Did I Actually Exercise?

Today, I changed up my fitness routine. Normally on a good day, and only on a good day, I get up and stretch a few minutes with Classical Stretch: By Essentrics on PBS. Later, Joy and I usually go for nice walk. If it’s windy we walk to the north side of the island and watch boats go up and down the ICW. If it’s calm and on the warmer side, we walk up the beach, either toward our friends’ beach access or toward the town pier.

We won’t talk about what happens on not-a-good days (but thank God for Hallmark).

A couple of days ago, Apple announce the release of a new exercise program called Apple Fitness+. If you don’t have an Apple Watch 3 or newer just move along. There’s nothing to see here. After watching the CNET review on YouTube, I, an elderly man with a leg that’s been messed up since I was a younger man, decided I wanted to give it a try.

So, I signed up for the one month free trial. As I’ve already described, I do movement regularly, but not really anything that I would categorize as exercise. In fact, I don’t really remember the last time I closed the exercise ring on my watch.

But after watching the Absolute Beginners preview video, I gave the Absolute Beginner Strength with Kyle class a shot. I have to say I loved it. As a young man I was a gym rat and loved working out with my buddies. Kyle stood in the front and did a moderate version of each movement. Another trainer stood behind him and did an easier version. Still a third trainer stood behind him on the other side and did more advanced motions. The vibe was positive and upbeat. Maybe the novelty will wear off, but this first go round was fun. I got myself grinning as I exercised. When my back started to hurt, I switched to the easier version demonstrated in the rear. For exercises that didn’t hit my back wrong I just switched back to following Kyle directly.

Now, if I was still in my 30’s and could be lifting weights with the same group every morning, I think I would still prefer that. But for someone my age, during the pandemic, this looks like it might be a great value. I’ll know better by the end of the month.

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Dream Church – Dogs, Dancing and Daylight

I have a dream church. It wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. I have friends who love going to mega-churches with professional preaching, professional musicians, and professional productions of the service. It is a sort of Broadway production in their hometown, complete with “Broadway stars”. I’ve tried it and it’s great. Combined with small accountability groups, a church like that can even bear spiritual fruit. But that kind of church isn’t my dream church.

Although, I knew Rev. Gluck, aka “Joe”, most of my youth through young adult life, I missed the opportunity to attend his Forks-of-Cheat Baptist Church until near the end of Joe’s life. Yet, those few years left an indelible imprint on me. It was the closest I ever came to my dream church. We met in an historic church building that got its first indoor plumbing about the time I graduated from high school. Prior to that you trotted out of the building to go to the outhouse beside the grass parking area. The architecture was typical of the colonial period except that it was built of brick. The building was small but comely.

Photo by Sarah Steel

The church sits atop a hill and when you opened the doors you beheld a vista that stretched across the Cheat River valley to the Preston County ridge marking the beginning of the Appalachian Mountains. Whatever the merits of the Sunday school class and sermon we heard while inside with the doors closed, we were reminded that God was the Creator, the Source of nature’s beauty and agriculture’s bounty as we exited the doors.

And, yes, just as some are bedazzled by Broadway-style worship productions, I am bedazzled by the aesthetics of a little country church resting on the hilltop looking out over some of the most beautiful scenery on God’s green earth. So, yes, my dream church would be beautiful.

For your inspiration or just indulging my desire to think about them, allow me to share a few of the places of worship I have found to be inspiring. If I included all of the places I have worshipped that didn’t have a roof, I wouldn’t live long enough to finish telling the story, so I’ll limit myself to places of worship that have a roof.

I’ve already told you about Forks-of-Cheat. Second on my list, would be the little chapel at what is now Jacksons Mill in West Virginia. This little chapel has a phalanx of tall skinny windows running down each side of the sanctuary that can be cranked open to let in such a view of the nature outside as to make it feel almost like an outdoor service. There is even a little courtyard, bounded by a low stone wall, to one side of the chapel. What a great place for a church picnic, or pre-service coffee and donuts, or even a wedding reception.

There is a similar, if slightly larger, structure in Lahaina on Maui. The Holy Innocents Episcopal Church carries the windows which open to nature to an even higher level, which might be expected from a church located in an earthly paradise (with regard to weather).

Sandbridge Beach is very developed now and I suspect the old pavilion has been replaced by a strip mall or hotel. But there used to be a pavilion on the beach where local churches rotated providing vacationers with a place to worship God on the beach. Since it was only in service during tourist season, there was no need for walls at all.

I believe that God created beauty because God is beautiful. The church building, which should be beautiful, should also facilitate the appreciation of nature’s beauty just outside her doors to the degree the climate of the area will permit.

But the most beautiful thing about Forks-of-Cheat was not the colonial architecture or the heavenly view. The most beautiful thing about that church was the people of the church. We had Bea the eccentric artist, Helen the down-to-earth Sunday school teacher, the dairy farmer and his pharmacist son, the guy with a garden big enough to share its bounty with everybody, a car salesman, and so on. Being in the countryside, outside a college town with a medical center, meant we had professionals, union tradesman, farmers, artists, and every other variation of human nature one might imagine. And in this divisive, hate-filled era, I long for those days when such diverse people gathered together each Sunday to create a sanctuary where we could all come and find love, fellowship, and belonging.

As I mentioned, as you left the sanctuary the double doors would be swung open to the view. To the left of the doors there were hooks to hang your coats on the wall. To the right of the doors, there was a table. I’ll call it “the sharing table”. If a person had extra garden produce, they brought it to church and set it on the table. It was free for anyone to take. It was a different kind of communion table, a symbol of the family-ness of the fellowship. My dream church would be a sharing church-in touch with and addressing the needs of our community without condescension or fanfare. And there would most definitely be a sharing table.

A great example of sharing with the community is Scott’s Run Settlement House. Started by the women of the big Methodist church in downtown Morgantown, SRSH was established to provide resources to those in need in nearby Osage, WV. Their food pantry, baby pantry, periodic free medical clinics, after-school program (with free dance or music lessons and basketball), etc. made (and still make) a great difference in the lives of many people. When I was a youth, I dropped off supplies from my youth group to the food pantry. My contact was an elderly, retired black man who donated his time to teach kids to play the piano after school. That visit branded itself into my psyche as a model of what the church could and should be doing in the community. My dream church would definitely have a close partnership with a ministry like this one.

So far my dream church would be aesthetic, connected with the nature outside her walls, diverse and inclusive, and innately sharing.

That list sounds kind of esoteric to me. So, next let’s talk about dogs. There should be dogs in church. I know this raises issues both of hygiene and decorum but hear me out. A pet is a wonderful blessing and I don’t think we should be separated from them to “go to worship”. My ideal worship experience would be with my dog, if I still had one, snuggled up beside me.

But more than that, a dog’s unconditional affection can be therapeutic to people who suffer from anxiety or loneliness. I no longer have dogs, but I would love to have a chance to pet your dog when I go to church. There is a reason dogs are brought to visit in nursing homes. So, even if it is only on fifth Sundays of a month (4 times a year), I think there should be dogs in church.

Also, hugging. Not the ritualistic hugging and kissing prevalent in some cultures, but the “eyes light up when I see you and I just wanna hug you” kind of hugging. We don’t need to hug everybody, but no one should leave without at least the offer of a hug.

My friend Wally said, he was taught as a boy that the 11th commandment was not to run in the church. I remember a church lady scolding me for taking my two young children into the sanctuary of a church in San Angelo, TX while I was in the Army. She was quite angry as she informed me that “They should be in children’s church.” As a soldier who was training at all hours of the day and night, I wasn’t about to voluntarily separate from my kids during the little time we had together. I admit children’s immaturity can be a distraction to those without eyes to see in them what Jesus saw when he called them to himself. I would concede that there could be a crying room for those babies with better lungs than the preacher, but kids need to see their parents modeling the importance of fellowship, service, and worship. That is where the Great Commission begins. A bit of a tangent, but I also don’t think a mother should be expected to leave the sanctuary to nurse-unless the baby is a super-loud slurper.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, because I’ve told it before. I was speaking at a Sunday evening service at a little church in Ravenswood, WV. A toddler was playing with his toy cars on the floor under the pew in front of where his parents were seated. I asked a rhetorical question. Suddenly, his little head popped up and he shouted out the answer. We all laughed. No one, including his parents or myself, had any idea the boy was listening. But that is how kids are. No matter whether we think they are distracting or distracted, those little sponges are picking up the ideas and attitudes around them. They should be taught to behave, but that doesn’t mean sitting with their hands in their laps at attention in the pew. Coloring or playing quietly with dolls or cars is a good starting point.

Speaking of kids, our community has Friday night concerts in the park. As the adults sit in their lawn chairs, the kids tend to traipse up to the area in front of the stage and mix playing together with dancing to the music. I would love it if kids, maybe after the children’s story time, had a chance to dance to worship music in the area between the seats and the platform.

That brings me to the next facet of my dream church, dancing. I remember worshipping in Honolulu, and they had folks dancing the hula with the hymns. It just enriched the musical experience so much. Sure, hula is the most beautiful form of dance, but I would be happy with any kind of interpretive dance to go with the church music.

One Sunday, I filled in for the preacher at Reynoldsville Baptist church in WV. I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I have never heard such horrible singing. Nor have I ever heard a congregation sing so loudly and with such gusto. I loved the crap out of it. In my dream church everyone, regardless of talent, makes “a joyful noise to the Lord” without self-consciousness.

Food. Beginning in the Old Testament all the way up through Jesus telling Peter to “Feed my sheep”, the Bible describes the way God provides for the people of God using food as an analogy. This analogy appears again and again and again. At First Baptist Church in Newport News, Virginia, every Wednesday night we had a “family night” dinner. There were long, long rows of table instead of small round tables where people could isolate themselves. Families were thrown together with other families and with singles. It was a warm time of intergenerational fellowship.

My dream church pastor, whether male, female, gay or straight, would teach us the Bible’s way of love. And, like dear Joe, their primary didactic method would be that they themselves would make each of us feel valued, loved, and welcome.

Lastly, there would be coffee and donuts served in the courtyard or foyer between Sunday School and Worship.

I’m not sure what my church would be named. Something that pointed to God’s character of love, comfort, and joy. “The Open Arms of Jesus Community Fellowship”? That’s kind of a mouthful. Any suggestions?

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HOW BIG IS GOD’S TENT?

I ran into another old man at Island Jo’s coffee shop. I liked his haircut and asked him about his barber. As in many small towns, this led to a rather extended conversation. He told me that he had been to church and that he liked this church because they preached against homosexuality. Mind you, this was my first conversation with this man and it was the only “virtue” of his church that came up. I had to wonder why this issue was so important to a man who was at the coffee shop with a woman I presumed to be his wife.

Maybe I’m being judgmental, but I wonder, did he want to identify sin with some behavior with which he didn’t struggle so that he could feel self-righteous compared to those “evil” people? It made me think of the Westboro Baptist doctrine of hating others so that we don’t have to feel bad about ourselves. Let’s face it, that doctrine isn’t unique to religious groups.

I mentioned in my last Beach Meditation that above all of the technical skills required to parse theology and hermeneutics, I believe there are two over-arching principles with which our conclusions must be consistent. God is love and the mark of being a follower of Jesus is love and that love is the kind of love that humbles itself to serve others so that they can bear fruit that will glorify God.

I know of too many LGBTQ who have been hurt by both hateful and well-meaning people like myself who claim to be Christians. I had a preacher once who said, “Don’t judge Jesus, by the people who claim to be his friends.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had a hateful attitude toward homosexuals, but I did understand the Bible to teach that homosexuality was a sin – not a 10 commandments level sin, but still a sin. But because I love the gay people I’ve known and I’ve always been open about what I believe, I’m sure I’ve come across in hurtful ways – especially given the overall tenor of the modern church as a context for my words.

But for years, I have been looking for some guidance on a biblical understanding of homosexuality. It was easy to find those who understood the Bible to teach that homosexuality was a sin. But despite my inquiries to various pastors whose churches I knew to be inclusive, I was unable to find anyone who would dig into the Bible and help me to understand how they came out on the inclusive end of the scale.

I follow a gay couple on YouTube. Chris and Clay are song and dance men and I’m a sucker for singing and dancing. Yesterday, I watched the video in which they shared their coming out story. Clay’s family had been supportive without making a big deal out of it. But Chris had grown up in the Bible belt and his family, while affirming their love for him and that nothing would change how they felt about him, his family believed that his lifestyle was sinful. He was so deeply hurt. I could feel my own eyes well up with tears as he shared his pain.

In the description of the video, Chris shared an article that at last gave me a jumping off point for re-examining the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. The author, Ed Oxford, believes that what the Bible teaches is a prohibition against the ancient practice of pederasty in which adolescent boys were given to men in high position – sometimes even by the boy’s parents.

The OT commands against male with male relations may well have referred to this pederasty or pedophilia. The word translated ‘male’ in the two key verses of Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:30, could refer to a male of any age but typical usage referred to boys of an age to be circumcised and one-year-old male livestock to be used in sacrifices, young males.

There is some ambiguity here since the meaning seems to be dependent on the context. Leviticus 12:2 clearly implies that ‘zakar’ refers to a male baby. Whereas in Genesis 1:27 and in the pairing of animals for the ark, ‘zakar’ seems to refer merely to gender.

In the case of Leviticus 18, it isn’t clear whether it is saying a man shouldn’t have sex with a man as though their partner were a woman or whether it is saying a man shouldn’t have sex with a boy as though their partner were a woman, which would refer to the common practice of pederasty in that day.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13       ־ – זָכָ ר zkr male

His research showed that translations from the Hebrew in this passage and the Greek in the New Testament took it as a prohibition on pedophilia until the RSV translated 1 Corinthians 6:9 as ‘homosexual’ in 1948, the year my parents graduated from high school. The first German translation to go this way was in 1983, the year my stepson was born. The earlier KJV went with the delicate but vague translation which went with ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’.

The New International Version translation of 1Corinthians 6:9 reads “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.”

Paul appears to have used ‘arsenokoitai’ only twice, here in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The roots of the word come from ‘arseno’-‘man’ and ‘koitai’-‘bed’ (a word from which we get the English word ‘coitus’). The footnote in the NIV says that the two words used in the Greek, ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’ are referring to an effeminate male using another male as a “man bed”. It might be worth noting that in the other uses in the New Testament, ‘malaka’ is used to describe clothing as soft or fine.

An issue I have with the NIV translation is that the Greek says ‘oute malakoi oute arsenokai’, literally ‘not soft ones, not man-beds’. At first, it seems that ‘soft ones’ and ‘man-beds’ are separate items on the list of badly behaving people (together with the sexually immoral, idolaters, and adulterers). This suggests that Paul is not condemning one partner and viewing the other as a victim.

Yet, this understanding didn’t evolve in modern Bible translations until the mid-twentieth century.

 The two words ‘arseno’ and ‘koitai’ are, according to Kevin DeYoung, the same Greek words used individually (as opposed to Paul combining them into one word) in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 and 20. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament used at the time that Paul wrote his part of the New Testament.

For centuries ‘arsenokoitai’ was translated into various languages to mean ‘boy abusers’. The heavy tie to the ambiguous language of Leviticus likewise renders Paul’s usage to be ambiguous.

Given Jesus’ protective nature with respect to children (millstone anyone?) I have no doubt that ‘boy molesters’ are a no-go in the kingdom of God.

Romans 1:24-27 Does appear to be talking about queer sex but in the context of idol worship in the Isis temple.

Paul appears to have accepted that some of the revolutionary things that he taught, like “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28), would not be fully realized until we get to heaven.

It certainly isn’t clear to me what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. That word doesn’t exist in the original languages of the Bible. Behaviors that some equate with homosexuality are described but in terms that in their cultural context could be referring to instances of male-on-male rape, pedophilia, and the worship of idols.

I will continue to pray for and work toward a better, more clear understanding of biblical teaching on sexuality and sexual abuse.

If you have sincere questions about or insights into the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, please share them in the comments. But be warned, those who approach this discussion with a hateful attitude will be blocked and their comments deleted. Before you show us what you know (or think you know), show us how much you love the people engaging in this discussion. If you can’t “speak the truth in love”, keep it to yourself.

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The Root of the Fruit

Jesus tells a parable that reveals the key for figuring out the source of a leader’s authority and that by which we ourselves are motivated.

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The Rod, The Rock, and The Water-Beach Meditation 10

The Rod, The Rock, and the Water

Exodus 17:1-7

17 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Philippians 2:1-13

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

In the days before they left Egypt, they had nothing. They were slaves. But God plagued Egypt and the Egyptians supplied Israel with booty of livestock and provisions for their journey. But the wilderness journey was not peaches and cream. First, Israel complained about lacking food for the journey and God rained quail and manna on them. In this passage of Exodus, as the lack of water threatened the lives of the people and their livestock, Israel fell into complaining and quarreling. God sent Moses to strike a rock and God made water to come out of it.

And Moses called the place Massah and Meribah “because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?””

I don’t know what burdens are threatening you or what you are thirsting after. In this pandemic, it could even be literal hunger and thirst as so many are being thrown out of work for extended periods of time. As a result of global warming, many on the west coast have been burned out of their homes and people along the Gulf and Atlantic coast have had their homes washed away in hurricanes. I know my aches, my losses, my challenges and I know that everyone has them in some form or another. Some of those burdens are financial, spiritual, some relational, some physical, and some spiritual. If you think you know someone without a burden or a care, that just means you don’t know them well enough. We all have burdens to bear.

For too many, their thirst in the desert is so great, that, like the Israelites, they find themselves wondering whether the Lord is even with them. I am encouraged that despite their quarreling, testing God, and wondering whether God was among them, God made life-giving water to flow for them to drink.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul writes, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” The word translated tempted here is a Greek word which also means tested.

We’ve all heard Mary Stevenson’s story about footsteps on the beach.

“One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

You promised me Lord,

that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

Because we are fallen, we are flawed – beautiful but flawed, like one of these Greek statues with an arm broken off. We grow bitter, turn on one another, and even question God as life’s trials push us to the edge. That is where we meet God’s generous grace. We come to the rock and get life giving water.

In the New Testament, the rock is Jesus. The stick that strikes the rock is the cross. The life-giving water is the Holy Spirit of God that lives in the believers/receivers. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul explains how Jesus put our interests above his own. Rather than using his equality with God to his own advantage, Jesus took on the form of a human with the nature of a servant. A servant willing to die for the Master and to die for us. Then in verse 9, Paul says that God has, in heaven, highly exalted Jesus.

In the upside-down kingdom of God, the way up is down. The way up isn’t by taking advantage of our power, but in humbly doing what is in the best interests of others. Remember the parable of the wedding feast in Luke 14? Jesus said to take the seat in the back, furthest from the seats of honor and let the hosts invite you to a place of greater honor. Jesus was exalted because he became human and sacrificed himself for us. He came down and God raised him up.

Paul’s theme in our passage is that we should have that same love, that love that humbly puts the interests of others ahead of self-interest. As the rod, rock, and water of the Old Testament was a preview of the cross, Christ, and his life-giving Spirit, so our lives are to be reflections of that sacrificial love.

I want to digress for a moment, because I think verse 3 can be a bit misleading. Paul says, “in humility value others above yourselves.” This could be construed as saying other people are better than you are or that you should let other people take advantage of you. Jesus served us not because we had a plan for how to be reconciled with God but because God had a plan. The agenda for how we value others above ourselves is not set by others but by God. We find our path by listening to God’s call to serve in some specific way not by being taken advantage of by someone else’s con.

Your baby may cry for candy when what they need is milk. A challenge in serving others is seeing their need not only from their perspective but from God’s perspective. We must serve with both love and discernment.

It is only God’s grace that can enable someone like myself to get out of my own skin, see someone else’s need from God’s perspective, and take action to help them. I fall so far short in this area.

“God, help me today to be aware of someone else’s need and what I can do to help them find water in the desert.”

Thank you for sharing your time with me. Until next time, may the Creator-God bless you.

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