links to 10 items worth your time

1. Can Israel and Jordan cooperate to save the dying Dead Sea

“… the Jordan River isn’t the only biblical-site-turned-environmental-disaster.”

2. America’s New Religions

“Seduced by scientism, distracted by materialism, insulated, like no humans before us, from the vicissitudes of sickness and the ubiquity of early death, the post-Christian West believes instead in something we have called progress — a gradual ascent of mankind toward reason, peace, and prosperity — as a substitute in many ways for our previous monotheism. We have constructed a capitalist system that turns individual selfishness into a collective asset and showers us with earthly goods; we have leveraged science for our own health and comfort. Our ability to extend this material bonanza to more and more people is how we define progress; and progress is what we call meaning.”

3. How N.T. Wright Stole Christmas

“As it turns out, Wright is no Grinch. He didn’t steal Christmas. What he stole was a false Christmas, a de-contextualized and apolitical Christmas. But we shouldn’t have bought that Christmas in the first place, and should have been embarrassed to display it so proudly on the mantle. Good riddance, and Bah humbug.”

4. Gun-shy About Committing to Church

“Surviving spiritual abuse means I’ve had to learn to balance my wariness (especially if I sense a leader is practicing those familiar old power games) with a commitment to remain vigilant about allowing bitterness to take root in my soul. I don’t try to silence my internal critic during a church service or gathering, as this voice serves an important role in helping me to remember where I’ve been and what I’ve learned. However, I work to listen for the things that harmonize with that critic by seeking to worship God in community, be present with others he’s placed in my path, and serve without feeling the compulsion I once did to say ‘yes’ to every request.”

5. Becoming Poor and Finding Friendship on the Margins

“We assume God’s friendship is enough as we seek to make friends with God’s people: the poor, the suffering, the lonely, and all those who cry out from their hearts for mercy. This is how we live out Christ’s good news on the margins.”

6. Resilient Kids Come From Parents Who Do These 8 Things

“… resilience is a behavior learned through explicit lessons and examples, one that teaches kids how to, among other things, better handle stress, understand that rejection is not a comment on their entire existence, and view setbacks as things that don’t need to sideline them for good.”

7. ‘A Witness That They Were Here’: Los Angeles Honors 1,457 of Its Unclaimed Dead

“They are the forgotten people of Los Angeles — 1,457 people, to be exact. Old, poor, homeless, babies born premature and abandoned. They may have died alone, but they were buried together, in a mass grave, and were honored together this week in an interfaith ceremony that has been an annual ritual in Los Angeles for more than a century.”

8. Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world

“… conceiving of attention as a resource misses the fact that attention is not just useful. It’s more fundamental than that: attention is what joins us with the outside world. ‘Instrumentally’ attending is important, sure. But we also have the capacity to attend in a more ‘exploratory’ way: to be truly open to whatever we find before us, without any particular agenda. …

“So, as well as attention-as-resource, it’s important that we retain a clear sense of attention-as-experience.”

9. Millennials experience work-disrupting anxiety at twice the US average rate

“Nearly one in five US workers are debilitated by anxiety or depression, and the rate only climbs when you zoom in on younger generations.”

10. How Modern Technology is Bringing Ancient Writings to Light

“Powerful imaging tools are enabling researchers to see inside scrolls too fragile to unroll and recover texts too faint to see, making thousands of illegible manuscripts readable again.”

links: this went thru my mind

Following are links to five articles that I’ve found to be interesting and helpful.

Archaeology, Israel & Jerusalem: Nose Falls Off the Skull of Gordon’s Calvary

“Visitors to the Garden Tomb of Jerusalem are usually shown the “Skull” identified by Charles Gordon as part of the case that this spot may be the authentic site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. On February 20 the bridge of the skull’s nose collapsed during a storm.”

Churches of Christ & church decline: The 2015 Churches of Christ in the United States

“… the average congregation size has declined … to 124 adherents per congregation. … The Christian Chronicle reports that the same figures reflect a 7.8% decline in membership since 1990, reflecting about 100,443 souls. … The 1990s were a time of plateaued growth … — essentially flat, even though it was a time of rapid population growth. … the rate of decline is accelerating. A lot. … The loss of members, adherents, and congregations is … doubling roughly every 15 to 20 years. … During this same period, the population of the United States has grown … the nation is growing at twice the rate at which the Churches of Christ are declining.”

Distraction, faith & focus: The Wheelchair or the Throne [required reading]

“Our enemy is an expert at distraction. If he can get our eyes off that throne and on the pain and uncertainty of the world, then we are doomed to walk this life in fear and agony. He knows that and he loves every minute of it. … Refuse to focus on what you can see and set your minds on things above. Look away from the evil and drama that saturate our lives and fix your eyes on the King of Glory. Only there will you find healing and hope.”

Documentaries, history, Jesus & media: Finding Jesus: Review of Part One

“… as a docu-drama, I thought this was better than many of them, and I look forward to the remaining five episodes.”

Evangelism, expectations, honesty, hypocrisy, outreach, sensitivity & transparency: Seven Lies Christians Tell [essential reading]

“We mean well, but is the truth really on our lips when we evangelize? … We lie when we claim we are more confident than we really are. … We lie when we claim that unexplainable things are in fact explainable. … We lie when we don’t acknowledge our doubts within the drama of faith. … We lie when we pretend like the Bible doesn’t say some really nasty things when in fact it does. … We lie when we claim we understand other beliefs, faiths and world views. … We lie when we claim that all of our beliefs are a ’10.’ … Finally, and most importantly, we lie (insidious and barbaric lying) when we pretend like we really, really, really love the other person when in fact we don’t.”

links: this went thru my mind

Bible classes, community, intergenerational faith formation & spiritual education: Why Bring the Generations Back Together in Churches [essential reading]

“… why did churches in the 70s, 80s, and 90s begin separating the generations by age and stage? … The move toward age segregation in society in general is one key factor that has contributed to age segregation in American churches. … Another factor, and from my perspective the main reason for age segregation in our faith communities, is that we have allowed educational and developmental psychology to influence our praxis too strongly. …

“Why bring the generations back together? … for the spiritual benefits of intergenerational Christian experiences and relationships. … ‘intergenerational relationships in faith communities are crucial.'”

Bible reading, community & interpretation: Misreading Scripture Alone

“Personal piety and a desire for truth are not guarantees that we always read Scripture aright. Consequently, we must rely upon our brothers and sisters in the faith to correct and rebuke us when we err, demonstrating our errors by Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). And this reliance on brothers and sisters refers not merely to those Christians who happen to be alive at the same time as us. Instead, it refers to the whole Christian Church, throughout time. We rely on those who have gone before us. They too get a say in the matter. As G. K. Chesterton has wonderfully put it, this sort of tradition is a ‘democracy of the dead.'”

Children, families, parenting & traditions: 3 Low Cost/High Impact Family Traditions

“Traditions are the building blocks for strong families.”

Focus, life, peace & stress: End Your Day Well to Start Your Day Well [essential reading]

“When you find the rhythm of evening and morning you will have good days.”

Listening: How You Can Learn the #1 Persuasion Technique of FBI Hostage Negotiators

“What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic. And in our study we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups.”

links: this went thru my mind

Baptism, Carrie Underwood, joy & music: The Truth Behind This Song Had Me Yellin’ ‘Amen!’ You’ll Love This Super Star’s Song About Baptism [4 min. video; essential listening]

“I don’t know that there is anything better than hearing a song about baptism coming through my speakers! Preach it, Carrie!”

Choice, focus, mindset, mission, perspective, productivity & vision: 3 Mindsets You Must Conquer to Live Your Mission Each Day

“Jesus’s lived his mission each day by conquering three mindsets.”

Christian faith, evil, Hitler, martyrdom, Nazism, nonviolence, pacifism & WWII: The White Rose Martyrs

“I don’t know about you, but I always get a bit depressed when I think about the lack of Christian resistance to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the main figure who comes to mind here. But were there any others? Any other heroes of the faith? Christians who pushed even harder than Bonhoeffer?

“Yes there were. The White Rose.”

Conflict, history & war: The Greatest Buildings You’ll Never See: 19 Priceless Monuments Lost in Conflict

“It is a cruel irony that a region so blessed with the treasures of early human civilizations is also among those most troubled by conflict. As the violence threatens to annihilate some of history’s greatest monuments, we count the cost of our irreplaceable losses.”

Prayer: Encountering God in Prayer

“If we are going to be imbalanced, better that we be doctrinally weak and have a vital prayer life and a real sense of God on the heart than that we get all our doctrine straight and be cold and spiritually hard.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Anger, hate, social media, speech & words: When it Comes to Hateful Internet Speech, Christians Are the Worst [required reading]

“Thanks to horrible Christian comments online, I realized there’s a big difference between being Christian and following Jesus.”

Baptism, identification & discipleship: Rowan Williams on the Christian Life

“Many of us teach this, that we identify with Christ in his death and resurrection and we appeal to Romans 6. But we might be tempted to connect this kind of identification only to salvation, but Williams suggests we enter into a kind of incarnational ministry: of going into the world, missionally speaking, to identify with others as Christ has done.”

Belief, bias, change, comfort zone, focus, perspective & thinking: * Start Looking at What You See [required reading]; Experiencing Something Other Than the Prevailing System

* “Try something different for a change. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)”

* “The original reason for systemic biases is usually benign. ‘Most people’ can’t use this, or most people don’t look like you or most people won’t benefit. Over time, though, the bias in favor of most people becomes more ingrained, and often serves as a barrier to change, reinforcing the power of the dominant group.”

Wendell Berry & wisdom: 12 Wendell Berry Quotes That Will Give You a Fresh Perspective

“In today’s hectic, consumeristic world, there is much we can learn from Berry’s commitment to simple living, good stewardship and value of nature. Today, to celebrate his 80th birthday, we’ve gathered some of his best pieces of wisdom.”

why is it?

 

Now this is odd.

Or is it?

In 35 years of preaching I’ve never once had anyone complain to me saying …

“In your sermon Sunday I noticed you didn’t mention _______. I don’t like that. You need to mention _______ every time without fail. And I’m listening to see if you do.”

Fill in the preceding blanks with any of the following:

  • attitude
  • brotherly love
  • church
  • civility
  • communion
  • community
  • compassion
  • confession
  • contentment
  • contrition
  • courage
  • courtesy
  • covenant
  • cross
  • devotion
  • discernment
  • discipleship
  • empowerment
  • encouragement
  • endurance
  • enlightenment
  • eternal life
  • faith
  • faithfulness
  • fellowship
  • forbearance
  • forgiveness
  • gentleness
  • generosity
  • God the Father
  • goodness
  • grace
  • holiness
  • honesty
  • hope
  • hospitable
  • humility
  • idolatry
  • intercession
  • Jesus
  • joy
  • justice
  • kindness
  • kingdom
  • Lordship
  • love
  • mercy
  • morality
  • ministry
  • mortification
  • non-violence
  • obedience
  • peace
  • peaceable
  • praise
  • prayer
  • purity
  • reconciliation
  • reflection
  • repentance
  • reputation
  • respect
  • resurrection
  • righteousness
  • sacrifice
  • salvation
  • sanctity
  • self-control
  • service
  • sin
  • submission
  • temperate
  • thankfulness
  • the Holy Spirit
  • transformation
  • unity
  • wisdom
  • worship

But, I guar-an-tee you, if I don’t specifically mention the word “baptism” in one Sunday’s sermon, and likely repeatedly, despite the fact ….

  • I have been immersed myself …
  • have assisted with many dozens (hundreds) across the years …
  • and I mention it 90+% of the time …

will hear about it.

And I know I’m anything but alone in this experience.

So … what’s up with that?

Just let me ask you to think about it.

And then … don’t stop thinking about it.

putting skin on the sermon: walk in the light

 

Sunset-2013-11-11Yesterday morning’s sermon worked out of John 12.35-36. In that passage, Jesus paints a mental picture for the crowd:

“The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going. As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.”

The image is of someone walking with purpose, and perhaps with a bit of hustle, trying to get to their destination, before nightfall (“walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you”). Their way may not be familiar to them and could even hold any number of problems that could leave them vulnerable. Such a person has one objective in mind: to avoid the delay and the possible dangers that would come from getting lost (“those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going”). Consequently, every decision they make, every step they take along the way, they make on the amount of light they still have at the moment. They are “people whose lives are determined by the light.”

Jesus claimed to be the light in our life:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12)

There is no time for delay in choosing to believe him and walk with him, in his light. Time is not our friend and neither is darkness. He urges us to “… believe in the light so that” so that we will “become people whose lives are determined” by him. If we do so, he will bring us safely to where we belong: home with him.

So how can we walk daily, and all day long, with such clear purpose and determination? Here are three things that can assist you in your journey.

1. Start each day well in your heart. That is, start with Christ your Lord clearly in focus. Get your mind right and the rest will follow. One way to do this is to make a portion of Scripture a point of reflection and meditation as soon as you get up in the morning. Here’s an exercise to get you started with that habit: take a few minutes to watch the day dawn, moving from darkness to light, meditating on Ephesians 5.8-9 as you do so. Do this every day for a week. This passage reads:

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.”

2. Take a few moments throughout the course of each day to deliberately recall the true Lord to whom you belong. Think of such as something like a soft reset or reboot of your operating system, your spirit.

“All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5.5)

Remember some of the horizontal blessings you enjoy because of your walk with the Lord and thank him for such.

“… if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other …” (1 John 1.7a)

Pray a brief prayer of thanksgiving as well for the ultimate vertical blessing we have because of our Savior:

“…  and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.” (1 John 1.7b)

3. End the thoughts of each day well. Consider your last conscious thoughts of the day as your way of preparing and supplying your mind for it’s effort and rest while you sleep. You might do this by going for an evening walk with someone. Try deliberately walking toward the setting sun and discussing John 12.35 as you go. Remember it?

“Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going.”