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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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What the Lord showed me as I read history and studied the Bible is that it is crucially important to assess what faithfulness requires. I came to the position that St. Augustine was right and there is the possibility of a just war. Though I had not thought about it consciously, I was also greatly influenced by the Nürnberg War Trials, having grown up there while the echoes of those trials were still reverberating around the city. Eventually, I came to the position that it was possible for me to serve in the military as a Christian, but I also had to monitor orders to assess if they were lawful or not. Righteousness may demand refusing an unlawful order, but then it almost always comes with a terrible price when we stand against unrighteous deeds. Sometimes that prices is our freedom, reputation, or even our life.
The question at the heart of the challenging times I was facing then is much like the question we face in the church and culture today. Each query can be spoken from one of two different—essentially opposite—perspectives. One perspective will say essentially, “Lord, how far can I stray and still keep my salvation.” That is not, however, the way that faithful people are called to live. Instead, there is another way. I was blessed early on in my walk as a disciple to be taught by some very mature and wise Christians. They taught me that faithful Christians say, “Lord, show me ways that I can be more faithful; ways that I can be more closely conformed to your heart and will. Even if it is costly, show me what is right. Show me how I can draw more closely to You and to Your Cross.”
In this fallen world, the easy way is almost never the righteous way. It is also almost never God’s way. Of course, we should not choose a solution just because it is hard, we should choose a path because it is right. Whatever else we might say about choosing a righteous path, it is going to be costly. Those faithful leaders were very helpful in assisting me in taking the first steps of fidelity. They taught me how to weigh my heart in the Kingdom justice balance of Scripture and what to do in repentance when I came up on the wrong side. Over time, I was able to learn some things about how I was called to live.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal - Anglican: Commentary Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
Trevin Wax: Could you give us a brief definition of “the gospel”?
N.T. Wright: I could try taking a Pauline angle. When Paul talks about “the gospel,” he means “the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world.” Now, that’s about as brief as you can do it.
The reason that’s good news… In the Roman Empire, when a new emperor came to the throne, there’d obviously been a time of uncertainty. Somebody’s just died. Is there going to be chaos? Is society going to collapse? Are we going to have pirates ruling the seas? Are we going to have no food to eat? And the good news is, we have an emperor and his name is such and such. So, we’re going to have justice and peace and prosperity, and isn’t that great?!
Now, of course, most people in the Roman Empire knew that was rubbish because it was just another old jumped-up aristocrat who was going to do the same as the other ones had done. But that was the rhetoric.
Paul slices straight in with the Isaianic message: Good news! God is becoming King and he is doing it through Jesus! And therefore, phew! God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s world is going to be renewed.
Read it all.
What do all these words read this day and resonating in my ears have to do with my observance of holy Lent? This I believe:
• If grace-filled obedience not self-imposed deprivation is the pathway to God’s blessing shouldn’t one’s Lenten discipline focus on this?
• If God’s call, not the driven life, is for each of us our apostolic mission shouldn’t that be the place out of which we live our lives and do our work and ministry?
• If we are dust and to dust we shall return (as the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us) why am I, and so many of us, in such a hurry?
Then there was this word that came like a lightning bolt across my mind illuminating my whole being: “… you think you have to be some place elsewhere or accomplish something more to find peace. But it is right here. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are.” Once again this was a word spoken years ago by Dr. Dallas Willard to John Ortberg’s striving and spiritually dry soul; I noted these words in my journal and then wrote this confession: I repent of this, Lord. I renounce the life tape that has played within me for years that makes peace something relegated to some place “where” or some time “when” and other than here and now in You.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Lent Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Anthropology Christology Pastoral Theology Soteriology
You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.
Filed under: * By Kendall Sermons & Teachings * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
Here is the truly revolutionary nature of the Gospel they [The Anglican reformers] found in Scripture. The red thread that runs throughout Cranmer's writings is this simple truth: the glory of God is to love the unworthy. For the early English Protestants, nothing established that principle as clearly as God's decision not to base salvation on personal merit....
--Ashley Null, Divine Allurement: Cranmer's Comfortable Words (Latimer Trust: 2014), p.8; quoted by yours truly in this morning's sermon
...speaking of the gospel, notice the narrative shape of the creed. It tells the gospel story! Beginning with the one true God—who is self-sufficient and needful of nothing—creating the universe. It then goes on to detail the incarnation of God in flesh, giving us the historical detail of Christ’s birth and life and death. Then it moves on to the next plot point in the grand tale of redemption: the resurrection; then the ascension. And this is why the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the triune Godhead, equal in deity and one in substance with the Father and the Son, doesn’t appear until the latter portion of the creed. Confession of the Spirit coincides narratively with the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost after the ascension of Christ.
The Spirit empowers the gospel of Christ then to build the church, unite the saints in their spirits, and save the lost. Finally, the creed ends with the new beginning, the “end of days” part of the Bible’s gospel story, when the dead in Christ are raised incorruptible and the Lord’s return ushers in the eternal joy of the new heavens and the new earth. This is what “the life everlasting” corresponds to, in great keeping with the biblical forecast of Jesus’ renewing all things, not simply our receiving a ticket to heaven when we die.
When we read the creed in this way, then—as doxological confession and as proclamation of the gospel storyline of the Scriptures—we help ourselves see the powerful depth and beauty in the old familiar lines.
Read it all.
Good morning. I’ve been re-reading Peter Ackroyd’s Life of Thomas More recently, prompted to do so by watching Wolf Hall. More’s characterisation in Wolf Hall seemed to drain him of his well attested sense of humour. It puzzled me. Ackroyd has reminded me of More’s wit. Sometimes it’s assumed that no seriously religious person will have a sense of humour at all. ‘Where are the jokes in the gospels?’ I was once asked.
That Jesus had a sense of humour became evident to me once I began to preach. In the Church of England scripture readings are set for every day. One of the many purposes of what’s called the Lectionary is to stop clergy just using their favourite bits of the Bible....
Read it all.
Our subject this morning, then, will be, both in the condemnation and in the punishment of every sinner, God will be justified: and he will be made most openly clear, from the two facts of the sinner's own confession, and God himself having been an eye-witness of the deed. And as for the severity of it, there shall be no doubt upon the mind of any man who shall receive it, for God shall prove to him in his own soul, that damnation is nothing more nor less than the legitimate reward of sin.
There are two kinds of condemnation: the one is the condemnation of the elect, which takes place in their hearts and consciences, when they have the sentence of death in themselves, that they should not trust in themselves—a condemnation which is invariably followed by peace with God, because after that there is no further condemnation, for they are then in Christ Jesus, and they walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. The second condemnation is that of the finally impenitent, who, when they die, are most righteously and justly condemned by God for the sins they have committed—a condemnation not followed by pardon, as in the present case, but followed by inevitable damnation from the presence of God. On both these condemnations we will discourse this morning. God is clear when he speaks, and he is just when he condemns, whether it be the condemnation which he passes on Christian hearts, or the condemnation which he pronounces from his throne, when the wicked are dragged before him to receive their final doom.
Read it carefully and read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Lent Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Anthropology Christology Eschatology
Are human beings born good or born with a volcanic anti-God allergy in their hearts? Answering this theological question is one of THE great challenges for Christians as we stand on the brink of a new millennium.
On one side of the divide stands Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Men and women “are born free,” he famously said in his Social Contract, yet “everywhere” they are “in chains.” Rousseau believed that we are born good. His explanation for the deep problems in the world? They came to us from outside us. Error and prejudice, murder and treason, were the products of corrupt environments: educational, familial, societal, political, and, yes, ecclesiastical.
Note carefully that the FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM is located outside men and women, and the MEANS of evil developing comes from the outside in. The NATURE of the problem is one of environment and knowledge.
Augustine (354-430) saw things very differently. Describing the decision by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Augustine writes in The City of God: “Our parents fell into open disobedience because they were secretly corrupted; for the evil act had never been done had not an evil will preceded it.” The motive for this evil will was pride. “This is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself … By craving to be more” we “became less;” and “by aspiring to be self-sufficing,” we “fell away from him who truly suffices” us.
For Augustine, men and women as we find them today are creatures curved in on themselves. We are rebels who, rather than curving up and out in worship to God, instead curved in and down into what Malcolm Muggeridge once termed “the dark little dungeon of our own” egos.
In this view the FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM is located inside men and women, and the means of evil developing comes from the inside out (note Jesus’ reasoning in Mark 7:18-23). The NATURE of the problem is one of the will.
The difference between Augustine and Rousseau could not be more stark. In a Western world permeated by Rousseau, we need the courage to return to the challenge and depth of Augustine’s insight.
To do so makes the good news of the gospel even better. Think of Easter. What is the image which Paul uses to describe what occurs when a man or woman turns to Christ? New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)! Jesus rose to transform the entire created order from the inside out, beginning with our evil wills which he replaces with “a new heart…and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26).
--Kendall S. Harmon from a piece in 2007
According to Christian understanding, in human existence, the personal is also capable of bearing the tragic, ground that is foreign to Modernity, its eradication being the goal of every Modern project. Boundaries are tragic for the ego – they say “no” to its unfettered demands. The “tragic” is viewed as any undesirable event or result in Modernity. It is viewed as suffering and is to be avoided, controlled and minimized.
Classical Christianity understands that the Cross is the way of life and that its paradox turns the tragic inside-out. For the Cross is not an unfortunate requirement, something God is forced to do in order to rescue sinful man. The tragedy of the Cross is also the pattern of healing, wholeness, well-being and eternal life. It is the revelation of true personhood.
All of the arguments regarding new definitions of marriage, aggressive reproductive technologies, gender re-definitions, etc., are made within a model that views any and all suffering as both tragic, needless and unacceptable if at all possible of alleviation. Such a line of reasoning was inevitably on a collision course with an ethic originally rooted in the Cross. The Christian view of personhood is an invitation to voluntary suffering and self-sacrifice. Nothing could be less modern.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine Marriage & Family Psychology Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
I read the Sun's front page article by Doug Donovan regarding Church of the Ascension ("Small church fights Episcopal diocese over land," Jan. 24) with special interest because just about five years ago a group of some 30 of us left the Episcopal Church and founded our own then small Orthodox Anglican congregation, Church of the Resurrection, in Timonium. Ironically, the writer who wrote an article for The Sun about our experience nearly made the same mistake your Mr. Donovan made here some five years later.
At that time, the writer assumed that we left because of the consecration of a... bishop [in a same-sex partnership]. We were pretty clear with that writer that we left for reasons much greater than one bishop. We left because the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church had left us with its swing to modify, even deny, much of the story of salvation through Jesus Christ. The writer, to her credit, presented our rationale relatively fairly.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Conflicts TEC Departing Parishes Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion) Same-sex blessings * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
With the great benefit of having heard all the talks that came before him, Prof. McGrath was able to tailor his remarks to the themes of the other speakers, while at the same time illuminating those points with his own insights drawn from C.S. Lewis' many writings. He sketched his main theme by asking and then answering his own question as he imagined Lewis would: "What can we do to change the story that dominates our culture? Tell a better story -- capture the imagination."
As a starting point for understanding the age we live in, he recommended philosopher Charles Taylor's definitive work, A Secular Age (2007). There Taylor carefully traces the "shift in master narratives" which has taken place since the 1500's: then it was difficult not to believe in God, while today people find it difficult to believe in God.
Taylor draws a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural. While the latter used to be regarded as not impossible, the concept was undermined beginning with the modern philosophies of Descartes and Spinoza, which were amplified by the post-moderns Heidegger and Wittgenstein. But post-modernism asks us to accept things which cannot be proved, based wholly on assumptions. (Philosophy, like theology, is fiduciary in that it asks us to trust the philosophy that is expressed. Yet philosophy will not accept or trust in the existence of God, which likewise cannot be proved.)
C.S. Lewis, said McGrath, is neither modern nor post-modern. He bridges both camps -- he mingles reason with imagination. And this insight will help us break the power of today's master narratives ("metanarratives") over the popular imagination.
Read it all.
I got an email from a reader named Mark this morning, who told me he was frustrated by the lack of decent thinking among many in the Church. He said he’s looking for a higher conversation than is generally available.
Christians, we have to take this seriously. For the past three years or so, at apologetics conferences across the country, I’ve asked numerous groups this question: “How many of you who have a real interest in apologetics, worldview, and other aspects of Christian thinking feel very alone in your church?” In every case, at least three-quarters of the people raise their hands.
That’s the loneliness of thinking Christianly. It’s wrong. In fact, in view of Christianity’s heritage, it’s downright strange.
Christianity is a thinking religion, or at least it was until the late 19th and early 20th centuries...
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Culture-Watch Education History Religion & Culture * Theology Apologetics Christology Seminary / Theological Education Theology: Scripture
“It’s true, Jesus has saved us all, but not in a general fashion. All of us, each one with their name and surname. And this is our personal salvation. I am truly saved, the Lord looked at me, gave his life for me, opened this door, this new life for me and each of us can say ‘For me.’ But there’s a danger of forgetting that He saved us individually but at the same time as part of his people or community. His people. The Lord always saves his people. From the moment he calls Abraham and promises to make them his people. And the Lord saves us as part of this community. That’s why the writer of this Letter (to the Hebrews) tells us: ‘Let us be concerned for each other.’ There is no salvation solely for me. If that’s the way I understand salvation, I’m mistaken and going along the wrong path. The privatization of salvation is the wrong path.”
Pope Francis explained that there are three criteria for not privatizing salvation: ‘faith in Jesus who purifies us,’ hope that ‘stirs us to look at his promises and go forward’ and charity: namely taking care of each other, to encourage us all to practice charity and good works.’
“And when I’m in a parish, in a community -- or whatever it is – I am there, I can privatize salvation and be there only on a small social level. But in order not to privatize salvation, I need to ask myself if I speak and communicate the faith, speak and communicate hope, speak, practice and communicate charity. If within a particular community there is no communication between people and no encouragement is given to everybody to practice these three virtues, the members of that community have privatized their faith. Each of them is looking for his or her personal salvation, not the salvation of everybody, the salvation of their people. And Jesus saved all of us but as part of his people, within a Church.”
Read it all (Vatican Radio).
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth Ministry of the Laity Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Francis * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
Internationally known scholars and experts in the field of religion and culture drew a record-breaking crowd of more than 900 to the Charleston Music Hall, Jan. 22-24 for the annual Mere Anglicanism Conference which this year looked at “Salt & Light: The Christian Response to Secularism.”
Bishop NT Wright, one of the world’s foremost New Testament scholars and the leading expert on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, said that Christians had colluded with secularism by letting God be pushed upstairs and out of sight, with Christians holding the view that their purpose lay in being heaven-bound. “That’s not it,” he said. “God rescues us to become rescuers.” “We are put right (justified) so we can help right things on earth.”
Mary Eberstadt, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington, D.C. organization dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to public policy issues, argued that the last 15-20 years has seen the emergence in the West of a new intolerance directed at Christians. Increasingly religious believers are the recipients of rage, ridicule and ostracism. “This hateful rhetoric would have been denounced if those on the receiving end were anything but Christians,” she said. She told of Christians losing their jobs or being pushed out of public life for expressing their beliefs.
“In subtle ways intimidation leads to censorship, censorship to self-censorship,” she said. “Free speech intolerance is everybody’s problem. Push back is way overdue.”
Read it all.
These news items have begun to clarify my mind, just as I have been reading a short but challenging book by Scott Hahn: Evangelizing Catholics. Now I understand what the phrase means: every baptised Catholic, lay or clerical, has an apostolate, proper to their state, to spread the good news of salvation and the quickest way to achieve it: through participating in the life and mission of the Church. Hahn, who is an American and who was once a Protestant minister dedicated to bringing lapsed, unwary and ignorant Catholics into the Protestant fold, is now a well-known Catholic evangeliser, biblical scholar and academic. He has been using his gifts since his own conversion to explain why the Church’s claims and teachings are true and how they are supported by scripture.
In this book – significantly, it is dedicated to Pope Francis – he sets out to explain to his fellow Catholics why they must change their mentality and realise that they have a duty to share their faith. As he remarks, Catholics tend to think this is being “Protestant” – something they would rather run a mile from than undertake themselves. Sometimes, he suggests, this is ignorance of their faith; unlike Protestants, many Catholics, badly catechised, have “never encountered Jesus Christ in a meaningful and personal way.” Other Catholics, who do know their faith, prefer to keep their heads down, wanting to blend in with their neighbours so as not to appear weird. But, as he points out, “Our faith withers if we don’t share it.”
Quoting St John Paul II, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty”, Hahn reminds readers that in sharing our faith, whether in our family life, at work, by our example, through the media and through friendship, we slowly start to change the culture around us – a culture which we are generally ready to criticise while doing nothing constructive to alter it.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Books Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
Reading N. T. Wright's latest book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good (HarperOne), is somewhat like listening to a compilation album. All the classic hits are here: "the kingdom of God is for earth now," "the gospel is the key moment in a story," "resurrection is about bodies," "something has happened," and, of course, the well-loved ballad "fundamentalists and liberals are both missing the point." For those who are new to Wright, Simply Good News will offer a helpful introduction to and summary of his work. For those who have read plenty of him already, or for those who dislike compilation albums in principle, it will probably have less to offer.
The focus of the book is admirably clear: to explain what the gospel is, and why we should think of it as good news. In eight succinct chapters, Wright explains the nature of good news (chapter one), the essence of what that good news is (chapters two and three) and is not (chapters four and five), and what it means for the way we live now (chapter six), think about God (chapter seven), and pray (chapter eight). Each of these chapters is readable and insightful, characterized by Wright's familiar mixture of rich scholarship, vivid illustration, and contemporary application.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Books Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Christology Theology: Scripture
The story of the wise men and their star-led quest represents the religious and spiritual quest of the entire human race. Reason's star led them to Jerusalem, in quest of a new born King of the Jews; the Scriptures' revelation sent them to Bethlehem, where the star confirmed the scripture and stood over the place where the young child lay: the only begotten son of the Father, the full and final revelation of God's glory, incarnate of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, now manifested to the Gentiles as the only mediator of God and men, the Saviour of the world.
Let us be clear: at the heart of the Magi's journey is a claim offensive to many: not just Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus; but even, or especially, to many Christians and post-Christians, atheists, and skeptics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus expect to disagree with Christians, as they do with one another. It is the Christians and post-Christians who are embarrassed and offended by the claim that Jesus is the only Mediator of God and men (1 Timothy 2:5), the Saviour of the world.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Parishes * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Christology Theology: Scripture
In addition to personal hurt, the baggage accumulated here, again, might result in the “baby” of holiness getting thrown out with the “bathwater” of legalism. If the ex-fundamentalist does not become a New Atheist — the inverted modernist equivalent of the rationalizing fundamentalist — he might drift in the Anglican direction. Here he will decide whether to let John Spong usher him through the dusty halls of a bygone Protestant liberalism back towards Dawkins et. al. or, via the “Canterbury Trail,” he will head towards the more romantic tradition of Anglo-Catholicism. The temptation then is to construct an Anglican identity that is more concerned with “not being fundamentalist” than with being Christian. So ex-fundamentalists are largely reacting against pride and legalism, while ex-evangelicals are reacting against the spiritual emptiness of faddish evangelicalism. But, of course, there are degrees of mixture between the two.
In closing, I want to say that although this new generation of Canterbury Trail Anglicans has a lot to offer the Anglican and Episcopal churches which we now inhabit — especially in our greater desire for unity than many a Boomer who busies himself with ecclesial marketing, lawsuits, or even doctrinal and moral “purity” — we also carry a lot of baggage. Not having “stayed put” in those places where we originally received the faith, we struggle here too in this Anglican place to practice what we have come to preach. Here we counsel the local “cradle” Anglican evangelical not to throw overboard the riches of the tradition in order to fill the pews. But we also need to be reminded that without mission, evangelism, and, yes, conversion, the tradition simply becomes liturgical histrionics, much to the annoyance of the local Anglican evangelical. Finally, the new Canterbury Trail Anglicans need to be more than “not fundamentalists” or “not-Southern-Baptists.” Not only would such an attitude contradict the ecumenical spirit, not only does this tempt us to throw out the legitimate orthodoxies held by those we react against, but, contrary to the spirit of humility, it also tempts us to “via media” pride, as if we somehow have got it all together. Truth, humility, and unity are a package.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Identity * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. Canada England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Anthropology Christology Ecclesiology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Seminary / Theological Education Soteriology
A show opened in New York recently that didn't get a whole lot of attention, but it features some of the most powerful singing voices you've never heard. You haven't heard them because for most of the performers, this is their first time on the stage. They've been singing their whole lives -- in church, in amateur groups, in the shower -- but like so many who had dreams of making it big, life somehow got in the way.
The show was created by a theater producer and former disc jockey named Vy Higginsen, who has made it her mission to preserve a special part of American culture: African-American music, both gospel and popular music like soul and R&B. She found a pool of untapped talent, men and women in what she calls their "second half of life" just waiting for their chance to shine.
Read (or better watch) it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Marriage & Family Music Psychology * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Epiphany Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
Dear friends, this is the question that the Church wishes to awaken in the hearts of all men: who is Jesus? This is the spiritual longing that drives the mission of the Church: to make Jesus known, his Gospel, so that every man can discover in his human face the face of God, and be illumined by his mystery of love. Epiphany pre-announces the universal opening of the Church, her call to evangelize all peoples. But Epiphany also tells us in what way the Church carries out this mission: reflecting the light of Christ and proclaiming his Word. Christians are called to imitate the service that the star gave the Magi. We must shine as children of the light, to attract all to the beauty of the Kingdom of god. And to all those who seek truth, we must offer the Word of God, which leads to recognizing in Jesus "the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Epiphany * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI * Theology Christology
Before Jesus told His disciples about the many mansions and before He gave them the hope of Heaven, He said, “You believe in God, believe also in me.” Then He said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).
Eternal life comes by and through the Lord Jesus Christ. To put it in the Bible’s words, here is the secret of the blessed hope: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36).
When Christians die, they go straight into the presence of Christ—to Heaven—to spend eternity with God. An unsaved sinner’s destiny is separation from God, a place that Jesus has called hell.
I wonder where you are going. Have you given your life to Jesus Christ? Have you been transformed by the power of the Spirit of God?
Read it all.
1. The number of unchurched people in America would make the 8th most populous country in the world.
As of 2014, the estimated number of people in the U.S. who Barna Group would define as “churchless”—meaning they have not attended a Christian church service, other than a special event such as a wedding or a funeral, at any time during the past six months—stands at 114 million. Add to that the roughly 42 million children and teenagers who are unchurched and you have 156 million U.S. residents who are not engaged with a Christian church. To put that in context, if all those unchurched people were a separate nation, it would be the eighth most populous country in the world, trailing only China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the remaining churched public of the United States (159 million).
2. In the past decade, more people in the U.S. have become churchless than live in Australia or Canada.
Barna tracking research has seen significant shifts in church involvement over the past decade. During that time, the number of adults who are unchurched has increased by more than 30%. This is an increase of 38 million individuals—that’s more people than live in Canada or Australia.
3. The vast majority of America’s churchless have attended a church.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Sociology * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Other Faiths * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
Listen to it all (and note there is a downloadable option).
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * South Carolina * Theology Christology Soteriology
The death of a church isn’t an easy subject, particularly to those who are losing their spiritual home.
But it is something being talked about more and more as church closings are becoming an increasingly regular occurrence — some estimates are nine a day in the United States.
The trend took on a very high profile Dec. 28 when Baptist author and pastor Rick Warren gave the final sermon at Mars Hill Church, the Seattle-based megachurch that dissolved after Mark Driscoll, its lead pastor of 20 years, resigned amid church discipline and leadership issues.
In a pre-recorded video beamed to Mars Hill’s numerous campuses, Warren urged members of the dissolving church to be gracious and forgiving to Driscoll and other church leaders during their grief. He urged an avoidance of bitterness and gossip, and an embrace of forgiveness and gratitude.
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In CS Lewis’s story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which..[was] on our movie screens...[in 2005] the land of Narnia is under a curse that means that it is always winter but never Christmas. Of course, it is never winter at Christmas time in Australia, but we can nevertheless understand what a terrible curse this is! Narnia is stuck in hard times, with no cause for celebration. Its creatures are suffering, with no highlight to look forward to.
Like the Narnians, many Australians will be doing it tough this Christmas. For some, it is a time when relationships are strained to the limit, when the cracks in our marriages, our families and our friendships seem to widen. For others, the strain is financial, as we see what the neighbours have and we don’t. Yet others find it difficult to join in the festivities because the world just doesn’t seem like somewhere worth celebrating. Wars, hurricanes and child poverty press in on our hearts and minds, refusing to be pushed aside, even for a day.
My challenge to you this Christmas is to lift your eyes from your daily struggles and see what lies around the corner. To the great surprise of the children in CS Lewis’s story, Father Christmas turns up in Narnia to hand out gifts. His appearance is a sign that the curse on the land is breaking, and a better world is on its way.
Of course, this is just a story, but it points to an event in history that we must understand in order to have any hope at Christmas time. The birth of Jesus around 2000 years ago was the beginning of a new hope for the people of the world. It was like the first spring flower pushing through the winter snow—the first sign that things were looking up.
Christians believe that Jesus was a gift to the world from God himself, to give us hope.
When Father Christmas handed out gifts in Narnia, he didn’t indulge the children with toys they didn’t need or appreciate. Rather, his gifts prepared them for the battle ahead with the dark forces they would confront.
In the same way, the Bible tells us that in Jesus God gave us a gift we desperately need. The Gospel of Luke records for us the words of one man called Simeon, who saw the young Jesus, took him in his arms and said “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people”.
Jesus was sent to rescue us from sin and judgement (that’s what salvation means), to make God known to us, and to assure us that God is not off in his heaven ignoring us, but is closely involved with our world and our troubles.
But the gift must be acknowledged—if you ignore God’s gift, you do so at your peril, for without Jesus there is no clear hope to see you through the wintry days.
Christmas should focus our thoughts on where we are headed. I urge you to take time this Christmas to acknowledge God’s gift of Jesus, to read about him in the New Testament, and to understand how he has broken the curse of sin and guaranteed those who trust him a better future.
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Since God was in the business of re-starting creation in the sending of his Son, might we not expect him to create “out of nothing” the second time, just as he did the first? Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the 20th Century, thought so. Just as the Spirit brooded over creation the first time, so again in the birth of Jesus the Spirit “brooded” over the virgin Mary. Also, just as creation was totally initiated by God the first time, so creation (the second time, in Jesus) gets to be totally initiated by God. The Virgin Birth tells us that Jesus was not born “of the will of man”, but wholly of the Father’s initiative. God chose to by-pass the normal male role in the work of redemption, in part, so the logic goes, to signal his own headship. “Man as a creating, controlling, self-assertive, self-glorifying being was set aside in favor of a woman who listened, received, and served.” (From, A Step Further, by the author)
We honor the Virgin Birth, of course, because Scripture teaches it. But we can also see the logic behind it. God’s sovereign action is a challenge to the human psychological need to contribute to our own salvation, to be co-creators with God. Mary is a witness against the drive, push, and self-assertion that men especially (though not exclusively) associate with a healthy self-image and by which men often mask their own impotence.
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Carl F. H. Henry, the dean of evangelical theologians, argues that the Virgin Birth is the “essential, historical indication of the Incarnation, bearing not only an analogy to the divine and human natures of the Incarnate, but also bringing out the nature, purpose, and bearing of this work of God to salvation.” Well said, and well believed.
Nicholas Kristof and his secularist friends may find belief in the Virgin Birth to be evidence of intellectual backwardness among American Christians. But this is the faith of the Church, established in God’s perfect Word, and cherished by the true Church throughout the ages. Kristof’s grandfather, we are told, believed that the Virgin Birth is a “pious legend.” The fact that he could hold such beliefs and serve as an elder in his church is evidence of that church’s doctrinal and spiritual laxity — or worse. Those who deny the Virgin Birth affirm other doctrines only by force of whim, for they have already surrendered the authority of Scripture. They have undermined Christ’s nature and nullified the incarnation.
This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.
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It’s easy to forget the purpose of Christmas. This time of year we have so many things that can get in the way: commercialism, traditions, even family and church commitments.
To find the real purpose of Christmas, you have to fast forward from the shepherds, the wise men, and the dirty stable. We have to go to a statement Jesus made during his adult years about why he came: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV).
The reason we celebrate Christmas is because Jesus came to Earth to seek and save the lost.
Jesus uses three stories in the gospel of Luke to demonstrate what it means to be lost: the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. They teach us that when we’re disconnected from God, we lose....
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It's Christmas, that joyous time of year when the Mainstream Media (MSM) goes in search of apostate scholars to re-assure them that the gospel is all a bunch of hooey. Here's a recent piece that appeared on MSNBC.com called "What is the Real Christmas Story?" It's a roundtable discussion featuring a number of biblical scholars that looks at the tale of the Nativity as told by Matthew and Luke....
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Out of the thousand things which follow directly from this reading of John, I choose three as particularly urgent.
First, John’s view of the incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of that liberal denial which characterised mainstream theology thirty years ago and whose long-term effects are with us still. I grew up hearing lectures and sermons which declared that the idea of God becoming human was a category mistake. No human being could actually be divine; Jesus must therefore have been simply a human being, albeit no doubt (the wonderful patronizing pat on the head of the headmaster to the little boy) a very brilliant one. Phew; that’s all right then; he points to God but he isn’t actually God. And a generation later, but growing straight out of that school of thought, I have had a clergyman writing to me this week to say that the church doesn’t know anything for certain, so what’s all the fuss about? Remove the enfleshed and speaking Word from the centre of your theology, and gradually the whole thing will unravel until all you’re left with is the theological equivalent of the grin on the Cheshire Cat, a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles; no words of judgment because nothing is really wrong except saying that things are wrong, no words of mercy because, if you’re all right as you are, you don’t need mercy, merely ‘affirmation’....
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(A new carol written for the Choir of King's College, Cambridge in 2012)
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There is only one God, brethren, and we learn about him only from sacred Scripture. It is therefore our duty to become acquainted with what Scripture proclaims and to investigate its teachings thoroughly. We should believe them in the sense that the Father wills, thinking of the Son in the way the Father wills, and accepting the teaching he wills to give us with regard to the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is God's gift to us and it should be understood in the way that he intends: we should not do violence to it by interpreting it according to our own preconceived ideas.
God was all alone and nothing existed but himself when he determined to create the world. He thought of it, willed it, spoke the word and so made it. It came into being instantaneously, exactly as he had willed. It is enough then for us to be aware of a single fact: nothing is coeternal with God. Apart from God there was simply nothing else. Yet although he was alone, he was manifold because he lacked neither reason, wisdom, power, nor counsel. All things were in him and he himself was all. At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by himself, God manifested his Word, and through him he made the whole universe.
When the Word was hidden within God himself he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the world, God made him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered our world was made known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father.
The Son gave us the law and the prophets, and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father's power, they were to proclaim the Father's purpose and his will.
So the Word was made manifest, as Saint John declares when, summing up all the sayings of the prophets, he announces that this is the Word through whom the whole universe was made. He says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being; not one thing was created without him. And further on he adds: The world was made through him, and yet the world did not know him. He entered his own creation, and his own did not receive him.
--from St. Hippolytus’ treatise against the heresy of Noetus
Everything is turned upside down. Much to everyone’s astonishment it’s not Augustus who is the real son of God, the saviour who bring good news of peace – no, it’s Jesus. And the proclamation is made not in the public forum in front of the Roman citizens but to the shepherds on the hill sides, who were the social outcasts. And as the narrative unfolds Simeon and Anna proclaim that this child, Jesus, is the one who will become the saviour of God’s people, not Augustus or for that matter, any earthly ruler, especially those who govern by the sword and with violence.
Now so much of our celebration of Christmas has sanitized these insights. Take popular carols, such as ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’ or ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ which give us a romaticised, privatised interpretation of Christmas, which, though I love them too, have no little bearing on the world in all its pain and suffering. These carols give us a piety which is only about feeling an inner sense of peace. Now there is nothing wrong with feeling inner peace. It’s just that here in Luke chapter 2 the events are profoundly political. This is the Christ who is born into a country which has been occupied by foreign forces, where its people are oppressed and where he comes to bring peace founded in justice.
And so let’s return to where we started: that cold Christmas day in 1914 where peace broke for a few hours. It did not come from the politicians who were safely back in Blightly tucked up with their families in the warm with their turkey lunch. Peace did not come from the generals – they certainly didn’t order a cease fire. No, it came because ordinary soldiers, recalling the events of Christmas, put down their weapons and dared to venture out into no man’s land.
If we are going to find true peace in our world today, it will not come primarily through the politicians and certainly not through the soldiers who may keep the peace, but cannot alone establish it.
Peace will come when ordinary men and women like you and me, dare to climb out the trenches that we have dug to protect ourselves, the trenches of fear, of greed, of hatred. Can we show similar courage to that of the First World War soldiers who stuck their heads above the parapets?
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It’s a story so strange we could not have dreamed it up by ourselves, this story of how God was incarnate in Jesus the Christ. An embarrassing pregnancy, a poor peasant couple forced to become undocumented immigrants in Egypt soon after the birth of their baby, King Herod’s slaughter of the Jewish boy babies in a vain attempt to put an end to this new “King,” From the beginning the story of Jesus is the strangest story of all. A Messiah who avoids the powerful and the prestigious and goes to the poor and dispossessed? A Savior who is rejected by many of those whom he sought to save? A King who reigns from a bloody cross? Can this one with us be God?
And yet Christians believe that this story, for all its strangeness, is true. Here we have a truthful account of how our God read us back into the story of God. This is a truthful depiction not only of who God really is but also of how we who were lost got found, redeemed, restored, and saved by a God who refused to let our rejection and rebellion (our notorious “God problem”) be the final word in the story.
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This Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation, but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one will receive more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart, banish everything else from their mind, and diligently look into it. It is just as the sun which is reflected in calm water and gives out vigorous warmth, but which cannot be so readily seen nor can it give out such warmth in water that is in roaring and rapid motion.
Therefore, if you would be enlightened and warmed, if you would see the wonders of divine grace and have your heart aglow and enlightened, devout and joyful, go where you can silently meditate and lay hold of this picture deep in your heart, and you will see miracle upon miracle. But to give the common person a start and a motive to contemplate it, we will illustrate it in part, and afterwards enter into it more deeply.
First, behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven. On earth it occurs in this wise: Here is a poor young woman, Mary of Nazareth, not highly esteemed, but of the humblest citizens of the village. No one is conscious of the great wonder she bears, she is silent, keeps her own counsel, and regards herself as the lowliest in the town. Shestarts out with her husband Joseph; very likely they had no servant, and he had to do the work of master and servant, and she that of mistress and maid, They were therefore obliged to leave their home unoccupied, or commend it to the care of others.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology
Saint John has described the character of Jesus in just two words, grace and truth. He said Jesus was "full of grace and truth...."
How would someone describe you? Are you strong on truth but weak on grace- quick to judge and slow to forgive? A whole lot of people are. Or are you strong on grace and weak on truth? A whole lot of people are. But grace without truth is not grace, it’s denial.
It’s easy to fall off the slippery slop in one direction or another. In our marriages, parenting, our work places, and even in ministries there is often a lot of one but not much of the other.
Look at our churches. Some churches are deeply immersed in truth, but awfully thin on grace. One of the greatest novels ever written, in my humble opinion, is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Talk about a story of truth with no grace. Mistress Hester Prynne was sentenced to wear the scarlet letter, (an A for adultery), as a mark of shame upon her breast all the days of her life until the letter be engraved upon her tombstone. If she entered a church, trusting to share a comforting word from God, it was often her mishap to find herself the text of the sermon.
How sad that accurately describes many churches today- a lot of law, a lot of truth, but thin on grace. There is a story of a clergyman who had an argument with a vestryman about whether a young man who had a bad reputation should be made welcome in the church. Finally the minister said, "Well, didn’t the Lord forgive the woman taken in adultery?" "Yes," replied the old gentleman, "but I don’t think any more of him for having done it." And so it is with many churches- strong on truth, but weak on grace.
And on the flip side, there are many churches that cheat people out of truth, churches that vow never to offend, to make everybody feel good and comfortable. It may feel good and comfortable, it may sound like sacred tolerance, but there is no abiding peace there. There is no new life, no liberation, no transformation.
I knew a man who once asked a much younger woman to marry him, but with a pre-nuptial agreement. In the pre-nuptial it was stated that she was not suppose to nag him about his drinking. She agreed, and little by little, instead of speaking the truth in love she sat by and watched him die of alcohol. Now it could be argued that she stuck nobly to the agreement, but it could also be argued that she lived a marriage of no truth.
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“The purpose of religious language…is to evoke an attitude...”
You may need to enlarge the page to see it better; I sure did; KSH.
When rightly understood, the imaginatively compelling story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was about God entering the world, in order to redeem it.
Lewis explored this theme in a remarkable sermon that he preached in a London church during the Second World War. He had learnt how to dive in 1930. Although he initially saw this simply as an enjoyable, exhilarating experience, Lewis began to realise its potential as an analogy for what he was coming to see as a core theme of the Christian faith — the incarnation.
Lewis invited his audience to imagine a diver plunging into the water to retrieve a precious object. As he goes deeper, the water changes from “warm and sunlit” to “pitch black” and “freezing”. Then, his “lungs almost bursting”, he goes down into the “mud and slime”, before finally heading back up to the surface, triumphantly bearing the lost object. God “descended into his own universe, and rose again, bringing human nature up with him”.
Read it all (subscription required) [this is quoted in the sermon in the previous post].
I don’t know what people do who celebrate Christmas without the Lord Jesus. They must feel terribly empty when they wake up the next day with presents unwrapped, the food eaten and life back to normal. No wonder the doctors say so many folk get depressed during the holidays. I think people have forgotten that Love came down at Christmas. God’s Love! God’s Son—our Savior! He did not grow up out of this ancient world of ours as if he was the best we had to offer. No, dear friends, He came down from heaven—God looked down and saw our need and so He sent His Son. That is why we call him, Immanuel, “God with us”. It is odd how you learn new things about that. Twelve years ago when my husband died it was my first Christmas in 54 years without my darling Hank. I was all alone in my living room and I said, “Lord, I don’t think I can go on. I’m so alone.” Then the room seemed to grow unusually quiet and the Lord seemed to say to me, “Mabel—you are not alone—always there will be two of us. Others may leave but I will stay.” That’s what Christmas means to me. God is with us—God is with me.
So go ahead. Decorate your trees and houses. I suppose it puts us all in a more cheerful mood. Give the children their gifts. Fill your stomachs with all the delicious foods. But listen to an old lady, if only for a moment. Sooner or later a person has to realize he is not going to live forever. No matter how hard we try to live upstanding lives there is a lot we do in this life for which we need to be forgiven. When we stand before God’s judgment everyone needs a Savior. Besides there is more than once in a man’s or woman’s life she stands before a crossroad and doesn’t know what path to take. If you don’t have a Savior and Lord at these times you’re rudderless. You’re like a boat adrift on the open sea. You’re like that boy, Daniel, out in a boat in the wild ocean waves looking for his dead father. Look—I’m swimming out to the lamp post to hold out this rambling letter to you like some ragged and torn umbrella for some poor soul to grab hold of ‘less he miss Christmas altogether. It is the least I can do for my Lord who is with me even when Christmas is over. I know I’ve rambled on but I do want to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a God-filled New Year!
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...I have chosen this text with some fear and trembling that I would do an injustice to it by treating it with one sermon. But I choose it for two reasons. One is that it is a great Christmas passage. The key verse that shows this Christmas orientation is verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." This is the meaning of Christmas. God has come into the world, born of virgin, in the person of Jesus Christ. The second reason I have chosen this text is because it is so full of particular truths about Jesus Christ that we desperately need to know and embrace.
This is especially important today because, as I said last week during my welcome, even the major non-Christian religions of the world are speaking these days as though they esteem and honor and, in some sense, believe in Jesus. You hear this especially, these days, from Muslim leaders who want to draw the fact that they even honor Jesus more than we do because they do not think God would allow him to suffer the ignominious death of a criminal on the cross. So it is crucial that Christians know Jesus Christ very well, and can tell the difference between the Christ of the Bible and the Christ which other religions claim to honor.
So what I would like to do with this great paragraph about Jesus Christ, written by the one who knew him on earth more intimately than anyone else, the apostle John, is to point out and explain and exult over five truths concerning the Word made flesh, and then contrast two starkly different responses that you might give to him this morning. My aim is that you might see him for who he is and be moved to receive Him as your Lord and your God and your all-surpassing Treasure. And if you have already received Him, I pray that you will embrace him, and treasure him and delight in him and follow him and display Him more than you ever have.
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Sickness relieved is a beautiful thing. A heart attack treated takes the elephant off the chest and leaves a smile. A child made well, a broken bone splinted, a wound closed, a tooth numbed, an abscess opened are among the reasons that physicians, at least at first, decide to walk among the sick.
However, we poor doctors, with our paltry degrees and bags of tricks, can only do a little. We merely treat the symptoms. He treated the disease. He brought an end to it all with his birth, death and resurrection. No more sin, no more death. He offered every patient the cure, free of charge, with no need for insurance or cash.
How it must feel to be him! Not to cure the broken bones, but to offer healing to the broken hearts. Not to excise the tumor, but to remove the guilt. Not to bypass the heart, but to replace it with a new one.
At Christmas, we celebrate the child. How blessed we are that he walked among us, knew our every disease, then grew up to become the only physician qualified to heal us.
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Martin Luther (in his Larger Catechism, 1529) said he felt sad for those who follow faiths other than Christianity. Even though they might worship the one, true God, they had no way of knowing God’s attitude toward them. “They cannot be confident of his love and blessing,…” because they do not know God Incarnate. The Incarnation not only tells us who God is but also God’s intentions for us.
I asked a distinguished new church planter what virtue he most admired in a potential new church planter.
“A robust theology of the Incarnation,” he replied. “Only someone who believes that God is relentlessly reaching out to save the world has the drive to birth a new church.”
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But the object of divine action in the Incarnation is man. God’s free decision is and remains a gracious decision; God becomes man, the Word becomes flesh. The Incarnation means no apparent reserved, but a real and complete descent of God. God actually became what we are, in order actually to exist with us, actually to exist for us, in thus becoming and being human, not to do what we do-sin; and to do what we fail to do–God’s, His own, will; and so actually, in our place, in our situation and position to be the new man. It is not in His eternal majesty–in which He is and remains hidden from us–but as this new man and therefore the Word in the flesh, that God’s Son is God’s revelation to us and our reconciliation with God. Just for that reason faith cannot look past His humanity, the cradle of Bethlelhem and the cross of Golgotha in order to see Him in His divinity, Faith in the eternal Word of the Father is faith in Jesus of Nazereth or it is not the Christian faith.
--Karl Barth (1886-1968)
For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the cross is spoiled quite literally in the cradle. It is not here to the purpose to argue with them on the abstract ethics of fighting; the purpose in this place is merely to sum up the combination of ideas that make up the Christian and Catholic idea, and to note that all of them are already crystallised in the first Christmas story. They are three distinct and commonly contrasted things which are nevertheless one thing; but this is the only thing which can make them one.
The first is the human instinct for a heaven that shall be as literal and almost as local as a home. It is the idea pursued by all poets and pagans making myths; that a particular place must be the shrine of the god or the abode of the blest; that fairyland is a land; or that the return of the ghost must be the resurrection of the body. I do not here reason about the refusal of rationalism to satisfy this need. I only say that if the rationalists refuse to satisfy it, the pagans will not be satisfied. This is present in the story of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as it is present in the story of Delos and Delphi; and as it is not present in the whole universe of Lucretius or the whole universe of Herbert Spencer.
The second element is a philosophy larger than other philosophies; larger than that of Lucretius and infinitely larger than that of Herbert Spencer. It looks at the world through a hundred windows where the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the individual standpoint of a stoic or an agnostic. It has something for all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men, it understands secrets of psychology, it is aware of depths of evil, it is able to distinguish between ideal and unreal marvels and miraculous exceptions, it trains itself in tact about hard cases, all with a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern moral philosophy. In a word, there is more in it; it finds more in existence to think about; it gets more out of life. Masses of this material about our many-sided life have been added since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. But St. Thomas Aquinas alone would have found himself limited in the world of Confucius or of Comte.
And the third point is this; that while it is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven.
This is the trinity of truths symbolised here by the three types in the old Christmas story; the shepherds and the kings and that other king who warred upon the children. It is simply not true to say that other religions and philosophies are in this respect its rivals. It is not true to say that any one of them combines these characters; it is not true to say that any one of them pretends to combine them. Buddhism may profess to be equally mystical; it does not even profess to be equally military. Islam may profess to be equally military; it does not even profess to be equally metaphysical and subtle. Confucianism may profess to satisfy the need of the philosophers for order and reason; it does not even profess to satisfy the need of the mystics for miracle and sacrament and the consecration of concrete things.
There are many evidences of this presence of a spirit at once universal and unique. One will serve here which is the symbol of the subject of this chapter; that no other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated. Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was poetical, or because it was philosophical, or any number of other things in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can some times take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush us and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become a strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.
--–The Everlasting Man (Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications, 2008 paperback ed. of the 1925 original), pp. 114-116
This mediator must represent God to humankind, and humankind to God. He must have points of contact with both God and humanity, and yet be distinguishable from them both….the central Christian idea of the incarnation, which expresses the belief that Jesus is both God and man, divine and human, portrays Jesus as the perfect mediator between God and human beings. He, and he alone, is able to redeem us and reconcile us to God.
--"I Believe": Exploring the Apostles' Creed ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.48
The Gospel is not that Jesus Christ comes to earth, tells us how to live, we live a good life and then God owes us blessing. The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died—so when we believe in Him, we live a life of grateful joy for Him. If these things didn’t happen, if they’re just parables, what you are saying is that if you try hard enough, God will accept you.
If Jesus didn’t come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn’t come, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All that will do is crush you into the ground. Because if it isn’t true that John saw Him, heard Him, felt Him, that Jesus really came to do these things, then Christmas is depressing.
First John 1:3 says, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” “Fellowship” means that if Jesus Christ has come, if Christmas is true, then we’ve got a basis for a personal relationship with God. God is no longer a remote idea or a force we cower before, but we can know Him personally. He’s become graspable.
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Whatever the coming of the kingdom means, it cannot mean that the healing, reconciling, non-combative Christ we know was an imposter, just biding his time until he could beat down his enemies under his feet. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. If we seek the kingdom by violence, then the violent will bear it away.
I don’t know why we would be disappointed to discover that Christ comes again as he came the first time—working through small things, not big things, among little people, not powerful people, with local effect, not cosmic effect—except that we find great armies on thundering horses a more adequate display of power. I don’t know why we would be disappointed to discover that the kingdom of heaven operates under the sign of the cross just as the Coming One did, except that we have always been disappointed by God’s reluctance to give us the kind of world, the kind of life, the kind of savior we want.
“And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” he said, knowing better than anyone the disappointing, redemptive ways in which God works--sending a human child into the world instead of a mighty king, sending servants instead of troops--sending people like you and me instead of real disciples to do the work of the Coming One until he comes, for in just this way the kingdom of heaven draws very, very near.
Out of the thousand things which follow directly from this reading of John, I choose three as particularly urgent.
First, John’s view of the incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of that liberal denial which characterised mainstream theology thirty years ago and whose long-term effects are with us still. I grew up hearing lectures and sermons which declared that the idea of God becoming human was a category mistake. No human being could actually be divine; Jesus must therefore have been simply a human being, albeit no doubt (the wonderful patronizing pat on the head of the headmaster to the little boy) a very brilliant one. Phew; that’s all right then; he points to God but he isn’t actually God. And a generation later, but growing straight out of that school of thought, I have had a clergyman writing to me this week to say that the church doesn’t know anything for certain, so what’s all the fuss about? Remove the enfleshed and speaking Word from the centre of your theology, and gradually the whole thing will unravel until all you’re left with is the theological equivalent of the grin on the Cheshire Cat, a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles; no words of judgment because nothing is really wrong except saying that things are wrong, no words of mercy because, if you’re all right as you are, you don’t need mercy, merely ‘affirmation’.
That’s where we are right now; and John’s Christmas message issues a sharp and timely reminder to re-learn the difference between mercy and affirmation, between a Jesus who both embodies and speaks God’s word of judgment and grace and a home-made Jesus (a Da Vinci Code Jesus, if you like) who gives us good advice about discovering who we really are. No wonder John’s gospel has been so unfashionable in many circles. There is a fashion in some quarters for speaking about a ‘theology of incarnation’ and meaning that our task is to discern what God is doing in the world and do it with him. But that is only half the truth, and the wrong half to start with. John’s theology of the incarnation is about God’s word coming as light into darkness, as a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, as the fresh word of judgment and mercy. You might as well say that an incarnational missiology is all about discovering what God is saying No to today, and finding out how to say it with him. That was the lesson Barth and Bonhoeffer had to teach in Germany in the 1930s, and it’s all too relevant as today’s world becomes simultaneously, and at the same points, more liberal and more totalitarian. This Christmas, let’s get real, let’s get Johannine, and let’s listen again to the strange words spoken by the Word made flesh.
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It may seem strange to suggest that part of leading well is helping people see the connection between Christmas and Easter. But it is. For without this connection, Christians have no reason for their joy. Our commercialization of Christmas tries to isolate Christmas, to make it stand on its own apart from Easter. This is a recipe only for sadness.
Of course, practically speaking, it is hard to lead when morose, and it may be even harder to follow a morose leader. More deeply, however, joy is the final response Christians can have to the world in which we live, and especially during Advent and Christmas, leaders need to understand why we can rejoice and why our institutions can be places of joy.
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Jesus Christ. Offices.—He alone had to create a great people, elect, holy, and chosen; to lead, nourish, and bring it into the place of rest and holiness; to make it holy to God; to make it the temple of God; to reconcile it to, and save it from the wrath of God; to free it from the slavery of sin, which visibly reigns in man; to give laws to this people, and engrave these laws on their heart; to offer Himself to God for them, and sacrifice Himself for them; to be a victim without blemish, and Himself the sacrificer, having to offer Himself, His body, and His blood, and yet to offer bread and wine to God…
A crucial event for the church’s confession of the doctrine of the Incarnation came at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D.451), when the church countered both the Nestorian idea that Jesus was two personalities—the Son of God and a man—under one skin, and the Eutychian idea that Jesus’ divinity had swallowed up his humanity. Rejecting both, the council affirmed that Jesus is one divine-human person in two natures (i.e., with two sets of capacities for experience, expression, reaction, and action); and that the two natures are united in his personal being without mixture, confusion, separation, or division; and that each nature retained its own attributes. In other words, all the qualities and powers that are in us, as well as all the qualities and powers that are in God, were, are, and ever will be really and distinguishably present in the one person of the man from Galilee. Thus the Chalcedonian formula affirms the full humanity of the Lord from heaven in categorical terms.
The Incarnation, this mysterious miracle at the heart of historic Christianity, is central in the New Testament witness. That Jews should ever have come to such a belief is amazing. Eight of the nine New Testament writers, like Jesus’ original disciples, were Jews, drilled in the Jewish axiom that there is only one God and that no human is divine. They all teach, however, that Jesus is God’s Messiah, the Spirit-anointed son of David promised in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa. 11:1-5; Christos, “Christ,” is Greek for Messiah). They all present him in a threefold role as teacher, sin-bearer, and ruler—prophet, priest, and king. And in other words, they all insist that Jesus the Messiah should be personally worshiped and trusted—which is to say that he is God no less than he is man. Observe how the four most masterful New Testament theologians (John, Paul, the writer of Hebrews, and Peter) speak to this.
John’s Gospel frames its eyewitness narratives (John 1:14; 19:35; 21:24) with the declarations of its prologue (1:1-18): that Jesus is the eternal divine Logos (Word), agent of Creation and source of all life and light (vv. 1-5, 9), who through becoming “flesh” was revealed as Son of God and source of grace and truth, indeed as “God the only begotten” (vv. 14, 18; NIV text notes). The Gospel is punctuated with “I am” statements that have special significance because I am (Greek: ego eimi) was used to render God’s name in the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14; whenever John reports Jesus as saying ego eimi, a claim to deity is implicit. Examples of this are John 8:28, 58, and the seven declarations of his grace as (a) the Bread of Life, giving spiritual food (6:35, 48, 51); (b) the Light of the World, banishing darkness (8:12; 9:5); (c) the gate for the sheep, giving access to God (10:7, 9); (d) the Good Shepherd, protecting from peril (10:11, 14); (e) the Resurrection and Life, overcoming our death (11:25); (f) the Way, Truth, and Life, guiding to fellowship with the Father (14:6); (g) the true Vine, nurturing for fruitfulness (15:1, 5). Climactically, Thomas worships Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (20:28). Jesus then pronounces a blessing on all who share Thomas’s faith and John urges his readers to join their number (20:29-31).
--Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs (Tyndale House, 2011), pp. 105-106
Read it all beginning here on page 7.
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I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.
The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.
And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.
This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.
Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.
Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ.
For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing:
Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds:
and on earth peace to men of good will
--From Antioch in 386 A.D.
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in thus being laid in a manger, he did, as it were, give an invitation to the most humble to come to him. We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. Had we seen the Master at first riding in state through the streets of Jerusalem with garments laid in the way, and the palm-branches strewed, and the people crying, "Hosanna!" we might have thought, though even the thought would have been wrong, that he was not approachable. Even there, riding upon a colt the foal of an ass, he was so meek and lowly, that the young children clustered about him with their boyish "Hosanna!" Never could there be a being more approachable than Christ. No rough guards pushed poor petitioners away; no array of officious friends were allowed to keep off the importunate widow or the man who clamored that his son might be made whole; the hem of his garment was always trailing where sick folk could reach it, and he himself had a hand always ready to touch the disease, an ear to catch the faintest accents of misery, a soul going forth everywhere in rays of mercy, even as the light of the sun streams on every side beyond that orb itself. By being laid in a manger he proved himself a priest taken from among men, one who has suffered like his brethren, and therefore can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. Of him it was said "He doth eat and drink with publicans and sinners;" "this man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." Even as an infant, by being laid in a manger, he was set forth as the sinner's friend. Come to him, ye that are weary and heavy-laden! Come to him, ye that are broken in spirit, ye who are bowed down in soul! Come to him, ye that despise yourselves and are despised of others! Come to him, publican and harlot! Come to him, thief and drunkard! In the manger there he lies, unguarded from your touch and unshielded from your gaze. Bow the knee, and kiss the Son of God; accept him as your Savior, for he puts himself into that manger that you may approach him. The throne of Solomon might awe you, but the manger of the Son of David must invite you.
...Methinks there was yet another mystery. You remember, brethren, that this place was free to all...
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It's always nice to learn something new. I was talking to some Lebanese students in London recently. They were looking forward to returning home for Christmas, and celebrating this great feast in traditional Lebanese style. In the West, we think of Christ lying in a manger in a stable. In Lebanon, I was told, Christians depict the nativity as taking place in a cave. The reasons for this are lost in the mists of time. Yet the image of Jesus being born in a cave is rich and suggestive.
As we reflect on what Christmas means for billions of Christians across the world, this image can help us unlock some of its themes, and help us understand why it is seen as being so significant....
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The plain meaning therefore is, that the Speech begotten by God before all ages, and who always dwelt with the Father, was made man. On this article there are two things chiefly to be observed. The first is, that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. The second is, that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it. And, therefore, as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons.
--John Calvin (1509-1564)
(It is very difficult to set the stage for this scene, but some background will be helpful. Rayber is one of the novel's central characters and is strongly anti-Christian. He is looking as hard as he can for his nephew, Francis Tarwater, who has run away. This has led him to a small church service, likely a revival meeting, and he is watching what is occurring through a window. Rayber is unable to hear in one ear and in the other he wears a hearing device which sometimes vexes him. The "old man" is a reference to another key character in the novel, Mason Tarwater, whose death and desired burial form an important early part of the book. There is also a mention of Bishop who is Rayber's son and who appears to have Down's syndrome).
. . . A little girl hobbled into the spotlight.
Rayber cringed. Simply by the sight of her he could tell that she was not a fraud, that she was only exploited. She was eleven or twelve with a small delicate face and a head of black hair that looked too thick and heavy for a frail child to support. A cape like her mother's was turned back over one shoulder and her skirt was short as if better to reveal the thin legs twisted from the knees. She held her arms over her head for a moment. "I want to tell you people the story of the world," she said in a loud high child's voice. "I want to tell you why Jesus came and what happened to Him. I want to tell you how He'll come again. I want to tell you to be ready. Most of all," she said, "I want to tell you to be ready so that on the last day you'll rise in the glory of the Lord."
Rayber's fury encompassed the parents, the preacher, all the idiots he could not see who were sitting in front of the child, parties to her degradation. She believed it, she was locked tight in it, chained hand and foot, exactly as he had been, exactly as only a child could be. He felt the taste of his own childhood pain laid again on his tongue like a bitter wafer.
"Do you know who Jesus is?" she cried. "Jesus is the word of God and Jesus is love. The Word of God is love and do you know what love is, you people? If you don't know what love is you won't know Jesus when He comes. You won't be ready. I want to tell you people the story of the world, how it never known when love come, so when love comes again, you'll be ready."
She moved back and forth across the stage, frowning as if she were trying to see the people through the fierce circle of light that followed her. "Listen to me, you people," she said, "God was angry with the world because it always wanted more. It wanted as much as God had and it didn't know what God had but it wanted it and more. It wanted God's own breath, it wanted His very Word and God said, 'I'll make my Word Jesus, I'll give them my Word for a king, I'll give them my very breath for theirs.'
"Listen, you people," she said and flung her arms wide, "God told the world He was going to send it a king and the world waited. The world thought, a golden fleece will do for His bed. Silver and gold and peacock tails, a thousand suns in a peacock's tail will do for His sash. His mother will ride on a four-horned white beast and use the sunset for a cape. She'll trail it behind her over the ground and let the world pull it to pieces, a new one every evening."
To Rayber she was like one of those birds blinded to make it sing more sweetly. Her voice had the tone of a glass bell. His pity encompassed all exploited children--himself when he was a child, Tarwater exploited by the old man, this child exploited by parents, Bishop exploited by the very fact that he was alive.
"The world said, 'How long, Lord, do we have to wait for this?' And the Lord said, 'My Word is coming, my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'" She paused and turned her head to the side, away from the fierce light. Her dark gaze moved slowly until it rested on Rayber's head in the window. He stared back at her. Her eyes remained on his face for a moment. A deep shock went through him. He was certain that the child had looked directly into his heart and seen his pity. He felt that some mysterious connection was established between them.
"'My Word is coming,'" she said, turning back to face the glare, "'my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'"
She began again in a dirge-like tone. "Jesus came on cold straw. Jesus was warmed by the breath of an ox. 'Who is this?' the world said, 'who is this blue-cold child and this woman, plain as the winter? Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child? Is this His will, this plain winter-woman?'
"Listen you people!" she cried, "the world knew in its heart, the same as you know in your hearts and I know in my heart. The world said, 'Love cuts like the cold wind and the will of God is plain as the winter. Where is the summer will of God? Where are the green seasons of God's will? Where is the spring and summer of God's will?'
"They had to flee into Egypt," she said in a low voice and turned her head again and this time her eyes moved directly to Rayber's face in the window and he knew they sought it. He felt himself caught up in her look, held there before the judgment seat of her eyes.
"You and I know," she said turning again, "what the world hoped then. The world hoped old Herod would slay the right child, the world hoped old Herod wouldn't waste those children, but he wasted them. He didn't get the right one. Jesus grew up and raised the dead."
Rayber felt his spirit borne aloft. But not those dead! he cried, not the innocent children, not you, not me when I was a child, not Bishop, not Frank! and he had a vision of himself moving like an avenging angel through the world, gathering up all the children that the Lord, not Herod, had slain.
"Jesus grew up and raised the dead," she cried, "and the world shouted, 'Leave the dead lie. The dead are dead and can stay that way. What do we want with the dead alive?' Oh you people!" she shouted, "they nailed Him to a cross and run a spear through His side and then they said, 'Now we can have some peace, now we can ease our minds.' And they hadn't but only said it when they wanted Him to come again. Their eyes were opened and they saw the glory they had killed.
"Listen world," she cried, flinging up her arms so that the cape flew out behind her, "Jesus is coming again! The mountains are going to lie down like hounds at His feet, the stars are going to perch on His shoulder and when He calls it, the sun is going to fall like a goose for His feast. Will you know the Lord Jesus then? The mountains will know Him and bound forward, the stars will light on His head, the sun will drop down at His feet, but will you know the Lord Jesus then?"
Rayber saw himself fleeing with the child to some enclosed garden where he would teach her the truth, where he would gather all the exploited children of the world and let the sunshine flood their minds.
"If you don't know Him now, you won't know Him then. Listen to me, world, listen to this warning. The Holy Word is in my mouth!
"The Holy Word is in my mouth!" she cried and turned her eyes again on his face in the window. This time there was a lowering concentration in her gaze. He had drawn her attention entirely away from the congregation.
Come away with me! he silently implored, and I'll teach you the truth, I'll save you, beautiful child!
Her eyes still fixed on him, she cried, "I've seen the Lord in a tree of fire! The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean!" She was moving in his direction, the people in front of her forgotten. Rayber's heart began to race. He felt some miraculous communication between them. The child alone in the world was meant to understand him. "Burns the whole world, man and child," she cried, her eye on him, "none can escape." She stopped a little distance from the end of the stage and stood silent, her whole attention directed across the small room to his face on the ledge. Her eyes were large and dark and fierce. He felt that in the space between them, their spirits had broken the bonds of age and ignorance and were mingling in some unheard of knowledge of each other. He was transfixed by the child's silence. Suddenly she raised her arm and pointed toward his face. "Listen you people," she shrieked, "I see a damned soul before my eyes! I see a dead man Jesus hasn't raised. His head is in the window but his ear is deaf to the Holy Word!"
Rayber's head, as if it had been struck by an invisible bolt, dropped from the ledge. He crouched on the ground, his furious spectacled eyes glittering behind the shrubbery. Inside she continued to shriek, "Are you deaf to the Lord's Word? The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean, burns man and child, man and child the same, you people! Be saved in the Lord's fire or perish in your own! Be saved in . . ."
He was groping fiercely about him, slapping at his coat pockets, his head, his chest, not able to find the switch that would cut off the voice. Then his hand touched the button and he snapped it. A silent dark relief enclosed him like shelter after a tormenting wind.
--The Violent Bear It Away (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960), pp.129-132 [my emphasis]
Let’s apply the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world — but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.
Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it.
But there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.
Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the “either/or” approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four “right” interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.
These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.
This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of “events,” but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, “bottom-line” mentality in which everything means only one thing.
Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world — but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.
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I can bring it so neare; but onely the worthy hearer, and the worthy receiver, can call this Lord this Jesus, this Christ, Immanuel God with us; onely that virgin soule, devirginated in the blood of Adam but restored in the blood of the Lambe hath this Ecce, this testimony, this assurance, that God is with him; they that have this Ecce, this testimony, in a rectified conscience, are Godfathers to this child Jesus and may call him Immanuel God with us for as no man can deceive God, so God can deceive no man; God cannot live in the darke himself neither can he leave those who are his in the darke: If he be with thee he will make thee see that he is with thee and never goe out of thy sight, till he have brought thee, where thou canst never goe out of his.
--John Donne (1572-1631), Preached at St. Pauls, upon Christmas Day, in the Evening, 1624
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Although fully divine, Jesus was fully human as well. Had he not been, his life and death would have no redemptive value whatsoever. That God himself passed the death sentence on our sin and disobedience, then came to suffer that sentence himself, after having lived a perfect, sinless life, trading his reward for our punishment is the Gospel in its most concise form. For his sinless life to matter, and be sufficient to earn God’s favor, he had to do it as a man, not a divine being for whom nothing was very difficult.
This is not easy to comprehend, and yet it is the heart of the mystery of salvation. It is no wonder that the early Church worked hard to protect this truth from variants that would have tilted the nature of Christ into one of two heresies: Nestorianism (and several other related heresies) taught that Jesus was fully human, and though certainly specially anointed by God, was not fully God as well. On the other hand Docetism (and several other similar teachings) taught that Jesus was fully God, but only masquerading as human, not really subject to the sorrows, temptations, and trials of human beings.
Docetism seems to have run its course—we don’t hear many people today insisting that Jesus was God and only appeared to be human. But the family of Nestorian views is another matter. It is the preferred stance of the modern world—Jesus was a fully human being, and although given special gifts and grace by God, he was still just human, a first century Semitic man of his time, limited and even (some assert) flawed.
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Ever since I first heard it, my favorite Christmas song--KSH.
Watch and listen to it all.
..the [New Testament] birth stories have become a test case in various controversies. If you believe in miracles, you believe in Jesus' miraculous birth; if you don't, you don't. Both sides turn the question into a shibboleth, not for its own sake but to find out who's in and who's out.
The problem is that "miracle," as used in these controversies, is not a biblical category. The God of the Bible is not a normally absent God who sometimes "intervenes." This God is always present and active, often surprisingly so.
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It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts. "Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace," wrote John Wesley a long time ago.
Among the most familiar Christmas texts is the one in Isaiah: "The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14) Less familiar is its context: Isaiah has been pleading with King Ahaz to put his trust in God’s promise to Israel rather than in alliances with strong military powers like Syria. "If you will not believe, you shall not be established," Isaiah warns Ahaz (7:9). Then the prophet tells the fearful king that God is going to give him a baby as a sign. A baby. Isn’t that just like God, Ahaz must have thought. What Ahaz needed, with Assyria breathing down his neck, was a good army, not a baby.
This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little, of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.
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...[Jesus of Nazareth] was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God”—he was God.
Now, this is not just a pious commonplace: it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he [God] had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
--Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company,1949), page 4 (with special thanks to blog reader and friend WW)
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.
A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.
Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.
On that chilly Christmas Eve in 1914 many of the German forces sang Silent Night, its haunting melody inching across the line.
That carol is still much-loved today, a legacy of the Christmas truce, and a reminder to us all that even in the unlikeliest of places hope can still be found.
A very happy Christmas to you all.
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Listen to and ponder it all.
The message of Christmas for you from Christ this morning is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. The coming of the eternal Son of God into the world as the God-Man, Jesus Christ, is a fact of history. But thousands of Americans fill out Gallup Poll religious surveys that they believe this fact but then live just like everybody else. They have the same anxieties that good things will be lost and the same frustrations that crummy things can't be changed. Evidently there is not much power in giving right answers on religious surveys about historical facts.
That's because the coming of the Son of God into the world is so much more than a historical fact. It was a message of hope sent by God to teenagers and single parents and crabby husbands and sullen wives and overweight women and impotent men and retarded neighbors, and homosexuals and preachers and lovers and you. And since the Son of God lived, died, rose, reigns and is coming again, God's message through him is more than a historical fact. It is a Christmas gift to you this morning, December 25, 1983, from the voice of the living God. Thus says the Lord: the meaning of Christmas is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. The fears that the few good things that make you happy are slipping through your fingers, and the frustrations that the bad things you hate about yourself or your situation can't be changed -- these fears and these frustrations are what Christmas came to destroy. It is God's message of hope this morning that what is good need never be lost and what is bad can be changed.
There are many in our church family who because of age or sickness will inevitably ask themselves the question today: "Is this my last Christmas?" Life is good and precious and we don't want to lose it. We can talk all we want about the good things of life, but if we don't have life we don't have anything. "What does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your life?" O, how precious is our life. If you don't feel it now, wait 'till you get very sick. Then you will know why Hezekiah wept bitterly with his terminal illness and pled for added years (2 Kings. 20:1-7). The message of Christmas to you who see your death on the horizon is that you need never lose your life. It is good to live. Your life is precious and can be saved.
Read it carefully and read it all.
One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, 'freed' from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles--because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends--you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just as every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point and space of time; so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation. Now, if one asks whether that central grand miracle in Christianity is itself probable or improbable, of course, quite clearly you cannot be applying Hume's kind of probability. You cannot mean a probability based on statistics according to which the more often a thing has happened, the more likely it is to happen again (the more often you get indigestion from eating a certain food, the more probable it is, if you eat it again, that you again have indigestion). Certainly the Incarnation cannot be probable in that sense. It is of its very nature to have happened only once. But then it is of the very nature of the history of this world to have happened only once; and if the Incarnation happened at all, it is the central chapter of that history. It is improbable in the same way in which the whole of nature is improbable, because it is only there once, and will happen only once.
--C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
The Archbishop was regrettably not able to deliver it at Canterbury Cathedral this morning due to suffering from a severe cold.
The Christmas story could be told simply with a happy ending where the gospel reading ended. ‘Shepherds are cold, shepherds see angels, shepherds head into town and see baby, and shepherds disappear into sunrise, happy’. If we end there, Christmas removes us from reality. Christmas becomes something utterly remote, about lives entirely different, fictional, naïve, tidy. That’s not Christmas. Jesus came to the reality of this world to transform that reality - not to take us into some fantasy kind of ‘happy ever after’ but to ‘Good News of great joy for all people.’
It is Good News precisely because God addresses the world as it is. Isaiah speaks of warriors and garments rolled in blood, of yokes on people’s shoulders, of oppression. We know that story; it is the lived reality of so many suffering today. Yet Isaiah announces the news of God bringing light, joy, and exultation, through a child!
It is ‘good news of great joy’ because a helpless baby (who is God) becomes the one who changes this world decisively. Differently to any other figure in human history Jesus breaks in, not to help us escape, but to transform and take hold of our past, our present and our future. This baby brings the promise of forgiveness, the certainty of love and the hope of peace.
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God with us means more than God over or side by side with us, before or behind us. It means more than His divine being in even the most intimate active connection with our human being otherwise peculiar to Him. At this point, at the heart of the Christian message and in relation to the event of which it speaks, it means that God has made himself the one who fulfills his redemptive will. It means that He Himself in His own person —at His own cost but also on His own initiative—has become the inconceivable Yet and Nevertheless of this event, and so its clear and well-founded and legitimate, its true and holy and righteous Therefore. It means that God has become man in order as such, but in divine sovereignty, to take up our case. What takes place in the work of inconceivable mercy is, therefore, the free overruling of God, but it is not an arbitrary overlooking and ignoring, not an artificial bridging, covering over or hiding, but a real closing of the breach, gulf and abyss between God and us for which we are responsible. At the very point where we refuse and fail, offending and provoking God, making ourselves impossible before Him and in that way missing our destiny, treading under foot our dignity, forfeiting our right, losing our salvation and hopelessly compromising our creaturely being—at that very point God Himself intervenes as man.
--Church Dogmatics (IV.1) [E.T. By Geoffrey Bromiley and Thomas Torrance of the German Original] (London: T and T Clark, 1956), page 12
Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”
Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild He lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner Man:
O! to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.
--You can find the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal version here (the 5th stanza is missing). The 1982 Episcopal Hymnal only includes the first three verses (with modified language)--KSH
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us Acts 17:27 before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us. And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what was come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how by little and little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father's handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours. For He did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to appear. For if He willed merely to appear, He was able to effect His divine appearance by some other and higher means as well. But He takes a body of our kind, and not merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man, a body clean and in very truth pure from intercourse of men. For being Himself mighty, and Artificer of everything, He prepares the body in the Virgin as a temple unto Himself, and makes it His very own as an instrument, in it manifested, and in it dwelling. And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father—doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord's body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.
--Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word
that man was
made like God before,
But that God should
be like man
--John Donne (1572-1631)
Looking back to my childhood, I can see that this was what Alice did for me. I loved the thought of plunging down a rabbit hole and falling into a new world, or pushing through a mirror on the wall and stepping into topsy-turvy-dom. In those imaginary places, the laws of normal life didn’t apply any more. Nothing was what it seemed. And yet it didn’t feel any the less real. In some ways, these worlds of fiction seemed almost tangible, populated by characters you got to know. Yes, in the end Alice has to wake up from her dream. But her journey has changed her. And those of us who travel with her.
I don’t reckon it’s fanciful to think about Christmas in this kind of way. It’s a time of year when we not only dream about a kinder, fairer, better world, but even dare to try living it out. How? By thinking of other people through Christmas greetings, the presents we give as symbols of our love and care, noticing the needs of others far and near and responding with compassion. We long for a new start for our world, our society, ourselves and those we care for. And in small ways, we enter into the spirit of that new beginning.
These are the dreams, the hopes, the vision embodied in the Child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
Read it all.
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At once very much a man of God yet also a man of the world, the archbishop manages to combine both to put his evangelical faith into action, using his experience of business to push forward issues ranging from ethics in the City to payday lenders and poverty in the UK.
He has formed around him a team of expert advisers and cut through Lambeth Palace bureaucracy to ensure he has the people he needs to turn his vision into reality.
"It's a style of leadership nurtured in the business world. He doesn't mess around, and he has a very clear vision of where he wants to go," says Ruth Gledhill, contributing editor to Christian Today.
"His leadership has meant that you can feel a brightening and lifting of the atmosphere in church - and you think 'maybe we have got a future'.
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One example Jackson pointed to was an evocative passage adapted from Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” as a poetic account of life after death placed on the lips of Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in “The Return of the King”: “The journey doesn’t end here …. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass …. and then you see it: white shores, and beyond …. a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
This is a lovely gloss on Tolkien — and there are similar spiritually themed touches in the “Rings” movies. Yet in the latest “Hobbit” movie, where Tolkien has a dying character utter the memorable line, “I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed,” the film version unconscionably omits this line entirely.
Changes like these are sadly typical of the “Hobbit” prequel trilogy, which is far cruder and less sensitive to the charm and beauty of its source material than the “Lord of the Rings” films were. As bad as Christopher Tolkien’s fears in 2012 about “The Hobbit” films might have been, the reality is worse.
Read it all from Crux.
[Raphael] Lataster has also written a book entitled There Was No Jesus, There is No God, a rather unsubtle contribution to the growing "new atheist" genre. And he is on his way to completing his PhD at Sydney University - notably in religious philosophy, not in history. His thesis, I understand, critiques the American philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig.
But my concern is not with atheism, religious philosophy, or even Christian apologetics. It is with history. As his former lecturer, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Raphael's 1000 words on Jesus would not receive a pass mark in any history class I can imagine, even if it were meant to be a mere "personal reflection" on contemporary Jesus scholarship. Lataster is a better student than his piece suggests. But the rigours of academia in general - and the discipline of history, in particular - demand that his numerous misrepresentations of scholarship would leave a marker little choice but to fail him.
First, Lataster has offered an academic contrivance, as he seeks to give respectability to what is known as "mythicism" - the view that Jesus started out as a purely celestial figure revealed in dreams and visions to prophetic figures like the apostle Paul and only later written into history-sounding texts like the Gospels. There is a potential model for this theory, of course. Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, were somewhat historicised over the course of about 300 years. But somehow this is meant to have happened to Jesus in the space of 10-20 years: from celestial deity to crucified Palestinian peasant in half a generation!
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That Mary is the Mother of God means we do not begin with speculative accounts about God's existence or nature. Our God is to be found in Mary's womb. Because our God is to be found in Mary's body we believe that same God desires to be taken in by us in this miraculous gift of the holy Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. By partaking of this gift, a gift that if pondered leads us to ask with Mary, "How can this be?" But the gift makes the question possible, because through this gift we become participants in a time that is filled with God's providential care of us. We are Christians. We live in Mary's time.
Such a time is anything but empty. Rather, it is a time storied by people whose lives witness to the Lord of time, the Lord who encompasses all life and death. I suggested above that there was a politics often associated with the question, "Do you believe in the virgin birth?" There is also a politics that is entailed by our affirmation that Mary is the Mother of God. The politics of Mary is a politics of joy characteristic of a people who have no reason to be desperate. They have no reason to be desperate because they have faith in the Lord of time.
So, on this Sunday, a Sunday when Christmas seems so near, let us remember that because we are Mary's people we are in no hurry. Let us wait in patience for the Christ-child whose own life depended on the lives of Mary and Joseph. The Word of God was made flesh. He came so that we might experience the fullness of time. Let us wait with Mary and Joseph for the child who will redeem all of time. Let us wait with patience and hope so that the world may discover that time is not empty; rather time remains pregnant with God's promise found in Mary, the Mother of God.
Read it all.
Last week, I visited Sierra Leone very briefly, far too briefly in fact. The purpose of the visit was to meet and talk with faith leaders who have been among those leading the struggle against Ebola. What a difference! Living their lives at risk, passionately and deeply involved in the people around them, they demonstrated a love and a reaching out to the grieving, to the ill and to the frightened that was utterly inspiring. The orphans of Ebola are being cared for, not least due to the generosity from this country. All those I met spoke of that.
What made the difference? The war lords claimed to be Christians, but left no space for Jesus in their lives. On the first Christmas, the shepherds, kings, Mary and Joseph, took the decision to allow God to take the central space in their lives; God who gave them every choice and freedom by revealing Himself space for in the form of a helpless baby. We still remember them for their joy, their generosity, their sacrificial self-giving. King Herod refused space in life for anyone except himself and we remember him for his cruelty.
For me, in all the busyness of Christmas there is one essential: that I gaze again at the reality of Jesus, God himself, in human and helpless form, who comes to rule and reign in this world, not by force but by love, and that seeing Him, I give Him His rightful place in my life.
Read it all.
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Read it all.
At the first Christmas Jesus did not have it so easy.
He too came as a stranger, in his mother’s womb, but his was a humble birth in a poor stable; there was only just enough room for him.
The ox and ass made for a smelly and unhygienic maternity ward.
His first guests were a bunch of shepherds, in those days society’s outcasts; the last people you or I would probably invite to our celebration of a new birth.
All this, however, was God’s deliberate choice.
God wanted to be with those on the edge who did not have much room.
Read it all.
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I don’t know what a perfect first-century family looked like, but I’m certain that Joseph and Mary didn’t fit the ideal. Joseph had no money. He had no safe place for his wife to give birth and no plausible explanation for her pregnancy. How scared they must have been. Their family was turned upside down before it even began.
I know about unusual families. I come from one. There is a picture in one of my mother’s photo albums of the day she and my stepfather were married. They are holding hands and looking pleased but also totally overwhelmed. Each had lost a spouse to cancer only 18 months before. Their kids are on either side of them—six teenagers with mouths stuffed full of braces, heads full of regrettable ’80s hair, each one of them with a dead look in his or her eyes. When I look at that picture and see my biological sister, my adopted sister, three step-siblings whom I didn’t know, my stepfather, my mother and me, I don’t see an ideal family. I see something quite unusual.
Read it all.
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‘Cheer up, you’re worse than you think,” Rev. Timothy Keller says with a smile. He’s explaining that humans are more weak, more fallen, more warped than they “ever dare admit or even believe.” Then comes the good news: At the same time people are “more loved in Christ and more accepted than they could ever imagine or hope.”
Do you know many New Yorkers who believe that? Perhaps not, but on Sundays some 5,500 city folk file into the church Mr. Keller founded 25 years ago, Redeemer Presbyterian, at eight packed services across three Manhattan locations, the Greenwich Village campus of which I attend on Sundays. The service is traditional, the congregation less so: Most who show up, if you can believe it, are single and under 35, whether bankers, lawyers, actors or artists.
Mr. Keller has a growing national following and is often described as a Christian intellectual who takes on the likes of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud in a sermon rooted in a specific Biblical text. He’ll sprinkle in references from popular culture—something about contentment he read in the Atlantic, a poignant passage from “Lord of the Rings.” His fruitful work has multiplied. Redeemer efforts have helped plant more than 300 churches in 45 cities, from Santiago to Dubai.
Read it all.
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(Please note you need to guess the speaker and the date before clicking the link--KSH).
These three leading present-day scholars and writers give their testimony clearly and definitely for the Christian Faith, and the notable thing is that they represent a distinct movement. A large number of influential writers are giving the same testimony; poets and writers such as T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, Richardson Wright, and Jacques Maritain. And it should be noted that the writers here mentioned are all of them laymen, that four of them, including C. S. Lewis, were formerly avowed secularists, and that they turned from secularism not to a humanistic and "non-miraculous" Christianity, but to the Christian Gospel as Revealed, and as declared by the Church and the Scriptures. The influence of secularism in our life is still widespread and powerful. As Mr. Lewis says, the 19th century materialist philosophy still permeates the popular mind. Naturalistic assumptions still "meet us on every side--even from the pens of clergymen." But the tide is turning. There have been evidences of this for some time...but the movement is now clear and unmistakable, and it is especially evident on the highest levels of thought and knowledge.Read it all.
This turning of the tide, the turning of men such as those above named from Secularism to full and definite Christian belief is of great significance, and it brings a clear call to us as a Church. It tells us that we need in the Church today a great renewal of evangelical faith and power. It tells us that if the Church is to do her work for God, and for the help of men, she must stand fearlessly and uncompromisingly for the reality and truth and glory of the supernatural. It calls us to make our present campaign of Evangelism a bolder and clearer call to men for full belief in Christ and His Gospel. This is the very meaning of evangelism. Evangelism is bringing men and women personally to the knowledge and the love of Jesus Christ, and so to repentance, faith, and "newness of life." Archbishop William Temple's Commission told us that "To evangelize is so to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Ghost that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and to follow Him as their King, in the fellowship of His Church."
The vital question in the life of the Church today is not whether we are called "high church" or "low church,"...not whether we use certain ritual forms and acts, but whether we believe in Jesus Christ as "God manifest in the flesh," the Second Person of the Eternal Trinity, the Christ of the Scriptures Who has "all power in heaven and in earth" and Who is Saviour, Lord, and God. It is the full, clear teaching of the Christian Faith that is needed, and it is this to which men are now turning.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Theology Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
Though I respected, and continue to respect, both groups [IVCF and Campus Crusade] equally, I eventually chose IVCF because it put more focus on friendship evangelism and less on door-to-door evangelism. Whereas the door-to-door method follows a sales model, with the evangelist approaching a stranger and then taking him through a carefully scripted gospel presentation (the booklet of choice in my day was “The Four Spiritual Laws”), the friendship model attempts first to cultivate a relationship with a non-believer (who might live in your dorm or attend classes with you) and then introduce the gospel in a more casual and natural way.
At the time, I did not possess any theories about the most effective or most biblical method of evangelism. I gravitated toward friendship evangelism because it better suited my personality and because, well, it “felt” right. Like many other Americans, I’ve always hated the “hard sell” and have quickly (if politely) closed the door or hung up the phone whenever a solicitor has tried to sell me something. If I was going to share the message of grace with my fellow students, I did not want it to sound like a sales pitch. I wanted it to rise up organically from our friendship, or at least from a sense of shared interests and passions.
Jonathan Dodson, founding pastor of City Life church in Austin, Texas, has practiced, and clearly respects, both forms of evangelism. However, in his new book, The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing (a 2015 CT Book Awards winner), he argues that our current social-cultural moment has made the door-to-door model not only less effective, but potentially counter-productive. “Wave after wave of rationalistic, rehearsed (and at times coerced and confrontational) evangelism,” he writes in his preface, “has inoculated, if not antagonized, the broader culture.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Psychology Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Christology Soteriology
On a Christmas Eve in the 12th century, a Benedictine nun named Elisabeth kept vigil in the church with her community. During the celebration of the Eucharist, she saw a woman sitting in the center of a bright, shining sun. The woman’s hair fell over her shoulders, and the light from the sun around her filled the monastery where Elisabeth was praying and then gradually spread out to illuminate the entire world.
As Elisabeth gazed at the woman, a dark cloud moved in to obscure the rays of the sun, and the woman began weeping. Elisabeth’s vision lasted all through the night of Christmas Eve, with the cloud moving in and out, the woman shining and weeping, the earth lightening and darkening.
On Christmas Day an angel appeared to Elisabeth, and she asked him who the woman was. She is the sacred humanity of Jesus, the angel explained, and the sun is the divinity that holds Christ’s humanity and illuminates it.
It’s hard to imagine a better time to have a vision of the humanity of Jesus in all its beauty and compassion than Christmas Eve, one of the most visual liturgical celebrations of the year.
Read it all.
Most Americans believe Christmas goes better with a visit to church, religious Christmas songs in public school concerts, and more focus on Jesus.
And while there’s much banter on cable TV talk shows about a “War on Christmas,” most Americans are fine when people wish them “Happy Holidays.”
All these findings are included in a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, which asked 1,000 Americans about their views on Christmas in a phone survey Sept. 26 to Oct. 5, 2014.
“Christmas traditions that have nothing to do with the Christian faith continue to multiply,” says Scott McConnell, vice-president of LifeWay Research. “Still, most Americans want more of Jesus in their Christmas rather than less.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Sociology * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Christology
Most of us have not experienced what it is like to live in a kingdom, under the true reign of a king. We are familiar with kingdom language. Michael Jackson once reigned as the “king of pop.” Budweiser notoriously declares in their advertisements that they are “the king of beers.” Even LeBron James refers to himself as “King James” and supposedly rules the hardwood. But in reality, this language is devoid of any lasting meaning, missing the essence of true kingship.
Why does this matter? In every society, there is the structure for leadership, a particular person or a body of people to reign over its citizens. Human society needs the structure of justice to deliver its people from the cruelty of the sinful acts of men. Human civilization needs to provide protection over its people to promote what is good and guard peace in the land. We all want someone to look to, to lead the way, to make the difficult calls in order to seek our welfare. However, as history has shown, we have never seen that perfect king-like leader. We have never experienced the perfect and pure rule of a king. Even our best leaders are flawed, and our worst leaders can be tyrants.
However, while the human experience leaves us longing for the perfect rule of a perfect king, the Bible provides us with a more meaningful, hope-filled understanding of true kingdom reign.
Read it all (hat tip:Lent+Beyond)
You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * South Carolina * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
This is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without contrition. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * International News & Commentary Europe Germany * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Soteriology Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology)
I had been ordained for a month and was meeting with two people appointed to evaluate my fitness for ministry....The question that I've never forgotten was, "Do you preach for a decision?"
The question has haunted me. We preachers proclaim good news and speak about all the amazing ways that good news penetrates, comforts, challenges and transforms lives. But my questioner had a point: proclaiming good news ought to in some way lead to a response, a decision of some kind. Otherwise proclaiming the good news of unconditional divine love can be an exercise in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." Preaching ought to lead to people caring more, giving more and living more. It is the assurance of God's presence, to be sure, and it is testimony to God's healing love. But it is also an invitation to do something.
--John M. Buchanan, Christian Century, October 4, 2011, issue, page 3
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Culture-Watch Psychology Religion & Culture * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
This month marks the tricentennial of the birth of the most famous man in America before the Revolution. George Whitefield, born on Dec. 16, 1714, was a Church of England minister who led the Great Awakening, a series of Christian revivals that swept through Britain and America in the mid-1700s. Whitefield drew enormous audiences wherever he went on both sides of the Atlantic, and his publications alone doubled the output of the American colonial presses between 1739 and 1742. If there is a modern figure comparable to Whitefield, it is Billy Graham. Buteven Mr. Graham has followed a path first cut by Whitefield.
What made Whitefield and his gospel message so famous? First, he mastered the period’s new media. Cultivating a vast network of newspaper publicity, printers and letter-writing correspondents, Whitefield used all means available to get the word out.
Most important, he joined with Benjamin Franklin, who became Whitefield’s main printer in America, even though Franklin was no evangelical. Their business relationship transformed into a close friendship, although Whitefield routinely pressed Franklin, unsuccessfully, about his need for Jesus.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Christology Soteriology
The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, redemption and relationship.
So, what happened? How did it turn into stuff, stress and debt?
Somehow, we’ve traded the best story in the world for the story of what’s on sale.
Enter Advent Conspiracy!
In 2006, several pastors got together to make Christmas a revolutionary event by encouraging their faith communities to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. This year, Christ-St. Paul's joins forces with many churches who are doing just that: Engaging in authentic worship and giving.
Read it all and follow the links.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Advent Parish Ministry * South Carolina * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
Sometime in 2010, I became flaccid in my soul. What I mean is that I began to think I had some entitlements before God. I told God, “Hey, I am so tired. Can I take a break? I am not going to do anything very wrong, I just think that I deserve to have the opportunity to back off.” Progressively, I became spiritually lazy. Then I broke into a sudden depression that made me understand what Angie went though before the bullet went through her. I thought that the depression would leave, and I would learn my lesson. You know, so I could relate to others. Well, the depression has never really left. I know better how to deal with it, but it is still there. More and more, I backed out of things. You know . . . the entitlements I had. But these entitlements were slowly turning me into someone else.
I love God. However, He and I have a complicated relationship. My greatest prayer is that He shapes me into someone who glorifies Him and I continue to have hope for this from time to time. But, as I backed out of involvement in church (entitlement), became lazy (entitlement), quit working on my marriage (entitlement), picked up the smoking habit again (entitlement), and stopped investing so much in my kids life (entitlement), these actions only served to hurt my soul more deeply, and placed hope further and further out of reach. It was as if there is/was a part of my mind that needed to rebel and give God the middle finger for putting me through so much. “You are going to do this to me, huh? Well, how about I do this to You?”
Who I am today is someone who needs to hope again. I realized this as I was, of all things, watching the latest X-Men. You know, when Professor Xavier goes back in time and talks to his younger disenchanted self? He says, “We need you to hope again.” It struck me at that moment that this was me. I needed to hope again.
Read it all (also used in today's Sunday school class).
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Children Health & Medicine Marriage & Family Psychology Suicide * Theology Anthropology Christology Eschatology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
Evangelism is not a survival strategy for the church, but is instead an activity “central to being the people of God”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday.
Because we worship a God revealed in Jesus Christ who was “sent out to sow, to gather, and to draw back in”, as Christians when we evangelise we reflect the nature of God, he said.
Archbishop Justin, who has made evangelism a priority for his ministry, was speaking at the Church Army’s annual general meeting in central London, where he addressed evangelists from across the UK and Ireland.
Read it all.
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words “compelle intrare,” compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.--C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Harcourt Brace, 1956), p.228
Dear Brother and Sister Anglicans:
It is a beautiful building, isn’t it? Those white spires reaching into a perfect blue sky! Today, November 14, 2014, that building, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s National Cathedral, will for the first time offer Muslim Friday Prayers (Jumu’ah) within the sanctuary.
The prayers, which the Cathedral will proudly webcast live from their website, will be co-sponsored by the leaders of such Muslim organizations as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), and Masjid Mohammed (The Nation’s Mosque), as well as South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool and the Cathedral’s Director of Liturgy, the Rev. Canon Gina Campbell. CAIR, ISNA, MPAC, and ADAMS are all affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (the Ikhwan).
I took the photo of the National Cathedral in 2006 while I was with hundreds of Iranian Americans — both Christian and Muslim — protesting the Cathedral’s invitation to former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami to speak there. Family members of those who languished and/or died in Iranian prisons held posters with their loved ones’ pictures. Other signs showed women being stoned — during the years of Khatami’s presidency or tenure as Minister of Culture.
Read it all.
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