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.