links: this went thru my mind


Archaeology, history & Syria: Among the Wounded in Syria’s War: Ancient History

“The situation now is absolutely terrible there. … They come with jackhammers. That means everything is destroyed.”

Church atmosphere & environment: * What’s the Habitat? [essential reading]; * The Church is a Zoo; * The Dark Side of Small [essential reading]

* “Here’s an important question to ask regularly: ‘Who does well here?’ Don’t just ask, ‘who attends here currently?’ Ask, ‘Who thrives here?’ Ask it in the present tense rather than, ‘Who has survived here over the years?'”

* “… if God is bringing people different than those you thought He would bring, rejoice that He’s drawing any of His children to your church at all.”

* “I have often praised smaller churches. … But I am not wholly idealistic and naïve. Wherever there are human beings trying to make it through life together, there are problems. It matters not whether the setting is large or small. Every community of people faces challenges which, if not handled with wisdom, grace, and love, will threaten its health and perhaps even its existence.”

Crimea, Ukraine & Russia: The 160-Year Christian History Behind What’s Happening in Ukraine

“It would be pleasant to think that the U.S. and Europe are taking these religious factors into full account as they calculate their response to the present crisis in Crimea and Ukraine. Pleasant, but unlikely.”

Encouragement, leadership & ministry: Minister Search: You Have More to Offer Than You Might Think

“Church leaders often underestimate what they have to offer a prospective minister.  They have much value to offer a minister and I’m not talking about money. … Church leaders need to spend time thinking about what they have to offer that is of value. … Church leaders who will form a hedge of protection around a young minister really have something of value to offer. … Church leaders who will show a genuine interest in the lives of their ministers and families definitely have something valuable to offer.”

Happiness, money, possessions & stuff: Why Buying Stuff Won’t Make You Happy (and One Thing That Might)

“The pursuit and purchase of physical possessions will never fully satisfy our desire for happiness. It may result in temporary joy for some, but the happiness found in buying a new item rarely lasts longer than a few days. Researchers even have a phrase for this temporary fulfillment: retail therapy.”

History & the United States: Watch the United States Grow Before Your Eyes

“On March 4, 1789, the U.S. Constitution took effect, forming a nation of 13 colonies and a whole heck of a lot of unorganized territory. On August 21, 1959, Congress admitted Hawaii as the 50th state. … [see] this handy gif of all the steps it took to get us from point A to point B.”

The South: These 9 Maps Should Absolutely Outrage Southerners

“… there are lots of things to love about the South. It’s clean and quiet. There’s delicious food, good people and often amazing weather. But that’s exactly why it makes us so sad to think about all the ways in which the region is struggling today.”

links: this went thru my mind


Bible interpretation: My Problem With the Bible [essential reading]

“I have a problem with the Bible, but all is not lost. I just need to read it standing on my head. I need to change my perspective. If I can accept that the Bible is trying to lift up those who are unlike me, then perhaps I can read the Bible right.”

Church, language, race & worship: 5 Reasons People Avoid Visiting A Bilingual Service

“I still have people tell me: ‘I would visit the bilingual service, but I’m not bilingual.’ Explanations about how one only needs to know either one of the two languages used seem to fall on deaf ears.”

Discipleship, generosity, giving, minimalist, possessions & selflessness: 5 Practices Toward A More Radical Christian Life [essential reading]

“The older I get the more convinced I become that as rich Americans, you and I are at a tremendous disadvantage to experiencing the depths of the Kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate. … While I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries and spent nearly 8 years living outside the US, it has been my time in India (and more specifically my time in the slums and brothel areas) that has most motivated me to rid myself of American materialism so that I’m free to embrace the Kingdom Jesus spoke of.”

Free will & God: Open Theism Simplified

“Why would Open Theists think that God knows the future as partly composed of possibilities, and not only a future of settled facts in the mind of God?”

Immigration, love & racism: If People Excluded “Illegal Immigrants”, We Wouldn’t Have Jesus

“Under God’s law, Ruth was an ‘illegal’ and to be excluded– but thankfully, she was not. A man named Boaz comes along and becomes the hero of the story by ignoring a law that was ultimately unloving. Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a family. Like Jesus demonstrated by healing on the Sabbath, Boaz realized that it’s better to love than to obey the law. … We only have Jesus because someone loved an ‘illegal’ immigrant.”

Means & provision: If God Will Provide, Why Are My Means So Meager?

“Without a trust that God will provide, it will seem we work harder and get less.”

Tithing: * There’s More to Tithing Than 10%; * Tithing for New Covenant Believers–Yes or No?; * Why I Tithe – Part 1

* “Even if you give 10 percent faithfully, it doesn’t mean you’ll come away with the right perspective about the other 90 percent.”

* “God is pleased when our giving reflects our love for Him regardless of the percentage or amount.”

* “While I respect and understand differing perspectives. I believe the Bible teaches we are to offer God the first-fruits of our income. Gross, not net.”

links: this went thru my mind


Adultery: The United States of Adultery

[This is an interactive map. Houston is #2 in the country, beat out only by three-time winner Washington D.C.]

Birth of Jesus & Christmas: * Baby Jesus Meek and Mild, Overthrew an Empire – Wild!; * Is There A Dragon In Your Nativity Set?

* “May your Christmas be a time when you ponder the summons of a subversive kingdom. May you choose to peacefully follow the baby in the manger to the cross and through resurrection, proclaiming with the angels that a new era has begun; an era when the people of God can undo the works of oppressive ’empires.’ Merry Christmas.”

* “Every nativity set needs a red dragon. If you don’t remember that part of the story, you might want to read chapter 12 of Revelation.”

China, Christianity & persecution: China’s Hardship-Hardened Church

“Vibrant amid persecution, it seeks faithfulness over freedom.”

Contribution, generosity, giving, possessions, sacrifice, stewardship & wealth: The Scary Truth About Christian Giving

“Over the past 40 years, self-identified evangelicals have given between 2 and 3 percent of their incomes to churches and Christian organizations. Stewardship is a crucial part of the Christian life, and according to these figures, it is sadly lacking.”

Criticism, hatred & humility: Haters

“Never criticize what God is blessing.”

Firearms & guns: Gun Country

“They bring families together and they tear them apart. They kill innocent people and protect them. The United States continues to love and revile its hundreds of millions of firearms. Here is a look at that complicated  relationship, told through the personal stories of Americans.”

Insurance & the uninsured: Mapping Uninsured Americans

“Census data released Dec. 17 show where the uninsured live.”

Love & truth: 3 John: When Love is Abused

“He abused his power; he abused the love entrusted to him.”

Poor & poverty: In the War on Poverty, a Dogged Adversary [required reading]

“Without the panoply of government benefits — like food stamps, subsidized school lunches and the earned-income tax credit, which provides extra money to household heads earning low wages — the nation’s poverty rate last year would have reached almost 31 percent, up from 25 percent in 1967, according to the research at Columbia.”

Warfare: The Great War’s Ominous Echoes

“… the era just before World War I, with its gas lighting and its horse-drawn carriages, seems very far-off, it is similar to ours — often unsettlingly so — in many ways.”

this went thru my mind


Bible reading: Six Steps for Reading Your Bible

“So, how is it going with your Bible reading for 2012? I know many of you have made the commitment to read through God’s Word this year, and I am proud of you for accepting the challenge. … Here are a few tips for staying the course and completing the process of reading through God’s Word.”

Church contribution: Five Ways to Make Giving Easier to Your Church

“We have to make it easy for people to give!”

House church movement: The Struggle With House Churches

“Despite the assertion from the house church movement that the house church is the normative, biblical model it’s not. House churches are culturally formed models that meet cultural conditions. So far our experience is that the congregational model, a mid to large size community of God’s people, is still the most effective form or model for new churches in America.”

Life in Christ: Converting from Christianity to Christ

“When I was young, I decided to convert from my self-centered life to the religious life. Since then, I have been converting from the religious life to Christ’s way of life. There is a difference. A huge one.”

Meditation: Resist “Swish and Spit” Devotions

“What did you read yesterday? No, not what chapter, but what did you read? What from God’s Word got a hold of you to produce a response? Did anything evoke conviction or delight? Did something particular from your reading explode in your heart with thanksgiving?

“Hopefully the answer is yes. But too often the answer is, ‘Wait. Hold on. …I can’t remember.’

“This reminds me of childhood trips to the dentist. Do you recall after the dentist put that horrific fluoride treatment in your mouth? He then would spray in a bunch of water that you would lean over and (try to) spit in the small circular sink next to your head.

“Sadly too many of us have a ‘swish and spit’ devotional life. We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly.

“How do you combat dental chair devotions? One word: meditation.”

Millennial generation: How to Lead Millenials

“A good friend asked me the other day my thoughts on how to lead the millennial generation, basically those born after 1980. We gather thousands of leaders who fit this category on an annual basis, and most of our Catalyst staff are under the age of 30.”

Nationalism: The Nazis and Christianity: Is History Repeating Itself?

“For now, I just want to point this out for two reasons. First, this is, in my judgment, the biggest problem facing Christianity in America. Secondly, I also want to stress the need for teaching the Bible, as well as Christian theology and church history among churches. We can learn from what happened in Germany that both nationalism as well as biblical, theological, and historical ignorance are cancers to the Christian faith as well as cancers to society.”

Possessions: Don’t Just Declutter, De-own

“… organizing our stuff (without removing it) has some other major shortcomings that are rarely considered …”

Reversal: Black Church Wins Klan Shop Ruling

“After a lengthy legal battle between a black South Carolina church and members of the Ku Klux Klan, a judge has ruled that the church owns a building where KKK robes and T-shirts are sold.”

Success: The Dangerous Side of Success

“An article out of the business section of this week’s Wall Street Journal, ‘Kodak Teeters on the Brink,’ tells the painful story of Kodak. After thirteen highly successful decades, the film and camera company is on the ropes. It is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection. … There’s much the church can learn from all of this, for church cultures are prone to the same thing—to achieve some success and then become satisfied, content, turning insular, rigid—oblivious to the warning Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, who once said: ‘When the rate of change inside an organization is slower than the rate of change outside of an organization, the end of the organization is in sight.'”

United States of America: America Shall Not Be Exceptional

“We had it right in 1998 when we published these words to the United Nations: “Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offense under the law of the United States. No official of the Government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

War in Iraq: The Forgotten Wages of War

“As is our habit, the discussion focused on the costs to America in blood and treasure, the false premises of the war and the continuing challenges of instability in the region. What happened to Iraqis was largely ignored. … We rarely question that wars cause extensive damage, but our view of America’s wars has been blind to one specific aspect of destruction: the human toll of those who live in war zones.”

Wonder: How to Stay Astonished in Five Simple Steps

“I know…we’re too busy to be astonished. … So here’s five simple things to turn up your astonishment on any given day.”

journey through James (17): twenty questions on James 4:13-5:6

This coming Sunday morning (Nov. 20) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 4:13-5:6. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: successfully navigating the intersection of plans, pride, prosperity, and poverty. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty exercises and questions.


Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit.” (14) You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. (15) Here’s what you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (16) But now you boast and brag, and all such boasting is evil. (17) It is a sin when someone knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it.

(5:1) Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. (2) Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. (3) Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you. It will eat your flesh like fire. Consider the treasure you have hoarded in the last days. (4) Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces. (5) You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter. (6) You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you. (James 4:13-5:6 CEB)

Exercises & questions

1. What words or stories told by Jesus come to mind you read this text?

2. This section urges us to pay attention not to ourselves so much as to others, namely God (4:13-17) and people (5:1-6). Why is it so easy for us to forget God and others and become self-centered?

3. Is James saying it’s a sin to plan for the future (4:13-17)? Why or why not?

4. Who would you say James has in view in 4:13-17, Christians or non-Christians? Why? Would you say the audience changes or remains the same in 5:1-6? Explain.

5. Verse 14 speaks to the brevity of life with vivid imagery: we’re like a mist that quickly disappears. What other Scriptures come to mind that illustrate life’s brevity?

6. Though cemeteries surround us and we know no one gets out of this world alive (unless the Lord first returns), why are we seemingly always shocked and surprised by death? Do the subjects discussed in 4:13-17 help answer that question?

7. What is the chief sin James sets his sights on in 4:13-17? Sum up the teaching of 4:13-17, in your own words, in a single sentence.

8. How does 4:17 fit with the context that precedes it, or does it fit at all?

9. Sins of omission are in view in 4:17. Which would you say is most common among Christians, sins of commission (willfully doing wrong things) or sins of omission (willfully leaving good things undone). Explain.

10. What other passages in James’ letter do the words of 5:1b remind you?

11. A number of our senses are touched by the various images in 5:1-6. List the word pictures you find in that section along with the physical senses they affect.

12. It would be difficult to find stronger words in the NT against oppression than the words of 5:1-6. Name some modern day situations where these words are clearly applicable.

13. You’re a Christian and you run a business. You have a number of employees. Looking for guidance as to how to be a truly Christ-like businessperson, you read 5:1-6. What sort of principles and business practices might you adopt in light of reflection on this passage?

14. You’re a Christian. You work for a selfish, difficult boss who makes your life miserable. What help or hope, advice or advantage, does 5:1-6 extend to you?

15. What sin does James zero in on in 5:1-6? Sum up the teaching of 5:1-6, in your own words, in a single sentence.

16. In light of 5:1-6, would you say it’s a sin to be wealthy or a sin to use wealth wickedly? Explain.

17. What two specific abilities of God are referenced in this text? Hint: focus on 4:15 and 5:4. What do these two qualities have to do with how we humans should act?

18. What is “the day of slaughter” James has in mind in 5:5b?

19. Would you say 5:6b (“… the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you”) upholds non-resistance as a virtue to be imitated? Explain.

20. Is prayer alluded to anywhere in 4:13-5:6 (directly or indirectly)? Explain.

imminent domain (7)

Caring for the earth is not merely sensible for the short term so that our children and grandchildren will have a decent place to live as they grow up. It is also a good witness that we understand that the earth and all that is in it belongs to God (see Psalm 8). We are not owners of this world. We are only stewards and caretakers of it for God’s sake. The Bible does not support either a godless communistic philosophy of property and use of the world’s resources or a godless capitalistic vision of the same. The Bible suggests that there is neither private nor public property, only God’s property, of which we are all stewards. The whole modern theory of ownership is faulty, for we brought nothing with us into this world and we will take none of it with us when we go. It also follows from this theology of stewardship that, since the earth belongs to God, we have an obligation to use and dispose of it in a way that glorifies God and helps humankind. The theory of charity too often has as its central premise “what’s mine is mine, but I may choose to share it with you.” The problem with this thesis is that the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is therein. We have simply been entrusted with a small portion of it to attend and use for the good of God’s Dominion while we are here.

This theological perspective is part of what it means to take seriously the future reign of God on earth, because most assuredly God will hold us accountable for our stewardship of things. This may not prove a very pleasurable experience for those of us who are terribly wasteful. What will we answer when God asks why Americans throw away enough food every day to feed the world’s starving and still have leftovers? What will we say when God asks why we support industries that heedlessly pollute our rivers and destroy our air, simply in the name of profit? How will we answer when God asks why we persist in mistreating our bodies by repeatedly eating things that hasten disease, decay, and death in our bodies? If we are supposed to treat our bodies like a temple where God lives (1 Cor. 6:19), many of us need some reconstructing of our bodies and our chosen lifestyles.

Ben Witherington in Imminent Domain: The Story of the Kingdom of God and Its Celebration (pp.77-78)