Tag Archives: bible

David and Goliath

Remember the story of David and Goliath from Sunday School? It was yesterday’s reading from The Bible Podcast. It had been a while since I’d read the actual text.

tbp logo

Um, who decided this was a children’s story? Beheadings, corpses lying in fields, rivers running with blood, deceit, cowardice, birds pecking out eyes. Yeah, it’s your basic Sandra Boynton rhyming silly kids story.

Anyway, if you haven’t listened to it in a while, it’s a great story. Click here for the direct link:

1 Samuel 17

On a related tangent, the podcast passed a significant milestone a few weeks ago. We added a listener at a research station in Antarctica, which makes people on all 7 continents who listen to the thing. How cool is that?

The Words of Institution

I’m in the middle of reading 1 Corinthians right now for The Bible Podcast. This morning I recorded myself reading 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul smacks the church in Corinth upside the head for their mishandling of, well, pretty much everything. But in this chapter, mostly communion.

It’s the chapter that the famous “Words of Institution” come from …

The Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For every time you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

In the middle of recording myself reading that chapter, I had a sudden vivid memory of the last time I had said those words out loud.

Our pastor Doug was out of town, it was toward the end of summer, I think, and he had asked me to preach. It wasn’t the first time I had given the message, but it was the first time that it had landed on Communion Sunday, which we celebrate on the first Sunday of every month.

I come from the low church tradition, Baptist and later Evangelical Free. We didn’t have much in the way of ritual, or liturgy. We believed strongly in the priesthood of all believers, in the personal dimension of each person’s relationship with Christ, in the primacy of the preached word, and our corporate worship was constructed along those lines. We celebrated baptisms with great fervor, because baptism meant conversion. We observed communion, but it seemed more out of obligation than any great sense of purpose or meaning.

That might be too harsh. Let me leave it this way – we were never taught to understand the value of ritual itself, how to find meaning in the repetition of words or actions.

When Pope John Paul II died, the funeral was televised live in the middle of the night here in LA. I was just coming home from a gig, and flipped on the TV to unwind. I watched, transfixed, as the BBC newsperson explained the meaning of every movement, every word, each act in the unfolding drama. Everything had purpose, everything was a symbol and a reenactment. As the choir sang songs composed 800 years ago, as the cardinals recited prayers written 1600 years ago, I had a profound sense of standing in the stream of history.

I had been raised in a tradition that viewed ritual as “dead acts”, a lifeless repetition of habit in the place of real worship, by people who didn’t have the Holy Spirit in them. But there was nothing lifeless about what I saw that night. It was made alive in the people who reenacted it, step for step. It had the breath of the Holy Spirit in it, from first note to final prayer.

I watched the whole thing. When I finally shut off the TV and crawled into bed, I lay awake for a while, thinking about what it means to be connected to 2,000 years of Christ’s People.

Rituals are reenactments of the sacred themes of life. Placing the ring on the finger, going under the water, eating the bread and wine, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, they are all reenactments of true themes.

And in each ritual, there is a part to play. The bride and groom play the roles of Christ and Church, the child in soaking white robes is Good Friday and Easter, the leader and the congregation reciting the creeds become Prophet and Israel.

And on Sunday morning, when I raised the bread, and broke it, and spoke out loud the words of institution, “This is my body, and it is for you,” I become suddenly, manifestly aware of my role in the ritual.

It is Christ who lifts bread, and breaks it. It is Christ who drinks the wine. It is Christ who feeds his people, and who proclaims their unity. And in this reenactment, this remembrance, I was standing in his place for that congregation, that day, in that place.

The words caught in my throat that morning. I’m glad that they did. I would not like to be the sort of person who suddenly pictures himself in Christ’s sandals, and keeps right on going. The words caught in my throat, and I felt tears gathering in my eyes. I felt the crushing weight of my own dark soul, made evident in the glare of that moment.

It can be a beautiful thing to have such clarity right before you eat at the Lord’s table.

stained glass communionI finished the words of institution, and the elders distributed the bread and cup throughout the congregation. They returned, and knelt on the front step of the platform to receive their own portion. I handed bread and wine to these men and women, years ahead of me in faith and dignity, any one of whom would have been a more fitting representative of Christ that morning.

But the ritual doesn’t depend on the worth of the players. The proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection, the power of grace, the unity of all believers, these are the beautiful truths that the ritual proclaims. Maybe it’s better to have someone in the role at the head of the table who no one would mistake for the real thing.

And so, when I ate the bread, and when I drank the cup, the entire congregation did too. And I was with them, again, eating at the same table, receiving the same grace.

That morning, as I moved through the scenes of the play, and followed the motions, as I spoke the words of Christ by way of Paul, and played the part of Christ to his people in that place, I was doing two things.

I was remembering Christ.

And I was remembering his people, that great cloud of witnesses who, for 2000 years, have used this ritual to make present the mystery of grace.

One Thousand Sets of Ears, Pt. 2

Yesterday was story time. Today is the technical study. I thought it might be cool to look at some of the things that helped propel The Bible Podcast forward, presented in no particular order, as a guide to anyone else who might think about launching a podcast.

The Title

This has got to be the single biggest factor in moving the site up through search engine rankings. The name of the site is the name of the podcast is the 3-word description of exactly what it’s all about. If you launch a podcast about how awesome bunny slippers are, and title it “The Mr. T Show”, and host it at www.crazy4u.net/mrtpodshow, people have no idea what it is you’re doing. There are packs of raving bunny slipper fans out there searching Google for a podcast that meets their needs, but all they can tell from your page hit is that you’re a confused, possible psychopathic teenage girl. This doesn’t work to your advantage.

Promote One Distribution Channels

Since the very beginning, The Bible Podcast committed to iTunes as its primary distribution channel. I started with the assumption that most of my listeners wouldn’t be podcast people – they would be people venturing out into the world looking for this specific sort of thing (in the same way that most Addison Road readers aren’t really blog people, they’re people who come to this one specific blog). I assumed that most of our listeners would find our blog either through a Google search, or by flipping open iTunes and using the podcast directory search function. The iTunes search results are weighted in favor of popularity (number of subscribers).

podcast openingArmed with this knowledge, I push iTunes as the sole distribution channel for the podcast. If you look at the first page of the site, you’ll see what I mean. I stole this idea from Scribe Music Show (thanks, Trevor), and about 40% of the first-time visitors go directly to iTunes without ever having to visit the site itself. If they do click through to the website, they’ll see a link to iTunes prominently displayed, should they decide to subscribe. If they poke around the site a bit, they’ll find a “How do I listen?” page which, again, directs them to use iTunes to subscribe.

There are many, many good podcast aggregators out there, like Odeo.com, and the podcast is listen in most of these, but these sites are still, by and large, only used by the Nerd Herd. If you walk up to 100 people on the street and ask them about podcasting, they’ll beat you up and take your iPod away. This is LA, after all. But if you were to do it in someplace nice, like Boise, most people, if they knew anything at all about it, would say, “Oh yeah, that’s the button on my iTunes where I can listen to shows people do.”

By committing early to a distribution channel that would be most popular with my average listener, I made my popularity within iTunes artificially high. Instead of a few hundred subscribers scattered across dozens of distribution channels, I had a few hundred subscribers all listening through iTunes. Within the first 6 months, The Bible Podcast was in the top 4 results for the search term “Bible”, which in iTunes means getting banner placement on the search results page.

OurMedia.org

So, you’ve signed up for a fancy new hosting plan with Jim’s Big House of Web Hosting, and you’ve started to do the math. You realize pretty quickly that by the time you hit 100 daily subscribers, at 20 MB per podcast episode, you’re going to rip through your bandwidth in about 8 seconds. What do you do? Well, don’t host the files! OurMedia.org will host your audio and video files for free, and you can directly link them into your site. In other words, your listeners don’t have to click through to Our Media to listen, the files can be embedded directly into your site. There are two advantages to hosting your files off-site. The first is that you don’t have to pay for as much bandwidth. The second, you will pick up some drive-by traffic from people searching through the Our Media site looking for the things your podcast is about. I get about 20 hits a day from people who searched Our Media for the title of a specific book of the bible, and then following the links over to the podcast site.

I should mention that the Our Media servers have been pretty bloaty since the very beginning, and if an episode hasn’t been downloaded in a while, it seems to take forever for the server to actually find it. I eventually switched back over to hosting the audio files myself, instead of using Our Media. Still, I think they were an important part of getting up off the ground.

Content

So, those are some of the early choices that I made with the podcast, that I think contributed to it getting up off the ground. I don’t think they were the biggest factor in the podcast’s success, though. The inescapable truth is that “Content is King”. People come because they want the content. They want to hear the bible read by someone with a clear speaking voice, recorded with good equipment. Everything else is just lipstick, pointing people in the right direction.

I’m curious – anybody else out there in The Roadhouse running a podcast, or thinking of starting one? I’d love to hear your experiences.

One Thousand Sets of Ears

In September of 2005, I started a little side project called The Bible Podcast. The idea is pretty simple. I flip on a microphone, and record myself reading a chapter a day from the bible. Then, I upload it to a website where people can download it and listen. Then, sometimes, other people record themselves reading chapters, and I upload them. The website is www.thebiblepodcast.org, if you want to check it out.

Today, this little side project passed a major milestone. It passed 1,000 daily subscribers – people who set iTunes to go fetch the podcasts every single day. In fact, it pretty much blew right through that number, from 800 or so on Monday, to 900 on Tuesday, and today, I logged on to see this:

1216

I’m a numbers guy. I love seeing the numbers creep higher and higher, and to break them down in as many ways as possible. Things like:

25hits9minutes

get me all fancy up with my bad self. I go to the site and refresh the statistics every few hours to see how much bandwidth people are burning through. In December, the server spit out 300 gigs of data. In January, it’s been burning at a rate of about 30 gigs per day. Matthew 11, which was just posted yesterday, has been downloaded 1500 times.

I know that these kinds of numbers are hardly a blip on the radar for the big dogs in the new media, but in the little world of podcasts about the bible, it’s a pretty big deal.

If you search for the words “Bible” and “Podcast”, the site comes up as #1 on Yahoo, and #3 on Google. It you search the iTunes podcast directory for the word “bible”, it’s the first podcast listed.

Gretchen has a theory about the rapid acceleration of subscribers. She thinks everybody got an iPod for Christmas, and then they made a New Year’s resolution to read the bible more. So, they go poking around in iTunes for a way to get their daily bread in tastee little no-hassle packages, like a Twinkee. I think Gretchen is pretty smart.

So, I’m a numbers guy, but I love reading emails from people who listen. There’s a Catholic priest who lives in the northern most tip of Japan, who sat around listening to the Gospel of John with a family who had just lost their young wife and mother. They just put it on repeat and listened over and over again.

There are students in South America who get together to listen to the podcast, and read along with the text, in order to improve their English. Thing about how scary that is, for just a second. You might be walking through Brazil someday and bump into some kid who speaks English with a Mike Lee accent.

There’s a guy who is fairly agnostic about God, but was curious about the bible, so he subscribed to see what all the fuss was about. His email was hilarious. He just wanted to let me know that he enjoyed it, and concluded by saying, “Please don’t send me any tracts or religious crap.” I was tempted to forward him every Chick tract in one ginormous email, but I restrained myself.

tbp_logoThere are the people who want to argue about the translation that I’m using (New English Translation, pretty good, in my humble opinion), or they take issue with the fact that I let Catholics into the club (sheesh), or they are upset that I’m reading the Bible “Out of Order” (I’m guessing they think the thing was handed down out of Heaven in a neatly stacked set of galleys, ready for publishing). I get an equal number of emails from people who love the bumper music, and can’t stand the bumper music. I smile a little bit, because I think there are people who just love to pick a fight, and they like it even more if they can call it “contending for the faith once delivered”. Mostly, I just hit “delete” on those. Life’s too short.

A few have just floored me. There are people in countries that block access to sites having anything to do with the bible, but they are able to subscribe to a podcast feed. They listen. Two people have approached me about expanding the podcast into other languages that will reach areas where it is dangerous to distribute bibles. One wants to do a version in Farsi, the language spoken in parts of Iran and Afghanistan. Another wants to do a version in Mandarin Chinese. We’re still working through the logistics, but I’m hopeful that this will come together.

So, the Story of God advances. 500 years ago, they burned the bones of those who suggested that the Bible could be read and understood by the common people in their own language. Today, a 12-year-old kid in Taiwan can log on to iTunes, and download it.

Pastor’s Retreat Network

I got an email this morning. Ok, I got 57 emails this morning, but most of them involved offers to sell me life insurance, pills to help me lose weight, and pills to make me gain weight in one VERY specific area. So, the one email that I’m talking about was addressed to me from Debra, whom I don’t know, asking if we would mind shilling for her ministry on our little blog here at Addison Road. She phrased it much more politely.

My first thought was, “I don’t want our blog turned into a church bulletin board to promote everything that anyone things is worthwhile. I have integrity! I have honor! I have paid ads for that kind of thing!”

But then she said the magic words … “I will gut you like a fish if you don’t post a link to us!”

She sounded like she meant it, and I don’t want to be gutted like a fish. Especially by someone who, I can only assume, is a very decent and morally upstanding lady when not threatening bodily harm to bloggers in order to coerce them into compliance with her marketting scheme.

I went back to look at the website for the ministry she was promoting, and, with sudden new clarity to rival that of the great scales falling from Paul’s eyes, realized that it was a worthwhile cause, and that I should shill it. Shill it from the sea shore. Shill it from the plains. Shill from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Shill it from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; shill it from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Shill it from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Shill it from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every blog, shill it!

So, here’s the link.

Pastor’s Retreat Network

They provide retreats for Pastor’s and their spouses. In Debra’s own words:

The United States is currently losing approximately 1,200 small churches and 1,500 pastors each month. One of the reasons is that the work of ministry often takes precedence over their personal relationship with God – the reason they entered ministry in the first place.

While a pastor’s job can be exceedingly rewarding, it also can be weighed down by the responsibilities and stresses associated with serving their congregations. Their ability to succeed and thrive in ministry is deeply rooted in the quality of their personal relationship with God.

That relationship can best be attended to and developed during times of solitude, prayer and reflection, and in company of others who share a similar calling.

The cool thing about it, the reason I posted the link, is because they decided that they would make the retreats free. The ministering couples pay nothing, the cost of the retreat is paid for by private donors. I think this is cool. I also think this shows a lot of insight into the realities of most ministry positions.cederly pastor's inn

So Debra, please don’t come to my house and gut me like a fish. I posted your link.

I know we have several people in full-time ministry who read the blog, mostly in the wee hours of morning when they think dark thoughts about what it would be like to quit the ministry and become auto mechanics or ballerinas. Just saying, maybe you need a minute away from it all. Check out the site, request an invitation.

Sermon Prep (part 1)

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Sodom series

  1. This morning’s sermon will be on …
  2. Sermon Prep (part 1)
  3. Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot
  4. Sermon Prep, part 3
  5. Sermon Prep: Finished!

(You can follow this whole thread by tracking the tag “sermonprep” in the site archives. Or, just click here.)

Remember how I decided to use all ya’ll to help me with my sermon prep? Well, the day is fast approaching, and I thought that, in the absence of any real content to add here at Addison Road, I would instead post my sermon prep here for you to peruse.

I imagine this will be similar to the sensation that most sane people have when they look at serial killer art: it wouldn’t be interesting, except that it comes from such a disturbed mind. Enjoy!

I start with a legal pad, a comfy writing utensil, and as many good verbal translations of the text as I can find. NASB is usually my first pick. Every major character or prevelant theme gets its own page in the pad, and I jot down clusters of questions or initial thoughts that come from the text. I tend to go translation by translation, and do a straight read-through rather than go verse-by-verse from translation to translation, scouring for distinctions in syntax. I’m not poking in the valleys yet, I’m looking for the mountains, the big things that were the most important to the author, and so should be most important to the reader trying to understand the text.

The text for this Sunday is going to be Genesis 18:16 – 19:29. So far, I have pages on my legal pad for Abraham, Lot, Sodom (city), Sodom (biblical references), What was Sodom’s Sin? (this one might stir up some firestorms), Justice and Righteousness, and Faith.

Here’s part one:

Abraham
He’s the one already safe from harm in this story – the covenant is begun, promise given, he’s miles away from the city of Sodom.

18:17 What’s the significance of the Lord’s inner dialog on whether or not to tell Abraham? Perhaps he knows that Abrahams bargain will fail? The subordinating conjunction “since” seems to be a non-squitur here. How does Abrahams place in the covenant promise have any bearing on whether or not God reveals his plans to him? Is this just to highlight his position of safety in the narrative that follows?

He pleads for God’s mercy on behalf of the whole city, for the sake of the righteous.

Ink is significant – why is so much space devoted to Abraham’s “used car salesman” technique of bartering God down to 10 people?

18:25 “shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” this looks like a common OT technique for petitioning Yahweh – appealing to aspects of his nature as the basis for him ammending his actions. c.f. Moses with Israel. Not “do this thing for my sake” but “do this thing for your own sake, since it is within your character to do so.”

What’s the right response of those who have already been saved from judgement toward those who have not? Interceding prayer, passionate concern. There is no room in this story for human judgement, for people standing on the sidelines and cheering on the destruction. If we can talk about God’s righteous judgement and great wrath without our hearts breaking, we have not understood how deeply his grace reached down to us.

19:28 The last thing Abraham knows in this story is that his intercession didn’t work. When the angels leave him, he knows that his bargain is in play, and the next thing he sees is the ash and smoke of the wreckage.

Previous in series: This morning’s sermon will be on …

Next in series: Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot

This morning’s sermon will be on …

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Sodom series

  1. This morning’s sermon will be on …
  2. Sermon Prep (part 1)
  3. Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot
  4. Sermon Prep, part 3
  5. Sermon Prep: Finished!

So, on July 30th, Pastor Doug will be gone, and I’ve got the keys to the pulpit. I’m not getting struck by inspiration at this point, so I may bail out on preaching and just show a veggie-tales video.

But, in the fine tradition of us using Addison Road people to do our homework for us, I thought I’d open it up, and see if you all have any ideas. If you had a mic and 300 people for 30 minutes, what would you talk about?

(You can follow this whole thread by tracking the tag “sermonprep” in the site archives. Or, just click here.)

Next in series: Sermon Prep (part 1)