Saturday, May 16, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
A Lesson For The Ages
What accounts for cross-national variation in religiosity as measured by church attendance and non-religious rates? Examining answers from both secularization theory and the religious economy perspective, we assert that cross-national variation in religious participation is a function of government welfare spending and provide a theory that links macro-sociological outcomes with individual rationality. Churches historically have provided social welfare. As governments gradually assume many of these welfare functions, individuals with elastic preferences for spiritual goods will reduce their level of participation since the desired welfare goods can be obtained from secular sources. Cross-national data on welfare spending and religious participation show a strong negative relationship between these two variables after controlling for other aspects of modernization.In other words, more government, less church.
From my perspective the key issue in that conclusion is what came first? Did the church fail so the government had to step in or did the government simply usurp the provision of "welfare goods?" But, of course, in the end, what difference does it make. Regardless of which came first, the church failed. It either failed causing the government to step in, or it failed to fight the government - either way, the church is failing and has failed.
Several things are mandatory:
One, the church must fight back in the political arena. At risk of parishioners, churches too often sit on the political sidelines. This makes it clear that to do so, at least on some issues, is institutional suicide.
Two, quit preaching, start doing. The church is not an academic institution, it is not continuing education - it is far more than theology. It is God's living, breathing Body here on earth. Bodies DO THINGS. Salvation produces sanctification which changes lives, actively and observably.
Three, the church must take specific action with regards to "welfare goods." Damn the "faith-based initiative." We don't need government money to do these things. God will provide if we but get busy.
We have wasted several decades worried too much about personal salvation and not enough worried about the ramifications thereof to any but ourselves.
Sounding more and more like a big "OOPS!" to me.
Friday Humor - Geek Humor Edition
Yes, I find this very funny.
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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Frankly, I’m sick of fellow believers telling me what is and what is not possible. I’ve had it with Christians telling me, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”I agree with Dan on this up to a point. I do think Christians suffer from unbelief when they try to tackle certain things, but I also think that the argument "Well. that's just the way it is," is short hand for some other things as well. Sometimes it means, "I disagree but don't want to be bothered with arguing with you."
I don't get quite as worked up about actual unbelief as Dan does. When I encounter that, I find need to pray and ask where I have failed in ministry to help my brother have sufficient faith. But the short hand statement gets me just as worked up as Dan. Let's examine why.
First, it implies that I lack sufficient understanding to "get" the complexities of the others thought process. I am a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them. Explain it to me I will get it.
Secondly, it is simply dismissive. It says, in essence, that I am not worth your effort. That's just unbiblical. It often implies that the speaker has not, and does not want to, take the time to formulate an articulate argument. It's a power play. It implies that the speaker does not need to be bothered to articulate an argument.
Finally, it sometimes implies a lack of articulative ability in the speaker. Which means really, "I'm losing this argument and don't want to." It is, simply, an unfair rhetorical tactic.
Look at those three things - they imply much about character - spiritual formation if you will. Is that unbelief? I think that is too strong a word, I like immaturity better. Three things Christians should grow in - knowledge, grace, and reason.
It would be nice to work on those.
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Res Ipsa Locquitor
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Theology Without Result
it actually hardens both;
if it does not encourage the commitment of faith,
it reinforces the detachment of unbelief;
if it fails to promote humility,
it inevitably feeds pride.
I understand where Packer is going here, but have to disagree with his word choice. "Theology" does not produce any of that in us, good or bad. Theology is descriptive, not causational.
Consider Newtons Law's of Motion. Does a body at rest stay at rest because Newton wrote an equation to describe it? Of course not, Newton simply describes what he saw, the nature of God's creation is the reason inertia "works."
Theology is our best effort to describe God and our relationship with Him. But make no mistake - theology does not soften our heart, the Holy Spirit does. More Theology does not even change whether the Holy Spirit works in us or not. Even if your theology leaves little room for the Holy Spirit, you can count on the fact the Holy Spirit is making a room in you.
Why is this important? Well, the kind of hard-hearted culture Ortlund complains about is not a result of the theology, but of people putting the theology into God's rightful place. It's called Idolatry. It is putting our thoughts ahead of Him and in His place.
Theology gives us something to talk about, so we tend to focus on it a bit too much.
I'm wondering if a "theology-fast" could be a spiritual discipline?
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Love for the traditional Christian is a place where we are willing to lay down our very lives for the sake of the one we love. Such love is radically incompatible with demanding, tyrannical, selfish desires.Much of the marriage debate we now face is a self-inflicted wound. The church has not stood by marriage. The gender line for defense of marriage does, actually, appear relatively arbitrary given how little we have defended it against infidelity, divorce, and fornication.
If our religion is not teaching this, religion has not failed us; we have utterly failed our religion.
This is why abuse of the marriage commitment should never be excused and tolerated. Other institutions in society, church and state, must stand vigilant guard against the tyrant in the household, just as the family is a check to the tyrant in the family and the state.
The problem is not love or the marriage covenant that love demands. Part of the solution will come from support and protection for anyone failed by marriage, but there are no easy answers. The hypocrite exists because of the hope for virtue, but it would be too high a price to get rid of hypocrisy by removing the dream. [emphasis added]
How many churches marry couples living in sin because it is better than letting them continue that way forgetting that absent penance of some type, such also sanctifies what they have been engaged in?
How many church staffers have divorced with nothing but a "let us know what we can do to help" from the ruling boards?
How many people are "restored to ministry" after adulterous affairs?
Do these actions defend marriage?
It is good that the church has, finally, chosen a line of defense. But to hold it we have to buttress the line, we have to build defense in depth. In football terms, we need a secondary, heck, I'll start with linebackers. We need to clean up our act about these "lesser" creeps in the defense of marriage. Such is not punitive, it is loving. As JMR closes, so shall I:
The Bible says our religious words and actions are nothing without real love. A marriage based on tyranny, anger, and selfishness cannot be a Biblical marriage because it has no love. When we see the pain we cause, the even greater pain that exists in the world, we can almost despair about the possibility of love, were we were not reminded that though “now we see through a glass darkly,” if we persist in true love, we will someday see Love face to face.
If you are a real fan of Mrs. Blogotional's fine art, then you will already know this is the source material for this cartoon.
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Monday, May 11, 2009
How To Kill A Congregation
Years ago, I watched the management team at Nordstrom’s almost commit organizational suicide by their failure to understand this difference. Concerned by slumping sales, they decided to overhaul their stores in an attempt to become more hip and reach a younger crowd. Following the lead of a couple of fast growing new clothiers who had recently burst onto the retail scene, they made significant changes to their ambiance, inventory and marketing in order to draw the kind of people who were flocking to these new retail outlets. (Does that sound like a lot of churches?)Todd, of course draws the inevitable parallel to churches where I think it is even more pronounce. Do the demographics some time in your giving patterns. It's the over 50 crowd that pays most of the freight, and anymore are the only ones that routinely pledge and fulfill that pledge. Wholesale innovation in an existing, healthy but starting to fade church is a recipe for hastening the end. I've seen it happen more times than I can count.
But here’s what they missed. The customers they already had didn’t want the changes. They shopped at Nordstrom’s because they liked the very things that turned off the younger and hipper crowd. And unlike the new startup stores, Nordstrom’s had a huge infrastructure and overhead to support. Losing large numbers of current customers to chase potential customers put them in a near financial death spiral.
Todd is quoting Larry Osbourne who has three points for preservation in these circumstances:
- Whenever possible, innovate at the edge of the organization – or even outside the existing structures.
- Make sure you have both Champions of the Future AND Protectors of the Past.
- Remember, the startup phase ends the moment we’ve gathered critical mass and some raving fans who love what we’ve created.
OK, time to be brutally blunt. The reason churches usually blow this stuff is they view themselves primarily as outlets for the staff's ministry and if they innovate at the edges, how can the staff spread itself that far?
The answer, of course, is that they cannot, and frankly, their ministry is not the point anyway. Staff exists to enable the ministry of the people in the church. The preacher is not the star. The youth pastor is not the coolest guy in the room.
The church has infinite resources, because the resources are not defined by the staff and the budget. I know, I know, volunteers are geeks, they don't get it, or they don't get it "right," they are undereducated, "biblically illiterate," not energetic enough. I've heard it all.
But guess what staffer - you were that way once too.
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Sunday, May 10, 2009
Happy Mother's Day!
Sermons and Lessons
What follows is scarcely an outline of his sermon, but rather a sketch of some of its most eloquent passages. He announced for his text these words:
“And a man shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; a rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Isaiah 32:2.
Dare be two kinds ob language, de literal and de figerative. De one expresses de tought plainly, but not passionately de oder passionately, but not always so plainly. De Bible abounds wid bof dese mode ob talk. De text is an ensample of dat lubly stile of speech de figerative. De prophet’s mind was as clear as de sea ob glass in de Rebalations, and mingled wid fire. He seed away down de riber ob ages glorious coming events. He held his ear to de harp ob prophecy, and heard in its fainter cadences, loudening as he listened, de birf-song ob de multitude ob de hebenly host on de meadows ob Bethlehem. He seed de hills ob Judea tipped wid hebenly light; de fust sermum mountain, and de transfigeration mount, and de crucifixion mount, and de mount ob ascension, clapped dare hands in de prophet’s wision ob gladness. Gray-bearded Time stretched his brawny sinews to hasten on de fullness of latter-day glory. Brederen, de text am a full ob latter-day glory as am de sun ob light. It am as full ob Christ as de body ob heben am ob God. De sinner’s danger and his certain destruction; Christ’s sabin lub; his sheltering grace and his feasting goodness am brought to view in de text, and impressed in de language ob comparison.
“And a man shall be as a hiding-place from de wind.” Many parts ob de ancient countries (and it still am de case) was desert; wild wastes ob dreary desolation; regions ob fine blistering sands; just as it was leff when de flood went away, and which has not been suffered to cool since de fust sunshine dat succeed dat event. No grass, no flower, no tree dare be pleasant to de sight. A scene of unrelebed waste; an ocean made of powder, into which de curse ob angered heben had ground a portion ob earth. Now and den, a huge rock, like shattered shafts and fallen monuments in a neglected graveyard, and big enof to be de tombstone ob millions, would liff its mossless sides ‘bove de ‘cumulating sands. No pisnous sarpint or venemous beast here await dare prey, for death here has ended his work and dwells mid silence. But de traveler here, who adventures, or necessity may have made a bold wanderer, finds foes in de elements fatal and resistless. De long heated earth here at places sends up all kinds ob pisnous gases from de many minerals ob its mysterious bosom; dese tings take fire, and den dare be a tempest ob fire, and woe be to de traveler dat be obertaken in dis fire ob de Lord widout a shelter. Again, dem gases be pison, and dare be de pison winds, as well as de fire winds. Dey can be seen a coming, and look green and yeller, and coppery, spotted snake-like, and float and wave in de air, like pison coats on water, and look like dc wing ob de death angel; fly as swift as de cloud shadow ober de cotton field, and when dey obertake de flying traveler dey am sure to prove his winding-sheet; de drifting sands do dare rest, and ‘bliterate de faintest traces ob his footsteps. His be death in de desert, ‘mid de wind’s loud scream in your sand-filling ears for a funeral sermun, and your grave hidden foreber. No sweet spring here to weave her hangings ob green ‘bout your lub-guarded dust. De dews ob night shall shed no tears ‘pon your famined grave. De resurrection angel alone can find ye.
But agin dis fire wind and dis tempest oh pison dat widthers wid a bref, and mummifies whole caravans and armies in dare march, dare is one breast work, one “hiding place,” one protecting “shadow” in de dreaded desert. It am “de shadow ob a great rock in dis weary land.” Often has de weary traveler seen death in de distance, pursuing him on de wings of de wind, and felt de certainty ob his fate in de darkness ob de furnace-like air around him. A drowsiness stronger ‘most dan de lub oh life creeps ober him, and de jaded camel reels in de heby sand-road under him. A shout oh danger from de more resolute captin ob de caravan am sent along de ranks, prolonged by a thousand thirst-blistered tongues, commingled in one ceaseless howl ob woe, varied by ebery tone ob distress and despair. To “de great rock,” shouts de leader as ‘pon his Arab hoss he heads dis “flight to de Refuge.” Behind dem at a great distance, but yet fearfully near fur safety, is seed a dark belt bending ober de horizon, and sparkling in its waby windings like a great sarpint, air hung at a little distance from de ground, and advancing wid de swiftness ob an arrow. Before dem, in de distance, a mighty great rock spreads out its broad and all-resisting sides, lifting its narrowing pint ‘bove the clouds, tipped wid de sun’s fiery blaze, which had burnt ‘pon it since infant creation ‘woke from de cradle ob kaos at de call ob its Fader. [Here our sable orator pointed away to some of the spurs of the Ozark Mountains seen off to the northwest through a forest opening, at a distance of from ten to fifteen miles, and whose summits of barren granite blazed in the strength of a clear June sun, like sheeted domes on distant cathedrals.] Dat light be de light ob hope, and dat rock be de rock ob hope to de now flyin’, weepin’, faint’, and famishin’ hundreds. De captin’ has arrived dare. [Here a suppressed cry of “Thank God,” escaped many of the audience.] See, he has disappeared behind it, perhaps to explore its cavern coverts. But see, he has soon reappeared, and wid joy dancing in his eye, he stands shoutin’ and beckonin’, “Onward, onward, ouward, ONWARD,” when he reels from weariness and falls in behind de rock. [“Thank God, he’s saved!” exclaimed a voice.] Onward dey rush, men, women, husbands, wives, parents and children, broders and sisters, like doves to de windows, and disappear behind dis rampart ob salvation. Some faint just as dey ‘rive at de great rock, and dare friends run out and drag dem to de “hidin’ place,” when wakin’ up in safety, like dat sister dare, dat lose her strength in de prayer-meetin’, dey shout ‘loud for joy. [Here many voices at once shouted “Glory.”] De darknin’ sand-plain ober which dese fled for life, now lies strewed wid beast, giben out in the struggle, and all useless burdens was trowed ‘side. De waby sheet ob destruction, skimmin’ the surface wid de swiftness ob shadow, now be near, and yet, a few feeble strag glen and lubbed friends ob dis sheltered multitude are yet a great way off. [Here words were uttered in a choked accent, the speaker seeming unable to resist the thrilling character of the analogy] Yes, a great way off. But see, moders and broders from behind de rock arc shoutin’ to dem to hasten. Dey come, dey come. A few steps more, and dey arc sabed. But 0, de pison wind is just behind dem, and its choke mist already round dem. Dare one falls, and dare is a scream. No, he rises again and am sabed. But one still is exposed. It be de fader oh dat little nest oh sweet-eyed children, for which he had fled to de rear to hurry on. Dey have passed forward and arc safe. He am but a little distance from de rock, and not a head dares to peep to him encouragement from behind it. Already de wings oh de death angel am on de haunches oh his strong dromedary. His beast falls, but ‘pon de moment oh him falling, de rider leaps out oh his saddle into dis “hiding-place from de wind.” His little boy crouched in a hole oh de rock, into which he thrusts his head, entwines his neck with his little arms and says, “Papa, you hab come, and we be all here.” [Here the shouts of “Salvation,” “Salvation,” seemed to shake the place in which we were assembled.]
Now, de burnin’ winds and de pison winds blow and beat ‘pon dat rock, but dose who hab taken refuge behind it, in its overhanging precipices, are safe until de tempest am ober and gone.
And now, brederen, what does all dis represent in a figure? Dat rock am Christ; dem winds be de wrath oh God rabealed against de children oh disobedience. Dem that he sabed be dem dat hab fled to de refuge, to de hope set before dem in Christ Jesus de Lord. De desert am de vast howling wilderness oh dis world, where dare be so little oh lob, and so much oh hate; so little oh sincerity, and so much oh hypocrisy; so little oh good, and so much oh sin; so little oh heben, and so much oh hell. It seem to poor me, dat dis world am de battle ground oh de debil and his angels against Christ and his elect, and if de debil hab not gained de victory, he hold possession because every sinner am a Tory. God oh de Gospel, open the batteries of heben to-day! [Here a vollev of hearty “Amens.”] Sinner, de wrath oh God am gathering against you for de great decisive battle. I already sees in de light oh Zina’s lightnings a long embankment oh dark cloud down on de sky. De tall thunder heads nod wid dare plumes of fire in dare onward march. De day of vengeance am at hand. Mercy, dat has pleaded long for you wid tears of blood, will soon dry her eyes and hush her prayers in your behalf Death and hell hang on your track wid de swiftness ob de tempest. Before you am de “hiding-place.” Fly, fly, I beseeches you, from de wrath to come!
But, brederen, de joy ob de belieber in Jesus am set forth in a figerative manner in de text. It am compared to water to dem what be dying ob thirst. 0, how sweet to de taste ob de desert traveler sweltering under a burning sun, as if creation was a great furnace! Water, sweet, sparldin’, livin’, bubblin’, silvery water, how does his languid eye brighten as he sud¬denly sees it gushing up at his feet like milk from de fountain ob lub, or leaping from de sides ob de mountain rock like a relief angel from heben. He drinks long and gratefully, and feels again de blessed pulsations ob being. And so wid de soul dat experience joy in beliebing; de sweets ob pardon; de raptures ob peace; de witnessin’ Spirit’s communings, and de quiet awe ob adoption. Such a soul be obershadowed wid de Almighty; he linger in de shady retreats ob de garden ob God; he feed in de pastures ob his lub, and am led by still waters, and often visits de land ob Beulah, whare it always am light. But, my brederen, all comparison be too dispassionate, and an angel’s words am too cold to describe de raptures ob salvation! It am unspeakable and full ob glory. Dc life ob innocence and prayer; de sweet, childlike smile and de swim¬mm’ eye; de countenance so glorious in death, dat but for decay, de body ob de gone-home saint might be kept as a breathin’ statue of peace and patience, smiling in victory ober all de sorrows ob life and de terrors ob death, are de natural language ob dis holy passion. 0, glory to God! I feels it today like fire in my bones! Like a chained eagle my soul rises toward her native heben, but she can only fly just so high. But de fetters ob flesh shall fall off soon, and den,
In seas ob hebenly rest,
And not a wabe ob trouble roll
Across my peaceful breast.’