Friday, September 30, 2016

Church Sign of the Week (9/30/16)

Dang it! I hate it when that happens!

What's next? Cancel a class on faith because of low attendance estimates?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

More Than "I Will Pray For You"

HT: Elliot Clark

“I will pray for you” is perhaps the most common phrase spoken among American believers. It also may be the most hollow. Even if it can give soft encouragement, the words are often the shell of an unfulfilled promise. In reality, they say very little. In the midst of hurt and suffering, our culture generally makes an effort not to say too much. And we end up saying virtually nothing at all.

You can read the rest.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Glutton For Argument

Argument can help save your soul (by God’s grace) or be a way to damn it.

We are like the person who prefers mediocre all you can eat buffets to a true meal of delicious food carefully prepared. Arguments, discussions, rants, wooing words, passionate mic drop moments: we have them and then when we get our way, when the last friend is dropped from our Facebook feed who dares persist in speaking up and disagreeing, then we are done.
Arguments like this and people who make them leave us sick of arguments. “No more,” we think when we see the angry man who will not rest while somebody, somewhere, somehow has not seen his truth. Pity the spouse, the child, the student, or the workers who are stuck with this kind of argument.
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Black Christians in American Church History

One of the challenges for me in wrestling with issues of race and the church is that, as a young man, I was woefully ignorant of so much of the story of black Christians in America. I doubt I am alone in this.
When I began to teach at Gordon-Conwell, I naturally was assigned the Church History courses, which set me on the path towards research into modern American history. I am still functionally a novice in many of these areas, but the path has been rewarding. I am still ignorant of so much of this story, but at least I know my ignorance better.

Monday, September 26, 2016

If We Are So Burdened, Why Aren't Prayer Meetings Full?

I often wonder why the church does not pray more. Why it is so hard for Christians to talk to God but so easy for us to discuss our complaints with others? Or to vent on social media?
Are we really as upset as we let on? Do we really believe that God will answer us and act? If the answers to the first two questions are “yes” then why don’t we pray more?
If we are not prayerful in our response to sin and destruction then we ourselves are demonstrating a lack of faith and hypocrisy. We want things to change but don’t believe that God can or will do anything. And, we say that we hate sin, but by not praying, we ourselves are sinning.
You can read the rest.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Church Sign of the Week (9/23/16)

Anyone need their lawn chair blessed?

Also, this is a pretty open invitation. People have pet rocks and inanimate and imaginary pets.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

9/11: A Libyan Christian's Perspective

As 9/11 this year coincides with the Great Islamic Feast and is followed by the Orthodox Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross I wanted to share one of the most impactful events in my life that  through 9/11 led me from Islam to the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I had just turned 14 years old over the summer enjoying my last days of summer vacation before going back to school and beginning my O Levels. On that day my parents were out of town for a funeral of a distant relative. My mother’s sister was babysitting. My 11 year old brother was sick with the flu and my 2 year old baby brother was playing in his room. My aunt was in the kitchen making chicken soup. Our house was big, on the Mediterranean coast of Tripoli, and each of us had his own section of the house to themselves. It was a sunny afternoon but I chose to watch a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie on Abu Dhabi TV instead before I headed out in the evening for Tennis practice at the Club down the street.
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Honor One Another!

Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)
I wonder if Romans 12:10 is one of the most under-obeyed commands in Scripture. I wonder if we have lowered our standard to “Do no harm to one another,” which is passive, and if we are not destroying each other we must be doing okay. But the gospel is all about the glory of God coming down on sinners (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Honor to one another is an obvious next step. The doctrine of glorification (Romans 8:30) creates a culture of honor (Romans 12:10). Our faithfulness to the gospel, therefore, should prompt people to say about our churches, “How they honor one another!”
What might keep us from pressing further in this way?
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Slavery and the Bible

My bread and butter course at Baylor University is the "America to 1877" survey class. The most troubling issue I cover in the class is slavery. What especially piques the interest of Christian students is the biblical case against slavery - or the lack thereof.

"How do we know the Bible is against slavery?" I ask. Most students have never given much thought to the issue. Of COURSE the Bible is against slavery, they assume, because slavery is wrong. "OK, give me some verses that tell us that slavery is wrong," I say. Silence. Some savvy students might cite the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31.

Occasionally someone remembers Galatians 3:28, and its note that in Christ there is neither slave nor free - although that does not quite tell us that slavery is wrong. Just because in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, does not mean that those identities cease to exist.

What does the Bible say about slaves and masters, I ask them? Again, some remember the household codes of Ephesians and Colossians, where servants/slaves are told to obey their masters. Or they note various other Old and New Testament practices where the authors seem to assume the existence of slavery, rather than commenting on its morality.

It is hard to imagine a more challenging historical and scriptural topic than slavery. It has become ammunition used by skeptics who have denounced the Bible as fundamentally immoral. I believe that maturing Christians should grapple with these kinds of Bible "problems," instead of just assuming that the Scriptures give us transparent answers to all of life and history's conundrums.

You can read the rest.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Tim Keller is Releasing a Prequel Book!

Remember when, in film, prequels were a fad? Well, how about a prequel apologetics book?

I only say "apologetics" because that's Barnes & Noble's best categorization, which isn't exactly fair. Tim Keller has always been possibly the most personable and charitable author among modern Christian pastors, and his books certainly don't take the sadly and unnecessarily reactive and combative tone of many other works on apologetics (or even on non-essential theological issues). I always joke that Tim Keller is the one person that might, just might, stand a chance of making me jump on the Neo-Reformed bandwagon. But I digress.

Tim Keller is releasing a new book tomorrow! It's entitled Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. It's a prequel to his popular book Reason for God.

You can read some excerpts.

I know I'd like to get it.

HT: Tim Keller and Matt Smethurst

Friday, September 16, 2016

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

I thought this was appropriate, given the events of yesterday.

(Apologies to any potentially offended White Sox or Cardinals fans).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pastor Fired for Being Openly Atheist

We have blogged about the case of the atheist pastor. Gretta Vosper has been a minister in a Toronto congregation of the United Church of Canada, where she preaches atheism.  Contrary to my prediction, the plenty liberal denomination has finally removed her from office “because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.”
Now comes the indignation.  In a story about the action excerpted and linked after the jump, a member who describes himself as “agnostic, an atheist, a non-believer” says that he wouldn’t be attending church if it weren’t for Pastor Vosper.
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Three Muslim-Christian Crossroads

From a missionary serving in the Middle East:
If you’ve ever had a prolonged conversation with a Muslim on theology, you know that they are generally well-trained in discussing their problems with the Trinity and divinity of Jesus. It’s hard to break through all the prior teaching and get to a heart level when someone is parroting what they learned at the mosque. So why not consider looking for points of discussion off the beaten path and that may even engage us as Christians at a heart level too?
There are three main intersections where Christian and Muslim thought crosses paths and where we might meet for heart-level discussion. At each intersection, our two faiths diverge. What if we could take Muslim friends to one of those intersections and show them how to take the path to Jesus, rather than the road away from him? Those three intersections are law, logic, and legacy.
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

When You Feel More Like Naomi Than Ruth

As a twenty-something millennial, I suffer from self-diagnosed ‘Elizabeth Bennett Syndrome’. In other words, the propensity to insert myself as the heroine of every story I read. From animated princesses to plucky schoolgirls, the adventures of admirable women have been fixtures in imagination. And, naturally, I am inclined to interchange my name synonymously with theirs.
To my surprise, when my pastor preached through the book of Ruth, I found myself identifying more with jaded Naomi than the title character.
Many have at least a working knowledge of this Old Testament account: two widows faced with poverty return to Israel to seek provision. Most Christians can easily reference Ruth’s lyrical pledge of loyalty to Naomi. Vows often recited at weddings, albeit slightly out of context. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1: 16) Naomi’s response to her difficult circumstances is less than quote-worthy, “it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13)
Don’t get me wrong, I would rather be like Ruth. Ruth is kind and courageous. Ruth is hardworking and loyal. But in a recent desert season (though nothing as drastic as a famine or triple funeral), I notice that my response is more like the woman who said “call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” (Ruth 1:20)
But God is merciful, even to those of us struggling with bitterness. Three realities in particular struck me as I examine Naomi’s situation, and assess my own.
You can read the rest.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Never Forget God's Grace

I have a habit of looking at cliches and, perhaps annoyingly, asking, “What do you mean?” Cliches, while witty, sometimes inspirational and with the power of a trump card, can often get dangerously vague or sometimes anti-intellectual. So yeah, I have to dissect cliches every once in a while.

One cliche has been around for awhile, referring to the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001: “We Will Never Forget.”

And I just have to ask. What does that mean?

Does that mean that we won’t forget the lives lost in that tragic event, and that we will remember them with honor? 

Or does it mean we won’t forget the pain of the tragic event, like we’re nursing a grudge toward those responsible and anyone associated or gracious towards?

Does that mean we won’t forget the selflessness and unity inspired (even if only temporarily) by the cataclysm? 

Or does it mean that we’ll always remember why we have a few extra measures of subconscious fear and enforced security in airports, etc.?

Personally, as I “remember” September 11, I want to follow the apostle Paul’s instructions on how to “think about such things (Phil.4:8).”

Three things I want to remember:
-The lives lost in a sadistic plot by a group of confused individuals who don’t have regard for the sanctity of human life.
-The nobility of those who saved lives in danger, whether by sending provisions from afar or pulling people out of the rubble.
-Grace, humility and peace, which are the opposite of aggression, pride and conquest. The former are both Christ-like (and arguably American) values that were shown in unity in our country, even if only for a short time.

Three things I want to forget:
-Demeaning of Muslims, Sikhs, and all Middle Eastern individuals both at home and abroad, which has cost our country socially, morally and economically. 
-The inappropriate politicization of, well, anything related to 9/11.
-The temptation to sacrifice too much for a stronger sense of personal physical security.

My church is a very multi-cultural Baptist church in a mostly white suburb of Chicago. Yesterday, we had several Middle-Eastern individuals sitting in our small sanctuary, some wearing headscarves. Our pastor preached on the ten lepers that Jesus healed (Luke 17:11-19) and how the only leper or the ten who came back to thank Jesus for healing him of this harsh, quarantining and deadly disease was a lowly Samaritan. A point of the sermon? We should be thankful for God’s grace in our lives.

It’s all about God’s grace. It’s the reason we’re alive, and we need to show it and share it. Once you have it, you don’t need anything else. God’s grace is more important than patriotism. It’s more important than earthly physical security. It’s more important than any socio-political agenda. I’m thankful for God’s grace in my life, because, in my past, I’m not completely innocent of the things about 9/11 that I want to forget.

If you don’t have God’s grace, seek it. If you have it, don’t take it for granted. Never forget.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Church Sign of the Week 9/9/16

Is it the upcoming sermon title, or is it the general message to all passers by?

Don't know which is better.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Saved People Love to Sing

If you’ve been in church your whole life you may not realize how strange it is that when Christians get together they spend a good chunk of time just singing.
Where in our culture do you find ordinary, untrained people gathering to sing? Maybe the National Anthem or your school’s fight song. Happy Birthday, I suppose. In the car on a road trip, I guess. But really, when to adults in large numbers belt out the same song? A concert may be the closest thing, but even here the primary point is to be entertained as someone else sings. I’m not sure where you would go this week for more than three minutes of organized singing except to church.
There are many ways Christians are a peculiar people. One of them is that we almost always sing when we’re together.
You can read the rest.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Grieve Your Loss in Another's Pain

Many people spend a lot of time and energy taking care of others in pain. There’s a very real temptation to brush off any feelings of discouragement, because, after all, they aren’t the ones suffering. Or are they?
Even though my pain isn’t the most apparent (I wear no casts or braces), it’s relatively easy to spot. Due to a nerve disease I can’t use my arms normally, and so I have a loss of physical capabilities. I have to ask for plasticware at restaurants when their forks are too heavy for me to use. I’m reminded every day that I’m not strong enough to pick up my children. I ask my seven-year-old daughter, Norah, to untie my shoes after I come back from jogging.
Though my loss is easy to see, what about the loss my family has experienced? It’s often overlooked, but they've lost much through this trial as well. Though they’ve gained joy in serving others (a joy not to be minimized), they’ve also lost a husband and father able to physically serve them. I can’t drive the family car, take out the trash, throw a baseball, hold a baby, open the door, or pick up a wet towel from the bathroom floor. Not only does my family not have physical help from me, but they spend additional time helping me. 
You can read the rest.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Not Like Me: Story of Someone Who Left the Faith

I met Chris M. online. He’s a thoughtful, engaging twenty-something man who is currently unmarried. He was raised in Texas, part of a family deeply involved in a Southern Baptist Church.
If it was like my upbringing, Sunday school, Sunday worship and Sunday evening prayer service were habitual, an expected extension of family life. Throw in Wednesday prayer, youth group and various socials and we were “going to church” nearly every day of the week.
His father was a deacon in the church for most of his life and still teaches Sunday School.
But Chris no longer embraces the faith of his father.  He has left the Christian faith that was so much part of his young life, but not without some agony.
You can read the rest.

Monday, September 5, 2016

How We Take Part In God's Work

“Toilsome labor” is work that is incessant, extremely hard, or exhausting. That doesn’t sound all that appealing, does it? So why does the Preacher say such labor is good? Because, he adds, “to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (v. 20).

You can read the rest.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Church Sign of the Week (9/2/16)

This is supposedly a prank.

Or it's clever advertising.

Or there's a disconnect between the pastor and the sign guy.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How Trigger Warnings Silence Religious Students

Last week, the University of Chicago’s dean of students sent a welcome letter to freshmen decrying trigger warnings and safe spaces—ways for students to be warned about and opt out of exposure to potentially challenging material. While some supported the school’s actions, arguing that these practices threaten free speech and the purpose of higher education, the note also led to widespread outrage, and understandably so. Considered in isolation, trigger warnings may seem straightforwardly good. Basic human decency means professors like myself should be aware of students’ traumatic experiences, and give them a heads up about course content—photographs of dead bodies, extended accounts of abuse, disordered eating, self-harm—that might trigger an anxiety attack and foreclose intellectual engagement. Similarly, it may seem silly to object to the creation of safe spaces on campus, where members of marginalized groups can count on meeting supportive conversation partners who empathize with their life experiences, and where they feel free to be themselves without the threat of judgment or censure.

You can read the rest.