Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nationalized Christianity -- corrupted faith

In a recent commentary on the book "The Christians as Romans Saw Them", Professor David Gushee (Mercer University) says, "Christianity was persecuted not because most Roman leaders couldn't handle religious diversity, but because they could not accept a kind of diversity that taught people to detach from primary loyalty to the Empire, its sponsoring deities and its way of life. ... Christians will always feel both internal and external pressures to resort to nationalized religion, and this corrupted form of the faith is the version most prevalent in the United States."

Another tidbit: Romans viewed Christianity as an apostasy of Judaism.

After reading the commentary, I wonder if we Christians are not getting really good at persecuting others. We have denominations or even parts of denominations that want to legislate their personal views on society as a whole. We make assumptions that we "know all" about God's Word. Of course we also insist that the particular copy of a particular Bible translation we use is the only accurate one and that we thoroughly understand exactly what every passage meant both to the people of the day as well as to us today. Then we seek to implement our own personal beliefs through local state and national legislation.

It's much too easy for such actions to amount to persecution. And it's the result of people trying to nationalize their religion. The commentary (and the book it pertains to) give much food for thought.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A new view of "You"

Our society constantly pushes us to desire more and buy more. We spend ourselves into debt while others in the scrape by on relative crumbs of money.

The Advent Conspiracy and Rethinking Christmas sites promote increased awareness of others' needs and decreased consumption behavior by us. Pastor Dave promoted those in a recent blog posting, "Advent Resources". The related Trade as One site promotes helping others by buying Fair Trade items. Below is one of their "Trade as One" videos.

Do you have what it takes to lower your stress and decrease the commercialism of Christmas while at the same time helping others?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Advent Conspiracy

Here's a new way of "doing Christmas" that gets closer to the wise men and draws us away from the stress and debt of a modern American Christmas.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Do we live our faith?

Henry Neufeld has food for thought in "Do we live what we believe?". He's editing a book that has some pointed comments. The book's author asserts that the problem with congregational decline may be that people attending church don't really believe what they say they do:

What I do question is how God can be especially present at so many worship services with so little impact. People go back again and again to experience the presence of God and then leave and go on living in the same way.

Either we are not experiencing the presence of God as much as we say we are, or that presence is having much less impact on us than it should.

Beth Quick picked up and expanded on Henry's posting.

Tony Campolo once quipped that Nietzsche came up with his formula that “God is dead” after observing a church service and noting how it felt like God’s funeral.

So ... are our worship services "dead"? Are the hearts of the "faithful" beating only faintly with the Spirit? How many truly feel the presence of God during worship versus how many say they do? Can anyone tell that we are Christians if we don't explicitly broadcast it?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

God is with you

A posting at the Methodist Corner blog by Allen McGraw got me thinking about God-with-us. He referred to the song "Signs" by Five Man Electrical Band. I used Bing to find the song lyrics and then smiled as I couldn't help myself -- I started singing it (the song's guitar chords at a different site).

Near the end of the song, the man says, "thank you Lord for thinking about me, I'm alive and doing fine." God is with us during hard times. Not that he prevents suffering, but that he's right there with us. Jesus suffered on the cross ... in our place ... for our sins. God knows our pain. As a great piece of inspirational music from Joe Parks said, "We're never alone with Jesus."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Distinctive Methodist doctrine

What's distinctive about Methodist doctine? A good place to start your journey on the topic is Wikipedia's several pages on "Doctinal distinctives", which are listed in the "Methodism in America" section of the Methodism page.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Serving others vs personal holiness?

In "Serving Others vs Serving Self", Allen McGraw relates an incident in which someone implied that he preached too much about serving others and not personal holiness. Allen is a United Methodist pastor and seminary student who authors the Methodist Corner blog.

He cites Mark 12:28-34 and states that you can't separate personal holiness from serving others.

This reminds me of the periodic tension between those fervently advocating an evangelism-only approach to outreach vs. those who lean toward a service-only approach. The reality of where Wesley fit was between those two extremes, folks. He preached the gospel and also served the poor and needy.

Allen has it pegged -- if you have real personal holiness, you'll have a true desire to help others. Good deeds flow from faith in God. Good deeds are then God deeds -- we are the vessels of his love.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

God = Allah?

An article titled "YourSay: Each one expresses 'God' in their own way" has an interesting perspective on the term "Allah" as used by Arabic-speaking Christians. The commenters are responding to an original letter suggesting that use of "Allah" by Catholics was offensive and that Methodists and others do not use the word.

Responders point out that differences in the word used for "God" varies worldwide due to native language, not religion or denomination. They also point to early use of "Allah" by people in the ancient world before the coming of Islam. The insistence that Christians not use the term "Allah" is an example of religious persecution of Christians in the modern world.

These are reasoned responses that lead me to wonder about some of the varied Christian viewpoints on Allah. Some hold that God and Allah refer to the same deity. Others insist that God and Allah cannot be the same. These people assert that the Koran and the Bible show two widely different deities.

Is it just possible that we fallible human beings have come to learn of and about God in different ways, through different means, and under different circumstances? If so, would it be so remarkable that each group of peoples would then have different views about God, Heaven, and so on? Since we are fallible, it's highly probably that no one group has the "complete" picture of God.

Perhaps if the proponents of God, Allah, and Yahweh were to approach each others' beliefs with that in mind, we could all work toward a common goal of doing God/Allah/Yahweh's work while we are here on earth.

God - Allah - Yahweh ... the three are one?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Americans increasingly change Faiths

Research by the Pew Research Center shows that Americans increasingly leave the faith they were brought up in for others or desert religion altogether. The Pew study also has interactive section about the survey results.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spam hurts the earth?

According to a study released by McAfee, “Carbon Footprint of Spam,” the world expends 33 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh) of electricity to send, route, and filter spam messages. That’s the equivalent of the electricity required to power 2.4 million homes, the study estimates. And that much energy use emits the same amount of greenhouse gases as 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of gas.

An Information Week article by Thomas Claburn (Apr 16), "Spam is killing the planet", reminds people that even unnecessary computer use causes pollution.

"... the argument that spam should be fought to save the planet can be applied to other computing activities. Consider the environmental impact of more than 11 million World of Warcraft subscribers, or the broader population of gamers and their consoles. How much energy is frittered away as a result of Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks?"

I must confess that I have procrastinated in replacing a power supply in my older computer. So I've had to leave it running 24x7. This reminder should prod me to get that done this weekend. So how serious are we, really, about being good stewards of God's earth? What can you do this week to reduce your computing carbon footprint?

Monday, April 20, 2009

He is risen. Alelluia!

OK, it's really a Praying Mantis in defensive posture, but I got this photo in an email from a relative near Easter.

"He is risen!" is the first thought I had when seeing it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lament at the cross

Love has departed.
Joyful hearts are dark with sorrow.
Our hope has been extinguished.
Oh God, why have you taken the one we need most?
We pray for strength in our hour of need.
Bring us hope again.
Bring joyful light to a darkened world.
Let love return.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Encounter with Jesus" Bible Study Technique

There are lots of different Bible Study methods and approaches. When it comes to the gospels, here's a way to focus on Jesus and spiritual development:

First, select a passage from one of the gospels (a red-letter edition of the Bible may be helpful). Read the passage through and answer the below questions. You may also want to have a Synoptic (parallel) Gospels Bible handy.

Where's Jesus?

  • Where is Jesus in this passage?
  • Where was Jesus prior to this event?
  • With what type of people is Jesus dealing? (crowd, circle of friends, Gentiles or Jews, followers of Jesus, members of what sect)

What does Jesus say?

  • Summarize or quote everything Jesus says.
  • Note what Jesus does not say. Silence is often very telling. It can also unnerve people.
  • Note Jesus' feeling, tone, and attitude.
  • Is your first impression of Jesus' attitude really right or are you making Jesus "like us" -- too human? Look for alternate explanations for Jesus' behavior or how Jesus said something.

What are others' response to Jesus?

  • What do others say about Jesus?
  • What are people's impressions about Jesus; how do they feel about him?
  • How do people respond to Jesus?

How does this passage and insight help me develop spiritually?

  • What are my impressions of Jesus from this passage?
  • What characteristics of Jesus would I like to see in my own life?
  • Did the people's responses to Jesus in the passage convict me or inspire me ?
  • What is Jesus saying in this passage that could or would change my life? How can I work with Him to make it happen?

Reference: If you’d like learn more, read or download the full Discipleship Journal article.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Character Bible Study

Here's one way to study a Bible character:
  1. Use a concordance to locate every reference on that person.
  2. Prayerfully read your character's story several times.
  3. Put yourself in that person's shoes and humbly consider these questions:
    • What did the character do right? Wrong?
    • What motivated him or her?
    • What were the character’s moral strengths and weaknesses?
    • Was there a clear point at which their decline began or was it gradual?
    • What opportunities did he/she have to repent? How did they respond?
    • What could the character have done differently to avoid failing God?
    • In what way(s) am I like this person?
    • What do I need to do to avoid making the same mistakes?
  4. Write a summary that includes a personal application plan.
  5. Finish your study with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

Reference: "Best Bible Study Methods", Discipleship Journal

Monday, January 05, 2009


Scripture Union, a UK organization, now has up and running "WordLive". It's a multimedia Bible experience that lets you interact with the Word in whatever form you like.
  • Choose the Bible translation you prefer
  • Listen to music
  • Listen to podcasts (voice)
  • Look at images
  • Look at video
  • Download and print a Bible study

WordLive is now offering a five-week Lent study for small groups or individuals. As of January 5, Parts 1 and 2 area available.

Check out this nifty resource. As Scripture Union says, "Grab a God moment".