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The Space Between

The Space Between

Acts 17:24-28

Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, reminds his listeners of a truth:

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Science tells us lately that the diameter of the observable universe is about 28.5 gigaparsecs, or 93 billion light-years across.

That’s big. Bigger than we can functionally imagine. And that’s just what we’re able to OBSERVE.

Now consider that it is a matter of faith that the existence of God as the Creator implies that God is also beyond what we can functionally imagine. Little children grapple with this concept in the words of an old spiritual song, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”. A very picturesque concept, wouldn’t you agree?

And yet, another article of the Christian faith is that God is close to us. Other religions outside of Christianity share this concept: the idea that Deity is near/in/a part of us.

These seemingly two irreconcilable concepts: Transcendence and Immanence find expression in the Christian faith in a unique way. Let’s look at the Space Between by reading together from the New Testament in the Christian Scriptures, the book of Acts, chapter 17. We’ll start at verse 24, and go through verse 28, looking at other cross-references as we go.

There is a Space Between Transcendence and Immanence

Let’s Tackle Transcendence: it’s BEYOND US: Acts 17:24-25

  • 24 one of the titles we use to refer to God is “Lord of Heaven and Earth”; ancient reference: Genesis 1:1; another reference is from Isaiah:
  • Isaiah 55:8-9~ “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
  • 25 St. Paul of Tarsus is the one being quoted in Acts 17. He reminds us that God is BEYOND us in that God doesn’t NEED anything.
  • 2 Chronicles 2 tells us that King Solomon once wrote: “But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?”

Let’s Interpret Immanence: it’s DRAWING NEAR US: v27-28

  • 27 How COULD a limited finite being understand an infinite God? God HAS to draw near to us first. Paul reminds us that God is closer than we think: we just don’t grasp it that often.
  • King David wrote in Psalm 139:1-5~ “O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” This isn’t to scare us into obedience, or intimidate us into servitude. It’s the reminder of context: know who you are
  • 28 Paul challenged the philosophers in Athens to consider WHO they were and WHO was responsible. Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician wrote in his Pensées about the concept of a void that only God could fill: “this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself.”

So what is the Space Between Transcendence and Immanence? It is the meeting place of faith and reason, of science and spirituality, the inner place that needs to be as boldly explored as the farthest reaches of outer space.

And let me encourage you from my own spiritual tradition these words of the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 57:15 ~ “For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

In other words, to borrow from our shared Trek: God wants first contact with YOU!

Apocalypse Talks: Temporary Temples

Apocalypse Talks: Temporary Temples

Matthew 24:1-8

Abandoned dwellings on internet are intriguing: why? what’s the draw of an old barn, or an abandoned structure? Seeing an unused church makes me wonder what life was like when it WAS in use. But think of the life we now live from the other side of time: what will our beloved places be like when they’re abandoned?

Beware The Worship of the Temporary

* Figure Out The Focus ~ Matthew 24:1-3

(what are you watching)

  • 1 challenge: follow Jesus when eyes are on the world
  • 2 Jesus reminds us: we live in a temporary situation; don’t take it for granite” (it’s not that sturdy!)
  • 3 disciples want to know when, because they want to SEE it (“sign), not avoid it. Are WE asking the right questions of God?

* Don’t Focus on False Forecasts ~ Matthew 24:4-8

(what’s the meaning)

  • 4 challenge: recognize that people DO try to deceive us
  • 5 devil ain’t got no shame!
  • 6 see to it: decide in advance how you’ll respond to bad news
  • 7/8 Birth pangs were in fact a common Jewish metaphor to refer to an indeterminate period of distress leading up to the end of this age (e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4; 2 Esdr 4:42; Tg. Ps 18:14).

In other words, Jesus reminds us to be aware that difficulties are GOING to come… but aren’t necessarily the end of the world (literally!)


Lingering in Worship: Teaching

Lingering in Worship: Teaching Sermon Audio Here

Ezra 7:9-20; Colossians 3:12-17

Can we overemphasize the importance of a teacher? If I ask you to consider the greatest teachers you can think of, do you automatically think of famous philosophers who imparted wisdom for the ages? Maybe. More likely, you’ll think of someone who taught YOU something that changed YOUR life.

How Does A Teacher Transform A Life?

Receive Royal Recognition ~ Ezra 7:9-20

  • 9/10 intro: Ezra arrives to study and teach
  • 11/14 search the Law (know your source material)
  • 15/17 collect and use offerings (gather your materials)
  • 18/20 restore correct worship (teach the lesson)

Give What You’ve Gained ~ Colossians 3:12-17

  • 12 you are chosen, so choose the good
  • 13 you are forgiven, so forgive
  • 14 wrap up life in love
  • 15 let peace BE YOUR UMPIRE
  • 16 Word BE AT HOME IN YOU
  • 17 ALL (means all) in Jesus name

What do teachers make?

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.  One man, a CEO, decided to  explain the problem with education.

He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”

He reminded the other dinner guests what  they say about teachers, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

To emphasize his point he said to another  guest; “You’re a teacher, Bonnie.  Be honest. What do you make?”    Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied,  “You want to know what I make?” She paused for a second, then began.

“Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.  I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

“I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class  time when their parents can”t make them sit for five minutes without an iPod, Game Cube or movie rental.”   She paused again and looked at each and every person at  the table, and continued, “You want to know what I make?”

“I make kids wonder.”

“I make them question.”

“I make them apologize and mean it.”

“I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.”

“I teach them to write and then I make them write.  Keyboarding isn’t everything.”

“I make them read, read, read.”

“I make them show all their work in math.  They use their God-given brain, not the man-made calculator.”

“I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know in  English while preserving their unique cultural identity.”

“I make my classroom a place where all  my students feel safe.”

“I make my students stand, placing their  hand over their heart to say the Pledge  of Allegiance to the flag, one nation under God, because we live in the United States of America.”

“I make them understand that if they use the  gifts they were given, work hard, and follow  their hearts, they can succeed in life.”

Pausing one last time, Bonnie continued, “Then, when people try to judge me by what  I make, with me knowing money isn’t  everything, I can hold my head up high and  pay no attention because they are ignorant.  You want to know what I make?”

“I make a difference.”

“What do you make, Mr. CEO?”

His jaw dropped, and he was silent.

Everything you do, do IN Jesus. Jesus is your ultimate teacher: are you transmitting what He’s teaching?

GUI desktop tweaking

This is another one of those very occasional Linux posts that I use to remind myself (and anyone else who might be interested) on how I did a specific thing.

In today’s episode:

I have had a request to replace a friend’s Macbook with another computer. Since I don’t have any of those hanging around, I’ve been trying to tweak a Linux install to work in a similar fashion.

More specifically, I’ve been trying to solve the challenge of having a global menu at the top of every screen. This is the default behavior for OSX, and what my friend is used to.

In figuring out how to set this up, I’ve learned how to install global menus using a combination of Compiz (the wobbly-windows fancy window manager) Xfce4-panel (to provide a home for the global menu) and the global menu plugin itself. When I’m logged into Compiz as an environment, it looks and works a treat.

What I **really** wanted to remind myself of today, was a simple “a-hah” moment. You see, I usually use JWM as my window manager of choice. It’s VERY small, VERY fast, and I can tweak it to my specifications. Here’s the “a-hah”: if I tweak JWM to **eliminate** the title bar for each window, and set the default for each window to be automatically maximized, the end result is this:

(a multi-tabbed text editor)






(LibreOffice Writer)






(GIMP, a graphics program)






and the only thing I needed to do was to make a very simple change in the configuration file of JWM:


Once I “told” JWM that I wanted every window to have NO title and to be maximized, it turned out like you see above.

My little photobooth app for Linux

(Here’s yet another Linux entry that I’m posting to remind me of what I’ve done to solve a problem. If you’re a regular reader of my sermon blog, this entry might not make sense to you.)

outputEvery year our church hosts a Harvest Carnival for the neighborhood children on whichever Sunday night is closest to Halloween. We have a sit down meal for families, lots of carnival games, and more than enough candy to send any twelve diabetics into a coma. Fun times.

One of the events we offer is a photo booth, where the kids come and strike cheesy poses in their costumes, and then they get a photo strip for a souvenir. To RENT a photo booth that does this is expensive, and besides – we already OWN a computer and a printer. It must be a simple matter to set it up to fulfill that function, right?

Yes. So simple, in fact, that I forget to save the work that I’ve done on this year after year. I end up hacking this together FROM SCRATCH every year. No more. I’m saving my work here for future reference.

Since I use Linux, it’s a matter of gathering the tools, and figuring out how to chain them together to make them do what I want: to result in this filmstrip format shown here. That means I have to make sure I have the physical equipment as well as the software. Here’s the shopping list, as it were:

  • computer (using the church laptop)
  • printer (I normally use the color laser printer, but it wasn’t working: enter a cheap HP inkjet)
  • bright light (an old overhead projector works well here)
  • webcam (Logitech USB, not the one on the laptop)

And then there’s the software to pull it all together:

  • Cheese (webcam software)
  • ImageMagick (to manipulate the images taken)
  • gtkdialog (an old school graphic user interface scripting tool – to make it all pretty)

Now that I’ve got all those tools installed, I write three scripts to make them dance. The main script that does the work I call “mycheesyphotoboothscript”:

mv ~/Pictures/Webcam/*.jpg ~/Pictures/Webcam/2016backup
mv ~/Pictures/Webcam/*.png ~/Pictures/Webcam/2016backup
cd ~/Pictures/Webcam/
convert 2016*.jpg[400x400] -splice 0x10 -background "#ffffff" -append -crop -0+10 output.png
lpr -o fit-to-page -PHP_ENVY_4520 output.png

All of the photographs taken by Cheese are placed in the Pictures/Webcam subdirectory of my Home. So, the first two lines move any existing photos to a backup directory (~/Pictures/Webcam/2016backup).

Next, the Chesse program is started. I then aim the camera, turn on the lights, make funny faces to get good shots… and when I have three or four good shots, I **close** the Cheese program. That tells the script to do the NEXT commands, which is to move into the Pictures/Webcam directory.

Next, we CONVERT the existing pictures just taken into a single vertical strip named “output.png”.

Finally, we send that file to the printer with the LPR command, making sure it fits on the page.

When I use this program next year, I’ll have to change the printer name from HP_ENVY_4520 to whatever printer I’m using.

The other scripts are really just for housekeeping/ease of use. I create a pretty launcher script called “PhotoBooth”:

#! /bin/bash

export MAIN_DIALOG='
<window title="PictureBooth-O-Matic" icon-name="gtk-preferences" resizable="true" decorated="true">
 <input file>"/usr/share/icons/Moka/64x64/apps/cheese.png"</input>
 <input file>"/usr/share/icons/Moka/64x64/actions/exit.png"</input>
gtkdialog --program MAIN_DIALOG

Which gives me this: cheezy

And finally, to make sure I can FIND the program, I write a little launcher that makes it show up in my menus. In Linuxland, we call these .desktop files, and here’s the PhotoBooth.desktop file:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Cheezy PhotoBooth
Comment=create photo booth strips

Hope that helps someone (and reminds me to NOT erase all this work so I don’t have to do this from scratch next year).

Kodi-fying an old computer

(Here’s another Linux entry that I’m posting to remind me of what I’ve done to solve a problem. If you’re a regular reader of my sermon blog, this entry might not make sense to you.)

A friend came over to my home and saw my living room Linux computer set up to play media: movies, music, pictures, that kind of thing. He asked how it was done, and I mentioned the program KODI as the media server I was using. He was impressed, and asked if I could convert an old computer (or three) that he had to do the same thing.

“Of course!” I replied, with a far too inflated view of my own competence.

So, a few days ago, he dropped off the two computers he could find. Once was an eMachine AMD 2650e, with 1GB of RAM running Windows XP. The other was a Dell tower, with 512MB of RAM running Windows 7. (Don’t ask me how.)

I tackled the eMachine first. Getting the latest version of Lubuntu Long Term Support version was a matter of using the alternate install iso, burned to a USB. Nothing out of the ordinary to set it up: I installed the bare minimum I could, added just the packages I wanted to install a **very** minimal desktop (jwm, if anyone’s curious), and rebooted.

The challenge came in when my friend wanted his NTFS external USB 3.0 drive to be recognized. It’s got a lot of his media on it, and he wanted it available for his Kodi use. But it was NOT as easy as just plugging in the drive. (And here’s where I’m posting stuff for my own remembrance, and you, good reader, will probably have your eyes roll back in your head. Sorry.)

After MUCH experimentation, I had to add an entry into /etc/fstab that read:

UUID=<his identifier> /home/hismountpoint ntfs-3g nofail,x-systemd.automount,x-systemd.device-timeout=1 0 0

And that made the drive viewable by Kodi after I got it to start. (I also did an autologin for Kodi, but I won’t post that info here: it’s available by Google search. Just remember that now that Ubuntu is using systemd, I had to created a kodi.service which launched an xinit session. I warned you that your eyes would roll back, didn’t I?)

All is hunky-dory, right? Well, the eMachine was a 64bit computer… and the Dell was a 32bit computer that wouldn’t boot correctly from the USB stick, no matter what I tried. I had to old-school burn a DVD with a 32bit alternate install iso, and once that booted, I chose the expert install option, to replicate the same packages I selected for the first machine.

But the Dell would NOT recognize this drive upon boot, even when I copied the /etc/fstab word-for-word from the eMachine. It kept hanging: my guess is, it didn’t like the USB 3.0. SO… I created this kludgy workaround in the .xinitrc file:

dbus-launch Thunar
xmessage -center -geometry 300x120+0+0 "Attach external drive now"
sleep 30
pulseaudio &
killall Thunar
kodi &
exec jwm

And THAT allowed me to boot up, and step by step plug in the external USB drive so that Kodi could recognize it and use it.


Where The Roses Never Fade – Marion Laib funeral sermon

For those of you who don’t live in Warden, our church’s choir director and organist, Marion Laib, passed away last week, and today was her funeral.

Writing her funeral sermon was one of the more challenging tasks I’ve done in pastoral ministry; Jami reminded me that from here on out, it will only get tougher because I love these people so much.

I’m posting this sermon/meditation because some might have missed being able to attend… or some might want to read it… or some musicians might appreciate the merger of hymn and remembrance. At any rate, here’s Marion’s funeral meditation: Where The Roses Never Fade.

One of the greatest honors I have as a pastor is to remind people just how close Jesus is at times of crisis. As we move through this life, we experience heartaches and struggle, frustrations and pain; this is a part of the human condition. And in the midst of it all, God is present. We may not always see Him at work, focused as we often become on our own matters and concerns. Yet, God is right there, right beside us, as close as our own heartbeat, steadily calling for us to hear His whispered voice. This is the promise of faith – that we are never left alone; that we can always hear the call of God.

Many of us hear that call from the Lord through the means of music. It has been shown that music lights up our minds, causes us to be more alive, more aware of the nature of reality than when we ignore melody and harmony. Marion was one of these souls for whom music spoke in a powerful way; and she shared what she learned with others. She had a special fondness for the hymn “Where The Roses Never Fade”. Marion’s life reflected the values in this song; it’s no wonder it was so powerful to her.

Marion Laib merged her life and her faith. She had set her heart on receiving the promise of God, that she would be “going to a city Where the streets with gold are laid; Where the tree of life is blooming And the roses never fade.” She lived her life in such a way that her eventual destination shaped how she lived day to day. The music with which she filled her life also impacted the lives of many others; she played the organ and directed the choir in this congregation for many years. She poured music into the lives of children (and adults who sometimes acted like children) and they were made better for it.

Let us face an unpleasant truth: this world, and the things in it, wind down. Nothing on this physical realm lasts forever; we understand that there is a season to every activity under heaven. The Bible reminds us that there is a time to live, and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. All we need do is look around and we can see the truth of this: the flowers that bloomed so beautifully last week are already fading, and yet farmers are out in their fields, planting and preparing for the harvest. Marion’s hymn reminds us that what we value so much in this life “blooms but for a season, and Soon their beauty is decayed; I am going to a city Where the roses never fade.”

What a stunning promise of faith: that we will leave behind the old, and inherit the new. We will leave behind the decay, and enter into the realm where Death itself is no more. We will be free: from the difficulties of sin, from the injustices that are often experienced, from the fear of the unknown. For those who have trusted God, as Marion had, will move from death to life, from woe to wonder. We understand now that “In this world we have our troubles, and Satan’s snares we must evade” as the hymn says. That requires a recognition that we aren’t guaranteed a perfect life down here; we all just do the best we can with what we experience. But as we lean on Jesus, and step into His wonderful embrace, “We’ll be free from all temptations Where the roses never fade.”

If Marion could speak to you right now, I’m sure she’d tell you how wonderful Heaven is. She might describe what it looks like to her; the Bible uses terms like “streets of gold” or “jeweled foundations” or “gates of pearl”. But the point of Heaven isn’t eternal fancy accommodations, or how amazing everything looks. The point of Heaven, indeed the point of all of existence… is Jesus. The reason we rejoice when one of our loved ones steps into eternity is because they get to finally see Jesus face to face. They receive the promise that they’ve hoped for all their life long. This is true for Marion: she no longer has faith; she no longer has doubts or concerns. The Bible says that she no longer peers through a dim glass, but instead sees the Lord face to face; now she knows, even as she is fully known.

And this promise is extended to all who will trust Christ for their salvation. The last line of the hymn reminds us that “Loved ones gone to be with Jesus, In their robes of white arrayed, Now are waiting for my coming Where the roses never fade.”

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [like Marion, and Royal and Elsa, and Pastor Lindsay, and so many others], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Learning from Luke: What Comes To Light?

Learning from Luke: What Comes To Light? Sermon Audio Here
Click here to play the file

Luke 8:16-21

This morning, we seek enLIGHTenment: light is important to God.

Gen. 1:3

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Ps. 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Isa. 60:19

The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

1 John 1:5

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

John 1:4-5

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

When God’s Light Shines, What Happens?

Truth Is Revealed
Luke 8:16-18

  • v16 Light has a purpose: it shows what is real
  • v17 Light has a warning: all WILL be revealed
  • v18 Light has a result: rewards are based on retention; If God gives you something, care for it – listen carefully!

Relationships are Tested
Luke 8:19-21

  • v19 Relationships can be walled off
  • v20 Relationships have times of waiting: we don’t always have immediate access to God’s plan
  • v21 Relationships come with warnings: put into practice what you’ve been given

You’ve been given the Light of God in your life; how are you letting it shine? How would our congregation and our community be different if you were to live out Matthew 5:16? This Little Light of mine…?

Learning from Luke: Preparing the Way Today

Learning from Luke: Preparing the Way Today Sermon Audio Here

Luke 3:10-18

Preparations being made to depart for a trip – how to decide what to take, what to leave, what to do, what not to do in a new place?

How Does John Prepare The Way?

Practical Preparation for the Kingdom
Luke 3:10-14

  • v10 In response to John’s warnings: “make His paths straight” Yeah but HOW?
  • v11 Ordinary: care for the needy
  • v12/13 Rich: don’t take advantage of others
  • v14 Powerful: don’t use power for your own ends

Personally Pointing to the Kingdom
Luke 3:15-18

  • v15 these verbs describe an immediate response; the people hear John’s challenge, and they start wondering if John is the Messiah
  • v16 NO; Messiah greater WORTH and greater POWER
  • v17 greater ABILITY and crucial MINISTRY; “unquenchable” means unstoppable
  • v18 John’s Good News: God has sent the Worthy One, the Powerful Prince, the Capable Christ, the Unstoppable Emissary

John’s message is still applicable today – Get Ready: He Who Is ABLE to Save Is On The Way!

Practical Christianity: Prescription: Prayer!

Practical Christianity: Prescription: Prayer! Sermon Audio Here

James 5:13-20

To prescribe medicine, doctors need to know 1) how the body works; 2) how types of medicines affect the body; 3) how various drugs interact with each other; and 4) what new medicines are coming into use. They have to keep up on this all the time, because pharmacology is one of the main tools to address symptoms of sickness. But what if you’re SPIRITUALLY sick?

Prayer Can Be Effective When:

We Lean on The Work of the Spirit
Num. 11:24-29

  • v24/26 The Spirit empowers us to pray!
  • v27/29 Don’t block God’s Spirit; Beseech God for it!

We Link with Each Other
James 5:13-15

  • v13 Connect With God No matter the circumstance!
  • v14 Pray with others
  • v15 The LORD meets the need, not the prayer itself

We Learn Our Actual Needs
James 5:16-20

  • v16 confess our sins = admit to each other that we NEED each other
  • v17/18 Elijah just like us? YES; difference in connection to God
  • v19 warning: we wander!
  • v20 cover multitude sins = cf. 1 Pet. 4:8 LOVE IN ACTION

=>A “testudo” of Roman Shields – much more effective when used in a group

We are to take up our Shield of Faith, proof against the flaming arrows of the evil one, especially when linked together!

Prayer isn’t just talking to a God in outer space; Prayer is baring the soul to the Spirit. We need each other for encouragement, support, and defense!

Pastor Ed Backell

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