ornament 22 February 2016 ornament

For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven

If you’ve ever had kids (or have been a kid), and attended a Sunday morning worship service at a church, you know the struggles involved in placing a child into an age-old, but not necessarily age-appropriate environment. I took at stab at that sometimes-prickly subject over at my church’s blog in a two part series:

Part One: Why Take Our Kids to Worship

Part Two: How To Help a Child Attend a Worship Service

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ornament 31 December 2014 ornament

2014 on a sermonic note

My extremely gracious family at Occoquan Bible Church gave me the opportunity to preach the occasional Sunday sermon in 2015. Even more audacious is the fact that they recorded them.

Should you possess similar audacity, these can be listened to here.

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ornament 5 October 2012 ornament

Christ, conspiracy, and code

A big thanks to The Gospel Coalition for running my thoughts on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as part of their “Reading for Worldviews” series:

Conspiracy theorists may operate under the guise of seeking truth, but in reality they’re driven by cynicism. Any new revelation casts further doubt, and truth becomes separated from the seeker by a cloud of suspicion. Hence the Jesus of The Da Vinci Code is unknowable, shrouded in codes.

Read the rest here.

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ornament 22 April 2012 ornament

Chuck Colson, R.I.P.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I somehow ended up in my church’s lending library.  It was an improbable place for me to be not because I wasn’t active at the church (I was) or because I wasn’t a reader (I was), but because the holdings in that particular church library — like so many church libraries — weren’t what one might call “high caliber.”  This is to say that most of the volumes were fluff of one flavor or another: Christian pulp fiction, inspirational-motivational manuals, and light topical teachings.  There was even a series of 30-year-old filmstrip guides on how to be an effective church usher.  Not the sort of fare in which a thirsty Christian college student would be interested.

One book, however, did catch my eye.  There were actually two copies, which may have helped it find my attention.  They were yellow hardbacks (the dust jackets were long gone) with the title written on the spine in one of those typefaces that could only have come out of the 70s. The book was Born Again, by Charles Colson – the former Nixon hatchet man’s memoir of the Watergate scandal, his conversion to Christ, and his subsequent imprisonment. 

I had recently heard a speaker on campus reference Colson, so against what I thought at the time was my better judgment, I checked it out. It was the first spiritual biography I had ever read, and really the first Christian book outside of the Bible I had ever read. I was riveted.

Decades after Watergate, the term “born again” is most often used adjectivally to refer to certain kind of Christians — you know, the ones who teeter on the edge of fanaticism.  But in reality, being born again is the essence, not the adjective of Christian conversion. Colson’s faith and transformation seemed something that could only have been wrought of God.

Unless one is a slave to the bestseller list, a good reader of books follows the links from one good work to another.   While I can’t say Born Again was the most influential book in my formative years, reading Colson’s gripping, unapologetic biography started me down a path that has undoubtedly shaped my thinking and thus my actions today.

I saw him speak a few years ago, and the way he married his passion for Christ with intellectual acuity is a model for all in the service of the Kingdom.  May he rest in peace.

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ornament 15 December 2011 ornament

Why you shouldn’t skip the boring parts

Christmas readings at churches and homes will rightly include a heavy dose of Luke 2 (for the birth narrative), and Matthew 2 (for the visit of the magi). Even Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Immanuel may make an appearance, but there’s one Christmas-related passage of Scripture that’s more likely to be skipped over.

You know the part I’m talking about. It’s the one we all skip over to get to the good parts — that cumbersome prologue that is bespeckled with begats: Matthew 1:1-16. In the passage, Matthew traces the heritage of Jesus beginning with a peripatetic Chaldean named Abraham all the way to Joseph and Mary. It’s tedious to be sure, but it’s by no means insignificant. Christopher J.H. Wright observes:

If the average Christian pauses between carols to wonder what the previous seventeen verses are all about, his or her curiosity is probably offset by relief that at least they weren’t included in the readings! And yet they are there, presumably because that is how Matthew wanted to begin his Gospel, and also how the minds that shaped the order of the canonical books wanted to begin what we call the New Testament. So we need to respect those intentions and ask why it is that Matthew will not allow us to join in the adoration of the Magi until we have ploughed through his tedious list of begettings. Why can’t we just get on with the story?

Because, says Matthew, you won’t understand that story— the one I am about to tell you — unless you see it in the light of a much larger story which goes back for many centuries but leads up to the Jesus you want to know about. And that longer story is the history of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians came to call the Old Testament. It is the story which Matthew ‘tells’ in the form of a schematized genealogy — the ancestry of the Messiah.

— Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, pp. 1-2

The Matthew who gives us the Magi and the Herod saga didn’t bumble as a storyteller with this wandering introduction. Each name is a keyword for an era, and each name pours into fullness of time that was that night in Bethlehem. Don’t skip it. The nativity didn’t happen in a vacuum, but in a living, vibrant world that had both a past and a future — not unlike our own lives.

At Christmas don’t forget the prologues, both Matthew’s and your own. Begats make the good parts good.


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ornament 25 December 2010 ornament

A Christmas prayer

Our Father, we come to you this Christmas day seeking to be mindful of your most precious gift to us. Though world would seek to drown him out, it cannot. By his continuing work in the lives of your people, the gift that is your Son still brings you glory today.

Lord, help us this day to remember how the darkness was once long ago pierced by the cry of a baby on an otherwise obscure night in an otherwise obscure village in Palestine.

Help us this day to be mindful of that same cry, which thirty-three years later would pierce the darkness that sin had cast upon all our hearts.

And help us this day to never forget that this is the same cry that will in a day yet to come that will once and for all put an end to sin and death and bring your people home.

Help us to set our hearts and fix our eyes and ears upon Jesus, in whose name we pray.

Amen.

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ornament 23 August 2010 ornament

Strangers in a Strange Land

[Cross-posted from Evangel]

In addition to a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation,” the King James Bible speaks of Christians in 1 Peter 2:9 as a “peculiar people.” Modern translations dispense with the term, but it seems that to at least one sociologist, some Bible-belt Christians are so far removed from American culture that they’re deserving of studies to document their peculiarity.

Bernadette Barton, a sociology professor at Morehead State University in Kentucky, recently took her class on several field trips to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky — a trip that apparently struck fear in her students:

On her third trip to the museum, Barton took her undergraduate students, who found the visit unsettling. Several in the group were former fundamentalists who had since rejected that worldview. Several others were gay. In part because of these backgrounds, Barton said, the students were on edge at the museum. Particularly nerve-wracking were signs warning that guests could be asked to leave the premises at any time. The group’s reservation confirmation also noted that museum staff reserved the right to kick the group off the property if they were not honest about the “purpose of [the] visit.”

Because of these messages, Barton said, the students felt they might accidentally reveal themselves as nonbelievers and be asked to leave. This pressure is a form of “compulsory Christianity” that is common in a region known for its fundamentalism, Barton said. People who don’t ascribe to fundamentalism often report the need to hide their thoughts for fear of being judged or snubbed.

At one point, Barton reported in her paper, a guard with a dog circled a student pointedly twice without saying anything. When he left, a museum patron approached the student and said, “The reason he did that is because of the way you’re dressed. We know you’re not religious; you just don’t fit in.” (The student was wearing leggings and a long shirt, Barton writes.)

Having never visited the Creation Museum (do they sell replicas of Adam’s rib at the gift shop?), I can’t relate to the oppressive fear that these students must have felt. One can only imagine the displacement felt by the professor and her students during their expedition. After all, they endured the nearly two and a half-hour journey from the cosmopolitan venues of Morehead, Kentucky to the wilds of the Greater Cincinnati Metro Area — only to be accosted by a canine and almost conscripted into “compulsory Christianity” had their disguises been slightly less effective.

All ribbing aside, while the absurdity of this account reveals how out-of-touch with their own surroundings the Morehead expedition was, it reminds us of the reality that Christian beliefs are increasingly cast by the world as quaint eccentricities — even when the numbers may not validate such a view. At this, we Christians shouldn’t be as shocked as our professor on her field study.

Whether or not the Creation Museum is a proper touchstone of twenty-first century Christianity is certainly debatable , but it is of little importance. For any Christian who believes that a dead man got up out of his grave two thousand years ago, there is an ever-increasing gulf with those who do not — a fact which no amount of cultural hipness can overcome. We will be found weird, wanting, and ripe for ridicule. We will be painted with a broad brush, and the temptation will be to say “that’s not me — I’m not like those Christians.” It would be better — when the occasion arises — if we instead pointed to Christ and lamented how unlike him we are. Better yet if we pointed out how unlike us he is.

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ornament 24 December 2009 ornament

Eat Well This Christmas

My latest post at Evangel:

When pondering the nativity, I’ve heard much made of the fact that the manger is a place of great humility for the King of Kings to be found, and rightly so. I’ve seldom given much thought, however, to what the manger was — a feeding place for animals.

There’s little evidence that there were animals present at Christ’s birth. “The cattle were lowing,” as the song goes, but it it’s difficult to imagine a Jewish setting with high values on both cleanliness and hospitality that would permit a woman to give birth while having to worry about being stepped on by a donkey. The manger was indeed lowly, but this manger was not in use when Mary and Joseph sought a place to lay their child.

There is no stable mentioned in any of the gospel accounts — just the manger. The shepherds are not told to go to a stable, but a manger. They would not find the baby lying at his mother’s breast — the most logical place to find a newborn — but lying in a manger.


Read the whole thing…

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ornament 22 May 2009 ornament

Leon Kass’s grand tour of humanity

Last night’s 2009 National Endowment for the Humanities Lecture with Leon Kass was, unsurprisingly, superb. Kass, who among other things assembled the first President’s Council on Bioethics, is the epitome of a renaissance man due to his diverse background of study, gave a lecture entitled, “Searching for an Honest Man: Reflections of an Unlicensed Humanist.”

The lecture followed the motif of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who walked the streets endlessly with a lantern “looking for an honest man.” Kass notes that what Diogenes is really looking for is better translated as a “true human being.” The search for the true human being — and just what it means to be a human being — made up the bulk of the lecture.

Like Harvey Mansfield’s Jefferson lecture two years before, Kass noted that modern science has — to its fault — abdicated the humanities. No longer does medicine look at health, but to emerging technologies. Modern science looks intricately at the parts, but often fails to observe the whole. It can describe what chemical processes take place in the eye for vision to occur, but it cannot explain “seeing.” The humanities are needed for such endeavors — and they are likewise needed when dealing with decisions that involve whole human beings.

Kass has found progress in his own search for the true human in sources such as the Aristotelian view of the soul, the Hebrew Bible, and through books and companions along the way. Kass, more so than many other public intellectuals, is on the right track in viewing humanity as the sum of its parts, a unified psyche and soma.

The only thing that I might add (if I dare!) to Kass’s grand tour of true humanity is to note the Christian view of true humanity’s culmination — namely the True Human Being: Jesus of Nazareth. Fully God, Jesus was the true human being — the only human who was and is fully human.

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ornament 16 March 2009 ornament

History, principle, and the now

D.A. Carson on the value of Christians continually appealing to the notion that America was founded on Christian principles:

In the long haul, Christians have to appeal farther back than to the middle of the eighteenth century — to the Scriptures themselves, and the events to which they attest — and think through to where we are today and will be tomorrow.  To learn from history is one thing; to make constant appeal to yesteryear is to support rather too much of the nostalgic and rather too little of the prophetic.  [Christ and Culture Revisited, p. 210]

The danger, of course, to appeals like this, is that at some point the opposition says, “So what? We’re changing things now.”  When a people refuses to care about history, what our founding fathers may or may not have believed matters little.

Every position should stand on its own merits now.  History should inform us — as it’s always difficult to judge the now as it happens — but it should never be the central plank in our efforts to speak for a better society.

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