links: this went thru my mind

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American exceptionalism: What “American Exceptionalism” Means to Me

“True American exceptionalism is saying ‘We did wrong; we apologize and promise never to do it again.’ Unfortunately, and very ironically, true American exceptionalism is becoming the exception.”

Assessment, bucks & butts, church & statistics: Counting Correctly: Create the Right Scorecard for Churches

“Fifty years ago, many churches had signs posted within the building showing weekly numbers on them: worship service attendance, Sunday School attendance, offering total, and even how many people brought their Bibles. We live in a different age now. … Among our churches, we need to ask if we are reaching people. We need to ask if we are discipling people. Are we reaching our goals or are we falling short? These are important questions to ask and important things to count. … What percentage of people in the church are serving? How many are serving inside and outside the church? How many are in small groups? How many are being trained into leadership in groups and in the church?”

Church giving, contribution, electronic giving, technology & the offering: Church Giving Tops $50 Billion A Year In U.S.—And Its Future Is Not A Collection Plate

“Churches are no different than any other operation in that they need to be relevant and convenient …”

Depression, emotions & seasonal affective disorder (SAD): 9 Ways To Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

“Roughly 10 to 20 percent of Americans report feeling tired or sad when there are fewer hours of daylight in the winter month. … While many people can still function even if they’re feeling a bit melancholy, for some, winter brings a clinical form of depression called seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD.”

Senses, sense of smell & worship: The Aroma of the Knowledge of God: How the Sense of Smell Inspires Worship and Awe

“… despite its meager number of occurrences in Scripture, the way biblical authors employ the sense of smell is truly remarkable. Here are three broad patterns regarding the sense of smell in Scripture …”

torture is wrong

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While it’s the hot topic in politics and the news right now, the current, comparative silence on this subject in the Christian quarter of these United States is disturbing and deafening to me.

So, let me say it loud and clear right here: torture is wrong. It’s always wrong; torture is never right.

  • If torture is a tool, it is a tool of Satan, not of God our Father.
  • If torture is a law, it is not the law of our Lord.
  • If torture is an aid, it is not an aid of the Helper who is the Holy Spirit.

Have we so sanitized the message of the offensiveness of Christ and his cross that we have missed or forgotten this message? Everything about the Christ and his cross says torture is wrong.

  • So says the beating of the Christ. Hear the groans of the Suffering Servant as each blow lands.
  • So says the whipping of the Christ. Feel the splash of blood and the strike of pieces of flesh from the Incarnate One splattering across your body.
  • So says the crown of thorns on the Christ. Taste the endless rivulets of blood as they run down Jesus’ face as your own.
  • So says the cross of Christ. See your Sacrifice struggle, agonizing and writhing with every tormented breath.

The Christ himself so says with his measured and costly words while on the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

He would not have prayed for his torturers’ forgiveness if their doings were not sin. And torture that leads to death is doubly sinful.

Since torture is wrong, we who are Christ’s disciples are called by God and expected of God to live out our lives as His Son lived out His own here in the flesh: expressive of the exact opposite of torture.

“… treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets”

Especially if/when you find yourself subjected to torture.

“If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well.”

Our Lord practices what he preaches and so, he teaches us over and over that torture is wrong, as powerfully with his ways as well as with his words. I ask you: just how many times did our Lord intervene on behalf of another whenever he encountered someone experiencing some – any – form of torture, be it verbal, mental, emotional, or physical?

Pause and let the people and his encounters with them come to mind. The list is rather long, isn’t it?

“If all of them were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written.”

And so:

  • Seek to grow a heart that is no longer numb or callous to torture, but appalled and revolted by it.
  • Seek to prioritize your citizenship in the eternal kingdom that is not a part of this world and its ways.
  • Seek right justice and not wrong revenge.
  • Seek to mature in a mindset that simply will not tolerate justifying the means so as to reach a desired end.
  • Seek to live in such a way that you add to the list of those on whose behalf you intervene and defend, not to the list of those who torment and torture others.

links: this went thru my mind

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Here are links to five items I consider to be interesting and helpful.

Being wrong, fallibility, humility, mistakes & pride: On Being Wrong [18 min. TED talk video]

“Most of us will do anything to avoid being wrong. But what if we’re wrong about that? ‘Wrongologist’ Kathryn Schulz makes a compelling case for not just admitting but embracing our fallibility.”

Birth of Christ & Christmas: The Nonsense of Christmas (parts 1, 2 & 3) by Ben Witherington

“Risking the possibility that I might be called Scrooge, I am going to muster up my courage and hope that it might be useful to do some demythologizing of Christmas.”

Deception, lies & torture: Senate Torture Report Faults C.I.A. for Brutality and Deceit

“In exhaustive detail, the report gives a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects. … The torture of prisoners at times was so extreme that some C.I.A. personnel tried to put a halt to the techniques, but were told by senior agency officials to continue the interrogation sessions.”

Morality & sin: Sin is Not a Moral Problem [essential reading]

“The habits of our culture are to think of sin in moral terms. It is simple, takes very little effort, and agrees with what everyone around you thinks. But it is theologically incorrect. … the capture of the Church’s theology by moralism is a true captivity and not an expression of the Orthodox mind.

“So how do we think of right and wrong, of spiritual growth, of salvation itself if sin is not a moral problem? We do not ignore our false choices and disordered passions (habits of behavior). But we see them as symptoms, as manifestations of a deeper process at work. The smell of a corpse is not the real problem and treating the smell is not at all the same thing as resurrection.

“The work of Christ is the work of resurrection. Our life in Christ is not a matter of moral improvement – it is life from the dead. We are buried into His death – and it is a real death – complete with all that death means. But His death was not unto corruption. He destroyed corruption. Our Baptism into Christ’s death is a Baptism into incorruption, the healing of the fundamental break in our communion with God.”

Unchurched & the United States: 10 Facts About America’s Churchless

“In the past decade, more people in the U.S. have become churchless than live in Australia or Canada. … The vast majority of America’s churchless have attended a church. … Unchurched adults are more likely to be white.”

eluding our idols: 20 questions on 1 John 1.5-2.6

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This coming Sunday (Dec. 14) at 9:00 a.m., some of our adult classes at MoSt Church will continue a study of John’s letters entitled Eluding Our Idols. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, following is: (a) the text of 1 John 1.5-2.6 and (b) twenty questions and exercises go along with this reading.

receiving this word in our mind

1.5 This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” 6 If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. 7 But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. 8 If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

2.1 My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. 2 He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. 3 This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. 4 The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. 5 But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. 6 The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.

wrestling with this word in our mind

1. In this text (1.5-2.6), underscore every use of the word “in.” What is “in” God, and what is not? What can be “in” us and what can we be “in?”

2. What sort of “claims” are made in this passage. To know, note every occurrence of the appearances of the word “claim” in 1.5-2.6.

3. There is “no darkness in him [God] at all.” (1.5b) What are some of the “dark” things you sometimes hear people claim God is about?

4. God is light (1.5) and we’re called to “live in the light” (1.7). What does someone look like if they’re “living in the light?”

5. Fellowship with God (1.6) goes hand-in-hand with fellowship with each other (1.7). It’s not a matter of the former being essential and the latter being optional. How so?

6. Blood is a tangible thing, but sin is not. (1.7) And so, when John says it is Jesus’ “blood” that cleanses us from sin, what is John saying? That is, are we to understand the word “blood” literally here or are we to take it figuratively, like a metaphor for something else?

7. There is no sin too big for God to forgive us of and he can cleanse us of all wrong doing. (1.7,9) What does this truth do for your heart and spirit as well as your outlook and perspective?

8. Who in their right mind would claim to not have any sin or to have never sinned?! (1.8,10) Further, study what commentators and scholars say about who is being spoken of in these verses.

9. We can sometimes deceive others, but how is it that we can “deceive ourselves?” (1.8) What does this tell you about the power of sin and the weakness of human beings?

10. What is “the truth?” (1.8; 2.4) Make sure your answer fits John’s thinking and usage in this context.

11. The Greek word translated “confess” in 1.9 is a present infinitive, which means John is telling us that confession is an ongoing, habitual, ceaseless action for the Christian; it’s anything but a ‘one and done’ sort of thing. How is it that confession is a necessary habit for a healthy relationship with God and others? And what sort of things need to be in place in a person’s spirit so that confession can happen?

12. John writes so that his readers won’t sin (2.1). Turn that around and ponder it: your weapon with which to repel sin and your tool with which to ramp up a life of holiness is to read. So, how are you coming along with that? Tell us a bit about your reading habits regarding Scripture and some of your successes and failures with such.

13. Jesus is Christ is our “advocate” with the Father. (2.1) With the aid of BibleGateway (biblegateway.com) or a similar site, compare the rendering of the word “advocate” here in the CEB with other English translations such as the NCV, NIRV, The Message, and The Voice. What image of Jesus Christ is being placed here before us? What does this image say about us? What does it say about Jesus and what he does/will do?

14. How is the phrase “… God’s way of dealing with our sins …” in 2.2 (CEB) translated in other renderings? Compare the GNT, NASB, NIV, and RSV.

15. After reading 2.2, consider this: how does the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ differ from the many sacrifices commanded of the Jewish people under the Old Covenant?

16. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for dealing with “the sins of the whole world.” (2.2) What does this tell you about Jesus Christ? Does this mean every person needs to be a Christian or does it mean that whoever God forgives and accepts, he does so on the basis of Christ’s work for them? Explain.

17. How do we know that we know God? (2.3)

18. No one can keep God’s commandments perfectly. And so, can we ever say that we “know” God or can God’s love ever be perfected in us? (2.4-6)

19. “… live in the same way as he lived.” (2.6) Really? How far is a person supposed to go with that statement? What phrase or concept in the immediate context of this statement serves as good commentary or definition of what John meant when he said “live in the same way as he lived?”

20. Our right standing with God isn’t based on our ability to make something like a plausible sounding claim of having no real sin in our life, rather that we have a keen sense of our dependency on the work and blood of Jesus Christ for us. How can a Christian nurture the development of such a mind as that?

links: this went thru my mind

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Here are links to five articles I believe to be interesting and helpful reading.

Bible interpretation & John 3.16: Red Letters in John 3:16?

“In John 3, where do the words of Jesus end and the words of the John begin?”

Correction, mistakes, proofreading & typos: What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos

“The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart …”

Dehumanization, labels, respect & stereotypes: The Convenience and Dehumanizing Nature of Labels

“There is a certain arrogance when it comes to labels because it assumes that you are not to be labeled but it is perfectly fine to do it to anyone else you please. It is hard to label and not simultaneously be disrespectful on some level…as we demand to be understood in full but refuse to give that honor to the other. Labels dehumanize, often very subtly.”

Santa Claus & St. Nicholas: What Ever Happened to St. Nicholas?

“St. Nicholas was born into a wealthy Christian family in the third century. His parents died in a plague, and having inherited the family fortune, he decided to obey the radical call of Christ and give it to the poor. So he became famous for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

“Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned during the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian, and after his release, attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 where he famously lost his temper and slapped the heretic Arius in the face. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. Legends grew up about his generosity, and throughout the Middle Ages he became one of the most popular and wonder-working saints across Europe.

“Now ‘jolly old St. Nick,’ aka Santa Claus, is a secular figure used to promote godless good cheer and commercial consumerism. What happened?”

Spiritual gifts: Spiritual Gifts: 5 Fallacies

“If it is my spiritual gift, then it must be something I always find easy to do. … If it is my spiritual gift, its outworking should be inexplicable by natural reasoning. … If it is a spiritual gift, then it should not require other formal means of enhancement. … Since it is a spiritual gift, I should confine its use to the church or else it is misappropriated. … Spiritual gifts are about what we do.”