Friday, November 30, 2007

Sacred Space as Public Space

Characteristic of the mainline church tradition, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is a denomination committed to freedom of thought, social justice, and understanding others. So when you enter the doors of a local UCC church, it's possible to hear advocacy on a whole host of social issues, from many viewpoints-- at a worship service, a Sunday School class, or a community event.

The free exchange and consideration of ideas is essential in order for an individual or group to decide beliefs and direct actions. To this end, United Church of Christ congregations often act as a public square. Their rooms, tables, and chairs provide the literal space for issues to get hashed out. But in contrast to secular community buildings, the space of a church is unique. In subtle and not so subtle ways, religious spaces are infused with the presence of the divine.

Which leads to a question: What degree of accountability should a local church incur when it hosts an outside group that espouses controversial, dare I say, unbiblical views?

Consider this example. On Thursday, November 29, Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City, Iowa hosted a noon luncheon of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, a non-profit association affiliated with the University of Iowa's International Programs. Ms. Sue Simon, of the George Soros funded Open Society Institute, spoke on, "The Global Movement for Sex Worker Health and Rights: Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs."

Inside a UCC church, Simon argued that society should legalize prostitution. Daily Iowan reporter Shawn Gude writes:
Iowa City native and City High graduate Sue Simon argued for increased rights and an end to negative stereotyping for sex workers around the world Thursday afternoon at the Congregational United Church of Christ in an Iowa City Foreign Relations Council-sponsored event.

Making the distinction between sex workers and human sex trafficking - two things too commonly equated with each other, Simon said - she argued that many individuals she has come in contact with through her international work have been in the profession willingly, whether it's for personal, economic, or social reasons.

"Many believe there is no good reason to get into or remain in sex work," Simon said. "The reality is that for a lot of people, sex work is their best or only opportunity to earn enough money to support their families."

...Asserting the validity of the sex-worker profession, Simon decried the treatment such workers receive and "right-wing conservatives and prohibitionists … who believe they can and should end sex work because of their religions or moral beliefs."

...She also advocated for the complete decriminalization of the sex-worker profession throughout the world. And instead of state discrimination against prostitutes, governments should advocate for the ethical treatment of sex workers, she asserted.

"No one should lose their human rights because of the work they do," she told the crowd of approximately 60, who sat around 11 tablecloth-covered tables.
It's protocol to report the facts of an event, but it's interesting we read about the "11 tablecloth- covered tables." Could it be the reporter found it a tad odd that, of all places, it was in a "sacred place" he heard an uncontested argument for legalized prostitution?

When a church hosts an outside group, it's easy for the church to say, "The views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of ... blah, blah, blah."

Frankly, that's a cop out excuse.

Church leaders should be savvy enough to know that whenever they lend out their sacred space as an "impartial" public square, it can easily become an advocacy forum-- one that carries with it the church's implicit endorsement.

Lending sacred space for this kind of radical advocacy is tragically unfaithful.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Getting Ready for Christmas

People are getting ready for Christmas.

Putting up the Christmas tree. Hanging up lights. Buying presents.

But how do you get your heart ready for Christmas?

Usually, people skip over the birth story of John the Baptist in Luke 1 in order to get to the birth story of Jesus. But John's parents-- Zechariah and Elizabeth-- have much to teach us.

As the story opens, Luke tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth are Jews par excellence. Zechariah is a priest in the Jerusalem Temple. Elizabeth's family background is the priestly line of Aaron. "Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly," Luke tells us in 1:6. Everything about their lives outstanding, except for one thing. They have no children, which at that time was a social disgrace. Imagine, they were "well off" in so many ways, richly blessed by God, yet they had their own unrelenting burden.

But God acts to fill their lives. When Zechariah gets the privilege of offering incenses to God in a private room inside the sanctuary, he gets an incredible surprise. An angel appears to him and announces that his wife will have a son and this child will help prepare the way for the coming of Messiah.

Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." Apparently, his question was full of doubt. The angel mildly rebukes Zechariah and renders him speechless until the time that his son is born. Meanwhile, when Elizabeth does become pregnant, Luke quotes her saying, "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."

How do we get our hearts ready for Christmas?

By being open. Be open to God's activity.

Zechariah was an upright man who fulfilled all of God's commands. And yet, when God announced that he would have a son who would get Israel ready for the Lord's coming, Zechariah was unable or unwilling to receive the news. Though godly, he wasn't open, and thus wasn't ready when God acted. On the other hand, Elizabeth was open and ready. Though she was beyond child bearing years, God enabled her pregnancy, and she rejoices in God's activity, declaring the Lord has shown her favor and taking away her shame.

How can we be open to God's activity? Be open to serve. Be open to love. Be open to share. We may not realize it, but God's Spirit is moving. Today. Now. People need a Savior. You who know Jesus are God's exclusive vessel in the world. Be God's light. Be open. And be ready.

You never know what God might do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Links to the Intergoogle

Silly Game: Need to waste time? Toss this online paper airplane.

Probably: The Dawn Treader asks, "Is blogging a form of pride?"

A Prayer for Rich Preachers: Accused of lavish spending and gross mismanagement, Richard Roberts has resigned the presidency of the university that bears his father's name, Oral Roberts. After Christianity Today's "Live Blog" reported this news, I like this prayer offered up by a reader named "Jack Knife":
Oh Lord! Enlighten the unbelievers with a sign of your presence! Test the faith of your servants Richard and Lindsay Roberts, Paul and Jan Crouch, Benny Hinn, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Joyce Meyers, Paula White, and Creflo Dollar as you did with your servant Job! Allow Satan to take away their riches, houses, cars, and planes, and smite them with dreadful boils. When they, as Job, refuse to curse your name, the unbeliever’s eyes may then be opened!
Cute! A video of a little girl reciting Psalm 23.

U2 Might Like This: A symphonic version of "One" by Bono, Edge, and Brian Eno. Cool.

Politically Incorrect Alliance: What does Wal-Mart and the superstar music group The Eagles have in common? The band self-produced their new 2 disc album, without the help of a major label music company, and then made an exclusive distribution deal with the retail giant. Elites say The Eagles have lost their coolness factor by consorting with big business. Geez, what do you call the The Eagles franchise? I say good for The Eagles and Wal-Mart... and good for me that I got out of the music retail business years ago.

Hell: Emergent church guy Dan Kimball talks about his sermon on hell. He covers all the bases.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Left Over Turkey Casserole

In my home, when a recipe is good, that's a "do-over." In other words, make it again sometime.

After Thanksgiving, "do-over" takes on a different meaning. With all the left over turkey, the Mrs. tries to find inventive ways to "do it over." She's hit jackpot with this recipe, what I call, "Left Over Turkey Casserole." It combines the best of Thanksgiving-- turkey and stuffing-- and makes a great left over meal.

Here's the recipe:
3 lbs or so of left over turkey meat in bite size pieces
1 (10 oz.) can of cream of chicken soup
1 (10 oz.) can of cream of mushroom soup
1 (8 oz.) package of herb-seasoned stuffing mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 2/3 cups of turkey or chicken broth

Combine condensed chicken soup with 1 1/3 cups of broth. Mix well and set aside. Combine stuffing mix and melted butter; reserve 1/4 cup of stuffing mix for garnish. Spoon half of remaining stuffing mix into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Top with half the turkey. Cover with chicken soup mixture. Repeat layers. Mix condensed mushroom soup with remaining half (1 1/3 cups) of broth and spoon over layers. Sprinkle with reserved stuffing mix. Cover and refrigerate over night. Remove casserole from refrigerator 15 minutes before baking. Uncover and bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Makes 8-10 servings.
If you're like me, after you enjoy this, you'll say, "That's a do over!"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

KU vs. MU

Kansas vs. Missouri.

Whoever thought at the beginning of the college football season that this game would play a major factor in deciding the national championship?

Most people in Little River are Kansas State fans-- myself included. Plus, being an Ohio transplant, I definitely have nothing at stake emotionally in the outcome of this game. But for a few hours tonight, I'll be a Kansas fan.

Neither football program has played for such high stakes in a long, long time. So is Kansas head coach Mark Mangino tapping into his players' hyped up emotions? Nope.

From an excellent piece by Rick Plumlee in the Wichita Eagle:
So the message Mangino is preaching this week is the same one he was giving before the Florida International game in September.

"If you rely on emotion, it lasts until about two plays after the opening kickoff and then you're pooped," Mangino said. "We're taking a technical approach to the game. It's about blocking, tackling, running, throwing, playing sound fundamental football. That's what we're focused on."
That quip is a fascinating look at the psychology of motivation.

Tonight, we'll know if it worked.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fire In Nearby Windom Claims Life

Thanksgiving turned tragic for our community when a fire in nearby Windom, Kansas took the life of one woman and seriously injured the firefighter who was trying to rescue her.

KSN-TV in Wichita has the story and video. They report:
Firefighters say the 23-year old victim was trapped on the second floor when the fire broke out. A firefighter tried to save her but the flames were too intense.

"He got the victim to the top of the stairs and then caught on fire himself," Captain Joe Hoffman, McPherson County Fire Department, said. "That's when he retreated."

The firefighter sustained serious burns and was flown to Via Christi St. Francis Medical Center in Wichita. He's been upgraded to fair condition and is expected to recover.
At the scene to offer support and assistance was the pastor of the Windom United Methodist Church, along with two other ministers.

Windom is the first town east of Little River and is part of our school district, USD 444.

Our prayers and sympathy go out to the family.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

By Jennie A. Brownscombe (1850-1936).
Painted in Honesdale, PA, or New York, 1914.
Material : Oil on canvas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Can I Be Thankful When...?

Here's a good Thanksgiving article from Mark D. Roberts. He answers the question, "How can I be thankful when...?"

I could certainly complete that sentence.

How about you? If so, check out Mark's reply.

How Well Do You Know the Master? A Story

This is a "wow" story. It's from a letter written by a Jewish leader to a Protestant leader over issues pertaining to Israel and the Middle East.

A great Hasidic rebbe was surrounded by his disciples, each of whom professed their love for the master. He turned to them and said: "Do you know what causes me pain?"

The disciples were taken aback by the question, for none knew the answer.

The master then addressed them, "Do not imagine that you can love me without an understanding of what causes me pain."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Giving to God" by Mark Allen Powell

About this time of year many churches are talking about stewardship or holding their annual pledge drive. Our church is no different. Sunday will be my annual, "Here's why you ought to give your money to the church" sermon. I don't mind talking about money, but sometimes I feel my message is sophisticated begging.

Helping put stewardship in proper perspective is a book by Mark Allan Powell entitled, "Giving to God: The Bible's Good News about Living a Generous Life." While I haven't even finished the first chapter, each page thus far is insightful and thought provoking.

The book is divided into two parts. The first illumines the biblical meaning of stewardship. It is, "a joy filled aspect of our relationship with God and describes giving to God as an act of worship, an expression of faith, and a discipline for spiritual growth." The second part explores the practical application of giving our money. While Powell knows that biblical stewardship is more than just money, he knows too that giving money is often the most difficult part of stewardship.

Pastors will find plenty of ideas for sermons and those wanting to expand their knowledge and appreciation of stewardship will be richly rewarded.

Here's a choice morsel from page 22 of Powell's book:
In his book Stewards of God, Milo Kauffman relates the story of a poor Hindu in Nepal who brought the last of his rice as an offering to his god. A neighbor told him, "You must not do that. You have to live." His answer was, "No, I don't have to live. But I do have to worship" (p. 174).

At some level, this man was experiencing the same truth as the widow Jesus met in the Temple (Mark 12:41-43). To be perfectly honest, I am a little troubled by both stories because, on a common sense level, I don't know if it is really a good idea for poor men and women to give their last bowls of rice or copper coins (or Social Security checks for that matter) to religious causes... But on another level, one that is less invested in "common sense," I do understand the motivation: for those who make the discovery, worship is what makes life worthwhile.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Faith of the Outsider" by Frank Spina

I read my fair share of books about the Bible. Commentaries, systematic theologies, Christian living, devotionals, and more. All of them are interesting, but honestly, very few are exciting. But occasionally, a special book comes along that makes the Bible dramatically come alive. Frank A. Spina's "The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story" is one of those gems.

"The Faith of the Outsider" examines the stories of Esau (Genesis 25-33), Tamar (Genesis 38), Rahab and Achan (Joshua 2, 7), Naaman and Gehazi (2 Kings 5), Jonah, Ruth, and the woman at the well (John 4). In these seven stories, Spina skillfully shows how "outsiders" move into God's family of faith and how "insiders" end up like outsiders through their bad behavior.

The basis for this insider-outsider motif is rooted in the Old Testament and God's exclusive choice of Israel as the lone nation that represents Himself in the world. While this idea is scandalous in today's culture of inclusivity, Spina explains that, "Israel was not chosen to keep everyone else out of God's fold; Israel was chosen to make it possible for everyone else eventually to be included."

What makes this book a joy to read is Spina's masterful exposition of the stories. He pays careful attention to the text and highlights each episode's literary features-- such as word plays, metaphors, plot, point of view, narration, and character. You experience the drama, irony, and movement of each story-- and through it, you see the heart of God.

If you're hungering to read a book that makes the Bible come alive, this is a flat-out great book. You'll come away appreciating the richness of how each story is told. And you'll be brought face-to-face with a holy, yet merciful God who desires to bring all people into His fold.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Joe Nuxhall 1928-2007

In our memory banks are friendly voices from our youth who remind us of the joy of living.

One of those voices from my youth passed away last night--Cincinnati Reds radio announcer Joe Nuxhall.

Like most boys growing up in Cincinnati during the 1970's, I was a huge baseball fan. I collected baseball cards, played on a knothole team, and cheered for the Reds. Actually, I lived and died for the Reds. They were my team, still are.

Joe Nuxhall, along with play-by-play announcer Marty Brennaman, were the soundtrack of my Cincinnati summers. Joe had a folky, relaxed way of describing the game. He was the perfect antidote to Marty. Together, they called Reds game for 31 years.

During the 1970's, the Cincinnati Reds were the team of decade-- the Big Red Machine. Joe and Marty told us all about it: how Joe Morgan stole another base, how Davy Concepcion made an incredible throw from short, how Johnny Bench blocked home plate, how Pete Rose hustled out a single into a double, how Tony Perez knocked in another RBI, how the Reds beat the Red Sox in that glorious 1975 World Series, and how they swept in Yankees in 1976.

This past July I went back to Cincinnati for vacation and got to hear Joe on the radio one last time. The Reds weren't very good, but it didn't matter. It was just nice hearing Joe's voice.

Win or lose, at the end of every broadcast, Joe would wrap-up his show with, "This is the Ol' left hander rounding third and heading for home." Today, I can't help but think how in death, there's no better home than heaven, for this is where the Lord resides.

Nuxhall was 79. He's survived by his wife and two children.

Thanks Mr. Nuxhall. You made my youth rich with memories.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Going All the Way" by Craig Groeschel

Dating these days is a lot like the old wild, wild west. There are few rules. Bandits run everywhere. The prairie is scattered with casualties. In this kind of ruffian environment, where can a single person turn for sound advice about dating and marriage relationships?

Pastor Craig Groeschel of LifeChurch.TV in Edmund, Oklahoma knows first hand the ups and downs of wild west dating. He admits he had plenty of fun, but was eventually broken by his deceiving ways and selfish living. Turning to Jesus, Groeschel discovered a real and relevant God who transformed his character and his dating practices. Groeschel's new book, "Going All the Way," reveals the tough lessons he learned and offers good biblical counsel toward better relationships.

"Going All the Way" turns a familiar cultural phrase on its head to show how following Jesus in an all out manner reaps blessings and rewards. The key, says Groeschel, is rooted in the Great Commandment--make God your number One and make your significant other number Two. When you seek to honor God and do relationships His way, that dramatically affects how you behave and relate to your number Two.

Groeschel writes primarily for those who've been burned or broken by wild west dating. He offers good advice on how to get yourself out of bad habits and relationships. I especially appreciate chapter 6 and his call for unmarried couples to not live together. And, he shows how God is eager to forgive and rebuild you spiritually. Basically, he argues that if you value marriage (Hebrews 13:4), honor its ideals before you get married, not just afterwards.

"Going All the Way" isn't just a book on dating. It goes "all the way" to paint the big picture of a relationship's maturity into marriage. There, Groeschel devotes several chapters on what it takes to make a marriage thrive, not just survive. Again, singles will appreciate how what they do today shapes their marriage relationship tomorrow.

This book is a good primer for those seeking godly dating advice-- especially singles who are looking for a better way than the culture's anything goes attitude.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Links to the Intergoogle 11-13-07

Assertion: Fair Trade doesn't really help the poor. I've never heard anyone even dare challenge the idea.

One-way street: Thinking is “free” if you move away from God, not toward God. Case in point? The criticism philosopher Antony Flew has received since publicly renouncing atheism and embracing belief in God's existence.

No Ban, But: The Catholic News Agency reports China won't allow 2008 summer Olympic athletes to bring in a Bible for security reasons. But the official Beijing Olympic site says, "Each traveler is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China." While that's better than Saudi Arabia, it's still typical Communist fare.

New Questions/Answers about Jesus' Resurrection: Craig Lane responds to skepticism of Dale C. Allison and his book, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (T&T Clark, 2005). Excellent review for what looks like an excellent book.

Good Quote: Missionary Roland Allen, responding in a 1930's letter to his sponsors who were asking for big stories: "I do not trust spectacular things. Give me the seed growing secretly every time."

Bible, Beer, and Bubbly: Writes Daniel Whitfield: "Based on the 247 references to wine and strong drink... The Bible has several warnings against drunkenness, but only one caution against the responsible use of alcohol in celebration and with meals."

Brainstorm 100: Tackle any issue by making a list of 100. A real idea generator. I'm gonna try this.

Yes, we have no bananas: You won't see this kind of picture everyday.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Historic Kansas Church Leaves UCC

Beecher Bible & Rifle Church, a historic Congregational church in rural Kansas, has voted to withdraw from the United Church of Christ.

The decision to leave centered on the General Synod's controversial marriage declaration and was made back in January according to John Sumner, a member of the church. The church's withdraw became official to the denomination when a notice was announced at the October annual meeting of the North Central Association of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference.

Behind the church's unusual name is the courageous story of faith-based abolitionists from New England who helped Kansas enter the Union as a free state in 1861.

When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the citizens of Kansas were given the right to vote on whether it would join the Union as either a free or slave state. A tense era known as "Bleeding Kansas" ensued. Rushing into Kansas came pro-slavery advocates from the South and free-soilers from the North.

During this time, a group of 60 abolitionists from New Haven, Connecticut determined to uproot themselves and move to Kansas. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher--a famous abolitionist preacher from Brooklyn--pledged 25 Sharps rifles to the group, and a member of Beecher's church donated 25 Bibles, so the settlers could defend themselves and their beliefs.

When the group traveled to Kansas, the rifles were packed in boxes marked, "Books" and "Bibles." The clever trick hid the rifles from hostile slave advocates, along with state and federal authorities who had banned the bringing of weapons into the region. With the help of Beecher Bibles, the group successfully settled into Northwest Kansas near Wamego. In 1857, they started a Congregational church and completed a limestone building in 1862, which stands to this day.

Beecher Bible & Rifle Church is one of the oldest churches in Kansas that continues to hold Sunday morning worship services. Aging membership and a rural location has lowered its weekly attendance to about 10-20. But each year on the last Sunday in August, an anniversary celebration brings out between 75-100.

This church's withdraw is a sad loss and severs one of the United Church of Christ's historic links.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Kids Joke

Often at the dinner table, my three young children will say, "Daddy, tell us a joke."

Here's one I made up that the kids keep reciting to each other:

What did the preacher say when cheese got married?

(Come on, try and guess an answer...)

I now pronounce you Mac-N-Cheese!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why are the Poor Poor?

There's a great conversation about economics and justice at Scot McKnight's blog Jesus Creed-- created from issues raised in Brian McLaren's book, "Everything Must Change."

This response (comment #13) from Michael Kruse about why the poor are poor is thought provoking:
The answer is simple. It is the way we are born into the world and it is the normal human condition.

The question presumes that our affluence is normal and that the poverty of others is an abnormal condition. The presumption is that we have to fix what is wrong with the system that causes other folks poverty. This characterization is completely upside down. The question is what has made the affluent affluent?

Throughout the millennia of human history, the overwhelming majority of people have lived at bear subsistence. The typical number of children who died before there first birthday was 25%. Death in childbirth was common. Life expectancy was in the forties. There was no retirement. Your children provided for you in your old age (and fifty was old). Famine and plagues were ever present. Having any significant wealth beyond bare survival was very rare.

As I’ve pointed out several times already, annual per capita income (in real dollars) was $90 in 12,000 BCE. It took nearly 14,000 years for it to double to $180 in 1750. By 2000 it was $6,600 a year! The number of people in the world living on less than a $1 a day (in real dollars) was 84% in 1820. Today it is less than 20% and expected to be less than 10% by 2020. All of this during a period when the world population grew from less than 1 billion people to 6 billion people! Furthermore, in all but a handful of nations the number of number of children dying before their first birthday has fallen to well under 10% (less than 1% in developed nations), life expectancy has risen by 50-100%. No nation that engages in open trade with other nations has experienced famine in the last fifty years. Disease after disease is being eradicated.

We live in an era of the greatest expansion in widely shared wealth and health in the history of humanity! By historical standards, the last 300 years of human history are just stunning. And yet, from the framing of questions in Brian McLaren's book, Everything Must Change, you would think we lived in some ancient evil empire where darkness has fallen over the face of the planet grinding people into death and poverty.

The question is how to spread the abnormal condition of affluence not to ask what causes the normal condition of poverty.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Message For Scammers

Yesterday I made a home visit to an older couple from my church family. We got talking about the barrage of scamming phone calls they receive, like:
  • "You won the Spanish lottery."
  • "Medicare needs your social security number."
  • "I have a $10,000 check to deliver. The administrative fee is only $800."
Put out with all these ridiculous phone calls, the lady of the home finally told one of these callers:
Do you have a mother? Does your mother know what you're doing? You should be ashamed of yourself!
You know, the Apostle Paul has a description for these callous rip off artists:


They're "the kind who worm their way into homes" (2 Timothy 3:6).

Hey scammers, be forewarned: You're on the hook!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Now That's Discipline!

Did you watch the New England-Indy football game? Two 8-0 teams going head-to-head? It definitely lived up to the hype! I love the NFL.

Imagine sitting in the stands and watching that game at the RCA stadium-- that would be great. But can you imagine being at the game... and not... watching... a... single... play?

I noticed this during CBS' coverage of the game. A TV camera followed a pass play that got caught and players went out of bounds. The stadium erupted in a cheering frenzy.

But wait.

There's several people on the sidelines in yellow shirts with their backs to the action. How can they not be watching the action?!

And then I realized, those are security personnel from CSC. They're trained and paid to not watch the game. Instead, their job is to watch the people watching the game.

Be at the game, but not watch it?

Either that's crazy, or that's real discipline.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Advantages of Ordering Your Theology

Many churches, Christian schools, and seminaries have a statement of faith. Usually it's numbered-- starting at one and continuing to the end. Writing down what you believe sharpens your thinking and declares your faith.

Take the next step: order your theology into a series of concentric circles.

By doing so, here are a few extra things you'll discover:

You can apply the ancient creed, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things things, love."
You can distinguish what is absolutely essential and what is not. For instance, most evangelicals believe the Bible is inerrant (without error). But is it necessary to hold that doctrine in order to be saved? I don't think so, and that's why inerrancy isn't in my center core, even though I believe it. Theology in concentric circles helps you decide what matters of faith are truly important.

You can decide what ecumenical activities you can do with other Christians.
For example, if you believe the Bible is without error, can you work with someone who doesn't, yet believes the Scriptures are infallible? Could you participate in a prayer service featuring several different religions, or an inter-Christian one with representatives from liberal and conservative denominations? Concentric circle theology helps you think through such questions.

You can decide the best local church for you to join.
Evangelicals and Pentecostals both believe that faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation. But Pentecostals speak in tongues while many evangelicals do not. What beliefs and practice can you tolerate?

You can discern what's worth fighting for and to what degree.
Martin Luther started the Protestant reformation in the 16th century after becoming convinced that a person isn't made right in God's sight by human works, but by faith alone in Jesus. I'd say that was a doctrine worth haggling over.

You can prevent your faith from tumbling over like dominoes.
If the resurrection of Jesus isn't real, our faith is vanity, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. That's a core issue. But doubts about the composition of John's Gospel, how the end times unfold, or other matters related to faith need not cause you to throw in the towel. Theology is important, but not every aspect is an "all or nothing" proposition.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ordering Our Theology

"I just can't believe any of it anymore."

This was the statement made by a friend years ago on why he no longer believed Christianity was true. I knew I couldn't respond with Josh McDowell apologetic lines. It was my friend who taught me the responses!

My friend gave up the faith because of a doubt he couldn't answer. His faith was arranged like bowling pins-- when one got knocked down, others quickly followed. Eventually, there was nothing left.

During seminary, one of my mentors, Dr. Dan Wallace, offered a better way for organizing beliefs-- one I've never forgotten since I first heard it. In fact, it's one of the best things I took away from my time at Dallas Seminary.

Arrange your theology in a series of concentric circles.

What's absolutely essential to your faith goes in the center. What's crucial is close to the center. What's non-essential is on the outer edges.

In the center of my circle is the holy and perfect Triune God--Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection is the only hope of salvation from sin-- experienced by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone.

What's in the center of your circle? And where do you prioritize other beliefs, like the nature of the Bible, humanity, or the end times?

C. Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen has an interesting survey to get you started.

And with it, he provides some outstanding categories for plotting your beliefs in a theology of concentric circles.

NEXT TIME: The advantages of arranging your beliefs in concentric circles.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

How Many Pumpkin Seeds?

Yesterday I carved a medium sized pumpkin. Later on, I counted all the seeds that were inside. Guess how many were there?

(scroll down for answer)

(are you sure you want to know? No cheating on answers!)


So how close did you come?

"Anyone can count the seeds in a melon. It takes vision to count the melons in a seed." –Unknown