Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

This past Thursday, Americans took a day off and gave thanks for their many blessings, then went out and trampled one another in an attempt to spend money on stuff. We had a wonderful time with family and have so far successfully avoided the crowds. Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. For me, celebrating Advent is a good antidote to the bustle and stress of this time of year.

On to the links:

A sign of things to come.
Meghan Tschanz on Thanksgiving.
Action alert.
Shannan Martin on love that swerves.
Ruth Wilson has some confessions.

Christmas is for worship.
How much does your life weigh?
Len on Advent.
Grace applied.
John Frye on the curtain.

Gratitude.
Good idea.
Daniel A. Siedell thinks outside the pew.
Morgan Guyton writes about the three "family values" of Black Friday.
Tradition!

Chaplain Mike has a taxing question.
God sees you.
I can sleep better now that this mystery has been solved.
Friends.
For that person who's impossible to shop for.

Have a blessed first Sunday of Advent and a great week!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Blast From the Past: Just Wondering

This was first posted on July 31, 2008.

I was thinking this afternoon (that's dangerous, I know) about Jesus statement to his disciples that they could expect to be hated and persecuted because he was. When I was growing up I was always taught that this meant if I didn't dress like the world, didn't listen to the same music as the world, and didn't hang around with worldly people, then those folks would hate me, make fun of me, call me names, etc. It would be okay though, because Jesus had been hated, been made fun of, and been called names. That message is still being preached in some churches around the country.

There is no question that Jesus was hated and persecuted by some of the people in his day. Heck, they even put him to death! But, I started to think about the folks who did the persecuting and the reasons why. Amazingly enough, it was not the "sinners" that hated Jesus, made fun of him and called him names. Those were the very people who followed Jesus. They were the ones who hung on his every word and who believed that he was the Messiah.

It was the religious leaders who hounded Jesus wherever he went, always looking for a way to trip him up and get him in trouble. They were the ones who said Jesus had a demon and implied that he was an illegitimate child. And, they called Jesus names like drunkard and glutton because he hung out with the "sinners". Wait a minute. I thought the sinners, the ones who drink and party, are the very people I'm supposed to stay away from so my "testimony" isn't damaged. I mean, heaven forbid someone should see me go into a bar or attend a party where "lost" people are gathered. They might start calling me a drunk or something like that, or at least might think that I'm not a very good Christian.

After all, I'm supposed to be a follower of Jesus and he would never put himself in a position where others would see him hanging out with the riff-raff and think badly of him. Would he?

Wait, you mean...?

Hmmmm.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

It's getting colder here in the sunny South. We've had a few days of warmer weather, but it's supposed to be quite a bit colder than usual the next few days. Friday was the 50th anniversary of the deaths of John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley. It's been a long time, and lives and works of each of them are still having an impact on many. Basketball has begun, and the balls are bouncing in gyms all around the world. Players from peewee teams to the NBA are practicing and putting their skills on display before fans, friends, and family. Thanksgiving Day is this coming Thursday, and many will be traveling to spend time with their loved ones and give thanks for the bounties given by a gracious God. A great deal of food will be consumed, and hopefully those of us who are partaking will remember those who are less well off.

On to the real reason you are here:

The decisions of poor people.
Ruth Wilson passes on some tough words.
Pope Francis on the over commercialism of athletes.
Eric Carpenter reflects on C.S. Lewis.
Thanks for godly examples.

Brant Hansen answers a question.
You could get this for me for Christmas.
Mensch on a Bench.
Where the wind still sings.
Scot McKnight reflects on C.S. Lewis.

#Godtalk.
Rachel Barnette on redefining beauty.
Messy Bible, clean lives.
Christ the King.
Keith Giles has an unbelievable truth.

Zach Hoag on niceness.
On being thankful.
Heather writes about armistice.
Soft difference.
Jeff Dunn on being vulnerable.

More gracious than God?
Eric Carpenter has a series on women of the church. The intro. is here.
Shameful, ridiculous, and cruel.
Scot McKnight on some no comments.
Hard times and free sandwiches, and a bonus.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Lord's Prayer: Forgive Our Debts...

As we pray through the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we pray for the Father's name to be praised, for his kingdom to come on this earth, and for our Father to give us what we need. In the midst of this we must remember that, since we live in a broken world, there will be debts that we will incur in our relationship to the Father, and debts that others will incur as they relate to us. Because the term "debt" brings to mind financial stuff, and because we have a tendency to downplay the wrong that we do, I prefer to use the word "sin."

In the gospels, we see Jesus forgiving sins and telling others to forgive. Jesus' ministry was one of forgiveness and reconciliation, and he calls his followers to be people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Luke tells us of the time Jesus was at the home of Simon the Pharisee, where his feet were washed by a "sinful" woman. Jesus stated that those who have been forgiven much are those who love much. None of us can say that we haven't been forgiven much. Well, I guess you could say it. But you'd be wrong. Just sayin'. We have been forgiven our sin against a holy God. That makes what God has done for us pretty huge. In our lives, I seriously doubt that any wrong done to us comes close to the wrong we have done God.

Matthew tells us of Peter's question of how many times we should forgive someone who sins against us. Peter though he was being generous with a number of seven. Jesus once again ups the ante. He states that we are to forgive seven times seven, or seventy times seven, depending on which translation you use. Jesus is not saying that we are to keep track of the wrongs done to us, and drop the hammer on the fiftieth or four hundred ninety first time. Many times, the number seven in Scripture speaks off completion. Maybe what Jesus is saying here is that we should forgive others completely and utterly no matter how many times they sin against us. I believe that Jesus' words imply reconciliation. Someone is not generally going to have the opportunity to wrong us multiple times unless we are in relationship with that person. We are called to be vulnerable with our brothers and sisters, being willing to be hurt by them and forgive.

In the same passage in Matthew, Jesus tells the story of the servant who owed his master a huge chunk of change. The master graciously forgave the entire debt, only to find out that this servant then went and imprisoned a fellow servant who owed him just a few bucks. I believe that the thrust of this story is that we have been forgiven an unpayable debt, so we are to forgive those who are indebted to us in what is essentially a minuscule amount. If we do not forgive, we are telling the world that we haven't been forgiven. Again, when we consider our huge debt that God has forgiven, how can we not forgive the tiny debt that anyone owes us. The Father has forgiven our great sin, and no wrong that is done to us can ever match that.

We are to live as forgiven, and forgiving, people. Anything less is contrary to what our Father wants.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

World Vision Wednesday

With the news of disasters around the world, it is easy to forget that there are urgent needs here in the United States as well. Some of these are in the Midwest, where a number of tornadoes recently devastated wide areas. World Vision is there, helping those who have been affected.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blast From the Past: The Bible

This was first posted on August 28, 2008.

In Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson describes how the King James Bible is still a best seller almost four hundred years after its initial publication, even though the English in the King James is a far cry from the English used in twenty first century America. I wonder why.

I've heard all the talk about the KJV being a best seller because it is the only translation that is God's inspired and preserved word. I don't think that's the reason at all.

I believe that the fact that the KJV is still a best seller has more to do with the way most people see the Bible these days than in anything special about the language that is used. The Bible is seen by many Christians as a depository of "timeless truths" that can be pulled out and used whenever they are needed. Some see it as a rule book for life or a sort of owner's manual that they can go to and find rules and procedures for the things they do. Others search out promises and use them as something akin to magic words to try to get God to do what they want. Still others read Scripture out of a sense of duty, because someone told them that to be a good Christian they have to read the Bible every day.

What all these reasons have in common is a lack of desire to really let God's revelation of himself and the story of his people get inside them. I know from personal experience that it is easy to read the Bible on a regular basis and not be changed. I've studied Scripture (in Bible college I got A's on both my theology written and oral exams). I learned the inductive, deductive, and any other ductive methods of Bible study. Those things really didn't have much of an impact on my spiritual growth. I knew a lot of information, but it really didn't mean that much.

Peterson tells a story of an adult class at his church that was studying the book of Galatians. His purpose was to remind the people of their freedom in Christ. Peterson noticed that the class was more interested in their coffee and conversation than they were with the Scripture. This frustrated him until he got the idea of taking the Greek words of the original and putting them in modern American English. He writes that very quickly the coffee was forgotten in the excitement of seeing the revelation of God in words that they were familiar with and could understand, words that they used every day. Peterson notes that the New Testament was written in the common Greek of the day - street language.

I think the reason many people buy and read the King James is that it is in a style of English that they don't use in their day-to-day lives, and can therefore be kept separate. It's part of the division between "sacred" and "secular" that many have to keep God from messing with their routine. It's also useful as a sort of "code" that only the "sanctified" can understand. (I've noticed that a large part of some sermons is reading the King James and then translating it into modern English so the congregation can understand).

I believe that the Bible is not a book to be studied the way one would study a textbook or manual. It is not a collection of facts about God or a book of regulations and procedures. It is God's story of himself and his dealings in this world, of how he is building a Kingdom and restoring all things, and of how he will finally bring about that restoration completely. It is a story that invites us to enter in, to join our story with God's story. As we enter into this story we learn, in real ways, how to become like the Savior and King the story points to.

To do this, to enter into God's story and open ourselves to being transformed by it, we must have this story in a language we can understand and relate to. For most people the KJV doesn't fill the bill.

Monday, November 11, 2013

God Be Merciful

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who both came to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed in an arrogant, condescending manner, thanking God that he wasn't like all of the "sinners" around him. In contrast, the tax collector didn't even look up toward heaven, but beat his chest and begged for God to have mercy on him because he was a sinner. As I read this the other day, I was convicted of my own tendency to think that I'm better than others.

I grew up in a church culture that taught that we were better off than others because we had made the choice to accept Jesus as personal Savior, and didn't commit some of the sins that characterized those "of the world." While we claimed to be humble because we were simply "sinners saved by grace," our attitudes indicated otherwise. There was a definite divide between "us" and "them." As a Bible college student, and later as a graduate involved in "full time" Christian ministry, the temptation was to think of myself as on another level because I "knew" Scripture and was teaching others.

After a few years, I became one of the Reformed. I was fairly young, though not restless, but I was enthralled with the intellectual side of faith. Again, the temptation, which I unfortunately succumbed to at times, was to think that my study and reasoning put me ahead of those who just didn't know what Scripture "really meant." In the ensuing years I have wandered through the post-evangelical wilderness, through non-denominational church, emerging Christianity, and "simple organic" church. I have actually landed in a community that is in the Reformed tradition, although I am certainly not young and am quite content.

 I could very easily think that I have arrived. The problem is that it's still far to easy to fall into that old trap of thinking that I'm somehow better than any number of people. I can think, "I'm glad I'm not one of those_____________________ any more." We all want to think that we have it together and are better than other folks, and I am no exception. I thank the Father that it's not as bad as it used to be, but there are still times when that spiritual pride rears its ugly head. I don't want to give in to that temptation because I have learned that if God needs to humble me, the experience tends to not be a whole lot of fun.

I want my attitude to be that of the tax collector, who saw his condition without God's mercy. I know that it's only by the Father's grace that there is anything good in me, but sometimes I try to take a little bit of credit myself. I am relieved and grateful that God is my Father, and that he is working in me and will bring that work to its conclusion. He is merciful.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

The Philippines are beginning to pick up the pieces after a massive storm slammed into the islands. Vietnam looks to be next. The total picture of the devastation is not yet clear. Pray for the folks there as they mourn losses and begin to try and rebuild their lives. It's a bit chilly here in the sunny South and there is even a possibility of some snow flurries in the next few days. It looks like we may be in for a colder than normal winter. Basketball has started, and I am looking forward to a good season.

Here are the links for the past week:

Len on the church.
Vulnerability leads to love.
Pam Hogeweide on being true.
Interesting idea.
Not too sure about this idea.

This is interesting. Odd but interesting.
Second chance.
Religious tattoos.
Jamie Calloway-Hanauer says the time to love is now.
Five traits of a false prophet.

When a leader is not a leader.
Tiffany Handley asks a question.
Winners and losers.
Chaplain Mike is simply living.
Ann's wisdom.

Once upon a text.
Matt Appling on finding yourself.

That's it for this week. Hope your week ahead is a blessed one.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Lord's Prayer: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

I could also title this post "The Real Prosperity Gospel."

In the Lord's Prayer, we pray for our Father's name to be glorified, and for his kingdom to come on this earth as it is in heaven. The next thing we pray for is for our daily provisions. This prayer is counter to the way those in the kingdom of this world operate, and unfortunately contrary to the way many Christians live their lives as well.

I believe that the teaching that God wants everyone to be wealthy and healthy and have success in everything they do doesn't go far enough. I know that sounds strange. Hear me out. Those who teach what is known as the prosperity gospel put their followers eyes on the things of this earth, on things that will not last. A new car? It will rust and quit running. A big house? It will crumble. (Especially with the way they're building houses these days) Lots of money in the bank? All gone someday. Success in business, etc.? Eventually your business will close. Fame? Most of us will be forgotten eventually.

Why do we spend so much energy playing in the mud in the ghetto when we have the offer of a trip to the beach? We have a Father who owns everything. His kingdom is forever, and is full of unimaginable riches. We are told in Scripture that we are fellow heirs of all things with Jesus. We have the righteousness of Christ. We have his Spirit in us. We have the expectation of glory, in fact, Romans 8 tells us that we are already glorified. It just doesn't show completely yet. Our Father gives us good gifts.

Praying for our daily needs means we realize our dependence on God. We put ourselves in his hands and humbly ask rather than demand. A child who loves his father doesn't go to him and demand things, unless that child is spoiled. A child who loves and is loved by her father knows that all she has to do is ask and her father can be trusted to provide for her. She also knows that her father will do what is best and not give her anything that is not good for her. In the same way, we trust that our Father will not give us a stone when we ask for bread, but knows exactly what is best for us, and will give us exactly what we need. Many times, God goes far beyond just what we need. We can simply trust Abba to do exactly what is best for us.

One of the things God has taught me through the years is that it is far better for me to simply put my needs and desires in his loving hands. It doesn't depend on how well I've been praying or on how much faith I have. It simply depends on what my Papa, who loves me with a perfect love, knows is the best thing for me. As his love fills me more and more, Jesus' words become more real. To paraphrase, seek first and foremost the kingdom of God and you will get that. The rest is just gravy.

Rest in who you are in Christ and that will bring the contentment that is able to humbly ask the Father for each day's needs, knowing that it's all taken care of. The Psalmist tells us that the Lord is our shepherd, and that we will never lack. While we may not have everything we want, we will have everything we need. Along with that we have Jesus, and with him all the blessings of the new heaven and new earth which will last far longer than anything we can hope to have on this earth.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Weekend Wanderings

We turned our clocks back here in the sunny South, as did most of the rest of the country. If you did, you gained an hour of sleep or stayed up an extra hour, depending on your preference. The weather is cooler most days and the leaves are turning. I hope you are able to enjoy the beauty of this season.

On to the links:

Ruth Wilson is at war.
Haunted churches.
Forbes lists the world's most powerful people.
Athletes' earnings.

Daniel Wells has some videos.
25 things.
Dan Edelen has a warning.
Your city.

Unsatisfied.
Zack Hunt on Christian haunted houses.
Anything worth doing...
Arthur Sido on marriage.

Prayer for the church.
Drake Baer on the best time to drink coffee.
Fascinating stories.
John Frye on meals.

This is interesting.
Front yard people.
Jeff Dunnon on freedom.
Matt Appling on invoking "love."

Have a blessed first week of November!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Lord's Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come...

After we ask that our Father's name be lifted up and glorified, we are taught to ask that God's kingdom come and his will be done on the earth as it is in heaven. All Christians believe that God has a kingdom. The arguments are over what that means. Some believe the kingdom is something off in the future, and will be a literal rebuilding of the  Davidic kingdom, lasting one thousand years. Others believe that the kingdom is happening now and will be fully established when Christ comes again.

I come down on the side of those who believe that Jesus came to bring the kingdom and it was established at his death and resurrection. This kingdom is here and now, and it will be finally realized when Christ comes again to restore all things. Jesus' teachings about the kingdom of God are about a kingdom that his hearers could enter into, a kingdom that was available to them right then. I don't believe that the Sermon on the Mount was about characteristics of citizens of a future one thousand year kingdom, or that it was an offer that was withdrawn when the gospel went to the Gentiles but will be given back to Israel sometime in the future. The teachings of the apostles also are about being part of a present kingdom, one that began when the King allowed the ruler of this world to do his worst and conquered death and hell, a kingdom based on sacrificial love rather than power and force. The early church didn't get in trouble because they were telling folks how to accept Jesus as their personal Savior and go to heaven. They suffered persecution because they were proclaiming their allegiance to a King other than the emperor in Rome.

As we pray for God's kingdom to come and his will be done, we are praying for love to reign, for grace, mercy, and justice to come more and more in this world. We are not saying that our own efforts can bring in this kingdom, but we are praying for God to do his work in and through us. Whenever we show love to our neighbor, extend grace to someone who doesn't deserve it, forgive those who have wronged us, or work for justice for the least of these, the kingdom is coming to earth. God is doing the work of redeeming and restoring his creation, and we are called to join him in that work. That is what we pray for.

May God's kingdom come and his will be done in and through us as we follow the  King.

Weekend Wanderings

Weekend Wanderings will be a bit shorter than usual this time. This has been a busy week. I am part of an organization of artists that seeks...