisees? They were well-meaning guys who wanted to be so Scripturally accurate that they started making their applications of the Law into laws themselves.

Now, don't miss my point... the Pharisees of Jesus' day missed God altogether. I'm not saying the critics of Henderson Hills are the same way. What I am saying is that it's entirely possible to become so convinced of our extra-biblical decisions that we impose them on everyone else. Although we don't have Jesus' words on baptism and local church membership, we do have His words on making our own decisions into laws for others, and it isn't pretty.

Should local churches require new believers to be baptized by immersion prior to being accepted as members of the local church? Scripture doesn't say.

I, for one, find it hard to believe that we should require more to be a member of the local church than God requires for membership in the Universal Church. I find it hard to believe that the physically handicapped or gravely ill should not be allowed to be members of the local church. I find it hard to believe that we would refuse membership to an immature Christian who believes that his "sprinkling" identified him with the death and resurrection of Christ just as my immersion did, although we'll let immature believers with other nasty habits and beliefs in... so long as they've been baptized. That doesn't make sense to me.

But, if your local church wants to make water baptism a membership requirement, I think Scripture gives you that freedom. If your church wants to make the completion of a membership training class a requirement for membership, go for it. If you want to catechize new believers before you admit them to membership, more power to you. But don't throw rocks at the first church who disagrees with you.

I grew up Southern Baptist, and served on the staff of a Southern Baptist Church for several years. I'm proud of my heritage as a Southern Baptist - a denomination who has been on the right side of theological issues more often than it's been wrong. But it has been wrong before. And if the SBC, on the local, state, or national level, decides to remove Henderson Hills from its fellowship for making a decision on an issue not explicitly covered in Scripture, it will be the wrong decision.

There are many theological issues and interpretations worth dividing over. An issue that has no basis in Scripture, either positively or negatively is not one of them.

One More Israel Picture

Sorry the formatting of my last post came out so weird. I tried to fix it once, and made it worse. Now I'm to the point where I've been messing with it for so long I'm ready to just be done with it. It won't win any layout awards, but I'm done caring.

This was the last picture I wanted to include for now (I have 347 more you haven't seen, but you'll have to buy me dinner if you want to see the rest).

This is an Israeli soldier praying at the wailing wall in Jerusalem. It seemed strangely appropriate today.

Israel photos.

Well, if you push enough buttons, you're liable to fix something. I've been working for the past several weeks to get some pictures posted from our trip to Israel. Somehow today it's working. So...

Here's my favorite picture of the trip. If you've ever had anything to do with Gene Getz, you'll know he's the most humble man alive. But did you know he was humble enough to smear Dead Sea mud all over himself and pose for 50 pictures? He did.

This is the Mt. of Beatitudes, taken from the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee was Kari's favorite place on the trip. It remains relatively untouched by modern civilization. Only one city, Tiberius, can be seen on its banks, which gives the view a very authentic feel. One evening while we were there it got very windy, and the waves got pretty big. I could sympathize with the disciples - I would have been pretty nervous if someone had come walking to me on the water.

The Treasury Building at Petra. No, they didn't really keep money there. It was a burial cave for a king. And before you ask, yes I looked inside - I didn't see the Holy Grail.

This is me with my angel in the shepherds fields with Bethlehem in the background. I tried to get her to sing something angelic, but she was afraid she'd scare the sheep.

That's all for now. I had one more picture I wanted to post, but for some reason the upload isn't working again. So, I'll be happy for what I got uploaded, and post the other one when blogger commits.