Monday, September 29, 2008

Opportunity Cost

WordNet defines opportunity cost as "cost in terms of foregoing alternatives." In other words, every decision to use limited resources (e.g., time or money) on one thing necessarily means becoming unable to use them on something else.

I rather enjoy technology most of the time. I'm young enough to have an overall good relationship with technological things, and old enough to really appreciate advancements in computer technology rather than simply taking them for granted. I suppose it's not surprising, being in that in-between stage, that I haven't really seen much need before now to embed video. This week, though, I'd like to show a video which illustrates opportunity cost. It's short (126 seconds) and simple. If all goes well, you'll see it here:

The actual term was introduced later, but the concept of opportunity cost was definitely part of my upbringing. Sometimes it was a decision offered to me. For example, I could devote my time in the school band to learning to play the trumpet or the saxophone, but not both. Which would I give up so I could choose the other? Other times it was a decision my parents made. For example, would they allow me to have a job during the school months or instead direct my focus to school and sports?

The little girl in this video was learning about opportunity cost. Given a limited amount of money and two real needs, what would they do? The answer was not to give up shoes entirely. Rather, she was willing to sacrifice her preferences to share with someone else.

I love the perspective that Alabaster nurtures.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


After WWII, mission areas around the world had a critical need for buildings and land. In response to that need, Nazarenes created the "Alabaster" offering, honoring the sacrifice of the woman who anointed Jesus' head with expensive perfume poured from an Alabaster jar (Matthew 26:6-13). Now many people collect money -- especially coins -- in small boxes throughout the year for that purpose. Since the first Alabaster offering in 1949, more than 7,300 projects have been funded by these gifts totaling over $79 million.

Those are big enough numbers that they become difficult to imagine. So, out of curiosity, I did a bit of internet research and a few quick calculations. Based on what I found, my napkin-back estimate is that the combined contents of all those little paperboard boxes would weigh more than the Statue of Liberty. At least seven times more, actually. And the Statue of Liberty is pretty big -- just her index finger is eight feet long.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine all the people who have given to Alabaster over the years, each just a little bit at a time, each bringing just a tiny portion of the whole. Imagine also the people who have been helped during the past sixty years through schools, churches, medical clinics, and other such facilities because a bunch of folks decided to join forces.

What none of us can do alone, all of us may be able to do together.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I love this place. I love the fires in the fireplace, the morning fog clearing to reveal the river under a beautiful sky, the hot tea in the mornings. I love the way it smells. I love the schedule and spaces this week, creating space to be alone and space to be in community.

More than all that, I love the people. I love devoting time regularly throughout these days to worship, and to ponder deeply together in scripture. I love the opportunities to stop awhile and rest.

In Sabbath, God gave us a gift. For a full day out of every seven, we are to stop doing all the things that make us feel valuable as if our value were dependent upon what we do. Through Sabbath, we again see who God is, and who we are, and who we are in him. On Sabbath, we drop the props and come to God just as we are.

I am thankful.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Challenging a False God

Some have a storybook image of Jesus in their minds as primarily a really nice guy, the kind of guy who would get along with anyone. Surely he would never get into arguments or say anything that might offend others. He was probably even ruggedly handsome and always clean, like in the paintings. But the Bible reveals this image could actually be considered an idol -- a false picture of God which keeps us from truly experiencing God as he truly is.

Two weeks later, I'm still thinking about the lectionary passages from September 7:
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Two words have taken root in my mind as I've pondered these portions. The first is community. I saw a glimpse of this in Exodus 14:4, which is part of God's instructions to the Israelites as he prepared them for the Passover; that is, when he would liberate them from Egyptian slavery. Among the details was the command for each household to slaughter and eat a lamb, but "if any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are." In this way, everyone would have enough, nothing would be wasted, and nobody would be alone. They were to prepare together, to experience together, to have memories together.

The New Testament passages focus very much on community. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). It echoes what Jesus had said about all other commands being enveloped by the one to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40).

The teaching in Matthew 18 addresses conflict, particularly among Christians. And it's not just about being offended, which leaves open the question of whether or not there is adequate cause. Instead, Jesus is quite clear when he starts this teaching: "If your brother sins against you...." He knew that anytime people do life together -- in families, workplaces, churches, neighborhoods, or whatever -- they will sometimes get angry with each other, and sometimes for good reason. Thankfully, he also taught how to deal with these situations.

This brings me to the second word which has taken root in me as I've pondered these passages: revolutionary. Far from being a totally agreeable, gentle fellow who would go with the flow rather than make waves or ruffle feathers, Jesus challenged the customs and beliefs of the day. It was Jesus who made a scene in the temple when greedy people were taking advantage of the people there to make sacrifices. It was Jesus who hand-picked a tax collector -- a profession known in that day for extortion and for helping the oppressors -- as one of his disciples, and even went to a party with a whole bunch of such people. It was Jesus who questioned some of the religious customs of Sabbath observance and also supported his disciples in doing the same. It was Jesus who so lovingly corrected both a woman caught in adultery and her accusers.

The Jesus we serve turned the culture where he lived -- including the religious community -- on its head by teaching and modeling perfect love. To the extent that we recognize and follow him, we participate in his mission to transform our world!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What Do You See?

My friend Ben preaches through the lectionary. Not a really common thing in Nazarene circles, it seems, which is part of the reason we've had several conversations about it. I've been interested to know what has led him to make that decision, how it has impacted his ministry, and in what ways he has been personally changed by it. I've done a little bit of research on the history and philosophy of the lectionary, too. Two common threads have stuck in my mind from those various resources. First, it guides us through scripture in a Big Story way, developing in our hearts and minds a better understanding of how individual events in the Bible tie together. And second, it guides us through the whole of scripture, giving regular input from throughout the Bible on a regular basis.

So I've been blogging through the liturgical year.

I've been wrestling for a week or so with the passages from September 7. Here are the passages:
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Let's "talk" about these sections. What captures your heart as you read them?