links to 10 items worth your time

1. Now Streaming: The Entire Catalogue of ‘Sesame Street’ Songs

“… new ‘Sesame Street’ music will soon be released on a consistent schedule, for the first time in more than two decades.”

2. I’ll Have Consequences

“… I have no magic formula for dealing with disobedient and unruly children, and certainly in a world where some children’s behavior has been malformed almost from the very start, we should not underplay the difficulties and frustrations parents face. But surely we also want to place the bond between parents and children within that circle of deeply personal relationships.”

3. Why you need a little resistance in your life

“We need the rain and the occasional storm.”

4. Why Did Early Christians Prefer the Codex to the Bookroll

“When we say ‘book’ today, we generally mean a tome of bound pages. Known as the ‘codex,’ this common book form has always (over the past two millennia, anyway) looked the same — like any book on your desk. While the origins of the codex are not sufficiently explained, evidence shows that the preserved early Christian manuscripts are more often codices (plural of codex) than the then-established bookrolls. Why?”

5. Science and Theology: Two Witnesses to Reality

“… we generally have it backwards in how we think the reasoning process works. We tend to think that we work out our conclusions through the process of reasoning about the topic. But the controlled studies show pretty clearly that most of the time we already have a conclusion based on our instincts and that our process of reasoning is employed to justify what we already think. And it’s not like the smarter you are, the more open you are to other possible conclusions. The higher your IQ, the better you are at producing reasons to support your views; you’re no more likely to change your views than people with lower IQs. This might be depressing to those who have an exalted view of the human intellect, but it sure explains the inability for rational discourse to move us closer together, even when the facts are overwhelmingly on one side.”

6. Archaeologists map centuries of history beneath world’s oldest cathedral

“So far, that data has helped create a 3D digital reconstruction of what the basilica would have looked like in the 4th century. And Haynes and his colleagues are also trying to understand what it would have sounded like. Using the laser scans and information from earlier excavations, they created a simple 3D model to reconstruct the acoustics of the original cathedral.”

7. The Costs of the Confederacy

“‘It was like we were not even there,’ she said, as if slavery ‘never happened.'”

8. ‘Prosperity preachers’ like Joel Osteen can cause risky financial behavior, university report says

“The University of Toronto recently released a report saying preaching the ‘prosperity gospel’ — which centers around the belief that material wealth is part of God’s will — can lead to unrealistic optimism and risky financial behavior. The report used Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church as an example of a televangelist who touts this belief.”

9. The 25 Healthiest Foods You Can Buy for $5 or Less

“… cooking your own meals and having snacks on-hand will drastically cut the amount of money you spend on food throughout the week.”

10. The Steward of Middle-earth

“Now, after more than 40 years, at the age of 94, Christopher Tolkien has laid down his editor’s pen, having completed a great labor of quiet, scholastic commitment to his father’s vision [J.R.R. Tolkien]. It is the concluding public act of … the last member of a club that became a pivotal part of 20th-century literature: the Inklings. It is the end of an era.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Bibles: Countries That Are Bad for Christians Are Good for Distributing Bibles

“Where did demand for Scripture surge last year? Try Syria, Iraq, and Laos, for starters.”

Christian faith: * Seven Lies About About Christianity Which Christians Believe; * The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel: Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer

* “Here are the most common stereotypes that Christians have about Christianity that are wrong …”

* “I used to think that their error was so blatantly obvious that they could just be ignored. I was wrong. They are massively growing in popularity in the evangelical world and are seen as credible and helpful. Before I’m inundated with questioning emails I want to share why I distrust these two and think you should as well. So, don’t shoot me — at least not yet.”

Church decline: 7 Suggestions NOT To Do When the Church is in Decline

“The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is not what they should do…but what they shouldn’t.”

Church leadership, church life, ministry & shepherding: Seven Ways Pastoring Has Changed in Thirty Years [required reading]

“… in thirty years pastoring has changed in ways we likely would have never predicted or imagined.”

Climate change, ecology, environment, global warming & pollution: Panel Says Global Warming Carries Risk of Deep Changes

“‘The reality is that the climate is changing,’ said James W. C. White, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who headed the committee on abrupt impacts of climate change. ‘It’s going to continue to happen, and it’s going to be part of everyday life for centuries to come — perhaps longer than that.'”

Consumerism, culture & Christmas: * The ‘War on Christmas’: On Ethnocentrism and Blasphemy; * Do Not Judge the Christmas Shopper

* “The worry about this trend, among some Christians, is that Christ–the Reason for the Season–is being removed from Christmas and the American consciousness. This is taken to be a sign of the increasing secularization of America and indicative of moral and spiritual decline. But this is nonsense.”

* “… while I think we need to push back–hard–on consumerism in our culture, we need to be very careful in judging the motives of any given shopper.”

Hatred & violence: The Science of Hatred

“What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence?”

Justice, money, poor & poverty: * What Dave Ramsey Gets Wrong About Poverty by Rachel Held Evans [essential reading]; * Speaking of the Poor — It’s Not Their Fault!; * This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense [essential reading]; * My Journey Through Food Stamps

* “… while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical. … People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.”

* “For Christians, the issues of poverty should have nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Poverty is a justice issue! The prophet Isaiah implores the people of God saying, ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’ (Isa 1:17) Part of doing right and seeking justice for the poor, is speaking correctly about the struggles and obstacles they face.”

* “…  often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.”

* “…  I did what everyone else on food stamps does — I made the food stretch each month and found other ways to keep us eating.”

Bruner on John 4.48-50a

 

“So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.’ The royal official says to him, ‘Sir, please come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus says to him. ‘You may go home now; your son is alive.'” (John 4.48-50a)

Three rapid changes: (a) a rebuke, (b) a plea, and (c) a promise. Why does Jesus rebuke him at all? We can at least learn from Jesus’ initial remark that he is rather often unimpressed with sings-and-wonders faith (cf. 2:23-25; Matt. 7:21-23; 24:4). Some Christian movements specialize in the promotion of signs and wonders in order to elicit faith. Jesus seems to caution such promotion. The health-and-wealth prosperity gospels and some “word-Faith” movements are placed under serious question by Jesus’ ministry almost everywhere in the Gospels and specifically in these verses.

Signs-and-wonders faith has the innate danger of being sunshine faith, faith that believes when the going is good but that is gone when the going gets tough (Second-soil faith in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower seems to be this kind of faith: Matt. 13:5-6 and 20-22.) Rebuke-withstanding faith, which is the faith the royal official now sustains, is faith that in even stormy weather (even from Jesus!) hangs in there and just keeps asking (as our official now does). Both Cana miracles, interestingly, share rebuke-withstanding faith: Jesus’ mother sustained Jesus’ slightly more temperate rebuke (“Woman, what has this got to do with you and me … ?” 2:4), for she told the servants immediately after Jesus’ rebuke, with surprising equanimity, “What he tells you to do, do it!” (2:5). The official is now rebuked and then simply asks again, “Sir, please come down before my little boy dies.” There may have been a tone to Jesus’ rebukes that was more inviting than repelling. Christian discipleship often experiences what appear to be Jesus’ rebukes. Can we sustain them and keep on believing that he really means us well? (Remember the Canaanite Woman’s remarkable faith despite Jesus’ strangely sharp words in Matt. 15:21-28.) The two Cana miracles teach us, in tandem, at least this: there is promise when we sustain Jesus’ rebukes.

Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Eerdmans, 2012), pp.288-289

journey through James (16): twenty questions on James 4:1-12

This coming Sunday morning (Nov. 6) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 4:1-12. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: learning how to grow toward God and away from Satan, selfishness, and sin. 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.

Scripture

What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? (2) You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. (3) You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.

(4) You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? (5) Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? (6) But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble. (7) Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. (8) Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

(11) Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you? (James 4:1-12 CEB)

Exercises & questions

1. List all of the things we know that God does or will do in light of the teaching of this text.

2. List all of the sins you see directly referenced or implied in this passage that were apparently common among the Christians to whom James originally wrote.

3. List what we know about the devil from what is directly stated or implied in this passage.

4. List all of the direct commands given to Christians in this Scripture.

5. Clearly, selfishness is a huge problem among the Christians to whom James is writing. How big a problem would you say selfishness is among Christians in our country today? Explain.

6. Given the immediate context (and other passages in James such as 5:6), would you say the reference to “murder” in vs. 2 is literal or figurative? Explain.

7. “You long for something you don’t have …” (vs.2). Good thing we don’t have that problem anymore, huh? Comment on our culture’s “cravings” and how we Christians often share the same cravings.

8. Struggle and fighting among Christians is sin and comes from sin. What sort of sins does James say fueled the struggles and fights he references in vs.1-3?

9. What does vs.2-3 teach you about prayer?

10. What does vs.3 have to say about the common teaching known as the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel?

11. Given what is said in vs.4, would you say it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation?

12. Verse 5-6b is notoriously difficult text to translate. Notice the variation in rendering by comparing the passage in several different English translations.

13. What does James mean that God “gives us more grace” (vs.6)?

14. Paul says God does not play favorites (Romans 2:11) and yet, here James says God “favors the humble” (vs.6b)? How can both of these statements be true, or can they be?

15. Given the context, what would you say might happen to a person if God draws near to them (vs.8a)?

16. What does it mean to be “double-minded?” (vs.8b)

17. As surely as we’re called to “rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4), we’re also called to “mourn” our sins (vs.8-10). How can a Christian do both of these things?

18. James says criticizing, disrespecting, insulting, or mistreating other Christians is akin to put yourself in the place of God (vs.10-12). What accounts elsewhere in Scripture come to your mind when you think of people (wittingly or unwittingly) putting themselves in God’s place?

19. James is using every possible means of persuasion as he urges the Christians to whom he is writing to get their act together. Try to list the various motivations James appeals to in this text. Which do you find most powerful or persuasive?

20. This much is certain from this passage: church life can sometimes resemble be hell on earth. What advice, derived from this text or elsewhere in Scripture, would you give to a new or troubled Christians who found themselves in the middle of a selfish church caught up in civil war among themselves?

journey through James (13): twenty questions on James 2:14-26

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 2:14-26. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: replacing the emptiness of foolishness with the fullness of faithfulness. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. (James 2:14-26 CEB)

1. What statement in this passage is most striking to you? Why?

2. Make a list of what this passage specifically says faith without faithful activity is good for or like.

3. “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.” (vs.15) What does this passage have to say about the common teaching today known as the “health and wealth gospel” (i.e. prosperity gospel, name-it-and-claim-it gospel, etc.)?

4. Who is responsible for meeting the physical needs of the Christian poor?

5. What other passages in James come to mind when you read the illustration of benevolence? (vs.15-16)

6. “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!” (vs. 16) What are some modern, roughly equivalent statements you use when you say something to, but do nothing for, someone you see in need?

7. “Faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (vs. 17), but is faith necessarily alive when there is activity? Suppose a very active Christian friend confides in you that while they’re doing many good things in Christ’s name, their faith in Christ has faded and at times even appears to be nonexistent. They’re deeply troubled by this. In light of this passage in James, what can you say to them?

8. How are you guilty of sometimes hoping for or expecting faith to be seen without your actions (vs.18)?

9. To what does James have reference and what does he mean by the phrase “God is one?” (vs.19a)

10. Should we, as Christians, “tremble” as the demons do (vs.19b)? Why or why not? As you answer, consider the fact that this is the occurrence in the NT of the Greek word translated here as “tremble”.

11. Aside from James’ statement here that “the demons believe …” (vs.19), what other NT texts would lead you to believe such?

12. “… faith without actions has no value at all.” (vs. 20b) Honestly, is there a part of you that disagrees with this statement? Why or why not?

13. Are you “righteous?” Are you “God’s friend?” (vs.23) Interact at heart level with these statements.

14. Recount as much as you can of the story of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar. Having done so, compare your recollection with the Biblical account in Genesis 22. What parts did you leave out, forget, or get wrong?

15. As you did with the preceding question, do the same with the account of Rahab receiving the spies (Joshua 2).

16. Compare and contrast Abraham (vs.21-24) and Rahab (vs.25).

17. Many Biblical personalities expressed obvious faith again and again. And so, of all the personalities James could have drawn from, and of all the incidents in their lives, why do you suppose he selected Abraham and Rahab to drive home his point that faith without works is dead? What personalities would you have selected and what incidents in their lives?

18. Some say what James says here about faith contradicts what Paul says about faith in Romans and Galatians. What is your impression?

19. Responding from this passage, how would you respond to someone who read this passage and said, “So then, if a person does what’s good, God owes them salvation?”

20. “What good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?” (vs.14) In what areas of your life do you keenly sense you need to do a better job of showing your faith? How can we pray for you in these areas?

this went thru my mind

Alabama: Our hearts go out to, and our prayers go up for, the people of Alabama. Jay Guin is one of the elders of the University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa. His personal website, One in Jesus, should be one of your browser’s bookmarks; it’s simply one of the best out there, day in and day out. Some of Jay’s most recent posts speak to the devastation wrought by the recent tornadoes. They will assist you in your prayers for the folks out that way. Here are two examples of such posts: Tornado information and Tornado: maps & stories.

Bible interpretation: Rachel Held Evans’ post Discussing the Bible: Seven Rules of Engagement is full of healthy thinking.

Children & faith: Unfortunately, Thomas Weaver’s Five Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church are virtually guaranteed to work … and are too often attempted.

Church and church buildings: Matt Dabbs has pegged it in his post entitled The New Anti-Institutionals.

Confidentiality and transparency: Kurt Willems’ post Floaties, High Dives, and Spiritual Questions: Is the Church a “Safe Place? is required reading. What a huge issue that affects everything we do whenever and wherever Christians come together as a church! Do read Dale Hudson’s To Tell or Not to Tell? when you’re through with Willems’ post.

Faith healing: Derren Brown is a British illusionist and skeptic. In a recent post, Mike Cope shared a 70+ minute video of Derren Brown attempting to expose faith healers for what they are, charlatans. This video has some foul language in it, but aside from that, you’ll find it fascinating, disturbing, and instructive. If you use no other link I list here today, this is the one to choose: Miracles for Sale. Come to think of it, Tim Woodroof’s Painted With the Same Brush would serve as a good intro to this video.

Kindle: Here’s a tip that couldn’t be more easy and has greatly expanded the way I use my Kindle. Clip Web Pages and Send Them Straight to Your Kindle.

KJV: The King James Version of the Bible will be four hundred years old this Monday. You might enjoy this infographic on the KJV.

Oklahoma: You know the song Swing Slow Sweet Chariot. Did you know it just recently became Oklahoma’s official “state gospel song.”

Persecution. Pray for all who believe. Underground Christians Fear China Crackdown.

Praise: Brief and inspiring. Turn on the closed captioning. Easter Mob Song in Beirut.

Prosperity gospel: It’s a common teaching in many circles today that if a Christian is of genuine, growing faith they will experience less and less suffering in life and more and more material abundance. How this teaching – radically contradictory to the experience of our own Lord Jesus – ever got traction is beyond me. This much is certain: it isn’t a new teaching. In my junior high school days, David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade was required reading. David Wilkerson died in an automobile accident this week, but you can still hear his passionate, weeping denunciation of the health and wealth gospel online. Tim Spivey’s brief excerpt of a quote from Charles Spurgeon is good to note along this line as well.

Repentance. In Nov. 1864, Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister and well-known (as he was called in the day) “Indian fighter” led an attack on a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, butchering a great many women, children, and elderly. In 1996, the United Methodist Church expressed repentance for Chivington’s actions and initiated a series of steps expressing that repentance. Chris Herlinger’s post Methodists Express Repentance for Massacre of Native Indians speaks to the latest expression of those steps of repentance. Repentance brings healing and it’s never too late to repent. On a related note (file this under “courage”), not all of Chivington’s men followed his order to participate in the massacre. The story of Silas Soule is one that should not be forgotten and will inspire you to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost.

Wedding: Whether you were one of the one-third of the planet who tuned in this week to Will and Kate’s wedding or you’re just glad it’s over, you’d enjoy two excerpts from their wedding ceremony. The first is the thoughtful, penetrating reading of Romans 12 (in its entirety) by Kate’s brother, James. The link is to a video clip of it. And the second, is the terrific text of the wedding sermon (homily). Well done, chaps! Jolly good show!

Urban legends. Trevin Wax’s post Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition is good stuff.

fresh bread: basic math

“You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God…. God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God.” (Luke 16:13b-15 CEB)

In Jesus’s time there were quite a number of people who were exceedingly bad at math. Following are two examples of some of their most elementary calculations:

tragedy + any person = that person must have sinned and clearly God was displeased with them (cf. Luke 13:3-5; etc.)

prosperity + a Jew = that person must be obviously righteous and God is pleased with them to bless them so (Luke 16:10-15; etc.)

But then Jesus showed up, grading papers and teaching what appeared to them to be “new math.” His calculations look like this:

tragedy + any person = doesn’t make anyone more or less of a sinner nor does it indicate God’s approval or displeasure, it just is

prosperity + a Jew = is no indicator whatsoever of a person’s standing with God, but is a context of serious responsibility lined with much greater temptation

A multitude today still have not learned the “new” math. They continue to add up in their head that tragedy is equal to God’s judgment and financial prosperity is something of an indicator of salvation.

And we wonder why greed and despair are so common? Our “figuring of God” is fouled up.

God’s way of adding up things is not our natural way of calculating things and interpreting reality. But then again, he’s the only one with the right answers.

Heavenly Father, deliver us from evil and bring us to the place of right values. May your praise be the sum total of our life. Nothing more nor less. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.