Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas's virtue

"I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round-- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

~Scrooge's Nephew

Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, chapter 1.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, one and all. May the Christmas season bring you all great joy and cheer in the love and promises of our lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ideas for Celebrating Christmas

Just as they did with Advent, the folks at the Reformed Church in America (RCA) are offering a lot of very good and helpful ideas for celebrating Christmas and Epiphany:
Thanks, RCA!

Advent Cartoon 10: Displaying Cards

card-display

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

To all the Tiger Woods "rubberneckers"

"For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret."
~Ephesians 5:12

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent Cartoon 9: Tree Decorations

who-decorated-the-tree

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bits & Tidbits, Advent 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Cartoon 8: Finding the end of the tape

sticky-tape-ends

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Church is bigger...

One of the common traits of a certain subset of Christians (and I can't quite put my finger on who these folks would be; emerging/emergents? Post-Evangelicals?) is that they have come to the realization (at some point in their journey of faith) that "the Church is bigger than ____ " (insert subtle jab at a/the local church). They then proceed to unpack how that realization has led them to the enlightened, though slightly disenfranchised, place where they now are. Often, what follows is the suggestion that, if other Christians would open their eyes to the same realization, they too would be freed of the bondage that is the local church, or denominational affiliation, or organized Christianity in any form.

I "get" where these folks are coming from, because having one's eyes opened to something one was unaware of can be striking and can even present a true paradigm-shift. I also understand how some of the more prominent voices among the "slightly disenfranchised" have come to where they are through many years of wrestling and struggle; and frankly, most of these guys, though slightly disenfranchised, are not openly "giving up on the local church" nor are they overtly encouraging others to do so.

But I'm troubled by how some-- especially, it seems, the avid followers of the more prominent folks-- are more actively and adamantly pursuing
their conclusions toward a proselytic end. To these dear ones, I'd like to offer a few pastoral comments in response:
  • First, it is wonderful that you have become aware that Christianity is "bigger" than the local church that was, otherwise, the summation of your church experience up to that point. Be careful, though, not to eschew your local church simply because it doesn't represent the whole of Christianity. It never pretended to. Perhaps you assumed that it did at one point, but whose fault is that? Should a Physicist, who could now teach his 9th grade Algebra teacher a thing or two, write off that Algebra class as irrelevant-- and the teacher as an oppressor? Should he assume that his Algebra teacher didn't know all that he does, simply because she didn't teach it to him? Just because there is more to something doesn't mean that a partial expression of it is inherently bad. Remember: that local church that you are so quickly writing off has likely been responsible for much of the spiritual shepherding and discipleship that has brought you to where you are.
  • Second, just as the Church is bigger than the local expression of it as you have realized, so too Christianity (and the Church) is more than just you and your experiences and gathered wisdom. Your assertion that you don't need the local church has no foundation in the Bible. Your assumptions that others are naïve or deceived, or even part of the deception, suggest a spiritual pride that is dangerous. Please be careful that you don't pick and choose which portions of Scripture you will accept as relevant to shaping your image of what Christianity and the Church must be; those other parts that inconveniently speak so clearly about the local church are important, too.
  • Finally: you're not the only one who realizes that the "Church is bigger than..." Some others of us know that, too-- and yet we're also somehow still committed to the local church. We're not necessarily less self-honest, less aware, less intelligent, or less thoughtful than you are. Yet we love the local church. How does that fit into your realizations and assumptions? In fact, through 2000 years of Church history, Christianity has found expression primarily through the local church. Were all of our spiritual ancestor simply wrong-- or could your understanding simply (and potentially) represent another step in the direction of advancing the Kingdom?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Cartoon 7: Christmas Card Algorithm

diagram-to-do-with-christmas-cards

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent Cartoon 6: Wrapping

wrapping

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prayer 14: general resources for learning to pray

Many have e-mailed or just asked for more help in learning to pray. Since prayer has been our ministry focus for 2009, I have (needless to say) done a fair amount of reading about it. Here are some of the books that I have found to be highly-recommendable:
  • The Heart of Prayer by Jerram Barrs: a wonderful teaching on prayer from one of the most godly men I know. It will open hearts to prayer as a welcoming and approachable activity, instead of the daunting drudgery that prayer sometimes becomes for many of us.
  • Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell: this one will change the way you think about why we pray and how we pray. Excellent.
  • A Method for Prayer by Matthew Henry: this classic is a great guide to prayer for both the novice and the experienced. It has recently been updated in language, and the whole thing is available online.
  • The Ministry of Intercessory Prayer by Andrew Murray: if you want to learn how to pray for others in more powerful and meaningful ways, this volume is your guide and friend.
  • WIth Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray: another excellent work by Murray, who masterfully takes scriptural principles to offer a general guide to prayer for any believer at any level of spiritual maturity.
  • The Life of Prayer by Edith Schaeffer: Schaeffer's take on "learning" to pray is much more experiential than the others; she looks at life circumstances and activities and how they fit into prayer, and prayer into them. As a consequence, I find Schaeffer's book mandatory reading for Christians who would take prayer seriously.
  • Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? by Philip Yancey: this one is different from the others in that, first, it is from a popular author and written at a "popular" level; and second, it attempts to answer questions about prayer, rather than simply to teach about what prayer is and how it is conducted. I don't fully agree with all of Yancey's conclusions, and some will find this book to be to "simple" or introductory for them, while others will find its substantial length off-putting; still, I recommend it as a worthwhile read for most discerning congregants.
I would also put in a recommendation for A Praying LIfe by Paul Miller. While I haven't read this one, so many people who I trust and appreciate have recommended it to me that I feel it would be conspicuous in its absence.

Finally, I might also humbly mention that I have written a brief book, entitled For All the Saints: Praying for the Church, which will be published next year by Doulos Resources. While I shudder to think that someone might consider me experienced or expert enough to be an authority on prayer, I found the utter lack of resources on praying for the church a compelling mandate for the book-- better an average book on the subject from a mediocre pray-er than no book at all. I'll mention it again when it is available in print.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Advent Cartoon 5: Christmas Tree

christmas-tree

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent Reflection 8: Faux Tannebaum, Faux Tannebaum...

...Or, in praise of the artificial Christmas Tree.

We got one of the pre-lighted artificial trees while in our seminary apartment in Gulf Drive, and I love it.

We struggled with the surprisingly-high costs of (formerly) live trees, and felt we couldn't justify it every year-- especially in those years when we planned to travel during all or part of our Christmas break. And although we both had fond memories of the various excursions with our families to pick out a tree together, we also knew enough about pastoral ministry (from previous churches) to know that the Advent/Christmas seasons are busy enough, and full of other traditions enough, to not need the added busyness of that errand.

Since then, I have become well-acquainted with the further merits of this arrangement:
Setup for our tree usually takes about 10-15 minutes, at most, from opening the box to lit in the corner.
The stand is built in, and I don't have to deal with sap, saws, or the bizarre engineering of Christmas tree stands.
It doesn't shed needles, need water, or require vacuuming after it is put up.
It breaks down even faster than it goes up.
It is paid for, and cost no more (at the end of season) than a decent formerly-live tree.
AND, it looks plenty good enough to fool many people into thinking it is real.

Now that we are in a home with a larger family room than our apartment, it
would be nice to have a slightly larger tree (plus, this would give more room for the ornaments that we continue to acquire). But the one we have is adequate-- and the money we save every year could easily go toward replacing it sometime if we really wanted it.

The only thing that we
really miss (well, actually only Marcie really misses it) is the scent of the fresh tree in our home. To satisfy this longing, we have sometimes bought a wreath made from cut-pine boughs, and that will do the trick.

Sing with me:
Faux tannebaum, faux tannebaum--
How many are your merits...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Cartoon 4: Lights

lights

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Apprenticing myself

I find that I am, effectively, apprenticing myself to certain writers and thinkers. These are the people who have shaped, and are shaping, my theological, ecclesiastical, and pastoral thought and action. Some of these are living, while others have passed on to glory. I thought I would mention who these folks are.
  • Donald MacNair-- was described once (by Harry Reeder) as the "father of church revitalization". He had near-prophetic insight into how the "church growth movement" would have negative and even damaging effects, and how to foster healthy church life and vitality.
  • David Martyn Lloyd-Jones-- I can't get enough of his preaching, and everything I've read by him is so solid. I've heard that he was considered one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century.
  • Henri J. M. Nouwen-- has to be one of the most pastorally-minded people I've ever encountered, and even though a couple of his books are fairly odd (I'm thinking of The Wounded Healer), I gain much from him.
  • Adolf Schlatter-- what a solid theologian, and again a model of pastoral and theological integrity. Schlatter was one of the very few voices of orthodoxy in the midst of the emerging German theological liberalism (think Karl Barth) of the 20th century.
  • William Still-- was a Scottish pastor whose faithful model challenges me in every way that I encounter. If I can be half the pastor Still was, I'd consider that a great accomplishment and legacy for my life.

Also, those still living:
  • Hughes Oliphant Old-- is teaching me a deeper meaning and richness to worship that I didn't know was possible.
  • John R. W. Stott-- his exegetical capabilities are invaluable, and his ability to apply the Word is immense.
  • Sinclair Ferguson-- is a hero on many counts, including both his theological prowess as well as his exegetical and preaching skill.
  • Philip Graham Ryken-- is both brilliant and approachable, in ways that I wasn't sure were possible. His expository commentaries are a real delight, but all of his books are worth time and investment.

And these are some who are "emerging" (not in the ecclesiastical sense, but in the sense that they are only beginning to show up) as influences:
  • Lesslie Newbigin
  • Miroslav Volf
  • J.C. Ryle

Some guys are devotees of Tim Keller, John Piper, Lig Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, or some other "in vogue" models. I've got nothing against those guys-- but the ones above are the guys who are influencing me heavily.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent Reflection 7: Ox and Ass before Him bow...

In one of my favorite Christmas carols, "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," there is a line that sings, "ox and ass before him bow, and he is in the manger now." As a kid (okay, for much of my adult life, too) that line frequently made me giggle.

The truth is, though, that no nativity scene would seem complete without an ox, cow, or bull, and a donkey (or ass) present. And for good reason, as
this interesting post makes clear: our Christmas hymnody is rich with references (beyond the one already mentioned, also "What Child Is This?" and older versions of "The Little Drummer Boy") and scripture itself has a compelling message about how Christ came to overcome our sin and rebellion (and the animals present at his birth signify that).

Incidentally, the referenced post also has some beautiful images of older frescos and paintings that picture ox and ass in the nativity, demonstrating that this isn't a new convention in nativity scenes (as so many of the conventions are-- witness the dozens of figures offered by
Fontanini and others).

As we prepare for Christ's coming, the stark realities of the manger scene-- its humility, the absence of worldly recognition, the presence of Christ amid the dirtiness and mess of a broken world-- are a warm reminder of how much we NEED Advent.

Read:
Ox and Ass at Christ’s Manger

Friday, December 4, 2009

Advent Cartoon 3: Playlist

playlist

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Cartoon 2: Shopping

shops

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Prayer 13: Praying for those who preach

Justin Childers, pastor of Christ Baptist Church of Wilson, NC, posted on his blog about "praying for those who preach" in March 2008. His insights are invaluable, and his challenge is needed.

He offers six suggestions for how one might pray for preachers:
1. During the week, pray for God to reveal the burden of the text to him.
2. During the week, pray that God would grip the preacher’s heart with His glory revealed in the text.
3. On Sunday morning, pray that God would free him from distractions.
4. On Sunday morning, pray that he would proclaim the truth boldly and clearly.
5. On Sunday morning, pray for God to powerfully speak through him.
6. On Sunday morning, pray that Christ would be treasured by all gathered.

Read all of Justin's post here.