Join the discussion I moderated at InternetMonk.com. Check it out, there are some very interesting comments. While you are at it don’t forget to read this thoughtful different perspective by Chris Robinson entitled Culture and Christianity as a Dual Citizen.
Check out my review of Sociologist Bradley Wright’s Book, “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told” at InternetMonk.com.
“Why are American Christians so opinionated in the church and out of the church?” I asked my to-be American husband. As a mainline protestant Canadian Christian immersing myself into Midwest American Evangelical Christianity, I was struggling with the personality of the American Christian. The American Christian was far too outspoken and politically active for my Canadian sensibilities.
I came to understand and believe that my American Christian friends were simply a by-product of the larger American revolutionary personality; outspoken, confident, proud, generous, courageous, action-oriented and reflecting the entire political landscape, not just the extremes of the right OR the left. I learned that American Christians, living in a culture that values personal opinions and debate, needed to have discourse concerning any and all church matters. My experience was that the stereotypical Republican American Patriotic Christian was the exception and not the rule.
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By Mike Bell
Ike made a comment on my recent piece on Recession and Church growth that I think deserves some further attention. Ike begins by quoting from Thomas Kelley who wrote:
The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God. We have mistaken the nature of poverty and thought it was economic poverty. No, it is poverty of soul, deprivation of God’s recreating, loving peace. Peer into poverty and see if we are really getting down to our deepest needs, in our economic salvation schemes. These are important. But they lie farther along the road, secondary steps toward world reconstruction. The primary step is a holy life, transformed and radiant in the glory of God.
Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, page 123.
Ike continues by writing:
Our economic recession began in a recession of the soul. If our hearts were filled with the Holy Spirit, we would be so freed from financial foolishness that we would not have established lifestyles, personally and nationally, that we now know are practically unsustainable, politically divisive, economically backward and perhaps even militarily risky.
The most relevant message to our nation today, and to ourselves, is personal repentance, confession of sin, newness of life and hope in the gracious promises of God in Christ.
Over the last few days I have been thinking about this, particularly as it relates to this blog. I don’t won’t to get so wrapped up in other statistics and other thing that I forget the focus that this blog was supposed to be about. It is about the good news of Jesus Christ, and how that is lived out throughout Christianity. Sure I find the numbers interesting and I am going to continue to put up posts along those lines. As much as possible though I want to try and tie them back to what it means concerning the good news of Jesus.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.
By Michael Bell
I am not sure whether to laugh or cry when I read this joke. It was overheard at Internet Monk and attributed by Ed to Emo Philips.
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
This strongly reminds me of how much we quibble over the smallest things, and are not generous with those who differ slightly from what we believe. Pastors and denominational leaders, take a good look at your membership requirements. What is essential to the gospel? What other things can you put aside in order to fellowship with someone in your church and call him brother. Who are you excluding that Jesus has already included?
Your thoughts and comments are welcome.
By Michael Bell
When I visit a church, I like to visit as if I am going to church for the first time to try and envision how a first time visitor would feel. These are all experiences either I have had visiting churches for the first time, or that friends of mine have had. I have combined them into a quasi-fictional account, as if all the experiences happened on a single Sunday, and I was indeed a first time visitor to church. I will tell you the purpose behind the story at the end of the posting.
I visited a church today. It was my first time in many years, but we had been having family difficulties, and a friend had suggested that a good church might be a good place to find help.
We wanted to go to the closest one, unfortunately it had no service time of its church sign, which looked like it had seen better days. So I tried the church website, no luck there, the church did not have one. I then tried the phone book, no answer on the first try, and no recorded message either, the second try I did get someone, (not sure who), who brusquely told me that the service was at 11:00 a.m.
So Sunday morning arrived, we decided we wanted to be early, so we got there at 10:55. The parking lot was full (I found out later that if fills up for Sunday School at 9:30). There was not much street parking available, but we finally found a spot 3 blocks away. By the time we got to the church, it was 11:05. Part of me wanted to just turn around and go home at that time, but we decided to persevere.
The church had two sets of doors. We were not sure which ones to go in, but settled on the big main doors. We cautiously opened the doors to the church to find… a completely empty room. After what seemed like at eternity, we heard singing coming from the double doors in front of us. A sign above the doors read “Sanctuary”, though I wasn’t sure what that meant. I slowly opened up these doors and I could see that we were entering in at the back of an auditorium. A man seated on a chair at the back, waved a folded piece of paper in our face. “Here”, he said, “you will need one of these”. It was program of sorts, though I could find no list of what was about to occur.
By Michael Bell
Traditionally, Jesus is said to be about 33 years old when he died. This date is calculated by beginning with Luke 3:23 which states that Jesus was about 30 years old when he started his ministry. John’s gospel mentions three passovers, so the assumption is that he was about 33 when he died. This is the most direct evidence that we have, so it is the dating that is most commonly accepted.
There are some questions about this dating. For example, Luke uses the word “about”, showing that he is not certain of the age of Jesus. And while the gospels seem to cover three years of ministry, no where does it say that his ministry was restricted to three years. So the question can be asked: Is there other information out there that would make us think differently?
Lets start back at with Jesus’ birth and see how everything fits.
Right away we are faced with a dating problem. Matthew has Jesus being born during the reign of Herod the Great, who we know died in 4 B.C. Luke on the other hand has Jesus being born during the “first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” The problem is that Quirinius was governor of Syria from A.D. 6 – 12. Either Luke is mistaken, or as some scholars such as F.F. Bruce believe, there was a mistranslation somewhere along the way, and “while Quirinius” was originally written as “before Quirinius”. We do know from Tertullian (Against Marcion 4.19:10) that there was a census that had been taken in Judaea by Sentius Saturninus the Governor of Syria, somewhere between 10-6 B.C. Either way, the earlier census, becomes the more likely census.
If Luke had the wrong census, then he would also have a tendency to underestimate Jesus’ age, by the differential between the two censuses. Jesus then would have begun his ministry somewhere between the ages of 42 and 46. Let us see if this fits with other historical dates.
Jesus’ closest contemporary was John the Baptist. We do have very exact dates for both the start of John’s ministry as well as his death.
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By Nigel Barham (Originally posted at nigelbarham.com Used with permission.)
-I have issues
-You have issues
-Those we work with have issues
-Those we interact with have issues
Add it all up and you get one big mess.
But a mess is what Jesus chose to be born into when he arrived on this planet. 12 messes were what he chose for 12 disciples. The Kingdom of God emerging from the mess was what he preached. Eventually he died for the mess.
Today, he is merciful enough to save messes like me; gracious enough to work in messes like me; generous enough to work through messes like me; and patient enough to stick with messes like me (despite frequent royal screw-ups).
Whatever you choose to do in the Kingdom of God, expect a mess. Remember that you are part of the mess. Be gracious with the messes (people) around you. While you’re at it, have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be a pleasure to be around. Avoid the ‘spiritual gift’ of speck-spotting (Matthew 7:3). Work hard. Do stuff when you don’t feel like it. Smile.
The alternatives to not being in a mess are: (1) another mess, (2) pulling out altogether. Since the latter is not an option biblically…
Choose your mess.
By Peter Heath
I live in a Middle Eastern (Muslim) country, and currently I have 12 days off work due to National Day and Eid Al Adha celebrations. We enjoyed the National Day fireworks from the roof of our apartment building (45 minutes of dual-source synchronized fireworks!). And then we put ear plugs in so we could go to sleep with all the young guys driving/honking//backfiring till 3 AM on our street. We remind our kids that this qualifies as a cultural experience!
Eid Al Adha is the Muslim festival that comes at the end of the Hajj (required journey to Mecca) and about 6 weeks after the end of Ramadan. It also commemorates Allah providing a ram so that Abraham didn’t actually have to sacrifice Ishmael. (That is the Muslim take on it.) Muslims normally slaughter and eat a sheep as part of the festival. In years past, apartment staircases here have run red with the blood of slaughtered sheep, but now residents must take their sheep to authorized slaughter-centres that are set up for the occasion. (Sort of reminds me of polling places appearing and disappearing over elections.) So, a couple of days ago, i discovered a sheep in the parking lot of my building! Didn’t take too much imagination to figure out what was going on. This morning, Mr Sheepy was gone, and it looked like the short-term owner took the legal route on preparing his meal. Fortunately for Mr. Sheepy, he didn’t have any clue what was waiting for him. Sort of reminds me of many of my friends.
Like my hockey buddies (yes, ice hockey). A couple of nights ago, HockeyGuy turned to me on the bench and says “I think Jesus showed us the ultimate example of humanity.” I pulled out my CS Lewis Handbook and replied that Jesus claimed to be God, so either he was loony or else he was/is God. Either way, you can’t take the “great man” approach. HockeyGuy basically said to me “I don’t think the I-am-God stuff matters. I just like the Great Moral Man stuff.” Must be that post-modern mindset kicking in, i guess, that someone can pick and choose what they like or dislike about Jesus and totally ignore the rest. Or is that just human nature? Isn’t that what the Gnostics did so very long ago? Anyway HockeyGuy, who *is* a good guy, doesn’t believe he needs a Saviour and misses out on Jesus as the Eternal Sacrifice. Hmmm, kind of reminds me of all the Muslims i know…
By Michael Bell
Distractions from the Gospel – Part 3: Church Contentment
A few years ago I helped administer a survey of the members and adherents of the church that we were attending. One thing that we were able to determine from the survey was that by and large people were quite happy with ministries of the church, and weren’t looking to make and significant changes. When we shared these results with the District Superintendent (think Bishop), he cautioned us. “Let me be prophetic here”, he said, “Churches which are largely content with the way things are, and are not open to change, tend to stagnate, plateau, and even die.” Indeed he was rather prophetic, and within three years the church had closed its doors.
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