links: this went thru my mind

Here are links to six articles that I’ve found to be interesting and helpful reading:

Affirming, communication, freedom, respect, tolerance, welcoming & words: Slippery Words— Tolerance, Respect, Welcoming, Affirming, Freedom

“What of course has happened in our American society is that as the culture has changed, the semantic range of a whole series of words has changed as well.”

American Sniper, cinema, discernment, film, movies, military service, perspective & war: I Was An American Sniper, and Chris Kyle’s War Was Not My War

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking the hit movie captures the truth of the Iraq conflict. I should know. I lived it. … If you really want to be a patriotic American, keep both eyes open and maintain 360 degrees of awareness. Don’t simply watch American Sniper. Read other sources, watch other films about the conflict. Talk to as many veterans as you can, get a full perspective on the war experience and the consequences. Ensure the perceived enemy in your vision is what it seems.”

Bible interpretation, misappropriation, misunderstanding & promises: 2 Ways We Misinterpret God’s Promises [essential reading]

“Over my years of ministry, I’ve discerned a tendency among conservative Christians to assume that anything in Scripture that looks like a promise is in fact something that God promises them.”

Church decline, culture & religion, history, perceptions, time & United States: Religious Decline in America? The Answer Depends on Your Timeframe

“Did the twentieth century see a rise and fall of religiosity within a larger pattern of stability? Or does the late 20th-century religious decline shrink to insignificance when compared with the religious rise since the founding of the nation?”

Church life, generation & peace: 3 Ways to Encourage Peace Between Generations in Denominations

“The fact is, each member within a family has a tendency to find their own style and way in life. But as each individual develops their own unique identity, they should not develop a spirit of pride over the others in the family.”

Choices, consequences, corporate worship & legacy: 15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

“Dividing congregations along age and affinity lines. … Eliminating choral expressions in worship. … Worship leader ageism. … Elevating music above Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper. … Making worship and music exclusively synonymous. … Trying to recreate worship with each new generation. … Ignoring the Christian Calendar and adopting the Hallmark Calendar. … Worshiping like inspiration stopped with the hymnal. … Worshiping like inspiration started with modern worship songs. … Not providing a venue for creatives to express their art as worship. … Allowing songs about God to supersede the Word of God. … Elevating gathered worship above dispersed worship. … Setting aside traditionalism around the world but not across the aisle. … Worshiping out of Nostalgia or Novelty. … Worship services at the expense of worship service.”

LIFE group guide: I can do all things?

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow night (March 10). This guide will enable your follow-up in our LIFE groups of my sermon tomorrow morning. This sermon is part one in a series of sermons dealing with some commonly misunderstood and misused Scriptures. The title of this series is I Do No Think It Means What You Think It Means. This first sermon in this series deals with Philippians 4.13 and is entitled “I Can Do All Things?” Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture texts reproduced below are from the CEB.

Aim

To examine familiar Scripture more closely, so as to correct our misunderstanding.

Word

• I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4.13 KJV)

• I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4.13 NIV 1984)

• I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4.13 NIV 2011)

• I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength. Still, you have done well to share my distress. (Philippians 4.10-14 CEB)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Tell us, with humility, what you think you’re good at. Name one of your strengths.

2. What’s something you’re not at all good at, but have to do often? Name a weakness.

3. Name something hard to do, but that you’ve learned to do. How’d you learn it?

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. What exactly had the Philippians done for Paul? What makes you think so (vs. 10-14)?

2. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to say “thank you” simply because it’s so easy for people to get the wrong impression. Paul told the Philippian Christians “thank you” (vs. 10a). What sort of wrong impressions did he want them to avoid (vs. 10b-14)?

3. Sometimes it’s hard to help others. You might be afraid they’ll expect more help in the future. Or that they’ll become dependent on you. Or that you’ll be throwing good money after bad. Does Paul say anything here (vs. 10-14) that makes you think some of the Philippians might have thought such of helping him? Explain.

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. Why is it all too easy for us to read Scripture without considering its context?

2. What sort of factors make this text (vs. 13) especially difficult for us as Americans to understand, appreciate, and live?

3. What sort of unhealthy thinking does the popular misunderstanding of this text sometimes generate? Brainstorm a list.

4. Finish this sentence: “I struggle most at being content whenever I __________?”

5. What experiences seem to consistently spark a keen sense of awareness deep within you of your absolute dependence on God?

6. What does it cost to do the good thing and “share” in someone’s “distress?” (vs. 10,14)

7. What can a Christian do to learn “how to be content in any circumstance?” (vs. 12)?

8. Given what you’ve learned, restate Paul’s point in vs. 13 in your own words.

this went thru my mind

 

Attack ads, critics & hate: Jesus and Paul Under Fire & The 2012 USA Presidential Election by Frank Viola [required reading]

“… why do politicians spend obscene amounts of money on ads which attack their opponents – most often falsely? Because they work. In general, people are gullible and will believe whatever they hear or read without checking the facts or going to the sources themselves. … his got me thinking. What’s happening in the political world right now in the USA has been going on in the “religious” world for over 2,000 years. Consider the misrepresentations and false accusations leveled at Jesus during His earthly days, thousands of years before the Internet and cable news …”

Evangelicals, history & politics: Pro-Life, Pro-Left ‘Moral Minority’ by David R. Swartz [a book review]

“So why did the evangelical left seem to dissolve into irrelevance? Swartz argues that evangelicals’ mass enlistment in the conservative Republicanism of the “culture wars” was not the inevitable consequence of doctrine or history: Jesus did not leave behind a clear party platform. But while members of the Christian right set aside doctrinal differences to rally around a shared cultural agenda, the left fell victim to internal identity politics and theological disputes.”

Logic, discussion & reasoning: Making An Argument the “Christian” Way? by Kurt Willems [required reading]

“… if we want to discover more truth. Here are my suggestion of arguing styles to be wary of.”

Migration & US population: American Migration [very interesting!]

“Close to 40 million Americans move from one home to another every year. Click anywhere on the map below: blue counties send more migrants to the selected county than they take; red counties take more than they send.”

Movies: Hollywood’s New Bible Stories

“The studios are increasingly reliant on source material with a built-in audience, something the Bible—the best-selling book in history—certainly has. And like the comic-book superheroes that movie companies have relied on for the past decade, biblical stories are easily recognizable to both domestic and the all-important foreign audiences. What’s more, they’re free: Studios don’t need to pay expensive licensing fees to adapt stories and characters already in the public domain.”

Non-Christians & perceptions: Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make About Christians by Thom Rainer

“Over the past several years, my research teams and I have interviewed thousands of unchurched non-Christians. Among the more interesting insights I gleaned were those where the interviewees shared with me their perspectives of Christians. In this article, I group the seven most common types of comments in order of frequency. I then follow that representative statement with a direct quote from a non-Christian.”

30 days with the Human One (10)

 

Who do you believe the Human One to be? Who, indeed.

Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?” (Matthew 16:13 CEB)

The disciples’ answer is interesting, primarily because it reveals in some ways how little has changed over the course of two millennium.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” (Matthew 16:14 CEB)

Now while I’ve never heard anyone today claim that Jesus was actually just one of the great prophets from Israel’s past, I’ve heard many people claim may times that Jesus was simply a great teacher or one of those rare, inexplicable charismatic figures that dot human history. Folks who think this way don’t see the Human One as anyone substantially different from other humans past. Disciples, however, see things very differently.

He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16 CEB)

To those who believe, Jesus isn’t an instant replay or modern adaptation of someone gone before, but s the walking, talking fulfillment of the promise of someone, altogether fresh and new. He’s not one who merely speaks of bringing God’s ways into our life, but is God himself bringing us to himself who is life. He’s not merely a prophet, but is the fulfillment of the prophecies.

Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19 CEB)

People who see the Human One for who he truly is are the truly happy people in this life. They see his church not as a place to go to reinforce good moral values in their children, but as the Human One’s own community of people in this world. They see their life not as something tossed about by chaotic winds that make no sense or as something determined by the dark things in this world, but see instead their life moving forward with God, sailing into the wind, as it were. They see their life not as something far removed from heaven and the God who may or may not be there, but as being in constant, intimate contact with the God who is there, and here.

For you see, the way you see the Human One makes all the difference in the world as to how you see everything in this world.

God of heaven and earth, I do believe. In the name of Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief. Amen.

Question: who do you believe the Human One to be?

30 days with the Human One (4)

 

Jesus Christ is “the Human One.” In fact, Jesus is the one who makes nearly sole use of the eighty plus occurrences of this phrase in the New Testament. The two exceptions are found in John 12, on the lips of the confused, and Acts 7, from the mouth of one ultimately committed to Christ.

Appreciate the first setting (John 12). Jesus has just entered Jerusalem and the people, hearing he has arrived, mob him and begin to shout praise.

They took palm branches and went out to meet him. They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the king of Israel!” (John 12:12-13 CEB)

While the people laud him as their king, their understanding of Jesus’ kingship is mistaken. They’re looking for a champion who can throw off the yoke of Roman rule and they see in Jesus just that one.

Jesus counters their thinking in a startling and vivid way, not calling for a war horse to ride on, but for quite the opposite, a donkey’s colt!

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Don’t be afraid, Daughter Zion. Look! Your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12.14-15 CEB)

This surely has the crowd scratching their head a bit, perhaps thinking, “Okay, so he’s a bit eccentric; he’s still our champion!” This is certainly the case with those who thought they knew him best.

His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. (John 12:16a CEB)

From there, things move on and among the happenings, God speaks from heaven to verify what Jesus says and Jesus begins to converse with the crowd. He says:

“Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.“ (He said this to show how he was going to die.) (John 12:31-33 CEB)

Now the crowd is completely confused. Their expectations and Jesus’ words don’t match up. As they put it:

The crowd responded, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Human One must be lifted up? Who is this Human One?” (John 12:34 CEB)

The crowd was expecting a messiah, a champion – perhaps the “human one” spoken of in Daniel’s prophecy – to deliver them from Roman oppression. They had become persuaded that Jesus was this messiah, the human one. Imagine their absolute delight when he said, “Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out!”

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Now, upon encountering Jesus, he doesn’t appear to them at all to act like a leader alive with command and power, for he chooses to ride, of all things, a half-grown donkey. Further, he quickly begins to speak not of the death of the people’s enemies, but of his own death (“when I am lifted up from the earth”). At the hands of his enemies, perhaps? Understand, this phrase (‘listed up”) is such a plain reference to crucifixion that the crowd would not miss it, men being “lifted up,” being crucified, being a rather common thing around Jerusalem at the time. Surely now they thinking, “Who is this guy? He’s not at all who we thought he was.”

And so, their misunderstanding of the intentions and work of “the Human One,” trips them up. Their mistaken expectations are their undoing.

Notice Jesus’ response to their question, “Who is this Human One?”

Jesus replied, “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.” After Jesus said these things, he went away and hid from them. (John 12:35-36 CEB)

Now I ask you, “Which is more surprising: the fact Jesus does not simply say, “I am” or the fact that he leaves them and hides from them?

Heavenly Father, expectations and understandings of all kinds fill my head. Time and again I’m made to understand that some “understanding” of mine is mistaken. No doubt some of my “understanding” and expectations of you are badly mistaken as well. As I seek to walk in light you give me, and as I struggle with my eyes to grow accustomed to your light, deliver me from missing your Christ along the way. Help me to not impose my expectations on Jesus, but to simply accept him for who is and to follow him wherever he would lead me. This I pray in his name. Amen.

we don’t preach about ourselves

We don’t preach about ourselves. Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5 CEB)

I occasionally encounter a current of thought that runs through some in the Christian community that a preacher should rarely, if ever, refer to himself in a sermon. They feel that if the preacher does so he is, at best, wasting precious time, and quite likely, even worse, distracting or detracting from the good news about Jesus Christ, perhaps even destroying it.

Paul and I beg to differ with such thinking and we say together that such reasoning is misguided. Seriously so, in fact. And how do I know Paul and I are on the same page? The very verse under consideration, and all of its context, tells us so.

For the preacher is an integral part of the message that is being preached. That is, who is speaking greatly affects what is being said and how it can be construed. What if a minister shared the good news and the world knew the integrity of his life was full of holes? We all know the result. No, we all believe the preacher and the message cannot be entirely separated.

And Paul says so here. The “we” in the verse is an “editorial” we; Paul is referring directly to himself. And in so doing who and what does he preach? “… we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord …” But how does he do so? By many means, not the least of which is one means revealed by the remainder of the verse: “… we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”

To preach Christ as Lord and to speak of yourself as a slave to God’s people is not to speak of two different things, but of one thing, the revelation and application of Christ’s gospel. Paul is saying, “I preach Jesus is Lord and I do so with my lips and my life. Hear and see the gospel from me, in me, and through me. Jesus is Lord and so I serve him and his people.”

Literally all of Paul’s letters are proclamations of the gospel of Christ. Now with that thought in mind, pause for a minute and ask yourself how often Paul speaks of himself in his letters. Frequently! Just as we saw in this verse and as is made quite clear in some of the verses that immediately follow. Take for example this paragraph and listen to how Paul plainly, forcefully talks about himself with Christ as end in view:

We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again. We face death every day because of Jesus. Our bodies show what his death was like, so that his life can also be seen in us. This means that death is working in us, but life is working in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12 CEB)

So if Paul isn’t at all opposed to a preacher using himself as an illustration or referencing himself in the course of a gospel message, what does he mean when he says, “We don’t preach about ourselves”? He is simply saying that Jesus Christ, not himself, is the end in view. He is saying that God’s gospel points to Jesus, not the preacher, in terms of its origin and objective, method and means.

Paul is saying: “The gospel is not about me, but is all about Jesus. It comes to me from him and it goes out through me by him, but it is about him. Look to me and listen to me, but as you do so, understand that I am simply pointing you in every way I can to him who wants to have his way with all of us. The message I preach is not about me, though it makes me who I am. The gospel is about him who is Lord and what being “Lord” means to us all. Hear the gospel through me and see the good news in me.”

Heavenly Father, as a preacher of your good news, make me into an ever clear and obvious signpost pointing to your Son. Work through me and when necessary, despite me, to that end. Make my life a sermon hard to ignore and may my words ever declare him who will not be ignored. For it is in his name I pray for myself. Amen.