Aug 192017
 
God of our times, our years, our days.
     You are the God of our work,
      of our rest,
      of our weariness.
Our times are in your hands. We come to you now
     in our strength and in our weakness,
     in our hope and in our despair,
     in our buoyancy and in our disease.
We come to pray for ourselves and for all like us
     who seek and yearn for life anew with you and from you and for you
We pray to you this day, for ourselves and others like us in our greed.
     We are among those who want more,
          more money, more power, more piety, more sex,
          more influence, more doctrine, more notice, more members,
          more students, more morality, more learning, more shoes.
     Be for us enough and more than enough,
     for we know about your self-giving generosity.
We pray to you this day, for ourselves and others like us in our disconsolation.
     We are not far removed from those without,
          without love, without home, without hope,
          without job, without health care.
     We are close enough to vision those who must
          check discarded butts to see if there is one more puff,
          who must rummage and scavenge for food,
          for their hungers are close to ours.
     Be among us the God who fills the hungry with good things,
          and sends the rich away empty.
We pray to you this day, for ourselves and others like us who are genuinely good people,
     who meditate on your Torah day and night,
     who are propelled by and for your best causes,
     who are on the right side of every issue,
     who wear ourselves out in obedience to you,
          and sometimes wear others out with our good intentions.
     Be among us ultimate enough
          to make our passions penultimate,
          valid but less than crucial.
We are your people. We wait for you to be more visibly and palpably our God.
So we pray with our mothers and fathers, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
We wait for your coming with all the graciousness we can muster.
Amen
Walter Brueggemann 
Aug 192017
 

Matthew 25:14-30

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.

  • We need to take note that this was his property – not company or communal.
  • This is about stewardship – not about money – but what you do with what you have and why.

15 To one he gave five talents to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

  • God has expectations of us according to our ability. People have different capacities in their gifts.
  • Billy Graham can preach to more people than I ever will. He was given the world and I was given this class. The expectation for faithfulness is the same for both of us.

16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.

  • This first guy was clear about the gift given him because he understood who the master was.
  • This would be like someone hearing a call to be a (fill in a vocation) and going out and doing it.

17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.

  • Ditto for this guy.
  • Note that there is nothing that indicates that the number mattered at all – “why did he get five and I received only two?”
  • A good example for Nike – Just Do It.

18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

  • Obviously, this guy is going to be the point of the parable.
  • This is not a class on investing – this is a teaching on being faithful to the end.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

  • What imagery do we see here? The master returns and does his accounting / bookkeeping.
  • What did we see in the parable above about the virgins? The master / bridegroom returns to take care of the business he had promised – and we will see the same with the parable below at the end of the chapter.

20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

  • They each appear for their accounting.
  • Note that God rewards by calling him faithful and based on that faithfulness he is given reward.
  • I would imagine “the joy of your master” would be heaven.

22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’

23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

  • Same thing, same compliment and reward – for being faithful.

24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,

  • This guy has a preconceived view of God as one who gives you what “you deserve.” In that case you will get what you deserve.
  • The God you believe in will be the God you have.

25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

  • I think he was thinking “at least I didn’t lose his money; I am able to return his one talent.”
  • For practical purposes let us look at ourselves as being this 3rd servant – we are the believer who has been given and been equipped by the Lord to go out and invest himself in others.
  • “I am not going to tell my neighbor about Jesus because I may offend him.”
  • “I am not going to talk to someone about a deep and difficult theological / moral / ethical question because I may turn them off and they may leave the church (abortion – same sex marriage etc.)”
  • “I am afraid I will do more harm than good because I do not know enough.”

26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?

  • There is no ‘good and faithful servant’ for this guy.

27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

  • We get hung up on the 5, the 2, and the 1. We wonder why he got 5 – what quality did he possess that made him qualified for 5 while the other guys has qualities that they were worthy of less.
  • The point here – the main point – the only point is faithfulness with what you have and you have put to use what has been given.
  • What has God given you? Everything! In his Son Jesus Christ, in his suffering, death and resurrection, he put his name on you in holy baptism, he gives you his word of forgiveness,
  • He speaks that word of forgiveness in his absolution, in the sermon and he gives you his body and his blood.
  • We must be faithful in those things – be faithful in them and trust them.
  • Jesus is the savior, he died for you, rose for you, he has given you the benefits of his Calvary dying – trust him – be faithful.

28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.

  • It is so important to use Jesus properly that for those who do not, it is taken away.
  • What does it mean to have good use of Jesus, or put the talents to use?
  • ) Jesus died for the forgiveness of sin and I am a sinner. Let me think this through – well let me use Jesus for my forgiveness, for my life and for my salvation.
  • ) This is the point of being a disciple – being faithful with what you have been given as a disciple.
  • ) Our job is to teach people how to use Jesus properly –
  • ) No, you put Jesus to work in your life “yes I am a sinner, thank you Jesus that you died for me – help me to believe that.”
  • ) What is the opposite of that? You do not bury Jesus in the ground and say, “no, Jesus’ death does not count for me.” – People do say this when they say “God cannot forgive me for what I have done.”
  • ) and the proper answer from us is? – he can, he does and in fact he has already done it.

29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

  • What can this mean?
  • Again we see Jesus making the separation.
  • This guy is an unbeliever.

30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

  • Ouch! Cast into outer darkness just for breaking even? The master goes off and left his servants with no instructions and expected them to do the best thing.
  • I can see why the 3rd guy was terrified …but that is because we get lost in the details of the parable.
  • OK, well this is where Jesus my buddy, Jesus my co pilot gets a bit awkward.
  • But, once again, there is a hell – and people end up there.

 

Aug 172017
 

Making Friends

“He also said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” ’ ” (Luke 16:1-2)

There are two characters in the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. The first is a rich man (or master) who employed a manager to oversee his vast holdings and enter into business transactions on his behalf. He received a report that his manager was violating his trust.

The second is a manager who had a high position in his master’s household, which included the authority to enter into financial transactions for the account of his master. The manager was accused of “wasting his [master’s] possessions.”

At the end of the parable, Jesus refers to the manager (or perhaps both characters) as “sons of this world” (Luke 16:8). By that designation, Jesus designates them as non-Christians living under the rule of this world. Worldly life is conducted according to the Law, such as, if you do the crime, you do the time (or in this case “you’re fired”). Employment law generally classifies a manager as an “at will” employee. Therefore, the master was within his legal rights to dismiss the manager without proof of any wrong doing.

Ultimately, however, the master and the manager share a common destiny. Both of them will forfeit their positions and all of their wealth at their deaths. “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.” (Eccl 5:15) Moreover, when the mirror of God’s Law is held before them at judgment, they both will be revealed as sinners, condemned to a sinner’s fate.

“The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.” (John 8:35)

Christians (or “sons of light” as Jesus describes us in Luke 16: 8) do not have a master like the rich man. It is not, however, on account of our good management of our Father’s wealth. It is entirely on account of our Father’s mercy and grace that Jesus gave His life on the cross to blot out all the sins of our mismanagement and ransom us from the kingdom of the world, into His spiritual kingdom, in which we have the forgiveness of sins.

In Christ, our Father grants us: sonship, not employment; inheritance, not wages; heaven, not hell. These He gives us out of pure grace for the sake of Christ who gave His life for us.

“And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.’ ” (Luke 16:3-8)

The manager, who knows nothing of God’s grace, much less His judgment, thinks only about worldly comfort and his immediate future. And he is not above wasting (more?) of his master’s wealth to secure his future. The cleverness demonstrated by the manager was so impressive that, despite the dishonesty, the master actually commended the manager for his shrewdness in providing for his worldly comfort.

Jesus uses this parable to observe how the children of His kingdom are lazy and ungrateful in comparison to the children of the world. We have adoption into God’s family and are made heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ as a free gift. Yet, when it comes to managing the wealth that our Father entrusts to our care, whether it be the Gospel, our churches, or, individually, our bodies, relationships, talents or wealth, we are not shrewd or wise compared with the sons of the world.

An employee asks: “What must I do?” “What is my wage?” “Is my job secure?” A child of God, by contrast, might ask: “What is my Father doing?” “How can I participate in His household, which is my inheritance?” A child believes: “Nothing can separate me from His love.”

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)

Jesus urges His Christians to plan ahead and make some friends! He urges us to use our lives, talents and wealth shrewdly, not dishonestly, but as children of light, to participate in Christ’s friend-making ministry to the world. Unlike the children of this world, who cannot take their wealth with them when they die, God will work through our lives, talents, and wealth to create treasure in His eternal kingdom, which treasure Jesus here calls friends.

We probably will meet a lot of friends in heaven who today we are not even aware of, who became Christians following some small contribution on our part of time, kindness, money, teaching, prayer, etc. As our Father’s children, there is no score card, no quota, or wage. We already have everything in Christ. This frees us to be wise managers in God’s kingdom, by abiding in Christ and His Word, by wisely managing the worldly blessings entrusted to us, by being faithful in the various vocations into which God has placed each of us, and by being attentive to openings to share the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord with those around us.

Perhaps Jesus used the term “sons of light” to urge us to shine the light of the Gospel into a dark world. What this means as managers is that we can share the grace that God has given us in Christ and through temporal blessings with our neighbors so that Jesus may raise friends for us in His eternal kingdom.

There are many opportunities to participate in Christ’s friend-making ministry, including, for example:

  • Supporting local churches;
  • Supporting missionaries;
  • Supporting seminaries and seminary students and Christian education;
  • Supporting Christian charitable organizations which combine works of mercy with sharing the Gospel;
  • Being active in a local church;
  • Catechizing our children; and
  • Inviting neighbors to church.

We probably could add several more opportunities which are worthy of mention. In any case, may Jesus grant us all a willing spirit of friendship, so that through us, the light of God’s love, grace and mercy might penetrate the lives of those around us who presently can see no further than their worldly circumstances. Father, in your good pleasure, make us your instruments through which we might gain many friends in Christ Jesus – the true and faithful friend of sinners. Amen.

Aug 162017
 

I am not a pacifist by any means. 

While I am far from the first one who is looking for a fight or eager to go to battle, I do believe that war and violence is necessary at times.  Although I am sure there are varying iterations of such, I would subscribe to the basic ideals of the Just War theory.  I would apply similar principles when it comes to the state’s subduing of criminal activity and also of personal application when needing to protect oneself or those around them from a violent threat.

Someone with a more pacifist bent could raise some arguments against my beliefs and could potentially be grounded in some substantial Scriptural or ethical or reasonable basis.  For those inclined to debate, this could be quite the sizable and worthwhile topic.  But my intent in writing here is not to deliberate Just War versus pacifism versus other positions on war and violence.

Rather my concern in writing is when I see people, most especially my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, who are seemingly eager to go to war or get excited thinking about the possibilities of such.  I have observed this type of behavior at varying times over the years and it was brought to mind again last week.  As President Trump upped the aggressive rhetoric with North Korea, he had a cheering section who gleefully applauded his hubris and seemed quite enthusiastic about the prospects of attacking North Korea and/or taking out its deranged leader, Kim Jong-un.

Now I do think that North Korea and Jong-un are significant problems and a threat to international security, let alone what they do to their own people.  The world would be a better and safer place if the existing government and leadership of this hardline communist country could be significantly constrained or even changed.  Therefore, in no way am I advocating support for the current regime of North Korea.

However, at the same time, I am perplexed and frightened by those who are fervently ready to attack.  War is a terrible thing.  Yes, I believe it is sometimes necessary, but it is still terrible regardless of the circumstances.  Thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of lives are lost.  These lives are those of men and women who go off to serve, never to return to their spouses and children and family and friends.  How terribly agonizing and heartbreaking it is when a wife learns her husband has been killed in combat and then she must also tell her children that daddy is never coming home.  And beyond lives lost, how many more suffer physical and mental and emotional and psychological afflictions and trauma?  I have never been in the military and so I can’t even begin to describe what it is like to serve in battle.  A veteran with combat experience could describe the enormity so much greater than I ever could.  And even beyond those who serve in war, how many more innocent civilians are collateral damage and end up losing their lives or having their living circumstances torn asunder?

Is this what we are yearning for?  Really?  Is our desire to display our strength or to police the world or to substantiate our president really driving us to be excited about going to war?  I would think we would instead desire any avenue that would not lead to war, with war only being a last grim resort.  I would think we would get more excited by the possibilities of finding a diplomatic or non-violent solution to ease tensions and reduce security threats than we would be to show off our “fire and fury”.

I remember the Persian Gulf War as a teenager.  It was the first war that I really knew and it was also the first war that was really broadcast on tv.  I remember thinking it was pretty cool seeing how we were lighting up the skies and displaying how great and strong and technologically advanced we were.  But now I look back on that and think that was a pretty rotten thing to get excited about.  Yes, it was an impressive display of military might, but it should have been accompanied by sobering thoughts that with each of those flashes in the sky, some soul or souls could be losing their lives or suffering gruesome injuries.

I also think about some of the end times enthusiasm I have been exposed to throughout my life.  Much too often there seems to be a troubling passion when war or rumors of war or other atrocities happen in particular locations.  Most especially when it comes to anything Israel related.  One should not get excited about the prospects of Russia or Iraq or Syria attacking Israel, or any country attacking any other for that matter.  Yes, the excitement is attached to the belief that these things are ushering in the soon return of our Lord, but my goodness, let’s delineate what we’re getting excited about.  If we believe these things are indicating that Christ’s return is right around the corner, we should be sobered and saddened that such terrible things must first take place.  Sadly, I have witnessed very little somberness over such things but readily much more near jubilation.

One other thing I have noticed is that one’s enthusiasm for war often parallels their affection for the Commander-in-Chief.  Being that I have had much more contact throughout my life with those who are politically conservative, I have seen much more enthusiasm for any military operation, real or potential, conducted by Trump or one of the Bushes than I have for Clinton or Obama.  Anything conducted by Clinton or Obama has been met with skeptical or condemning, or at best, lukewarm reception.  However, when one of the Bushes took us to war or as Trump has gone about his current boasting, some can’t seem to be able to contain their excitement and endorsement.  Although my experiences have been much more conservative related, I have witnessed some similar experiences with political liberals, just with roles reversed.

And so I find this frightening that we can get excited about going to war, whatever the reasoning or cause may be.  But I also think about these things in parallel terms to other issues.  Issues that aren’t necessarily nearly as grave or catastrophically consequential as war, but issues with some resemblance, nonetheless.  How often do we get excited about going to battle over some cause?  Over some social or theological or ethical or political issue?  How often do we get excited about winning some argument, whether it be online or in real life?  How often are we eager to seek out these battles or arguments?

These battles and arguments may sometimes be necessary and it may be right to participate in them at times.  But are our thoughts and attitudes in the right place when we are craving to do battle?  When we can’t wait to win or to defeat the enemy or to display our superiority.

Fighting a war or battling for a cause or contending with our own personal conflicts may sometimes be imperative and proper.  But what is our heart’s approach?  Are we battling out of necessity to hopefully bring about a greater good?  Or is there a part of us that takes pleasure in experiencing victory and displaying how strong we are or in seeing the suffering and stifling of the enemy?  Maybe some of the battles we see as necessary aren’t even so and we have only succumbed to our own faulty and depraved reasoning.  Maybe some of them shouldn’t even be battles at all and rather should be exercises to work together with others with whom we have some differences.

May God help us to navigate our potential battles and to keep our hearts in the right place.  

Aug 152017
 

I say no, but let’s look at an overview of the issue before I say more.

First, let’s be really clear that the main cause of the Civil War was slavery.

Despite claims that it was about states rights, cotton exports, or anything else, one need only read the Confederate states articles of secession to determine why we engaged in the slaughter of 600,000 of our own.

For example, the statement from Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

The secession of the South was about the right to own another human being and force him to labor for the benefit of the owner.

To be clear, not only was the Confederate split about slavery, it was treason against the Union.

I say all that to make clear that I understand why any symbols of the Confederacy are odious to many.

(I would be remiss if I were not to note that many Americans from the South interpret these symbols differently than the rest of the country does.)

So… why should we note this event with monuments to those who participated in the war for slavery?

Because it’s part of our history and without a true knowledge of where and what we have been, we have no compass to the future.

The Bible doesn’t sanitize the history of the people of God and sometimes we wish it would.

We are presented with sins, flaws and foibles, of everyone from Adam to Peter including the murderous lust of that man after Gods own heart, David.

We have constant reminders in the Scripture of how we can act and what we are capable of.

God understands the power of history.

Further, if we take down the monuments to the South on the basis of bigotry and racism, why stop there?

Many of the founding fathers were slave owners, including Washington and Jefferson.

Lincoln freed the slaves with the possibility to then send them back to Africa…

We’ll have lots of open park space if we take them all down.

The Civil War is a critical point in our history for reasons too numerous to enumerate here.

It is imperative to our survival as one nation to learn from it all the lessons we possibly can.

We can debate what those lessons are and what that history means, but we dare not remove this war from our vision and consciousness.

Pretending it didn’t happen or that those people were radically different from us would be a huge mistake, perhaps even a fatal one.

The monuments remind us of where we’ve been.

They also remind us that the Confederacy lost and we have made strides to be better.

They remind us in other ways that we have a long way to go.

We need all these reminders.

They are, after all, part of our history.

Aug 152017
 

On Christians unable to critique Trump...

The need for rural ministry…

The history of conversion in America…

The return of anti-Semitism…

On technology and preaching…

Race, the Gospel, and the moment…

Confessions of a former “it” church pastor…

The use of the Bible in pastoral care…

Tempest in a Catholic teapot…

Flaming heretics and anathemas galore…

Do women make good ministers?

Complementarianisms Trinity confronted…

The false moral authority of Robert Jeffress…

A despicable and cowardly attack on a blogger…

John Wesleys start in preaching to the poor…

Thou shalt not bail…

What should Christians do in response to Charlottesville?

Radical thoughts on community…

What Wesley taught about schism…

Religious liberty for all…

The curse of identity politics…

Learning through joy…

A confessing church…

If God is in charge…

We must speak out…

An update on Driscoll from the Hatchet…

Big thanks as always to EricL for the link help…support him at top right.

Aug 142017
 

Why The Church Fails…

Recently I was looking for a bit of inspiration, so, using differing search engines, I entered the phrase, “Why the Church Fails”.  I was fascinated by the results.  The topics that arose were consistently along the lines of the following:

Why the Church Fails Us…

Why the Church Fails Me…

Why the Church Fails Businessmen…

Why the Church Fails the Divorced…

Why the Church Fails Singles…

Why the Church Fails Married Couples…

Why the Church Fails the Gay Community…

On and on the entries followed one after the other.  There was, however, a common thread.  When the different authors wrote about how the Church has failed… it was generally about how it had failed “me”, or my tribe, or my profession, or my state in life.  At the root of it was the perception that the Church had failed me personally (or professionally) in one way or another.  

In the ecclesiastical cafeteria that characterizes American Christianity, the failure of which they, and we, speak is not usually considered the fault of the universal Church (or, indeed the Church militant and triumphant of which Christ is the head), but more often the perceived failure of this church or that church with which we have become acquainted.  Somehow, the local church that we bumped into failed to meet our needs and so we move down the road to another – another with its own unique set of problems and issues which we will soon discover and, very likely, pronounce as having failed in satisfying our particular needs or desires before moving on yet again. On occasion, the accusation of failure will move beyond the local church to a denomination, association or even those who hold a particular theological view, such as evangelicals or the Reformed or those with a high view of sacraments.

Something about the tendency to treat the Church as “other”, i.e. outside of ourselves, troubles me.  It troubles me because, in a profound theological sense, we are the Church.  Our Lord said that when two or three are gathered in his name, he is in the midst of that group.  We are individually and corporately the Church.  The house churches of which we read in Paul’s letters were often exactly that – a married couple who opened their home to other believers and thereby constituted an ecclesia – a church.  Yet, despite this theological reality, we still identify the concept of “church” with a building, or a pastor, or a particular group, or a denomination; and in that identification of something or someone outside of ourselves being “the church”, we are quick to indicate how they, or it, has failed us.

Now, life experience should make all of us aware that by and large individuals will fail us at some point in time.  The otherwise admirable husband may forget the date of the wedding anniversary.  The devoted wife may make an ill-timed remark.  These things just happen.  Institutions will also fail us a some point or another.  Asking the highly rated educational institution to send transcripts for the third time comes to mind.  And yes, even those leaders of movements whom we otherwise admire may say or do something that causes us pain and makes us feel that they have failed us.

Yet, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “the fault dear friends, is not in the Church, but in ourselves”.  

We have been all too willing to be spectators in terms of the Church and all too often our criticism and speculation on “why the Church fails us” is made anonymously from the balcony, or worse yet, from the outside.  You see, from a distance it is easy and safe to pontificate.  Moreover, this “spectator” syndrome flies in the face of the concept of the priesthood of all believers (in the Reformation/Protestant world) or of the people of God (in the Roman Catholic/Orthodox world).  Both appellations – “priesthood of all believers” and “people of God” – are not only conferred privileges, but bear with them responsibilities.  To put it bluntly, for much too long a time we have looked to others to create, sustain and lead what we call “Church” while many of us throw in our comments and criticisms from the peanut gallery.

In practical terms, living out our own lives as a vital and contributing member of the Church can mean many things, especially on a local level.  If you are in an unhealthy church situation which, for whatever reason, consigns you to being a mere spectator with no hope of real involvement, leave and find a place where you can exercise your God given gifts.  If you are in a church situation in which there are issues that concern you, take it upon yourself to address those issues. Speak to the pastor or priest, not in anger but in love, and share your concerns.  If the issue is that the church is unfriendly, go out of your way each week to welcome at least one newcomer, or better yet, invite someone.  If there is a lack of meaningful Christian Education, offer to teach an adult class or at the very least organize a discussion group around various topics of interest. If there is not a married couples group, or a singles group… start one.  So much can be done, and needs to be done, and it is not enough to wait for someone else to step up to the task.

When we move beyond the local expression of the Church, matters are admittedly more difficult.  For instance, I doubt that any of us here will have a chance to sit down and talk to Joel Osteen, or Franklin Graham, or Jerry Falwell, Jr., about their approaches to theology or ministry.  We can, however, at the very least, in our interactions with others simply say, “They do not speak for me or the vast majority of Christians”.  Yet, many believe that they speak on the behalf of most believers owing to their media outreach and influence.  Let us be clear, however, in identifying these so-called spokesmen  as aberrations.  In terms of the early Church of the first four centuries, Osteen would be considered as a Gnostic, Graham as a court bishop similar to Eusebius of Nicomedia, and the gun-toting Falwell as near to a politicized moral apostate.  Moreover, when we consider the average salary of a clergy person in the US in 2017 to be about $46,000 a year (half below that amount and another half above it), the annual incomes of Osteen (no salary, but a net worth of over $40 million) Graham ($880,000 per year ) and Falwell ($803,000 per year) are simply obscene, placing them well outside the bounds of historic Christian leadership and norms of compensation.  Moreover, these are merely three among dozens, if not hundreds, that could be named.

Their surest exposure, however, will come not from words on a page or a screen, but when we begin to hold up the mirror of authentic church life and historic theology.  Yet even here, that mirror needs to reflect our own authentic experience of Church and our personal commitment and involvement.  Then, perhaps, we can move beyond the haggard and specious argument of, “Well, they may be theologically off-base, but look at all the good they are doing and all the people attending their church/school/rallies.”  Success is not the measure of Truth, and it is long past time that we continue to regard it as such.  

Now, whenever I write about ecclesiology and the issues we are facing, someone will always respond with the reference that Christ said that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, as though that settles the issue, no matter what we do or what we leave undone.  As usual, however, the citation is usually taken out of context.  For, immediately after Christ made this promise, he continued addressing Peter and the disciples, saying, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  You see, the promise is connected with the tools Christ gives us to truly be his Church… not as observers or mere critics, but as participants.  It is time for more than posts on threads or critical comments on “why the Church fails us”, it is time for us to actually be the Church.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Aug 122017
 

Pastures and fences…this is one of my favorite analogies to the theological thought life of a Christian.

To be healthy spiritually and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, both are needed.

We need boundary markers that tell us which areas that is good pasture and we need that good pasture to feed us.

Where we break up the big herd (so to speak), is that while some of us see one great big pasture with fences off in the distance, others fence in part of the pasture for themselves and believe it the only good forage.

Now, I believe the early church set up the fences in the early creeds and confessions of the church.

These defined the Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy of the church without defining a host of other issues, many of which separate the church today.

They gave us and broad and generous orthodoxy, one with real boundaries, but also with an expansive pasture.

Because of this, I can roam about in the pastures of the Orthodox, the Lutheran, the Reformed, the Roman Catholic, and the evangelicals feeding on what is good and leaving behind that which isn’t suited to my taste.

Some folks are not comfortable with such a large pasture and low fences.

They want high fences (which often turn into walls) and they only want to feed inside that small area with a like minded herd.

That’s ok.

It’s still good pasture.

Some of us thrive on a varied diet, so of us don’t.

We still belong to the same herd under the same Shepherd.

Make your own application…

Aug 122017
 

We praise you, Father, for the sea, the sky and the stars.

We praise you for the power of the atom.

We praise you for the oil flowing like rivers, for the rockets like lightning among the stars, for the satellites hovering over the planets.

We praise you, Father, for science and technology.

We praise you for the matter that you have created, which, though it seems dead to our eyes, is yet living matter, matter transformed, the meeting place of divine action and human activity.

We praise you, Father, for the artists and technicians, for the scholars and the countless workers who take that matter and use it and transform it.

We praise you for the eternal plan of your love, which governs that great movement forward of the universe.

We praise you for your Son.

Through him all things came to be, and not one thing has its being but through him.

Through him, you continue to create all things, to make them holy, to give them life, to bless them and to give them to us.

It is by him, and with him, and in him, God the Father almighty, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, that we honour and glorify you, for ever and ever.

Lord, let me be the one who, from time to time, in the still of the night, looks with the eyes of a son upon what you have created so that I may praise the Creator.

Let me be as an excited child before the Father so that he may smile down upon the child that I am.

Quoist, Michel. Keeping Hope – Favourite Prayers for Modern Living: Selected Inspirational Prayers from World-Renowned Theologian Michel Quoist (Kindle Locations 778-788). Gill & Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

 

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