Saturday, December 1, 2007

WWJD Revisited

From Brian McClaren's book, Everything Must Change, I'd like to share a helpful quote from John Meachum, a Newsweek writer who is reviewing Garry Wills's book, What Jesus Meant.

[The popular Christian question “What would Jesus do?” is not an especially useful one, Wills notes, for Jesus did many things we would not, and should not, do. Should Christian believers today, Wills asks, “like Jesus, forbid a man from attending his own father’s funeral…or tell others to hate their parents?...Are they justified in telling others, “I come not imposing peace, I impose not peace but the sword”…? Or “I am come to throw fire on the earth…?” Such moments in the Gospels, Wills writes, “were acts meant to show that he is not just like us, that he has higher rights and powers…[as] a divine mystery walking among men.]


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dear Mr. Osteen

I found this quote especially interesting from Wesleyan scholar, Ben Witherington's blog (you can link to his blog from my "Other Sites That Are Worth Your Time" section). The comments are also interesting. I thought his title was telling.

Memo to Mr. Osteen from John Wesley

"I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches."

John Wesley (1703-1791)

What does Jesus teach about wealth? What does his lifestyle reveal about how Christians should view wealth and possessions?Thoughts?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Prayer for Worship: 07 October 2007

Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, to you and to the Son and the to Spirit, are all glory and praise and honor and wisdom and strength. You three are God alone in unity. This morning with the creatures around your throne we join in saying, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” We also join in singing “to him who lives forever and ever … Worthy are you, our Lord and our God to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and because of your will they existed, and were created.”

Our Father in Heaven, your most holy Word instructs us this morning that our citizenship is in heaven. We must confess Lord God that often times; heaven seems so very far from where we are here on earth. We pray as we meet here this morning, we who together comprise your Temple, the place where you dwell by the Spirit, that we would be constantly aware of your desire for this place to be where heaven and earth overlap. Help us dear Lord to feel this morning that our citizenship is in heaven.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, we praise you this morning as the Lamb on the throne who rules as King of kings and Lord of lords from the right hand of our Father. We also praise you as our soon coming King. We eagerly wait for you this morning to bring from heaven our salvation when you “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of [your] glory.” It is our prayer that very soon the Father would exert his eternal power through you, to subject all things to yourself. We long for that day when all your enemies, when all disease, when all catastrophes, when all hunger, when all injustice, when all pain, and when all tears, will be brought into submission to your Lordship. How long O Lord? How long O Lord? How long O Lord? Even so come quickly Lord Jesus. Please give us a foretaste this morning of that eternal city for which we wait.

Holy Spirit, Breath of the Loving God, we need you to breathe into us the ability to stand firm while we wait. Help us stand firm by living in harmony together. May each of us be willing to lay down our rights and even our lives for the sake of the gospel. Please work within us here on earth the unity shared by Our Most Holy Father and His Beloved Eternal Son. We dedicate this service to the glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Questions About "Christian Growth"

Below is text from a dear friend's blog. He asks a very crucial question to which I have responded.

I found this blurb associated with a Bible teacher's resume: "a passion for helping people grow in an intimate relationship with God through the study of His Word."

Two questions (and their related questions) come to mind:

Is the study of God's word the only way of growing as a Christian? Is that the only way one can help Christians grow?
Is "an intimate relationship with God" the goal of Christian growth? What does "an intimate relationship with God" mean? What does it look like?
What do you think?

Here's my response.

1. The study of God's word is not the only way of growing as a Christian? If that were true then Christian growth would be very difficult if not impossible for the illiterate Christian, the Christian for whom the Bible has not been translated, etc. The way we help our brothers and sisters toward Christian growth is to lead them into the fellowship of the Trinity. We lead them into that communion as we lead them toward Bible study and meditation, prayer, fasting, confession, partaking the sacraments, suffering, etc. Truly our Christian life comes from partaking of Christ (John 6.33, 52-58). I believe the evangelical infatuation with Bible study as the catalyst for spiritual growth betrays an Enlightenment influence. Bible knowledge is quantifiable. If I can recite for you summaries of each NT book, I have certifiable evidence that I am “spiritual.” This is a notion of spirituality that is void of mystery. When we embrace mystery we are free to let Jesus' words in John 6 speak for themselves. I cannot verify to my congregation how eating bread and drinking wine imparts Christ and his eternal life unto them. But I believe because that is where the Church has led me.

2. I struggle with the notion of “an intimate relationship.” First, it sounds to me a bit perverted. In his Prayer, Jesus invites his followers to join him in praying to God as Father. So as I link in faith to Jesus and his family of those who obey God (Mark 3.35), I become a member of God’s family as a brother of Jesus and son of God. Therefore, the NT instructs me to relate to Jesus as my brother and God as my Father (Rom 8.15-17; Gal 3-4). Not a relationship I would refer to as intimate.
The notion of an intimate relationship also sounds very individualistic. When the NT speaks of Christian growth and maturity it most often refers to the growth of the Body not just one member (see Eph 4.16). Therefore, my individual growth is only important insofar as it contributes to the growth of Christ’s Body the church. St. Paul states very clearly that spirituality is strictly connected to relationships in the church (1 Cor 3.1-4), relationships that are necessary for my growth and maturity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More from Augustine of Hippo...

Each morning I am presently reading from Augustine's Confessions as part of a time of devotion. To sound very 21st-Century, he is blowing me away. Or to sound like Howard Hendricks, "he is blowing every circuit in my brain," and I would add in my heart. Listen to this prayer from our 4th-Century brother. "What a wretch I am! In your mercies, Lord God, tell me what you are to me. 'Say to my soul, I am your salvation' (Ps. 34.3). Speak to me so that I may hear. See the ears of my heart are before you, Lord. Open them and 'say to my soul, I am your salvation.' After that utterance I will run and lay hold on you. Do not hide your face from me (cf. Ps. 26.9). Lest I die, let me die so that I may see it."

This last line puzzled me for some time until I read the translator's notes where Exod. 33.20 is referenced. "But he said (Yahweh to Moses), 'you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live'" (ESV). You see Augustine is praying that God will not hide his face from him, and he feels that he will die if he does not enter the divine presence (cf. Ps. 26). However, he knows his Hebrew Bible because he knows that if he sees the face of God he will not live (Exod. 33). Augustine's response: "Let me die so that I may see it." Do we desire God that much. Are we willing to die in order to see the face of God? Am I willing? Are you willing?

Monday, August 13, 2007

God as Mystery: Part 2

The more I read from my Christian brothers and sisters who are not laden with albatross of modernity and postmodernity, the more I hang my head in shame at how we evangelicals just don’t get it. As many of us explore the discipline of theology, the Godhead is nothing more than a specimen that we put in the Petri dish; that we analyze with our own theories for what we can learn and then share our findings with the world of scholarship. Furthermore, all this arrogant experimentation is rarely done with any desire to actually serve the wider Christian community.

My head was hanging in shame this morning as read from the prayers of Blessed St. Augustine of Hippo. Did anyone pray or hear a pray such as this on Sunday?

"...Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength, stable and incomprehensible, immutable and yet changing all things, never new, never old, making everything new and leading the proud to be old without knowledge; always active, always in repose, gathering to yourself but not in need, supporting and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to maturity, searching even though to you nothing is lacking: you love without burning, you are jealous in a way that is free of anxiety, you repent without the pain of regret, you are wrathful and remain tranquil. You will a change without any change in your design. You recover what you find; yet you have never lost. Never in any need, you rejoice in your gains; you are never avaricious, yet you require interest. We pay you more than you require so as to make you our debtor, yet who has anything which does not belong to you? You pay off debts, though owing nothing to anyone; you cancel debts and incur no loss. But in these words what have I said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you? Yet woe to those who are silent about you because, though loquacious with verbosity, they have nothing to say" (Confessions, IV. [4]).

All us evangelical preachers should likely being hanging our heads at this point. May we press on to find language such us this to praise and cry out in love to our Most Holy God, always remembering that when we speak about God, we really have nothing to say.

Friday, July 27, 2007

To Forgive...Or To Like...

In his excellent book, The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes; "Community is intricate and complex. Living in community as a people of God is inherently messy. A congregation consists of many people of various moods, ideas, needs, experiences, gifts and injuries, desires and disappointments, blessings and losses, intelligence and stupidity, living in proximity and in respect for one another, and believingly in worship of God. It is not easy and it is not simple. Not every situation can be anticipated. Novel combinations of circumstances take us by surprise. No community worth its salt has ever existed long without attending painstakingly to particular conditions." In my opinion the best way that we "painstakingly attend" to the difficult conditions of relationships in community is to preserve a moment-by-moment attitude of forgiveness. Recently, I heard Marva Dawn mention in a talk that she doesn't go to church with folk that she likes. Rather she attends church with folk she has forgiven and who have forgiven her. Before Paul begins the glorious hymn to Christ in Colossians 1, he has this to say; "in whom (the Beloved Son of the Father) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (1.14, NASB). Paul never seems to mention the forgiveness we have received from God without later appealing to it as the basis by which we are to forgive members of the community. This why he later writes, "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you" (3.13, NASB; cf. Eph 1.7; 4.32). Experience teaches me the longer I spend working with God's people, the more I will be exposed to the "inherent messiness" of living in community. Let each of us painstakingly attend to the task of distinctively Christian forgiveness.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Silas Michial Johnson, Proud Papa, and Big Sisters

Praise Beyond Words...

King David writes:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!

From the mouth of infants and nursing babes
You have established strength!

Silas Michial Johnson sang the praise that was ordained for him on 27 April 2007 at 2:45 in the afternoon. Let us join him as he praises Yahweh his Creator.

Heavenly Father, you sent your own Son into this world. We thank you for the life of this child, Silas Michial Johnson, entrusted to our care. Help us to remember that we are all your children, and so to love and nurture him, that he may attain to that full stature intended for him in your eternal kingdom; for the sake of your dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Believing the Unseen Promise...

Often times at a “Christian” funeral, a well-meaning pastor will read these holy words from 1 Corinthians 15.54-57. “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB). Especially at a funeral these words beg for an explanation because most everyone at the funeral is feeling the horrific sting of death. We still feel that sting because death still wins. At a funeral we are reminded that death has once again won the victory. And death will continue to sting and persist in winning because the perishable has not yet put on the imperishable and the mortal has not yet put on immortality (15.53). As Christians who hope in the return of Christ and anticipate our own resurrection, we must admit that in 1 Cor 15, Paul is teaching us to believe the promise we do not yet see. We are waiting for death’s defeat. We are longing for relief from death’s sting. Our family is presently feeling that sting because death defeated my father-in-law this morning. Please read about this extraordinary man of faith.

Paul Dean Banister - 66 
3/28/1941 - 4/10/2007

Somonauk - Paul Dean Banister, 66, of Somonauk, IL passed away Tuesday, April 10, 2007 at his home. He was born March 28, 1941 in Sugar Grove, IL, the son of Fred and Florence Viola (Hyte) Banister. He married Julia Darlene Rutherford on August 16, 1970 in Cleveland, OH. 

He was a rural mail carrier . He was a Veteran of the United States Army. He loved the Lord and his family. He enjoyed woodworking, fishing, reading and working.

He is survived by his wife, Julia of Somonauk; one daughter, Yulinda (David) Johnson of Tyler, TX; three sons, John (Holly) Banister of Serena, IL, Paul (Theresa) Banister of Somonauk, IL and Joel (Lora) Banister of Kansas City, MO; his mother, Florence (Hyte) Banister of Joliet, IL; two sisters, Audrey (Myron) Pennington of Plainfield, IL, and Sally McDonald of Albia, IA; two brothers, Vernel Banister of Albia, IA and Jerry (Betty) Banister of Prescott Valley, AZ; nine grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his father, one brother, Clarence and two sisters, Thelma Graver and Betty LaGrand.

Funeral Services will be at 10:00 a.m., Saturday, April 14, 2007 Turner-Eighner Funeral Home in Somonauk with Pastor Roy Cherington officiating. Burial will follow at Oak Mound Cemetery in Somonauk. Visitation will be from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. on Friday, April 13, 2007 at Turner-Eighner Funeral Home in Somonauk.

However, the sting and victory of death are both short-lived. We Christians just concluded our celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. That event decisively defeated death. It was, in effect, D-day, the battle that determined the end of the war. Yet, we are still awaiting VE Day, the day when the victory will be universally realized and there will be no more death, crying, or pain (Rev 21-22).

As a young child, my father-in-law taught me a song in children’s church that was based on Hebrews 11.1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). Our family cannot presently see the reality that death has been defeated. However, faith compels us to believe in spite of what we see. Faith drives us to trust God’s promise when MOST of everything around us screams that death has not been defeated. I emphasize “most of everything” because even in the midst of our pain, God has reminded us that he is right there with us in the pain, providing us with glimpses of the peace we will enjoy in the Eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

I praise and thank God for a godly man who stayed faithful to his God and family; for a man who taught me and lived before me the faith that believes the unseen and by which “the men of old gained approval” (Heb 11.2).

Sunday, April 1, 2007

God as Mystery...

Presently, God is guiding me through an exploration of the Orthodox Church (OC). My first serious bit of research in this area has taken me to a quick read of Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Peter Gillquist. He was part of a group of Campus Crusade staffers whose frustration with evangelicalism led them to explore how faithful evangelicals are to "The Faith Once for All Delivered." This exploration led them home to the OC. After that enjoyable read, I am now perusing The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware. Each chapter of this book describes the theological distinctives of The Orthodox Church. The OC argues however, that those realities we would describe as theologically distinct, are really just distinctively Christian. The first of these realities describes God as Mystery.

Professing Christians of the evangelical flavor, usually fail to embrace this foundational principle. Furthermore, the way theology is often taught in such churches, it's as if God is something we place under the microscope, examine, research and come to some sort of synthetic summary. Once again the post-Enlightenment church is worshipping in the sanctuary of the laboratory where the scientist who practices his method rules as priest. The OC, however, confesses, “A God who is comprehensible is not God.” We must remind others and ourselves that we will never fully comprehend God, because “A God…whom we claim to understand exhaustively through the resources of our reasoning brain turns out to be no more than an idol, fashioned in our own image.” I believe that when we embrace God as mystery, we do not mean that he is somehow unable to be understood, rather, we believe that he is so “completely other” that we will never grasp anything true about him unless he so chooses to reveal that reality. This confession will also lead us to a lifestyle that pursues continual communion with God as an end in itself. Instead of studying my Bible to increase my knowledge so I can pass some Bible literacy exam, I work to pursue its study because I am offered the grace of fellowship with our Holy and Immortal God. Bishop Ware describes well how the Greek Fathers embrace God as Mystery.

“The Greek Fathers liken man’s encounter with God to the experience of someone walking over the mountains in the mist: he takes a step forward and suddenly finds that he is on the edge of a precipice, with no solid ground beneath his foot but only a bottomless abyss” (pg. 13).

Sadly, I have previously viewed the study of God as a discipline to be conquered. On the contrary, my reading of the Sacred Text, the Creeds, the Fathers, etc. must remind me that I am a helpless wretch who must plead for the kind mercy of the Triune God, but who also has been invited into a fellowship of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to thee. Please provide the grace of divine illumination on this journey.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Amazing Grace: A Story of New Creation

This past Wednesday Yulinda and I were finally able to schedule babysitting and see the film Amazing Grace, the story of how God used William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain. It was a truly powerful and inspiring movie that reminded me of how Christians how are called to be advocates for the socially oppressed. Wilberforce understood that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and that he also called those who would associate with him to the same ministry. One scene in the film is particularly powerful and reminiscent of Jesus' ministry. As young Wilberforce endures the pain of serving those who have no advocate, he dreams of those who have refused to come to the aid of slaves because they are too busy attending various societal events such as parties, the ballet, the theater etc. Wilberforce interrupts their evening and slams their food and drink from the tables and they crash to the floor. This event is designed, I believe, to remind the viewer of when Jesus overturned the tables in the temple where the poor were being abused. This film serves as a stark challenge to evangelical Christians to view their position in society with eyes of redemption and not arms of power. In recent elections, evangelical Christians have been referred to as an influential interest group. Instead of thinking of ourselves as those with powerful political influence, we should instead envision our role in society as servants who seek to spread the New Creation. In 2 Cor 5.17, the Apostle Paul declares, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (NIV)! Paul's words are purposefully similar to the prophecy of a New Creation recorded in Isaiah 65.17. You see, Paul is asserting that on the cross of Christ God began this work of New Creation and those who are in Christ participate in that work. Furthermore, those who are in Christ are called to "the ministry of reconciliation." Because God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, we are called to continue that ministry by spreading the justice, love, and forgiveness that will ultimately characterize the New Creation where "the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard no more" (Isa 65.19).

William Wilberforce and his friend John Newton heard the weeping and crying of slaves who were being disgustingly abused by the British Slave Trade and they fulfilled their call to spread New Creation justice and New Creation peace. Evangelicals, are we thought of as that group of voters who win elections for right-wing-Republicans, or does the culture consider us to be servants who spread a New Creation Ethic? I am voting for the later.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Jesus and God and Israel in John's Gospel

Today we leave with our student ministry for our Spring Retreat. My plan is to encourage the students to spend personal time reading Jesus' High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17. As I did a bit of reading to gain a better understanding of the Prayer's role in John's story, I came across these extraordinary insights from Bishop N.T. Wright in his book, The New Testament and the People of God. Wright understands John's Gospel as designed to demonstrate that what God is doing through the ministry of Jesus serves as the climax to what God has been doing with Israel. Furthermore, John is seeking to demonstrate that what God is doing with Israel has profound implications for the entire cosmos. Therefore, "the question of the creator and the cosmos, the world, becomes the question of Jesus and Israel. And when that question is resolved, with the full paradox and irony of the crucifixion of the King of the Jews, then at once the world can become the beneficiary" (Wright, 412). Insights such as these reveal that too often our reading of the biblical text remains at the superficial (maybe syntactical!) level. How texts in John relate to the grand metanarrative that God is telling through Moses and Abraham and David and Daniel and Jesus and Paul becomes the crucial question for NT interpretation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Groaning for Incorruptibility

Often as I wander through out my day, days that have recently been overwhelmed with reminders that we are both made for glory and far from it, I will groan with Bono and The Edge from Psalm 40, "How long? How long must we sing this song?" With deepest desperation I want to sing a new song, a different song, a song that revels in a hope that is no longer hope, a hope that has at last been realized. It is within these moments of desperation that I believe the sanctifying work of the Godhead continues to melt together our faith and our hope into that one supreme virtue, love. As cancer has reminded our family, as struggling relationships in the body of Christ remind us, we all are still longing with the rest of creation for our final adoption as God's children. I have told people in that past they have everything they need, "for life and godliness." That is not true. 1 Peter reminds that our inheritance is waiting for us in heaven. What I have needed and what I am still longing for is a fresh vision of my inheritance, a "beholding" of that city where there will no longer be any pain, sin, crying, or death. I want to run to that place. Who will run with me?