Around-the-Horn[1]Let Your Dim, Sin-Stained Light Shine Before The World
If exhortations to “be an example” have ever fallen on your shoulders with the weight of the world, take heart. There’s a way out from under the burden. Here’s the solution: our message is not about achieving perfection, but about receiving redemption. Do you realize what that means?

But Seriously, Would You Admit You Voted For Obama?
From Mollie Hemingway: Here’s the thing. It wasn’t just Grimes who voted for Obama multiple times. It was literally (literally “literally,” not Joe Biden “literally”) tens of millions of other people in this country. They really did it. For real. They put up bumper stickers. They put up yard signs. They called him a light-worker and an enlightened being. They said “He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.” He was given a Nobel Freaking Peace Prize. The award citation reads like satire. Seriously, it’s hi-larious. If you’re ever having a bad day, just recall that President Obama once won a Nobel Peace Prize. If you’re having a really bad day, read the citation. I guarantee your mood will improve. The media fawned over him. They got thrills up their legs. By any metric, the mainstream media was obsequious in its coverage of the president, only pulling back marginally, quite recently, and in the tiniest few quarters as the crush of scandal and incompetence has continued and grown. . . Listen, I know the options weren’t great, but that’s still no defense for picking the guy who is bad at everything.

Houston, We Have A Constitution
From Russell Moore: The preaching of sermons in the pulpits of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license, or bully religious institutions. That right wasn’t handed out by the government, as a kind of temporary restraining order. It was recognition of a self-evident truth.

Jitney Messiahs
This is a lie that under-girds all progressive thought, all the time, but it has now come to the forefront again, and some out-maneuvered Christians are helping to propagate it. Progressives are the ones that progressives have been waiting for, but really, nobody else has been. Whenever their jitney messiah arrives — and they find a new one every generation or so — I really see no reason for bowing down.

Only Themselves To Blame
Have you noticed the recent battle over encrypting information?  This article has and it concludes, “Feds only have themselves to blame for Apple and Google’s smartphone encryption efforts.”

Seeing Our Faith Through A Western World Lens
There are so many times in our Christian life when we look at parts of our faith through a blatant Western world lens.

Seduction And The Cost of Saying No
Most American youth don’t face these sorts of threats, but that doesn’t mean their faith comes without cost. America doesn’t kill or incarcerate people for being Christian, but it does foster a social and economic environment that makes following Jesus increasingly costly.

Catholic Family Synod & Liberal Protestantism
Without simply proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness–apparently, those outside the church’s blessing are not even allowed to confess their sins and receive absolution!–the document tries to establish a new “tone.”  My question:  How is this any different from liberal Protestantism?

Getting Back To The Ancient Church
Most of the contemporary discussion about the ancient church attempts to show discrepancies between what is now and what was then. The not-so-subtle implication is that there is something very wrong with the contemporary church. Blame Constantine. Blame the Enlightenment. Blame Capitalism. Blame the Fundamentalists. It doesn’t really matter. The only way to fix the church today is to get back to the ancient church.

torahIt is impossible to navigate the Old Testament without understanding how it relates to Jesus. Tim Keller has a wonderful summary of the way in which all of the OT points to Christ.

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, Jesus explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) 

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us (1 Corinthians 15).
  • Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out for our acquittal, not our condemnation (Hebrews 12:24).
  • Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void “not knowing wither he went!” to create a new people of God.
  • Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. While God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from me,” now we can say to God, “Now we know that you love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from me.”
  • Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
  • Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
  • Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant (Hebrews 3).
  • Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
  • Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends (Job 42).
  • Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
  • Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb – innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He is the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the Lamb, the Light, the Bread.”

 

Around-the-Horn[1]

Does God Have Regret?
From Kevin DeYoung: What does it mean for God to say “I regret”? Can God change his mind? Can we thwart God’s plans? Is God ignorant about the future? Is God just like us in that he makes honest mistakes and sometimes look back at his decisions and says, “Golly, I wish I could do that one over again”?

I Survived A Weekend With The Cult Of Oprah
From NYMag: It’s 8:30 a.m. in Newark, New Jersey. I am bound for the church of Oprah, otherwise known as the Prudential Center.  This was the fourth stop on Oprah’s the Life You Want weekend tour — her biggest arena tour ever. In eight cities, she is offering fans two days of Oprah, including dancing, drinking, journaling, empowerment, enlightenment, an assortment of OWN-approved “trailblazers,” and a temporary merch city called O-Town.

The Medium Is The Message, 50 Years Later
A look back on Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that the medium is the message. It’s amazing to see how deeply the idea has become embedded in our society.

Six Great Reasons To Study Doctrine
From Tim Challies: I love doctrine. Doctrine is simply the teaching of God or the teaching about God–the body of knowledge that he reveals to us through the Bible. I guess I’m one of those geekly people who loves to learn a new word and the big idea behind it. But I hope I do not love doctrine for doctrine’s sake. Rather, I strive to be a person who loves doctrine for God’s sake.  Today I want to give you 6 great reasons to study doctrine.

Had Sex, Dumped Jesus: The Spiritual Perils of Immorality
The Christian faith says a few rather firm things about sexual conduct, what goes and when. Our culture, on the other hand, tends to think anything goes, whenever. But there are dire spiritual costs hidden in this supposed benefits package.

Ordinary Isn’t Mediocre
From Aimee Byrd: Okay, so I don’t know many people who aspire to be ordinary. We grow up being told we are special. What would our parents think if we just turn out to be regular people?

Resenting Christian Compassion
Ross Douthat, NYT, has another wonderful essay in which he considers whether the church is facing a new pagan society, as in the first century.  He thinks not, but he notes that some of the hostility against Christianity is very similar to the resentment against the faith expressed by pagan Romans.  He cites a recent rant in Slate complaining that so many of the doctors battling Ebola are Christians and missionaries, and calling for a separation of religion and health care.  Douthat said  this is like Julian the Apostate’s frustration that “all men see that our people lack aid” from pagan sources, even as “the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well.”

Joan or John?
From Russell Moore: This question takes place sometime in the future—or the present—in your ministry.

In Praise of Confidence: Doubt Is To Be Endured, Not Celebrated
From Mollie Hemingway: When you think of some of the most passionate, persistent, and eloquent advocates for social change—William Wilberforce, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr.—you think of men who were confident in the rightness of their cause. But a study published in Psychological Science says that it’s doubt, not confidence, that leads individuals to advance their beliefs and attempt to persuade others.

The Vindication of Antonin Scalia – A Sad Milestone for Marriage and Morality
From Albert Mohler: A giant milestone in the moral revolution passed today when the U.S. Supreme Court turned down every single appeal from several states on the issue of same-sex marriage. This decision not to take at least one case under consideration stunned both sides in the same-sex marriage battle.

David vs Goliath, Chandler vs Furtick
From David Ould: If I’m David then I need to throw that stone just right and I become the hero who saves the people of God from their enemy. But if I’m not David, I need to trust in the Saviour that God has sent who saves me along with the people of God from our enemy. One is justification by faith alone brought about by God alone and brings glory to King David’s greater Son. The other isn’t.

 

 

 

 

Christians and Pagans

October 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

From Ross Douthat in the NYT:

Occasionally in the debates about Christianity’s weakened position in American culture, you’ll hear traditionalists and conservatives analogize the Christian situation, now or soon, to the environment the faith faced in its earliest centuries, as an embattled minority in a hostile pagan empire. I’m not a particular fan of this analogy, for various reasons: Not only because lions-and-catacombs imagery risks trivializing the concept of persecution at a time when Christians outside the United States face actual Diocletian-style consequences for their beliefs (and don’t always receive the charity they deserve from their American co-believers), but also because describing contemporary American culture as pagan in the style of the ancient world strikes me as a category error, which underplays the extent to which middlebrow American spirituality is still infused with Christian-ish sentiments and assumptions and ideas, and underplays, as well, just how radically different a thoroughly repaganized society would be from the one we (happily) inhabit today.

All of that said, I wouldn’t want to say that there are never echoes of the ancient world in contemporary religious debates. Consider, as a for instance, this piece in Slate from the science writer Brian Palmer, which passively-aggressively complains about the fact that so many of the doctors fighting Ebola on the ground in Africa are … Christians … and worse still, Christian missionaries … and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but actually maybe there issomething wrong with that (“I’m not altogether proud of this bias—I’m just trying to be honest”), or at least Palmer wants us to know that he’s a little troubled by its implications (“some missionaries are incapable of separating their religious work from their medical work … I suspect that many others have the same visceral discomfort with the mingling of religion and health care …“) even as, broad-minded guy that he is, he concedes that “until we’re finally ready to invest heavily in secular medicine for Africa,” the missionaries may deserve our grudging support.

Read the rest.

A few years ago Aaron and I were walking out of the woods long after sunset under a clear and starry sky.  Surrounded by darkness and about a mile from the car we heard a pack of coyotes behind us start to howl.  Immediately, from every direction near and far, we heard other coyotes respond.  It remains one of our coolest experiences in the woods.

I was reminded of that where I saw (heard) this video.  As part of a segment filmed for MFK GameCalls, Jason Groseclose, two-time world coyote calling champion, lets loose with his best coyote howl from a chair in the middle of a forest. Just as his call finishes echoing through the trees, the woods erupt with a string of responses. Moments later, you will see a few young coyotes making a beeline to his position.  Pretty cool.

YouTube Preview Image

 

An excellent review from Christianity Today of an intriguing book:

ordinaryIf we are justified by faith in Christ alone, then we need not be anxious to show how Spirit-filled we are by living extraordinary, radical lives. Having already received the promise of the Spirit in baptism—God’s promise, which we can trust he will keep—we are free to serve our neighbors with ordinary good works. We are freed from establishing our credentials before God or our own consciences. And we are even free, Horton states, to enjoy our neighbors as gifts rather than making them into our own projects, as if it was our job to transform their lives.

Horton argues that the underlying theology behind oft-heard calls to be wild and crazy radical believers—as if Christianity were an extreme sport—is works righteousness in a new, consumerist mode. For some time, radical has been a favorite word of advertisers and ideologues alike. Every website with something to sell now routinely promises a transformative experience.

Instead of another call to be radical, extraordinary, or transformative, Horton would have us return to the ordinary means of grace, those practices of the church in which God has promised to make himself known: preaching the gospel, teaching the faith, administering the sacraments, and worshiping with a local congregation. Instead of advertising life-changing experiences or the next big thing, the aim is a sustainable faith for the long haul. The great strength of being ordinary, after all, is that you can do it for a lifetime.

Read it all.

The Cure for Shame

October 1, 2014 — Leave a comment

Shame. Boatloads of shame. Day after day. More of the same. Blame. Please lift it off. Please take it off. Please make it stop.” Those words are not just the lyrics to a famous Avett Brothers’ song, they are also words under which a lot of us live. To live in this world is to experience shame. Boatloads of shame.

Shame is a word that’s hard to describe. We’ve all experienced it on some level. It’s the feeling you get when you suddenly realize you’re underdressed for a party. When you show up late to a meeting thinking you’re right on time. Or when your card gets declined buying coffee at Starbucks for your financial advisor. That last one hits a little too close to home.

Then there’s the shame that never gets spoken. The kind that involves things done in secret. Compulsive behaviors. Hidden struggles. The shame of being abused, of being taken advantage of in a way that takes a little of the light out of our humanity, and our hope.

Maybe the best way to describe shame is to think of it as the residue of sin, both our own, and that of others against us. One author describes shame as “the subjective experience of our objective guilt.” Both the guilt of what we’ve done (and left undone), as well as the guilt of what others have done (or left undone) to us. In this way, shame is like an onion. There are so many layers that when you begin to cut it open, it’s hard to tell where some begin and others end.

Shame is what Peter felt when he made eye contact with Jesus just after denying that he even knew him. It’s what David felt as he realized his own blindness before Nathan. It’s what Isaiah felt in the temple when he felt overwhelmingly unclean. We’re no strangers to it either.

Read the rest to find the cure.

Well worth the read.

We don’t come to Christ because of guarantees of health, wealth, or protection from physical danger. We come to him because he is Lord. We don’t become Christians because of fringe benefits; we become Christians because Christianity is true. We come to Christ and bow our knee knowing he loves us enough to die for us. We come to him knowing that his plan, whatever that may be, is full of love, purpose, and wisdom. We come to him because of the guarantees of the life to come, not the guarantees of this life.

Read it all.

Dear Friends,

In a few weeks the Collect for the Day will read:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Besides being one of my favorite Collects, the words bring back memories of a particular quiet day at my seminary while I was a first-year student. Typically, quiet days followed a pattern of three meditative talks, morning, noon and late afternoon. A faculty member normally gave the talks and they served as the basis of personal reflection throughout the day. On this day, at the end of his morning reflection, the faculty member closed his talk with this Collect. A classmate of mine, newer to Anglicanism and unfamiliar with the Book of Common Prayer, understood the prayer to be an instruction that we were to read the Gospel of Mark and give careful consideration to what he had read. Three times that day the faculty member would use this Collect at the close of his talk. And, three times my classmate would go off, read the Gospel of Mark, and give consideration to what he had read. The next day when he found out that his unfamiliarity with the Collect had led to a misunderstanding he was embarrassed. I would suggest that his day, out of all of our days, was most profitably spent.

I am reminded of that Collect and that story because this fall we will begin a sermon series on the Gospel of Mark. And the Collect above offers us wise counsel on how we might approach our study of Mark (and indeed, all of Scripture). As is our custom, for 15 years now, we will preach through this book of the Bible in its entirety. The schedule of texts addressed follows below. To aid in your reading, marking, learning, and inward digestion I offer three accompanying books for your consideration;

Crossway Commentary Classics: Mark by J.C. Ryle

Mark for Everyone by N.T. Wright

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Tim Keller

All three books will be available in Common Grounds at the usual discounted price.

I look forward to our time of Spirit-inspired study and prayerful consideration of God’s Word.

Yours warmly in Christ,

+Steve

 

The Gospel According to Mark

 

Jesus the King of the Kingdom

Oct 5          Mark 1.1-21
Oct 12        Mark 1.21-45
Oct 19        Mark 2.1-22
Oct 26        Mark 2.23-3

The Kingdom of Heaven

Nov 2          Mark 4.1-34
Nov 9          Mark 4.35-5.21
Nov 16        Mark 5.21-43
Nov 23        Mark 6.1-29
Nov 30        Mark 6.30-56
Dec 7          Mark 7.1-23
Dec 14        Mark 7.24-37
Dec 21        Mark 8.1-26
Dec 28        Mark 8.27-8.38

The Kingdom and the Cross

Jan 4           Mark 9.1-13
Jan 11         Mark 9.14-41
Jan 18         Mark 9.42-10.16
Jan 25         Mark 10.13-31
Feb 1          Mark 10.32-45
Feb 8          Mark 10.46-52
Feb 15        Mark 11.1-26
Feb 22        Mark 11.27-12.12
Mar 1          Mark 12.13-27
Mar 8          Mark 12.28-34
Mar 15        Mark 12.35-13.2
Mar 22        Mark 13.3-36
Mar 29        Mark 14.1-11

Jesus Inaugurates the Kingdom of God

Apr 5          EASTER
Apr 12        Mark 14.12-25
Apr 19        Mark 14.26-72
Apr 26        Mark 15.1-41
May 3         Mark 15.42-16.11
May 10       Mark 16.12-20