links: this went thru my mind

Acceptance, evangelism, fellowship, forgiveness, hypocrisy, love, mercy, murder & outreach: He Befriended a Serial Killer, and Opened the Door to God [essential reading]

“Mr. Dahmer left behind confused parents, dozens of distraught relatives of the victims, the traumatized city of Milwaukee — and this white-bearded minister, struggling still at 60 with the sense that he, too, had been condemned, for having the audacity to grant God’s blessings upon the devil.”

Announcements & corporate worship gatherings: Nine Observations about Announcements in Worship Services

“I asked a number of church leaders of congregations of varying sizes about their practices in this area. They pretty much confirmed what I am seeing as well. Here are my nine observations.”

Capital punishment, death penalty, payback & revenge: Don’t Give Tsarnaev Death Penalty [required reading]

“Should we kill Tsarnaev? And the answer, despite the abhorrent nature of the crime, is simple: No, we should not. We are better than that. The fact is that the death penalty isn’t justice, it’s revenge.”

Choices, farming, generations, life, lifestyle, Millenials & priorities: A Young Generation Sees Greener Pastures In Agriculture

“America’s heartland is graying. The average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 58.3 — and that number has been steadily ticking upward for more than 30 years. Overall, fewer young people are choosing a life on the land. But, in some places around the country, like Maine, that trend is reversing. Small agriculture may be getting big again — and there’s new crop of farmers to thank for it.”

ISIS, money, Muslim, power, stereo-typing, terrorism & violence: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: These Terrorist Attacks Are Not About Religion [required reading]

“When the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in a black family’s yard, prominent Christians aren’t required to explain how these aren’t really Christian acts. Most people already realize that the KKK doesn’t represent Christian teachings. That’s what I and other Muslims long for—the day when these terrorists praising Mohammed or Allah’s name as they debase their actual teachings are instantly recognized as thugs disguising themselves as Muslims. It’s like bank robbers wearing masks of presidents; we don’t really think Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush hit the Bank of America during their down time.”

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

 

Corporate worship gatherings & Sunday night services: * Whatever Happened to Sunday Evening Services?; * The Sunday Night Service – Where Did it Come From?

* “Let’s look at six possible reasons for its decline or demise.”

* “If Christian worship did begin this way as an evening celebration on the first day of the week, it might well be asked how and why the morning eventually came to predominate as the appointed hour for worship. … A reasonable guess would be that the shift began to take place when evening gatherings of Christians were proscribed by the Roman imperial authorities sometime in the second century A.D.”

Missionaries & missions: * New Challenges in Foreign Missions (part 1) [essential reading]; * Why Foreign Missions Are Going To Become Even More Challenging! (part 2) [essential reading]

* “We only have the stamina for harvesting, not for planting and nurturing. … We believe we should be able to work everywhere else in the world cheaper than in the U.S. … Our mission work is dependent on how many self-motivated missionaries surface in our fellowship as opposed to a strategic global vision. … We are not by nature collaborative. … Our missionaries tend to be ‘lone rangers!'”

* “Churches of Christ are represented in a little over 90 of the 196 independent countries of the world with probably around 1000 American workers outside of the United States. We have a lot of work to do—and the challenge of world evangelism is growing. Let me outline why I say that … Americans are less well-liked in the world. … The world is now urban and becoming increasingly more so! … Poorer countries are getting wealthier.”

Public prayer: A Case Against Ceremonial Prayer

“Jesus said when you pray, you should pray something like this: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But that’s not how ceremonial prayer functions in the U.S. Most opening prayers are merely part of the great compartmentalization of life in the Western world. We want a slice of spirituality with important public events. But once we’re done with it, like an appetizer, we move on to the main course–the real reason we gathered. And more often than not, the main course has nothing to do with the appetizer. … Prayer works when it’s an expression of a whole life devoted to God. What’s best for our society is for God to not just have the opening prayer. But the entire meeting. The whole game. And everything that happens afterwards.”

Violence: Why the World is Becoming More Violent

“Much of what has been written about terrorism and the Middle East simply isn’t true. There was the recent, widely publicized claim of 100,000 Christians a year dying for their faith. That’s pretty stunning. When I found out how that 100,000 number was calculated, I realized it was absurd. More likely, the number was less than 7,000 a year. …

“It’s important for Americans to realize we are spoiled. We have a pretty good situation. But this is all very recent and very precarious. Hitler came to power in a democratic Germany; Mussolini was elected. Democracy has never ensured tolerance.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Busyness, church, fellowship & programming: Has Christianity Become Too Busy?

“Jesus is famous for many things—like performing miracles, claiming to be God, and dying on the cross—but one of his most underappreciated characteristics was his ability to just hang out. … Today, many churches leave little room for just hanging out. Instead, we do everything we can to contrive an extraordinary experience. Therefore, churches scheme, plan, design, create and facilitate multiple platforms for ultimate experiences to happen—but they often don’t.”

Chernobyl, nuclear power, pollution & Ukraine: Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe

“Against the decaying skyline here, a one-of-a-kind engineering project is rising near the remains of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster. … If all goes as planned, by 2017 the 32,000-ton arch will be delicately pushed on Teflon pads to cover the ramshackle shelter that was built to entomb the radioactive remains of the reactor that exploded and burned here in April 1986. When its ends are closed, it will be able to contain any radioactive dust should the aging shelter collapse. … The arch … allow(s) the final stage of the Chernobyl cleanup to begin — an arduous task to remove the heavily contaminated reactor debris for permanent safe storage. …  the Chernobyl arch alone will end up costing about $1.5 billion, financed largely by the United States and about 30 other nations. And making the site of a radioactive disaster truly secure can take generations. Engineers have designed the Chernobyl arch to stand for 100 years; they figure that is how long it may take to fully clean the area.”

Churches, demographics, evangelism, generations, Nones & outreach: The Gospel and the Nones [essential reading]

“Here is a fact: the median church size in America is now at 108 (down from 140). Churches are shrinking, the Nones are rising. … What’s the problem?”

Christians, Islam & Muslims: Why I Defend Muslims [essential reading]

“I’m ready and eager to talk about the uniqueness of Jesus, the wonder of the Gospel, and I’ll even talk about what distinguishes Christianity from other faiths, but I’m not going to do it by smearing our neighbors and their religion with half-truths and caricatures.”

Holocaust: Holocaust Remembrance Day

“… Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) … extends from Sunday evening until Monday evening, April 27-28

Rest: The Lost Practice of Resting One Day Each Week

“‘He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.’ —Benjamin Franklin.”

Self-perception & thinking: Are Your Beliefs Keeping You Stuck?

“Beliefs about myself. … Beliefs about others… Beliefs about the world.”

links: this went thru my mind (on violence)

 

Christians, desensitization & violence: Why Don’t We Find Bloodshed Repugnant Anymore?

“Sociologist Rodney Stark has argued that early Christianity ‘brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death.’ He attributes much of the church’s remarkable growth to the fact that it ‘gave to its converts … nothing less than their humanity.’ A consistent pro-life ethic, by honoring what God honors, makes a powerful witness.”

Christianity, Islam, nonviolence & pacifism: * The Challenge of Malala to the Church; * Malala Yousafzai and the Tradition of Islamic Nonviolence

* “Like Malala, one must be willing to bear witness to the way of love and then say with a giggle, ‘now do what you want.’

“The thought I’m struck with watching this interview is this: if a 14-yr-old girl, raised in a culture that does not look to Christ or the NT for guidance, can see the truth and beauty of this insight, how is it that the vast majority of professing Jesus-followers in the western church today cannot see it, despite the fact that Jesus and the NT so emphatically and so clearly teach it (e.g. Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:14-21)?”

* “Malala’s nonviolence in the face of brutality brings up an important question about Islam. Many people assume that Islam is inherently violent and out to conquer the world. If that’s the case, then how do we explain Malala and the countless other Muslims who have fought for justice through nonviolence?”

Jerusalem, Micah, promises, prophesy & war: Micah 4:1-5 – Hope Despite the Injustices and War [essential reading]

“We invite all nations to enter the kingdom of God, that is, to come learn of God. … We invite all nations to learn war no more. If the kingdom of God, when it has fully come, includes the destruction of weapons of war and the pursuit of peace, then if the church is the presence of the kingdom within the world it must advocate and pursue peace. … We invite all nations to seek peace and prosperity without fear. … The church, if it is the presence of the kingdom in the present, must advocate for the poor, call the nations to peaceful prosperity, and seek to develop strategies that deal with poverty upon the earth. … Micah’s kingdom vision–his new heaven and new earth vision–calls the church to live as if the future has already come, as if the fullness of the kingdom of God has already arrived.”

John Howard Yoder: A Theologian’s Influence, and Stained Past, Live On

“… John Howard Yoder, America’s most influential pacifist theologian.”

But a Muslim …

 

If anything, the Lord Jesus Christ – the way, the truth, and the life – was, and is …

Candid and clear. Good and gusty. Life-giving and loving. Open and outspoken. Real and relevant.

And so, if Jesus told us Christians here in southeast Texas one of our favorite Bible stories today – and I do mean right here and right now – it would not at all surprise me if he worded it this way …

A southeast Texas Christian stood up to test this one who called himself Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to be right with the Good Lord?”

Jesus replied, “What does it say in the Old Testament? How do you interpret it?”

He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you’ll have life with God.”

But the southeast Texas Christian had an agenda and wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is it exactly that is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man went down from new Mont Belvieu to the state streets in old Baytown. Along the way he got car-jacked. The crooks made him strip naked, beat him nearly to death, and then left him in shock beside the curb.

Now it just so happened that a church elder was also traveling that way just a minute after the man’s attackers had fled. He saw the injured man, but not wanting to get involved and fearing the attackers were still close-by, sped on, pretending not to notice. Likewise, a moment later, a Christian preacher drove by the man. He too saw the bleeding man, but he didn’t stop either due to the same fears. But a Muslim who was also going down that same street saw the man, was moved with compassion for him, immediately stopped his car and ran over to him. The Muslim bandaged the wounded man’s injuries with what he had on hand, placed the injured man in his own car, took him to the nearest hospital ER, and made sure he was cared for there. The next day, the Muslim went to the hospital’s billing department and gave them two full days’ worth of wages. As he did so he told the people in the billing department, ‘Take care of that man and know that I’m good for backing up whatever he gets billed.’ Now what do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered the assailants?”

Then the southeast Texas Christian said, “The one who showed the man mercy, giving him aid.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

May we not compartmentalize any part of our heart or mind, allowing anger, assumption, condemnation, gossip, hate, insinuation, judging, lies, prejudice, presumption, pride, slander, resentment, and/or suspicion to live and rule there.

May we never forget the scandal and offensiveness of the cross, the heart of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May those of us who claim to know it best apply it to ourselves before we think of sharing it with others.

May we not blindly, unthinkingly imitate the ways of the world.

And may we ever love everyone Jesus does. No exceptions.

links: this went thru my mind

 

Afterlife, deception, fraud, heaven & lies: Say It All Together Now: The ‘Proof of Heaven’ Author Made Everything Up

“If he’s willing to fabricate the details, isn’t it at least possible that he’s making up the major points, too?”

Church, parenting & youth: 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church

“What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.”

Funerals: Do Funeral Homes Charge Too Much for Their Services?

“The following are ten observations that are a combination of experience in the funeral industry and my heart felt intention to meet the needs of the people I serve – needs that often include an economical funeral.”

Gossip: Ways to Stop Gossip

“I have never found gossip to be helpful to the people involved or to the Kingdom of God. I have literally become a hater of gossip because I have seen it destroy so many people! Gossip hurts innocent people who are caught in the middle, it exaggerates the situation, and it keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration, and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.”

Healthcare: Diagnosis: Insufficient Outrage

” We could make the system better. We could ensure that everyone has access to the same set of prices, like the Medicare fee schedule. We could end the “fee for service” positive feedback loop — in which doctors and hospitals earn more for every procedure they do, which leads to overtreating patients — and instead have a flat fee. But the incentives will never be perfect. Ultimately, society needs individuals to be guided by ethical standards. And in medical care, those standards are getting pretty darn low.

“Too many of us have passively accepted the situation as being beyond our control. Medical care in America could use a dose of moral outrage. It would be best for all if it was self-administered.”

Islam, Jesus, Koran, Muslim & Qur’an: Jesus in the Qur’an: Christology Outside Theology

“Here are some things I learned about the Jesus of the Qur’an … Qur’an affirms Jesus identity as a servant, but in doing so it disqualifies him as being “Son of God” because the nature of a servant’s status is unfit for the divine. Jesus could never be the Son, because he is the servant. … Jesus’ death is denied. His death was only apparent. It is believed to be a false story created by the disciples. …  Jesus is a messenger and teacher who prepares the way for Muhammad, he announces the coming of Muhammad. … Jesus’ spirituality is “other worldly” and eschatological. As such it is seen as incomplete or insufficient. Muhammad provides the realism.”