links to 5 helpful articles

1. What is the Gospel? [essential reading]

“Christ crucified for sinners is the divine ‘plan’ of salvation.”

2. The Courage and Folly of a War That Left Indelible Scars

“Seconds before an armistice formally ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, Pvt. Henry Nicholas Gunther, an American soldier from Baltimore, mounted a final, one-man charge against a German machine-gun nest in northeastern France. The German gunners … tried to wave him away, but he ran on, only to perish in a burst of heavy automatic fire — the last soldier of any nationality to die in the conflict — at 10.59 a.m. local time. One minute later, under the terms of an armistice signed about six hours earlier, the so-called Great War, the ‘war to end all wars,’ was over, and the world was an altered place.”

3. If There’s No Church Growth Guarantee, Does It Even Matter What We Do?

“What matters is not how many people are sitting in our building on a Sunday, but how well they’re living on mission as a result of having been with us.”

4. Love Your Political Frenemies

“I still ache over the anguish of some and the bigotry of others, but this prayer discipline has chipped away at the parts of me tempted to reduce, write off, or wage war on some of those at the table. It has helped me surrender my personal agenda to Christ’s agenda—quite distinct from promoting my own agenda in the name of Christ. Prayer has helped me become better at discerning when to speak and when to be silent, what I should say and how I should say it. It has enabled me to break free of the tribal patterns of the world.”

5. In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice

“… when gold was found in the Black Hills, the United States reneged on the agreement, redrawing the boundaries of the treaty, and confining the Sioux people — traditionally nomadic hunters — to a farming lifestyle on the reservation. It was a blatant abrogation that has been at the center of legal debate ever since.”

links: this went thru my mind

Church attendance, commitment, culture, time & trends: The Most Important Trend of Church Trends in 2015 and What to Do About It [essential reading]

“Specifically, in the last 2 years, I have see one common thread become a common rope. It’s presence is now ubiquitous; every church I talk with mentions this problem when we discuss the Local Predicament in our Kingdom Concept work. (challenges and opportunities expressed in the local culture). I have never seen a problem discussed this commonly amidst a diversity of church sizes and denominational affiliations. What is the one trend? Your Most Committed People Will Attend Worship Services Less Frequently than Ever in 2015.”

Caricature, hatred, Islam, Muslims & stereotyping: How Not to Kill a Muslim [essential reading]

“The chief issue of Muslim-Christian tension in the United States is lack of relationship. Because many white middle/upper-middle class Christian citizens do not have meaningful relationships with a single Muslim, we are left to fill in the gaps of experience with stereo-types, caricature, and exaggeration.”

Cinema, Exodus, film & movies: Three Takeaways from ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

“Whatever one might think about the explicit divergences from the biblical story (e.g., the conversation at the burning bush is too limited in the movie, the omission of the opening confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh, absence of Pharaoh-Moses interaction about the plagues, etc.), the story is told to make a point(s) for contemporary audiences. I heard several points, but here are my major takeaways. 1. Israel wrestles with God. … 2. Jewish Holocaust Relived. … 3. Not by Israel’s sword, but by the Lord’s right hand.”

Conversion, conviction, discipleship, gospel, kingdom & transformation: Have You Taken a Gospel Immunization Shot? [essential reading]

“Why does being ‘Christian’ in America make so little difference in so many people’s lives, when the kingdom movement revealed in the New Testament revolutionized people’s lives? … people give their mental assent to certain beliefs and are thereby ushered into a ‘kingdom’ that looks almost identical to the earthly kingdom they were supposed to be called out of. They can keep all their cultural assumptions, and, apart from avoiding certain behaviors that are singled out as the deal-breaker sins, their lives can continue on just as before. “All who are invested in the kingdom Jesus inaugurated in this world must find all of this deeply disturbing. … It’s as if they are a husband or wife who has security in their marital pledge rather than in the quality of the relationship he or she pledged to have. Many people today resist the need to cultivate an actual marriage-like relationship with Christ because they find their security in their past pledge.”

Desensitization, humanity, killing, military, violence & war: The Images Used to Teach Soldiers to Kill

“In my project Targets I look at the present day. I visited 30 countries to document the appearance of the targets with which soldiers today are conditioned to shoot, or as one trainer said: ‘They are supposed to learn to hit, not shoot.’ Another said, ‘It sounds cruel, but you have to learn to kill automatically in order to function.’ “How is he represented today – the enemy that soldiers are later expected to kill? Is he an abstract figure? Does he have a face, and if so, what kind? Has the image of the enemy changed?”

Ministry: Joe’s 10 Iron-clad Rules for Success in Ministry (some of which need more ironing than others)

“So, you’re new in the ministry?  And you want to get this right, of course. You have definitely come to the right place, friend.  Pull up a chair and get ready to take notes.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Busyness & the speed of life: What Slowing Down Teaches You That Rushing Never Will

“The mother of a child with Down syndrome joins her daughter’s rebellion against hurried living.”

Christianity, culture & society: A Shocking Conclusion About American Christianity [required reading]

“The only way someone can think most of what goes on in American churches is authentically Christian is not to read the Bible, the church fathers, the reformers, and the great thinkers and evangelists of all denominations. … I am afraid that it is becoming increasingly harder to find the gospel in America. It is either wrapped so tightly in the flag as to be virtually invisible or relegated to a footnote to messages about ‘success in living,’ being nice and including everyone. … How like New Testament and historic Christianity is ours? What have we lost?”

Community & complaining: The Monday Rule [essential reading]

“…  the Monday rule … might be stated this way: ‘If you have concerns or the feel the need to complain, do it Monday (or another day of your choice). Please don’t do it Sunday–or when the church is gathered for worship.’ … One of the greatest services leadership can provide the church is the effective handling of the church’s concerns, which includes the timing of such dealings—not just making sure they are heard. Implementing the Monday rule will do more for your church’s weekend assemblies than nearly anything. … A couple of assumptions can be made reasonably about people who complain chronically on Sundays. First, they lack a sense of the impact of their comments on others—especially staff or those whose spiritual frame of heart impacts others that day. Two, they lack spiritual focus during times that are unique in the practice of the church—and their complaining will spread this across the Body if not checked. Three, they likely do this because of proximity. They want to get it dealt with right then—because it could consume their time and energy to do it another time. So, they’d prefer to use yours on their terms rather than deal with the problem another way.”

Compassion, difficult people, ministry & relationships: People are Such Absolute Jerks (and So Can You)

“I’m convinced that we’ve got to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before we help others.”

Gospel, heaven & salvation: The Gospel Isn’t About Heaven [essential reading]

“The gospel is as much about earth as it is heaven. As much about before death as it is after death. It is the message that Jesus, the one true King, is expanding his reign onto earth. This, after all, is what Jesus called gospel: ‘Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)

Gratitude, humility, mindfulness & the ordinary: Cherish the Ordinary

“We become bugged by ten things in our day that didn’t pan out as we had wished without noticing we were able, still, to swallow our food, drive our cars, read the paper, hear the radio, and go to the bathroom. … Decide to cherish the ordinary.  Men, women, and children are suffering from a terrible (yet acceptable and unnoticed by the masses) disease called ingratitude for the simplest of gigantic blessings.  Stop complaining, whining, and/or sighing. Treasure right now.”

Honesty, nationalism & the pledge of Allegiance: Why Christians Might Want To Abstain From Reciting “The Pledge Of Allegiance”

“… I think we’re having the wrong discussion on this issue entirely. Instead of a constant cultural debate over the wording of the pledge, I think a better question is: ‘Should a Christian recite the pledge of allegiance at all?'”

Preaching, relevance & teaching: Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible

“‘It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.’ That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity: an impatience with the Word of God. …  the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Church decline: To the Dying Church: Maybe Death Is a Blessing

“How very God-like of God to make death the beginning of a blessing.”

Congregational singing, corporate worship, singing & song-leading: The Church Singing

“Why We Sing … Five Qualities of a Congregational Song … Reflections on “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” … My Congregation Barely Sings; How Can I Help? … Rediscovering Jesus’ Hymnbook.”

Gospel, holy kiss, hospitality & table fellowship: Embodying the Gospel: Two Exemplary Practices

“Against those contemporary patterns of thought that segregate thinking and doing, or “theory” and “practice,” this essay urges that Scripture works with a more integrated and communal understanding of human life, and thus of Christian faith.”

Generations & Millenials: Millennials in Adulthood [required reading]

“The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood. Now ranging in age from 18 to 331, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry— and optimistic about the future. They are also America’s most racially diverse generation. In all of these dimensions, they are different from today’s older generations. And in many, they are also different from older adults back when they were the age Millennials are now.”

One another & unity: The Centrality of the “One Another” Passages for Christian Unity

“This is more than just a list of more things to do. This is about how we see others and our own obligation to be supportive of those around us. This is a call away from self and pride to make a difference in the lives of those around us. If Christian embraced this kind of vision for people and way of life…I am convinced we would make a huge impact on the world.”

Jesus, nonviolence & violence: Jesus Said, “Buy a Sword.” What Did He Mean?

“…  justifying the use of violence by citing this passage [Luke 22.35-38] is as unwarranted as citing the temple cleansing passage to this effect.”

Preaching, sermons & thinking: 2 Big Problems with Overly Simple Sermons [essential reading]

“Here’s the problem: sometimes reality is more complex than our desire for simplicity allows. … When simplicity becomes king, the pulpit is often its kingdom.  I think too many preachers have taken Einstein’s quote to heart. They’ve heard too often that good communication must be simple. So they force everything into that mold, talking about complex issues like poverty, suffering, ethics, and even the gospel, as though these were relatively simple and easy to understand. They’re not, and pretending otherwise sets us up for one of two problems (probably both): we create simpletons [and] we create despisers.

Respect: When You Fail to Show Respect

“I am not suggesting that people needed to be ‘nicer.’ The problem runs far deeper than this.”

LIFE group guide: light

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Mar. 30) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. This sermon (entitled “Light”) works out of Matthew 5.14 and 1 Peter 2.9.

To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this particular sermon.

To consider what it means to be this world’s light, with the aid of photography as a metaphor.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this morning’s sermon.

•  You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5.14 NIV)

•  I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. (Ephesians 1.18 NLT)

•  … once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. (Ephesians 5.8-9 NRSV)

•  … be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. (Philippians 2.15 NRSV)

•  … you are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2.9-10 CEB)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. You’ve snapped a photograph or two before. Tell us about one of your favorites.

2. Some photos have seemingly been seen by all; they’re “common knowledge.” Describe one.

3. Which best describes your picture-taking style: [a] “spray and pray” (take lots of pics with the hope of getting a good one) or [b] “one shot, one kill” (take a few, carefully thought out pics)?

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this morning’s sermon.

1. “You are the light of the world.” What other “you are” statements do you recall in the NT?

2. “… a people who are God’s own possession.” Compare this rendering in other translations.

3. Both photography and Christian faith (a) see things ________ [understand light], (b) pull back the ________ [capture and use the available light], and (c) tell a ________ [give/share light].

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. What are some unhealthy ways of interrupting what it means to be “the light of the world?”

2. How can faith show up as a bit “underexposed” or “overexposed” in a Christian’s life?

3. “… let your light shine in front of others.” (Matthew 5.16) How to do that and not be “glare”?

4. True or false: to be “an exceedingly dim Christian” is worse than being no light at all. Explain.

5. What are some things you’d say Christian faith and photography have in common? How so?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Think of a co-worker, school mate, or neighbor. Make a list of specific ways you can be Christ’s light to the person. Similarly, what available light might you be unwittingly blocking?

2. Snap a few pictures this week. A you do so, pay special attention to what the light is doing in terms of the composition and exposure of each photo. Let this exercise prompt you to pray about your role as a part of “the light of the world.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Affordable Care Act, health care system & medicine: Obamacare: The Rest of the Story

“This is the 90 percent of the story that doesn’t make the headlines. … they are transforming medicine from the treatment of disease to the treatment of patients — and ultimately the treatment of populations.”

Attitude, mind clutter & thinking: The Single Principle You Need to Clean Out the Mind Clutter for Good [required reading]

“We should start choosing our thoughts like we choose our clothes for the day. … We have chosen to give away the physical clutter that piles up in our spaces in exchange for serenity, for simplicity, and for a richer life. But what about non-physical clutter that fills up our minds and fogs our vision every day, every second even? Why can’t we apply the same principle to our thoughts, which could benefit a thousand fold from a little clean-up in their dusty attic?”

Calvin & Calvinism: Where Calvin Went Wrong

“… Calvin’s view of sovereignty so overwhelmed his theology that he ends up denying the capacity of humans to choose to believe.”

Christian college education & crisis of faith: The Christian College and the Crisis of Faith–and Why That Might be a Good Thing

“Many young people have an immature faith. Schools do not do them a service by helping them embrace this faith via dubious apologetics. Examination should always precede entrenchment.”

Church, God, idolatry & worship: Am I Just Now Beginning to Worship God? [required reading]

“When first converted I thought true worship was because of two facts: we did church right and we didn’t do it wrong.  That seemed to be both the message and the conclusion. … Our worship has failed to reach God for so many moments because we have stopped to worship the created rather than the Creator.”

Churches of Christ & the Restoration Movement: Why the Restoration Movement Needs a Gospel Revival [required reading]

“… biblically speaking, gospel is largely about us. It’s public. It’s as much about the restoration of the world as it is about the restoration of my soul.”

Facebook & privacy: How to Stay Private Now That Anyone Can Find You on Facebook

“You can control the audience of your updates, photos, or bio information if you don’t want strangers seeing your information.”

Generosity & giving: Generosity Is Its Own Reward

“… the relation between generous spending and happiness holds around the world, even in countries as impoverished as India and Uganda.”

Marriage: Things My Wife Does I Take for Granted

“How many things does she do that I take for granted? … Men, what do you take for granted that your wife does?”

Parenting: Random Bedtimes Breed Bad Behavior In Kids

“Parents learn the hard way that late bedtimes make for cranky kids the next day. But inconsistent bedtimes may have a greater effect on children’s behavior, a study says.”

Tipping & wages: Why You Should Tip 25%

“The shameful state of the salaries of restaurant workers, who often earn a poverty-level $2.13 an hour before gratuities, is a topic … But while politicians argue about the minimum wage and lobbyists push to keep workers’ salaries artificially low, I have an unconventional recipe for righting this obvious wrong: Tip more.”