How those resolutions going?

I pulled over on a scenic overlook of the Missouri River and busted a summary of my upcoming sermon for you:

I Corinthians 6:11 is important as well,

And this [participants in a depressing list of vices] is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Not, “You cleaned up your act” but you were washed.

Not, “You became holy people” but you were sanctified.

Not, “You proved your goodness” but  you were justified.

It is done for, to and through us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

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The Power of Invisibility

Scroll on down for a 5 minute video snip summarizing my sermon for The Third Sunday of Advent.

The passages from which I’m working are at the link.  Key verses are

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

and

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

 

Do they know it’s muzak time at all?

“YOU don’t like Christmas music?”

A non-believing coworker asked me that in a storage area when I snarked about the ALREADY playing loop of “Christmas” music.

I gave two explanations.  1) I’m a church fuddyduddy and I prefer the season of Advent, building spiritual and theological expectation toward the celebration of the Savior’s first and second comings.  I like to save the Christmas hymns for the Holy Night and following, in imitation of the whole creation welcoming the Christ.

2) Most of the stuff on the muzak isn’t “Christmas” music in any terms meaningful to a disciple of Jesus.  Most of it is lovesick (OK, sex deprived) glop more in line with a binge watch of Friends than the proclamation of the world’s Savior.

I’m not alone in my sentiments.  The Christian satire site Babylon Bee fights the muzak, too. 

One of the galling pieces that seems to show up hourly while I’m TRYING to work and maintain a Christ-like disposition is this one:

Now, how can I fault this one?  It’s all about giving to those in need, right?

Kinda.  But it strikes me as racially and culturally biased – as well as empty of Christ, who can unify every nation, tribe, people and language.

Consider this lyric:

There’s a world outside your window/and it’s a world of dreaded fear/where the only water flowing/is the bitter sting of tears/And the Christmas bells that ring there/are the clanging chimes of doom…

They’re singing about Africa, and the array of White celebrities wants us to donate money to our enthrallment with White celebrities so that White Celebrities can pass it on the the Black faces we don’t see and won’t have to think about again until the next round of retail store muzak.

Worse than that is the assumption of utter hopelessness and emptiness among the Africans.  Seriously, Christmas to them is a clanging chime of doom?

While not denying the material struggles and, in some cases, man made disasters in Africa, I have to say they can teach us something about Christmas.  So many of them worship the Lord Jesus in all circumstances, not hinging their understanding of the Gospel on health and wealth (although we are managing to export that corruption of the Gospel quite well).

Clanging chime of doom?  On the contrary, in my own Anglican branch of global Christianity,

Areas that have seen strong growth include: Nigeria, Singapore, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, and parts of South America. The first Anglican diocese in the DRC came into being in 1972, with 30 clergy, 25 parishes, and 30 churches. As of 2015, Anglicanism in the DRC had nine dioceses, 545 clergy, 424 parishes, and a membership of about 237,000. Nigeria, Singapore, and South America are discussed elsewhere in this article. What is important to recognise is the scale and speed of the growth in recent decades.

Meanwhile, in the materially blessed churches on our side of the window,

In some parts of the global North, such as the US, Canada, and Wales, there has been serious decline. 

The sum message of the retail Christmas muzak season, to which our churches all to often play chaplain, seems to be, The meaning of life is to have a reliable sex partner and to show yourself righteous by sending a few bucks to the helpless and hapless primitives somewhere else.

I mean, do we know it’s Christmas time at all?

OR Advent, for what it’s worth.  Because Africans and others who have a lively, growing Christianity will hear and take more seriously words like those in the Gospel many will hear on December 3rd, the First Sunday of Advent,

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

What dys?

A couple of writers I admire clued me in to the joys of dystopian literature,

…a genre of fictional writing used to explore social and political structures in ‘a dark, nightmare world.’ The term dystopia is defined as a society characterized by poverty, squalor or oppression and the theme is most commonly used in science fiction and speculative fiction genres.

They’ve also turned me on to the ability of some writers to use a dystopian setting to identify and even celebrate the light, whether secular or spiritual, that animates human beings to shine against the darkness.

Two recommended books that I found profitable:

 

station eleven

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel.  In this one, an out of control super flu wipes out loads of people all over the world.  The author makes the horror palpable not with the gross outs of the big screen, but with vivid everyday terrors – phone signals fading out, familiar places empty, an arrived airliner sitting inert at the end of a runway.

In the midst of it we meet an ersatz theater troupe wandering the upper Midwest.  Through them we encounter not only the frights of a dystopian world but the dignity of humanity enduring and seeking expression.

 

when the english fallWHEN THE ENGLISH FALL by David Williams.  When a – A what? A manifestation of divine wrath?  A solar flare? An all too human secret weapon unleashed? –  wipes out most power equipment and electricity, dystopian chaos sets in for “The English,” that is, those who are not the Amish protagonists of this novel.

But the chaos spreads out from the frantic urban jungles, and the agrarian Amish are not immune.

This novel searches the struggle of people with profoundly gentle faith and values to exist in a world gone mad (and getting madder by the moment.)

Neither novel gives easy answers to the struggles of its characters.  Fearful vulnerability and glimmering hope remain in contention at the end of both works.

But neither book is dreary on the one hand or happy-clappy on the other.  Neither is preachy with assertions or answers, and both are full of surprises, both terrifying twists and soul stirring responses.

What made both most powerful to me was their plausibility.  Much dystopian fiction verges into sci-fi, and so is frightening but much like a roller coaster ride.  You know it’s been designed to scare you and you simply get off at the end.  The Mad Max movies come to mind.  Other works are ideological tracts verging into paranoia – despite its creative flourishes I’d have to lump The Handmaid’s Tale in that category.

But Station Eleven and When the English Fall are a cut above.  They portray social destruction that could come to pass, at least here and there if not worldwide.  They leave questions open for the reader to search, not assigning tendentious blame to this or that group for the world’s ills, while searching for the good in struggling humanity.

The “dys” is real, but it faces push back, however small and fragile that might seem.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.  (Isaiah 42:1-4)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  (John 1:5)

Rollin’ like a liar

OK, OK, I hate to cause controversy but here goes.

There’s this song on the Christian radio, which I think was from a movie soundtrack, called God’s Not Dead.

Now, there’s a recurring verse in it that says… well, if I Google it and go to lyric sites, it claims to say, He’s [God’s] living on the inside, roaring like a lion.

BUT, that’s NOT what the guy is singing. He’s saying,

HE’S LIVING ON THE INSIDE, ROLLIN’ LIKE A LIAR.

I swear to you, that’s what he’s saying. I know I know I know what the lyric pages say. But,

I’ve turned the radio up, and I’ve turned it down.

I’ve faced the speakers, turned my back to the speakers, faced the sunrise and the sunset.

I’ve listened while praying with my mind, and listened while praying in the Spirit.

And that dude is singing about how God is ROLLIN’ LIKE A LIAR.

Now, I assume this is some hipster phrase, probably appropriated from an ethnic community by skinny jeans wearing White evangelical millennials.

Why won’t you own it, and, more than that, why won’t you tell old, broken down men like me what it means so we can have cred when preaching?

I KNOW what you’re saying. So give up the meaning.

Lend me some sugar, I AM your neighbor!

 

Dan Brown Can’t Cite Me to Disprove God — Despite Dan Brown We Need To Continue to Seek To Understand God

A scientist (a professor at MIT, no less) shows the emptiness of the popular “science and reason eliminates God” crowd, who don’t seem to deal much with serious science or reason in their approach.

Peace and Freedom

The novelist relies on my research, but my literary doppelgänger makes bad arguments.

PHOTO: ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

I recently learned that I play a role in Dan Brown’s new novel, “Origin.” Mr. Brown writes that Jeremy England, an MIT physics professor, “was currently the toast of Boston academia, having caused a global stir” with his work on biophysics. The description is flattering, but Mr. Brown errs when he gets to the meaning of my research. One of his characters explains that my literary doppelgänger may have “identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life.” If the fictional Jeremy England’s theory is right, the suggestion goes, it would be an earth-shattering disproof of every other story of creation. All religions might even become obsolete.

It would be easy to criticize my fictional self’s theories based on Mr. Brown’s brief description…

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The 5 Things Your Church MUST Do

Ha ha, made you look.

Ever notice how social media has multiplied experts in “church”? And how those experts spin endless lists, usually of fives or tens, telling us what the church MUST do in order to be… what?  Usually, it’s to preserve its buildings, budgets and by-laws or find its justification in the eyes of the culturally favored.

In the face of that tsunami of wisdom, my morning my readings found higher ground in 1 Corinthians 15, which is the New Testament’s most elaborate teaching on the resurrection of the dead.  You know, mysterious background creedal stuff having nothing to do with the 5 or 10 things your church MUST do.

To start the chapter, the Apostle Paul shares what might be part of an early hymn or germ of a creed,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  (verses 3-8)

“First importance” is not rules, causes or programs.  It’s not a demographic that MUST be reached or retained. It’s not institutional churchy stuff or politics. The death, resurrection and new life of Jesus in his people is the core “agenda.”

His death was “for our sins” and, as the chapter spells out, and his resurrection from death is a reality in which his people will share.

There is a new existence on the way, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power (v. 24). A church busy currying favor and justifying its existence via those “rules, authorities and powers” will go down with them.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again is the summary of first things in one of the Communion prayers.

The Apostle says, so we preach and so you believed (v.11).