Sunday, March 30, 2008

Baseball is Back...

Jon Miller of ESPN must have said that a dozen times. And I'm glad for it! Nothing better than an evening winding down with Joe Morgan and Jon calling a game while we work around the house.

Right now the Washington Nationals are christening their new stadium (beautiful is what Jon has said another dozen times...) with a 2 - 1 lead over the Atlanta Braves (who ESPN is predicting to win the World Series!).

President George Bush threw out the first pitch, and then Joe and Jon hosted him in the announcers booth for a couple of innings. The President was a bit pallid in his play calling, but he did have a wry sense of humor - especially when it came to making fun of his high-heat fast ball that he tossed in to start the game. What a way to start Opening Night of the baseball season.

On another note, during ESPN's Baseball tonight, John Kruk predicts the Cubs and Tigers to be in the World Series, with Pinnella breaking the century old curse for the Cubbies. Now wouldn't that be awesome! From the sounds of it, the Braves, Red Sox, Tigers and Cubbies are supposed to be hot this year. Some day the Blue Jays will be competitive again. Someday...

***Newsflash: Nationals Win! Ryan Zimmerman hits a walkoff homerun in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to win the their opening night game in their beautiful new stadium. This is why baseball is America's game! This is why I love Major League Baseball!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Happy 5th Birthday Emma!

Eva and Alia enjoyed wearing the party hats almost as much as Emma!

Emma insisted that everyone get dressed up fancy for her Fancy Nancy Birthday party; lucky for her, the brothers thought it was a great idea to wear their ties!

Our friend Joe makes beautiful cakes, perfect for our beautiful five year old birthday girl!

Emma is reading her book to Eva and Salma - Emma is getting really good at reading...almost too good.

Birthday Buddies: Hannah and Emma join Uncle Dave in making 3.13 a very special day!

Great-Grandma Simmons and Emma sharing a big smile!

Every birthday morning, Emma gets to try on Mommy's wedding dress for a modeling session. Emma considers it a highlight of the year.

Here we are getting ready to go out on our birthday date to Bandido's and Starbucks. Emma picked, honest!

Emma finally gets to enjoy her new Fancy Nancy book: the Bonjour Butterfly!

That Eli...

Eli turned one yesterday...hard to believe. I'll get pictures up here soon. He had a lot of fun eating his cake...nice and messy...just the way we like it.

Eli also celebrated his second easter last Sunday. He's a pretty special kid; two Easters before his first birthday isn't something you get very often.

Eli is walking everywhere, climbs the stairs, sits on his sisters head, falls on top of the brothers when they aren't looking, loves to kiss his mama and snuggle with his daddy.

Life is good.

**Here are some pics I promised: One year old today...

Wearing Daddy's letter jacket for the first time...soon it will fit him just fine...too soon...

This was his favorite gift: a slide! Actually, it is Emma, Levi and Isaac's favorite gift...they play with it more than him. Go figure!

Cute little guy loves it when we sing Happy Birthday to him!

First we lick off some of the icing...

Then we eat a bunch of the cake...

And then we get sad when it's cruelly ripped away from our slimed fingers...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

That Steve...

Our car was stolen last night!

Tara was leaving for the evening for some appointments, and was getting ready to back out of the driveway when she remembered something she had left inside. She ran inside real quick, leaving the car running with the door open. She knocked on the door, and I let her in. She raced around, getting what she needed and then rushed out the door.

Then I heard frantic banging on the door, the doorbell ringing and ringing. I sent the kids to unlock the door for her, since I was feeding Eli. They just looked at her through the door as she kept yelling. I got up to let her in...again...since the kids were just staring at her. She blurted out that someone just stole the car!

Then she shouted over and over again: they have my computer...they have all my pictures!

I ran outside, down to the street glancing up and down the street for any sign of our car.


It was a very empty feeling: who would steal our car? And what will we do about the thousands of pictures on Tara's laptop?

And then our neighbor Steve walked out of his house.

Tara rushed over to him, wanting to know if he saw anything. His puzzled look was not encouraging.

But then he began to smirk. And then he opened his garage door. Our car!

The look on Tara's face was priceless: pure shock and complete relief!

She started to beat him with her rolled up magazine, giving him the third degree. I couldn't help but start laughing.

Apparently Steve had been on his way back from the mailbox when he saw Tara rush into the house, leaving the car running with the door open. For whatever reason, he felt rather mischevious. He quickly jumped into the car, backed out of our driveway and parked it in his garage and then shut the door. Very funny.

Last spring I did a sermon on Refrigerator Rights; Steve is the kind of neighbor who has Car Theft Rights.

As Tara and I talked (and laughed) about the crisis later that night, we wondered how to get him back. Not many options when our neighbor starts with stealing our car. What do you do? TP his house? Cut down a tree? Order a bunch of pizzas to his house? I'm sure we'll think of something.

That Steve...and to think we just sent him money to support him in the mini-marathon he's running to raise funds for YFC. Some neighbor!

Monday, March 24, 2008

How Do You Interpret Scripture?

Hermeneutic is a fancy way of saying "method of interpretation". Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation, particularly in literature, theology, philosophy, and any other kind of social science. When it comes to the Bible, everybody has their personal hermeneutic or method of interpretation. The question is: do you know what it is? what influences it? in what way is it inconsistent and consistent? why do you interpret Scriptures they way you do? in what way are you biased?

Scot McKnight has pulled together a nifty assessment to help students of the Scriptures better understand their personal hermeneutic. (I bet if you used the word hermeneutic in Scrabble, you'd be awesome!)

My score was 70 out of 100, which labels me as a progressive.
The progressive is not always progressive. Those who score 66 or more can be seen as leaning toward the progressive side, but the difference between at 66 and 92 is dramatic. Still, the progressive tends to see the Bible as historically shaped and culturally conditioned, and yet most still consider it the Word of God for today. Following a progressive hermeneutic, for the Word to speak in our day, one must interpret what the Bible said in its day and discern its pattern for revelation in order to apply it to our world. The strength, as with the moderate but even more so, is the challenge to examine what the Bible said in its day, and this means the progressives tend to be historians. But the problems for the progressives are predictable: Will the Bible's so-called "plain meaning" be given its due and authoritative force to challenge our world? Or will the Bible be swallowed by a quest to find modern analogies that sometimes minimize what the text clearly says?

Click here to read about the other categories: conservative and moderate.

My heart is to understand Scripture in its context, and then understand how to live that Scripture in our context, our culture. My goal is to seek consistency rather than picking and choosing what I want to adhere to and what I'd prefer not to apply.

Read the article, take the test, let me know what you think.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What a Great Easter Sunday!

As a pastor, I put alot of pressure on myself at Eastertime. I want it to be a great Sunday, and I built high expectations for myself. It's the holiest of Sundays, the first Sunday of the Christian year, the day which celebrates the one act of Jesus that changed everything! As a pastor I want people to "get it" more than ever. I had high expectations for our Easter service, and I had a great time.

What made it great was not just the powerful singing (the team picked out some great songs), or the response to the sermon (most everybody made some kind of commitment to trust God to bring good out of something bad in their life), but who showed up for the worship service. There were a lot of different people I was hoping would come to the service, people I thought that really needed the powerful worship service and sermon. It was so good to see so many there who are dealing with bad things in their life, people who are willing to let God do his work in their hearts and homes.

Here's the thing though: God had better come through.

Anchor has drawn a line in the sand: we've told people that they can trust God, and now people are giving him a chance...again.

We're doing a great thing at Anchor: helping men and women turn to God and trust him with their lives, their problems, their strengths, their families, their vocations. And we're expecting God to do some great things in their lives.

This quote below came to mean alot to me in college. I've not read it much lately, but today it took on a new meaning for me. It's a great time to be a pastor!

Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.
-William Carey, 18th century British missionary to India

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

That's the gist of my sermon title for Sunday's Easter sermon. It may end up being the title to a series of sermons - it's not like I can communicate all that is relevant about the question in one sermon.

A man reveals to me that his father died too soon, while the son was yet a young elementary student. That absence, that pain is still felt after forty plus years. If God is so good, why would he take his father away - his father was a good man. He was loved, he was needed. Why would God take him and not some dope pusher, some rapist, some warmonger?

The real question is: why does God let bad things happen to good people. If God is so good, why would he let something bad happen to someone, something bad that he could prevent. Since God is all-powerful and only good, you would think that God would intervene more often, keeping really bad things from happening to undeserving people.

Do young girls ever deserved to be raped? Do boys ever deserve to be forced into horrid slave labor? You get the point.

So why does God let bad things happen to good people?

Well, what is God supposed to do? Intervene every-time somebody does something bad to an undeserving person? If not every time, how often? Which conditions should be automatic-interventions? God can't intervene every time, and even if he could, he wouldn't. God does miracles, but a miracle by definition makes it a rarity. That God does intervene at times is something to be thankful for, though often it prompts resentment by those who wish it for themselves in their own plight and not for another.

So God can't win. If he lets people abide by the free-will he grants them, then he gets unfairly blamed for not over-riding free-will more often when it is abused. If God has not granted man free-will, then we can fairly blame God for letting bad things happen to good people, because God is directing all of our thoughts and actions, since we have no free-will.

Does God "let" bad things happen to good people? Is it as if God is standing by a river watching a child fall in, doing nothing when he could do something to save the drowning, screaming boy? Is that the implication? That God watches atrocities happen, letting them happen when he could flick his finger and kill the perpetrators and save the innocent victims? Is God able but not willing?

This is all very philosophical and at this point not very Christian. A Christian reflection on this topic must include the story of Jesus Christ. It doesn't do us much good to ask hypothetical questions about what God can and cannot do if we do not focus on what Jesus Christ does and says. Scripture teaches us that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh; when we see Jesus we see the Father. Jesus Christ is the one who creates, sustains, redeems and restores Creation and all within it.

Thus, the real question: Does Jesus Christ let bad things happen to good people?

Well, what do the Gospels tell us about Jesus responding to the bad things that happen to good people? Take for example, Jesus Christ himself. Could we agree that he is the ideal "good person"? If anyone was undeserving of an unjust "bad thing", Jesus is the guy. And how did Jesus respond to the bad things that happened to him? Did he shake his fist at God? Did he wonder why God was letting this happen? No and No.

Jesus seems to assume that this world we abide in is bent, broken, corrupted, infected with evil. Bad things happen to people in this world. That's just the way the world has become. Jesus doesn't ask God why he lets bad things happen to innocent people. Jesus seeks to use the bad things that have happened to him as a platform to save the very ones who do the bad things to him.

In Jesus Christ, we don't see him questioning God, but rather our assumptions about God. Jesus tells us little about why bad things happen to specific people. He implies that if something bad happened to you, and you didn't deserve it, don't shake your fist at God, but rather seek to forgive the perpetrator, bring about justice if possible, establish peace, and overcome evil with good.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Because we live in a fallen world where evil has reached such a vast complexity, that the random bad things that happen baffle us. We attribute to God what is the result of our fallen condition. Bad people do bad things on purpose; good people do bad things on purpose; bad and good people do bad things by accident. You get six billion people doing bad things even just once in awhile, and you have a recipe for evil on a grandiose, horrific, painful level.

Does God afflict people with diseases and cancers randomly or out of his divine plan? Jesus says little about the source of the diseases, he points out through his words and actions that God is primarily focused on healing people from their afflictions. We wonder why God brings bad things upon us. But Jesus demonstrated again and again that God has come as a man to bring good things upon us. God is good, all that he creates is inherently good, he can only do what is good. He doesn't afflict us, he comes to restore us. We are already afflicted, he has come to heal us. Diseases, cancer, health related problems are not doled out by Jesus to people, they are a result of being human in our world.

Everybody has to die of something. It's how we die that Jesus is most concerned about. Jesus grieves when people die horrible deaths, he knows what it is like. He grieves when people die horrible deaths all alone, abandoned, tortured, mocked, and desecrated. He is opposed to it: the problem is that many of us are not. Jesus is the head, Christians are supposed to be his body. Jesus is supposed to be able to get more done in this world by having millions and millions of adherents continuing his work of good news: forgiveness of sins, restoration of the whole person, alignment with the good will of God, etc.

Jesus could probably stop more bad things happening to innocent people if more people were committed to the same cause.

The real question is not: why does God/Jesus let bad things happen to good people.

The real question is: why do we let bad things happen to good people?

People suffer and die on this earth. That's the way of this world. But it doesn't have to be the only part of the story we fixate on. My mother, while a young teenager, lost her mother to cancer. Then in college she lost her father to a heart attack. Then when I was in college she was diagnosed with cancer. And then diabetes. And then one of her sons died of a brain tumor. And then another one of her sons was killed by a drunk driver.

Why do some people have bad things happen to them, things they don't deserve, and yet they emerge from those experiences without shaking their fist at God. They just know that this is the way of the world. It's not that God made those things happen. It's that God is willing to help bring good out of those bad things. The world is so complex, we just can't know why things happen. If God could do something good, he would do it. So all the bad things that happen, if God could stop each one of them, he would. But he doesn't. Because he can't. He can't override our free-will. If he did, we wouldn't have free-will. This doesn't "limit" God, it just states the obvious: you can't have a square triangle, you can't have two plus two equalling five: it is not within the realm of reality.

What Jesus has proven God to be is One committed to the Reconciliation of all things, the Restoration of Creation, the Renewal of Humanity, the Rescue of Sinners, the Renovation of our Hearts. This is what God can do, and in doing so, he is helping good overcome evil with good.

There is soooo much more that could be said on this subject. That said, there is also so much more that I need to gain understanding on. Nonetheless, I have to start somewhere. These are my thoughts for now...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Kind of Pastor Am I?

With the kind of changes going on at Anchor, part of my reaction has been deep introspection. What role have I played in the departure of so many Anchorites? What could have I done different? What did I do wrong? What did I do right?

The up side of this kind of introspection, in my case, is that it pushes me to continue to mature as a pastor, to hone my skills, and gain deeper perspective and wisdom about pastoring.

As I was working through some tough times in January, I filled out a nifty profile that looks something like this:

These five leadership characteristics are all essentials for an effective pastor.

Surprise, surprise, but my leadership comes primarily through my teaching. I love to teach, I love to learn, I love to gain understanding of the Scriptures, I love to help others understand the Scriptures, but more than that, I love helping others love living out the Scriptures.

The next three leadership characteristics are an interesting cluster: apostolic leadership is entrepreneurial in nature - looking to start new ventures that further the work of the church. Prophetic leadership questions the status quo - again, this is me to a T...and shepherding leadership reveals a deep desire to create an atmosphere where individuals can find healing and spiritual direction.

Evangelistic leadership is an emphasis on people who are not yet part of the church: the rating reveals my heart - people who are already "in" the church, yet are not yet "in Christ" - people who may already be interested in a different way of life, but who need to come to know Jesus as Christ.

It's easy for me as a pastor to focus on what I'm not that good at - and make that a focal point of improvement. This profile encourages me to keep pouring myself into the kind of teaching leadership that energizes me, energizes my congregation, and is energized by the way God wired me. I don't apologize for my apostolic and prophetic leadership styles: I'm learning to embrace it, use it constructively, and accept the consequences for how God has put me together to pastor Anchor.

The Problem of Pain

The Easter Sermon title runs something like this: Why do bad things happen to good people? In reading to prepare for this message, I read through C.S. Lewis' treatise on pain: good stuff. Here is a selection of quotes that provided immense illumination and conviction.

"If God were good, He would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness or power, or both." This is the problem of pain in its simplest form. must be admitted from the outset that if the popular meanings attached to these words are the best, or the only possible, meanings, then the argument is unanswerable.
pg 26

If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees that world to be either redeemed or not further redeemable.
pg 114

...a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up "our own" when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is "nothing better" to be had. It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts.
pg. 97

We imply, and often believe, that habitual vices are exceptional single acts, and make the opposite mistake about our virtues...
pg. 60

Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that his "heart is in the right place" and "he wouldn't hurt a fly," though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.
pg 56

I have been trying to make the reader believe that we actually are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves. This I believe to be a fact: and I notice that the holier a man is, the more fully he is aware of that fact.
pg 67

According to that doctrine [of the Fall of Man], man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will.

Christianity asserts that God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of their goodness; that one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil.
pg 69

Indignnation at others' sufferings, though a generous passion, needs to be well managed lest it steal away patience and humility from those who suffer and plant anger and cynicism in their stead.
pg 108

There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by (social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.
pg 110

The demand that God should forgive such a man while he remains what he is, is based on a confusion between condoning and forgiving. To condone an evil is simply to ignore it, to treat it as if it were good. But forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete: and a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.
pg 122

In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: "What are you asking God to do?" To wipe out their past sins and at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.
pg 128

We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void...
pg 33

We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven - a senile benevolence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all."
I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don't, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.
pg 40

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's Getting Harder and Easier to Say Goodbye...

2006 began an unwanted trend at Anchor: people I really cared about began to leave for one reason or another. They were all hard. Some really hard. Most are still hard to accept. Pastoring is about relationships, about connections, about teamwork, about reliance, about journeying together. So when people you rely on, people you enjoy, people you care about, people you need start leaving, and keep leaving, it's hard to keep going.

At first it was easy to say the hard goodbyes because there were only a couple of them to do. But then there were more. And more. I'm at a point where I waver between caring and not caring. What's one more crucial family to leave? We desperately need them, but they don't or can't be here any more. So what is God up to? It's really hard to see how all these families leaving is for Anchor's best. It's usually easier to focus on my own performance and tell myself that if I had been a better preacher, or a better leader, or a better counselor, or a better friend, or a better....

If I stop caring, then part of me dies. If I keep caring, part of me dies. I guess I'm better off still caring. So once again I go to God in prayer, asking him like crazy to give me wisdom and courage to keep going in whatever direction he wants. Anchor has changed so much in the last two years. Longtime friends have left, some of them helped start the church, some of them friends for decades, some of them close ministry partners. They're gone and I'm still here. New families have come, they are bringing their friends, and Anchor goes on. But how we go on, and how well we go on, all that seems to be up in the air these days.

We will go on. Anchor will reemerge and become something new, I suppose that is what is going on right now. I try and push the fear down: who else will leave? When will someone come and stay for awhile?

Anchor has a beautiful opportunity to bring hope and healing to many individuals, families, and neighbors. There are so many stories of heartache - some of them in the near past, some of them in the painful present. With all these Anchorites needing restoration and reconciliation, I feel like Anchor is at the center of where ministry matters most. I believe in helping them so much, I wish more people were here to join those of us left, to serve and love and lead and experience God's patient and transforming work. I am so glad for who is at Anchor now, for those who serve and those being served.

Not my will, Thy will be done.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It was a snowy Tuesday morning...

The last Tuesday of February had so much snow, there was no way that I was going to miss this opportunity to play in the backyard with the kids. It was the perfect snow for making snowballs. We had so much fun.

Tara found supplies for making our snowpeople; Levi and Isaac were giving the Daddy snowman some arms and eyes.

Emma's giving the Mommy snowwoman a crown and a heart. So sweet!

Isaac and Emma are proud of their SnowDaddy and SnowMommy; now for the snowkids!

Six snowpeople in one morning, whew!

Once we finished with the snowfamily, it was time to make the biggest snowballs in the world! Levi and Emma were eager to help. Isaac was waiting for me to push him on the swing. He had to wait awhile.

Emma, what are you doing?

Emma, Isaac and Levi sat like royalty on their snowthrone. They wanted me to lob little snowballs at them, which of course I was more than happy to oblige. Levi caught his on the chest, Isaac caught his between the legs, and Emma caught hers between the eyes. It was funny!

Be Part of The Answer To Your Prayer

That's a new conclusion for me. Maybe you already had that figured out.

I've been working on that thought for a while.

What's the value of praying for my wife to change if I'm unwilling to note my contribution to the problem that I'm praying to the Lord about.

Or, "Please Lord, help Anchor change lives." But then I'm less than willing to do my part in the Lord's work to answer my prayer.

What about praying for physical healing? Scientifically there is not much support that prayer makes a substantial difference. Yes, somebody can find a report that says prayer conclusively makes a noted difference; yes somebody can find a report that states the opposite. But for all the prayers that seemed to make a difference, there are a bazillion more prayers that didn't seem to be as effective.

So is there any value in praying for people to get well?

Probably not.

I know that as a pastor I probably should not be admitting this.

Here's the thing: I don't have much of a problem praying to the Lord to heal somebody who is ill with something that is completely not their fault. A friend's son gets leukemia, my brother gets a brain tumor, a friend gets mugged and breaks her leg. Sure I'll pray for their recovery.

But it's harder to pray for people to get well who are now sick because of irresponsible habits pertaining to diet, exercise, stress, addictions, etc.

So many people focus on prayer requests for health instead of paying more attention to changing their lifestyle. Yes, there are valid requests for God's intervention to heal, but it seems like God likes to answer those prayers through the application of modern medicine, healthy living, and good old fashioned wise choices.

What about prayers regarding relational issues? Those are prayers that often get abused also. As stated above, many people want God to fix a relational problem without being part of the solution. Probably not going to work.

James says: Very, very powerful is the productive petition of a righteous person.

Why? Because a righteous person has cultivated a life with moral authority, wisdom, authentic love for neighbor, willingness to serve as the hands of Christ, etc. So when a righteous person prays about something, they pray very aware, they see more than the average person, they are also much more willing and capable of being part of the answer to the prayer. Willing because they carefully choose the words to their petition to the Lord, and capable because they have cultivated courage, trust in the Lord and developed the habit of responding in mercy like Jesus.

If you feel like God is not answering your prayers: consider your willingness to be part of the answer. On your terms or God's? Any righteousness issues you need to deal with? Are the problems you want solved connected in any way to your mistakes, sins, follies of the past? If so, whatever God's intervention, odds are it will hinge on your willingnesss to work out the consequences of your sins - His way.

Keep praying; but pray wisely, pray honestly, pray attentive to reality, pray in accord with the Way of Jesus.

Above all, pray without ceasing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

And Another Thing on the HU Symposium...

Another helpful aspect of Dr. Mark Noll's lecture was his attempt to bring a theology to bear on everyday life. He used the theology of atonement as a grid, taking different aspects of paschal substitutionary atonement and distilling what it tells us about God, Humanity, Creation, Vocation, etc. Very helpful.

For example:
if God is willing to Incarnate Himself in order to Rescue us from our insistent Rebellion against his Rule,
and if God is willing to Be the Sacrifice He Requires to Remove the Penalty of Sin from us Onto Himself,
and if God is willing to Die a Death we Ought to Die so that we might Live a Life he Created us to Live,
what does that tell us about God, Humanity, Life and Death, Creation, Vocation, etc?

It tells us many things, for example: God is radically loyal to his creation, not desiring that any should perish in their rebellion but be given an opportunity for reprieve.
Humanity is worth saving!
Creation is worth restoring, Creation is worth being rescued from our rebellion towards God and his Way.
If God's work is about rescuing people from their Rebellion and their Harmful ways towards one another, then our Vocation is at its best when it contributes to helping people escape that Rebellion and Harmful Way AND living in the way of Hope and Healing, in Alignment with God's Way.

What does this kind of Vocation look like as a business owner? an educator? a mayor? a janitor? a parent? an athlete?

It was a helpful attempt to bring the theology of atonement to bear on everyday life. Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, scorns the idea that theology would have anything helpful to say to our everyday life. His scorn is probably fueled by either shoddy attempts in the past, or the lack of attempts in the present.

Does theology matter? Yes. Part of my vocation is to help my family and friends connect the dots between theology and everyday life.

Thanks Dr. Noll for the the theological inspiration.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes - 3.9.08

James 5v7-8 (TNIV)

Be patient, then, brothers and sister,
until the Lord's coming.

You too, be patient and stand firm,
for the Lord's coming is near.

My question: what is it about the Lord's coming that motivates the brothers and sisters to remain patient in the face of suffering?

Why this question?

Because I don't recall ever being challenged by a pastor or other fellow believer to be patient until the Lord's coming, nor to stand firm because the Lord's coming is near.

I have to admit the idea of the Lord's coming does not motivate me towards any ethical action or missional obedience. I have other ideas that motivate, but not the coming of the Lord. I suppose I could summarize it like this: I obey the commands of Christ because obedience is good in itself, the present outcomes of obedience are their own reward.

However, in reading through the New Testament Epistles this past week, my idea was seriously challenged. Paul repeatedly challenges his friends to endure, to keep the faith, to obey, to be pure until the Lord comes.

So what happens when the Lord comes that motivates me to be patient and stand firm and love and all the other ethical and missional commands given to us by Jesus?

When the Lord comes, several things happen:
1) When the Lord comes, all the dead in Christ will be resurrected with new bodies - not made from dust of the earth but made from "dust" of heaven.
2) When the Lord comes, following the resurrection of the dead in Christ, those who are yet alive in Christ will experience a transformation of their bodies as well.
3) Once all the saints have been resurrected and transformed, Christ will exert his authority over all the earth and bring all peoples to judgment.
4) All the saints will be reward for their faith in God and obedience to him; their good works for which they were saved will be judged and they shall be rewarded accordingly.
5) All those who did not believe in God or obey him by the light they had (Torah for Jews, Conscience for Gentiles) will be condemned and cursed accordingly.
6) Once all peoples have been judged according to God's righteousness, all evil will be overcome with good and the Restoration of All Things will be made complete.
7) Jesus - the Creator of All Things shall Make a New Heavens and a New Earth such that God Himself will dwell with the Saints; Earth shall be as it was intended - bearing the scars of the past (like Jesus' resurrected body) but exuding all the restored glory of its Creator.
8) Everything shall be Good.

It is making more sense to me why James and Paul would urge fellow believers to stay patient, to stand firm in the faith, to not waver in doing good and resisting evil: for when the Lord comes, we want to be found doing the kind of work that Jesus commanded us to do, the kind of work that contributes to the Age to Come, the kind of work that characterizes the final work of Christ.

And if we die before the Lord comes, don't we want to die doing the kind of work for which - when we are resurrected - we will resume?

Even more than that, Jesus regularly invites people to do good, to obey based on the reward they will receive in the Age to Come. There is something about the good we do in this life that has an impact on the Life to Come. Good is its own reward, but good is also rewarded in the Life to Come, if we do the good that God requires of us, that he invites us to.

Consider the essence of the commands given us in this life, commands that can still be obeyed in the life to come:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Be patient, kind, no need to envy or boast.
Worship the Lord and Serve Him only.
Do everything for the glory of God.
Seek peace for the city in which you dwell.

And so on.

To summarize: the Lord's coming is near - either death soon for most people, or the Lord's coming is closer now than it was yesterday. The Lord's coming brings reward for those who endure in faithfulness to Jesus - especially in the face of suffering. The Lord's coming is not about escaping this cesspool of an earth; the Lord's coming is about bringing and end to sin and evil and restoring the wounds and weariness of Creation. The Lord's coming is about Christ's final preparation for God's people to dwell with God Himself. The Lord's coming motivates us to good deeds done in humility and wisdom for by our deeds we will be judged, and our deeds done in this life determine the kind of life we have in the Life to Come.

Admittedly, this is still alot for me to absorb. It is new. Even if the teaching and doctrine is very old.

HU & Christ-Centered Education

Enjoyed the Huntington University Symposium this morning with Dr. Noll.

He made an academically interesting case for Christ-centered scholarship.

My survey of his lecture:

The Christian Creeds of the third and fourth century arose in order to clarify, draw boundaries, protect key doctrines of the Trinity, especially the identity of Jesus Christ. Creating the creeds was a scholarly exercise rooted in pastoral needs. What to preach to the church? What does the content of our preaching mean for the content of our deeds?

Scholarship was essential for creating the creeds to address issues of doctrine and ethics in the third and fourth century, and scholarship is just as essential for rearticulating and reexplaining the creeds to address issues of doctrine and ethics in our century.

Not only was scholarship formative in our creedal development, but the creed of Colossians 1 opens up the whole of creation for scholarly work. All things are made by Christ and for Christ. So in theory, all scholarship as it pertains to discovery of truths of how our creation operates, is scholarship that reveals more of Christ the Creator. Christ-centered scholarship is, on the one hand, scholarship that holds Christ at the center of the creation we study. Christ-centered scholarship is also scholarship done with Christ at the center of the scholar.

Whether the scholar is studying history of civilizations, chemical composition of water, physical properties of lava, or tensions of supply and demand in a stagflated economy, Christ-centered scholarship requires the highest degree of excellence in motivation, methodology, composition, and presentation.

Following the initial session in the fieldhouse, a plenary session was held for students, one for staff, another for faculty; visitors like myself could choose one. I joined the faculty, for Dr. Noll and Dr. Litfin were present to answer questions in follow up to the initial lecture.

One helpful question that Dr. Woodruff posed: isn't good scholarship good scholarship regardless of whether it is Christ-centered?

The answer: yes.

But: Dr. Litfin went on to note that for the Christ-centered scholar who is producing world-class scholarship, there is MORE, not less, involved with the work done. We do the work for Christ, we do it by Christ, we do it for other Christians. We do it and by it have another reason to worship Christ the Creator.

Good answer.

It seems that there is some tension on campus concerning the whole point of this symposium, the merits of asking the questions, and the manner in which an answer is being pursued. It seems that some students are leery of the administrations motivations. It seems that some faculty are at odds with one another over what the question means, what different answers mean, and what the outcome should look like. Not that this should be surprising. May much good come of it.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Last night was our fourth gathering for the Lenten series; we met at First Mennonite Church which is just around the corner (almost) from our place. Anchor's denomination (the United Brethren in Christ) have roots with the Mennonite Church. One of the two men who founded our denomination in the 1770's, Martin Boehm, was a Mennonite preacher.

The week before we met at North Highland's Church of Christ. They have on their exterior wall a plaque which reads: Founding of Church - 30AD; Establishment of this Congregation - 1950ish...or something like that. Interesting. Kind of neat.

It's been good to meet together as one, to gather in each other's churches for food, fellowship, and reflection. The study we've been doing with Philip Yancey's material The Jesus I Never Knew has been good, the videos are very thoughtful. He keeps using scenes from the Cotton Patch Gospel - which I saw in college, but didn't care for that much. But now I'd like to see it again.

Next week we meet with the Presbyterians, always a good time!