Saturday, March 07, 2015


Comic Art

Artist Mike Perkins

Friday, March 06, 2015


Words and Deeds

There was an occasion when some of the Lord's followers decided to abandon the Messiah and move on to other pursuits. Jesus then asked the twelve, "You don't want to leave too, do you?" Simon Peter responded with these famous words, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67,68)

Stop and consider what Peter was saying, and what he wasn't saying. Peter wasn't simply stating that Jesus used the words "eternal" and "life." Nor was Peter merely saying that Jesus helped people imagine what it would be like to live forever. No, Peter was saying something much more profound. Peter was stating that Jesus spoke words which literally give eternal life to people who receive those words in the right way.

Believe it or not, the Lord's words are able to transfer the blessing of eternal life into your possession. This is why the Bible states, "We have this treasure in jars of clay." (2 Cor. 4:7) How did the treasure get inside believers? It came through words. "Faith comes from hearing the message." (Romans 10:17)

So here is how it works. Men and women share the good news about Jesus. The Holy Spirit delivers this message to the heart, and brings people into God's family as they repent and believe the good news.

Jesus is the living Word. (see John 1:1-14) When He speaks, new life is given. And that includes the miracle of eternal life.
Fascinating idea, but really, seriously, I think it is a short sale. The Holy Spirit does so much more than deliver a message. In Biblical times "word" carried connotations with it that extended far beyond information. The Holy Spirit does not simply convey information to our hearts. He changes our hearts and minds - He transforms us. Yes, eternal life comes from that process, but it is not a matter of simple information.

I think that may be one of the biggest problems confronting the church today - it is not just about information. We change worship services, which is really about communication, we seek "relevancy" (Whatever that is) which is about importance of information. And so it goes. It's not an information thing - it's a life thing.

Making the gospel a matter of information is cheapen it in ways that are almost indescribable. The cross was not a message it was a death. The resurrection was not an event it was a victory over darkness, on levels beyond our comprehension. You see information we can manage and control. The Holy Spirit we cannot.

I think that is the key - this thing is really out of our control.


Friday Humor

Thursday, March 05, 2015


Ecumenism and Politics

Dale Coulter writes about theological bases and lack thereof for Protestant and Catholic ecumenism:
While I have no dog in the hunt as to how best to preserve the Catholic understanding of the church, I do wish to preserve the twenty years of togetherness Catholics and Evangelicals have experienced. I am particularly concerned about the attempt to wed so closely this debate over the nature of the church with religious and political communion. For Catholics and Evangelicals experience a real, albeit imperfect, communion that supplies the theological ground of a shared religious and political communion.
Coulter does some really good theology here, but one cannot simply set aside the understanding of the church in the question of political communion. If Christianity is to be effective politically, it must speak with authority and only and institution like THE church can garner that authority.

Evangelicalism, with its utter lack of ecclesiastical organization, is effective politically due only to sheer numbers. But it fractures one from another on an almost daily basis, and such fracture reduces the effective numbers. There is a strong need for organization unity to be politically effective.

Likewise, affecting culture, which in turn dictates popular politics in a Republic, is a matter of leading culture. That too takes some understanding of THE church beyond the simple affiliation view held by the average Evangelical.

I think what we need is to understand that theology and politics may not always meld well and that sometimes we need to simply operate them in separate spheres. Good politicians are not always going to be good theologians, and vice versa. What the church, no matter how you understand it, needs to be doing is making good politicians of good Christian character. Then let them go be politicians.


Illuminated Scripture

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015


Producing Change

Whether evangelical or mainline, white or black, Catholic or unaffiliated, a new survey finds that many Americans have one thing in common: We exaggerate our church attendance.

But the degree depends on denomination.

White evangelicals are twice as likely to admit they rarely go to church if asked online (17 percent) vs. over the phone by a live human being (9 percent). Black Protestants display a similar split (24 percent online vs. 14 percent by phone).

But the greater exaggerators (based on differences of 17 to 18 percentage points): white mainline Protestants, Catholics, and the unaffiliated. (See full findings below.)

Americans inflate their responses to religious questions in telephone surveys compared to online surveys, according to Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). In its latest study, "I Know What You Did Last Sunday," PRRI found that 36 percent of all telephone respondents said they attend a religious service weekly, while 30 percent said they "seldom or never" attend a religious service. But among online respondents, only 31 percent say they attend weekly, while 43 percent admit seldom or never.

The split was even more noticeable among the religiously unaffiliated. About 73 percent told a human surveyor that they seldom or never attend religious services, compared with 91 percent who said the same thing online.
The Christianity Today piece goes on to lay the lying at the feet of social pressure - that church attendance is still expected in America. But there are other questions to be asked out of this survey.

If most church attendance is exaggerated, who precisely are churches responding to when they make church easier to attend? These days churches fiddle about with service times, "worship styles," child care, and all sorts of ancillary stuff to keep the numbers up. In other words the church caters to the "social pressure" attender. That is to say the church is trying to make it easy for people that attend for social pressure reasons, as opposed to genuine commitment, to show up. The less "churchy" it is, the more they are likely to enjoy it since they do not come to church because they want to be at church.

Yes, the church needs to reach such people, but at what cost? If we stop being church so people that don't particularly care about church will come, what have we won?

Now, what do I mean by "stop being church?" It's simple really, the church is Christ in the world today. The grace of Christ demands change from us. Therefore, church should demand change from us - even if it is something as simple as being slightly inconvenienced by the time of the church service.

Ask yourself this, "Did your best teachers cater or demand from you?" Not the teacher you liked the best, the one that taught you the most.

We are not trying to sell a product - we are trying to change lives. I wonder if the church focused on the people that are genuinely interested in changing their lives if it might not have more success in changing lives?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


Words With Weight

Mark Roberts:
The Greek word translated here as "empty" (kenos) could mean "empty" in a literal sense. In one of Jesus' parables, for example, a servant goes on behalf of his master to fetch the harvest from some tenant farmers, but they beat the servant "and sent him away empty-handed [kenon, a form of kenos]" (Mark 12:3). In Ephesians 5:6, kenos is used metaphorically. Empty words are those that lack substance, wisdom, and truth. They are words not filled with reality or matched with action. The famed fourth-century preacher, John Chrysostom, said when preaching on this verse from Ephesians, "There are always people among us who want to diminish the force of words. . . . Empty words are words that are for a moment attractive but in no way are proved by deeds" (Homily on Ephesians 18.5.5-6.1).

Paul was concerned that the recipients of his letter might be enticed by purveyors of empty words to reject a Christ-shaped perspective on life, especially when it comes to sexuality and greed. We have no shortage of such empty words today. In multiple ways, the empty wordsmiths of our world convince us that life is best when filled with sexual exploits and lots of stuff. We can begin to be persuaded that Christian morality is outdated, irrelevant, and oppressive. Thus, Paul's injunction to the Ephesians deserves a new hearing today: Let no one deceive you with empty words.
As I read that today I find myself wondering about a situation where empty words have taken hold. Some in the church see it and some don't. Are calls for unity in such a situation further empty words? Is the disunity more harmful to the gospel than the original empty words?

There are so many variables in such circumstances that I do not think there can be a straightforward answer. There is so much Christian division that I know we dilute the message. But unity in support of emptiness is not genuine unity either.

It is also not good enough to be "true to your own perspective." I am a sinner, like all other sinners, and I can be wrong. My perspective must be shaped and tempered by Scripture and others steeped in it.

This I know - I mourn for the church right now. We mix empty and meaningful words with such ease anymore that we present people with enormous dilemmas. How many are lost on the horns of such dilemmas?

Monday, March 02, 2015


The Sunday Service

CT carried an article a while back entitled "The Best Way to Use Music in Church." A snippet:
The Christian church has culturally cross-pollinated its worship for almost two millennia. Egeria, a fourth-century Spanish pilgrim, wrote an eyewitness account of worship practices in Jerusalem. Those practices became the basis for the emerging liturgical year. In the sixth century, after retaking the Italian peninsula from the Ostrogoths, Emperor Justinian appointed three popes. The result was "blended worship," a mix of East and West that brought the Hebrew Halleluia and the Greek Kyrie Eleison...
I have to be honest, I almost want to vomit when I read a sentence that uses the phrase "blended worship" in a sentence discussing Hebrew and Greek traditions. Talk about rewriting history! Note as well the confusion of the service with worship. Worship is a component of a church service, but it is not the sole reason for the service.

You want to really discuss history. The emphasis on preaching of the modern Protestant church arises out of the general spread of literacy. Ceremony, iconography, liturgy arose becasue in an essentially illiterate society, they were ways of driving home the ideas involved in Christianity. We moved away form them becasue people can read for themselves now.

And yet we live in a post-literate age. Young people communicate primarily in images - video, selfie, etc. They do not even communicate through music really. In this age of musical pursuit by style instead of radio programming. music is highly eclectic and less communicative than it is evocative. But studies show that young people prefer communicating in this manner becasue it allows them to fashion an image instead of be truly self-revelatory. These modes of communication are about keeping ones deepest self isolated from the outside world.

Historically, the liturgy with accompanying imagery and music, repeated as it was over and over and over again, reached people on deep soul-like levels. You cannot keep something you repeat so frequently "out there." It reaches into you through the sheer weight of the repetition.

It's not about culture, it's about changing lives and any discussion on the Sunday Service that is about cultural adaptation bothers me. It is asking the wrong questions. Of course it will adapt to culture, but not for culture's sake. The deeper must be preserved in the process.

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