links to 10 items worth your time

1. Advent is Actually Quite Political [essential reading]

“The real question is not whether our churches are political, but whether we’re aware of it. Are we thoughtfully considering the ways that our worship together can counteract the political messages of the world, or does our worship leave our political preferences undisturbed? Are our loyalties and allegiances formed more strongly toward the global church, our risen King, and his coming kingdom or toward a political party, a nation, or a racial category?”

2. Tell Your Children the Real Santa Claus Story

“St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are historically the same man. But unlike the jolly figure who purportedly flies on a sleigh from the North Pole, the saint came originally from the balmy Mediterranean coast. … His birthplace was near the town of Myra, now called Demre, on the southwest coast of modern Turkey. At the time, Christianity was illegal under the Roman empire.”

3. American Center of Oriental Research Photo Archive [a treasure trove of great pics]

“The American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan … has begun to process, digitize, and make fully accessible (and searchable) online a majority of ACOR’s major institutional and donated photographic holdings. … will better equip American, Jordanian, and international researchers and policy makers to monitor and assess the numerous threats facing heritage sites in the Middle East and especially Jordan.”

4. Ferrell’s Favorite Fotos #1

“What makes these photos ‘my favorites’? It could be because they are rare, meaning that few photographers have been able to visit the site to make a photo. It might be because of their beauty. Perhaps I just like the photo. Maybe it was difficult to get the shot. In the beginning I will try to make selections from various countries within the Bible World.”

5. How the Islamic State group destroyed a mosque but revealed a 3,000-year old palace

“There is a hill in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul called Nabi Yunus. … A monastery was built there in the early Christian period, then, more than 600 years ago, it was converted into a Muslim shrine to the prophet Jonah. In July 2014 this shrine was blown up by the Islamic State (IS) group. … Buried under Nabi Yunus is a palace that was both a residence for Late Assyrian kings and a base for the Assyrian army. It dates back to at least the 7th Century BC.”

6. The 10 toxic psychological traits that make so many people suck [on sin]

“We all have some twisted thinking to overcome.”

7. Why Have We Boiled the Gospel Down to Sin Management?

“… our view of the Gospel has been too narrow. It isn’t some new fad dismissed by claims of cultural accommodations. … Why did we make this move? How did we go from a holistic view of the Gospel as presented in the New Testament itself to a gospel scaled down …?”

8. Rachel, Mary, and the Lament of the World

“The Bible is the Story of God. But that is not the whole ‘story.’ The Bible is the story of God with the world, with creation.”

9. Looking to Share Your Faith? Slow Your Pace

“Moving at such a pace in the modern world — literally and figuratively — forces us to live out a key component of faith-sharing: integrity. Not only will you get to see people around you with great clarity, but they will get to see you with greater clarity as well.”

10. What Do We Know about the Scourging of Jesus?

“It is extremely difficult to find and identify actual scourges because of the perishable materials. Archaeologists must also take great care in accepting older classifications, especially when the artifact was subject to arbitrary additions and restoration attempts by diggers and private collectors.”

quote: on Christ, Christianity, and belief

“A man was born into one of the most violent and unjust periods in human history. He was born into a world where slavery and oppression were omnipresent, where violence was the primary means of conflict resolution, where most people lived lives of utter misery.

“This man fought the systems of oppression, injustice, and violence with a quixotic and short-lived ministry based on a radical set of principles: equality for all, including women; an equitable distribution of God’s earth; an alternative to violence. This mission would end predictably: with the brutal suppression of the movement by means of the public and macabre execution of its founder.

“But somehow, against all logic, the movement endured. Spurred by the memory of the man they followed, Jesus’s supporters continued to fight for his vision throughout the Roman empire. The vision persists even today, buried under layers of doctrine and dogma, for anyone with ears to hear or eyes to see. Two thousand years later, the mission of Jesus is still being fought for around the world. …

“No fairy tales man’s imagination can create will ever come close to the very real miracle that a man born into the most inhumane of worlds presented to us a vision of humanity at its very peak.”

Christian Chiakulas

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.”