Category Archives: ministry

My Walk through Advent This Year

This Advent, I’m working my way through a couple of new resources.

BonhoefferThe first is a compilation of Bonhoeffer’s writings arranged as a daily devotional for Advent, Christmas [all 12 days!], and Epiphany.  It is titled God Is in the Manger, is translated by O. C. Dean, Jr. and compiled/edited by Jana Riess, and is –so far– a wonderful read.  Basically, each day offers about a page of devotional thought based on Bonhoeffer’s writings, an excerpt from his letters/sermons/etc. related to the topic of the day, and a passage of Scripture likewise related.

StonestreetThe second is a video and study guide combo put out by the Colson Center and BreakPoint.  It is titled He Has Come, is put together by John Stonestreet and T. M. Moore, and was accompanied by an Advent-inspired CD.  It came in the mail this morning, so I’ve only gotten my feet wet so far.  Nevertheless, it seems promising.

calendarAdditionally, Lindsey designed and constructed a calendar to help the kids count down the days to Christmas.  We’re working pretty heavily with them, helping them to understand the significance of Advent as a season of preparation and reflection.  Each day, we’re reading Scripture from the lectionary, counting the days that are left, giving them “surprises” (i.e., small, sweet treats), singing hymns and carols, and praying specifically about significance of Christ’s incarnation and imminent return.

On top of all this, I’m working through a Scripture-reading chart I put together for our congregation, which is based on the lectionary for Advent this year.

So far this has been the greatest experience I’ve had through Advent in quite a number of years.  A bit of intentionality, focus, and reflection surely do strengthen the heart.


The Candle of Expectation

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.

Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.

O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:2-5

Advent is a season in which the Church focusses Its attention on the coming of Christ. The decor of Advent helps us in doing so, for many symbols are found within the telling decorations. Symbolism is especially seen in the Advent wreath. The shape of the wreath – a circle, as well as the evergreen from which it is made, represents the eternality of God, while the lights represent Jesus as the Light of the world. Each week of Advent, we light a new candle in the wreath, each reminding us of a particular aspect of the Advent of Christ.

Today, we light the Candle of Expectation.

The Candle of Expectation reminds us that Christ is the one for whom the whole world waited, the Redeemer of Israel who is – likewise – the Redeemer of all mankind. He is the Hope of the world and the One in whom there is rest for the weary. In Him we find the peace of God and the blessings of His promises.

Today, we remember that He came to give sight to the blind, healing to the infirm, strength to the weak, and life to the perishing. He is our hope and our peace, the One who restores and the One for whom we wait in sobering expectation.

Today, we also anticipate His glorious return. While He came once in humility and meekness, He will surely come again in strength and might. His is our sacramental Lamb, and yet He is our victorious King.

Let us celebrate, today, His first Advent as we ready ourselves for His second.


The FMC Advent Wreath

Image

This year, our congregation is following this order in lighting our Advent wreath…

  • first Sunday: the Candle of Expectation
  • second Sunday: the Candle of Preparation
  • third Sunday: the Candle of Celebration
  • fourth Sunday: the Candle of Incarnation

Each week during Advent, I’ll post the liturgies we use in lighting the Advent wreath.  Blessings!


Starting Things Off on a Sour Note

Please bear with me.  Fresh on my mind is something that came in the mail this afternoon [Tuesday 27 November]: a Christmas catalogue for a well-known “Christian bookstore” chain.  Yes, you’ve –no doubt– heard of the chain.  In fact, you’ve probably darkened their doors before.  Well, some of you might even be avid shoppers in their aisles.  Please simply hear me out…

I use the term “bookstore” very lightly, for their selection of BOOKS is a bit sparse amid all of the following, which is why I also use the term “Christian” with a pinch or two of salt:

  • a “Christian” note writing set in a fancy decorative pump shoe
  • “Christian” tumblers (one for your frozen drinks and one for your hot drinks)
  • “Christian” tobogans
  • a “Christian” baking dish
  • “Christian” apple cider
  • “Christian” notebooks
  • “Christian” shower gel
  • “Christian” body scrub
  • “Christian” body lotion
  • a “Christian” alarm clock

I’m not saying that none of these items are appropriate for a Christian store; neither am I saying that any of these items are inherently bad.  What I am saying is that our “Christian bookstores” are so littered with everything but books that they hardly carry anything remotely resembling great books.  Take a look at the theology section (probably a single shelf).  Take a look at the biblical scholarship sections (probably a couple of shelves, one for the OT and another for the NT).  Most of the books you’ll find are written –not by those gifted in these respective fields, but– by anyone with a recognizable name who “pastors” a few thousand people.

Furthermore, I’m also saying that the content of our “Christian bookstores” is the tell-tale of our pop-“Christian” culture.  We want our Christianity miles and miles wide and just a smidgen [or two, depending on the day of the week] deep.


This Advent…

my intentions are to blog more regularly.  I’m intending to write posts that are:

  • encouraging
  • inspiring
  • edifying
  • challenging [We all need to be challenged.]

If this appeals to you, please join me in thought.  If this does not appeal to you, it probably should, so please join me in thought nonetheless.  Blessings.


a poem for Palm Sunday

a cartoon sketch of G. K. Chesterton

Every year, when the liturgical calendar reaches certain holy days, I make it a point to re-read certain pieces of liturgy or literature which have come to be favorites in my life.  Here’s a poem by one of the greats of literature that I read each year on Palm Sunday…

“The Donkey” by G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born;



With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.



Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.


Jesus > Religion?

Please let me, first, offer a simple explanation of my misplaced responses. It had just arrived at a youth meeting (Bible study, prayer, fellowship) when I noticed that things were getting “heated up”. As I waited for folks to show up, I decided to read some of the comments that were being posted and began commenting as I was reading. Consequently, I found myself unable to keep up as folks were chiming in; each time I posted, Facebook would then notify me of several other comments that had actually been posted prior to mine. Please bear with me as things certainly came across inappropriately and my comments seemed out of place and – perhaps – crass.

Please let me, second, make it clear that opposing viewpoints are certainly allowed and are even appreciated. It should be duly noted that I gave the guy on the video the benefit of doubt: suggesting that he is either a liar, a lunatic, or an idiot. My suspicions are that he is sincere and is not lying, is sane an not crazy, and mistaken and far too loose with his words, ideas, and the communication of both. Perhaps ‘idiot’ is too strong of a word for the faint at heart, but – to be sure – I was using the term etymologically… He seems oblivious of his relationship to the outside world and, thereby, proudly proclaims a Gospel lacking either biblical substance or theological coherence.

Please let me, third, clarify a few thoughts that have come to my mind regarding the contents of the video and the discussion that has ensued:

  1. As has been noted, he fails to define his terms, which is the first step of reasonable debate. He doesn’t seem to care to dialogue; he seems to simply care to make a cool video that can go viral. He seems to be confusing scriptural religion with false religion and should take note of James 1:26-27 among other passages which acknowledge true Christian faith to be indeed religious in character and expression. God gave religion to the Hebrew people as a means by which He would reveal Himself to the people with whom He graciously entered a covenantal relationship. The word of Scripture is that He instituted Hebrew religion, even establishing the rituals and festivals by which they would rightly worship Him and through which they would reliably know Him. Jesus was – perhaps – the most religious person who ever lived. He knew the Law and the Prophets and followed them faithfully. He even warned His followers that their “righteousness” must necessarily exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if they are to ever hope of knowing and loving Him and, thereby, having spiritual life.

  2. I’m sure some are wondering why we call can’t just call it quits and stop debating the doctrine within the Church. After all, what about the “friendly fire” of Christian theological conversation? We should heed the exhortations of Jude, Paul to the Galatians, and the epistles of John certainly among other writings in the Christian Scriptures. Who Christ indeed is and what Christ indeed instituted is of utmost importance. Many will say unto Him, “Lord, Lord!” Truth matters, for He who is the Truth is Himself and not another. It is incumbent upon us as His people to speak of Him and His Church in great care and with great passion.

  3. What we have done in the modern evangelical church of the West is amazing. We live in a largely post-Christian culture, one which – for the most part – has forgotten all Christian memory, and what have we done? We have addressed the problem, which is – in large part – biblically illiteracy and theologically ineptness with a pathetically anemic pop-Christian solution; namely, wholesale biblical ignorance and discount bumper sticker theology. And now, after decades of “cheap grace” and “keep it simple” sermonizing, how better off are we? How changed is the world? How wealthy are the poor? How incarnate is the Body?

  4. Those stepping up to the mic to call our folks and inflict wounds on the “Church” and “Christianity as a religion” would do wisely to choose their targets well and to, then, aim accurately. In slamming “religion”, he’s shooting at everyone! What’s with all of this “we” business? About whom is he talking? Most of the contemporary Christian music on the radio is guilty of the same fault: dogging out “us religious folks”. I find myself constantly wanting to yell back, “Who? What church? My church?! Yours?!” Meanwhile, we (i.e., we who have a “relationship” with Jesus and are proudly “non-religious”) drive along, nod our heads, raise a hand in agreement, and mutter, “Amen,” never doing a thing to change the world and – all the while – being convinced that it’s everybody else’s (i.e., those “religious” folks’) problem that the poor are poor and the world remains untouched by the Body of Christ.

  5. In regards to Jesus’ statement that the Kingdom is “within you”, Jesus’ intent is, in fact, lost in translation in most instances. The Greek phrase, ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν, should be translated, “For, behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst [or, among you].” Yes, the Jesus taught a present Kingdom, one established among His disciples here and now at this time and in this space, but He was not teaching them to search for pseudo-gnostic spiritism that they can find in themselves if they would just look diligently. He was declaring Himself to them, incarnate, and proclaimed – elsewhere – them to be His presence in the world likewise.

  6. The message of the New Testament is that of the Old. What the Old “majors” on, the New “minors” on; meanwhile, what the Old “minors” on, the New “majors” on. What’s more: we as the people of God should take note and boldly proclaim the message of both the Old and New Testaments, both concerning unequivocally the salvation of the world, the grace of God, and love for God and neighbor leading to faithful obedience to God and self-giving service to one’s neighbor. No one in the Old was ever saved by adherence to the law, just as no one in the New or since has ever been saved while neglecting it. In regards to the intent of the commands… They were, in many cases, object lessons, given to teach God’s people about who He is, who they are, and how they are to approach Him and relate to one another. They were, in – perhaps – all cases, teaching simple obedience. If God commands, we must obey. Hence, the old covenant (i.e., external law on stone) was made obsolete by the new (i.e., internal law of flesh) and the subsequent indwelling presence of God the Father and Christ the Son by means of the Holy Spirit.

  7. As far as “the message of Christ”… Where do you find it other than in the reliable testimony of the Scriptures and in the remembering life of the Church?

  8. The Gospel is – indeed and by its very nature – subversive, but it is not only subversive to political loyalties and “God in the dock” ritualism but is also – on the same token – subversive to heavenly escapism and “nothing is sacred”, iconoclastic pop-evangelicalism.

What the world needs is the presence of Christ. What the Church offers is the presence of Christ in its faithful, incarnate, gracious, sacramental life as it embraces the Lord and His world, uniting heaven and earth in its worship to God and self-giving to His world.

If the guy in the video hasn’t found this kind of “church” or “religion”, he should keep looking… After all, for such Christ died and to such Christ has given Himself.


Care to read through Isaiah this Advent?

Here’s a a version of Dr. Oswalt‘s outline of Isaiah offered in The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah, which I’ve modified minimally so as to provide daily servings throughout this Advent…

Advent Scripture Readings (Isaiah)


On the Image of God in Man

Genesis 1:26-27; 3:1-13

In an ultimate sense, all being is dependent upon the Triune God. In an endeavor to explore the radical implications of such a statement, John Zizioulas rightly argues that being is inevitably, then, dependent upon communion. If one is to be (or, even exist), then he must find himself participating, in some sense, in communion. Evidence of such a fact can be seen on a basely human level in that every member of the human race – every man, woman, boy, or girl – has (or, at least, at some point in time has had) a belly button. Though usually taken for granted, the simple existence of a belly button points beyond its bearer to the one who bore that person in her womb. Even further, however, we know that for a woman to bear a child, the involvement of a man – another person – is also necessary. So, in human existence – though we may often forget it – we can clearly see that communion, at least on some level, is absolutely necessary to even natural life.

I am convinced that this fact of human existence – the necessity of another – lies at the heart of the Imago Dei. What did God mean when He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (1:26a ESV)? Well, it is most certain that there are many implications that such an Image carries with Itself. In fact, Dennis Kinlaw does an exceptional job of pointing to and expressing those implications, when he makes conclusions concerning personhood in the light of personhood as seen in Jesus. In chapter three of Let’s Start with Jesus, he discusses consciousness of identity, relational webs, the reciprocal aspect of relationships, freedom, moral consciousness, openness, and trusting love. Each of these aspects, though, point past themselves to what lies beyond – communion, which lies at the heart of being itself. Therefore, when God freely chooses to make Man in the Divine Image, He chooses to make Man a person – an intensely relational being.

Relationality lies at the heart of Who God is; He is the eternally free and blessed Father, Son, and Spirit. This is alluded to in the simple fact that God even chose to make Man in the first place. Why would He? Because, it is His very nature to give love, share life, and desire others. Even further, though, the relationality of God is hinted at in the phraseology of the text. Dr. Kinlaw would urge us to not take lightly the fact that God appears to be in dialogue as He chooses to make Man in His Image (Let’s 31). In dialogue with whom? With Himself, as the three Divine Persons freely choose to give, share, and desire even beyond Themselves. It should also be noted, though, that in the Hebrew the subject in this dialogue (“Us”) is plural and personal, while the verb (“make”) denotes singular action. Now, while it would be dishonest to place upon the text a false idea of how much Israel might have understood about the triunity of God, it is also unnecessary to plainly dismiss any implications of the text whatsoever simply because early Israel did not share with us in the benefits of the Creeds.

What I would like to do is delve into what the Image of God in Man looks like. To do so, it is my present desire to take a snapshot of that Image as it is seen in Man, but, for a balanced look, I would like to explore two aspects related to that Image in some depth and, then, make some concluding remarks related to a final related aspect. The first these aspects I would like to explore is the Heart of the Image. The second is the Corruption of the Image. Then, to wrap things up, I would like to make some comments regarding the Redemption of the Image.

But, first, the Heart of the Image – Man is, by nature, a relational being. In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks plays a character who ends up stranded on an uninhabited island. After only a couple of weeks, he becomes so desperate for communion that he goes so far as to turn a volleyball into a “person” named Wilson, though it remains obvious that he knows this ball is, indeed, not a real person. Nevertheless, he decorates Wilson, talks to Wilson, even argues with Wilson. Hanks’s character vividly captures a basic human need. The fact is that Man simply cannot avoid living in relationships – the most necessary of these relationships being that of parent to child. We know that a child cannot even exist without his parents. But, even after birth he still cannot persist without another, for he is initially incapable of self-provision and self-protection.

It would seem plainly assumed by our text that before the Fall (and even after) Man depended upon God. In the Garden, he freely and innocently lived under divine-provision as well as divine-protection. His Creator was the personal Source who met all of his needs. Even after this relationship had been marred by sin, though, we find that God continues to provide and protect – preparing skins for the couple, continuing the ability for work and childbearing, and even shielding them from the disaster that might ensue upon a reentry into the Garden.

The relational aspect of God’s Image in Man clearly lends itself to at least two relationships of self-giving, self-surrendering love – that with God and that with neighbor. In his book Created for Community, Stanley Grenz argues that a relational aspect lies at the heart of the created order. He makes it quite plain that Man was created to be in communion with God, fellow Man, and even nature itself (in an appropriate sense). Please allow me to spend some time looking at a couple of these relationships – what are clearly the two most important and foundational.

Prior to the Fall, it appears to be quite clear that Man enjoyed a relationship of love with God, as he was the apex of creation itself. Man enjoyed the benefits of being one who was made in the very Image of God – an Image of relational, self-giving love. For the couple’s reaction to the coming of God in chapter three to carry its shock-effect, it must be seen that they had experienced a unique friendship with their Maker. We are told that they heard God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day, and nothing is said that would lead one to believe that this was an unusual occurrence.

Man is also seen experiencing a deep and fulfilling relationship with a neighbor – namely, his wife. With joy, Adam declared, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23a ESV). God Himself, even saw that it was not good for Man to be alone, but that he should have someone suitable for himself (2:18). There existed, in the relationship between the man and the woman, a unity like no other in the created order, as we are told that husband and wife become one flesh (2:24). Further, there seems to be complete freedom in Man’s relationships, for we are told that the couple was naked and, yet, unashamed (or, free from fear). It is quite interesting to note that in verse 27 of chapter 1, while expressing the creation of Man in the Image of God, the text makes it a point to express that Image in terms of maleness and femaleness – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man without Woman is incomplete. In the midst of all the goodness of creation, God declares that one thing is not good – for the man to be alone – without the woman, another free person who is personally like him, yet physically different and distinct in every way (2:18).

Let’s now look at a second aspect related to the Image of God in Man… the Corruption of the Image – As is man and reflective of the nature of God, sin is, by nature, relational in character. Sin is not some eerie substance floating in space but is, rather, a loss of relationship (class notes, page 62). Such a loss assumes that the one who sins and the one sinned against are relational beings. In the Fall, we find that Man made a free and conscious choice (i.e. Wesley [class notes, 63]) which terribly marred his share in God’s Image. Where sin is present, this is always the case, for the heart of the Image is relationship; therefore, sin being relational itself is destructive to that Image and, ultimately, to relationship as well.

The Temptation itself challenged Man to dare to grasp for himself rather than receive from another. The man and woman traded divine-provision for self-provision, divine-protection for self-protection. They once freely received, and in their Fall they found themselves greedily grabbing and taking for themselves, as their hands reached for the forbidden fruit. This self-assertiveness would inevitably lead to a perversion of all relationships in which they participated.

As relates to his relationship with God, Man found himself freely exchanging his love for God for a perverted and inappropriate fear of God. It is one thing to stand in awe of one’s Maker, but it is totally another thing to hide one’s self in fright as his Provider and Protector reliably comes to meet in fellowship. The problem of his relationship with the One in whose Image he had been made was an issue of separation. Sin had distanced his heart from that of God. And Man’s answer to God’s question concerning where he was is so revealing – he had heard God coming, was gripped by fear, and in shame had hidden himself from the only One who could ultimately redeem his condition (3:10).

And what about his relationship with his wife – the woman? No longer did he find love and joyful fulfillment in her. No, now would find himself using her for self-provision and self-protection. When questioned about whether or not he has eaten of the forbidden fruit, the man immediately passed the blame off to the woman. She had, indeed, offered him the fruit, but he had freely chosen to take and eat it for himself. And now, in order to protect himself, he points to her as the one who’s to blame. As a result of sin and its relational nature, Man has turned inward upon himself. He is radically self-centered, no longer finding fulfillment in another but, now, setting himself up as his own source of fulfillment. And the woman’s response, when asked the all-searching question, “What is this that you have done?” (3:13 ESV) – Oh, she places the blame off on yet anotherj created being – the serpent. So, you see, all of the created order, it appears, finds itself in desperate tension. Fingers are pointed; blame is placed; everything is someone else’s fault. And, why? Because Man now fends for himself, being gripped by the deadly clutches of self-centeredness. The outcome of such self-centeredness is vividly depicted in C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In the opening chapters, Napoleon is mentioned as an example of the inhabitants of the depressingly gray town – a town in which no one lives anywhere near another in a desire to be left to one’s self. For, you see, others can impose.

Even in these opening chapters of Genesis, it is clearly seen that Man is, by nature, radically relational in character – the central mark of the Image of God. Further, we can see that, subsequent to the Fall and as a result of sin, Man finds that relational Image terribly damaged and deeply perverted. His affections have changed; his fulfillment is skewed; and his relationships are devastated. However, rather than ending with such a grim tone, let’s end on a positive note… the Redemption of the Image.

The good news of Scripture is that God never leaves Man where He finds him. In fact, as is seen in the provision and protection given to Man after his grave sin, God meets Man in his deepest of needs. As John Wesley argued in his sermon “The One Thing Needful,” Man’s greatest need of all is the restoration of the Image of God. His relationality is central to who he is and is also the central front of sin’s attack; therefore, this is where God meets Man – in this the highest of his needs. His relationships, chiefly with God and neighbor, have been destroyed and are in great need to reconciliation. Therefore, it is only obvious that God’s salvation will, at its core, bring a restoration of these relationships, as He redeems His Image in Man.

In a time when Evangelicalism’s message often pictures salvation simply as an acceptance despite utter sinfulness and a passageway into heaven after one breathes his last breath, it is of utmost importance to remember that in redemption, God always meets needs, especially the greatest of needs. Therefore, an understanding of salvation that does not encompass a restoration of the Divine Image in Man is plainly lacking. Heaven and the joys of the afterlife are pictured in Scripture as bonuses, not the issue itself. C. S. Lewis cleverly asked how one could not but continue to live after death, when he has been infused with the life of God – eternal life. This puts things in a fair perspective – eternity is the outflow, for the issue is the Image and its redemption. However such a redemption might look, it is certainly fulfilled as God gives His life to those who bear His Image. And whatever we might say about redemption, we must, of necessity, involve the Image of God in the discussion, for redemption (or salvation) itself implies a restoration of what was intended and what was once experienced. May it be so!


Contemporvant

Be sure to take note of the awards listed at the end.  Amazing.