Sunday, December 30, 2012

Part two, my "top 10" favorite fiction books:

As in part one, my top 10 favorite non-fiction books, this post is motivates by the many requests I get from people asking for book recommendations.

When I was in high school, I had a rhythm down where many times I read a book a day.  If I wasn't interested in class, which was 99% of the time, I'd sit in the back of the room and read, then I'd go home & read more.  I read everything in Sci-fi and Fantasy I could get my hands on.  I read the Tarzan series, I read every Conan book, and then I would re-read many of my favorites.  I read a lot of good dark stuff too, Steven King, Anne Rice, and a truly talented writer of the macabre, Karl Edward Wagner.  Unfortunately, I didn't read the "classics" until adulthood.  

As I got older, I found my love for reading increasing, but my devotion to fiction decreasing   It wasn't that I didn't like fiction anymore, I felt my allotted/discretionary reading time was better spent on reading non-fiction.  When I offer my top 10 here, this reflects a few life-long favorites, but more of my adult favorites than those of my youth.  

So, in no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite works of fiction: 

#1. Okay, here is my all-time favorite fiction book, East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.  This book has such a deep plot and weaves so many subtleties throughout, it blew me away.  I loved Mice & Men a lot too.

#2. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding.  This is a book I've read several times, in my youth and as an adult.  This book has a primal feel and pits the protagonist & antagonist against each other as if it were written to be studied. Also, the way Golding writes, the characters come to life and are very believable.

#3. The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, by C S Lewis.  I remember having a teacher read this to our class in second or third grade, this was the first book that I "got lost" in.  I literally lost touch with reality while my teacher read this to me, my mind entered Narnia, and it was like I was in a trance.  I read it to all of my boys when they were little, and when I our boys were young, I read it to their classes in school too.

#4. One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  The simple plot of the book takes place in a Russian labor camp on a winter's day.  It only covers one day, but it is amazing what takes place from from pre-dawn till lights out.  It shows the will to live, the strength in community, and that life isn't always fair.  I love this book, and felt like I there with the characters as they labored away on a power station, working with rudimentary tools and in harsh conditions.

#5. Friedman's Fables, by Ed Friedman.  This book I have passed out several times, read from it in Sunday School & Sunday Night Small groups   I read it to Klay when he still liked to have me read to him at nights.  I can't get enough of this book!  As you guessed from the title, it is a book of fables, and yes they all have a "moral of the story."  This book is eye-opening, and life changing.

#6. The Traveler's gift, by Andy Andrews.  I read this book in one sitting.  The protagonist is a mid-life executive who realizes after being downsized, working minimum-wage jobs, and getting further in debt, that he's worth more dead than alive.  He attempts suicide.  After driving into an oak tree, he "wakes" up in the presence of some of history's most important people.  Each of these people from the past teaches the protagonist important lessons.  This is a book I've passed out & bought for others as gifts for years.

#7. The Brother's Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  I don't have enough space here to describe this classic.  All I can say is this book has such a wide scope of emotion and insight into the human soul that it should be required reading!

#8. Dandelion wine, by Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury was my first "favorite" author when I was in grade school.  When I read on Twitter he died, I immediately cried... on the job-site.  Dandelion wine is set back in the 1920's, in the Midwest.  It is a book of family, brotherhood and life in a simpler time.  I think I have something in my eye.

#9. The Giver, by Lois Lowry.  It is a book that blends an Orwellian 1984 & a Bradbury 451 world together, at least that's how I saw it.   I read this book to a couple of our boys, and I don't know how many times I've read it.  It's part of a trilogy, which I also recommend.  This book is gripping, it's haunting, it's incredible. 

#10.  And The Shofar Blew, by Francine Rivers.  This is the only Rivers's book I've read.  I have no idea about the quality of her other books, Tammy has read about a dozen of her other books.  I do know this book is unique for Rivers.  This book is a tale of a young pastor who looses his way in his quest to build a mega-church.  It should be required reading for any preaching/ministry class.  Church leaders and members alike would get a lot out of it.  This book helped me reevaluate my priorities.  It was a great read, I doubt I can do it justice here with my thoughts.

Sorry, no runner-ups this time around.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Part one: My top-10 non-fiction Christian books

People ask me all the time for book recommendations.
It's impossible for me to calculated how many books I've read; perhaps in the thousands.
Still, I'm able to easily think of the books that have meant the most to me.

In no particular order (apart from the Bible) here are 10 of my favorite non-fiction Christian books:

#1. Playing with Fire, by Walt Russell.  This is a book that will help you fall in love with reading the Bible, it encourages reading the Bible like no other book I've ever seen.

#2. The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard.  This is the best book I've ever read on the meaning of discipleship.  This book has powerfully influenced the way I see Jesus' actual teachings on how He wants us to live in this life.

#3. The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight.  Here's the best book on interpretation I've ever come across.

#4. The celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster.  Here's a book filled with ideas that would take a lifetime to exhaust.  Foster unpacks the spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting and solitude, etc. in such a way that you desire to live the Christian life to the fullest.

#5. The Universe Next door, by James Sire.  This was the book that made me feel like I was in an intellectual slumber all my life, until I read it.  This book opened up a whole new world to me, it introduced me to the idea of "worldviews" and it helped me learn how to think better.

#6. Caring Enough to confront, by David Augsburger.  If you've ever wanted to learn how to speak the truth in love, to save relationships, and how to lovingly confront people, this is the book.

#7. True for me, not true for you, by Paul Copan.  Here's a great book that addresses relativism, help you learn apologetics and it will sharpen your mind.   

#8. The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  This book weaves together community and faith in a way that inspires one to reject cheap grace and embrace the cross.

#9. Mere Christianity, by C S Lewis.  This classic unfolds the simple tenets of the Christian faith, and the common ground-principles that unite us.

#10. Knowing God, by J I Packer.  As the title suggests, this is book on the nature and character of God.

Bonus!  Here are several "runner ups" of my favorite Christian, non-fiction authors:
Lynn Anderson
Eugenie Peterson
Daniel Taylor
Fred Craddock
Donald Miller

Next time around, I might try a blog on my favorite fiction books.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Eschaton, a catalyst for connecting Faith and Science in the End”

Here's a revised version of my article that is in this month's Wineskins, The Eschaton: A Catalyst for Connecting Faith and Science in the End

The subject of “End times” continues to be popular and we have several reminders that the clock is ticking: The recent hype over the Mayan Calendar.  Nostradamus has been a household name for years.  Even before the “Walking dead” on AMC, for decades Hollywood has given us movies like the Road Warrior or the Book of Eli to whet our apocalyptic-appetites.   And R.E.M. sang to us, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.”  You may have also heard, the 2013 Pepperdine lectureships are being drawn from the book of Revelation -- a book many people look to for eschatological insights.

Typically, the study of eschatology revolves around four future events: Death, the Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.  There’s another element to eschatology too, the final fate of our three-dimensional time-space reality, the eschaton.  Well, with the prestige science has attained, can we as believers talk intelligently in today’s marketplace of ideas about “the end” of the world?  

Popular culture suggests that there are firm lines drawn between the perspectives of faith and science, as if one worldview cancels out the other.  While there may be endless debates on the origin of the universe and questions over multiverses, there are few disagreements that this universe will come to an end.  That there is a conclusion in store for the material reality is a point where faith and science intersect.  Both parties agree “the end” will happen.

It had all had to start, before it could end
Most cosmologists sign-off on what popular culture labels the “big bang” theory -- a theory that posits a singularity from which all matter suddenly expanded into the entire universe as we know it today.  This instant appearance of the physical universe out of nothing ties in well with Genesis 1:1 -- a beginning to the existence of a time-space reality.  

Have you ever wondered why the night sky is only speckled with dots of starlight instead of being entirely white?  The light traveling our way from multitudes of galaxies and the billions of stars should all descend on our senses as one bright light, or so it would seem.  Unless -- unless the universe has a finite age and the light hasn’t all traveled here yet, if those stars are traveling away from us around the speed of light, and, if there is a lot of dark matter diffusing the light.  

Astronomers tell us 95% of the universe is composed of dark matter (25%)  and dark energy (70%).  These two forces (and no this isn’t the Dark Side of the Force from Star Wars) are responsible for the gravity that holds all of the galaxies together, and possibly the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.

It will soon be impossible to determine the “boundaries” of the universe or where we are in the universe, since the dark matter of the universe is expanding so fast.  The effects of Dark matter and energy will soon interfere with our methods of observation to the point where we won’t even be able to determine our location in the universe, let alone the very ends (if there are any) of the universe.  So, technologically speaking, we are in a unique period of time to analyze the universe.  

How could Moses have known, as he writes in Genesis 1:1, the universe was created out of nothing?  Maybe, to sceptical people, Moses wasn’t inspired (though I think he was) and maybe he was a good analytic philosopher and simply deducted from pure reason that the universe began from nothing.  Even so, for our sceptics, how could Peter in the New Testament have predicted the universe would end, and, how could he in his barely literate, pre-scientific world have known about the manner in which the world would end?

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Peter 3:10-12 ESV)

Peter was an Apostle not a scientist, and the Bible wasn’t written as a science textbook.  Are we reading too much into Peter’s words? But look closer at what Peter says: The elements being burned up, dissolved, and stars and planets melting.  Sounds like a very detailed description, a very specific account of how the end of time will happen.  Peter’s details probably wouldn’t be very noteworthy, if they weren’t so close to what scientists predict about how the universe ends.

It all began, How will it all end
The beginning of the material universe started at the point when suddenly time started along with all of the Laws of Physics.  This piece of knowledge that the Laws of Physics were all in place is important too, since the Laws of Physics speak also to the way things will eventually wind-down.  The fact that all the Laws of Physics are in place at the big bang is interesting, since the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics respectively state #1. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, and, #2 Everything is moving to a steady-state of being.  It is the Second Law of Thermodynamics that we want to home in on as we think eschatologically.  

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, also referred to as entropy, is the observation that the universe is composed in such a way that everything, literally everything, is in a state of increasing disorganization.  Atoms move from order to chaos, things wear out, material decomposes, and instead of becoming more complex or structured everything “rusts” into oblivion.  

Think of a glass of ice-water on your counter.  Left there long enough, the ice becomes liquid and the entire contents of the glass become “room-temperature.”  That’s actually an observation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.   

The universe is running out of energy and it will experience one of two endings, either incineration or freezing.  What determines the difference?  Imagine the universe is either enclosed, like inside a greenhouse, or the universe is set adrift without any bounds like a ship on an endless sea.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics plays out differently, based on which of these two settings happens to be the case.  How so?

In an “open” universe where there are no boundaries, the universe will continue to expand and eventually experiences a “cold” death.  Every atom achieves a temperature of absolute zero, which is about 460 degrees fahrenheit below zero .  In this “open” universe ending, Energy is exhausted; everything pretty much turns into helium after all of the stars expand, contract, and then the universe dies.  

Or, think now about the universe being encapsulated in a greenhouse (versus an open field), eventually there would be a “heat” death where the very elements themselves erupt into an intense ball of fire.  So instead of everything in the universe freezing, it burns up.  Sound familiar?  

To my knowledge, scientists haven’t finalized a conclusion about whether the universe is an open or closed system.  Even if the universe is an open system, moving towards a “cold” death, Peter is still onto something with his prophecy of an intense heat consuming the heavenly bodies.   Astronomers tell us that the stars of every solar system will die.  They also have said that the formation rate of new stars has decreased dramatically.  Even if time never ended, according to the latest research, we can only expect an increase of approximately 5% growth of new stars.  

The lifecycle of every star begins as clouds of dust and gas form into what we usually think of as a nebula.  After a period of time, depending on the size and density of the star once it is formed, the star will eventually use up its hydrogen which then becomes helium.  Before your eyes glaze over here, catch the connection.  What happens next in the lifecycle for the star is a massive expansion, a very hot one.  Stars become white-hot as they expand, pushing outward, they will consume the planets that are orbiting them.  

So, Peter’s observation that the universe will be destroyed with an intense heat still sticks whether our universe experiences a heat death or cold death.  Either way, the stars will all grow into gigantic balls of flames, obliterating many of their planets before they die-out or collapse into black holes.   

Why is it vital for the church to reclaim our stake in this conversation?  Somehow along the way, perhaps between Hal Lindsey and the “Left Behind” series, we relinquished a key element of the Gospel; we shied away from talking about the End.  We must re-engage in this discussion because the presentation of the Gospel message is only partially communicated when we leave off the climax.  

This incompletion is twofold.  For starters, evangelistically as we reach out, we are only telling part of the story when we leave off what the Bible says about end times.  How so?  In sharing the Good News, Jesus & the Apostles included the end of time as a major component of their message.  Secondly, the doctrine of the end of time is the last rung of the ladder -- it’s the fulfillment of the Scriptural narrative.  

Also.  We as believers can provide what science can’t, the “Why” for the reason the universe is moving towards death.  The fruition of Eden’s exile is located eschatologically in a cataclysmic renewal.  As Peter concludes his teaching on the melting of the universe he immediately says, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).  Also see Rev 21:1-4.

What’s the main difference between faith’s view and science’s view of the end of time?  We believe time moves purposefully towards an end goal.  On the other hand, Naturalism (the ideology that rejects the supernatural) thinks the beginning of the universe was a random or cosmic accident and the end of the universe will be as equally random without any design or purpose.  The Apostle Paul puts the universe's renewal like this, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:18-25 ESV)

The early church looked forward to the end of time with great anticipation, and our Restoration Movement heritage in the 19th century focused heavily on the Second Coming.  Does the “Millennial Harbinger” ring a bell?  Campbell thought we would usher in the millennial reign of Jesus when we achieved unity, thus the meaning of the title.  I see the millennial-period differently than Campbell, in that I think we are already in Jesus’ thousand year reign.

In our generation, more than likely we will probably not win a debate on Evolution -- Darwinism is too entrenched in our culture.  I’m not recommending “concession” I am saying perhaps we waste our breath trying to convince people against their will on this point.  Darwin, by the way, didn’t attempt a theory on the initial spark or origin of life, only on how existing life developed and morphed over time.  Arguing over evolution in our day is counterproductive.  I say it’s time we move on and instead of addressing the origin of life, shift to the discussion to the end of all life.

The next time you are tempted to think Science is irrelevant, or the enemy of faith, think again.  The end of time is a subject where faith and science can and should dialogue.  The Bible wasn’t written as a Science textbook, yet Science and Scripture dovetail wonderfully well on the subject of the end of time.  From its outset, the universe had a built-in mechanism that sets it on a self-destruct course.  Sounds crazy, unless there’s something more than “something.”  The corollary here is that both Scripture and Science teach that the universe is set to expire.  

I love when Scripture seems so relevant, it seems like it was written in my lifetime.  II Pet 3:7-13 is one of those fresh passages for me.  Peter addresses a topic that’s on the contemporary radar and one that is scientifically verifiable.  Science might tell us the “What” but it can’t provide the “Why.”  From a Biblical perspective, we can give a reason “why” the universe is here, and “why” it will end.  There is to be had, an intelligent and fruitful discussion of the teleological aspect of the eschaton -- the end goal of the universe, and here we can find common ground worth sharing with those we are trying to reach, not alienate.

[Author’s note: I owe a debt of gratitude to three dear christian brothers: Allan Fain, Dr. Rich Knopp (Director of Worldvieweyes) and Dr. O’Sheg Oshinowo (Physicist at Fermilab) for reading over my rough-draft, lending useful insights, and helping me clarify my thoughts.]

Cowardly Keyboards:

The response to my writing has been extremely encouraging.  Really, 99% of the feedback people have emailed me is overwhelmingly positive.  My thoughts here in this post are not a reaction to any criticism I've ever received.  It's more about something I've noticed that bothers me more & more lately. 

Before I point out my concern, let me add this.  Whenever I get the occasional email from someone who has an issue with my writing, I always respond.  I'll write back thanking that person for taking the time to read whatever it was I wrote.  I'll say something like, "You've given me something to think about."  Or, "You have done me a favor, reminding me how I need to be clearer in communicating my thoughts."  What I never do is try to defend myself.  I never claim they are wrong and I am right -- neither do I  try to convince them of my point.  I simply thank them, and tell them honestly, I'll try to do better communicating the next time around.

So, what triggered this post?  There's an online magazine I enjoy reading and am thrilled to contribute to that has attracted a cyber-bully.  He periodically posts random comments under other people's articles that usually have nothing to do with the article he's commenting on.  He says off the wall things that are so disconnected, I shake my head in disbelief.
What can be done?  Really, not much.  Engaging negative people usually energizes them and reaffirms in their mind, their crusade for "The" truth is valid.  And, it can't be one person to stand up to the bully -- the "community" of readership needs to respond as well.  I think moderators have the right to block or delete offensive responses, but we know people find ways around that by simply posting under an anonymous, bogus ID.

If you've ever written anything, you know it's easier to bulldoze over a house than it is to swing a hammer and build the house from the ground up.  And, you know it doesn't take much courage at all to sit in front of your monitor and snipe a writer across cyberspace. I do think we can challenge critics to find publications that are more in line with their perspectives, or challenge them to submit an article they've written, if they have the courage.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What Kingsford Charcoal and healthy chruches have in common

When Henry Ford started making the Model T, he ran into a challenge while he was manufacturing the famous car.  Since the Model T had many wooden parts, like steering-wheels and side-panels, a lot of scrap lumber & saw dust accumulated around the Ford factory. The question was, how to effectively dispose of the waste.

Henry Ford, being a sharp businessman, didn’t fret over this wooden waste-product for long. He thought of a way to turn the accumulated rubbish into a profit.  He started Ford Charcoal. In the 1970’s a small company bought out the Ford Charcoal line, maybe you have heard of them... Kingsford Charcoal?  

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard this preached or taught, but I believe this is true: The goal of our faith is transformation (Becoming more like Christ), and a byproduct (like charcoal) of the authentic Christian faith is evangelism. Evangelism should be a priority, yes. But, evangelism isn't more significant than worshiping the God we love and serve. It isn't more important than prayer, or fasting, or a host of other manifestations of our faith.  

When to comes to evangelism then, the healthy perspective becomes one where we see evangelism as a byproduct of actually living out our faith. If we are faithful, we are equipped, and we are acting on what we believe, then we will all naturally be evangelistic. Or as a good friend pointed out this morning, while I preached on this, "It's like a side-effect"

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
(Psalm 34:8 ESV)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Flying High: Flight with Denzel Washington

Tonight we went to see Flight with Denzel Washington.  Denzel is one of my favorite actors, and this is one of his best films, ever.  The movie was captivating.  By the way, the director did the Back to the Future movies, Forrest Gump, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Warning, there may be a few plot spoilers ahead.  Probably nothing you wouldn't have heard in reviews or have seen in previews. I will not give away the powerful conclusion or the touching denouement.  

There were more references to God and His ordaining events than in any movie in recent memory.  The way God was woven in wasn't cheesy, and it fit in the plot well.  Though the co-pilot and one of the flight-attendants are made out to be a bit over zealous, the Christian faith isn't disrespected and believers aren't made out to be idiots.    

The big tension in the movie is the central ethical dilemma you struggle with while the plot unfolds.  Denzel's character, "Whip" is drunk, and on coke when the plane crashes.  Yet, he saves countless lives, only 6 people die in the crash, and had Whip not handled the plane the way he did, everyone on the flight and perhaps a populated city center would've died as well.  So, now, Whip's toxicology report shows the substances he's on.  What should be done?  Do we bury the report & hale him as a hero or sentence him to life in prison for six counts of manslaughter?  That question is played out throughout the movie exceptionally well.   

In the hospital a day or two after the crash, while Whip is being treated for his injuries, he ends up meeting a heroin addict.  She is seen being taken away in an ambulance in an earlier scene, because she overdoses at the exact moment the plane crashes.  They enter into a romantic relationship.  You are left wondering at first, how will two addicts cope, and at times you wonder who will die first from their self-destructive lifestyles. 

The movie is so much deeper than the crash.  It's about Whip's battle with alcoholism and truth.  Whip's disposition for me, was reminiscent of  Ben Sanderson's, played by Nicolas Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas." Will Whip face up to the truth he's an alcoholic, or will he remain in denial?  He has so many people on his side, from Union Reps to high profile lawyers, to the sleazy drug dealer excellently played by John Goodman.   You will never know until the end how Whip will respond, and if you think you can predict the ending, good luck.  

The biggest battle for Whip is, how long can a man lie to avoid his consequences?  Will he lie about his battle with substance abuse, even when he's under oath?  Will he ever own up and be held accountable?   On the one hand, you desperately want him to lie.  You want him to avoid prison because he's a hero.  On the other hand, you want him man-up and take responsibly for being intoxicated while flying, because that's the right thing to do.  The plot gives you an emotional tug-of-war like good movies should.

Sadly, I won't be taking my boys to see Flight.  For the first 5 or 10 minutes of the movie, Whip is in a hotel room with a flight-attendant, one who will die in the crash.  The room is messed up, and it's clear they partied all night long.  She's fully naked, and she gets a lot of camera time prancing around the room.  This is one of those nudity scenes where as a dad you can honestly say, it adds nothing to the plot and only ruins the potential for a larger audience's viewing.  And truthfully, that's a shame, because the sobering truth of the movie's plot has a great moral that would be a great lesson for adolescents and teens.  Maybe when it comes out on DVD we'll watch it and just fast forward through the inappropriate part.

At face value an alcoholic pilot facing life in prison doesn't sound like a captivating plot.  But it is because you keep believing he will turn a corner in his struggle and you want to believe in him, even though he fails time and again. But for some reason, you never let yourself lose hope in Whip as he wrestles with good & evil within himself -- which is where the real battle is played out in each of our lives.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy or heavy holidays?

For many people, the holiday season is the most joyous time of the year.  Office parties.  Family visits.  Exchanging gifts with loved ones.  Watching "Elf" for the trillionth time.

But, for a lot of people, this isn't the case.  

The holidays can be the toughest time of the year.  Some will morn the loss of a loved one -- maybe spending the first Christmas alone.  For others, there is a lot of pressure to find ample gifts for their family.  The holidays are a mixed bag for many people, with a spike in depression and a sense of alienation from the "joyous" celebrants.

Our challenge over these weeks to come will be twofold:
 #1, Be sensitive to the fact not everyone enters the holidays with the same feelings.
 #2. To incorporate and embrace as many people as possible into our circles.
As the Apostle Paul wrote: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15 ESV)

I hope you have a blessed holiday season, a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Electronic church is faith-less traveled path

This morning on the way to work, flipping though the stations, I tuned into a familiar voice on the radio.  The sermon was on book the Revelation.  It was kind of interesting and I felt a little nostalgic since I used to listen to this preacher regularly on my way to work nearly 20 years ago, before I entered full-time ministry. 

I do not have an ax to grind when it comes to radio, TV or Internet preaching.  I'm sure there are some wolves in sheep's clothing out there fleecing the flock, but there are also good people in the "media-based" ministry.  The problem I have with media-preaching is the illusion of authenticity -- the hallow replica of the church Jesus had in mind.  

I know many of the sermons we see on TV, or on the Internet, or listen to on the radio are recorded in front of a live audience, in an active congregation.  And, I know some people are housebound and this is their main source of instruction   Still.  Our faith can't really grow very deep if we are merely observers, consumers, or dialing in to listen to a good sermon when it's convenient.

Here's why we need more than a sermon downloaded to our Ipod or overheard from the airwaves:

  • It's information tailored for a specific audience, geared for them where they live, and targeted to what they are facing.  You aren't in that city or their community; your life is disconnected from the life of that congregation.  So the message really isn't very applicable for you.  
  • Also, it's information without accountability.  Who's going to follow up on you, or check in on you?  Who will ensure you are active or participating in the life of the Body?
  • And, to merely listen to a sermon, is in a way selfish and self-serving. To only listen, or watch church without committing yourself to a local Body becomes all about you, and not about  fulfilling requirements to being a blessing to the Body.

There's a difference between something that's supplemental and a substitution.  There are all kinds of supplements to growing our faith but there is no substitute for immersing yourself in a healthy local church, if you want to grow your faith.

I don't care if it's a house-church or a mega-church, we need other believers to encourage us and equip us.  Faith only grows when we are active, when people speak truth into our lives, when we are loved on and when we love flesh & blood people, when we are held accountable, and when people invest time in us personally to develop our giftedness.

So far as I can tell, passively listening to someone on the other side of the country hasn't been able to provide the right environment for fully nurturing our souls.  Glean what you can from the vast resources that are presenting the Gospel at the speed of light, but don't just settle for a shadow of the church.    

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Star wars, the story of a lifetime:

Okay, any time we hear news of an entertainment deal over worth over 4 billions dollars, our ears perk up.  George Lucas is selling his brainchild to Walt Disney, reportedly for 4.1 billion.  I personally remember seeing the first Star Wars movie when I was in elementary school.  I'm pretty sure in grade school I didn't know the word "billion."

Have you stopped to ask why a company would pay that much money (besides the obvious reason they are in business and this will make them handfuls of money)?  Why fork over billions for a studio that's niche is aimed at geeks? It's all about the power of Story.  It's that simple.

Stories are the most powerful, influential, sacred, influential and valuable transaction in the world (or this case the Universe).  Jesus is revealed not on a flowchart, but in the narrative of the Gospels.  Businessmen who try to swing the big deal don't just hand out a pie-chart with dollar signs on it, they present a story.  Even the nightly news has a "lead" story.  We are addicted to stories.

George Lucas was heavily influenced by Joesph Campbell's work on mythology and story.  Campbell is the one who uncovered the "Hero's journey" as a recognizable pattern in all the great epic stories.  The hero faces a choice, or a door he must enter.  The first time around he declines, but then forces overpower his choice and he goes through, think of Luke's aunt & uncle being murdered and then he flees their farm.  There is always some type of mentor in these stories, think Yoda or Obi-Wan.  There's a talisman or magic weapon, think light-saber.  Facing the villain, in the first movie's case it's the Death Star Luke defeats in the end, the hero is changed.  Then in the end the hero returns, but changed.  Well, after reading his material that's my interpretation of Campbell.  Once you read Campbell it's hard to read a story or watch movies and not see the "hero's journey" too.

Stories touch us, they move us like no other form of communication.  The way a good story grips us and transports us into another realm is valuable, and in Disney's case, it's worth billions...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Be a hero:

Note: This blog post comes from my religion column in the Kingsport Timesnews on 10/26/12, "Follow the Golden rule, donate blood"

Much of what happens in this life is out of our hands.  No, I’m not saying we are “victims of circumstance” or that we are cosmic pawns.  We have free will, self-control, and a personal responsibility to choose right from wrong.  Actually, the examples that come to mind here are more like not having control over our height, eye color, the family we were born into, or how you didn’t choose your kindergarten teacher.  And, consider how many friendships simply “happened” in the course of life too.

If you are a parent, there are even more examples.  Try as we may, we can’t always insure or guarantee our children will follow the path we prefer.  Sometimes they might not choose the career or college we think is best.  Then comes the time they choose a spouse.  Just trying to advise your teenager on how to pick a hairstyle should be proof enough we can’t always decide every facet of our children’s lives either.  

There are other examples of how much of this life is out of our control, like the weather, economy, or politics. This fact of life, that so many aspects are out of our control, has pleasant as well as painful elements.

Let me share a great example of how life brings enjoyment our way when we don’t deserve it, but we appreciate it.  Earlier this month, my wife and I, we were tremendously blessed by being taken out to dinner at The House on Main in Abingdon, and then later that night to see Cosby perform at the Barter.  But wait, this story gets even better.  

The gracious family who treated us to a wonderful evening of “dinner & a show” passed out our group’s tickets randomly, and, my wife and I ended up with seats mere feet from Bill Cosby.  We had front-row, center seats!  Cosby actually dialogued with us for a few minutes during his routine.  He asked about our marriage proposal and how long we’ve been married.  He had us laughing so hard as he picked on us, we had tears rolling down our cheeks.  

It was a spectacular evening!  We didn’t do anything to deserve such an amazing night.  We certainly appreciated being warmly and graciously invited, even though we we were unprepared for how wonderful the evening progressed.  I could write an entire column here on Cosby’s performance and on how much we appreciated that special night.  But I share that night with you to illustrate how good experiences come our way, often times more than not, undeserved and unexpectedly.  

There’s a flipside to this is in life, tragedy hits us just the same and we are equally unprepared.  Catastrophe can and does strike, and to get straight to the point, in our region we have a shortage of blood.  My goal here is to encourage each of us who are eligible, to consider donating blood.  

Understandably, not everyone can donate blood due to health prohibitions.  No pressure.  But the reality is, a mere percentage of eligible people will donate blood.  The stat for current donors hovers around 5% of the population.  Yet, if just one more percent of our population would donate, we could eliminate our current blood shortages.  

As good neighbors, we have a moral and ethical obligation to donate blood.  People in scheduled surgeries or in traumatic situations require blood, daily.  Does a day go by when you don’t see an ambulance or hear sirens?  Not giving blood, when you can, is like turning a blind eye to the suffering and loss that can be alleviated.  

More importantly than our moral responsibility, we have a Biblical obligation to donate blood when we are eligible.  You know the Golden rule, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).  Jesus is saying the meaning of the entire Bible up to that point (In Jesus’ day people didn’t say “The Bible” to describe the Scriptures, they said “the Law & Prophets”) is summarized in treating others the way we want to be treated.  When you need blood, and many of us will need blood in our lifetime, you hope that it will be there when you need it.  

Imagine your child or grandchild is trick-or-treating a few days from now.  Sadly, the fact is some children end up severely injured at Halloween; sometimes people simply don’t see children crossing the street as they drive that night.  Imagine now it’s your loved one, a small innocent child, in need of blood.  As you pace the floor at the hospital, waiting for news on your loved one, the ER staff regrets to inform you the blood supply for their type was depleted just the day before.  

This same scenario could apply to your teenage driver on a Friday night, an aging parent who is having hip-surgery, or your spouse having a minor procedure go wrong.  I served as a volunteer chaplain for 5 years and I have been in ministry for 18 years now; I’ve seen pretty much every kind of trauma come through the hospital at one time or another.   Loved ones need blood all of the time, due to no fault of their own, and often times the supply is dangerously low.  It’s healthy to hope for those serendipitous times when we end up talking with Bill Cosby, but it’s unfair to withhold throwing out a lifeline if it’s within your power to do so.

You can help save lives, and in case you didn’t know it’s free to donate blood.  And yes, there’s a small inconvenience of time and an uncomfortable stick in the arm, but that’s a small price to pay to help save lives in our community.  Sure, we can send people to the moon and generate electricity using nuclear reactors, but we cannot manufacture blood.  Sadly, since only 5% of the people who can, donate their blood, many lives are unnecessarily put at an extra risk waiting for blood.

Here are a few practical ideas on how you can get involved in donating blood.  You can walk into the Marsh regional blood bank to donate blood, their address is 102 East Ravine Road, Kingsport.  Or, if you are in management, perhaps you could initiate a blood drive to make donating as convenient as possible for your organization.  Or, you could call Marsh to find a local blood drive that is already being organized, and donate there.  Marsh’s number is, 423-224-5888.  I imagine many of these same ideas apply to participating with the American Red Cross, their number in Kingsport is 423-378-8700.

There are a lot of factors out of our control in this life, but meeting the needs of our low blood supply is well within our collective control.  Join me in donating blood on a regular basis.  Please make it a habit to save lives.  The life you save, might just be more important to you than your own.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

So old it's new

Solomon said there's nothing new under the sun.  Some anonymous person said there's no reason to reinvent the wheel.  Both are right.  Starting tonight, we are beginning a "new" series from an "old" TV show, we'll call our study, "Morals from Mayberry."  If all goes well, I foresee this going through to spring.

When Andy Griffith died a couple of months back, it reminded me of a series of lessons I did, based on the Andy Griffith TV show.  That was at least ten years ago, it was using VHS copies I made from cable, and I've since lost all of my notes... I know there are prepackaged study notes on the Andy Griffith show, but I like to write my own teaching material   It's the idea I've borrowed; I'm not the first person to teach Biblical lessons through the Andy Griffith show.

Here's the breakdown of how our study will go:

  • We'll watch an episode together after our evening meal.
  • We'll pass out a "study-guide" to follow along with.
  • There will be group discussion questions based on the episode, some on the show's plot and then some about Biblical truths that arose from the episode.
  • Each lesson will have a twofold conclusion: #1 Asking a question that has a cultural comparison and #2 There will be a "take away" that has a practical application.

I'm pretty excited about the study.  It's for all ages, and I think it's a study that will be fun enough, you might want to invited a friend to it!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Articles in Wineskins:

If you enjoy reading my blog, here are the links to several articles I have contributed to Wineskins that you might enjoy as well:

“How much help does God need electing our next president?” for Wineskins, October 2012

“Equipping for the ministry of Reconciliation” for Wineskins, September 2012

“Outside-in-inside-out” for Wineskins, August 2012

“Shortcomings when we resist Unity” for Wineskins, July 2012

“Tentmaking with Concrete” for Wineskins, June 2012.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What is the "Good life"?

I'm working on tomorrow's sermon.  As usual, while I write, I'm listening to Johnny Cash, and more than likely I'll move to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" soon enough.  Tomorrow's sermon, it's addressing the age-old question of what is the good life.  Deep stuff, probably beyond my ability to do justice to, but who doesn't like a good challenge.

I have a million thoughts flying around inside my head as I try to bring a Biblical perspective to this important question.  Sometimes just blogging about topics helps me clear my head.  So, thank you for being a good listener.

We saw Bill Cosby the other night at the Barter.  He said that atheists should really leave themselves some wiggle room, just in case they're wrong...  The good life is a question both believers and non-believers wrestle with.  Perhaps the answer to this, is where humanity finds purpose or direction. Answering how we as individuals understand what the good life really is, could just possibly be the most defining question of all time.

Can we really all answer this question the same?  Can we reach a consensus of the good life?  Doubtful and as improbable as this is, I think more importantly than reaching a consensus, is asking do enough people even ask this anymore, or do people simply plod along...?  Oblivious to the miracle of life.  Unappreciative of the wonder that surrounds us.  Dull and clouded by the pace of change or the doldrums of the daily grind.

Whichever way you see this, I hope that you'll lose sleep at least once in your life struggling though to find an answer to what the good life is.  If not, ask someone to check and see if you have a pulse.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ups & downs:

I know that in ministry, we'll always have ups & downs.
Especially in a new plant like we are, we'll have struggles, and victories.
Today, today was definitely an up.

Our worship service this morning was great, "the praise & worship" in our singing was uplifting, we had a lot of fellowship over coffee & donuts, and yes we laughed a lot.  Communion moved me to tears.  We all signed a Bible and gave it to our newest sister in Christ who was recently baptized, yes it was a truly wonderful morning.

Tonight at the Watson's our meal was delicious, and everyone was engaged in our study.
Could the day really get better?  Yes.  Good evening together too!

Everything just seemed to click, to mesh, to synchronize so well.  Like a beautiful sunset you want to capture, today was one of those days where you feel like all is well, and you enjoy a certain glow.

For all of my fellow ministers, and brothers & sisters who haven't had the best of time with church, I just wanted to share the joy of today with you to say, yes it is possible to enjoy church again.  It is possible to have peace, unity, and share the love of God with a great church family.  I know this, only because I'm experiencing this blessing now, at this time, and I praise God for where He has led me & my family.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Continuing my self-education

I had to run to Sam's club today.  I always try to run through their book section whenever I can, which is about 99% of the time when I run into Sam's.  I picked up a book today by Taggart & Wines titled, "My Grammar and I... or should that be me?"  Even though I have a couple of graduate degrees, I still feel the need to cultivate and nurture my mind.

More to the point, I'm continually striving to improve my writing abilities.  Presently, I don't have the time, money, or really even an interest in going on to further my formal "higher education."  So how am I growing my skills as a writer?

Over the past couple of years (along side reading some classics) I've read a host of books on the craft of writing, composition, and several memoirs written by authors.  I'm looking at this season, or chapter of my life, as my self-education.  It's probably a slower process than going back to school, but nevertheless, I find myself growing all the same.  

I realized some time ago that my oration skills as a preacher improve as I work on my writing abilities.  Though the written & spoken word vary in the delivery, there seems to be some symbiotic relationship in increasing their quality, at least as I see it as a communicator.  I've also noticed a weird correlation in higher education and ministry...  Some of the best educated "theologians" I knew (not all!) had the least amount of people skills.  Maybe I'm cautious that this is true of writing as well...?   BTW: William Faulkner never graduated from high school, and, Kurt Vonnegut didn't finish his college education which was in anthropology...

I feel very blessed to have had several wonderful writing opportunities open up this past year.  I feel my blogging has suffered recently (I'm blogging less lately) even though on the other hand I hope to have more quality ideas to blog about.  Since I don't have as much time to blog, when I do, I want to be more selective in what I blog about, and do it better than ever!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Mattress-Springs Church

Just the other day in our kitchen, actually this last Sunday, I had a deep conversation with a young adult who is heading off to college for his freshman year.  This young man, I need to tell you, has made some incredible personal improvements over the past two years.   I have a lot of respect for him and appreciate the good influence he is on our sons.  Our conversation quickly turned to the new independence he will soon experience, living on his own, being out from under mom & dad's daily supervision, and the likes.

My burning question was revolving around his spiritual growth, and what he would do about finding a church home.  That's when the conversation got interesting.  He told me he wasn't sure he was interested in finding a church right away...  No, he hasn't lost his faith.  Not, he's not even agnostic.  He's... well he, he is a kid who grew up going to church every Sunday, but.  But, what he said was revealing.

He said he wasn't sure about finding a new Church right away because of a familiar phenomena you are probably aware of.  Parents yelling, "It's time to wake up for Church, get up now for Church!"

Being threatened with being grounded or yelled at, to this young man, feels like a turn-off to going to church when the decision is now his.  By the way, I think he's going to stay in the grove and find a good church family.  My response was, "I hope you don't end up in the "Mattress Springs Church.""  (That's a joke, it means staying in bed on Sunday morning, i.e., bed-mattress...)

 My other response to the young man, was that if it was opening night for a new movie, our children are on the move, self-motivated, but Sunday mornings, what can we do?  Parents feel like church is so important, and out of frustration with limited resources, we lose our patience, and raise our voices.  I know I have.

So, what do we learn from this?  Myself, I'm guilty of having yelled at our kids, to get up on Sunday.  Ouch.    There's probably no good excuse, on either side, for us as parents to yell, or for kid to drag their feet.

What do we learn?  Church should be more appealing to young people.  Not diluted or dumbed-down, I never said that, but appealing.  What can we all do to adapt the way we gather, in such a way that the congregation can out-live us...?  Pressing question; needs answers.

As parents, our best intention is to get our kids off to church, but our efforts can be counter-productive if we aren't careful.  Myself, I'm going to more aware of how I try to get my younger kids up and out the door Sunday mornings.

One more idea: Seek out college age kids you know, help nurture their faith and be an encourager.  They are in a huge time of transition, these are the days where they firmly establish their independence and, establish life-long habits that carry into eternity.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Responding to the Arrested development, spiritually speaking:

How do you respond to your co-workers, family members, or friends on Facebook who throw around Scriptures & ask for prayers, but don't have church family?  Let me narrow the question even further: How do you feel about people who don't go to church, do not seem to live a "very Christian life" but act like they have a great relationship with God?

We've all had friends "name-drop" with God before.  Oh, simple phrases like, "Pray for me, I'm going through _______, but I know the Big Man upstairs will take care of me."  Or, they toss out a passage from the Bible that doesn't really fit the situation everyone is talking about, but they want to seem like they are Biblically literate.

Yet, these people haven't darkened the doorway of any church in quite a while, if ever.  They live with someone they aren't married to, wear crosses around their neck over their Metallica tee-shirts, quote Scriptures and hit the local watering-hole on a weekly basis.   Does this frustrate you?  Seem hypocritical?  Do you look down on them?

Here's what I think, and I've thought quite a bit about people who are suffering from a spirituality Arrested-developmental faith:
     First of all, we need to make sure we aren't being judgmental.  Who are we to question another person's relationship with God?  Some people don't attend Sunday services at a "church" because they've been burned by toxic leadership or quaky church members.  There are people who don't feel they fit in at a typical church, and it's painful to them, yet they still want to express their faith.  And you may say, we know a tree by the fruit it bears... Jesus also said in the same chapter, get the log out of your own eye.

I'd add here too, check your motivations for your righteous-indignation.  Are you a little jealous of the freewheeling, carefree lifestyle of the people you are scrutinizing????  So, for starters let's give people the benefit of the doubt that they long to know God too, before we hit them over the head with our Bible, or assign them a seat in Hell.

     Secondly, we shouldn't pass up opportunities to encourage these distant-people in our lives, to reengage with the people of God.  To find a church home.  To worship with others. Why?  It's impossible to practice the Christian faith solo.  One major example: Communion, the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist, whichever name you label it with, it is a ritual you can't practice alone.  IT takes a community of faithful believers to experience the breaking of bread.

It's also impossible to grow spiritually on your own.  It can't happen; increasing Biblical knowledge or the activation of the practical daily walk can't happen on our own.  We need people to sharpen us, to challenge us, to nurture us, to encourage us.  We are a body, that's the metaphor Scripture designated.  An amputated limb won't survive.  Period.

     Third and finally (Nice three points, huh?) How about instead of letting these seemingly less mature, quasi-believers frustrate us, how about we lift them in prayer?  Yes, lift these spiritually-disenfranchised people in prayer.  We have more of these people in need of our prayers than in need of our disapproval.  Jesus embraced the marginal, He ate with them, He loved them, it cost Him His life too.   

And, by the way, in case you didn't know, I grew up in an arrested developmental home, spiritually speaking.  We didn't attend church services, not even at Christmas or Easter.  I heard plenty of Scriptures quoted, some in context, many out of context.  I'm glad we were accepted, when as adults Tammy and I finally got our butts out of bed on Sunday mornings & took our kids to Church.  I wonder where we'd be today if... well never mind.  Be patient with others; you never know what God has in store for them.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Life is short, fragile & unpredictable...

Today we poured two concrete driveways at the home of a family, my family used to worship with.  It has been a while since we've had any interaction with this particular family, and I simply wasn't sure what type of reception to expect.  Any anxiety I felt was quickly dispelled.  My reception was more than pleasant, it was refreshing.

The family has an adult daughter who has been battling a tough form of cancer for four years.  Due to the care she needs, she lives in her parents' house. When I first arrived at their house early this morning, the mom asked me if I would like to come in the house and visit with her daughter.  I quickly said yes, and our brief visit was touching to me.  I had officiated for her wedding several years ago, we had been there shortly after the birth of her twins.  We've observed some of their major experiences and some huge milestones in their life.

At the end of the day, the mom was taking the daughter out for a doctor's visit.  I was able to help her move her daughter into the car.  It was a weird, sort of surreal experience.  I had ministered to her daughter through the years, like I said doing her wedding and such, and now here I found myself filthy from a day's work of concrete; sweaty and dirty and probably a little odoriferous..., helping lift her in a wheelchair off of the front porch and helping situate her in the vehicle.  It felt like real ministry, but different than "church-work" ministry, if you know what I mean.

I felt ministered to as well, because of the family's warm reception and the hugs we shared.  On more than one occasion today I found my eyes were welling up as I thought about this young lady's situation.  I felt a little choked up more than once thinking how more than likely, her husband & children won't always have her in their lives.  There were several emotions flowing through me.

Today, I also was sharply reminded of how life is too short to be... whatever.  I don't know.  It's tough to articulate.  Seeing this young mom and wife and daughter struggling to even communicate, completely immobilized by her condition, it just seems to me there are bigger fish to fry...

If you are healthy and have any future at all, thank the Lord, and then go hug someone you love.  After you hug someone you love, go apologize to someone you've offended.  After you apologize, go forgive someone who's offended you.  You never know when life will throw you a curve-ball.    

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Charles Siburt could see better than most of us...

I remember the first time I met the great Dr. Siburt.  The congregation I was with at the time was in a deeply conflicted situation, and we called in the "church Doctor" to help. We were already working with one of Charles's former students who specializes in conflict resolution.  Charles flew into our little regional-airport from Texas, and I was to pick him up at the airport.  

While I waited near the terminal, I was reading "Friedman's Fables."  In those days I was reading everything I could get my hands on by Ed Friedman and his disciples.  Charles asked me what I was reading as we greeted each other, and when I told him, he smiled broadly, raised his eyebrows, nodding his head in affirmation and said, "Ah, Friedman; the Keys to the Kingdom."  I remember how his rich baritone voice put me at ease and the immediate embrace he offered drew me to him instantly.  I felt an instant bond.   

Charles worked with us late into the night all weekend, and of course there were many eye-opening encounters.  He shared oodles of handouts (which I still have), sage advice, and not a little humor along the way.  His time with us was special.  He kindly stayed in contact with me via phone and email afterwards.

What I liked most about Charles was his ability to read a situation and then candidly communicate his thoughts.  I'd like to say that every encounter with Charles was uplifting and all rosy.  It wasn't.  Sure we laughed together, and hugged too.  But.  He has seen me in tough times, too.  I'm thankful for his ability to speak the truth in love though.  I remember him taking me by the shoulders, looking me in the eye (he stepped in to better see me) and shooting straight with me. 

Charles wasn't one to have the wool pulled over his eyes.  I clearly remember him seated in a chair and with a nod of his, his head would drop lower and lower it seemed to me, he'd look up, smile rather sheepishly, and say what he thought.  Usually what he had to say was needed, but not always wanted.  He could call out everyone's immaturity, mine included, in a way you had to appreciate and accept.  

Last year, Tammy and I had the intense blessing of being with Charles and Judy at the retreat they hosted in Texas, through the Ministers Support Network.  What a weekend that was!  What a rich blessing.  What a time of renewal.  We were with several other ministry-couples, all of us hurting in one way or another.  Charles, Judy, and a few other couples that partnered with the Siburts, loved on us, and gave us hope.  I remember crying that month, last spring, upon hearing the news of Charles's battle with cancer; it didn't seem fair.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of preachers like me, who know Charles for the same reasons I do.  We were knee-deep in church conflict, and Charles had the tools and skills to help us navigate some very stormy waters.  Hearing of his death, in a way challenges me to remember the lessons he passed on to us.  His passing I know is a huge loss for his loved ones, Judy, their children and the extended family.  We all feel a loss today, one that we'll share for a long time.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9 ESV)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

IS there any power in words or the Word:

I'm working on tomorrow's sermon, and often is the case as I'm crafting a sermon, I get ideas to blog about.  I hear the soundtrack to "The Last of the Mohicans" rolling in the back of my mind and suddenly I'm pumped for action! But then, I realize I'm on track to finish my sermon.... So, sometimes I just suppress the ideas, hoping to find a more opportune time to develop them later.  That means I usually let the idea slip away into oblivion never to be remembered.  Well, that might be an exaggeration.  But I do lose a lot of ideas that way though.  Today's idea wouldn't go away so easily, so here goes!

As I'm working on tomorrow's sermon, it hits me hard sitting here: The reading of Scripture, just to be read and soaked up in an Assembly, does it make a difference?   Personally, I try to use only passages that pertain to the sermon, I never use Scripture just as "filler" material in a sermon.  I have to edit out a lot of what I could insert.  There are more passages that tie in than one might think, for any given sermon.  Sometimes I think how enjoyable it would be to just read the passage and let the passage speak for itself.  But, would lives be changed?

My burning question today is, do words really matter, esp the Words of Scripture?

  • We stand before God and our community when we get married.  Weddings are an exchange of what?  Vows.  Vows are what; words.  These words are supposed to count.  They are a commitment of what we will and won't do.  Words of accountability and support.  

  • Think of the inspiration that comes from great historical speeches.  The Gettysburg address.  MLK's "I have a dream."  The men who first landed on the moon, "One small step for man...."  I'm no sports fan, but I'm sure there are halftime, locker-room speeches from the ages that are moving and powerful too.  Words of motivation & inspiration.

  • It's an election year, and I'd say it's fair to claim most candidates are elected largely by their oration skills.  Their track record, their plans and the promises they make are part of the package.  Still.  I think how well they debate and communicate play the largest roll in how we respond at the polls.  Words that harness power, shaping our culture & our times... 

So, I know words carry weight.  What about "just" reading the Bible, together...?

Today I had lunch with two close friends.  We talked about, among other things, the reading and the memorizing of Scripture, as a church.  Maybe, now that I think about it, maybe that's why this idea is floating around in my head?  Back to lunch:  We talked about the need to read more Scripture in our assemblies, and in our small group settings.  The idea of learning to read Scripture was brought up too; like the importance of being heard clearly and articulating well as we read out loud.  

I wonder how well we respond to the power of Scripture in our spiritual formation?  Is there power in the Word, in just reading it and hearing read to transform us?  I'm not just asking are we comforted by the 23rd Psalm in times of sorrow, are we inspired to reach the world for Christ in the reading of Matt 28:18-20, or do we feel more Christ like in the reading of Phil 2:1-11...  I'm asking: Will God's people really experience a metamorphic shift by spending more time simply hearing the Words of Scripture, together?

Time will tell.