Friday, December 30, 2016

Church Sign of the Week 12/30/16

A good, relevant and comprehensive church sign with which to end the calendar year.

May God be with you in 2017!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Worshipping and Hoping Like the Prophet Anna

Lord Jesus, Anna’s story is compelling. If I’m alive at 84, like Anna, then I want to be like her—fully alive to your beauty, passionate for your glory, and hope-full of your coming. You are a most wonderful and merciful Savior, Jesus. No one is more worthy of our adoration, affection, and allegiance.

You can read the rest.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fifteen Years Since "Lord of the Rings"

New Line Cinema

Fifteen years ago today, the naysayers ate their words. As the folks at document in an insightful little anthology, The People's Guide to J. R. R. Tolkien, many had concluded prior to the release of Peter Jackson's adaptation of “The Fellowship of the Ring” that the Oxford philologist's high fantasy was incompatible with the screen. They were wrong. As wrong as Saruman was about a halfling's chances of reaching Mount Doom.

The Fellowship of the Ring” soared to box office success and critical acclaim. Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Weta Workshops, Howard Shore, and a small nation of cast and crew opened up Tolkien's masterpiece to the world in an unprecedented way. The novels on which Jackson's films were based quickly moved from paperback fantasy and sci-fi sections to shelf-ends or kiosks in bookstores. The merchandising machine ground into action like the wheels of Isengard. And this 2001 blockbuster kicked off a trilogy of films that would culminate in record ticket sales worldwide and one of the biggest Oscar hauls in history. 

But of course, for true fans—especially those who shared Tolkien's Christian faith—none of that was very important. Fifteen years ago, what really mattered was that the story they loved, the epic that shaped their lives, thought, and spirituality, had been discovered by millions for the first time. And for our culture, New Line Cinema's interpretation of “The Fellowship of the Ring” became a guidepost of morality and meaning in a time when evil had reasserted itself in our world in a terrifying way.

You can read the rest.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Affirmation is Not Someone Else's Gift

Have you ever been in one of those team-building circles where you are asked to share something positive about the person next to you? My palms grow sweaty just thinking about it. Not only is it hard to think up something on the spot, it’s terrifying when you look to your left and realize you have nothing to say about the person. So you begin making a mental list of words like “nice,” “kind” and “awesome.”
As a teacher, I have my students practice affirmation from time to time—usually when they aren’t getting along. It always starts out rocky. But as they sit thinking about the person next to them, a snowball effect of affirmation begins. It ends in amazement over how much they were able to say about one another.
Today, affirmation is clickable. It doesn’t require articulation of thought or even demand the use of words. If you want someone to know you were encouraged by their blog post, there’s a “like” button for that. If you enjoy their photography, you can click the heart icon under their photograph. After scrolling and clicking for about 15 minutes, you have fulfilled your affirmation quota.
I don’t want to downplay the ministry of emojis and “likes”; after all, technology and social media can be used to build up and connect believers from all over the world. But we need to look up from our screens long enough to see the body of Christ in front of us. How are we affirming the actual people we worship with each Sunday? Are we proactively considering “how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24)?
This isn’t just a job for the extroverts. The entire body must be engaged in the exercise of affirmation.   
You can read the rest.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Jesus is for Losers

If you could start your life over, and you got to choose your parents, what would they be like? I’ve always been a little sore at my parents for not being taller. When I was a teenager, my goal was to play in the NBA and at 5’10” (and not particularly fast or gifted with ‘ups’) that was not going to happen.
Maybe you wished your parents had had smaller ears to pass on to you, or that they had had more money to pass on. Maybe you just wished your parents had stayed together, or had wanted you more, or that neither of them had an addictive personality.
But, we don’t get to pick our parents, do we? It’s one of the interesting things about God that He starts us out in life by saying, “Here, your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are going to be tied to these two people in some way for the rest of your life.” I think, for a lot of teenagers, that’s one of the first crises of faith: “God, of all the parents in the world, you gave me these people? Whatever.”
But, there was one person who got to pick his parents. Jesus got to choose where and to whom He was born. Now, it was a somewhat narrow pool; in order to fulfill the Old Testament, it had to be a Jewish family. But, of all the Jewish parents available, He chose a poor carpenter and a teenage girl who lived in a backwater town as part of an occupied nation of people. They weren’t even married!
You can read the rest.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Church Sign of the Week (12/23/16)

Ok, this needs some explanation.

Last Christmas-related church sign of the year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas in 1776

‘Tis the season to argue about religion. Or more specifically, to feud about whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Seasons Greetings" . . . to boycott Starbucks because of its holiday cup . . . or to allow a crèche or menorah to stand on public property.
What would Americans at the time of the founding think about all this?
They would have been perplexed. Perplexed, first, at the ways that we fuss about the public role of religion. The Revolutionary era was shot through with public expressions of faith, from the days of prayer and fasting declared by presidents, to the chaplains employed by the Continental Congress and Washington’s army, to the faith principles undergirding the Revolution itself, especially the notion that all men are created equal. As I explained in my book God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, the concept of a public square stripped of religion would have been deeply unfamiliar to Americans in 1776.
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Eight Myths About the Story of Christmas

Around this time of year, many Christians take time specifically to celebrate the birth of Christ. Yet a number of myths have arisen around the story, ones with no actual basis in Scripture. Without further ado, here are eight of them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Waiting for More than Advent

The season of Advent brings with it pleasing rituals of happy anticipation. Open a door on the Advent calendar and find a piece of chocolate. Light a candle in the Advent wreath and know you are getting closer to Christmas. Make your lists and check them twice as you look forward to giving, receiving, and feasting.
The waiting that comes with Advent is fun because it is finite. We know what’s coming at the end of our wait will be good, and we know exactly how many days we have left to wait for it.
But much of the waiting that occupies our lives is open-ended. We wait for love and marriage without knowing if it will come. We wait for children without knowing whether we will conceive. We wait for justice. We wait for healing.
The hardest thing about waiting is not knowing when it’s going to end, if it is going to end. Waiting brings questions without easy answers. If your life’s plans aren’t coming to fruition, should you change course or hold out for your heart’s desire? Are your unfulfilled yearnings indicators of sinful discontentment, or blessings God simply hasn’t yet fulfilled?
You can read the rest.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Aleppo: How It Became a City of Suffering and How We Can Help

Aleppo (Halab in Arabic) has a rich five thousand-year history of vibrant communities cultivated on its soil. Alexander the Great in 333 BC, bishops during the first three hundred years of Christianity, and governors of the Persian Period called this city home. Aleppo was, in fact, the third largest city in the Ottoman Empire.
In the current century, tourists have visited the Souk with its exotic smells and covered streets, climbed through the ancient Saint Simon Citadel, and gazed on the Great Mosque with its towering minarets. The city, vying with Damascus for the title of “largest in Syria,” was inhabited by families who traced their ancestry back hundreds of years. Most of them were Sunni Muslims, though Christians from the ancient church also called Aleppo home.
How Did It Come to This?
All that changed in 2012. That’s when the fighting that began in the wake of the Arab Spring finally reached the city. It’s inhabitants have fled en masse via Europe, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan to various countries offering respite from the violence ever since. Before-and-after pictures depicting the destruction of the historic city flood television screens and expose the world to villas in ruins, crumbling office buildings, and bloodied faces of children pulled from rubble. Those images are the new reality that has brought the ancient city to her knees.
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Behind the Lyrics of "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"

[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow] wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook. The theme of listening recurred throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair.

You can read the rest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Very Nazi Christmas

Ah, Christmas memories from childhood… Playing elf to my pediatrician father’s Santa at the Children’s Hospital party. Honoring my Swedish heritage by choking down one bite of lutefisk every Christmas Eve. Getting a pile of books about natural disasters and true crime from Grandpa Gehrz the next morning…
Good times. And recalling such rituals reminds me that I shouldn’t be quick to judge the way that other people celebrate Christmas.
But even someone more charitable than me might balk at this version of the holiday . . .
You can read the rest.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jesus As Well As Santa?

HT: Lindsey Carlson

There’s a common question surfacing among families this time of year. No matter how you answer, you may feel awkward when asked:
Does your family do the whole “Santa” thing?
Behind this question are many others. Are we a bad family if we do Santa? Are we the oddball family if we don’t? Are we too influenced by our culture? Are we legalistic? Whatever conclusions we reach, it’s easy to form strong opinions. My answer can make me fast friends with those who can relate or brand me a fast freak with those who don’t.
You can read the rest.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Church Sign of the Week (12/9/16)

I suppose it's far-reaching choreography that you really have to follow.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The History of Christmas Wars

A new book by Gerry Bowler entitled Christmas in the Crosshairs:  Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most Celebrated Holiday points out that the “Christmas wars”–the conflict between secular and religious observances of Christmas–have been going on throughout the history of Christianity.  The Bishop of Amasea complained in 400 A.D. about how Christmas presents make children greedy.  St. Augustine complained about the commercialization of Christmas.  And Christians have long complained about the conflict between the drunken revelry once associated with the day and its true meaning.
Meanwhile opponents of Christianity have tried to either suppress or co-opt the birthday of Christ.  At one point in the Soviet Union, children had to be told that their presents came not from St. Nicholas but from Stalin.  And Nazi Germany sang a revised version of “Silent Night” that replaced Jesus with Hitler.
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Who Was St. Nicholas?

The unsatisfying answer to the title of this post is that nobody knows for sure. To quote one Nicholas scholar, “We can grant a bishop of that name who had a great impact on his homeland. We can also accept December 6 as the day of his death and burial. These are all the facts we can hold to. Further we cannot go.” (Gustav Anrich, quoted by Charles W. Jones in Saint Nicholas of Bari, Myra, and Manhattan).
According to the best estimates . . .
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Wonderful Counselor . . .

Another remarkable prophecy of Christ in the Old Testament (the study of which is a classic devotion for Advent), is Isaiah 9:1-7.  Not only do we learn that the Messiah will live in Galilee and will be the eternal Davidic King.  Verse 6 also establishes His deity and does so in Trinitarian terms.

You can read the rest.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Don't Underestimate Christmas

Christmastime is here. For some of you, that sentence evokes nostalgia and joy. Others of you, not so much.
Yet one thing many of us share in common this time of year is hearing the classic readings from the Gospels (if not in church then from Linus). And all the while, we can become so familiar with the incarnation that we end up domesticating it.
Christmas is familiar, but it isn’t tame. As Tim Keller puts it in his new book Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking), “Christmas is both more wondrous and more threatening than we imagine.” Working from the writings of Matthew, Luke, and John, he illumines the modern import of the ancient story. 
I asked Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and vice president of TGC, why neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would’ve bothered with Christmas, how unbelievers try to “name” Jesus, and more. (And yes, this brief book would make an excellent Christmas present.)
You can read the rest.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Church Sign of the Week (12/2/16)

These church staffers know a portion of their demographic very well.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Herald Christ this Holiday Season, Don't Foist Him

Burk Parsons tweeted something a while back that prompts me to revisit the new perennial Christmas topic in the evangelical subculture—taking (or not taking) offense when people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Parsons put it this way:

Saying in a corrective tone “Merry Christmas” in response to a store clerk’s mandated “Happy Holidays” greeting is not a form of evangelism.

You can read the rest.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Problem with Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs

Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear.

This happened once as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small, quiet store, so it was impossible not to eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. To be honest, the more he talked, the more I understood his point. This man wasn’t talking about the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or about the stresses of family meals or all the things people tend to complain about. What he hated was the music.

This guy started by lampooning one pop singer’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling in agreement on how awful it is. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

“Christmas is boring because there’s no narrative tension,” he said. “It’s like reading a book with no conflict.”

Now he had my attention.

You can read the rest.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Truth or Post-Truth?

Anyone who spends time in the world of teenagers and student ministry knows that their “language” changes over time. Words and phrases come in and out of vogue. New phrases get coined and then quickly fall out of favor. (Can I get an amen from anyone who said a word only to find out it “was so last year?”) For example, will we still be calling things “dumpsterfires” in 2020?

Another term that has popped onto the radar recently is “post-truth.” You may have seen the news that Oxford Dictionaries announced “post-truth” as 2016’s Word of the Year. You may also be thinking – what the heck does this word even mean? And while your own kids or students may not be using it, you might want to. “Post” doesn’t mean like the fence, or the old basketball position – it means “after,” like “after the truth mattered or was relevant.”

As Oxford defined it, “post-truth” means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In other words, whether we think or feel or want something to be “true” now matters more than whether it is true … in objective reality. You can easily relate it to the fake news phenomenon, or wishful thinking, or the echo chambers we gravitate toward online.

You can read the rest.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Some History of Advent

The earliest dating of Advent is impossible to determine. The start of Easter in Christian history is far more obviously tied to Passover (albeit with different methods for dating), and Christmas came to be associated with the birth of Christ as a result of it falling during the December Solstice, the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The coming of the Light of the World made a lot of sense in so much darkness. Within a few centuries of church history, both Easter and Christmas took on special meaning due to their use in commemorating the life of Jesus.

You can read the rest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Not All Turkey and Football

The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony weren’t the first Europeans to settle in North America, nor were they the first permanent English colonists. But because of our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, and our hazy images of their 1621 meal with Native Americans, the Pilgrims have become the emblematic colonists in America’s national memory. Although modern Thanksgiving has become largely non-religious — focused more on food, family, and football than explicitly thanking God — the Pilgrims’ experience reveals a compelling religious aspect of our country’s roots.

You can read the rest.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Case for Christian Magnanimity

In case you hadn’t heard, Mike Pence went to see Hamilton last week, and it turns out that the people who star in Hamilton and buy tickets for Hamilton are not a natural constituency for Donald Trump. What this says about Broadway and Main Street, or Red States and Blue States I’ll leave for others to dissect. And whether lecturing the Vice President-Elect was an act of courageous resistance or blinkered rudeness is not what this post is about.
Instead, I want to talk about an old fashioned word: magnanimity.
What is magnanimity? Merriam-Webster defines it as “loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity.”
You can read the rest.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Love Your Enemies: Thanksgiving for "Those People"

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you will become children of your Father in heaven, because he makes his sun rise on both evil and good people, and he lets rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you greet only your relatives, that’s no great thing you’re doing, is it? Even the unbelievers do the same, don’t they? So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This saying is hard enough that we tend to leave “love” as a gaseous feeling of not-hating when it comes to our enemies. When I see bad people around the world, I studiously avoid hating them. This is not loving them, but it is good enough, I hope.

But it is not nearly good enough, because loving is more than not hating.

You can read the rest.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Two Reminders About Prayer From The Church In South Korea

Earlier this week, I posted a few pictures from our trip to South Korea, where we launched The Gospel Project in Korean. As I’ve been processing the events during our brief sojourn in this beautiful land, I’ve kept returning to a couple of Korean prayer practices that challenge me.
Here are two areas in which the Korean church has something to teach us in the West.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

When Churches Fail

In Eastcheap, near Fenchurch St. in London, stands the medieval church of St. Margaret Pattens. Founded in 1067 and rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, it slowly lost its congregation. It was closed as a parish church in 1952—more than 900 years after opening its doors. St. Margaret Pattens still offers some weekday services to those working around its urban location. It also remains open to passerbys like me, interested in canopied pews and an 18th-century organ.  It is a peaceful space: quiet, beautiful, calm. It is also is an empty space.

You can read the rest.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

No, the Majority of Evangelicals Did Not Vote For Trump

HT: Joe Carter

How did American evangelicals vote in the 2016 election?
Based on polling data and news sources, you might be under the impression that an overwhelming number of evangelicals—more than 80 percent—voted for Donald Trump. But this isn’t quite accurate. There isn’t any way to truly know what percentage of evangelicals voted for our president-elect. But using a more nuanced analysis we can reasonably estimate that somewhere between 35 percent and 45 percent of all evangelicals in America voted for Trump.
Why are the media reports so off the mark? Here are four reasons.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Questions to Ask in Conflict

HT: Caitlin Williams

1. Is this truly conflict or an issue of conscience?

2. Could this be resolved if my pride was not involved?

3. Am I pursuing restoration or justification?

You can read the rest.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Church Sign of the Week (11/11/16)

Sometimes just one letter can change so much.

Have a good Veterans Day!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

True Leadership is Sacrifice, Not Privilege

It is one of the filthiest lies Satan whispers in the ear of our comfortable and entitled generation.
From before we can even remember, we have been indoctrinated, at nearly every turn, with the idea that being “a leader” means getting the gold star. Leadership is a form of recognition, a kind of accomplishment, the path to privilege. Being declared a leader is like winning an award or being identified among the gifted.
Leadership is a form of success. And since you can do whatever you dream, and can achieve whatever you set your mind to, you too can be a leader — at home, at work, in the community, in the church. Why would you settle for anything less? Leadership means privilege, and no generation has considered itself more entitled to privilege than ours.
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Election Is Over, Church. Now What?

So Donald Trump won. (I can’t believe I just typed that.) Maybe you voted one way. Maybe the other. What now, Christian?
To you who voted Republican, I would say, make good on your commitment to life. Fight for the unborn. Fight for the minority. Fight for all who are oppressed and abused. Fight for whatever is true, right, and admirable.
To you who voted Democratic or third party, your fear is understandable. No one but God knows what the next four years hold. While believers trust that authorities have been instituted by God, we must hold those authorities accountable to do justice for all. Remember your Christian brothers and sisters around the world, under better and worse administrations, and know that God is on his throne no less today than yesterday for them or for you.
One thing, I think, is probably clear to everyone after yesterday’s unexpected results: America is a divided country. Even more regrettably, some of that division characterizes our churches. Do you understand why some of your fellow saints are feeling numb right now? I pray so.
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Lord's (Election Day) Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven
Father, it’s good to remember this day where you dwell.  Heaven is your throne and the earth is your footstool.  You reign over all. You are mighty, sovereign, and just. And, you are loving, kind, and good. You are our gracious Father and we can come to you with all our earthly requests.

Hallowed be thy name
Whatever happens today, may your name be declared holy. May you be glorified and honored. May your people honor you with their hearts, words, and actions this day whether they speak in the public sphere or in the privacy of their own homes.

Thy kingdom come
Overwhelm our hearts with a greater desire for the advancement of your kingdom. Help us to not place our trust in earthly governments or political powers, but to set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

You can read the rest.

Monday, November 7, 2016

C.S. Lewis and Election 2016

In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape advises his protege and nephew Wormwood to convince his human target that politics are a key part of his faith. “Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part,” Screwtape said. That way, faith would become a mere pretext for politics.

You can read the rest.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Two Articles on How the Cubs' Win Gave Us Hope

Photo from
Neither of them are from Chicagoans.

One from a famous sportswriter.

Another from someone in ministry in Tennessee.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cubs Win the World Series!

Ben Zobrist is a kid from Eureka, IL who, already a World Series Champion with the Kansas City Royals, joined the Cubs and batted in the Game-7-winning hit, clinching the World Series and breaking the curse for the Chicago Cubs last night. He also was awarded (again) the World Series MVP award and given a Chevy Camaro.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Increasing Difficulty of Clarity on Same-Sex Relationships

My intention is to stand up for the increasing middle ground and advocate that a loving, grace-filled, and gospel posture toward the LGBT community, while sincerely holding to historic and traditional ethics on sexuality and gender is possible. In fact, I am convinced it is the right space to be. I categorically reject the idea that non-affirming theology in and of itself fuels violence or harm to LGBT people. In all the years I lived as a gay man, non-affirming theology was not the problem; it was a Christian community that thought they had to keep me at arm’s length or away altogether because of their beliefs.

You can read the rest.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Three Truths for Christians, No Matter How You Vote

HT: Trevin Wax

1. The church is a political people who bear witness to the rule of King Jesus.

2. The church strengthens what is good, challenges what is lacking, and denounces what is bad in our political parties.

3. The church speaks truth to power because we believe the final reckoning has begun in King Jesus and will be completed when he returns.

You can read the explanations.