this went thru my mind (a)

 

Civil War: New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll by Guy Gugliotta

“For 110 years, the numbers stood as gospel: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South — by far the greatest toll of any war in American history. But new research shows that the numbers were far too low.”

Continuing revelation: “God Told Me” and Other Embarrassing Phrases Christians Use by Brian Jones

“Whenever someone tells you something that begins with the three words ‘God told me’ you should immediately …”

Evangelism: Know Your Neighbors? by Matt Branaugh

“We all need a place to start. … The challenge is realizing where we are starting from.”

Generations: How To Reach a Lost Generation 5: 25 Reasons Young People Are Leaving the Church by Matt Dabbs

“There are many more but this is a start. It is good to be aware of these issues because they point to something deeper that needs to change in our very paradigm of what we view church to be.”

Great commission: The First Great Commission: Mercy, Not Sacrifice by Mark Love

“We all know how the gospel of Matthew ends: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go into all the world, making disciples…” These verses, are less well known. “Woe to you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make a single covert and make the new convert twice the child of hell as yourselves” (Mt. 23:15). It would appear that Jesus is after something more than missionary zeal.”

Health: Kitchen Cures Doctors Swear By by Marisa Cohen

“‘True, some home remedies are simply old wives’ tales, but others have stuck around for generations because they actually work,’ says Philip Hagen, M.D., preventive medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic.”

Jesus wept: Jefferson’s Bible and the Tears of Christ by Makoto Fujimura

“Predictably, ‘Jesus wept’ [John 11.35] did not make into the Jefferson Bible. John 11 was cut out entirely, falling onto the floor of his Monticello home and discarded, along with Martha’s confession. Jefferson’s rationalism allowed only a distant deity that made sense in reference to objective ‘scientific’ calibrations, not ephemeral marks of compassion.”

Preaching: The Awful Task of Preaching by Terry Rush

“Preaching is transitory. I don’t know how it is for others, but for me the burden of speaking to a church about God is increasingly burdening….in a wonderful way. It scares me more week by week.”

The resurrection of Jesus: ‘People have very odd ideas about Jesus’ (Sam Hailes interview of N.T. Wright)

“Anyone who is in any sense a Christian cannot with any consistency believe that Jesus stayed dead. … if you say Jesus died and nothing happened but the disciples had some interesting ideas, then you have cut off the branch on which all classic Christianity is sitting. This generation needs to wake up, smell the coffee and realize serious Christianity begins when Jesus comes out of the tomb on Easter morning. This is not a nice optional extra for those who like believing in funny things.”

this went thru my mind

 

American history & religion: The Faith (and Doubts) of Our Fathers

“Academic historians are bemused at times by the inquiries they get from people with no previous interest in the nation’s beginnings: what did America’s creators really believe? Jill Lepore, a Harvard professor who deconstructs the uses and abuses of the past, is wary of would-be historians with an agenda. For her, the founders’ genius lay in their willingness to cast doubt on fixed ways of thinking inherited from the past. So to make them final arbiters is to traduce their spirit. Nor, indeed, were the fathers of one mind. They did not spend their time producing pearls of unanimously agreed wisdom. They quarrelled bitterly. Indeed, if something about this period still resonates in modern politics, it may be the fathers’ disputes, and the subtle points each side brought to bear.”

Benevolence: How Charity Can Be Toxic, Just in Time for Christmas (how to avoid destroying dignity). This is required reading.

“Dignity is given to us by our creator. We hold a whole theology of community and mutual supportedness, bearing one another’s burdens and concerns. One-way giving creates toxic relationships where one has the resources, the other has the need. Do recipients at clothes closets and food pantries become a part of your church? Often, they’re not participants in our community. How do we create respectful, honest, caring, and mutually supportive relationships?”

Christmas season: The Immigrant Days of Christmas

“I noticed this Christmas season, for the first time, that not only were Mary and Joseph forced to migrate under Rome’s census; not only was the Incarnate God born into a humiliating space — but, as they fled to Egypt, they never registered in Bethlehem with the census. A dream, an angel, told the migrant father to gather his family and run from the authorities. Unaccounted for in the empire, baby Jesus’ first movement in this world was a government-evading trek through the desert by night.”

Church: Learning to Read the Gospel Again: How to address our anxiety about losing the next generation

“”So what do we do? Perhaps the answer is much simpler, and more ‘old-fashioned,’ than we think: Maybe we ought to be teaching churchgoers to read the gospel. The first thing Muslim children learn about Christians is one of the last things Christians learn about themselves: we are a ‘people of the Book.’ Perhaps we ought to ask how to make this observation from the Qur’an true, once more, among those who fellowship around the Bible. How can we form ourselves as a people of the Book?”

Coffee With Jesus: If you’re not reading Coffee With Jesus, you’re missing out.

Compassion: Why Christians Shoot Their Wounded

“You’d think our individual brokenness would cause us, especially those of us who call ourselves christians, to heed the question of Jesus when he asks, ‘Who among us can cast the first stone?’ or in the context of this post, ‘take the first shot.’ “But the desire to attribute people’s behavior to innate character rather than to local context runs deep. In fact, psychologists have a name for this behavior: It’s called ‘the fundamental attribution error.’”

Contribution: How to Fill the Offering Plate

“Nurturing cheerful givers is more challenging than ever during an economic downturn. New research provides important insights that could boost the financial and spiritual health of congregations. Take our quiz to test your knowledge of church giving trends.”

Facebook: Facebook Bible: Everything You Need to Know About Facebook

“… expert analysis on the latest Facebook developments, helpful tips, tricks and how-tos, and the latest updates on privacy, Facebook apps and more.”

Gifts for children: Great Christmas Gifts For Your Kids

“Still trying to decide what to get your kids this year for Christmas? How about getting them something that will last a lifetime?”

Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population

“The number of Christians around the world has more than tripled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010. But the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).”

Iraq: In Iraq, Abandoning Our Friends

“And so our policy in the final weeks of this war is as simple as it is shameful: submit your paperwork and wait. If you can survive the next 18 months, maybe we’ll let you in.”

Leadership: How to Create the Kind of Team Unity That Drives Results

“… it is up to you, as the leader, to create this alignment. It doesn’t just happen.”

Peacemakers: 10 Things to Say to Keep the Peace

“The holidays, with all their extended-family gatherings, can be a verbal minefield. You’re either dodging nosy questions from some tactless relative over dinner (‘Still dieting then?’) or taking out the stress of all that extra cooking and shopping on those dearest to you (‘Do I have to do everything around here?’). It doesn’t have to be that bad. Use these 10 go-to phrases to defuse potentially volatile conversations and help you get through the coming weeks―and the months and years to follow―in harmony.”

Poverty: Map of the Day: America’s Poverty Belt

“Immediately apparent is a broad ‘Poverty Belt’ – states where more than three in ten people live in high poverty areas – stretching from West Virginia through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.”

Senior adults: A Senior Moment

“Contrary to rosy propaganda, 85 is not the new 65. The elder population boom will affect everyone, and the church has an important role to play. In understanding the situation and what areas need improvement, congregations learn that they too benefit when they are involved in supporting the frail elderly.”

Social networking: How to Think about Social Networking in Churches

“Social networking reminds us of our intrinsic sociality, but constantly moves us closer to the point where sociality no longer requires our bodies to be fully human.”

the wisdom of peace

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Sun., Oct. 30). This guide will enable your follow-up of the sermon that I’ll preach, God willing, that morning from James 3:13-18. You’ll find these LIFE group discussion guides categorized each week here on my site under the category title LIFE group guides.

Aim

To appreciate God’s peace as we live by his wisdom and how wise it is to live in his peace.

Word

“Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. … (17) What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. (18) Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.” (James 3:13,17-18 CEB)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to simply get us all talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Recount a funny instance of your knuckleheadedness when you failed to use “wisdom.”

2. One thing I do to try and bring peace in a tense situation is to __________.

Dig

These questions are intended to help us grapple directly with the sermon’s primary Scripture text.

1. We’re to have a humble lifestyle (vs. 13). In context, what would such a lifestyle look like?

2. How would everything change if the wisdom from above was not “pure?” (vs. 17a)

3. Compare the wording of the seven qualities of pure wisdom from above (vs. 17) in several different English translations. What variation in wording do you notice?

4. Pick a word from vs. 17 and explain how such is crucial to forming or keeping peace.

5. Substitute the phrase “right relationships between people” for the word “justice” in vs. 18. How does this help you understand James’ point with this whole passage?

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us through his word.

1. God is what he expects of us. Recount an instance in the life of Jesus Christ that depicts him living out each of the seven qualities mentioned in vs. 17.

2. Would you say there can be wisdom in a church without peace? How about real peace without wisdom? How do you think James would answer those two questions?

3. What sort of things would you expect to be common in a church that was well exercised in the seven qualities enumerated in vs. 17? What would you expect to be hard to find?

4. James points to the seven qualities in vs. 17 as distinctives of true heavenly wisdom. What would you say the church today tends to emphasize as her “wisdom distinctives?” How does the list you come up with differ from the list here in James?

5. James says the experience of peace among Christians doesn’t just happen, rather, it is the result of deliberate effort. It’s like the work of a farmer (“sow … seeds of justice;” vs. 18). What qualities must a farmer exhibit when planting seed and expecting a harvest? How are those qualities necessary for the work of planting seeds of peace?

6. As a group, recite and practice the last sentence of vs. 17 until you have it memorized.

7. Pick one of the seven qualities in vs. 17 that you would say best completes the following sentence: “If I was truly wise, I would personally work hard at becoming more __________.”

journey through James (15): twenty questions on James 3:13-18

This coming Sunday morning (Oct. 30) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 3:13-18. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: discerning the difference in the workings of wisdom. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

Scripture

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18 CEB)

Questions

1. Make two columns, one to list all of the good qualities of pure, heavenly wisdom and another column to list all of the bad qualities of the wisdom that does not have heaven as its source. What particularly strikes you or stands out to you about the differences between these two lists?

2. How do you go about determining “who is wise and understanding among” the Christians with whom you associate? (vs. 13a) That is, what criteria do you use? Is it James’ criteria? (vs. 13b) Why is it important to determine such?

3. It might come as a surprise to us that “humility” was considered by most of the ancient Mediterranean world to be more of an evil vice than a positive value. James’ phrase “humility that comes from wisdom” (vs. 13b) then would have caused most folks to scratch their heads and say, “Nonsense!” How would you say humility is viewed by most Americans today? Why?

4. How is it wisdom comes from humility (vs. 13)? Wouldn’t you think it would be the other way around?

5. Which would you say tends to come first, good actions (“good life” – vs. 13) or a good heart (vs. 14) or can you even determine which? Explain.

6. James speaks of “selfish ambition” (vs. 14). Is all ambition bad? Explain. What makes the ambition mentioned here by James so bad?

7. How and why would a person “harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in” their “hearts?” (vs. 14a) How does the latter half of vs. 14 help you answer these question?

8. Just how bad would something have to get before you would label it as clearly “demonic?” (vs. 15b)

9. Which of the three words describing non-heavenly wisdom (vs. 15b) speaks most powerfully to you? Explain.

10. If you were asked to describe “wisdom” that doesn’t have heaven as its source, what three words would you choose? How do the three words James chose – earthly, unspiritual, and demonic (vs. 15b) – provide something of a comprehensive description of “non-heavenly” wisdom?

11. Closely read and compare the wording and thought of 3:17 with 1:27. What do these two texts have in common?

12. The seven qualities of pure, heavenly wisdom listed in vs. 17 function as something of a definition of the “good life” (vs. 13). In your own words, write out a brief, one sentence definition for each of the seven qualities. allowing these definitions to reprogram your perspective of what truly is “the good life.”

13. The qualities God wants to see in us (vs. 17) reflect who he is in character and action. God is what he expects of us. As a group, try to link a Scripture or Biblical happening that depicts God being/doing each of the seven qualities mentioned in vs. 17.

14. Connect each of the seven components of pure, heavenly wisdom listed in vs. 17 with matters previously discussed in James’ letter (1:1-3:12). Here is one example: “impartial” (vs. 17) certainly speaks directly to the issue of favoritism (2:1,9).

15. Note the seven aspects of pure, heavenly wisdom listed in vs. 17. Assign a score of 0-10 for yourself as to how mature you are in terms of each of these seven components.

16. James points to the seven qualities in vs. 17 as the distinctives of true heavenly wisdom. What does the church today tend to emphasize as distinctives? How does the list you came up with differ from the list here in James?

17. Which of the seven aspects of pure, heavenly wisdom (vs. 17) would you say is most lacking in Christendom in our country today? Why? Which would you say Christianity seems to be doing the best job at of these seven qualities? Why?

18. How is a Christian to come by the qualities of vs. 17? If they are “musts” in a Christian’s life, what “must” you do to acquire them?

19. Peacemakers are to “sow” peace (vs. 18). What does this word choice tell you about how peace happens?

20. What would you say James has in mind when he speaks of peacemakers reaping “a harvest of righteousness?” (vs.18)

mercy

In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment. (James 2:12-13 CEB)

At every turn today we hear the cry for judgment and justice. Giving people exactly what they deserve isn’t just fashionable, it’s seen as essential. To simply suggest otherwise will result in a smirk or a sneer.

Into such a world God steps in. How then do things look different now? How will he make any difference? Can he make a difference?

This God is love. The fruit of his Spirit in our life is love. How we love each other is how the world will know we are his followers.

All of which means we’re called as Christians to think, speak, and live very differently from the dominant ways in our culture, society, and world. We deliberately go against the flow. When our leaders say “Make them pay!” we say “Leave it to the Lord.” When our neighbors say “Give them what’s coming to them” we say “Give to them as you would have given to you.” When our friends say “No more mercy” we say “Let it land on me instead.”

But how rarely these things are heard, even among the people of God. Which is precisely why there is a judgment to come and why the preacher never ceases to remind his hearers that mercy overrules judgment.

Always walk and talk like people who will be judged by the rule that sets people free. The only people who will receive mercy then and there are the people who extend mercy here and now. Mercy trumps judgment. (James 2:12-13 DSV)

Merciful Father, have great mercy on me and work great mercy through me, I pray, in Christ’s name. Amen.

this went thru my mind

College: An Open Letter to a College Freshman by Timothy Dalrymple.

God, humanity & legalism: Dust & Grace by Richard Beck.

Gospels: You’re away of what is commonly known as “The Synoptic Problem,” but have you ever wished you could see a graphic depiction of how much the Synoptic gospels do, and do not, have in common? Now you can. Relationships Between the Synoptic Gospels.

Income, insurance & poverty: U.S. Census Bureau: Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010.

Job: John Mark Hicks is sharing his in-depth notes on the book of Job. If you’ve ever wanted to understand this book and wrestle with the issues it raises, this is definitely a series to follow. Here’s a link to the first post in the series on his site. Reading Job: A Structural Guide by John Mark Hicks.

Judging: 20 New Ways to Judge Others by Joshua Becker is not sarcastic, but serious.

Mercy: Family of alleged hate-killing opposes death penalty in case.

Torture: This tragic story deserves much more press than it is receiving and should give us all pause. The Soldier Who Killed Herself After Refusing to Take Part in Torture.

Violence: On the Moral Example of Jack Sparrow by Richard Beck.

Women: John T. Willis’ carefully reasoned, Biblically-grounded, ongoing series on the role of women in ministry continues. Biblical Female Teachers, Deacons, Elders, Preachers (part 3) by John T. Willis.

is it really kindness?

For about a hundred year we have so concentrated on one of the virtues – “kindness” or mercy – that most of us do not feel anything except kindness to be really good or anything but cruelty to be really bad. Such lopsided ethical developments are not uncommon, and other ages to have had their pet virtues and curious insensibilities. And if one virtue must be cultivated at the expense of all the rest, none has a higher claim than mercy – for every Christian must reject with detestation that covert propaganda for cruelty which tries to drive mercy out of the world by calling it names such as “Humanitarianism” or “Sentimentality.” The real trouble is that “kindness” is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy; it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.

from The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis (as recorded in A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings From His Classic Works, p.282)