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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"The answer to 'Why?' is...."

Maybe the answer to everything is 42.
But more than once a week at my house, I ask

                "Do you know why  [fill in the blank]?"

                                       The answer is always..
                                                        per this  classic "Dream Team" clip:

                                                                   "Because Jesus wants it that way!"

                                                                               After all, it's not Ed who makes the sun shine .

Friday, January 15, 2016

welcoming refugees on the shore

For the record..and probably no surprise to anyone heteroclitic to be reading in this neighborhood of the interwebs, I can't endorse everything Franklin Graham  (of Samaritan's Purse) or Pat Robertson  (700 Club) says, but do check these powerful videos from each ministry on groups welcoming refugees:
(link if first  video doesn't show) --- Second video: Jump to 12:12 and watch through 24:10: (link if  second video doesn't show_

Johnny Cash, Sting, and rifles that go off in our hands.. even when we are not in favor of it

Reading Rodney Clapp's wonderful "Johnny Cash and the American Contradiction: Christianity and the Battle for the Soul of a Nation",  I was caught off guard that in a list of "Cash's songs," was one I wasn't familiar with:

                                  "I Hung My Head."

The lyrics mention a rifle that "went off in my [the narrator's] hands."

I immediately connected that to a vintage U2 lyric  in

God Part II:


"I don't believe in the Uzzi; it just went off in my hands."

Knowing Bono is a huge Cash fan, I figured he was intentionally referencing the Cash song (After all, he references a Cockburn lyric in the same song  (and the title of course references Lennon's "God").

But then checking the footnotes in the book, I found that even though "I Hung My Head" was included in a lineage of Cash songs, it was a Sting-written song that Cash covered.  It is in the league of chilling covers from his late-era American Recordings (Drop eveything and watch "Hurt" for the definitive example) that Cash owned, and the listeners feel "how could Cash not have written that?!"

Here's the song-- by Sting, and as covered by Cash, and also by Springsteen.

I cite it as way of tipping you off if the song is also new to you;
also to get you into the "Violence and Peace" section of Clapp's book; which can be read (almost) in full on Google Books.  The section on the song at hand is p. 102ff   here.

Of course, some Christian fans will be freaked about yet another "controversial" Cash song or cover.
To those folks, I invite you to consider these clicks:

--Beth Maynard on "the naive thought that any artist who writes about sin must be in favor of it." - 

"Here is the easiest way to explain the genius of Johnny Cash: Singing from the perspective of a convicted murderer in the song ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ Cash is struck by pangs of regret when he sits in his cell and hears a distant train whistle. This is because people on that train are ‘probably drinkin’ coffee.’ And this is also why Cash seems completely credible as a felon: He doesn’t want freedom or friendship with Jesus or a new lawyer. He wants coffee. Within the mind of a killer, complex feelings are eerily simple. This is why killers can shoot men in Reno just to watch them die and the rest of us usually can’t.
("Chuck Klosterman, "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs", page 186)

Sunday, January 03, 2016

U2 devotional #11: Paul Leader on surfing "Every Breaking Wave"

Paul Leader's blog always makes my day.  Here's an excerpt from his post on U2's "Every Breaking Wave."  This song is multiplex for me; heck even Bono has said he's not figured out how the story resolves.  Maybe some of the meaning "changes in the moment you're in" as Bono once said of rhema.  I have often connected it to Ephesians 4:14.

Paul has a great app on this song.

Every Breaking Wave.  
by Paul Leader
“Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing every breaking wave?”
One of the songs that has grabbed my attention on the new album is ‘Every Breaking Wave’. Many sermons/talks/blogs could be shared from this one song. The thought of stopping the chase after those breaking waves has stirred my heart in a strange way. You see through-out my Christian life I have been seeking out and chasing after the waves of revival and renewal. I have driven all over Britain to surf the waves of Toronto and Pensacola. Run after prophetic movements and went wherever I could sense a well of refreshing. I have created waves and read all the latest books on what the next move is going to look like, so I could have my surf board ready and primed to find the next contemporary breaking wave. But what was that all about in a life of constants? Was it pure escapism from the reality of life and the ordinary? Was it only the thought of a better, more exciting life that kept us going until the next weekend? While we sought out a more supernatural day, God showed us a more natural way, the way of living on earth in flesh. I ran the country hunting out other storm chasers, while I neglected the family and community God had placed me within. The waves became the focus rather than the people. Who cared if they were drowning as long as I was riding the biggest waves around. Thankfully I am no longer impressed by the fizz of waves. I realised that no matter how many waves there were, there would always be another one, and each one would always end up at the same place. I have stopped chasing after every breaking wave...    Link, full post

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

"You don't preach right!"

My seminary classmate Steve Heyduck's blog post really is a helpful conversation starter.
Let me quote it, and then we can start the conversation (either here, or on his blog--giving his great blog some PR).

I will tell you a story after Steve's post. I'll address my comments to Steve, but they are for all of you.


by Steve Heyduck

“You didn’t begin your sermon with the reading of the scripture text. You are always supposed to read the scripture as the beginning of your sermon.”
This is a very close approximation to something a colleague of mine was told recently.  This colleague is soon to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning – a major step towards ordination.
Part of the qualifying process is submission of a sermon – both manuscript and video recording.
My colleague asked for my insights as to whether such a particularity could, in fact, derail his quest.
I shared that I cannot remember the last time I read the scripture text as the beginning of my sermon.
For me, anyway, this rarely if ever happens in part because our liturgist reads one of our texts immediately before I stand to preach.  Re-reading the scripture myself would give in to the notion that preaching is not really a part of the worship service as a whole, but rather a stand-alone event thrown into the midst of a worship service.
I encouraged my colleague to continue to preach the Word, and to preach the text for the service, whether or not that scripture text was written into the sermon.
A much larger concern for me is that someone would suggest so simple a component done differently would disqualify a sermon altogether.  What I think really happened was an incident of either
  1. “You didn’t preach the way I was taught to preach” or
  2. “You didn’t preach the way I like to hear someone preach.
Are there specific mechanics that you believe are absolutely essential to the successful preaching of a sermon? Do Jesus’ and Peter’s and Paul’s preaching always follow your rules?  link
Fantastic post.
It triggered a memory I had buried.
Once, a parishoner took me out to lunch.
You know how that is: you never know if there is an agenda.
Sometimes taking you to lunch is taking you to the woodshed. (:

He cut to the chase:
"I have noticed that sometimes you open a sermon with a story, and THEN you pray."
This of course implied that everyone knows the "correct" way is to pray at the very outset, and THEN start preaching.
I assured him that yes, I had actually done this on purpose.
He was stunned.
I have always varied it a little.  Or a lot.
In fact, if the transcript is accurate, here is one I preached without an official prayer (gasp!)
Sometimes I have read the Scripture pretty late in the game.
Might that sometimes be more biblical?

I wonder what my well-meaning parishoner would think of Jesus' sermons ...or ANY sermons in the Bible.
I can't think of any that started with a prayer...OR the  text!
I remember a college professor, Al Dueck, once suggested that you could wait until the very end to even reveal what Scriptural text you were preaching on.  I was intrigued.  I will tag him on Facebook to see if he remembers saying that, or has examples of doing it.

What's up with the Idolatry of Form?
Steve, did you ever have a class at Asbury Seminary with Ralph Lewis on "inductive preaching"?  Poor guy was called a heretic by some just because he believed you could save your Scripture reading for mid-sermon!
BTW, I love how you prayed in this sermon below.
But..heresy alert, you actually spoke for a minute before you prayed! (:

"The last days ended with Pentecost." -Mark DeRaud

Thanks to Mark DeRaud for the tip on the post below by JD Walt.
Of course, I have taught that according to Joel 2/Acts 2, the last days began at Pentecost.

Peter preaches, and says "What you see is the following; "In the last days....I will pour out my Spirit.."

14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
17 In the last days,’ God says,
    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young men will see visions,
    and your old men will dream dreams.
18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit
    even on my servants—men and women alike—
    and they will prophesy.

19 And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below—
    blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20 The sun will become dark,
    and the moon will turn blood red
    before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
21 But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
    will be saved.’[c]

But Mark's comment (based on the Walt post) pushes a huge envelope:

                         "The last days ended with Pentecost." -Mark DeRaud.

What do you think?
This raises the question about whether verses 19-20 have happened yet?
Of course, the party line is that the sun darkening and the red moon are signs of the "end of the end, "and they obviously haven't happened yet.  Yet many including NT Wright make the case that this was a symbolic way of speaking of the events of AD 70: destruction of  the temple. (see what Wright does with the Isiaah 13:10 sun and moon signs here.  See also  a couple posts by Kirk 

 here and  here ).

Mark, your take on that?  Do you see the sun/moon signs as Pentecost, or about the tumultuous transition to the New Covenant order"?  Or..

King's post:

I was talking with a well-meaning leader just the other the other day who began discounting my outlook. He said, "J.D., your view is preposterous. Don't you notice how terrible things really are? Don't you know what the Bible says? 'There will be terrible times in the last days'" (2 Timothy 3:1).

Another man suggested that I was a "scoffer." He said, "Don't you know what Jude, the half-brother of Jesus declared, 'In the last times scoffers will arise who will follow their own ungodly desires' (Jude 1:18). If you don't see things getting worse, you're nothing more than a scoffer - rejecting the Word of God."

Many insist that the Bible foretells disaster and trouble - particularly as we descend into the "last days." They're convinced that, in the grand biblical narrative, cataclysm and destruction are imminent. It seems that there can be no goodness or hope in "perilous times."

This kind of worldview is understandable. A superficial reading of the New Testament would suggest the reality that they're asserting. However, things are not always as they appear.

The term "last days" is arguably one of the more misunderstood phrases in the Bible. It is not talking about the end of the world, but the end of the old covenant” era. 

Rather than referring to the destruction of the earth, it is a depiction of the end of the temple, animal sacrifices, and Levitical priesthood. It spoke of the unrest and volatility that would be found at the cessation of a religious order that was, at best, temporal in nature (Hebrews 6:20-8:13).

It might surprise many to hear this, but the writer of Hebrews affirms that the last days were in his lifetime. He declares that the revelation was being received, "in these last days" (Hebrews 1:2). Elaborating on what this meant, he goes on to declare that "Jesus has now obtained a more superior ministry, since the covenant he mediates is founded on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6).

The “Last-Days” or “End of the age” is really about the tumultuous transition to the New Covenant order. It is the end of what was and the beginning of something new! It was never meant to be used as an excuse to sidetrack the good news of the gospel.  link

Thursday, December 03, 2015

"the busy pastor is vain or lazy"

From  Eugene Peterson: "The Contemplative Pastor":

"The poor man," we say. "He's so devoted to his flock: the work is endless, and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly." But the Word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront." pg 17

"I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and heavy demands on my time are proof to myself-and to all who will notice- that I am important." pg 18

"I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day's work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people's minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious of somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor." pg 18
Peterson expands, in an article, ":The Unbusy Pastor"

The  one piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket is the one addressed to the busy pastor. Not that the phrase doesn't describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me.
I'm not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way in which it is used to flatter and express sympathy. "The poor man," we say. "He's so devoted to his flock; the work is endless and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly." But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife, or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront. Hilary of Tours diagnosed our pastoral busyness as "irreligiosa solicitudo pro Deo," a blasphemous anxiety to do God's work for him.
I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both reasons are ignoble.
I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself-and to all who will notice-that I am important If I go into a doctor's office and find there's no one waiting, and see through a half-open door the doctor reading a book, I wonder if he's any good. A good doctor will have people lined up waiting to see him; a good doctor will not have time to read a book, even if it's a very good book. Although I grumble about waiting my turn in a busy doctor's office, I am also impressed with his importance.
Such experiences affect me. I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance. I want to be important, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance and my vanity is fed. The busier I am, the more important I am.
The other reason I become busy is that I am lazy. I indolently let other people decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day's work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. But these people don't know what a pastor is supposed to do. The pastor is a shadow figure in their minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.
Because these assignments to pastoral service are made sincerely, I lazily go along with them. It takes effort to refuse, and there's always the danger that the refusal will be interpreted as a rebuff, a betrayal of religion and a calloused disregard for people in need.
It was a favorite theme of C. S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.
But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity, or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don't have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called, the work of pastor. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I convincingly persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to constantly juggle my schedule to make everything fit into place?
If I'm not busy making my mark in the world and not busy doing what everyone expects me to do, what do I do? What is my proper work? What does it mean to be a pastor? If I had no personal needs to be fulfilled, what would I do? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do? Three things.
I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to cultivate and deepen my relationship with God. I want all life to be intimate-sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously-with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be a person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wondering if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying. I want to do the original work of being in deepening conversation with the God who reveals himself to me and addresses me by name. I don't want to dispense mimeographed hand-outs that describe God's business; I want to report and witness out of my own experience. I don't want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others, but to be personally involved with all my senses, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.
I know it takes time to develop a life of prayer: set-aside, disciplined, deliberate time. It isn't accomplished on the run, nor by offering prayers from a pulpit or at a hospital bedside. I know I can't be busy and pray at the same time. I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted, or dispersed. In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; more attention to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self.
I want to be a pastor who preaches. I want to speak...continued here