Saturday, December 10, 2011


Comic Art

One of the more delicious insider images from the Captain America movie this summer past was the first appearance of the character Arnim Zola. In that shot, the very human Zola is first seen looking through a lens in tight close-up so that those if us in in the know suspect we are going to see the startling character depicted around us here.

Such a visual presence on screen as much as Zola was in that film was probably beyond the film's budget, hence the camera draw back to reveal an all too human appearing little man - but for a second it was most delicious.

From the visual mid of master Jack Kirby, Arnim Zola is a masterpiece of comic book invention. I mean look at this guy - have you ever seen a character better designed to make a 12 year old rip a comic off the rack? I know I hopped on it in a second.

Of course, old Red Skull was Cap's primary nemesis, but I loved the appearance of Zola. You just cannot take your eyes off this startling visage. What I have always wanted was a major MODOK/Zola team-up. Two absolute freaks lining up to see who could out-freak whom.

I have to say that as comics grow increasingly "authentic" such characters are fading and I find it sad. There is something about a bad guy that you can identify on sight. It gives on a feeling that we do not have to stay in the muck and mire in which we reside - we can identify evil and combat it.

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Friday, December 09, 2011


Holy Trinity Batman

OK, an admittedly weak title for a very serious sermon by Mark Daniels:
“Fine,” you might be saying, “I accept the Trinity, although I don’t quite understand it. But what difference does God being one God in three Persons make in my life?”

Let me suggest three ways it may make a difference to you and me as we go through our daily lives.


The Trinity makes a difference in our daily lives, first of all, because in the Three-in-One-God, we see overflowing extravagance of God's love! God gives us His love at least three times over!


In the Trinity, God stands with us in our joys and in our sorrows, in everything that we go through. We know this because the Trinity was there together on the cross, sharing our life so that we can share life with God forever.

So the Trinity makes a difference by assuring us that we matter to God and that God stands by us always: Jesus says this is so to the close of the age. Now, here’s a third way the Trinity makes a difference in our everyday lives: He draws us into community with Him.
Mark's underlying question here s an excellent one - in what it means to be a Christian on a day-to-day basis what difference does some virtually impenetrable theological point make?

Let me give you another example - whether Arminian or Calvinist, we are called to behave in a certain way - so what difference does it make if we act the same? The answer is that there is not much difference in our behavior, but there is in our attitude.

So back to the Trinity question Mark raises. The fact that God is community is absolutely vital to what a Christian is to be. In an age when Christians are increasingly wanting to "go it alone" they must be reminded that to do so is to in some sense not reflect the image of God.

Now that I think about it, the doctrine of the Trinity may be the most important teaching of our time.

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Friday Humor

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Thursday, December 08, 2011


Liturgy and Discipline

Lynne Baab at "Thoughtful Christian" has written, based on recent writings of Will Willimon, on spiritual practices. In Part I
Willimon writes: "I fear that a practice is what we sometimes do when our attention has been displaced from the living God. This leads to a domestication of Christianity, in which Christianity quietly morphs into a species of unbelief, and revelation is taken into our own hands. . . . The Armenian idea that we must do something for God before God will do anything for us, the concept that my relationship with God is sustained by my actions or feelings or inclinations, the notion that “religion” is something I do rather than God’s effect on me – all these ideas appear to be lurking behind the contemporary discussions of practice" (p. 227).

I heard the same concern from a student. In a casual conversation he told me, “There’s so much rhetoric about spiritual practices. If I get the practice right, then I’ll work my way to God.” He went on to say that theologians throughout the ages have affirmed that God meets us. He said that it is not our responsibility to engineer a meeting with God; in fact, it is impossible for us to do so.
In Part II
In their landmark 1989 book, Resident Aliens, and in its sequel, Where Resident Aliens Live: Exercises for Christian Practice, William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas presented a powerful and radical way of looking at Christian communal life, using images from the Old Testament about aliens who are resident in a community. In his chapter in A Spiritual Life, Willimon says he has come to regret the strong emphasis in the second book on “the necessity for Christians to develop practices commensurate with the peculiar demands of Christian discipleship” (p. 223).

Willimon believes that the many books on Christian spiritual practices extol the virtues of those practices quite apart from God. In fact, he notes, an emphasis on practices can provide a way to avoid talking about God and to defend ourselves against God’s unexpected and disconcerting interruptions into our lives. We know God and experience God’s presence only as a gift from God, always as revelation, not primarily because of what we do. He believes the emphasis today on spiritual practices stands in a long line of attempts to live life on our terms.
Baab disagrees with this perspective, citing examples where the disciplines have lead to very fresh encounters with the Holy Spirit.

She continues to build her care in Part III
God is amazing, and yes, God is untamable and wild. We should never stop being open to unexpected encounters with this amazing God. In fact, God is always the initiator. God reaches out to us as our Creator, as our Redeemer in Jesus Christ and as our Sustainer through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, any action we take as an attempt to draw near to God has to be viewed as a response to the initiative God has already taken.

And yet I still affirm that Christian practices have great significance in transforming us and enabling us to hear God’s wild, untamable Word to us. I believe spiritual practices make space for us to encounter and hear this God who is already with us and in us and speaking to us. And I believe spiritual disciplines – with the emphasis on the word discipline – help us to embrace the structures and habits that shape our characters more into the image of Christ. Spiritual disciplines are a means by which we respond to God’s call, and they in turn open us to God’s further action in our lives. Spiritual disciplines are a reflection of the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
I think this is a terribly important debate. Based on the evidence of my own life, I tend to side on the Willimon side. But as I read it laid out here it dawned on me how this entire argument parallels the argument about liturgy in worship. In fact it is interesting that the discussion of spiritual discipline has grown as liturgical practice as waned. I am a liturgy heavy guy so why would I instinctively take the opposite tack on spiritual disciplines?

As I thought about it, it occurred to me that the disciplines are an individual effort and liturgy is primarily a communal one and therein lies the significant difference. Liturgy, being communal in nature, contains an accountability designed to prevent one from becoming to "me" focused in its practice.

Something for further reflection.

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Illuminated Scripture

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Where Do We Stand?

Justin Taylor quotes Oz Guiness and David Wells:
For the Christian faith is unashamedly world-affirming, and has a peerless record in contributing to education, to philanthropy, to social reforms, to medicine, to the rise of science, to the emergence of democracy and human rights, as well as to building schools, hospitals, universities, orphanages, and other beneficial institutions.

Yet at the same time, the Christian faith is also world-denying, insisting on the place of prophets as well as priests, on sacrifice as well fulfillment, on the importance of fasts as well as feasts, and on the place for exposing and opposing the world when its attitudes and actions are against the commands of God and the interests of humanity.
They are right about the tension they describe here, and they are right about this:
Not surprisingly, the church’s constant temptation has been to relax this tension from one side or the other, so that the Christians in different ages have sometimes been so much in the world that they are of it, or so much not of the world that they were “no earthly use.” Either way, such unfaithfulness means that the church grows weak, but unfaithfulness in the direction of worldliness is worse than weak, for it puts the church, like Israel in the Old Testament, under the shadow of the judgment of God.
But here is what I wonder. For every "too worldly" church there seems to be a monastery or convent. In other words, maybe God is resolving the tension even if we, in our individual or congregational settings, are not.

It is possible to be worldly to the point of sin and that is a problem, but just being more worldly than someone else thinks is the right point in the tension may just be how God has created you, in order to balance the tension of the other that would withdraw so.

My point is we need to be very careful in making judgements about the other in a tension like this. We do not have a "God's eye view" on things. Too often the Baptists go off and declare the Catholics heretics or vice versa. I wonder if they are not counterbalancing weights in some spiritual tension like this one.

MAybe something to think about the next time you look at something that seems "wrong" to you.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Yes, ALL Of It

Mark Roberts looks at the cost of discileship:
Luke 14 consistently emphasizes the cost of discipleship. If we’re going to follow Jesus, if we’re going to be citizens of the kingdom of God, then we are to humble ourselves (14:11), “hate” our family (14:26), and carry our cross (14:27). To make matters even more uncomfortable, Jesus says, “So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own” (14:33). As Bonhoeffer recognizes, the first disciples had to do this literally in the sense that they left home, work, and family in order to follow Jesus. While they hung on to a few possessions, like their clothing, the original disciples paid a high price to follow Jesus.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have wrestled with how Luke 14:33 is to be interpreted and obeyed by those who are not called to follow Jesus literally. Should we sell everything we own or give it all away? Is this what Jesus wants from us? Given the broader teachings and actions of Jesus, it does not seem that he requires literal abandonment of all possessions. Once again, we see that Jesus is speaking hyperbolically in Luke 14:33. But, in a sense, when we decide to follow Jesus, we do give up everything to him: our lives, our ambitions, our relationships, our talents, and our stuff. We recognize that God is the true owner of all that we consider to be ours, and we commit it all to him and his purposes.
"In a sense"?! I think the problem is that we use qualifiers like "in a sense" - we may remain in physical possession of our stuff, but we no longer own it in any sense. That's were I think we run into trouble.

We think people are afraid of the stark reality of Christianity - that we sacrifice all to Jesus - ALL! We think that they will balk at that and never come on board. I understand why - it does not sound appetizing in the least. The question is "why not?"

The answer, to my mind is simple. We are unable to demonstrate that things really are better when we truly lay all before the Throne of Grace, mostly becasue we have yet to do so ourselves. We cannot say to people, "this is better - look to my life as evidence." But can we ever create such an example if we continue to use qualifiers like "in a sense?"

Maybe we should concentrate on being better evidence and worry about the argument later.

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Kitty Kartoons

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Monday, December 05, 2011



Adrian Warnock writes about what it means to be a Christian at work:
Act 2 of Esther makes this point: Esther, we have already seen is working hard, beginning to do everything that needed to be done. But now we see her involvement in the king’s life being spared. Mordecai uncovers conspiracy, he tells Esther and Esther informs the king. Now that wasn’t part of her job description, or Mordecai’s to be part of the king’s security detail. Have you ever worked with people like that? ‘Oh I can’t do that, it’s not on my job description’. But here God’s people thought they could do something, they could make a difference, so they decided ‘well, why not? Why would we not do that?’ For us it might mean thinking the best, serving in the best way in your situation – helping the boss out.

You might have thought that this is a sure way to get promoted. But it doesn’t always work as automatically as that. And it didn’t in this case. They were overlooked. Mordecai was overlooked. But all this came to be very important in the story later on, as we will see. Someone once said that ‘No good turn goes unpunished.’ I don’t know if that’s true.


So it’s an interesting thing that actually in the long term, godly values work, even in the workplace. Godly values in the mid-to-long term work. Sometimes in the short to mid-term you can take a hit, if I’m honest. You can take a hit. For example in sales, it’s very easy to lie about your product to get this quarter’s sales better but especially in the media-age, if you sell a whole load of products this quarter to people who don’t really need it and your product is no good and they all start writing on Twitter about how rubbish it is, you won’t make your sales next quarter. Do you see what I’m saying?

So in the short-term, for sure, dodgy ethics can sometimes beat godly ethics. There’s no question about that. But I would argue that in the mid to long-term, in almost every business, in almost every company, in almost every situation it just works. That’s not why we do it, mind you. I don’t think Mordecai thought, “I know, I’ll let the king know that he’s about to be killed because that way I’ll get promoted and become prime minister.” I don’t think he thought that way – he just did what he knew was right.
That's a remarkably pragmatic approach, and I am not at all sure about its validity. In general, yes, things do tend to work out in the long term. My own life is evidence of that fact. (I once walked out of a job due to ethical issues with no place to land, but God did take care of me. - story for another time.) But for many it does not work out in the end.

I was recently on Patmos where John the Apostle was imprisoned - the only one of the 12 to die a natural death. Not sure you could pragmatically claim it worked out for those guys in the end.

Not to mention the fact that at the heart of Christianity is a selflessness. Adrian makes vague reference to it:
One of the interesting things is that recent work suggests that one of the main qualities of leading CEOs of companies that are doing remarkably well is a surprising form of humility.
Christ served us and we serve others - our motivation is not service to get ahead, but service for it's own sake - service becasue we were created to serve - service because it is a model of who we are in front of God the King. We do not serve becasue of what it means for us, but becasue of what it means for God.

If we strive for excellence, morally or in simple performance for our own sake, we miss the point. We strive for excellence becasue it brings Glory to God.

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