Friday, March 30, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
Saturday, March 24, 2007
(1) From Discover on a book review of "The Lucifer Effect" by Philip Zimbardo - about the Stanford University experiment in the 70s where college students were asked to be either prisioners or prison guards and the crazy things that ensued. They said, "Any deed that any human being has ever committed, however horrible, is possible for any of us - under the right circumstances. That knowledge does not excuse evil; it democratizes it, sharing its blame among ordinary actors rather tahn declaring it the province of deviants and despots - of Them but not Us. The primary lesson of the stanford Prison Experiment is that situations can lead us to behave in ways we would not, could not, predict possible in advance." (Discover - April 2007, p. 69)
I thought it was an interesting that a secular magazine talked about the inherent 'badness' of man - unlike article #2 from a Christian magazine:
(2) From Christianity Today, "Worth Dying For? - http://www.christianitytoday.com/singles/newsletter/
Are we really 'worth dying for? Rob Bell says that "You have inestimable worth that comes from your creator." so it's not a selfish worth, but still, if God made us worth dying for, why would we need Jesus to die for us? I think there are actually some other good things in this article, but it was an interesting contrast to article #1.
"What does all this mean? Does it mean that we Jews are better off than the Gentiles? No, it doesn't! Jews, as well as Gentiles, are ruled by sin, just as I have said. The Scriptures tell us, "No one is acceptable to God! Not one of them understands or even searches for God. They have all turned away and are worthless. There isn't one person who does right. Their words are like
an open pit, and their tongues are good only for telling lies. Each word is as deadly as the fangs of a snake, and they say nothing but bitter curses. These people quickly become violent. Wherever they go, they leave ruin and destruction. They don't know how to live in peace. They don't even fear God." (Romans 3:9-18:)
"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. " (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I thought this was a thoughtful quote from another book, found on the STR blog:
From A God Entranced Vision of All Things by Donald S. Whitney:
In contrast to Edwards's example, most people seem to lean one way or the other, favoring devotion or doctrine, piety or theology. But strong piety will not excuse us from the study of theology, nor will a strong theology compensate for a lack of piety. Edwards models the fact that a real understanding of the truth of God will set the heart on fire, and that the heart set on fire by God will burn with a love for learning his truth. As it was with Edwards, sometimes the things of God should appear so beautiful to our minds that we can't help but study and meditate on them and so ravish our hearts that we want to weep or sing (p. 128).
Sunday, March 11, 2007
And while I'm at it, I will recommend a song I didn't think I would like, but really really do:
"Brand New Day" by Van Morrison
(It made me think of Heaven and redemption, thank you Mr. Morrison)
And I guess I have liked Sam Cooke for a long time, too, but just didn't know the artist's name. A few favorites:
"Twistin' the Night Away"
Friday, March 09, 2007
I came across this in my lunchtime reading, I thought it was interesting:
Bible Verses No One "Claims"
It seems virtually every sermon I hear in Evangelical churches these days does violence to the text. Verses taken out of context, conveniently lifted to serve some point the speaker is trying to make.
But what we never see is Evangelicals doing violence to the imprecatory Psalms by taking them out of context. Why? Probably because these Psalms are so violent.
Imagine hearing a typical pastor preach in topical style. He focuses on lots of single verses spanning thousands of years, different cultures, and different literary genres and links them to points not flowing directly from the text. But this Sunday, instead of focusing on nice verses like II Chron. 7:14, Phil. 1:6, and Jer. 29:11, he focuses on four phrases from Psalm 109:
"Let another take his office." (v. 8a)
"Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow." (v. 9)
"Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD." (v. 14a)
"And let strangers plunder the product of his labor." (v. 11b)
He then gets to the point of his sermon: we should hope and pray for harm to come to neighbors that offend us.
Why would this never happen? Sure, few people see even the whole Psalm taken in context as worthy of our sermon time, but that's beside the point. The reason none of us takes these verses out of context is because we are motivated by the graphic nature of the text to take it seriously, to consider the author's intent, the genre, the historical context. When reading phrases like these, we also reflect on the whole counsel of Scripture and remember that God is loving, gracious, kind, and just. We know God cannot sponsor indiscriminate killing or an evil intent of the heart. We rightly seek to relate these phrases to the larger context of Scripture. In other words, we are doing good Bible study.
So why is it so easy to leave these verses in their context but it's so hard not to take the nice verses out of context? I suggest that we are both lazy and prone to fantasy. We're lazy because we'd rather not do the hard work of interpretation every time we sit down to read the text. And we fantasize that God wants all of the nice Scriptures about blessing and good things to apply to us.
In addition to laziness and fantasy, we also have allowed our reverence for Scripture to lead us to believe that we need a Scripture verse to back up any idea we have. When we can't find the idea we need pre-packaged in the text, we force it into a package ourselves, lifting it out of its context, feeling very sure we are honoring God by honoring Scripture.
But we’re not. We're getting messages God didn't intend. And if we're the ones preaching, many times we're teaching bad Bible study methods, too.
Here's a crazy idea. If we want to say something to our congregations that the text doesn't say within its context, let's follow Paul's example (I Cor. 7) and clarify that we are simply speaking from our own mind. There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, we're already doing it every Sunday. Let's just be honest that we're giving people a piece of our own minds and not necessarily a piece of God's.
(Want to do better Bible study? Greg Koukl's article "Never Read a Bible Verse" treats the topic of this blog more completely and explains a very practical tool called the "paraphrase test." Sign up for Solid Ground to receive "Never Read a Bible Verse" free, along with free training material every month!)
Thursday, March 08, 2007
I have been thinking about church membership a lot lately (I have never been a member of a church before), and found this really helpful and interesting.
Common Law Church by Suzanne Hadley
You've been answering questions for nearly an hour. In front of you sit five men wearing suits. They are friendly — excited even — but intent. You've signed the papers and presented your case, laying your history and reputation on the line. If this round goes well, in a few weeks' time you will stand before a crowd of 500. After the specifics of your character and qualifications are proclaimed, the crowd will vote on your suitability for the position. Majority rules.
Think you're at a job interview? An audition for the Apprentice? Seeking nomination to candidacy before the caucus? Not even close. You're on your way to becoming a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
While the term "membership" may call to mind grandparents who weathered 50 plus years in the same pew, a majority of the members at Capitol Hill Baptist Church located in Washington, D.C., are under 35.
When senior pastor Mark Dever preached his first sermon at CHBC in October of 1994, the church had 130 members — most of them in their 70s and 80s. Today, the church is thriving with nearly 550 members of all ages and 800 in attendance on Sunday mornings.
How did Dever accomplish the envious task of attracting Capitol Hill's young and influential? Not through slick programming or a coffee shop atmosphere. "By God's grace," Dever says, "through the singing of old hymns and the preaching of hour-long expositional sermons, young people started coming. Strangely enough." And don't forget membership.
Visit CHBC's Web site, and you will see a "How to Join" button. Membership is clearly a priority. Reading through the requirements for membership — the confession of conversion, the signing of a doctrinal statement and covenant, an interview with the pastor and elders, a voting in at the members' meeting — one might bristle at the seeming exclusivity. The process seems formal and calculated. Judgmental even.
But spend a few minutes talking with 47-year-old Dever, and his passion for the value of such a process becomes clear. "There are a lot of churches you can go to where your Christianity is still a very private affair," Dever says. "I don't think church is supposed to be like that."
Dever, author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and executive director of 9Marks Ministries, believes church membership is a biblical mandate. Without the establishment of a covenant, he points out, how can a church enact the command to break fellowship with an unrepentant sinner?
"We have to realize it's possible for us to deceive ourselves," Dever says. As an example, he cites the circumstances recorded in 1 Corinthians 5, where a man who was in the church was sleeping with his father's wife.
"That guy clearly thought he was a Christian," Dever says. "How is he supposed to know he's not unless the church is part of it?" This provides support for church membership, because, according to the 9Marks Ministries Web site, "Formal exclusion presupposes formal inclusion."
A church's responsibility to its members doesn't end with accountability and discipline, Dever points out. It must also provide an environment that encourages, celebrates, instructs and loves.
Till Death Do Us Part?
During college, I joined a large Bible church in Portland, Ore. I needed ministry credit, and teaching Sunday school at this church required that I become a member. I filled out an application, and after a 10-minute meeting with one of the elders, my member status was official.
I taught fourth-grade Sunday school at the church for two years. Because the church had thousands of members, the only person who really knew me was the Sunday school superintendent, who met with me monthly. At the end of my service, I graduated from college and moved away. I called the church and explained that I would no longer be a member due to geographic location.
Though I've lived in Colorado for six years, my parents continue to receive mail from this church. After repeated attempts to dis-member myself, I finally gave up. As a result, I viewed membership as an exercise, involving the signing of a doctrinal statement and indelible induction into a database.
Naturally, when I moved to Colorado, I opted out of membership at my new church. Still, I attended every Sunday, gave 10 percent of my income, served on the leadership team, led a small group and started a drama ministry. Because I was actively involved in the church, I saw no reason to become a member.
Common Law Church
There's a prevalent sentiment that a marriage certificate is "just a piece of paper" and far less important than the love and commitment between two people. A similar feeling has invaded our thinking regarding the church. If I'm already participating fully in the church I'm attending, I may wonder at the value of signing a piece of paper to make it "official." My relationship with my church effectively becomes like a common law marriage; I'm living the commitment minus the binding contract.
Dever explains that certain benefits, as well as expectations, accompany formal membership that can come by no other means. At CHBC, the member signs a covenant that he will attend Sunday morning service (he is also asked, but not required, to attend prayer meeting on Sunday night), give 10 percent of his income to the church, attend members meetings to vote on church business, be present for communion and pray daily for other members. "We ask them to pray through a page of the membership directory a day," Dever says.
In return, the church body commits to providing the member with accountability, financial help, prayer support, biblical teaching and training in evangelism. An additional benefit for the member is being known and nurtured by the pastors, elders and fellow members. Maybe it is this "belonging" that attracts young adults, the least loyal of all church attendees, to membership.
A Place to Call Home
Ellison Research recently discovered some troubling statistics regarding church loyalty. Out of all churchgoers, 13 percent have been attending their current congregation for less than a year with an additional 16 percent attending for less than two. One-third of all churchgoers expressed that they were not certain they would continue to attend the same church in the near future. Not surprisingly, those under 30 were most likely to abandon their current churches.
Working within the biblical metaphor of the church as a body, imagine the damage done as the body is disassembled each year and put back together with different members. A body performs best when its parts hold solidly together, perfecting the performance of each muscle and joint. Athletes rely on muscle memory and endurance gained through years of strategic workouts. If church attendees are arms and legs, perhaps membership is the ligaments.
Because young adults are more likely than older generations to have attended multiple congregations in their lives — and less likely to pursue membership — it is possible that they have never experienced a properly functioning body.
"One of the things I'm concerned about with the younger generations is that there's a lack — more than a lack — a deep reluctance to commit themselves to groups," Dever says. "I'm scared if we don't [commit to the church], then all our Christianity could be just a sham or a fake."
Without a binding contract that ensures accountability and service, Dever says, church can become, for young people, merely a place to hang out with friends.
"When you join a local church, you can be loving people who are 90 and loving people who are kids. Loving all kinds of people — that's more what it looks like to love Jesus, I think."
The success of the membership model at CHBC is unlikely given statistics — particularly in the transient community of Capitol Hill. But perhaps it proves that the demographic least loyal to church is most seeking something worth committing to. Dever is convinced the covenant relationship found in membership is the key.
"Find a good church," he says, "and you're going to have the time of your life."
Copyright © 2007 Suzanne Hadley. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
I have never been very good at backing up, but this was embarrasing :)