Happy St. Nicholas Day!
Well, here’s my annual (when I remember it) Saint Nicholas Day post. Yes, I know, I don’t give any other historic Christian saints this kind of attention, but the figure of Santa Claus is so ubiquitous in this season of the year — I think it’s helpful to refer back to the original source of this myth. I think we can learn much more from the real St. Nick than from his fat, commercialized imposter. (more…)
One of the most disturbing things I have read recently is this lengthy article by Kathryn Joyce: The Next Christian Sex Abuse Scandal: By Grace Alone. Joyce writes about the work of Boz Tchividjian and the group he leads called GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in exposing and rooting out sexual abuse in the church — particularly in the evangelical world. Boz Tchividjian himself is the grandson of the famous evangelist Billy Graham and teaches law at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The article (as I said) is long, but it is well worth reading.
The fact of the matter is that sexual abuse is a problem in the church and has been for many years. I was shocked by the revelations in the article about the mission field and mission agencies — but I can’t say that I am totally surprised. (more…)
Since 1985 I have been involved in the Walk to Emmaus movement of the United Methodist Church. When the Chrysalis weekends (for teens) began in Michigan, I quickly became part of that. More recently, I have been a part of the Keryx prison ministry movement which is a similar weekend but held for the inmates of prisons here in Michigan. (In other parts of the world, the comparable prison ministry is called Kairos.)
All of these are an outgrowth of the larger Cursillo movement that began in the Roman Catholic Church, in Spain in 1949. As Protestants became interested in the Cursillo, many Protestant versions began to arise. The Walk to Emmaus is simply the United Methodist version. Chrysalis is the United Methodist version for teenagers. But, there are many other Protestant versions of Cursillo as well, including: Pilgrimage (Presbyterian), Via de Christo (Lutheran), Episcopal Cursillo, Tres Dias, DeColores in Christo, etc.
It is characteristic of most of these Cursillo-type weekends that at the beginning of the several talks (traditionally called “rollos”) given on the weekend some version of the following prayer is recited by the participants: (more…)
Well, as you can see, I am taking a bit of a blog break. I’ve been slightly tired this week, and I need to get feeling better for next week. Tiredness affects my attitude about being at the computer — I get concerned about the possibility of vertigo. And, in addition to that, I have been doing some reading to prepare myself for next week — which will be a busy week, indeed.
One of the many things in which I’ve gotten involved these days is the Vital Church Initiative in the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. I have a Peer Mentoring session to lead next week on Tuesday, and directly from there I am off to Flint to participate in a Consultation Event at the Asbury United Methodist Church. That event will consume Wednesday and Thursday of next week. In preparation for the Peer Mentoring session (a meeting of clergy) I read the book Managing Transitions by William Bridgers — a very good and quite readable business management book. The session will be about managing transitions in the local church. So, having finished the book, I am now preparing myself to lead that session. And, yet ahead of me, I have some reading to do to prepare for the consultation event after that. (more…)
I originally found this quote in the Appendix to Daniel Steele’s The Gospel of the Comforter. (It is the first part of Note H.) Horace Bushnell was a Congregationalist pastor and theologian, who was quite important — and controversial — in his day. See: Wikipedia, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Many a time nothing is wanting but to speak as to a soul already hungry and thirsty, or, if not consciously so, ready to hunger and thirst, as soon as the bread and water of life are presented. If the problem is to get souls under sin inspired again, which it certainly is, then it is required that the preacher shall drop lecturing on religion and preach it, testify it, prophesy it, speak to faith as being in faith, bring inspiration as being inspired, and so become the vehicle, in his own person, of the power he will communicate; that he may truly beget in the gospel such as will be saved by it. No man is a preacher because he has something like or about a gospel in his head. He really preaches only when his person is the living embodiment, the inspired organ of the gospel; in that manner no mere human power, but the demonstration of a Christly and divine power. Such preaching has had, in former times, effects so remarkable. At present we are almost all under the power, more or less, of the age in which we live. Infected with naturalism ourselves and having hearers, that are so, we can hardly find what account to make of our barrenness.
— Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural: As Together Constituting the One System of God (1858).
We know that the church is called to be a witness to Christ. To what extent is the church today a credible witness to Christ?
The church is called to attest the truth of the Gospel to the world. This testimony, however, stands related to the fact that even in this world the church is a sign of the destiny of the human race to be renewed in the future of God’s kingdom as a fellowship in freedom, justice and peace. The more the church — and the churches as a part of Christianity as a whole — actually show themselves to be such a sign to human eyes, the greater will be their authority among us.
— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Volume 3) “Foreword” p xv.
Such witness is going on at the local level: here and there in churches that are faithfully seeking to live out their faith. They don’t make the news (maybe), but their life together is showing the world what freedom, justice and peace can mean — not as a political position, but as a lived-out reality. (more…)
When I was just starting out in Christian pastoral ministry (long ago) I was drawn to the writings of Paul for preaching material. It read more like theology to me — it seemed more about ideas and morality — and seemed a better fit for the needs of a three-point sermon outline. I could simply draw from Paul’s writings my point #1, point #2 and so forth. All my points were Biblical (from my point of view at the time) since they each had a verse or a phrase from one of Paul’s letters attached to them.
What I was missing was that all these assertions Paul makes, all the apparently abstract theology and moralizing, was, in truth, reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — working out its implications for first century believers. The Epistles must take us back to the Gospels — or else, we are just not getting it. The Gospel message we need to communicate is the story of Jesus. (more…)
This is one of several items I re-blog every once in a while. And, here’s why. It illustrates one of the huge gulfs between contemporary Methodism and the original Methodism that arose under the leadership of John Wesley. Methodism originally combined: serious Biblical study, impassioned preaching, a personal experience of faith, a serious discipline for spiritual formation and the service of God in the world.
This is from a letter by Adam Clarke to a young man contemplating the ministry. Readers will find this advice a bit (ehem!) challenging. Actually, I think it is good advice myself, though I’d (of course) update the reference works, and have to acknowledge I’m quite a bit more “rusty” on biblical languages (and thus much more reliant on secondary sources) than I wish I were.
First (after the divider rule) I quote Adam Clarke at length. Then (after the next divider) I give some reflection on why I think these remarks are important. (more…)
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. Amen.
Pannenberg sees in the heightened exocentric capability of humans the basis for their uniqueness from other animal forms. In the being-with-others that characterizes their existence, they are able to transcend themselves — to look back on themselves again — and thereby to develop self-consciousness. This exocentrically based development of self-consciousness indicates [this] to him as well as the connection between humans and Spirit. Pannenberg credits the self-transcendence required for this process to the action of the Spirit, who lifts humans above themselves, so that when they are ecstatically with others they are themselves. For this reason self-transcendence cannot be accomplished by the subject itself. Rather, all knowing is possible only through the Spirit.
By extension, the same ecstatic working of the Spirit found in the individual is the basis for the building of community. In fact, community is always an experience brought by the Spirit, who lifts one above oneself.
— Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989).
I expect worship to be an experience that lifts me out of my pre-occupation with myself. (more…)
The Ministerial Association had one program which was very successful and that was the Annual Community Good Friday Service. Because the local Roman Catholic Church had the largest sanctuary of all the churches in town, it was always the location of the service. Years before I came to town, one of the Roman Catholic priests who had been there had written a liturgy for this service. It involved recruiting young people to carry in certain symbols associated with the crucifixion. There was a large wooden cross standing at the end of the center aisle, for all the people to see. The young people would carry the symbols of the crucifixion story up the center aisle, past the cross and place them in the chancel area. Then, there was a reading of the passion story, in which several of us pastors took part. There was a message (the newest pastor in town always got that). Then, there was something called The Veneration of the Cross. (more…)
1. O Love divine, what has thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’ immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!
2. Is crucified for me and you,
to bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true,
ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood.
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified! (more…)
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two eons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” — Matthew 26:36-39 (NIV)
There is something mysterious about Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a depth of suffering there that is impossible to imagine. In the gospel of Luke we are told that while he prayed “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 N1V). It is hard to conceive how one we know of as the Son of God could be in such emotional torment. He says to his closest followers: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” There is something incomprehensible about the sorrow of the Savior. Like the disciples, we observe the scene of Gethsemane, as it were, at a distance. There is something here into which we cannot enter. It is beyond us. (more…)
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.
It seems especially appropriate in the season of Lent to quote from John Wesley’s Sermon (# 48) on Self Denial:
The denying ourselves and the taking up our cross, in the full extent of the expression, is not a thing of small concern: It is not expedient only, as are some of the circumstantials of religion; but it is absolutely, indispensably necessary, either to our becoming or continuing his disciples. It is absolutely necessary, in the very nature of the thing, to our coming after Him and following Him; insomuch that, as far as we do not practice it, we are not his disciples. If we do not continually deny ourselves, we do not learn of Him, but of other masters. If we do not take up our cross daily, we do not come after Him, but after the world, or the prince of the world, or our own fleshly mind. If we are not walking in the way of the cross, we are not following Him; we are not treading in his steps; but going back from, or at least wide of, Him.
— Sermon #48 “Self Denial.”
It seems to me that Lent can be a training ground for the practice of self-denial throughout the year. (more…)