Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Monday, August 28, 2017
Even in the deepest hallways of biblical scholarship, it is still little known that, first, the Apostle Paul did actually write a short letter about his brief time in prison with Silas and Philippi, an additional source on the events to Luke’s account in Acts 16. Secondly, one of the first minstrel groups of the early Church, known as Simon & Barthumkel, wrote a song about it called “The Sounds of Silas.” We actually have the lyrics below, translated from Koine Greek.
Hello prison, my old friend
I've come to be with you again
Because I’d rather be free, preaching
But I suppose another way, outreaching,
Is writing letters to the churches across the plains
But still remains are the sounds of Silas
In restless dreams he tends to snore
Restful nights I have no more
Inside this jail down here in Philippi
I turn and toss, and my throat is dry
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of angelic light
That split the night
And stopped the sounds of Silas
And in the shaking jail I saw
All the chains and all the doors
Chains unlocking without creaking
Cell doors clearing without squeaking
We’d be fleeing, but our jailer would take his life
He had much strife
But for my shout with Silas
“Do not give yourself such pain,”
Said I, “for in our cell we’ve stayed.”
The jailer called the cell, “Illuminate!”
And then before us, fell the man prostrate
Asking, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
He was depraved
Down on the ground near Silas
“Believe in Jesus,” we relayed
And at the jailer’s home we stayed
And our wounds were washed before morning
And more relationships with God forming
And the household was also baptized in the holy name
That we proclaim
The God of Paul and Silas
at 9:38 AM
Monday, August 14, 2017
(FYI: I wrote this weeks ago, not in response to what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend.)
Should we be worried about the future of American churches?
I know that some people are. But they’re worried because of other reasons, such as the music (it’s either too old or too anti-intellectual, etc.), the watering down of the message (just preach the Penal Substitution aspect of the Doctrine of Atonement, dang it!), and various (sometimes orthodox, sometimes not) capitulations to popular culture. I’m not worried about any of those issues eliminating the Church.
Many outside the Church (and some within) think that its survival will depend on its whole affirmation with the LGBT community (get with "the times"!). The Church should be against all forms of bullying, but it still mostly struggles to minister to the LGBT community, while afraid of its wealth of political and cultural capital. The outspoken leaders for the LGBT community, however, require nothing short of complete theological affirmation. This brings the two communities to an impasse, sadly stunting the ability to work or even live together in the name of charity and cultural flourishing. However, the Church has survived far worse persecution than any social or political action the States have ever seen on their own turf. So no, unlike others, I’m not worried about that issue eliminating the Church.
However, I’m worried about a hurdle that plagued the global Church for centuries since its inception, and with which many American churches continue to struggle: truly communicating the full message of Jesus Christ to different cultures.
No, seriously, how many different races and cultures attend the same particular church service?
Because of discourse in recent and current politics, the rise of #BlackLivesMatter, and a host of late and tragic incidents, the need for all types of racial reconciliation continues to grow. And it needs to be addressed by an organization (not just one person) with visible (not just theoretical) authority on the issue.
Who can do this? Not a culturally-homogenous group of people. Not a group that will sell out to money and influence. Not a group that regularly vilifies or condemns the disagreeable. There are many political organizations and pop-culture icons who give lipservice to the racial tension in our diverse country, but they can’t speak or act effectively to the issue. The American Church can. The question, I believe, is a matter of if it will.
Two significant changes in the past 75 years:
1) Good news: Christian gatherings are now regularly occuring all over the world. From basements of secrecy to beautifully-decorated sanctuaries, the message of Jesus Christ and the group efforts to exposit the Holy Bible have been very (but not thoroughly) globalized. The Church of Christ, born in the Middle East and raised in Europe, was challenged by the Enlightenment and is no longer the “white man’s religion.”
2) Bad news: Very few Americans (regardless of their religion) can really see that, partially because our diverse country has become very culturally-segregated. My home metropolis of Chicago is, perhaps, the strongest example, as its cultural demographic layout is basically striped.
Now, there’s nothing wrong, inherently, with living and worshipping with what’s familiar, but if Christianity is truly a global religion, what should a church service in a diverse country look like? How tied to local culture should theology be? For example, the most headline-grabbing denominational leaders and influential bloggers of churches in the States are predominantly white, male and suburban/rural. However, some places with more exponential church growth are Africa and China. That’s a bit of a worrisome disconnect (among many).
I’m worried that as the occurence of race-based tragic incidents and need for racial reconciliation grows (and it will), our information age will bring American churches’ congregations to light. The cultural segregation of our country’s congregations will be made apparent to all in a time of crisis, and the Church (even the Gospel message?) could then wrongfully lose its credibility of transcendence.
In the Church’s early days in the Roman Empire (a very racist, misogynist and overly carnal culture), one of the (many) reasons that gatherings grew is that men, women, Jews, Greeks, Romans (and every kind of Gentile), rich, poor, slave, literally anyone felt equally welcome there.
Today, when there are suspected (at the least) racially-motived kidnappings, murders, and hate crimes, people should be able to come to the Church. But most churches today are culturally segregated. And because of the cultural trappings that dominate the homogenous church services, many people are feeling excluded where they should be “one in Christ Jesus.” Building unity despite diversity with grace and (sometimes) reconciliation is messy, but the result is much better than anyone’s default tribalism. But so many people and organizations (including most churches) aren’t making the effort. So, I’m worried.
Should I be worried? If not, why not? If so, what should we (as Christians) do?
at 12:18 PM
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Sometimes I feel like God’s relationship with me is like my relationship with my cell phone.
There are times I’ll be riding in the car through an area packed with businesses, and I want to check my email. My cell phone tires, to no avail, to connect to the internet using an “unlocked” and weak WiFi network that it might have found 30 feet away. My cell phone does this without my approval, supposedly to save me data, or maybe it’s just being too lazy to connect to the cellular network.
I wish my cell phone would trust me. For I have paid, sometimes dearly, for its reliable cellular network and safe WiFi networks where it can find rest for its weary connection-finder. But my cell phone feels it can do this and other things on its own, such as dictating and interpreting my words, understanding where I want to put the cursor, and when I want the screen horizontal.
If only my cell phone would learn to trust me and the internet connections I have paid to provide it, as well as the gentle commands I give it, it would serve me well and it would live a long and prosperous life. For I will not forsake a cell phone before it is well-utilized.
I am actually a caring cell phone user. I don’t exhaust the gigabytes with photos, videos and applications. I make efforts to keep dust from getting in ports and I buy cases when necessary. I have access to a plethora of cell phone doctors. I haven’t and never will use it for more than what it’s built for.
So, if I could say something to my cell phone, it would be: “Please don’t exhaust yourself. You’re a wonderful creation and I yearn for your service to me. But you must learn to trust how I’ve made you, my provisions for you, and my commands to you.”
Anything you want to add?
at 11:27 AM
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
I grew up, as many have, with the cliche that you aren’t a Christian just because you go to church. One saying went like, “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian just like being in a garage doesn’t make you a car.” It can be a clever exhortation for regular churchgoers to follow James 1:22. I get it.
But it seems the times have really a-changed. There is a large population of people that call themselves “evangelical” or “Christian” in surveys and exit polls, but they don’t go to church.
Perhaps the divorce rate among self-dubbed Christians is disturbingly high. But among those who regularly attend church, it’s “markedly lower” than the general population’s average.
According to exit polls, the vast majority of white self-dubbed evangelicals voted for President Trump. “But as Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman noted, ‘Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.’”
Because of this factor, there are potentially a lot of generalizations and assumptions being made about evangelicals and Christians.
Could there be other things that we’re getting wrong?
For all purposes (statistical, theological, etc.), how should we define “Christian” or “evangelical”? Should church attendance really (still) be a non-factor?
P.S. I think you should go to church regularly. Research has shown that it does more than just lower your divorce probability.
at 4:10 PM
Thursday, May 4, 2017
(Originally posted for last year's National Day of Prayer, updated).
Dear Heavenly Father, Creator of All Things,
Thank you for our country. As I strive to worship You and serve the poor, I regularly am blessed by the fruit of our country’s founding vision of freedom, responsibility and humility. My children attend a very resourceful and culturally-diverse school and church, and there are many other ways my wife and I feel uniquely blessed by our community.
However, we have erred from what is right by Your commandments and what would continue to be deemed good stewardship and cultural flourishing in the land You have given us.
We have sought self-fulfillment in the wrong places, storing up treasures on earth. Have mercy.
We have treasured our sub-culture and/or country more than Your love and grace. Have mercy.
We have had the over-confidence to disregard the notion of intelligence other than our own, pridefully refusing to be teachable. Have mercy.
Under a guise of justice, we have sought vengeance and victory instead of reconciliation and the common good. Have mercy.
Wanting to create a culture that we thought was better, we have ignored facts and believed heinous lies about people. Have mercy.
We have selfishly sought our own trivial good and ignored the significant plight of others. Have mercy.
We have continually mocked leaders and those in authority that You have ordained, and not prayed for them as You commanded. Have mercy.
Unlike many of Your children outside of our country, many of us continue to lack an adequate theology of suffering. Have mercy.
We ask, Lord, that You would give wisdom and strength to President Trump and all those who are given the difficult task of leading and shepherding a diverse and polarized country.
May we have the strength to continue to serve You, help others and work for the common good.
May we, following Your commands, in our relationships with one another, seek absolute grace and not relative justice.
May we, following Your commands, be elitist about ideas but egalitarian about fellow children of God.
May we never forget, Lord, that You are not surprised or intimidated by actions of men. You are our perfect example of humble servanthood. Give us the strength and courage to serve our country.
at 10:12 AM
Friday, March 31, 2017
A recent piece in the Washington Post had some questions and comments about the “Billy Graham Rule,” now that it’s been brought back to the public eye by its use by Vice President Mike Pence.
Recently, a Washington Post article about second lady Karen Pence has brought the Billy Graham Rule back into the public eye. The article cites a 2002 interview with Vice President Pence — who has called himself an “evangelical Catholic” — saying that he “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife,” and that he doesn’t attend events serving alcohol unless she is with him as well.
I’ll answer the question and comments as best I can.
In this case, the Billy Graham Rule risks reducing women to sexual temptations, objects, things to be avoided.
Women should not be objectified. However, if there was an official list of Top Things That Dehumanize Women That Should Be Challenged, the Billy Graham Rule wouldn’t even make it into the first one hundred. What about the rampant pornography on the internet and sex appeal in the media? If anything, the continued practice of the Billy Graham rule is a reaction to our increasingly pornified culture. It really can’t be blamed for perpetuating it.
If a woman at work cannot meet one-on-one with her boss or colleague, her options for advancement (or even being taken seriously as a colleague) are extremely limited.
Do these career-necessary meetings have to be one-on-one, behind closed opaque doors and completely unaccountable, even to the rest of the business?
In this conversation, we also have to keep in mind the fact that Pence is the vice president of the United States. He is not a pastor and does not act in that capacity. How on earth can he be expected to represent half the country if he won’t eat at the same table as us? Not to mention that his ideological purity is called into question by his support of our current president, who has bragged about committing sexual assault.
Again, the Billy Graham Rule is about private, individual and completely unaccountable meetings, which are not necessary for any affirmation of human dignity or career advancement. The Billy Graham Rule is not just for pastors avoiding scandals for the good of their jobs. It’s for maintaining integrity within marriages and institutions. I think it’s a good thing that one of our elected leaders is practicing it.
However, if we look not to Graham for an example of how to treat women but to Jesus, we will find a different path to follow. Jesus consistently elevated the dignity of women and met with them regularly, including his meeting with a Samaritan woman in the middle of the day.
While Jesus elevated the dignity of women in many more examples in Scripture, one could make the argument that Jesus followed the Billy Graham Rule, as he never had a one-on-one and completely unaccountable meeting with someone of either gender.
As for Billy Graham, he has always been a non-partisan, non-denominational, scandal-free, charitable man of prayer and integrity. He’s been a friend to all sorts of presidents for decades. Billy Graham always released his ministry tax returns to the newspapers so he could be held financially accountable, and the Billy Graham Rule is another simple way he (and now our Vice President) keep themselves accountable to the public.
What’s really wrong with that?
at 12:17 PM
Friday, March 24, 2017
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
I’ll just announce it to the world without shame. I am moderate. Extremely moderate. Viciously moderate. When it comes to political and cultural issues, I strive to be a mediator and peacemaker. And it isn’t easy. It’s always complicated.
Will McAvoy, for example, claimed to be moderate in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. (Sorkin has at least twice written about LGBTQ-friendly Catholic geniuses who were abused by their jealous Protestant fathers). But while McAvoy was a good team leader who empowered and sacrificially loved his staff, his supposed and self-dubbed centrist journalism seemed to be mostly left-leaning snark that did not strive for unity and helpful reform.
So what is a true moderate? Not a revolutionary, but a reformist. As I look through the narrative of the Bible, the life of Jesus, the socio-cultural strives of the early Church of the Roman Empire, and God’s work in my life and the lives of people in my church, I can’t help but endeavor to be a true moderate. Would you be interested in joining me on my journey? Here’s what true moderates all should strive to do:
- Listen first, talk later (if at all). Be a soundboard for people as they tell their stories of felt abuse, abandonment, pain and/or fear. (How “slow to anger” can we be?). A moderate has the ability to feel another’s pain. May our hearts bleed for victims of all forms of suffering, no matter how much your worldview may think such suffering is deserved. Life can be tough for a moderate because it is one that helps carry a lot of others’ burdens.
- Be teachable and wise. Things are always more complicated. Know and understand the depth of the issues at hand, as well as the credible arguments of the other side of the ideological spectrum. Reform is very difficult (nigh impossible) when conversations are cycling through the same kitschy cliches that have little research (e.g. in history, science, statistics, religious study) or compassion.
- Strive for unity, despite differences. What’s a moderate’s goal in reform? Holistic peace by the sanctity of human life, from conception to the deathbed. (That may be my “religious views” coming into play here). I believe that us country-mates can strive for that within our communities and nation despite the divisions that are more eye-grabbing, emotionally-satisfying and maybe even individually-profitable for some. Do you believe that, too? Or are you checking my profile now to guess where I “really stand” on some issues so you can maybe write me off?
- Just serve. We live in a pathetic world of virtue-signaling and slacktivism. A status (or even an argument!) on your social media account does nothing for the true victims of socio-cultural and political change. So you’re against police brutality and urban poverty? What have you done to serve the charities and organizations working to build bridges in broken city communities? So you’re for or against President Trump’s proposed travel bans. What have you done to help the persecuted refugees and American-born Muslims within your community? For every single issue, there’s a type of healthful activity to engage the problem (regardless of where you even stand on it, in some cases) rather than just angrily talk about it. I, personally, abstain from partisanship and look at each issue individually with the attitude of a Chick-fil-A employee: “How can I serve you?”
It’d be easier if I just picked a side. That way I could read a lot more subjective news and editorials that make me feel more justified in my views, and I’d get a lot more post likes on Facebook. But, in becoming a moderate, I’ve “listened” and heard too many heartbreaking stories from people on both sides of the ideological spectrum add to the growing and unnecessary division.
Life as a moderate isn’t easy, but it’s what I feel called to be: not a revolutionary, but a reformer. Anyone interested in joining me?
at 12:15 PM
Friday, March 17, 2017
Friday, March 3, 2017
Thursday, March 2, 2017
HT: David Mathis
The Shack movie releases in theaters this weekend, as this year marks the tenth anniversary of Paul Young’s self-published novel of the same title. The book appeared in 2007, and traveled through the wider Christian market to become a global phenomenon. By early summer, 2008, more than one million sales were reported, and by the end of 2009, more than ten million.
Young grew up as a missionary kid and was sexually abused (not by family) on the mission field. The Shack, he says, was birthed in his own wrestling with his trauma and his existential “problem of pain” — how God can be sovereign and good, and not just allow such evil in the world at large, but such evil toward me personally.
The Shack is fiction, but don’t think for a minute that Young isn’t clearly and intentionally writing theology. He’s the first to say so. Theology isn’t merely conveyed in abstract propositions. Dozens of literary genres make up the Christian Scriptures. It’s not only the apostle Paul who speaks for God, but also the Psalms and Proverbs and the apocalyptic writings. Jesus himself spoke in stories, called parables. Story is a powerful tool for teaching someone about God and his world. The fact that Young writes a novel doesn’t mean that he’s indifferent to how his readers think about God and their pain. In fact, the key to understanding why so many love his novel is it speaks so vividly about God and pain.
at 10:20 AM
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
HT: Melissa Kruger
Whether it’s through story, song, or artwork, I’m thankful for the variety of creative ways God’s people reflect the beauty of our Creator. Today I’m sharing an interview with Quina Aragon. She’s a spoken-word artist and poet with a deep love for God and a desire to reach others with the gospel message. And, when you hear her, you’ll understand the beauty of the gift the Lord’s given her—I could listen to her all day!
at 11:02 AM
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
This is really clever.
Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent, a time for reflection and devotion. Christ Lutheran Church (LCMS) of Topeka, KS, has devised an ingenious online, social media observance, built around specific words for each day of Lent. The idea is to post a picture that captures each word, posting it on FaceBook, tagged with @christlcms, or Instagram, tagged with @christ_lutheran_topeka, and the hashtag #hearingthegospel. Then people can contemplate all of the pictures that have contributed.
at 10:08 AM
Monday, February 27, 2017
HT: Wendy Alsup
With the advent of social media and its collision with an incredibly acrimonious election season, it’s a fight to distinguish truth from slander on Facebook, Twitter, and online news sources. Perhaps you have a family member or friend who sends you online articles disparaging a particular politician or public figure. Maybe you follow folks on Twitter who retweet inflammatory messages. A man was arrested at a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., that one of my family members regularly visits, all because he believed incendiary messages that alleged the pizzeria was a front for a political child sex ring.
Closer to home, I too have friends and loved ones who share with me unsettling rumors from both sides of the political aisle. I’m regularly tempted on social media to believe things that sound true, especially if they fit my political preferences. Thankfully, despite the contrast between our modern age of social media and the flow of information during biblical times, we’re not left as orphans without instructions for separating facts from gossip.
at 10:33 AM
Friday, February 24, 2017
Thursday, February 23, 2017
|Kingdom Covenant Church|
HT: Sarah Zylstra
Last year in Chicago, hundreds of young black men took out their guns and shot each other.
The city saw 762 murders, more than New York City (334) and Los Angeles (294) combined, and far higher than its 2015 tally of 485. Much of the violence was driven by gang activity on the South and West sides of the city; three-quarters of the perpetrators—and victims—were young black men.
Some speculate the rising violence was caused in part by a police force weakened after a video of a white police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. In August, arrests were down by a third and stops were down by 80 percent from 2015, 60 Minutes reported.
Others point to longer-range reasons, including the unintended consequences of tearing down high-rise projects around 2011, which dispersed the gangs that gathered there. Even moving imprisoned gang leaders to out-of-state correctional institutions—a decision meant to cut off their communication with the street—backfired when street leadership became “chaotic and out of control.”
But in the middle of the chaos, black pastors are making a difference. Reaching out to neighborhoods, feeding the hungry, and running programs for kids, the black church is salting the city.
One of those pastors is David Washington, who prays with people and hands out school supplies on streets he knows well. He grew up in the violent South Side neighborhood of Roseland; in fact, he used to run a gang and sell drugs there.
at 9:59 AM
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
HT: David Rupert
You might remember the story. I told it just a few months ago, when I thought the world had peaked in it’s insanity. I was wrong.
The story was about a Syrian family that I met. They were pushed out of their ancestral home by war and violence. If you don’t remember Albert Sayegh specifically, you might remember the smiling son – Jack.
Finally, this is one Middle East refugee story with a happy ending.
When I met Albert in Jordan 18 months ago, he was pensive and struggling to make sense of it all. He was just few months removed from leaving his career as a mechanical engineer, his shop and his home. Aleppo, Syria was his home – his family’s heritage. But it had fallen to terrorism, war and strife.
There were no real prospects as a Christian refugee family. In Jordan he wasn’t allowed to work and he was living off their meager savings and the charity of loving family and friends. Europe and the United States had shut the door to Syrian refugees out of fear of ISIS cells. He was stuck.
“I had a good job as a mechanical engineer. I had my own shop with $50,000 in inventory,” he told me with wistful, look-away eyes. “Then they just took it.”
“More than 75 percent of my neighbors were Christians, but the terrorists came through and identified each of us by our faith. After that, we were targets,” he said.
The snipers would train their rifles on their street facing windows, so they couldn’t go near the front of the house.
“Two or three times a week, bombs would drop in our neighborhood,” he said, almost matter of factly.
at 10:58 AM
Monday, February 20, 2017
HT: Gene Veith
Happy Presidents’ Day. What are we really celebrating today?
Originally, it was George Washington’s Birthday, honoring the Father of Our Country. Then Abraham Lincoln, another great American, was thrown in.
Once the holiday was moved to Monday, to give federal workers a three-day weekend, Presidents’ Day became completely unmoored from the date of Washington’s birthday. Now we use the day to celebrate ALL presidents.
at 9:16 AM
Friday, February 17, 2017
Thursday, February 16, 2017
HT: Aaron Wilson
A hallmark of the evangelical church in America is the backing of a pro-life worldview. As such, abortion clinics and the politics that govern them are primary areas of focus in this important cause. However, there’s another front that often gets overlooked in the fight for life: the state of the thousands of children who remain cryogenically frozen as human embryos following in-vitro fertilization cycles.
A growing Christian response to this issue is the life-affirming answer of embryo adoption.
at 9:57 AM
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
HT: David Rupert
In a competitive world, keeping information close to the vest is viewed as a business imperative. Products, strategies and tactics fall under the tent of “Intellectual Property” and are closeted until just the right time.
For example, Apple is famous for secrecy. Prototypes, plans and ideas are carefully stove-piped so no one working on them has the whole picture until the product is ready for launch.
The recipes for Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies are carefully vaulted, ensuring a marketplace advantage.
There are good reasons – some of them are legal – to keep certain things under wraps. But too many workplaces are cloaked in secrecy over every detail, with all the knowledge and power held by a few.
at 11:03 AM
Monday, February 13, 2017
A curious study of where I lived for six of my formative years.
Iowa defines the American heartland, with its staunch Midwestern values and rural American virtues. Though its prairie populism sometimes elects Democrats, today its elected officials are most Republican. The candidate favored by Christian conservatives usually wins the Iowa caucuses.
A recent study ranked Iowa as the 19th most religious state in the union. Except for one mysterious outlier: Cedar Rapids.
The second largest city in the state, with a population of only 130,000, is an island of secularism in an ocean of religion. By virtually ever standard–Bible reading, Bible believing, church attendance–Cedar Rapids scores closer to the big coastal cities than any of its midwestern neighbors. Nearly half (47%) of its adults are “nones,” holding to no particular religion at all. That’s the same percentage as Los Angeles county.
at 10:34 AM
Friday, February 10, 2017
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
God help us, but if you aren’t ready for Obi-Wan when he comes, then you will never find a mentor. Star Wars is a movie and one not so tiny moment of unreality is when Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi and immediately is ready to be mentored.
The speeder driving, womp rat killing Luke Skywalker had not done anything to be ready to learn. He was undisciplined and unfocussed. He wasn’t brave enough to defy his Uncle and go to the Academy or loving enough to be patient knowing he would get there eventually.
Why would he be ready for the chance of a lifetime from an old man stuck in the desert?
at 10:42 AM