The Christian's Call to Huddle

Monday, May 19, 2008

Limited Huddle Time
National Football League rules assign a maximum of 40 seconds between plays, which means that huddles have to be quick and efficient. huddleImagine the following four teams.

Red Team
After the play, most of the players stagger and limp toward the quarterback, arriving late and talking among themselves. Two of the players don't huddle up at all--one lines up again while the other just stands on the field, paying no attention to the game. The frustrated quarterback begins to describe the next play, but two of the players doze off, while two more are distracted by the other team. Furthermore, because three more haven't stopped talking among themselves, they haven't clearly heard the instructions. The only person paying attention is the linebacker. Which of the following would best describe this team?

    [ ] Superbowl contenders.
    [ ] Didn't make the playoffs but still had a good year.
    [ ] Losers and slackers, nine of which should be kicked off the team.
Purple Team
The entire team hustles in to the huddle and listens quietly to the quarterback. Each huddle is a little different. In one huddle, the quarterback expounds on the rules of the game, such as staying within the boundaries, what constitutes a penalty, how many points for a field goal, etc. In another huddle, he explains that the football must be carried in the right direction and not dropped to make a touchdown. In a third huddle, the quarterback explains the importance of coming to the huddle every time the huddle comes together, and how wicked it is not to huddle. In a fourth huddle, he tells the team how important it is to become a team member and goes over the contract-signing procedures. Oops! Our 40 seconds are almost up. Better line up for the play. What do you think of this team?
    [ ] Likely to win a championship.
    [ ] Likely to get stomped four quarters of each game.
Yellow Team
All of the players on this team arrive at the huddle on time and dressed in their brand new uniforms. Their helmets and pads are adjusted properly. The quarterback explains the play clearly and concisely as everyone listens carefully. When the huddle is over, they all run off the field to the locker room, ready for all of their individual pursuits--shopping, eating out, playing with their kids, going water-skiing. They've had their football for the week in that huddle, which was a little longer than they are comfortable with, but they can handle it, as long as the quarterback doesn't make a habit of it. What are the chances this team will make the play-offs?
    [ ] 50/50.
    [ ] 1 in 100.
    [ ] They won't make the playoffs. Never ever!
Gold Team
Players move quickly into the huddle, though some are sore and some are bleeding. They listen as the quarterback explains the play. A few ask pertinent questions, but most nod that they understand. The huddle takes most of the 40 seconds, but no time there is wasted. When the players break, each goes to his assigned spot ready for the snap. None of them are thinking about how great the huddle was. They are focused on the play. There will be another huddle later on, when the team is farther down the field. How well will this team do in the upcoming season? Would you care to be a devoted fan?

It's Not Just Huddles
We Christians play as a team in the greatest game of cross footballour lives. Our assemblies are our huddles. Huddles are essential to the game of football, but they are not the game itself. Let's make it to the huddles, yes. But let's remember what huddles are for: to help us win the game. Let's structure the huddles to accomplish that goal. Then when the huddle is over, let's play together as a team and win this!

I understand this is a simplistic view. The Christian assembly is multi-dimensional. But still, we are not the fans in the stands; we are the players on the field. And if that is true, huddles are not the game. The game is our entire lives. The assemblies have their proper place, and they are essential to winning. But what happens in the huddle is only secondary to what happens in the game. We have to be the best we can be. Our opponent is out for blood.

Want to go deeper?

Here are some passages to study in more depth about the purposes of Christian assemblies:

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 -- to participate in the Lord's Supper and proclaim His death (see also Acts 20:7).
  2. 1 Corinthians 14:3-5, 12, 17, 26 -- to build up one another.
  3. Acts 2:42-47 -- to learn, to pray, to share needs, to praise God.
  4. Hebrews 10:24-25 -- to stimulate each other to love and good deeds and to encourage each other.

Here are passages that describe the purpose of the Christian's life:

  1. Matthew 5:13-16 -- to illuminate, to preserve, to cause other to praise God.
  2. Luke 9:23 -- to deny self, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus.
  3. Philippians 1:21 -- to live with Christ at the center of our being (see also Galatians 2:20).
  4. Colossians 3:1-4 -- to focus your thinking on Christ and "things above."
  5. Philippians 2:12-13 -- to allow God to work on you and through you.
  6. Many other passages, such as Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Titus 2:11-14; and Titus 3:8.

Now compare the two lists. Are they incompatible or complementary? Even the passage about the Lord's Supper has a theme of team spirit and unity to it. The modern concept of individualism and self-imposed isolation is contrary to the Scriptures.

Ecclesiastical quarterbacks will say they are forced to preach Purple-Team sermons because that's where their "players" are. That could well be true. But those players have to change into the Gold Team. And the sooner the better.

Recommended for purchase:

Wes Roberts & Glenn Marshall. Reclaiming God's Original Intent for the Church (2004) – Character, servanthood, discipleship, and walking in the Spirit were the focus of the primitive church. Is it ours?

Keith Wilhite. Preaching with Relevance (2001) – 10 strategies for crafting and presenting sermons that will help listeners understand the meaning of the passage, affirm the sermon's message, and apply God's truth.

Gail Ramshaw. Every Day and Sunday, Too (1997) – Explores, for children and adults, the relationship between the Christian's daily life and the Sunday assembly.

As always, I don't necessarily recommend everything these books teach. Part of "going deeper" is developing your own spiritual discernment. It's good to "taste-test" before swallowing.

Labels: , , ,

Prince Caspian: Our Inner Child Finds A New Hero

Thursday, May 15, 2008
Prince Caspian

"Prince Caspian," the sequel to the 2005 Disney hit, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," does not pick up the story where its predecessor left off, in Narnia's exhilarating Golden Age, but in a time of fear and despair. From this deep dip on the cinematic roller-coaster, it offers to lift us to the heavens, with many a rise and fall and a twisty turn between. In its masterful blend of fast pacing, exciting action, dazzling special effects, and thrilling musical score, "Prince Caspian" does not disappoint.

Back to the Narnian Beach
With the next school term looming ahead, the Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, wait gloomily at a railway station in 1941 England. Suddenly, they feel something like a sharp sting at their backs and the next instant find themselves on a seaside beach bordered by a thick forest. Could they be... back in Narnia?

Soon they discover that they have indeed returned to Cair Paravel, the castle where they had reigned as kings and queens. Now, however, it is in ruins and overgrown, as if a thousand years have passed. Yet the Pevensies have only been away from Narnia for a year by our calendar.

A dwarf named Trumpkin, whom they rescue from two would-be executors, tells them the bitter truth: Cruel Miraz the Telmarine now rules Narnia. Having seized the throne by murdering his own brother, King Caspian IX, Miraz now wants to slay his nephew, Prince Caspian, the true king. The Pevensies are dismayed to learn that the Telmarines have driven all of the Talking Beasts into hiding and that even the trees have fallen into a deep sleep.

Trumpkin tells them that Caspian seeks to reclaim the throne with the help of the Talking Beasts, the dwarves, and a few giants. Though noble and courageous, his soldiers are no match for Miraz's troops. After a particularly bloody battle, Caspian has just turned to his last resort. He would blow Queen Susan's magic horn, hoping it would summon help from an unexpected quarter, as its legend promised. Caspian, in fact, had sent Trumpkin ahead to Cair Paravel, not to be captured by sentries at a Telmarine outpost, but to serve as guide, in case the horn should summon the Pevensies, or even Aslan the Lion, legendary ruler of all Narnia.

Now the two "sons of Adam" and the two "daughters of Eve" understand how and why they got back into Narnia. Once they know how desperately Caspian and the "Old Narnians" need them, they willingly begin their difficult journey to join the prince in his war against Miraz. The story reaches its climax as its characters are forced to ask and answer vital questions like, "Whom can we trust and why?" and "Does achieving a high and noble goal justify using a desperately wicked means?"

Lewis's Original SeriesC. S. Lewis
Prince Caspian is actually volume four of The Chronicles of Narnia, the seven-book series by C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963). Lewis was a professor of Medieval literature at Oxford and later at Cambridge who wrote many books on Christian apologetics as well as novels with Christian themes. He was enamored with the classical Graeco-Roman mythology as well as the chivalry of medieval knights.

In Chronicles he crafted a world peopled with such creatures as fauns, centaurs, and dryads. Then he asked himself, "How do you suppose the Christ would represent Himself in such a world?" How else but as Aslan, the giant lion who is awesome and powerful, gentle yet frightening, nearby yet hidden, and not at all tame? This scheme of "supposal," as he called it, explains the Christian symbolism in The Chronicles in a more satisfactory way than regarding it as a this-for-that Christian allegory.

Lessons for the Teachable
The main messages of "Prince Caspian" are these:

  • You cannot determine who is right and who isn't by merely taking a head-count. True heroes must often struggle as a few against a numberless multitude.
  • Every individual in such a struggle has latent resources--his or her own unique talents, skills, and abilities--to lend to the cause, and each one of them, no matter how short, stupid, or feeble, can make a valuable contribution.
  • The fight for the right is a team effort, demanding that we set aside all of our differences and pull together.
  • Winning is not everything. How you win is just as important, or more so, for it reveals the wisdom of your choices, your strength of your loyalties, and the worth of your comrades.

Minor Themes Include:

  • Ecology - the Telmarines are afraid of the forest, they have hacked and chopped away until the trees hate them bitterly.
  • Racism - The Telmarines hate everyone that does not belong to their homogeneous race. The dwarfs have suffered at the hands of other races so that now they find it hard to trust anyone, including all who are only half-dwarf. Those of "old Narnia" accept each other despite their diversity of races and species.
  • Sexism - the two girls are as vital to the outcome as the boys, perhaps more so.

If you are willing to set aside your cynicism, willing to immerse yourself in an awesome world with formidable foes and surprising allies, this movie is yours to enjoy, not just as a viewer, but as a participating hero.

Movie Facts
2 hrs. 24 min., rated PG. Andrew Adamson directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Chistopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Cast: Ben Barnes stars as Prince Caspian. The Pevensies all reprise their roles in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe": William Moseley as Peter, Anna Popplewell as Susan, Skandar Keynes as Edmund, and Georgie Henley as Lucy. Peter Dinklage plays Trumpkin and Sergio Castellitto, Miraz. Liam Neeson supplies the voice of Aslan. Original music is by Harry Gregson-Williams, with cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub. The castles and forests of the Czech Republic near Prague prove a serviceable Narnia. Disney has already announced the next installment of the "Chronicles of Narnia" franchise, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," scheduled for release on May 7, 2010.

--Steve Singleton

Want to go deeper?

One of the main issues with which "Prince Caspian" wrestles is whether the use of despicable means is legitimate for accomplishing a worthy goal. This issue is relevant to our current situation, as U.S. citizens debate the legitimacy of the Guantanamo prison and the use of waterboarding and other tortures to extract information from suspected terrorists. Here are some biblical passages that grapple with the same issue:

  • Goal: To get the son of promise. Means: Taking Hagar as a wife – Genesis 16:1 - 17:22

  • Goal: To provide water for Israelites. Means: Striking rock and not giving God the glory – Numbers 20:1-12

  • Goal: To keep troops from scattering. Means: Offering sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to do it – 1 Samuel 13:7-14

  • Goal: Making treaties with other nations. Means (apparently): Marry foreign wives – 1 Kings 11:1-13

  • Goal (one suggestion): To get Jesus to proclaim Himself king. Means: Get him arrested – Matthew 26:14-16, 47-56; 27:1-10

For purchase:

You might want to use the "Prince Caspian" movie as an opportunity to discuss Christian Ethics with young viewers. Here are some recommended resources:

Adults should take a look at:

Labels: , , ,

Folded napkin at the Empty Tomb does not mean "I'll be right back"

Friday, May 02, 2008
Folded, not wadded
You may have seen the essay circulating the 'Net that states the folded "napkin" found at the Empty Tomb of Jesus signified what it did at any meal in that culture: Burial of Christit told the waiter (a slave back then) that the person was not finished eating and would be right back. This in contrast to the wadded napkin that signaled the meal was over and that the diner had left for good. The argument is that Jesus folded his napkin to show (drum roll) He's coming back!

Dubious proof of the Second Coming
I find this interpretation dubious in the extreme for the following reasons:

  1. It appears to be dependent on the King James Version's translation of the Greek word soudarion (John 20:7) as “napkin” and then runs with the associations 21st-century culture has with that English word. For soudarion my Greek-English dictionary suggests the renderings "handkerchief, facecloth (used for the dead)." An online Greek-English lexicon defines it: “a handkerchief; a cloth for wiping perspiration from the face and for cleaning the nose and also used in swathing the head of a corpse.”

  2. Renderings of modern English translations: towel (Weymouth), handkerchief (J.B. Phillips), face-cloth (NASB, ESV [without the hyphen]), burial-cloth (NIV), cloth (EVD, NAB, NRSV, WEB), piece of cloth (CEV). Both the KJV and the ASV have “napkin,” but Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language offers five definitions of "napkin," in addition to that associated with eating: “2. a small towel of linen or cotton cloth. 3. Chiefly Brit. a diaper. 4. North Eng. and Scot. a handkerchief. 5. Scot. a kerchief or neckerchief."

  3. A handkerchief-sized piece of cloth could be rendered “napkin” in a context involving a meal, but that is lacking in this case. The immediate context of John 20:7 has nothing to do with a meal, interrupted or otherwise. It is definitely a context of burial in a tomb, where soudarion would refer to a cloth covering the dead person's face or perhaps a bandage-like tie around the top of the head to keep the jaw closed.

  4. Soudarion also occurs in John 11:44, where it describes the face-covering of Lazarus immediately after Jesus restored him to life. Once again, no association with eating is present, only with the burial of a corpse. Lazarus walks out with the soudarion still in place, which means either his face was covered or his jaw was tied up.

  5. A much more likely explanation for the folded napkin is available that suits the immediate and broader context much better. Grave robbers would not bother to fold the napkin. They would be in a hurry and would toss it aside. That it was folded (or rolled up) is one proof that Jesus truly was raised from the dead.

  6. Much better proofs of the return of Christ include the testimony of Jesus Himself in passages such as Matthew 7:21-23; 24:26-31 (but you have to explain vv. 32-35); 24:36-51; 25:19; and 25:31-33. Added to that is the testimony of the angels at His ascension, Acts 1:10-11, and the testimony of Paul, the apostle and prophet, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11 and 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10. These are so much more reliable than the speculative and ill-founded folded-napkin argument.

Test claims carefully
We should be careful about uncritically accepting Internet-circulated Bible interpretations, even if they conveniently support our own beliefs, like the truth that Jesus really is coming again. Let’s all commit ourselves to "Going Deeper."

Oh, and if you are interested in HOW to fold napkins, may I recommend Robbie's Kitchen for the fundamentals? Also check out Diana Eng's Origanimals. She folds napkins into the shape of animals, including a bear, a bunny, a peacock, and a snail.

Want to go deeper?

To investigate more about the significance on the "napkin" or "face cloth," consult any good commentary on the Gospel of John (at 20:7). For instance, check out what R. A. Whitacre says.

On the one hand, the text can be understood to mean that at His resurrection, Jesus' glorified body passed through the graveclothes, including the facecloth without disturbing them at all, leaving them as a shell kept in place by the spices administered at the time of interrment. This would certainly constitute strong proof of the resurrection in contrast to the graveclothes being torn and scattered across the floor in disarray, or missing altogether.

On the other hand, if the facecloth was neatly folded, and perhaps the rest of the grave-clothes as well, it suggests that there was no hurry to get away. This is the conclusion most commentators have reached, e.g., William Milligan (Note 9) and B. F. Westcott.

If you want to learn more about the proofs of Christ's resurrection, here are some recommendations:

For purchase:

Charles Foster. The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ (2007)

William Barclay. We Have Seen the Lord! The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1998)

Lee Strobel. The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection. (1998)

Online Resources:

William Lane Craig. "Contemporary Scholarship & the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1985)

Labels: , , , ,