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Archive for October, 2010

Thankfulness

October 31st, 2010 No comments

Thanksgiving’s coming!

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, isn’t it? There’s the food: too much of it, usually, and things you don’t see the rest of the year, like cranberry relish and yams. There’s the spectacle on TV, starting with parades and ending with as many football games as you can fit into 24 hours and 30 channels. Then to bed early, so you can be up early for Black Friday and Phase II of the Christmas buying season.

Thanksgiving is weird because it’s a secular nod to religion, and it gets more weird as the secular culture becomes less willing to nod. Increasingly we see celebrities and politicians urging us to be thankful without saying whom we should thank. Each other, I guess, or no-one in particular.

As Christians, however, we know whom to thank. There is an object of our gratitude: our God, who is the source of all good things. The Psalmist put it this way:

The LORD is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
Psalm 28:7 NLT

I’ve always found that thanksgiving is the easiest form of prayer. When I’m asking God for things, I often don’t know what I should ask. Even when I know what I ought to ask, what I want is sometimes another story. It leaves me wondering whether to sign off with “not my will but thine, Lord … except that you need to be aware that this is something I really, really want you to do for me. Amen.”

Thankfulness is easier, because the answer is usually staring me in the face. Like this: as I write this, I’m looking at a computer screen. I’m thankful it isn’t a typewriter, because it makes it so easy to fix my mistakes, and when I’m done, I can just email what I’ve written into the Panorama. It also reminds me of my career in the computer industry, and I’m thankful for that, because it’s where I met my wife. Among the countless reasons I’m thankful for her is that she invited me to her church, where I met Jesus. Thankfulness is a snap.

He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

What has God done for you lately? Has God helped you, and how has it given you joy?

If you’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner with anyone this year, someone’s sure to ask you what you’re thankful for. Think what a great answer you could give — how you could practically burst out in a song of thanksgiving — if you started working on it now.

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Glimmers of Hope (Even in Jeremiah!)

October 27th, 2010 No comments

For the past several weeks, my devotional reading plan has had me in Jeremiah. And, you know what? That’s not the most uplifting book in the whole Bible. (Yes, I’ve read the “good bits” in chapters 29-33.)

The readings for the past week or two haven’t been much fun, with all sorts of threats (“oracles”) being directed at (lately) Babylon.

Even here, though, you stumble across these odd little glimmers of light, like Jeremiah 51:36:

Therefore thus says the LORD:
I am going to defend your cause
and take vengeance for you.

That’s not very far from “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord,” we see in Romans 12:19 (and Hebrews 10:30), but there’s a difference in tone. Instead of being an injuction–don’t try to repay because it’s not your job–it’s a promise of assistance by someone more competent to do the job. If we try the case ourself, we’ll make a mess of it and the perp will walk. But God will take on the case pro bono. That’s a lot more likely to get us justice, because in addition to being a great attorney, God is also the judge.

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Sexuality Debate

October 15th, 2010 No comments

I really enjoyed Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In fact, I liked it so much, I subscribed to his blog at donaldmilleris.com. That’s where I just noticed this article. It’s a bit dated, and it’s about Eddie Long, who I’d never heard of until a month ago. But I’m posting it because I think it ties in with our denomination’s never-ending battle about human sexuality.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here’s something to get you started:

In my opinion, the reason Christians become marginalized for being open about their homosexuality is because of people like, well, Ted Haggard and Eddie Long. And not because both men have been accused of being gay. It’s because both men actually created the attitude that judges them in the first place.

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Heroes and mentors

October 15th, 2010 No comments

Only last night, I was bemoaning how the PC(USA) does such a lousy job of developing new pastors. (I.e., me.) You get an education, you get evaluated on your gifts for ministry, and then you get turned loose on some poor, unsuspecting church. In too many ways, you’re on your own as a pastor.

Our system intentionally prevents people from becoming pastors in the context where their gifts for ministry first surfaced. You may be a stellar youth director, but if you go to seminary, you will not return to that same church as a pastor.

We also don’t mentor our newbies. We’re too busy in our churches, we’re too geographically dispersed–this isn’t Scotland, and whatever the meetings of our governing bodies are good for, it sure isn’t mentoring. Unless you had previous experience on a church staff (as an Associate Pastor or a non-ordained position), you don’t have more than a smattering of experience to draw on as you go about your work.

That was last night. This morning, I read this on Seth Godin’s blog:

Mentors provide bespoke guidance. They take a personal interest in you. It’s customized, rare and expensive.

Heroes live their lives in public, broadcasting their model to anyone who cares to look.

Like a custom made suit, a mentor is a fine thing to have if you can find or afford it. But for the rest of us, heroes will have to do.

Good advice. If nobody will mentor you, find some heroes. Stop with the pity party already, and take some responsibility for your ministry. (“You are Elasti-girl! ” —Edna Mode)

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The Best Apologetic

October 13th, 2010 No comments

Twenty-odd years ago, I became a Christian, and part of the reason was apologetics, or defenses of the faith. God used several books, including C.S. Lewis’ wonderful Mere Christianity, to overcome my objections to the Christian faith.

By the time I got to seminary, however, I was really pretty bored with apologetics. It’s not that I had decided they were unimportant–far from it: as my faith became more important in my life, I realized how important those apologetics had been. But I’d moved on, and they weren’t very helpful to me any more. (Although I do still pick up my copy of Mere Christianity every couple of months and re-read a chapter or two.)

It turns out I’m not alone. In this article, Max Lucado, a best-selling Christian writer, says that the best apologetic is compassion.

Though Christians do need to respond intellectually to explain their faith, the long-time pastor recognized, “When the church argues back with society, I don’t know if we get very far.”

“But if we can say our passion is to help the poor and the forgotten, you cannot argue with that,” he noted. “Nothing convinces people of our Lord better than to live like he lived. We cannot live like he lived without being compassionate.”

That rings true for me. Jim Noble, the pastor who led me to Christ, told me, “Maybe you could believe in God if you saw him at work, and [his church] is a great place to watch.”

He was right. I had some baggage I needed to deal with, and my apologetic reading helped me do that. But it was seeing God at work in and through the community of faith engaged in works of compassion, that enabled me, finally, to put my trust in Christ.

Starry Nights in Yucca Valley

October 9th, 2010 1 comment

Today is the Starry Nights festival in Yucca Valley, and it has been a beautiful night for stargazing. After going to one of the talks this afternoon, we went to the digital-astronomy presentation tonight at the community center. That was so much fun we came home and did some more stargazing from our front yard. Jupiter is gorgeous, and with my binoculars, I saw one of the Galilean satellites. The Milky Way was gorgeous, too, and cut right through the summer triangle. What a privilege it is to live in a place where you can see these things!

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
  and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

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Christianity a ‘Faded Memory’

October 6th, 2010 No comments

The Christian Post reports today that for most young Britons, Christianity is “a faded memory.” This is from a survey of 300 people born after 1982.

Most young people in Britain consider Christianity irrelevant to their lives but they are not as hostile towards religion as their parents’ generation, researchers in the Church of England have found.

That seems like a good thing. The church has historically had to deal with both indifference and hostility, but indifference doesn’t have to work as hard to become curiosity. Especially since Christianity is offering answers to questions that matter:

… while Generation Y is largely unfamiliar with formal religion, it still takes a keen interest in ethical issues.

“The young people drew moral guidance from family as friends, but they also recognized the potential of religion, including Christianity, to provide them with guidelines for living,” she said.

Picking Elders

October 5th, 2010 No comments

It’s time to pick new elders. If someone on the nominating committee calls you and asks you to serve, and you ask what you have to do, they might go to that horrible laundry list in G-10.0102 that enumerates all the specific areas of responsibility held by Session.

But that’s the wrong place to start. It leads to Sessions full of people who want to balance the budget or fix the roof. Those are great people, and every pastor wishes their church had more of them who were willing and able to serve.

But you can’t start there. In this brief video, Gradye Parsons, the PC(USA) Stated Clerk, argues instead that the right place to start is G-6.0304, and specifically the following sentence:

It is the duty of elders, individually and jointly, to strengthen and nurture the faith and life of the congregation committed to their charge.

That’s what we’re here for, after all. It’s what distinguishes the church from every other type of business or civic or fraternal organization. We desperately need people who can balance budgets and fix the roof. But if we aren’t helping people grow in faith, there’s no point in being here.

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Pew Religious Knowledge Survey

October 4th, 2010 No comments

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just published the results of a survey they conducted to gauge people’s level of general religious knowledge. I’ll post more about the survey later, but first, let me invite you to take the survey yourself.

P.S.: the question I missed was about an eastern religion, and I didn’t know which one it was. Like Reverend Lovejoy, I had to file that question under “miscellaneous.”

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