Saturday, June 23, 2007
Like the Beyonder, he started out mostly as a plot device - a reason to get the whole gang into one room, and for the editor-in-chief to hijack the story lines of all the titles. In this case the mini-series was the Contest of Champions and was based on a bet between the Grandmaster himself and Death. (We will not be looking at Death in this series on Omnipotents because in comics Death is anything but.)
The Grandmaster makes a return as plot device in one of the better things to happen in comics recently and that is a cross-over mini-series featuring the Justice League and the Avengers. Once again the Grandmaster was part of the plot device to get these two together, but what a meeting! So many characters, a plot thinner than water, but who cares! The miniseries was a feast for the eyes. Big splash pages featuring every hero imaginable - Superman trading blows with Thor -- Flash and Quicksilver running circles around everybody -- Hawkman and Angel flying high above it all - and so it went. It was just a wonder to behold. Oh yeah, and Batman squaring off with Captain America - that is something I have wanted to see since I was old enough to read. Of course, it was inconclusive and everybody ended up buddies, it had to be that way. But again, what matters the story, it's impossible to tell a good story given the tools at hand, but every page was worth savoring.
Related Tags: comics, comic books, comic art, Omnipotents, The Grandmaster, Contest of Champions, JLA/Avengers
Friday, June 22, 2007
Prominent evangelical Christians are urging churchgoers to strongly consider adoption or foster care, not just out of kindness or biblical calling but also to answer criticism that their movement, while condemning abortion and same-sex adoption, doesn't do enough for children without parents.I have written many times about the childless nature of my marriage, but I have never discussed much why we elected not to adopt. The last paragraph in that pull quote sums it up pretty well. As we looked into it all we found were hurdles, barriers, blockages, and difficulty. Given our already advanced years, by the time all the bridges had been built, streams forded, hurdles jumped, and objections overcome we would have been much older indeed and we simply did not think it fair to a child to have grandparents for parents. Sure that happens sometimes, but we just felt that to set up such a situation purposefully was wrong, most definitely for a first and quite possible only child. Not to mention that fact that the somewhat reversible nature of adoption in this age was something that we flat out feared. It scared us to death. Selfish perhaps, but it was a major factor.
With backing from Focus on the Family and best-selling author Rick Warren, the effort to promote "orphan care" among the nation's estimated 65 million evangelicals could drastically reduce foster care rolls if successful.
Yet sensitive issues lie ahead: about evangelizing, religious attitudes on corporal punishment, gay and lesbian foster children, racially mixed families, and resolving long-standing tensions between religious groups and the government.
Evangelical activism in adoption is definitely a must, but it has to extend beyond merely adopting more. We have to change the fundamental nature of both the foster care and adoptive processes in this country. The law and policy regarding such in this nation is philosophically based on something that I find utterly abhorent, the child is treated essentially as property. Much of that legal base has come out of efforts precisely not to treat children as property, but has we have transitioned from private care of orphans to public, such is a natural and unavoidable outcome of a bureacracy. For me personally another reason not to adopt was I did not want to feed that beast.
Were there abusive and substandard orphanages in the bad old days? Of course there were, just as there are many such foster "homes" today. We have not with our great burecratic efforts solved the problem we set out to solve, we have simply made it happen in small enough packages that it is below the general public radar. Some solution!
It is admittedly very difficult for me to be objective about this, but I think this needs to be one of the higher public policy objectives of Christians involved in public policy. We need to encourage and deregulate private adoption and adoption agencies. Then churches need to get back into the adoption and orphan care business. The Catholic Church, the last remaining church to be active in it, is getting out because of government regulation. We have to fight and fight hard.
Related Tags: orphans, adoption, the church, Christians
"No! He agreed to marry MY daughter," said the other.
And so they haggled before the King until he called for silence.
"Bring me my biggest sword," said Solomon, "and I shall hew the young attorney in half. Each of you shall receive a half."
"Sounds good to me," said the first lady.
But the other woman said, "Oh Sire, do not spill innocent blood. Let the other woman's daughter marry him."
The wise king did not hesitate a moment. "The attorney must marry the first lady's daughter," he proclaimed.
"But she was willing to hew him in two!" exclaimed the king's court.
"Indeed," said wise King Solomon. "That shows she is the TRUE mother-in-law."
Related Tags: joke, humor, Friday humor, Solomon
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Now, a kind of unholy trinity exists that has turned the ministry of Christian music into the industry of Christian music. Christian radio promotes the songs, the churches use them in worship, and CCLI collects fees for the copyright holders. The big winners are the Christian record companies, many of them now owned by secular corporations, who sell records into the millions. The big loser is the church itself, which now pays to have itself marketed to every Sunday morning at 11 am.The second is not linked but reported from a personal conversation
Again I have to side with the author of this article, it has become a huge industry. And, then, what should a minister of music do? Completely void the use of great contemporary songs so as not to be involved in the radical industry of contemporary "secularly owned" markets?First of all, I am not sure the average pew sitter understands all of this, so let me put it very plainly. The "switch" in music has been driven industrially and for a profit motive. Problem is, the church is not making the profit. Actually, that is probably not a problem, since that means the church, at least, does not have that particular competing motive to worry about.
But consider, it contributes to the drive to bigger and bigger church. Budgets increase, people can only give so much of their income, so the answer to getting more money is to get more givers. Bigger churches do make it easier to avoid discipleship and lower the bar.
Besides, where are the great stories behind the modern music. The story behind "Amazing Grace" is well-known at the moment. Do you know the story behind "It Is Well With My Soul"?
This hymn was written after two major traumas in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his only son, shortly followed by the great Chicago Fire of October 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a wealthy businessman). In 1873, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of Spafford’s daughters died in a collision with another ship. Spafford’s wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Several weeks later, as Spafford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daughters died, the Holy Spirit inspired these words.Now we get stories about record companies and deadlines.
So, in answer to the question, "...what should a minister of music do?" the answer in my mind is yes, punt. We are called, as Christ's people, to be radically different. If people are not responding it is not because we are too different, it is because we are not different enough.
There is nothing wrong with making a buck, but there is with putting that before the call of Christ.
Related Tags: worship, music, money, hymns, stories, discipleship
Related Tags: Biblical Illuminations
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
(BTW, did you know that statistics say that small church growth (from 10-150) is where the conversion growth, as opposed to transfer growth, occurs? Why then do evangelicals exalt the mega congregations as the answer to reaching those outside of Christ?)Why that is a parenthetical instead of the point of the whole post, I have no idea. To me it is completely sensical that conversion is much more difficult than attraction - end of story, point made, the rest of what he discusses is, in light of that fact, just trivia.
But what I really wish is that he had cited, or better linked to, the statistics he draws on. This is something I have contended from the very beginning - big churches entertain - they are not really a a part of the transformative experience. What is true of conversion, is most assuredly true of discipleship as well. It happens in your face, not through media, and even attending a large service with minimal personal contact is media - it's just live media.
Christ Himself is the personal - isn't that sort of definitionally what the incarnation is all about?
It seems like "Christianity" has become nothing more than a label and we spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and intellect deciding who gets to wear the label. There are all sorts of different criteria - institutional affiliation -- theology -- saying the sinner's prayer -- but I cannot help but think all of these things fall short of the marks that Christ Himself would use to decide who can bear His name. I am also struck by how very similar the marks we discuss are to those that the "Pharisees and hypocrites" Christ so forcefully denounced used. Just because they are not behavioral does not rob them of being legalistic.
We are stuck in an age where growth is considered the only reasonable sign of health. I agree, but I'll take growth in Christ any day.
Related Tags: small churches, mega churches, conversaion, transformation, labels, criteria
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
What's Wrong With This Picture?
The underlying post quotes some of Osbourne's points that make the point I want to make.
Larry decided to fulfill his calling, not his potential.What a fascinating concept. I would argue that your calling does represent your potential, at least the potential that God sees in you, but then I don't want to get bogged down in semantics. Because the essential point is this, God's vision for us is RADICALLY different than our vision for ourselves.
The "potential" that Osbourne mentions is a worldly vision, it is meeting the metric of success the world establishes.
Which leads me to a thought I have been rummaging for years and I don't think I have ever uttered ouloud. I do not think God calls us to a ministry or profession of any sort. God calls us to be Christ-like. That's it. He calls me to be Christ-like in any and every endeavor I undertake.
That also means our potential, our only potential that matters, is measured in our Christ-likeness. This also means that as Christians we all share the same burden. Pastors have no special burden to bear, simply a different one.
Related Tags: pastor, potential, burden, Christ-likeness
Monday, June 18, 2007
Earned and Unearned Praise
Employers say the praise culture can help them with job retention, and marriage counselors say couples often benefit by keeping praise a constant part of their interactions. But in the process, people's positive traits can be exaggerated until the words feel meaningless. "There's a runaway inflation of everyday speech," warns Linda Sapadin, a psychologist in Valley Stream, N.Y. These days, she says, it's an insult unless you describe a pretty girl as "drop-dead gorgeous" or a smart person as "a genius." "And no one wants to be told they live in a nice house," says Dr. Sapadin. "'Nice' was once sufficient. That was a good word. Now it's a put-down."I can only respond with Scripture
In the end, ego-stroking may feel good, but it doesn't lead to happiness, says Prof. Twenge, the narcissism researcher, who has written a book titled "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable than Ever Before." She would like to declare a moratorium on "meaningless, baseless praise," which often starts in nursery school. She is unimpressed with self-esteem preschool ditties, such as the one set to the tune of "Frère Jacques": "I am special/ I am special/ Look at me..."
Gal 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.God clearly has something else in mind for us.
1 Cor 2:2 - For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Phil 1:21 - For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Related Tags: praise, self-esteem
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Sermons and Lessons
Herrick Johnson, Ex-Professor of homiletics, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago; born Kaughuewaga, N. Y., September 22, 1832; graduated from Hamilton College, 1857; Auburn Theological Seminary, 1860; received D.D. from Western Reserve College, LLD. from Wooster University, DCL. from Omaha University; ordained to Presbyterian ministry, 1860; pastor in Troy, N. Y., 1860-62; of the Third church, Pittsburg, 1862-67; of the First church. Philadelphia, 1868-74; professor of homiletics and pastoral the¬ology, Auburn Theological Seminary, 1874-80; pastor of Fourth Presbyterian church, Chicago, 1880-83; author of ‘‘Christianity‘s Challenge,’’ ‘‘Revivals: Their Place and Power,’’ ‘‘Plain Talks about the Theatre,” ‘‘Presbyterian Book of Forms,” ‘‘From Love to Praise,’’ etc.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today; yea, and forever." - Heb. 13 : 8.
Change is stamped upon everything earthly. Nature takes on ever-varying moods. Society is in a constant state of transformation. When we visit old scenes and renew old associations, we find they are not what they were before. Even the old homestead, hallowed by tender memories, and tho kept through generations, must needs have its beloved face marred by patches of repair. Time makes furrows in the checks that were once full, and dims the eyes that once flashed like jewels. The soul behind the eyes is also changed with the changing years; so that neither the form nor the spirit of friends remains the same to us.
And there is a sense, of course, in which we would not have this otherwise. What would nature be without her infinite variety? A particular sunset, however gorgeous and brilliant its hues, would grow absolutely unbearable with exact, monotonous, daily repetition.
Think of life, fixed in grooves, and stamped with changelessness. It would be living death. Precious and matchless as infancy is, what mother would have her babe remain a babe? Her chief joy is that her new-born child grows. An old infant! What an anomaly! Think of a mother carrying about in her arms and hugging to her bosom a twenty- or thirty-year-old baby! The very, suggestion is both ludicrous and repugnant.
No, we love change. A world of ravishing delight comes to us through the law of development. Things that grow, having life in them, how they outrival the lifeless things manufactured in shops! The top of creation is man, and he is fullest of changing moods and wills.
If, therefore, it should be written of things and men, of nature and society, “the same yesterday, today and forever,” this world would be a desert.
Yet this is exactly what has been written of Jesus Christ, and written of Him, too, as if it were His unique, peculiar crown and glory! There must be a sense, therefore, in which for Him to be the same today and tomorrow and evermore would be occasion of unspeakable comfort.
And we do not need to think long or far to find this sense. It is at the door of our daily life. It enters into our most cherished relationships. It furnishes the basis for trust. The uniformity of nature is what gives us faith in nature. It is belief in the changeless order that makes vast enterprises possible. It is confidence in man‘s continuing as he is that leads to far-reaching ventures and compacts. Just as we count on the constancy of a friend, do we trust that friend.
Unchangeableness is therefore a peerless quality when we conceive of it as unity, but not uniformity; constancy, hut not mechanical rigidity; the play of an infinite variety, with the fixedness of eternal principle.
What is it we want most in a bosom friend, when we and that friend come together again after long separation? That he be the same dear old trusted companion to whom we breathed our confidences, and with whom we walked in most loving and joy-giving fellowship in other years. How eagerly we look into his eyes, wondering if he is still the very same! Well, when we part with the best friend, we can not be quite sure he will be the same when we come back. But who of us has not at times wished he could be sure!
Blessed be God! there is one being who changes not. And it is of Jesus Christ our Lord, “the chief among ten thousand” and “the one altogether lovely,” that this matchless word is spoken.
So, if we wish to know what Jesus is, we only need to find out what He was, when He walked among men. What He was in the yesterday of His earthly life, He is in the today of His heavenly life, and shall be forever.
What was He in His earthly life? For one thing, He was always approachable. This is one of the most remarkable qualities with which Christ is stamped in the gospel record. And is it not one of the rarest in the personal history of men? From the very necessities of public and official life, as men grow famous and come in touch with wider and wider interests, they get hedged about with more or less of circumstance and condition that hinder familiar and unimpeded approach to them. It was the setting aside of many of these stately forms and regulations by the beloved Abraham Lincoln, and the living in constant sympathetic relation with the people, the door of his great nature being ever open to their need, that so endeared this martyred hero to the popular heart.
And friendship has one of its sweetest phases in this - the approachableness it invites and furnishes. Just as we find ourselves barred from access by the conventionalities or the engagements of life, do the shadows fall on our hearts. Watch a little child. Where does it fly when trouble comes? To the one place always open to it, the one covert where shelter has never been refused - the mother’s bosom. One of the glories of true motherhood is approachableness. One of the curses of a home is to have this quality farmed out to a hired nurse.
A Savior, to meet the need of simple, struggling, suffering, and often impotent and sometimes despairing men, must be always approachable. If there is even an hour when He can not be reached,, in that hour a sinner may perish. There must be no exigencies of government, no demands of multitudinous host, no public honor, no private feasts, to keep him from the approach of one who needs His help.
And Jesus met this condition to the full. He was always approachable. On the public road, in the midst of the joyful acclaims of the multitude hailing Him as King, a blind beggar could come to Him and receive sight. In the crowded house a paralytic of years could be brought to him and get the power to take up his bed and walk. At a private feast a woman that had sinned, a harlot of the street, could come to Him, and, bathing His feet with her penitent tears, receive from His lips the gracious words, “Go in peace: thy sins be forgiven thee.” Thank God, He was never shut away from the people He came to save. He had no private quarters. No inner office stamped “No admittance” and too sacred for the intrusion of honest inquiry. There was no place where He could not be sought and found. He had no business, and allowed none, that kept Him from the business of healing and helping men - of seeking and saving the lost. He was occupied with nothing that shut His ear against the cry of want. When alone in the solitude of the night, a ruler of the Jews came to Him, and got instruction as to the kingdom of God. When weary, sitting at the well, travel-worn and seeking rest, a Samaritan woman came to Him, and got from Him a cup of living water for her thirsty soul. When asleep in the ship, timid disciples came to Him, and, waking Him, could find a calm, both for their affrighted spirits and the tossing sea. When on a march of triumph, when in a desert place, when tempted, when dying - from first to last there was never an hour He could not be got at.
He had no preengagements, not one. Anybody could come to Him - absolutely anybody. The loving, of course, could come. Love makes a way in where nothing else can. We all welcome this angel guest. And Jesus did. The visits of love seemed a solace to this sad, great heart. Mary with her cruse of precious ointment; the other Mary with her heart swept clean of devilish possessions; the soiled woman with nothing but her grateful tears; Peter with his bruised and penitent spirit; Paul with his flaming ardor of devotion, loving possibly deepest and most fervently - these all found Jesus always approachable.
But the doubting also could come to Him. Fearing, challenging, wondering, questioning - no matter! What honest doubter ever failed of being met by Him as Thomas was; not to be rebuked for his doubt, but to be trusted out of it, if he only came. Jesus had no thunders for this honest soul that trembled and questioned and would put his Lord to the proof. He welcomed the doubter, tenderly met his need, and furnished the evidence. And He is the same yesterday and today and forever.
The heavy-hearted came, too, and were never turned away without the burden being lifted off. The poor, the sick, the lame, the halt, the blind, the palsied, the bruised ones, the tired and lonely, with strength clean gone, the hungry wanting bread, and the heart-hungry starving on the husks of formalism - how they flocked to Him; and always to find Him!
And even the outcasts came; the publicans and the harlots. And by these He was approachable, as by all the rest. He never broke a bruised reed, not one. “Send her away, she crieth after us,” said His disciples. But Christ sent nobody away, until the need was met. There were brought unto Him little children that He should put His hands on them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. What rudeness these mothers were guilty of, thus interrupting Christ in the midst of His wondrous speech! And of what use could He be to babes? Ah! those well-meaning but blinded disciples; they did not know Him. He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” Does this not seem almost best of all, that He was always approachable by the children?
Mothers! lie is the changeless Christ. Do you take in all the meaning there is to you in this wondrous word? Picture that scene! Think of that listening crowd, the weighty divine speech that was dropping from those sacred lips, the strange interruption, the mothers bringing their babes, the rebuking disciples, and Jesus saying, “Suffer the little children to come” - and remember, He is the same today and forever, thinking just as much of babes now as then; and just as sure to lay His hands upon your little ones and speak His blessing on them, and interest Himself in their behalf now as when He took the children in His arms at Capernaum.
But again: Jesus on earth was always ready to hear prayer. What we want in a helper is to hear us when we cry to him. Does God hear prayer? Will He hear prayer in any conceivable circumstances? Jesus did. Blind Bartimaeus sat by the wayside begging. He heard the tramp and roar of a great multitude. He inquired what it meant. They told him “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” And the blind man cried out, saying, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” And Jesus caught the cry of the wayside beggar, stood still, stopt the journey to Jerusalem, hushed the hosannas, commanded the blind man to be brought to Him, and gave him his sight.
Again, when Christ was dying, when the agony of death was on Him, when the burden of a sinful world was on His heart, when a jeering mob beneath the cross on which He was crucified railed at Him with awful imprecations and blasphemy - amid all that babel of hell, lie caught the cry of the penitent thief and answered it, commanding for him an entrance into paradise.
Prayer was never offered to Him in this earthly life that He did not listen to. No sounding hallelujahs of a triumph march, no raging passions of men bent upon His life, no occupation of absorbing interest, whether in deed or speech, could stop His ear from listening to the cry of a human heart. Amid any confusion of tongues and any babel of angry noises of conflicting interests and claims, He always heard prayer.
Just as there are ears strung with such exquisite delicacy of adaptation that they will detect in any flood of tumultuous harmony the chords for which they have an affinity— so Jesus seemed strung to catch the notes of prayer; and He caught them whenever they were struck, no matter with what roar of other voices the air was filled.
You who pray; you who sometimes cry and get no answer; you who have hesitated to pray, thinking that it could not be that the ascended Lord would hear - do you think He has lost that exquisitely tender and sympa¬thetic relation to human need, since He went to heaven? No! In this respect, as in the others I have named He is the same for evermore - the changeless Christ. And therefore there can be no vast concerns of His mediatorial kingdom, no bursts of rapture by angelic hosts, no trumpet-notes of redemption’s victory, and no shoutings of the multitudes of the saved, that can make Him deaf to the cry of a penitent or believing heart on earth.
Reader, looking upon this page and read¬ing it, are you a sinner blinded by sin and wanting sight? Are you a Christian father or mother having a child that needs the touch of the divine healer? Are you a doubter, wondering if the gospel story can be true? Pray! 0 I beseech you, speak to this changeless Christ, who caught every cry that was ever made to Him when He was here. He is the same today and forever.
This blessed Lord Jesus when on earth forgave sin.
Take the instances in His life that set this forth with a luminous fullness and a blessed emphasis. Recall Zacchaeus, the despised publican, the sinner, desiring to see that blessed face, “whose very looks, he was told, shed peace upon restless spirits and fevered hearts”; and trembling with desire and expectation, he found Jesus desiring to see him. Seeking Jesus, he himself was sought. He found there were two seeking. And as the good old Scotch woman said, “Where there are twa seekin’, there’ll always be a findin’.”
Zacchaeus was met with sympathy and for¬giveness. But what did the sneering Pharisees say? They said, “Jesus has gone to be guest with him that is a sinner.” As if Jesus had not left heaven on that very business! Zacchaeus a sinner! Yes; but it is a saying worthy of all acceptation that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Zacchaeus lost! Yes; but the Son of Man is come to seek and save that which is lost.
Take the case of the publican, who, with the Pharisee, went up to the temple to pray. “God, I thank thee that 1 am not as other men are,” prayed the Pharisee. “God be merciful to me a sinner,” prayed the publican. Who did Jesus say went down to his house justified? “Justified?” asked an old soldier to whom this parable was read as he lay dying. He was scarred by sin as well as by battle. His face was seamed and ridged with the hoofs of appetite. He had been an awful sinner. But he had been touched in camp by the Christlike courage and tenderness and fidelity of a young comrade soldier. And this soldier of Christ had read to him the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, and had taught him to pray, “God be merciful to me a sinner’" - “Justified,” asked the dying veteran, “Did Jesus say that!” “Yes,” was the reply, ‘‘Jesus said the publican went down to his house justified.” “God be merciful to me a sinner,’’ broke from the trembling lips. And that day he was with Jesus in paradise. And this Savior of sinners today is just the same.
Mark another trait of this Jesus of Nazareth. He was always ready to sympathize and help.
Have you ever noticed how often the Gospels speak of Jesus as moved with compassion? Seeing the man bound by Satan, lo! many years, Christ was moved with compassion. Seeing the multitude scattered abroad as sheep without a shepherd, He was moved with compassion. The beggars at the Jericho gate moved him with compassion. A leper moved Him with compassion. Most touching instance of all, they were carrying out of the city of Nain “one that was dead, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion.
Right up into heaven He carried this sympathetic nature; and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews refers to him there, making intercession for us, a high priest, sympathetic still; able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. No wonder the sacred writer adds, “Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.’’
Blessed be God for the changeless Christ. What an argument this puts into the mouth of prayer. Thou hast been my help, cries the psalmist; therefore, leave me not; neither forsake me, 0 God of my salvation! We can plead God’s past goodness as a reason for con¬tinued goodness. We can ask Him for more because He has given us so much.
And what a sense of Christ’s nearness this theme gives us. Our Lord has not gone on a journey. He is not asleep. He is not hedged about with infinite dignities. lie is never behind locked doors. lie has no preengagements. On earth lie was always approachable. He is just so now. On earth He was always ready to forgive sin and to sympathize with the bruised and broken-hearted, and He is just so now. On earth He was always ready to hear prayer. And He is just so now - the same yesterday, today and forever.
Related Tags: Herrick Johnson, sermon, lesson