Saturday, April 26, 2008


Comic Art

We continue our look at The greatest creations of Jack "King" Kirby by returning today to the New Gods from DC. It is funny how in a universe literally divided by good and evil, the character that straddles both becomes arguably the most iconic character of them all. Son of the most evil of all, Darkseid, but raised by the infinitely good HighFather, Orion is the battle of the New Gods Universe in a single character. Like all of us, he struggles to overcome the evil that is within him.

And yet, I have always found Orion an unsympathetic character, and have never understood the fascination with him among fandom, writers it is easy to understand. Orion never seeks to overcome his evil nature, only control it. Perhaps it is a reflection of my faith, but I always found that extraordinarily frustrating - I always wanted him to finally overcome.

Of course, part and parcel of all this is the longing to connect with his "real" father and the fact that though evil, Darkseid is a functional part of the universe and even evil can from time-to-time, obtain good ends.

Orion is; however, something extraordinary to look upon. You cannot look at him, regardless of who is drawing him, and not see Jack Kirby there somewhere. And perhaps that accounts for his ultimate appeal. He truly is a creation of the best.

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Friday, April 25, 2008


Accepting And Approving

MMI looks at a "discussion" going on in a Dallas church about whether to include pictures of gay couples in the church directory.
Broadway, founded in 1882, is a downtown church known for its work with the poor, its massive organ and a worship style that features far more liturgy and classical music than is found in most Baptist churches. Women serve as deacons and ministers at Broadway, and gay people have long been part of the congregation in what some members describe as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

A pictorial directory was being assembled last year as part of the church’s 125th anniversary celebration. But when some gay couples showed up to get their pictures taken, conflict quickly emerged.

Some members felt that allowing the photos would go beyond “welcoming” gay people to “affirming” homosexuality in opposition to certain Bible verses. Others argued that gay couples deserved to be pictured just like other couples and that the proposed alternative of having them pictured individually would be demeaning.
My initial response is that showing up to have their picture taken as a couple sort of violates the whole "don't tell" provision of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. It rises to the level of rude.

Imagine you are a dinner guest at someone's house. They are Japanese and you don't particularly like sushi, but that is what shows up on your dinner plate. You are then confronted with options. One, you can dive in and act like you like sushi. This is great, you've joined the party completely and you might end up actually liking the stuff. Two, you can quietly pick at your food appearing to eat, enjoying the conviviality. This is not so bad either - you have respected your hosts, you have benefited from the encounter. Three, you can proclaim your distaste for sushi and place your host in the extraordinarily awkward position of appearing to be a bad host when they are simply providing you with what they consider is the best their culture has to offer.

This couple have obviously chosen option three. This church has graciously opened its doors to them and rather than accept the grace these couples have elected to try and take over the household. It's just rude. And, because the church's deepest desire is to be gracious hosts, they are put in a no-win scenario.

Well, grace is not violated by refusing under such circumstances, it is only underscored. The church cannot allow itself to be shamed into being something other than what it is, particularly when there is nothing shameful in its actions.

Todd, raises an entirely different issue in his questions in the wake of this story - they concern the management of church politics when they are taken outside the normal channels of communication. That is a question for another post.

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Friday Humor - Too Funny Not To Steal

OK, I ripped off Scotwise again for this one. Too funny not to.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008


OK - That's A New One On Me

The Classical Presbyterian is looking at ministry types we can just as soon dispense with he came up with a new one for me:
Are you a DORG? Does your congregation have a DORG for a pastor?

You ask what I'm talking about? I'm surprised that you don't know. A DORG is a pastor who is in the mode of Dispenser Of Religious Goods. This kind of pastor is employed by the church to be the 'religious guy' or 'religious gal' who is on call at all hours to give out religious things.

DORGs fill mainline church positions all over this country. DORGs are basically the Maytag Repairmen of the Christian world. They fill the much-needed need in congregations for baptisms, communion, preaching, prayer and visitation.

For busy people, living in a secular, modern America, DORGs give infinite relief to a strained conscience in those who are just too plain busy to be 'religious' in the work week of Monday through Saturday.


It's harsh to say that and it's harsh to hear, but does that make it less true? DORGs kill the ministry of the whole people of God and DORGs burn out in the pastorate at alarming rates. Being expected to be a DORG will ruin one's joy in the Lord and passion for real ministry faster than a snow cone melts in a south Texas July.
[emphasis added]
Of course, the phenomena is not new, but the acronym is and I like it! But let's get to that emphasized concept - DORGs kill the ministry of the whole poeple of God. That is a point I have belabored in a variety of forms on this blog again and again. Just a couple of comments.

One, the burn-out factor is widely discussed and effective means of overcoming it have been developed without abandoning the DORG model - it is called "increasing the size of staff." What amounts to increasing the price charged for the religious good dispensed. Sadly, most people are more than willing to pay this increased price and so this model has spread like wildfire. Even moderately sized congregations have staffs measured in the dozens.

I have actually had it argued, particularly in church's that hire from within a lot, that such expansion of staff is enabling the ministry of the whole body. To this I say HOGWASH - it is simply creating the expectation of compensation for ministry. What utter nonsense.

Which brings me to my second point. Suppose that the congregation desires that something happen, but no one steps up to the plate to make it happen? What then? May I suggest that under such circumstances it simply should not happen. If we allow the congregation to "buy" what it wants, are we really creating disciples? And if we are not, can we be said to be succeeding as the church? - Even if our numbers are impressive.

I have always operated on the principal that any ministry worth advocating for is worth volunteering for - if I am not willing to invest my time in it, I probably do not want it that bad. Which actually raises another point - can we be said to be tithing , if we give only money and not time and talent?

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Illuminated Scripture

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008



Mark Roberts quotes one of the speakers at Laity Lodge, which he now runs.
I won’t summarize Gordon Fee’s teaching here. But I do want to mention something he said almost as an aside. He was dealing with Philippians 3:1, which says, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.” Gordon explained that this is not a command to feel happy feelings. Paul is not saying, “Rev yourself up and be joyful.” Rather, this is a command to praise the Lord, to worship God. It may well be that when we do this, we will feel joy. But that’s not the main point. Paul is repeating in Philippians what can be found throughout the Psalms: calls to praise God through joyful expression.

Gordon Fee has nothing against feeling happy, I’m quite sure. But his take on Philippians is a helpful one. Perhaps you have wondered how you’re supposed to make yourself feel joyful when your down in the dumps. It can almost seem as if Paul is telling us to do the impossible. But when we understand that he is calling us to praise God, then we’re released from the task of having to make ourselves feel a certain way, a task that often leads to denial and pretending.
Now, I happen to agree with this interpretation of the Philippians passage completely, and Mark's comments on it, but I have seen this abused as much as properly understood. It is rare in my experience, though I understand common in many circles, to be told we have to be happy, as Mark discusses here. But what I have experienced, in far more abundance than I wish, is people that graft to this command a worship style and then tell me I am commanded to worship in the style that matches their taste.

"You have to worship, and this is genuine worship." Now, what is most insidious is that by "genuine worship" generally mean worship that evokes in them (no, that's not the least bit subjective, he said sarcastically) the emotional responses that Mark here points out are not even really a part of the equation.

See, lying at the heart of all this is that worship is not a state, it is something we do, an act. The act does not have "meaning" or lack "meaning" based on our emotional state - it is the act itself that matters - it is obedience.

In this sense, any obedient act is worship, for in obeying God we place Him as Lord of our lives, we acknowledge His kingship, which is what lies at the heart of worship.

Many people that get into this whole "meaningful" worship thing go about seeking this emotional evocation through a variety of sensory experience, but then live the rest of their lives with little regard for the object of their worship - or worse they paste a label proclaiming the rest of what they do as a part of the object of their worship without any real change in what it is.

Now, here is the real question - if worship is holding up God as God, and yet we pursue worship as emotional evocation, do we not them place our emotions on the throne?

Maybe those guys that spent all those years figuring out things like "Order of Worship" and litanies and liturgies and responsive readings were a little smarter than we give them credit for. Those things may be dry and a bit stale and seeming devoid of emotional evocation, but they do place the Holy One of the Throne of the Universe - at least if we bother to pay attention to them.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Church Submission

Matt Anderson writes about our shared death as the beginning of Christian communion. He then moves on to expand how we experience that death:
In my reflections for Ash Wednesday, I claimed that it was “through death—in suffering, in weakness, in solitude—that the communion of saints begins. The brokenness of Jesus’ body is the birth of his people.”

While I focused mainly on the experience of solitude and silence as the confrontation with the limitation of death, I could have easily have focused on the experience of the local church.
Matt then uses some pull quotes to support his thesis and looks at the parish model as a means of enforcing this effect:
What is interesting about the parish model is that it makes geography–to which we’re tied by virtue of our corporeality–one of the main determinants of church affiliation. It demands the submission to the limitations of the body–that is, it demands the death of our desires for perfection, for liberty, and for transcendence. In putting to death such desires, we are rewarded with that which we sought–the experience of the Spirit’s indwelling presence, which transforms our local church bodies into communities built upon the Word of God. Only then will community become holy communion.

Ultimately, the idea that the local church body is a place that should meet our needs or feed us is misguided, in that it presumes we are free from the injunction to die to our selves while we remain within the confines of the Church. But if we are fellowshipping with Christ’s sufferings, then it is primarily in Church that we must lay aside our desires for theological rigor and precision, aesthetic experience, and close friendships. It is precisely in such broken, failing, and dead areas that we are able to experience the judgmental, impatient, and angry nature of our hearts. It is in such environments that some who care deeply about the Church are most able to experience the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
First of all, Matt seriously "gets" what it means to be a Christian here and this is very important stuff. Just a couple of quibbles with the absoluteness of some of his language.

The parish model is but one way of making this kind of communion happen. The key word is submission - maybe it is to denomination instead of parish, but the idea is to come to look at you serving the church not the other way around. There are also limits to this loyalty. Congregations can fall into distinct immorality and ungodliness. It does not happen as often as claimed, but it does happen, and then it is time to leave.

Second quibble is with the idea that church "does not feed us." It does -- However, that feeding happens in the way that Matt describes submission and community, not by having us give up the desire for feeding. Imagine a wrench that for years was used as a hammer to drive in tacks around the house. One day someone comes along and uses the wrench as a wrench, tightening a nut of some sort. How do you think the wrench would feel? I'm thinking pretty good.

Church should be like that. We are built for precisely the kind of Christian community that Matt here extols. When we are a part of such a community, as opposed to attending the Sunday "service show," We will find genuine sustenance and support. In fact, such community is, of itself, sustenance.

But Matt is absolutely right - submission is the key!

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Kitty Kartoons

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Monday, April 21, 2008


Messing With Scripture, and My Head

The idea of of using comic books to tell the gospel story and communicate Christian messages, is about as far from a new one as you can get. And yet, The NYTimes felt it compelling enough to report upon at some length.
“We present things in a very brazen way,” said Mr. Akinsiku, who hopes to become an Anglican priest and who is the author of “The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation.” “Christ is a hard guy, seeking revolution and revolt, a tough guy.”
You can well imagine that someone who is as much of a fan of comics as I am would be attracted first to this story and the the subsequent discussion.

I wish I could say I loved this idea, but I cannot. I would like to offer several reasons. For one, look at the art - manga art has never been a favorite with me. I tend to avoid the superhero comics that are going manga - there are full-on manga versions of most of the traditional superheroes and while some of the writing is stupendous, the art leaves me wanting. But that is just a matter of taste.

Secondly, note how they are discussing a specific interpretation of Christ. That is problematic to me and it brings me to the third and the heart of my objections.

Christ is such a complex and compelling character that in a very real sense He is beyond our literature. Authors who insist on depicting Him, and do so well, do so with very limited experiences, defined by the role Christ is playing in some other characters life. Christ may dominate the story but He is a secondary character.

The comic medium in particular, though this is changing - not always for the better, is a medium that specializes in two-dimensional characters. Richness of character development is not a hallmark of any visual medium which advances the action, for visual reasons, at the expense of character. Go ahead, name a movie with deep character development where anything actually happens other than people sitting around talking to each other - I dare you.

This may tell stories very well, but it reduces the Biblical narrative to story, when it is almost wholly about character. What is important about David, is it that he bedded Bathsheba and had her hubby killed, or is it how he responded and reacted to those actions, particularly in the Psalms? The story is the backdrop for the character, not the other way around. In comics characters exist almost purely to move the story forward.

So, is this newest Bible comic a good thing or a bad thing? If consumed in the context of a relationship with someone that can help the reader grasp the complete narrative and the characters, a relationship that models the character of Christ, as best as possible, then yes it is a good and worthy tool. If consumed in a vacuum it will damage the gospel irreparably.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008


Sermons and Lessons


Philip Melanchthon (Schwarzerd) was born at Bretten, in Baden, in 1497. His name is noteworthy as first a fellow laborer and eventually a controversial antagonist of Luther. At the Diet of Augsburg, in 1530, he was the leading representative of the Reformation. He formulated the twenty-eight articles of the evangelical faith known as the “Augsburg Confession.” The Lutherans of extreme Calvinistic views were alienated by Melanchthon‘s subsequent modifications of this confession, and by his treatises in ethics. He and his followers were bitterly assailed, but his irenic spirit did not forsake him. He was a true child of the Renaissance, and is styled by some writers “the founder of general learning throughout Europe.” While he was never called or ordained to the ministry of the Church, he was in the habit of addressing the local religious assemblies or collegia from time to time, and, being a man of profound piety, his sympathetic and natural style of delivery made him an impressive speaker. He died in 1560, and his body was laid beside that of Martin Luther.

The Safety Of The Virtuous

Neither shalt any man pluck them out of my hand - John 10:28.

To Thee, almighty and true God, eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of heaven and earth, and of all creatures, together with Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost - to Thee, the wise, good, true, righteous, compassionate, pure, gracious God, we render thanks that Thou hast hitherto upheld the Church in these lands, and graciously afforded it protection and care, and we earnestly beseech Thee evermore to gather among us an inheritance for Thy Son, which may praise Thee to all eternity.

I have in these, our assemblies, often uttered partly admonitions and partly reproofs, which I hope the most of you will bear in mind. But since I must presume that now the hearts of all are wrung with a new grief and a new pang by reason of the war in our neighborhood, this season seems to call for a word of consolation. And, as we commonly say, “Where the pain is there one claps his hand,” I could not, in this so great affliction, make up my mind to turn my discourse upon any other subject. I do not, indeed, doubt that you yourselves seek comfort in the divine declarations, yet will I also bring before you some things collected there from, because always that on which we had ourselves thought becomes more precious to us when we hear that it proves itself salutary also to others. And because long discourses are burdensome in time of sorrow and mourning, I will, Without delay, bring forward that comfort which is the most effectual.

Our pains are best assuaged when something good and beneficial, especially some help toward a happy issue, presents itself. All other topics of consolation, such as men borrow from the unavoidableness of suffering, and the examples of others, bring us no great alleviation. But the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified for us and raised again, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, offers us help and deliverance, and has manifested this disposition in many declarations. I will now speak of the words: “No man shall pluck my sheep out of my hand.” This expression has often raised me up out of the deepest sorrow, and drawn me, as it were, out of hell.

The wisest men in all times have bewailed the great amount of human misery which we see with our eyes before we pass into eternity - diseases, death, want, our own errors, by which we bring harm and punishment on ourselves, hostile men, unfaithfulness on the part of those with whom we are closely connected, banishment, abuse, desertion, miserable children, public and domestic strife, wars, murder, and devastation. And since such things appear to befall good and bad without distinction, many wise men have inquired whether there were any Providence, or whether accident brings everything to pass independent of a divine purpose? But we in the Church know that the first and principal cause of human woe is this, that on ac¬count of sin man is made subject to death and other calamity, which is so much more vehement in the Church, because the devil, from the hatred toward God, makes fearful assaults on the Church and strives to destroy it utterly.

Therefore it is written: “I will put enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman.” And Peter says: “Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about and seeketh whom he may devour.”

Not in vain, however, has God made known to us the causes of our misery. We should not only consider the greatness of our necessity, but also discern the causes of it, and recognize His righteous anger against sin, to the end that we may, on the other hand, perceive the Redeemer and the greatness of His compassion; and as witnesses to these, His declarations, He adds the raising of dead men to life, and other miracles.

Let us banish from our hearts, therefore, the unbelieving opinions which imagine that evils befall us by mere chance, or from phys¬ical causes.

But when thou considerest the wounds in thy own circle of relations, or dost cast a glance at the public disorders in the Solon, which again afflict the individual also (as Solon says: “The general corruption penetrates even to thy quiet habitation”), then think, first, of thy own and others’ sins, and of the righteous wrath of God; and, secondly, weigh the rage of the devil, who lets loose his hate chiefly in the Church.

In all men, even the better class, great darkness reigns. We see not how great an evil sin is, and regard not ourselves as so shamefully defiled. We flatter ourselves, in particular, because we profess a better doctrine concerning God. Nevertheless, we resign ourselves to a careless slumber, or pamper each one his own desires; our impurity, the disorders of the Church, the necessity of brethren, fills us not with pain; devotion is without fire and fervor; zeal for doctrine and discipline languishes, and not a few are my sins, and thine, and those of many others, by reason of which such punishments are heaped upon us.

Let us, therefore, apply our hearts to repentance, and direct our eyes to the Son of God, in respect to whom we have the assurance that, after the wonderful counsel of God, He is placed over the family of man, to be the protector and preserver of his Church.

We perceive not fully either of our wretchedness or our dangers, or the fury of enemies, until after events of extraordinary sorrowfulness. Still we ought to reflect thus: there must exist great need and a fearful might and rage of enemies, since so powerful a protector has been given to us, even God’s Son. When He says: “No man shall pluck my sheep out of my hand,” He indicates that He is no idle spectator of woe, but that mighty and incessant strife is going on. The devil incites his tools to disturb the Church or the political commonwealth, that boundless confusion may enter, followed by heathenish desolation. But the Son of God, who holds in His hands, as it were, the congregation of those who call upon His name, hurls back the devils by His infinite power, conquers and chases them thence, and will one day shut them up in the prison of hell, and punish them to all eternity with fearful pains. This coin-fort we must hold fast in regard to the entire Church, as well as each in regard to himself.

If, in these distracted and warring times, we see States blaze up and fall to ruin, then look away to the Son of God, who stands in the secret counsel of the Godhead and guards His little flock and carries the weak lambs, as it were, in His own hands. Be persuaded that by Him thou also shalt he protected and upheld.

Here some, not rightly instructed, will exclaim: “Truly I could wish to commend myself to such a keeper, but only His sheep does He preserve. Whether I also am counted in that flock, I know not.” Against this doubt we must most strenuously contend, for the Lord Himself assures us in this very passage, that all who “hear and with faith receive the voice of the gospel are His sheep”; and He says expressly: “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” These promises of the Son of God, which can not be shaken, we must confidently appropriate to ourselves. Nor shouldst thou, by thy doubts, exclude thyself from this blest flock, which originates in the righteousness of the gospel. They do not rightly distinguish between the law and the gospel, who, because they are unworthy, reckon not themselves among the sheep. Rather is this consolation afforded us, that we are accepted “for the Son of God’s sake,” truly, without merit, not on account of our own righteousness, but through faith, because we are unworthy, and impure, and far from having fulfilled the law of God. That is, moreover, a universal promise, in which the Son of God saith: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The eternal Father earnestly commands that we should hear the Son, and it is the greatest of all transgressions if we despise Him and do not approve His voice. This is what every one should often and diligently consider, and in this disposition of the Father, revealed through the Son, find grace.

Although, amid so great disturbances, many a sorrowful spectacle meets thine eye, and the Church is rent by discord and hate, and manifold and domestic public necessity is added thereto, still let not despair overcome thee, but know thou that thou hast the Son of God for a keeper and protector, who will not suffer either the Church, or thee, or thy family, to be plucked out of His hand by the fury of the devil.

With all my heart, therefore, do I supplicate the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, having been crucified for us, and raised again, sits at the right hand of the Father, to bless men with His gifts, and to Him I pray that He would protect and govern this little church and me therein. Other sure trust, in this great flame when the whole world is on fire, I discern nowhere. Each one has his separate hopes, and each one with his understanding seeks to repose in something else; but however good. that may all be, it is still a far better, and unquestionably a more effectual, consolation to flee to the Son of God and expect help and deliverances from Him.

Such wishes will not be in vain. For to this end are we laden with such a crowd of dangers, that in events and occurrences which to human prudence are an inexplicable enigma, we may recognize the infinite goodness and presentness of God, in that He, for His Son’s sake, and through His Son, affords us aid. God will be owned in such deliverance just as in the deliverance of your first parents, who, after the fall, when they were forsaken by all the creatures, were upheld by the help of God alone. So was the family of Noah in the flood, so were the Israelites preserved when in the Red Sea they stood between the towering walls of waters. These glorious examples are held up before us, that we might know, in like manner, the Church, without the help of any created beings, is often preserved. Many in all times have experienced such divine deliverance and support in their personal dangers, as David saith: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord taketh me up”; and in another place David saith: “He hath delivered the wretched, who hath no helper.” But in order that we may become partakers of these so great blessings, faith and devotion must be kindled within us, as it stands written, “Verily, I say unto you!” So likewise must our faith be exercised, that before deliverance we should pray for help and wait for it, resting in God with a certain cheerfulness of soul; and that we should not cherish continual doubt and melancholy murmuring in our hearts, but constantly set before our eyes the admonition of God: “The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your heart and mind”; which is to say, be so comforted in God, in time of danger, that your hearts, having been strengthened by confidence in the pity and presentness of God, may patiently wait for help and deliverance, and quietly maintain that peaceful serenity which is the beginning of eternal life, and without which there can be no true devotion.

For distrust and doubt produce a gloomy and terrible hate toward God, and that is the beginning of the eternal torments, and a rage like that of the devil.

Now you must guard against these billows in the soul, and these stormy agitations, and, by meditation on the precious promises of God, keep and establish your hearts.

Truly these times allow not the wonted security and the wonted intoxication of the world, but they demand that with honest groans we should cry for help, as the Lord saith, “Watch and pray that ye fall not into temptation,” that ye may not, being overcome by despair, plunge into everlasting destruction. There is need of wisdom to discern the dangers of the soul, as well as the safeguard against them. Souls go to ruin as well when, in epicurean security, they make light of the wrath of God as when they are overcome by doubt and cast down by anxious see. row, and these transgressions aggravate the punishment. The godly, on the other hand, who by faith and devotion keep their hearts erect and near to God, enjoy the beginning of eternal life and obtain mitigation of the general distress.

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