Children Are God’s Gift

I love these verses from the psalmist. They resonate with me more deeply than ever now as I see my own children growing up so fast and transforming into young adults before our very eyes. I do think in a very tangible sense our children are like arrows we fit to the string and loose upon a dangerous world filled with perils. We are each called to do God’s work which He has prepared for us in advance. It is challenging to listen to His voice and discern His call amidst the cacophony of noises around us.

I pray our children will discern their own gifts and flight path in life, and continue to look to God for direction as their true “GPS” navigator.

Psalm 127:3-5 NLT

“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.”

See it at YouVersion.com:

http://bible.us/Ps127.3.NLT

Love for Jesus Leads to Love in Action

At the close of John’s gospel, Jesus exhorts Peter to move beyond his feelings of love for Him to actions and deeds of love. If we truly love Jesus, we seek to be his hands and feet in the world, doing his work.

John 21:17 NLT

“A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

See it at YouVersion.com:

http://bible.us/John21.17.NLT

Be Disciplined With Things You Watch

These verses are an exhortation to us regarding the things we choose to look at. These commands have been important and relevant throughout all time. In our era of multiple, Internet connected screens, perhaps these challenges are greater than ever before?

Psalm 101:2-4 NLT

“I will be careful to live a blameless life— when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil.”

See it at YouVersion.com:

http://bible.us/Ps101.2.NLT

The Language of the Christian Faith

These are my notes from Tom Long’s evening keynote at Mo Ranch on May 5, 2012.

2 Peter Be ready to share the hope you have

One of our biggest challenges is sharing our faith

Book by Andrew DelBunko
– entire culture talked about Titanic theologically

1981 Challenger accident: we were theologically mute

What has caused us to lose our capacity to talk about our faith in public
– some progressive churches lose their vocabulary because thy stop using it

I was enamored with Paul Tillick’s approach, focusing on existential language

Faith became trust
More

Theological languge points to transcendence

Christian vocabulary is about all of life

We have pressure in the larger culture to not talk about our faith

Sociologists of religion say we live in a culture that doubts faith experiences – we cause people to doubt these experiences themselves Peggy Payne’s book “Revelation”

I took her Peter Burger: either people don’t have as many experiences with God as they used to, or the hide them because the culture tells them to

Subtraction theory: people are just losing their face
– Charles Taylor says I don’t buy it
– Taylor buys e addition theory, people now have different vocabulary to talk about it

They have replaced the language of faith with the language of psychology and science
– these have nosed out the language of faith

Christians need to be multi-lingual to read the world
– it requires the language of faith
– enchantment infused into the world is vital

Where do we get this language we can speak to a disenchanted world?
– Psalm 19
– some good help available there to find our language and confidence

movie “Places in the Heart” ends with a powerful communion scene
– I saw it in a New Jersey theater a God experience He can I have a God experience in a movie the reviewer hated and rejected
– it is because I have a vocabulary for If we are going to witness to the world we have to come here and take language more seriously

Dietrich Bonhofer’s rule: Can’t speak the name of someone else (even of they want to say something good) unless the person are present to hear it spoken
– to take language seriously. In its power to bless and its power to wound

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
– practice, practice

We need to bring back testimony in our church services?
– how can we expect people to talk about their faith in church out in the world, if they are not comfortable talking about their faith in church

Story of a girl sitting in church wondering where the Holy Spirit is?

How wonderful would it be if our tanks of faith were constantly refilled by stories of testimonies

Example of my son reciting the Apostles Creed at age 11
– it is language that is being held in trust for us until we can understand it

If we practice inside the church, how do we take it out to e world
– start with our children
– speak not like a professional but haltingly and sincerely

Leon Vizeltie (?) book, Soren Kierkegard: story of little boy and old man standing by a fresh grave
– a son and a dad
– grandfather trying to explain the faith
– a powerful witness We need to profess the hope that is within us to our friends and neighbors
– take one of these sentence starters and practice it

There was a time in my life when the most amazing thing happened…

One time I used to thing about this one way, but now I think about this way…
Sometimes I don’t think of my work as a job, but as a calling…

This is not about carving a notch on on our Bible
– there are plenty of people doing damage witnessing poorly
– Jesus Christ is the prime testimony
– Hebrews writer talks about this God wants human life well lived…

there is something in me that would rather be right rather than free

Closed with story of a police ticket, resulted in ticket being waived because no witness was available

Reminder that one day we will stand before God and Jesus will speak on our behalf

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Tension and Volatility in Worship

These are my notes from Tom Long’s workshop at Mo Ranch on May 5, 2012, “Tension and Volatility in Worship.”

Book: “Beyond the Worship Wars”

Pending train wrecks between generations
– used to call them traditional and contemporary when I started in1971 we were going through a fad called multimedia worship
– this kind of volatility doesn’t feel like a fad, deserves more of our attention

we will focus on things we need to hold on to

There is a history to this tension
– part of Vatican II
– constitution on the sacred litergy
– changed from Latin to English, made priest face the congregation
– new songs and spirituals

Protestants looked at these changes and smugly said, it’s about time

Catholics went back to the Bible to focus on what worship is

All Protestants have created new worship books
– in our generation we have ecumenically rediscovered the history of our church, at the point where the culture says, we are not interested in it

Do you hold on or go out after the culture looking for something else?

Forces causing this change

1- the digital revolution
– we are on a shakedown cruise a out what it means to bring digital stuff into worship
– we are in a highly experimental phase
– some people assume as soon as you get a video in, it’s better
– orality uses your imagination more
– radio uses your imagination more
– screens are here to stay, we need to be open to them

2- We have a loss of vocabulary in our culture
– many visitors to the church can’t decode language about stanzas and books

3- loss of institutionalization
– young people do not automatically assume the institution of the church is worth supporting
– have to rely more on dynamics and experience of worship than just James White in 1970s tried to map landscape of American worship
– Medieval Mass (inherited at Reformation)

Luther didn’t want to translate mass from Latin into German

From right
– Lutheran
– Reformed (us)
– anglican

Left nixing: Anabaptist

Middle:
– Methodist

White says we have 4 different worship styles
– mass
– high
– – free church (

Robert Weber redid the map in the 1990s

– liturgical (robes and read out of a book)
– traditional proestant: Overland Park Church of the Nazerene
– creative contemporary (seeker)
– praise and charismatic

Worship has now become different boutiques – examples of churches positioning themselves with their posture to the marketplace, not their lineage

Short list of things we should hold on to as Presbyterians
– “service is gathered around the intrusive Word of God” (we worship because we are summoned)
– I use a beach ball with adolescents to show 2- Presbyterian worship has a healthy fear of idolatry – the human mind left to its own devices is a factory of idols

Baals of the world always provide good religious experiences
– Baerkoff says this
– God does not always move us, and everything that moves us is not God
– sometimes churches build their services around patriotism or nationalism
– we have a great nation, but our nation is not God
– our family is not God either

Calvinists are always nervous about substituting something for Jesus
– our biggest idolatry threat is the “personality plus” of our worship leaders

3- A middle way on the sacraments
– part of the reformed tradition from the beginning
– on one side, emotionally held idea that if the pastor says the right words, God will act toward you (people are passive)
– most Protestants say it all happened at Cavalry, sacraments are audio visual reminders
– that view can hold that it is your responsibility
– Scots confession says anathema: carves out the middle way

Reformed understanding: if you come I will meet you at the table
– if we don’t come to the fount we can’t meet God
– this is a middle way

4- connection between worship inside the house of God and mission outside
– In worship this IS the real world
– unmasks illusions of what is happening outside
– should be a connection between what we do and pray for

Intrinsic connection between worship and mission

5- Worship is a corporate experience
– there is an ethic about worship

I hate the hymn, “I Come to the Garden Alone”

We belong to each other in baptism
– it is not about individuality, it is about community

John Carr as a guest preacher, 7 year old asked after Baptism where is that child I’m responsible

Things churches had in common I studied who are vibrant and have not lost their liturgical roots:

1- all recovering the drama which is intrinsically there in Christian worship
– making drama visible and audible
– passive, watching congregation that judges the performance is not worship
– Christian worship is like community theater where everyone is part of the cast

First act in drama of worship is “The Gathering”

Think at each point of worship: “What are we really doing here?” and how can we amplify the audibility and visibility of that?

2- all these churches were musically eclectic – we can choose from Bach to rock
– these churches didn’t draw a vertical line, they drew a horizontal line
– over time our church will have a broad representation of the repertoire of the church, and it will not be “constituency pleasing”
– over time that kills worship in your place
– diversity in music leads to reclaim the great word of ministry

3- Palpable experience of the mystery of God
– this is the hardest
– worship committee cannot make a motion for that on Thursday night
– in our culture some beautiful placement of silence can do this
– can be in prayers If you listen to prayers there is often not a lot of praying (conversation with God)
– more often they are people talking in stain glass window voices
– story of prayer for “Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia”

This is not the Rotary club gathered with a hymn book

Intentional about hospitality to strangers

Sometimes ushers in our congregations are the people who have drawn the short straw

Some congregations appoint pew captains to greet visitors

Church in Houston that has 16 staff members working in media
– service is broadcast quality
– worship is not supposed to be a high quality television program

Adam Hamilton, pastor in KC
– used photo of excavation of ancient Corinth: good use of media

We tend to confuse evangelism and worship
– in ancient church you had to prepare for 3 years before coming into full worship
– Catechumens had to leave at one point in the service http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catechumen

Difference in turning worship into a spectacle of evangelism, and making our worship services welcoming to all

What we are doing on Sunday morning is more than just sharing a message

Worst things we can do is divide up our services along denominational lines

A good Christian hymn is one that makes you a better Christian at the end of it

We are going to have stop talking stewardship as support of bricks and mortar
– people born before 1948 respond to that
– we need to support dynamic mission of the church and focus on stewardship as a response to Jesus, We have to go over there to the apartment building to serve the needs of people “out there”
– not enough to just make our worship service dazzling with better lights and music

Story of friend who started evangelism career in Watts (LA) throwing out tracts – learned evangelism doesn’t start until you get out of the car

Congregational song is the musical focus

Choir has 2 jobs
– support Congregational song
– sing tougher music on my behalf

Never do they perform for my appreciation

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No Shame Here: Letter from Prison to the Church of Philippi

These are my notes from David Moessner’s workshop at Mo Ranch in May 5, 2012, No Shame Here: Letter from Prison to the Church of Philippi

We have heard many question the validity of Christ’s resurrection in past years

Phil 3: I want to know Christ and understand his suffering

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! (Philippians 3:10, 11 NLT)

Paul really bears his soul in a personal way here:

What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:18-26 KJV)

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11 KJV)

In the ancient world to worship and honor someone who was crucified on the cross was an absurdity and an abomination
– reflected in a historical quotation from Minuscius Felix, a Christian apologist 200-240 CE

Honor and shame were very important in that culture

Paul was concerned the gospel itself would be shamed and disgraced

Roman gods were seen to give Rome its power, it you go against this power structure is to go against all Roman authority

The way this letter flows with many participles ,it does appear to be poetry and maybe even a hymn to Christ

The world Paul lived in rejected idea God would ever lower himself and take human form
– in Islam as well as Jewish teaching, the divine reality does not become a human being

The invisible world (of divine reality) is seen as “more real” for Romans, but gods would never become human Many of the Roman rulers like to portray themselves as god manifest

54-68 AD was reign of Nero, during time most of Paul’s letters were written – Nero would dress up as a pauper and wander about at night to see how people would respond to him since he was venerated as a god

Verse here is the only place in the Bible where we read/find one distinct member of the triune God making a decision:

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to. (Philippians 2:6 NLT)

These words at the start of Phil 2 are some of the most anti-Roman words in the entire Bible, because they put aside the issues of honor and status:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:3-5 NLT)

Exhortation here is to get n God’s energy train, invite Him to work through us:

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. (Philippians 2:12, 13 MSG)

Oscar Coleman: evil seems like a caged animal, worse than vet but aware that it has already lost

Status elites were seen throughout Roman society
– clothing worn, patterns of clothing showed success

This is not God the Father rewarding God the son
– all charges of child abuse for Jesus’s crucifixion on the cross by God is unfounded

Paul says there is no slave or free, that was revolutionary at the time
– getting rid of the slave class as a proposal against the entire grain of that society Senate declared Julius Caesar as a son of God
– this happened with other Caesar’s as well

No examples of ancient world cults of a God sacrificing himself for the world, and that sacrifice absorbing evil
– Christianity unique in this way

Jesus Christ absolutely humiliated and debased: no one in the Roman world would have anything to do with a being in such a condition

God’s self giving is the highest status of all
– we are called to align ourselves with those who are suffering now, to join the sufferings of Christ now

Picture of cathedral in Poland (?) showing Christ receiving crown of thrones as crown of glory

Paul doesn’t separate Christ’s death and suffering on the cross from his resurrection. We need both to understand and know God.

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! (Philippians 3:10, 11 NLT)

Temptation of the church throughout the ages is to go to extremes: focus on needing more resurrection power and ignoring the suffering on the cross… Or focusing on separating from the world and its suffering…

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 NLT)

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Tom Long on God and The Suffering of Innocents

These are my notes at the opening keynote of the Mo Ranch Men’s Conference on 4 May 2012

Keynote Tom Long
Has authored or co-authored 17 books
Baylor calls him one of the best 10 preachers in America

“on being a Christian” By Hans Kuhn
– being a Christian is a very hard thing – little Presbyterians are not growing up to be big Presbyterians as much as they used to

What are the Christians with the megaphones saying?

MY THOUGHT: YOUTUBE PRESENTS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR US ALL TO HAVE A MEGAPHONE

Story of earthquake in Lisbon Portugal Nov 1. 1755?
– 9:40 am all saints day
10,000 – 50,000 people died that day
– changed the way people thought about God and suffering

Why Lisbon: 1st major world disaster after “The Enlightenment”
– before this, people during a disaster would ask “What is God trying to teach us about?”
– most people realized something was wrong about the way we thought about God

Newton said there was slippage in his formulas

La Pleias wrote about the creation but didn’t mention the creator
– Napoleon asked him
– he said “I have no need for that hypothesis”

Leibniz – said God imagined every possibility of all permutations and picked the best of all of them
– Lisbon cured people from that we of thinking

Problem we have all thought about: There is a God, He is loving and compassionate, he is all powerful, there is innocent suffering
– some say that is a philosophical and mathematical problem which demands a philosophical and mathematical answer

Is God good?
– is God all powerful

Louis Smeads wrote in “The Christian Century”
– story of losing a child together

The problem of innocent suffering
– a challenge to rethink our theology

Rabbi Kushner’s book “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People”
– he rejects “the bromides” that people often say at times like this
– Kushner interpreted that verse that God is doing the best he can, but he can’t handle the power of evil
– he rejects the phrase “God is all powerful”
– cost of that is very high – Kushner says evil comes from Fate (that makes a 2nd God called Fte)

St Augustine gave a different answer
– world was all in balance, but creatures used free will to rebel against God and thereby created evil
– tragic consequences to free will – many people have trouble attributing death of baby in a crib to Adam and Eve

Theologian John Hick said
– maybe Augustine’s idea of paradise is our ideas
– maybe a world in which souls are made is a very different paradise

Story of child who wanted a real baby who chose her / needed her
– if God is interested in soul making maybe this is God’s world
– that doesn’t go well with catastrophic suffering

Matthew 13

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, `Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
“`An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
“`Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
“`No,’ he replied, `you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.'” (Matthew 13:24-30 NLT)

So every one of these gets redefined in and through Jesus Christ

This parable is often demonically interpreted: don’t pluck out any weeds
– ethical quietism

Properly understood this is is an authorization for us to raise our fists to heaven
– Psalms give us that permission
– as trusting children we can do this with our fathers

It is NOT our theology that God uses suffering of innocents to build character

God does not will the death of babies “an enemy has done this, he is my enemy as well as yours”

We don’t have the power to pluck out evil

There is wisdom give to us about what constitutes good and evil

Story of a friend who had polio

No, it is God’s enemy too It is not given to us to unwind string
Will it always be this way? No, God in Jesus Christ is even now battling the evil in the world

Museum to the Holocaust in Dachau
– tragic photograph inspires prayer: mother and daughter being marched to the gas chamber at Aushwitz
– holding her hand over her daughter’s eyes as she marches to the death chamber

Charles DeGualle
– parent with Yvonne of Ann with down’s syndrome
– she died Helen she was 12 years old
– mom couldn’t pull herself away from the grave
– at death, she is now like the others

In God’s time overcoming all the evil

God says, I do it in the way that looks like Jesus Christ
– wins the great victory of Easter
– oh death where is your sting?

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Focused on Shadows or “The Real Thing?”

There is so much irony in this verse! The Messiah of the world is right in front of the Jewish leaders, yet they are so focused on shadows (the rituals of Passover, which were designed to prepare the people for the Messiah) they can’t see Him.

How often in our churches and routines are we more focused on traditions or customs, instead of being awake to Jesus and His reality? Our relationship to Jesus is the key. Traditions, rituals and customs of the Church are designed to point us to Jesus, not distract us from that relationship.

John 18:28 NLT

“Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover.”

See it at YouVersion.com:

http://bible.us/John18.28.NLT

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