Don’t end up just banging dustbins

Don’t end up just banging dustbins

Worth a few moments of your time …

Building Jerusalem

It is amazing how certain comments stick in the mind. It is hard to know whether it is the context in which they are spoken or the sheer simplicity with which the comment nails its intended target, but nonetheless some things remain with you. I am regularly reminded of one of the funniest, and yet searingly clear, comments I received whilst engaged in mission work.

The context was my regular pilgrimage to the Holy Land; or, Llandudno as it is more commonly known. I was co-leading a week of mission. Much of the work involved cold-contact evangelism; approaching folk on the promenade and trying to generate conversation. The aim would be to share something of Christ and perhaps leave them with a Christian book or piece of literature to read in their own time. Sometimes conversations take off – often in ways you wouldn’t expect – and excellent theological discussion can…

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Traveling Music (ReMix)

Here is yet another iteration of a “re-run” post from a different venue several years ago, engendered this time by scanning old iPod tracks on the ever-more-repetitious journey down I-65 from Chicago to Indianapolis.  It is likely just babel/babble to anyone but me.  FWIW.

Mumford and Sons – Babel – ROCKS!

But it also engenders reservations, similar to their first album, about which I posted the following on 21 January 2011.

In an earlier post I mentioned listening to the musical group, Mumford & Sons while driving near the end of long trip.  Due to some questions, I took it down, lest anyone think I condone the use of profanity on that CD (Sigh No More).  I do not.  Here’s a response of sorts to some of the questions:

Presumably most people understand that mentioning a group, person, or work of art does not imply endorsement of everything in, on, or about it.  The track Timshel, referencing Genesis 4 and resonating Steinbeck’s East of Eden, does not imply endorsement of Steinbeck or all that is in the book.  Quoting a commentary on Genesis 4 does not mean accepting or recommending everything in it.  This is, one hopes, elementary for anyone willing to think about it.

I’m a sucker for clever lyrics, especially those with religious implications – even cryptic ones (especially when married to great harmonious melodies).  Who could not like the opening lines of the first track: “Serve God, love me, and mend – this is not the end…Sigh no more, no more.  One foot in sea and  one on shore.  My heart was never pure – You know me.”   Or, “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won” (from “I Gave You All”).

Or this:  “You told me that I would find a hole Within the fragile substance of my soul, And I have filled this void with things unreal And all the while my character it steals”  — followed by, “It seems all my bridges have been burned, But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works – It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, But the welcome I receive with the restart” (Roll Away Your Stone).

However, admixed with admirable thoughts expressed with dexterity are others of a baser sort…of infidelity and betrayal, doubt and denial.  Of course, many people, even those of strong faith, have experienced such thoughts and possibly even behaviors, as we succumb to various temptations to one degree or another.

Most vexing and disturbing is the gratuitous use (in Little Lion Man, CD track 7) of a common vulgarism meant to describe one of the most divinely pleasurable of human experiences – made into a cheap swear-word.  That is, of course the nature of profanity – taking something which is a should be special or limited to particular circumstances and profaning it by making it common or ordinary.  As several before me have noticed, if one wished to express extreme displeasure, one could at least use something REALLY unpleasant, like “Audit you, buddy!”

I realize one can hear such vulgarities at the mall or at a high school sporting event (to say nothing or college or pro games).  But it pains me to spend money to download or rip such junk.  One man’s opinion.

Other issues raised by such questions include how those who find such things objectionable should react.  Bury head in sand and ignore?  Boycott?  Draw up the bridge and retreat behind the moat?  Or recognize and engage when possible?  Do we read only that which has no objectionable material?  Hard to come by.  Can we be “fans” only of athletes, teams, or artists without flaw?  Good luck.

Late night thoughts from a fried brain at the end of a long day. Anybody want to sound off on this?  No obligation.

(A closing thought:  It is sobering, when contemplating passing an 18-wheeler in snow, to hear lyrics like, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die…for you were made to meet your maker.”  Hmmmmm)

 

Jesus wants you to judge

The Matt Walsh Blog

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of the Ten Commandments. My favorites is the one that says “Thou shalt not judge.”

Oh, that one isn’t in there, you say?

Sorry, it’s easy to forget nowadays, especially in this country where many Christians carry on as though the entire Bible could be summed up by the phrase, “it’s all good, bro.”

In actual fact, there are a lot of urgent truths and important moral lessons in the Bible. Interestingly, almost all of them have fallen out of favor in modern American society. Here are just a few verses that aren’t particularly trendy or popular nowadays:

(WARNING: Politically incorrect truths ahead)

“Whoever harms one of these little ones that believes in me, it would be better for him if a millstone where tied around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the ocean.”

“Before I formed you in…

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The Meat Market at Corinth

Continuing discussion regarding Corinthian archaeology — from Ferrell Jenkins

Ferrell's Travel Blog

Paul taught the saints at Corinth to,

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (1 Corinthians 10:25 ESV)

The Greek word used here for “meat market” is makellon. Archaeological discoveries at Corinth include inscriptions mentioning the meat market and the fish market.

Henry J. Cadbury writes about visiting the Corinth excavations in July, 1933. He says he especially wanted to see “first hand the Erastus inscription….” Some of his comments in the article are still interesting today.

But what was particularly unexpected by me was to note among the inscribed fragments of marble in the new museum one containing quite clearly MACELLV.

As the piece has only seven other letters and these quite unintelligible the discovery of this single word is extremely tantalizing. But since the fragment in question was found in 1898, now thirty-five years ago, while so…

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FlightPaths: The Tablecloth — by Dene Ward

FlightPaths: The Tablecloth — by Dene Ward

FlightPaths: The Tablecloth — Dene Ward — Posted 8-15-2013

http://flightpaths.weebly.com/2/post/2013/08/the-tablecloth.html

My grandmother crocheted a lace tablecloth for me many years ago.  She was quite a lady, my grandmother.  She was widowed in her forties, left behind with two of her five children still at home.  She met the bills by doing seasonal work in the citrus packing sheds of central Florida, standing on her feet 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week in season, and then working in a drugstore, a job she walked to and from for nearly thirty years.  She delivered prescriptions, worked the check-out, even made sodas at the fountain.

It was a small town and once, a woman whom my grandmother knew was not
married, came in looking for some form of birth control. My grandmother told her, “No!  Go home and behave yourself like a decent woman should.”  No, she did not lose her job over that.  She merely said what every other person there wished they had the nerve to say back in those days.  She lived long enough to see the shame of our society that no one thinks it needs saying any more.

As to my tablecloth, most people would look at it and think it was imperfect.  She crocheted with what was labeled “ivory” thread, but she could never afford to buy enough at once to do the whole piece.  So after she cashed her paycheck, she went to the store and bought as much as her budget would allow that week and worked on it.  The next week, she went back and did the same, always buying the same brand labeled “ivory.”  Funny thing about those companies, though—when the lot changes, sometimes the color does too, sometimes only a little, but sometimes “ivory” becomes more of a vanilla or even crème caramel.  The intricately crocheted squares in my tablecloth are not all the same color, even though the thread company said they were.

Some people probably look at it and wonder what went wrong. All they see is mismatched colors. What I see is a grandmother’s love, a grandmother who had very little, but who wanted to do something special for her oldest grandchild.  I revel in those mismatched squares because I know my grandmother thought of me every week for a long time, spent the precious little she had to try to do something nice, and, as far as I am concerned, succeeded far beyond her wildest dreams.

If it were your grandmother, you would think the same I am sure.  So why is it we think Almighty God cannot take our imperfections and make us into great men and women of faith?  Why is it we beat ourselves to death when we make a mistake, even one we repent of and do our best to correct?  Do we not yet understand grace?  Are we so arrogant that we think we don’t have to forgive ourselves even though God does? Yes we should understand the enormity of our sin, repenting in godly sorrow, over and over, even as David did, but prolonged groveling in the pit of unworthiness can be more about self-pity and lacking faith in God to do what he promised than it is about humility.  The longer we indulge in it, the less we are doing for the Lord, and Satan is just as pleased as if we had gone on sinning. Either way helps him out.

The next time you look into a mirror and see only your faults, remember my tablecloth.  When you give God all you have, he can make you into something beautiful too.

And God is able to make all grace abound unto you, that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work,    2 Cor 9:8.  

Dene Ward

Read more at:  http://flightpaths.weebly.com/2/post/2013/08/the-tablecloth.html

Why Kids Leave Churches

Why Kids Leave Churches

I cross-posted to my Facebook page a few months ago when it first appeared — but this is worth repeating here — it’s from the blog marc5solas.

Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church

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We all know them, the kids who were raised in church. They were stars of the youth group. They maybe even sang in the praise band or led worship. And then… they graduate from High School and they leave church. What happened?

It seems to happen so often that I wanted to do some digging; To talk to these kids and get some honest answers. I work in a major college town with a large number of 20-somethings. Nearly all of them were raised in very typical evangelical churches. Nearly all of them have left the church with no intention of returning. I spend a lot of time with them and it takes very little to get them to vent, and I’m happy to listen. So, after lots of hours spent in coffee shops and after buying a few lunches, here are the most common thoughts taken from dozens of conversations. I hope some of them make you angry. Not at the message, but at the failure of our pragmatic replacement of the gospel of the cross with an Americanized gospel of glory. This isn’t a negative “beat up on the church” post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.

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The facts:

The statistics are jaw-droppingly horrific: 70% of youth stop attending church when they graduate from High School. Nearly a decade later, about half return to church.

Half.

Let that sink in.

There’s no easy way to say this: The American Evangelical church has lost, is losing, and will almost certainly continue to lose OUR YOUTH.

For all the talk of “our greatest resource”, “our treasure”, and the multi-million dollar Dave and Buster’s/Starbucks knockoffs we build and fill with black walls and wailing rock bands… the church has failed them.

Miserably.

The Top 10 Reasons We’re Losing our Youth:

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10. The Church is “Relevant”:

You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.

As the quote says, “When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.”

I’m not ranting about “worldliness” as some pietistic bogeyman, I’m talking about the fact that we yawn at a 5-minute biblical text, but almost trip over ourselves fawning over a minor celebrity or athlete who makes any vague reference to being a Christian.

We’re like a fawning wanna-be just hoping the world will think we’re cool too, you know, just like you guys!

Our kids meet the real world and our “look, we’re cool like you” posing is mocked. In our effort to be “like them” we’ve become less of who we actually are. The middle-aged pastor trying to look like his 20-something audience isn’t relevant. Dress him up in skinny jeans and hand him a latte, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant, It’s comically cliché. The minute you aim to be “authentic”, you’re no longer authentic!

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9. They never attended church to begin with:

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From a Noah’s Ark themed nursery, to jumbotron summer-campish kids church, to pizza parties and rock concerts, many evangelical youth have been coddled in a not-quite-church, but not-quite-world hothouse. They’ve never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank. They don’t see the full timeline of the gospel for every season of life. Instead, we’ve dumbed down the message, pumped up the volume and act surprised when…

8. They get smart:

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It’s not that our students “got smarter” when they left home, rather someone actually treated them as intelligent. Rather than dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat our youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with “deep thoughts” of question and doubt. Many of these “doubts” have been answered, in great depth, over the centuries of our faith. However….

7. You sent them out unarmed:

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Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s plan for their life”. Yes, I know your church has a “What we believe” page, but is that actually being taught and reinforced from the pulpit? I’ve met evangelical church leaders (“Pastors”) who didn’t know the difference between justification and sanctification. I’ve met megachurch board members who didn’t understand the atonement. When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we don’t teach the faith. Surprised? And instead of the orthodox, historic faith…..

6. You gave them hand-me-downs

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You’ve tried your best to pass along the internal/subjective faith that you “feel”. You really, really, really want them to “feel” it too. But we’ve never been called to evangelize our feelings. You can’t hand down this type of subjective faith. With nothing solid to hang their faith upon, with no historic creed to tie them to centuries of history, without the physical elements of bread, wine, and water, their faith is in their subjective feelings, and when faced with other ways to “feel” uplifted at college, the church loses out to things with much greater appeal to our human nature. And they find it in…

5. Community

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Have you noticed this word is *everywhere* in the church since the seeker-sensitive and church growth movements came onto the scene? (There’s a reason and a driving philosophy behind it which is outside of the scope of this blog.) When our kids leave home, they leave the manufactured community they’ve lived in for nearly their entire life. With their faith as something they “do” in community, they soon find that they can experience this “life change” and “life improvement” in “community” in many different contexts. Mix this with a subjective, pragmatic faith and the 100th pizza party at the local big-box church doesn’t compete against the easier, more naturally appealing choices in other “communities”. So, they left the church and….

4. They found better feelings:

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Rather than an external, objective, historical faith, we’ve given our youth an internal, subjective faith. The evangelical church isn’t catechizing or teaching our kids the fundamentals of the faith, we’re simply encouraging them to “be nice” and “love Jesus”. When they leave home, they realize that they can be “spiritually fulfilled” and get the same subjective self-improvement principles (and warm-fuzzies) from the latest life-coach or from spending time with friends or volunteering at a shelter. And they can be truly authentic, and they jump at the chance because…

3. They got tired of pretending:

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In the “best life now”, “Every day a Friday” world of evangelicals, there’s little room for depression, or struggle, or doubt. Turn that frown upside down, or move along. Kids who are fed a stead diet of sermons aimed at removing anything (or anyone) who doesn’t pragmatically serve “God’s great plan for your life” has forced them to smile and, as the old song encouraged them be “hap-hap-happy all the time”. Our kids are smart, often much smarter than we give them credit for. So they trumpet the message I hear a lot from these kids. “The church is full of hypocrites”. Why? Even though they have never been given the categories of law and gospel…

2. They know the truth:

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They can’t do it. They know it. All that “be nice” moralism they’ve been taught? The bible has a word for it: Law. And that’s what we’ve fed them, undiluted, since we dropped them off at the Noah’s Ark playland: Do/Don’t Do. As they get older it becomes “Good Kids do/don’t” and as adults “Do this for a better life”. The gospel appears briefly as another “do” to “get saved.” But their diet is Law, and scripture tells us that the law condemns us. So that smiling, upbeat “Love God and Love People” vision statement? Yeah, you’ve just condemned the youth with it. Nice, huh? They either think that they’re “good people” since they don’t “do” any of the stuff their denomination teaches against (drink, smoke, dance, watch R rated movies), or they realize that they don’t meet Jesus own words of what is required. There’s no rest in this law, only a treadmill of works they know they aren’t able to meet. So, either way, they walk away from the church because…

1. They don’t need it:

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Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we unwittingly taught. If church is simply a place to learn life-application principals to achieve a better life in community… you don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. Why would they get up early on a Sunday and watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before? The middle-aged pastor trying desperately to be “relevant” to them would be a comical cliché if the effect weren’t so devastating. As we jettisoned the gospel, our students are never hit with the full impact of the law, their sin before God, and their desperate need for the atoning work of Christ. Now THAT is relevant, THAT is authentic, and THAT is something the world cannot offer.

We’ve traded a historic, objective, faithful gospel based on God’s graciousness toward us for a modern, subjective, pragmatic gospel based upon achieving our goal by following life strategies. Rather than being faithful to the foolish simplicity of the gospel of the cross we’ve set our goal on being “successful” in growing crowds with this gospel of glory. This new gospel saves no one. Our kids can check all of these boxes with any manner of self-help, life-coach, or simply self-designed spiritualism… and they can do it more pragmatically successfully, and in more relevant community. They leave because given the choice, with the very message we’ve taught them, it’s the smarter choice.

Our kids leave because we have failed to deliver to them the faith “delivered once for all” to the church. I wish it wasn’t a given, but when I present law and gospel to these kids, the response is the same every time: “I’ve never heard that.” I’m not against entertaining our youth, or even jumbotrons, or pizza parties (though I probably am against middle aged guys trying to wear skinny jeans to be “relevant).. it’s just that the one thing, the MAIN thing we’ve been tasked with? We’re failing. We’ve failed God and we’ve failed our kids. Don’t let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.

Marc

NOTE:  Folks, comments have topped 700, so I’d like to ask that you take this to the Marc5Solas Facebook Page for a better discussion forum.  THANKS!

Note: Comment section IS moderated. This is not the forum to debate deism, creationism, identify the anti-Christ, or sell your products. There are numerous places on the wild wild web to do such things. I’d like to keep comments open to the subject at hand. Thanks for understanding!

Why Church Is Good For You

Why Church Is Good For You

New York Times op-ed on Benefits of Going to Church

OP-ED GUEST COLUMNIST

The Benefits of Church

Andrea Kalfas

<nyt_byline>T. M. LUHRMANN

Published: April 20, 2013 167 Comments
  • ONE of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you. Religious attendance — at least, religiosity — boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life. The reason for this is not entirely clear.

T. M. Luhrmann

Social support is no doubt part of the story. At the evangelical churches I’ve studied as an anthropologist, people really did seem to look out for one another. They showed up with dinner when friends were sick and sat to talk with them when they were unhappy. The help was sometimes surprisingly concrete. Perhaps a third of the church members belonged to small groups that met weekly to talk about the Bible and their lives. One evening, a young woman in a group I joined began to cry. Her dentist had told her that she needed a $1,500 procedure, and she didn’t have the money. To my amazement, our small group — most of them students — simply covered the cost, by anonymous donation. A study conducted in North Carolina found that frequent churchgoers had larger social networks, with more contact with, more affection for, and more kinds of social support from those people than their unchurched counterparts. And we know that social support is directly tied to better health.

Healthy behavior is no doubt another part. Certainly many churchgoers struggle with behaviors they would like to change, but on average, regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others.

That tallies with my own observations. At a church I studied in Southern California, the standard conversion story seemed to tell of finding God and never taking methamphetamine again. (One woman told me that while cooking her dose, she set off an explosion in her father’s apartment and blew out his sliding glass doors. She said to me, “I knew that God was trying to tell me I was going the wrong way.”) In my next church, I remember sitting in a house group listening to a woman talk about an addiction she could not break. I assumed that she was talking about her own struggle with methamphetamine. It turned out that she thought she read too many novels.

Yet I think there may be another factor. Any faith demands that you experience the world as more than just what is material and observable. This does not mean that God is imaginary, but that because God is immaterial, those of faith must use their imaginations to represent God. To know God in an evangelical church, you must experience what can only be imagined as real, and you must also experience it as good.

I want to suggest that this is a skill and that it can be learned. We can call it absorption: the capacity to be caught up in your imagination, in a way you enjoy. What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale. Increasingly, other studies bear out this observation that the capacity to imagine a loving God vividly leads to better health.

For example, in one study, when God was experienced as remote or not loving, the more someone prayed, the more psychiatric distress she seemed to have; when God was experienced as close and intimate, the more someone prayed, the less ill he was. In another study, at a private Christian college in Southern California, the positive quality of an attachment to God significantly decreased stress and did so more effectively than the quality of the person’s relationships with other people.

Eventually, this may teach us how to harness the “placebo” effect — a terrible word, because it suggests an absence of intervention rather than the presence of a healing mechanism that depends neither on pharmaceuticals nor on surgery. We do not understand the placebo effect, but we know it is real. That is, we have increasingly better evidence that what anthropologists would call “symbolic healing” has real physical effects on the body. At the heart of some of these mysterious effects may be the capacity to trust that what can only be imagined may be real, and be good.

But not everyone benefits from symbolic healing. Earlier this month, the youngest son of the famed pastor Rick Warren took his own life. We know few details, but the loss reminds us that to feel despair when you want to feel God’s love can worsen the sense of alienation. We urgently need more research on the relationship between mental illness and religion, not only so that we understand that relationship more intimately — the ways in which they are linked and different — but to lower the shame for those who are religious and nonetheless need to reach out for other care.

<nyt_author_id>

T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God,” is a guest columnist.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 21, 2013, on page SR9 of the New York edition with the headline: The Benefits Of Church.