Monday, July 31, 2006

Funny, but some of the arguments against this sound kind of familiar.

Interesting article in Salon about the ongoing movement to ordain women as Catholic priests, regardless of what the leadership says. (You have to watch an ad to read the article, but it's free.)

SDA MIA

Ran into an old friend who pastors in Fayetteville, North Carolina -- the closest church to Camp Bragg, i.e. the Army's home for the 82nd Airborne Division, Special Forces, and Delta Force.

His best guess is there's roughly 500 SDAs in uniform on that base. Roughly half are "hiding out," while the other half eventually show up in church.

So let's help him out -- if you have a church member (or know of a church member) who's stationed at Fort Bragg (or nearby Pope Air Force Base), send his or her name to me, and I'll forward it to my friend.

Yes, and this is exactly the kind of article you'd expect to find in the Washington Post

Ever wonder how those morons who disagree with you can actually believe all that drivel the idiots on their side keep churning out?

It turns out that the human brain is extraordinarily good at spotting the speck in other people's eyes, but ignoring the beam in our own. Click on the title of this post for an interesting article on the neuro-anatomy of hypocrisy.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The problem with "rendering unto Caesar" is that Caesar wants it all

Interesting article in The New York Times on Gregory Boyd -- a megachurch pastor in Minnesota who told his people that being a good Christian isn't necessarily the same thing as being a good Republican.

The immediate results?
  • His church lost 1,000 of its 5,000 members (mainly white, middle-class professionals).
  • He had to lay off seven of its fifty staff members.
  • His church's drive to raise $7 million stalled out at $4 million.

Then again, his church has picked up members from the Black, Hispanic, and Hmong communities.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It's time to punt!

I must admit that I'm utterly flummoxed by this week's lesson -- and if you'll check the links to other websites, you'll find that most other people are also at a loss.

Simply put, Daniel 8 was never meant to stand alone; it is part of a narrative that includes Daniel 9. But deal with this chapter in isolation, and you have evil triumphant, God's sanctuary defiled, and God's people utterly beaten down by their enemies.

Just the kind of message, in other words, that will make your people glad they came to Sabbath School this week.

So what to do?

Three options:
  1. Review chapters 1-7; leave chapters 8 & 9 until next week when you can deal with these two chapters together.
  2. Briefly deal with chapter 8, then go on to discuss Daniel's prayer in chapter 9. Next week, you can complete the discussion of chapter 8 in light of the additional material in chapter 9. (There's more than enough there to keep you busy -- trust me!)
  3. Compare Daniel 8 with Revelation 12 & 13. What does John borrow from Daniel's account? What does he add? How are the messages of these two authors different -- and how are they the same?

And if that doesn't work, then go back and read the story of the Fiery Furnace (chapter 3) or Daniel in the Lion's Den (chapter 6), and ask yourself what these stories add to the events of chapter 8 (and vice versa)!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Attack of the Mutant Creation Stories

One of the oldest tricks in the writing trade is to take an old, familiar story and update it. Move Romeo and Juliet to the slums of New York, for instance, and you get West Side Story. Let Cinderella be an FBI agent who enters a beauty pageant, and you get Miss Congeniality. Take God out of the Creation story in Genesis 1, and you get the seventh-chapter of Daniel.

That last point may need some explaining – but as Jon Paulien points out, the events in Daniel 7 do bear an eerie resemblance to the first seven days of creation. Notice how in both accounts:

  • the scene opens with a mighty wind (or spirit) blowing upon the deep,
  • various beasts arrive on the scene,
  • and dominion is given to one like “a son of man.”

Unlike Genesis, however, Daniel 7 seems to leave out God entirely.

  • God does not call into existence the creatures of this world; instead, they just kind of show up on their own.
  • God does not fill this world with peaceful vegetarians, “each according to his own kind.” No, it is populated instead by monstrous hybrids – carnivores with wings and horns and way too many heads.
  • Finally, God does not give humanity the authority to rule this world; instead, a “little horn” with human eyes and mouth seizes power for its own.

In short, the world of Daniel 7 is not a world in which God can “look at what He’s created, and call it good.” No, it is a world without order. A world without love. A world that seems to lack any sign of God’s presence and care . . .

Much like the world in which Daniel lived.

Much like our world of today.

Fortunately, the God of Daniel 7 is also the God of Genesis 1 – for in both stories, God does not rest until everything is “very good.” In Genesis, this happens because of Creation; in Daniel, this takes place in spite of “creation.” But in both chapters, the story ends with God in charge of all creation.

That’s because these two chapters are both the same story.

Just told different ways.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I thought the Blues Brothers had dealt with this problem?

Just last year, the Catholic church closed 170 schools.

Stop and read that sentence again; read it and think about what this means. 170 schools -- the heart and soul of at least 170 parishes -- are gone forever . . . and that was just last year!

And in the past two decades, the Catholic Church has been forced to close 1600 schools!

If you'd like to know one man's opinion on the impact this will have on American cities, click on the title for a link to an op-ed piece in USA Today.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An elephant in sheep's clothing

Click on the title of this post for a really irritating article from the Reuters News Service about one megachurch that blends religion with politics.

Why is it so irritating? Number one: the article itself is a essentially a profile of one congregation -- the Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster, Ohio -- that the author has "puffed" into a trend, i.e. "Evangelical Christian megachurches have become little more than the Republican Party at prayer." Yes, that's true of some megachurches It may even be true of many megachurches. But if you've been following Rick Warren's career lately, then you know the true is far more complex (and far more interesting).

The second reason why this article irritates me is the behavior of that church's members. The pastor is under investigation by the IRS for alleged violations of the law that prohibits non-profit groups from backing political candidates. And then you have this quote from one of the members:

"Christians stepped back too far. I prayed in school but my kids can't pray in school," said volunteer Lisa Sexton, 42, a Bible school volunteer. "I should have spoken up earlier."

Well . . . no. Do the math, and you'll see that Lisa was born in 1964. The Supreme Court banned government-mandated prayers in school back in 1962 -- two years before she was born.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Lord of History

Some days, you have to wonder if God really is in charge . . . and if so, then what is He thinking?

Consider the story on page 39 of the teacher’s quarterly – the one that tells of “God’s providential care over thousands of Allied prisoners during World War II, many of whom were Christians.”

The story goes on to tell of a American B-29, circling high above the clouds that completely obscured Kokura, Japan. Unable to see their primary target, the bomber’s crew flew on to another city and completed their mission.

Some time later an [American] officer received some startling information from military intelligence. Just one week before that bombing mission, the Japanese had transferred one of their largest concentrations of captured Americans to the city of Kokura. Upon reading this, the officer exclaimed, “Thank God for that protecting cloud! If that city hadn’t been hidden from the bomber, it would have been destroyed and thousands of American boys would have died.”

Well . . . yes, and I’m thankful they did survive.

Then again, the city that did get destroyed by that B-29 was Nagasaki – at that time, the home to most of Japan’s Christians.

So how about it: did God “hide” American Christians in Kokura, only to let Japanese Christians die in Nagasaki?

Did God love the 175,000 people who lived in Kokura more that He loved the 240,000 in Nagasaki?

Or did God have nothing to do with any of this; from start to finish, it was all just one big example of the fact that “stuff happens”?

That’s the question that comes up anytime you start looking at history – and that’s the question that’s going to come up as you teach this week’s lesson.

This is the week, after all, we look at Daniel 2 – the chapter that portrays in graphic form how God “sets ups kings and deposes them.” Daniel believe, in other words, that God is the sovereign lord of history; He is in charge of everything that happens . . .

All of which means that things are the way they are because God made them that way.

Now stop for a minute, and think what that means. I mean, it’s one thing to say that “God’s in charge” when everything is going your way; it’s easy to believe that God knows what He’s doing when you live in Kokura.

But Daniel wrote these words when he was facing death in Babylon – in fact, Daniel wrote these words when all of God’s people were dealing with the long, slow slide of their nation into irrelevance. And just up ahead would be the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of God’s people.

No, Daniel did not write these words in Kokura; he wrote them in Nagasaki.

So when Daniel wrote that "God sets up kings and deposes them" -- that God is the sovereign lord of history, that He was in charge of everything that happened to Daniel and his people . . . then why did Daniel think this was good news?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hmmm . . . seems to me the Bible also forbids us to charge interest

Should Christians ever declare bankrupcy? A number of conservative Christians say, "no." Others aren't so sure. Click on the title for the article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Yes, the famous "MicroSoft Blue Screen of Death" is a lot like the Judgement, i.e. you never know when it might happen.

Okay, I admit that I'm a little wary of a church service going high-tech. Number one, as this article in the Christian Science Monitor makes plain, the stuff has a way of crashing on you. Then too, I'm old enough to remember when overhead projectors first came out -- and suddenly, too many pastors were using them to illustrate sermons that shouldn't have been preached in the first place.

My advice? Don't use technology as a substitute for clarity or meaning. No, get the bones of worship right, then add technology to make it better. Meanwhile, click on the title for the article.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Good News about Judgment Day

It’s 2 AM and you wake to the sound of somebody’s prowling around downstairs – somebody who shouldn’t be there. So you hit “911” and tell the police you’ve got a burglary in progress . . .
And why is that?

Because right now, you’re looking forward to the judgment.

When it comes to the Bible, remember, judgment is not a job for Judge Judy; it is not just the process of determining guilt or innocence.

No, “judgment” is when justice is done; it is God stepping in to protect His people from anything that would do them harm.

  • When Abraham rescued Lot from his kidnappers, for instance, that was a judgment.
  • When Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, that was a judgment.
  • And when God steps in at the end of time to save His people . . .

Well, as the Book of Revelation makes very clear, that day will be good news for God’s people.

To be sure, God does need to sort out just who belongs to Him.

Then too, not everybody who claims to be on God’s side actually belongs to Him.

But as you study this week’s Sabbath School lesson with your class – as you read together through texts such as Psalm 74 and Revelation 15:1-4 – you need to remember that God is on our side. God is not out to get us, in other words; God is not checking the books to see if there’s any possible way He can keep us out of Heaven.

No, the Judgment is Good News; it's Good News for those times when somebody is prowling around downstairs who shouldn’t be there . . .

Because it tells you that help is on the way.