Archive for the 'Spirituality' Category

My Daily Bible Reading, automated

Bible and glasses

Readers, be warned: this is one of those geeky posts of mine. I basically put these up to remind myself how I did something.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to be much more intentional about reading what shows up on my computer screen than I am in reading a physical book. Everything I want to read (almost) can be found at my fingertips through the internet.

Now, like some of you, I have tweaked the settings in my browser so that the tabs to which I always need access are set to open as default. And I thought how neat it would be to create a script that would take my daily bible readings, and put them into a webpage so that I would read the text as I start my day.

The challenges:

  1. To insert the text according to my preferred reading plan (by Grant Horner, found here).
  2. To set up a web page for each day of the year with that day’s readings.
  3. To serve each day’s webpage to my browser.

Here’s how I did it.

To set up the text the way I wanted, I wrote a script using the excellent tool “diatheke”. It’s a command-line tool that comes with my bible program (Xiphos, in case anyone is wondering). Diatheke allows me to search and select Bibles for verses (or topics, or phrases), and use the results of that search in lots of interesting ways. I won’t show you the whole script, but I will show you a line of the file, and explain what it does.

diatheke -b ESV -f HTML -k Matthew 1, Genesis 1, Romans 1, Job 1, Psalm 1, James 1, 1 Samuel 1, Isaiah 1, Acts 1, Proverbs 1 > biblechapter1.html

“diatheke” is the name of the program. “-b ESV” selects the version to read. “-f HTML” selects the format that will create a webpage. “-k Matthew 1, Genesis 1, etc.” selects each chapter of each book I want to read. And finally “> biblechapter1.html” puts all of the gathered information into a single webpage (called biblechapter1.html”).

The script does this 365 times, with the different chapters that I want. After running it, I now have 365 little webpages with just the text of Scripture for that day of the year.

INSERT EDIT: After having used this for a few days, I noticed that the version of diatheke has an annoying little bug in it: it appends the last verse of whatever the search terms as an extra line. I wanted to get rid of this extra appendage, and I used the following command to do it.

sed -i “s/^: .*/<br>/g” biblechapter*.html

“sed” is the Stream EDitor program on most Linux systems, and with the input -i, the specific command s/ switches every line that starts with a colon and a space ^: , no matter what comes behind it .* with an HTML carriage break <br>, and does so globally /g for every file that starts with the name biblechapter, and ends with .html.

Finally, I wrote a little “home page” file that would select a different Biblechapter page depending upon the day of the year. This one page has a script that calculates the day of the year, and then serves that numbered biblechapter file to my browser. Here’s what that file looks like, shortened for readability:

<html>
  <body>
<script type="text/javascript">

var ie=document.all
var doy=document.getElementById

//How will the IFRAME be displayed?
var iframeprops='width=1400 height=6000 marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" hspace="0" vspace="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="yes"'

//Show all days of the year
var daycontent=new Array()
daycontent[1]="biblechapter1.html"
daycontent[2]="biblechapter2.html"
.
.
.   all the way through the whole year, 1 - 365
.
.
daycontent[364]="biblechapter364.html"
daycontent[365]="biblechapter365.html"

if (ie||doy)
document.write('<a href=""></a>')

var now = new Date();
var start = new Date(now.getFullYear(), 0, 0);
var diff = now - start;
var oneDay = 1000 * 60 * 60 * 24;
var mytoday = Math.floor(diff / oneDay);

function dayofyear_iframe(){
if (ie||doy){
var iframeobj=document.getElementById? document.getElementById("dynstuff") : document.all.dynstuff
iframeobj.src=daycontent[mytoday]
}
}

window.onload=dayofyear_iframe

</script>  </body>
</html>

Once that was working, I simply had to tell my browser (Chrome) to open three tabs every time it started: my calendar, my email, and my Bible reading for the day.

Well, that’s what works for me. Are you using some kind of system or specific discipline to keep you in the Word… and the Word in you?

“Scheduled” spirituality?

liturgical calendar Recently, I was sharing with someone about spiritual growth, and they had expressed frustration that they weren’t as connected to God as they felt the should be. I encouraged them to look up Romans 12:1-2. Let me share it here:

“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” {NASB}
This brought to mind an interesting conversation with the Wednesday night study group this last week. One comment that particularly stands out in my mind is something like, “You know, as I make my to-do list for the day, I don’t put down spiritual goals on that list. I don’t mark down how many people I’m going to share Christ with…”
That really grabbed my attention! I wonder how many of us *plan* to incorporate specific spiritual activities into our lives? I know, for example, that I have a general weekly schedule; I know when I’ll be spending extra time in study, I know when I plan to write my sermon and prepare for my Sunday School lesson… but how often do I make room for the movement of the Holy Spirit in my everyday life?
It’s certainly given me pause for reflection: I ask that God would use me whenever the Lord saw fit… but are there opportunities that I’m missing because I’m preoccupied with just living my life? Are you?

Bible names – mining for insight

hebrew names As I was doing my study this morning, I found myself in Genesis 5, and there are a lot of “begats” in there…

Every time I’ve read them before, I’ve basically logged the names mentally, but not really paid much attention to them until a specific name showed up later in the text, or had some special comment made about it…

…but then it occured to me: my own daughters have very specific names, chosen for very specific reasons. There’s a story behind each name in my family; indeed there’s a story behind how Jami and I even came to choose various names. Why would I automatically assume that Bible names didn’t have much meaning to their parents and treat them like mere footnotes in history?

Enter this site: Abarim Publications. They have some *great* Hebrew insights as to the meaning of names in the Old Testament. Even better – they explain, using the Hebrew, WHY they give a specific meaning to a particular name. It was a fascinating look at the names in Genesis 5, and one does not need to be a Hebrew scholar to appreciate the information on a name.

I recommend taking a look at this site: if you have a name that’s Hebrew in origin, you might discover all kinds of things about your name that you never knew!

Shalom (KFJ)- Ed

My Jesus


There are some incredibly powerful words given to the church by its members. Whenever I find some that especially speak to me, I want to remember them. As the church, we’ve placed a high value on memorizing Scripture (a value which I wholeheartedly support), but there are other words, other thoughts which are worthy of grappling.

This song contains one of those thoughts. Watch through to the end (if you can – be warned, this video can sting), and ask yourself the question that is raised.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

KFJ – Ed

Thoughts on the Cross

I’ve been cleaning my desk; getting ready for the move to senior pastor of Warden Community Church… and I came across some notes I had jotted down; probably in response to some Bible reading.

Anyway, I don’t want to have to physically move the paper from here to Warden, so I’m typing the contents as a blog entry…

The cross causes a stir… what do we do with the Cross?

Historical review: Constantine (put the cross on his soldier’s shields); Hitler (broke the arms of the cross in the swastika)

What do we do with the Cross?

–Peter rebuked for Jesus for talking about it

— Early church affirmed the Cross

What KIND of God do we revere

— Nicene Creed – God w/ a human face

SOME: Walk away from the Cross

— just take the best teachings from religious leaders and blend to make a way of life

Paul’s Response: Paul HAD to preach the Cross

1) The Cross is a reminder of cruelty of the world (we’re not free from a sin-sick world; it’s God’s business – and ours – to enter into that world and show a different way)

2) To open our eyes to God’s nature; to remind us of who God is…

What do we do with the Cross?

The Two Thieves present the two options; deride Him for weakness, or recognize God’s sacrificial love in suffering.

Jesus CHOSE the path of love – of suffering – for our sake.

What is the Cross? It is to be with God who has suffered as we have, hurt as we have, so that we could be healed.

thus ends my random ramblings on THAT page…

St. Patrick’s Day thought

As I write this, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Granted, I understand that in America, everyone is “Irish” on St. Patty’s Day; however, I actually *do* have Irish background. I’m also a history buff, and I’m a Protestant, so I am wearing a brightly colored tie with both green and orange with a white shirt. (I figure that I’ve got all my bases covered now…)

Anyway, I was doing some reading, and I came across this blog, which had a very interesting entry about social justice and the work of the church.

Ten Marks of the Church as Abbey

It’s a wonderful post about how a church can envision its outreach to the surrounding culture by understanding the functions of the Celtic Abbey. I’d especially like to draw your attention to point number 9, about justice:

Peace and justice. St. Patrick was the first person in recorded history to speak out against the Irish slave trade.  Patrick’s appeals eventually resulted in the end of the Irish slave trade, of which Patrick himself had been a victim.  Patrick also prevailed upon the Irish kings and warlords to live in peace with one another, as much as they were able.  The abbey bears that same responsibility today.

The serendipity of it all makes me smile: here I am, on St. Patrick’s Day, reading about the work of the church as modeled by St. Patrick. And me being an Orange-wearing Protestant.

As they say in the Guinness commercials… “Brilliant!”

  1. Peace and justice. St. Patrick was the first person in recorded history to speak out against the Irish slave trade.  Patrick’s appeals eventually resulted in the end of the Irish slave trade, of which Patrick himself had been a victim.  Patrick also prevailed upon the Irish kings and warlords to live in peace with one another, as much as they were able.  The abbey bears that same responsibility today.

“Political” thoughts

The context: this is a conversation that I’m having with some friends on Facebook. I’ll leave their names out of it, but I thought that it was an important enough topic to capture for this blog.

Disclaimer: I am do not consider myself a member of either major political party, so if you’re hoping to paint me as an Elephant or a Donkey, you’re in the wrong part of the zoo (which is an apt way to describe our political system in America).

These posts were made as comments to an anti-Obama thread on Facebook:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all people, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

If you disagree with Obama, PRAY for him….
http://www.abetterhope.com/prayer/leaders.html

(brought to you by someone who didn’t vote for him, either…)

Ed, I agree and have. Some people actually pray TO him, while guys like us pray FOR him. 😀 However, for me at least, It’s difficult to pray for him being he is such an authoritarian (arrogant) holding a position that requires much humility to be an effective leader. (from Friend #1, male)

I do pray for Barrack Hussian Obama.. Just like I’m sure that many people prayed for dictators like Adolf Hitler. United States Presidents are elected to lead and serve our Country, they are not Kings! Many came to America to get away from that Control, and to have freedom. But this President is working overtime to take our freedom away!!
I say we take courage, and make our voices heard!!
If you don’t stand for something.. you will fall for anything (from Friend #2, female)

Friend #1, I understand, really I do. We need to remember that it’s easy to pray for people you like; it’s more difficult to pray for those who have hurt you. Jesus raised the bar (“pray for your enemies, and lift up those who persecute you”); will we take Him at his word, or just say, “Lord, that’s too difficult. Can’t I just poke fun at him instead?”

Something else to think about: Mr. Obama, by his own admission, is a follower of Christ. Are you treating him the way you’d want to be treated by people who might disagree with you? Would Jesus do what we’re doing?

Ed, that’s all good. The problem I have with O is his radical nature. He has proven himself to believe contrary to our nation’s founding and governing documents when it comes down to individual Liberty and free markets. Therefore, he is a tyrant.

He was indoctrinated by Marxist ideals, in his own words, “spreading the wealth around is good for everybody”. But, It’s no longer “charity” when it’s coerced. Instead of applauding private charity he will continue to mandate it with more entitlements to redistribute the wealth for “social justice”.

Also, the last church he attended (for 20 years) taught Black Liberation Theology, which is a radical philosophy rooted in hating white people. That’s institutional racism. Just check out author David Cone, his book is touted by his former friend and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. You know, the controversial Rev. that O threw under the bus. Before that he did the same to his “white” grandma and his neighbor Bill Ayers. Ayers is known as the former leader of a domestic terrorist organization called the Weather Underground. All my neighbors carry similar credentials (LOL), check his out: …

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2008/02/obamas_weatherman_connection.html

The facade that O puts up is sickening, he claimed he would “create jobs” which is impossible for any gov’t. He claimed he would unite this country. His agenda has done everything opposite. I doubt his sincerity on almost any political issue. Despite all that, I know, he deserves prayer especially given his position. My prayer is that he stops pushing such radical reform that will surely cause our nation financial ruin and potential calamity. However, if this nation falls because of him, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. 😉 (from Friend #1)

Friend #1, I certainly don’t disagree with your political viewpoint. Like I said, I didn’t vote for him either.

But that’s not really the point. If you sincerely believe that Mr. Obama is misled/misleading, then pray for him SINCERELY. Pray that the Lord would make God’s grace evident in Mr. Obama’s life. Pray that he and his family would find a good church (I understand they’ve been having quite a bit of difficulty finding one). Pray that the Spirit would be Mr. Obama’s teacher, that his heart would become soft to the plight of all of those under his rule, not just those who he thinks he can affect. And pray that Mr. Obama would be open to the same kind of personal change in his own life for which he so strongly campaigned for as a candidate. And pray all of this without rancor, spite, malice, or a desire to see him fail.
Pray all of this IN ADDITION to the political action steps that you desire to take; so that your good (taking steps to warn people of an agenda with which you disagree) may not be of evil spoken (make sure that your heart condition isn’t bitter as you pray for those in power who are against for what you stand).
Just some thoughts.

Ed, very well said! I hear ya, obviously it’s just a very difficult line for me to walk. (from Friend #1)

well, If Obama was a , and I quote “C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n” !
Why did He pray with the Muslims on the day that National Day of Prayer was downplayed at the Whitehouse? This is just one of many things , that will disprove that he is a Christian. He has had a year to find a good Christian Church!!! .. Maybe you could do some research Ed, and Help Him find one!… just a suggestion.. Peace  (from Friend #2, who then posted this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=errwiYlXw-g&feature=related)

Friend #2, if I had the opportunity, I would certainly pray with a Muslim. And I am most definitely a follower of Jesus. After all, we, as Christians, are specifically mentioned in the Koran. (We’re referred to as “the People of the Book”, and we’re supposed to be treated as brothers and sisters in faith, not as infidels.)

The US was certainly founded as a Christian nation. If we are supposed to be a nation of people who follow Jesus, then we really need to LOOK at how Jesus treated people who were not part of the nation of Israel.

Did Jesus refuse to talk to the Samaritan woman? No, He shared God’s grace….
Did Jesus refuse to bless the Syria-Phonecian woman? No, He shared God’s grace.
Did Jesus refuse to minister to the Roman centurion? No; He not only shared God’s grace, but lifted up the Roman as an example of faith to His Jewish listeners.

As far as doing research to find a good church for a president, it has less to do with finding one that has theology and programs that would minister to the Obama family, and more to do with a church that is willing to put up with the headache of dealing with massive security issues every week just so the President could show up.

Since I don’t live in THAT Washington (I live here in the GREEN Washington, the one that God loves!), I’d not be a logical choice to appropriately help choose a church for the Obama family.

As a minister, all I can say to that family is that it would be better for them as a family to attend, even with as much of a pain as it would be to everyone involved, than it would be for them to consistently stay home. By neglecting to worship with his wife and children, Mr. Obama is teaching his family that faith is “a private thing”… but faith in God is precisely what is needed most at levels of leadership. Especially at the levels at which the Obama family must live.
Grace and Peace to you as well, Friend #2.

– – –

I somehow doubt that this conversation is finished, but I thought it was interesting enough to share. I’ve edited out the names of those who wrote.

Chuang Tzu, Quantum Physics, and Predestination: a mash-up

I read a lot, and broadly… I find that I am interested in almost everything that’s in print, and I read as one under compulsion. That by itself might not be a problem, but my mind starts to see connections between disparate topics where they might not actually exist. Be warned: this post is about one such “connection”…

Point 1 – Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from the fourth century BCE, wrote about the intersection of the “I” and the “Not-I”:

There is nothing that cannot be seen from the standpoint of the “Not-I”. And there is nothing which cannot be seen form the standpoint of the “I”. If I begin by looking at anything from the viewpoint of the “Not-I”, then I do not really see it, since it is “not I” that sees it. If I begin from where I am and see  it as I see it, then it may also become possible for me to see it as another sees it. Hence the theory of reversal that opposites produce each other, depend on each other, and complement each other. (The Way of Chuang Tzu, pg 42)

Point 2 – Wigner’s Friend thought experiment, an expansion of the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment from quantum physics. This explanation of the Wigner’s Friend experiment is from David Saltzberg, writer of the Big Blog Theory:

Wigner’s Friend is a  gedankenexperiment proposed by the great physicist Eugene Wigner to explore the roles of consciousness in the quantum measurement problem.  It can be discussed as an added layer to the Schroedinger’s cat experiment.  Suppose Wigner leaves the room with the cat of unknown status  in the box while his friend looks in the box.  Typical theorist, he exits the room leaving the dirty work of cleaning up dead cats to an experimentalist friend.  He asks to be told about the experimental results later.   If it is Wigner’s friend’s consciousness that forces the cat to be 100% alive or 100% dead, then even for Wigner, who is out of the room and does not know the result, suddenly lives in a world where the outcome is 100% determined.

Point 3 – Predestination, the concept that God knows (and has in some fashion determined) the future:

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions. (Westminster Confession of Faith, III, 1-2)

From Point 1, I gain the insight that I recognize that can be two simultaneous points of view that are mutually exclusive and yet both are viewpoints of the same truth. From Point 2, I gain the insight that a deterministic state does not necessarily depend upon one’s own observation. From Point 3, I gain the insight that God does not determine the actual outcome of choices made within the scope of free will, although God knows the results of those choices before we (who make the choices) know their outcome.

How is this a mash up? Because when I consider these three concepts from disparate sources, I gain a different insight about how God’s foreknowledge and my free will intersect. I understand that even though those two concepts seem to be diametrically opposed, they in fact inform and define each other. I am not God; I do not have the ability to see as God sees, to know as God knows at the level at which God possesses knowledge. God is truly “Not-I”, to use the term of Chuang Tzu.

I also understand, using the Wigner’s Friend thought experiment, that my observation of the events which happen in my own life determine their status; when I make a choice of A over B, then A becomes true for me, and B does not. The Lord, however, is like Wigner: God is “out of the room”, so to speak, and is not influencing my ability to choose either A or B. God knows the outcome of my choice, but does not cause it in any way.

This helps me grasp how the Infinite Sovereign Creator of the Universe interacts with me, a created part of that universe. God knows my name; God knows my choices; God desires what is Good for me, but does not force that Goodness upon me (which would render it Evil – more Chuang Tzu, I’m afraid). This means that if there is any Goodness in me, that it is a reflection of God’s own character; “to the praise of His glorious grace”. In my mind, the goodness that may be manifested in my life is like a quantum reflection of God’s goodness; I am merely trying to live my life in connection with God.

Sola Dei Gloria!

The “Way”

For many years, I’ve self-identified with “Follower of the Way” instead of “Christian” in regards to my spiritual walk. I recognize that “Christian” means “little Christ”, and I know that there are days when I am so UNlike Christ that I wouldn’t want to bring same to His name.

So… when I stumbled upon Acts 24:14: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets…” (ESV), I thought I’d found a very good descriptor of my spiritual life.

Imagine my interest when I ran across a book called “The Way of Chuang Tzu” by Thomas Merton. (Click here for the Amazon link). I picked it up at Half Price books for about a buck, and it’s been one of the best dollars I’ve spent in a long time.

Let me give you a quote from the introduction:

For Chuang Tzu, the truly great man is therefore not the man who has, by a lifetime of study and practice, accumulated a great fund of virtue and merit, but the man in whom “Tao acts without impediment,” the “man of Tao.” (p. 25)

As a follower of the Way of Jesus, I read this introduction with a profound sense of “aha… here is truth!” For Chuang Tzu describes the Tao, a Chinese concept of “Way” as having two aspects: “that which cannot be named” –  the Eternal Tao; and “the Tao’ that can be named’, which is the ‘Mother of all things’.” (p. 20-21) This is strikingly similar to the Biblical concept of God the Father being the source of all that is created, and Christ being the agent through which all things were created.

I found that I could not get away from imposing my understanding of God-as-Ultimate-Creator in my reading, every time the word “Tao” was used.With that in my mind, the quote took on a whole new meaning:

The truly great person is therefore not the one who has, by a lifetime of study and practice, accumulated a great fund of virture and merit, but the one in whom “God acts without impediment,” the “person of God.” (my variant)

What was driven home to me this morning was not that I need to be righteous for righteousness sake; and not that I needed to be righteous because it would make God happy; rather, that through my connection with God, the Lord’s righteousness would come to be IN me. This is a different thought about my walk with Christ than I’ve had before.

I will be interested to see how Chuang Tzu’s “Way” will interact with the “Way” described in Scripture. I’ll post more insights as I have them.

Blessings! KFJ – Ed


Pastor Ed Backell

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