links to 5 items worth your time

1. How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart [essential reading]

“When people have a hole in their life, they often fill it with angry politics. … In the ‘siloed,’ or isolated, worlds of cable television, ideological punditry, campus politics and social media, people find a sense of community in the polarized tribes forming on the left and the right in America. Essentially, people locate their sense of ‘us’ through the contempt peddled about ‘them’ on the other side of the political spectrum.”

2. America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches [essential reading]

“… 6,000 to 10,000 churches die each year in America—and that number will likely grow. Though more than 70 percent of our citizens still claim to be Christian, congregational participation is less central to many Americans’ faith than it once was. Most denominations are declining as a share of the overall population, and donations to congregations have been falling for decades. Meanwhile, religiously unaffiliated Americans, nicknamed the ‘nones,’ are growing as a share of the U.S. population.”

3. The Honest Truth about Honesty and Truth by Ben Witherington

“Our country is suffering not merely from dishonesty. It is suffering from truth decay— an inability to recognize the truth even when it’s slapping them in the face.”

3. My Evangelical Church Is Gaslighting Me, But I Refuse To Fall For It Anymore

“I stopped attending church regularly almost two years ago, but I am more invested in my spiritual life than ever before. Although I’ve lost the majority of my local Christian community, save for a few precious friends, I still cling to the true teachings and example of Jesus to inform my politics and moral code.”

5. Is the Book of Acts Historically Reliable? – an interview of Craig Keener by Alisa Childers

“On today’s podcast, I talk with New Testament scholar Craig Keener about how he came to faith in Christ, and what led him into the world of scholarship. We talk about skeptical claims brought against the reliability of the book of Acts …”

prayer before a hummingbird feeder

 

I have several hummingbird feeders in my yard and most of the year we have guests at those feeders. The Ruby-throated hummers are by nature extremely territorial. If I happen to walk near one of the feeders and there is a hummingbird nearby at the time, I can expect to hear them repeatedly voice their displeasure and often begin to see them zoom about a bit several yards off. However, this month is the first time I have had a hummingbird “strafe” me.

The particular Ruby-throated male I have in mind is exceedingly bold, unflinchingly flying, or even hovering for relatively long periods of time, within 1-2 feet of me. If he is hovering beside me or behind me and I then turn and face him directly, he will immediately put a bit more distance between us – beyond arm’s length – but will then proceed to repeatedly buzz me quite close until either I leave or he changes tactics.

I greatly admire his courage and bravery. How much bigger am I than he? There is no comparison. But does that make a difference in his actions? None whatsoever. I can consistently count on this: if we are in the yard at the same time – and believe me, he knows it if we are – he will confront me, the “enemy,” and will do so courageously with skill and wisdom.

All of which reminds me of two things. First, that one of the themes that runs like a rope throughout the entirety of the book of Acts – the book in the Bible like no other that tells of the true life of our community of faith for today, the church – is backbone and fortitude, guts, and nerve.  In fact, such even forms the final word in the book. It is the dominant thought that Luke, the author, wants imprinted on our mind and ringing in our ears until the end:

“… proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28.31)

Second, it reminds me of things James, Peter, and Paul said:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4.7)

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith …” (1 Peter 5.8-9a)

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16.13-14)

And so my feathered “friend” – my aerial “hero” – prompts me to pray this way:

God, make me ever like this bird: courageous and strong, skillful and wise, confident and yet well aware of my limitations. May I know no fear save fear of displeasing you and may every beat of my heart be beats of trust in you, for I know you care for me always. So, what have I to fear, for you are with me? And so, may I be with you. Daily. By the courageous Christ I pray. Amen.

the Christ House: Acts 1

 

The-Christ-HouseMoSt Church‘s congregational Bible reading project for 2013, The Christ House, fixes our attention on Christ Jesus as we encounter him in the New Testament. The plan is slow and steady, simple and focused: read one chapter a day and memorize one “Christ verse” on which to meditate from each book of the NT.

During the 28 days of the month of February, we’ll read the 28 chapters of the book of Acts.

Today’s reading is Acts 1 and the Christ verse for Luke’s Gospel is Acts 2.36: “… let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

violence & my Lord: what did Jesus’ apostles do?

V-for-violenceHow did Christ’s original apostles (excluding the one who betrayed him, Judas Iscariot) respond when confronted with violence?

As we seek the answer to that question, let’s consider most closely Simon Peter and John. Why? Because Peter was the one our Lord chastised and snubbed for displaying and suggesting the use of weapons. Peter was the one who Jesus rebuked for attempting to defend him and who took off a man’s ear with an errant swing with a sword. If there was ever a follower who had proven himself ready to use deadly force to defend himself and those he cared for, it was Peter. Consequently, we’d do well to note how this man behaved following his Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

Similarly, let’s pay close attention to John for he was the one whom Jesus loved like none of the rest. It was John who stood close to the foot of Christ’s cross, who was spoken to directly by our Lord from that cross, and who did not leave the cross, watching his Lord draw his last breath and die an agonizing and brutal death. How did this one so close to our Lord’s heart and ways react?

And so, how did Christ’s apostles respond in the face of violence?

When those who had been behind Jesus’ arrest and death came to seize Peter and John, like their Lord, neither of them violently resisted in any way. (Acts 4.3)

When the same group who had tortured and killed the Christ threatened them with torture (or worse) if they continued to speak in Jesus’ name (Acts 4.17-18), they spoke not a word of insult, threat, or violence. Instead, they declared their continued allegiance to the Lord and promised not to compromise that allegiance at all. (Acts 4.19-20)

Remarkably, they found themselves released from custody, if only for a time. Arrested once more, and this time thrown into jail, (Acts 5.17-18), it was God’s own special intervention that kept them from suffering violence and caused them to be released from confinement. (Acts 5.19) And what did they do with their freedom, freedom that could easily have been dripping with great, and justifiable, outrage? They continued to do what they had done: declare their allegiance to the Lord and speak of him openly to others. (Acts 5.20,25)

A third time they were brought into custody by the those who instigated Christ’s murder. (Acts 5.26-27) And how did Peter, John, and the apostles respond this time? Peter denounced to their face the violence done to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 5.30). For this, their captors beat them, and then released them. (Acts 5.40)

And so now we know how the apostles responded to terrible injustice and violence. We know this is what they did not do:

  1. they they did not arm themselves with weapons;
  2. they did not use violence in any form, not even violent words;
  3. they did not plot revenge or seek retaliation.

And we know this is what they did do:

  1. celebrate the fact they had been considered worthy of suffering loss and shame in the Christ’s name (Acts 5.41);
  2. continue what they had been doing all along, teaching and preaching Jesus as the one in charge of things (Acts 5.42).

Sometime later, for a fourth time, Peter was seized and hauled off to prison (Acts 12.1-5), and yet once more, Peter did not resist, entrusting his life and well-being to the God who had always delivered him from death, and did so once again. (Acts 12.6-19)

Now don’t miss this. Through all of this it’s John‘s steady consistency and Peter’s great change that stands out to all who are paying attention. The attitude and actions of the Peter depicted in Acts sharply contrasts those of the Peter related to us in the Gospels. Our Lord was not only working through him, but on him. And as for John, we see a steady, unwavering avoidance of answering violence with violence.

To sum up, Peter and John are two very different men who started out from two very different places, but who wound up in the exact same place of understanding and practice as to how the Christ would have them respond to the threat and use of violence against them and others. When it came to violence, John never went there, and though Peter did go there at first, he repented, growing out of it.

Four questions now come to my mind:

(1) How could I have missed this crystal clear example for so long in my walk with the Christ?

(2) Isn’t it easy to see the Christ himself continuing to engage this violent world with peace and non-violence, doing so now through these men, his apostles?

(3) Wouldn’t our vision of the Prince of Peace be blurred and distorted, twisted and perverted, had the apostles responded to the use of physical force levied against them with physical force, or violent words, in response?

(4) How might our world be different today if every Christian since the apostles responded to violence the way Jesus Christ and his apostles responded to violence?

this went thru my mind

Creativity: 55 Ways to Be Creative by Pete Wilson

Heroes: Elie Wiesel on “Being a Hero”

Just for fun: Famous Photographs Recreated With LEGOS

Leadership: When An Elder Isn’t On Board by Brian Pipping

Luke-Acts: My favorite teacher of all time, John Willis, has begun a series of posts on his on my favorite book in the Bible, Luke’s Gospel. The best meets the best. Here are links to part one and part two.

Memory: Google and Your Memory

Missions: A Missionary Rants on Short-Term Missions by Timothy Archer

Money: Preachers Confront ‘Last Taboo’: Condemning Greed Amid Great Recession

Politics & the media/press: My Disappointment in Obama and the Unbalanced Reporting of Fox News by Tony Campolo

Preaching: Is Preaching the Most Dangerous Profession? by Dan Bouchelle

ReconciliationTerri Roberts, Mother Of Amish Shooting Perpetrator Cares For Her Son’s Victims

Security: What to Do If Your Email Account Gets Hacked