Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fragment of Acts 2, recently discovered

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place . . . [and] all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

And straightaway, one of the disciples did stand up and say, “Now hang on just one minute, and let us consider the implications of what is going on here. For ever since the days of the fathers, we have known that the sacred language of God and His angels and His Holy Book is most definitely Hebrew.

“And yes, a few chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic.

“And yes, there were those who even dared translate the Holy Scriptures into Greek.

“But for the most part, we have managed to preserve the distinction between the sacred language of our people, and the vulgar tongues of the heathen.

“All this is now at risk. For if we preach to them in their own language, will they not believe that God hears them in their own language? Will they not even go so far as to believe they can worship in their own language? Pray in their own language? And even sing in their own language?

“No, my brothers and sisters, all this is but the beginning of sorrows. Let us preach to them in their own languages today, and tomorrow they will be asking for a contemporary worship service.”

And on hearing this, the disciples did look at one another and say, “You know – he has a point.” And straightaway, they did form a committee to study the matter.

But there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together . . .

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Vote for Caesar!

This campaign season promises to be a lively one -- so remember:
  • As a pastor, you can talk about issues, but . . .
  • You cannot endorse candidates -- not unless you want to lose your church's tax-exempt status.
  • And yes, you can distribute "voter education guides" that endorse candidates . . .
  • But if you do so, then you must provide a variety of "voter education guides" that endorse a variety of candidates. If you distribute a pamphlet put out by your local ministerial alliance that endorses local Republican candidates, for instance, then you also need to provide material by other groups that endorse other candidates.

And if all this seems picky, then click on the title of this post for a link to an article in The Washington Post about churches that may lose their tax-exempt status because they were endorsing specific candidates.

Again, you can talk about issues all you want. But start endorsing candidates from the pulpit, and the IRS ain't gonna like that at all!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Jerusalem. Rome. Azusa Street?

The modern Pentecostal movement is just 100 years old. It has 500 million members. And if it keeps growing the way it has, it won't be too long before it's bigger than the Catholic Church. Click on the title of this post for a link to an article in the Christian Science Monitor about THE religious movement of the 20th-century . . . and maybe the 21st?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Revolution WILL be televised after all.

Interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor about "guerilla videos" -- short, punchy TV commercials that push an idea or philosophy (not a product). And thanks to the Web, they can reach millions in a week at no distribution cost. (Anybody tried something like this with their church? Just an idea.) Click on the title of this post for the link.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Promise of the Sensei

You know the scenario – it’s been the staple of so many movies that the industry gives it an acronym: COA (for “Coming of Age”).

It starts with “the Kid.” Young, male, lots of promise, but no experience. Still wet behind the ears, and caught in a situation that has put him waaaay over his head.

You know – like Luke Skywalker. Or Daniel LaRusso in “the Karate Kid.”

Anyway, the Kid needs help – and that’s where “the Sensei” comes in. The teacher. The grizzled old vet who’s been there, done that, and survived it all.

You know – like Yoda. Or Mr. Miyagi. Or John Wayne in one of his later films.

And once the Sensei is on the scene, the rest of the movie writes itself:
  • The Kid meets the Sensei.
  • The Kid is not impressed by the Sensei.
  • The Sensei does something that makes the Kid realize he’s got a lot to learn.
  • The Sensei reluctantly takes on the Kid as a student and teaches him The Way of the Warrior (which can usually be summed up in a single phrase, i.e. "trust the Force" or “wax on, wax off.”)
  • And then the Sensei steps back just in time for the Kid to win the final battle all by himself.

    Sound familiar?

    Good – because I want you to remember that scenario as you teach this week’s lesson.

    That's because you’ll be focusing on John 14: Christ’s promise of the paraklete, i.e. “the one who stands beside us.” (The lesson doesn’t make it clear that you should focus on John 14, but trust me – that’s where you need to be this week.)

    Now the key to John 14 is finding a good way to translate paraklete in a way that makes sense to your class. Go with “Comforter,” after all, and they’ll think the Holy Spirit is made of goose down. Try “Advocate,” and they’ll flash on Perry Mason or Boston Legal.

    (And believe me – you don’t want use the original Greek; try it, and your class will spend the rest of its collective life thinking of the Holy Spirit as a small, brightly colored bird that is fascinated by mirrors.)

    But the promise of a Sensei – the promise of someone who can teach us how to fight life’s battles . . .

    Well, you loved the movie.

    Now’s your chance to try it out in real life.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ttttalking 'bout my generation

Interesting article in the London Times about British youth who rebel against their parents by finding God. How widespread this might be, the article doesn't say -- it gives a figure of 150,000 annual conversions to Islam, but says little about Evangelical Christianity other than "it's growing." Click on the title for the link.

This isn't your parents' contemporary worship service.

There are days I wonder if the best preparation for preaching today would be to spend time as a stand-up comedian, or maybe a rap artist. And if that sounds crazy, click on the title of this post for an article in the Washington Post about an African-American Episcopal priest who's borrowed from both genres to reach the under-40 crowd.

Something to think about at the next church potluck

Maybe you remember seeing it in the news a couple of years back -- the church in Maine where somebody put arsenic in the coffee? It turns out to have been a disgruntled church member who was trying to "get even" for a bad cup of coffee he'd been given earlier. A sad story -- click on the title of this post for the latest details in the New York Times.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

We don't dance, but we sure can spin

What do Billy Graham Rick Warren, T. D. Jakes, Promise Keepers, and movies such as The Passion of the Christ and The Prince of Egypt all have in common?

Answer: Larry Ross handles their PR -- and if your reaction is "Larry who?" then click on the title of this post for a link to a nine-page article (!!!) in The New York Times magazine about the King of Christian Spin-doctors.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ask, and you shall receive

Click on the title of this post for an interesting article on tithing in (of all places) The Washington Post. Bottom line: you won't get if you don't ask -- but you won't keep getting if you don't spend it right.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

GPS with Attitude

Given a choice between the Holy Spirit and the Global Positioning System (GPS), I’d probably go with GPS.

That’s because the GPS provides the guidance you want. Install it in your car, for instance, and all you need to do is feed in your destination – the system takes it from there.

“Turn left.”

“Turn right.”

“Swing around the block and try again” – no, GPS takes you exactly where you want to go with no fuss and no backtalk.

But you can’t say that about the Holy Spirit. Read the story of Christ’s baptism in Mark 1:9ff – no sooner does the Spirit descend upon Jesus then what happens?

“At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.”

Now if a GPS system took me on that kind of trip, I’d send it back to the factory.

But read the Bible, and we’ll find that the Holy Spirit does this all the time.

It leads Jesus into the desert (where he is tempted by Satan).

It directs Peter to a Roman soldier (and gets him in all kinds of trouble with the church).

It blocks Paul from entering Bithynia (but sends him to Macedonia instead).

In short, the Holy Spirit is just not a reliable way to make sure you get where you want to go. No, it has its own agenda. It has a mind of its own. And no matter how hard we try to make it do anything else, it insists on taking us where it thinks we need to be.

Even if we don’t much want to be there at the time.

And now you know why Jesus had to rely on the Holy Spirit. Just like us, Jesus had to trust the Holy Spirit – to believe that it knew what it was doing (even if this wasn’t exactly what Jesus himself really wanted to do).

Think of Jesus in the desert.

Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Think of Jesus, dying on a cross he’d hoped there was some way to avoid . . . if only the Spirit had led him someplace else.

No, there’s no question that the Holy Spirit is a lot more trouble than the GPS – that the GPS is a much better way to get where you want to go.

Always assuming, of course, that you really do know where you want to go.

And it’s someplace you really need to be.

We are His hands

Neat article in The Christian Science Monitor on an Episcopal priest who set up a residential program for recovering prostitutes -- click on the title of this post for the link.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rendering unto Caesar

With apologies to Heraclitus -- the philosopher who said that "you can't step into the same river twice" -- I'd have to say that "you can't step into the same election twice," i.e. the world of politics is changing fast.

Take the Christian Coalition -- long a favorite bugaboo of conspiracy theorists everywhere. But click on this article in The Washington Post, and you'll find that it ain't doing so well -- no leadership, no credibility, and (probably the most important of all,) no money. That doesn't mean the Christian Right is dead -- far from it! But the players have changed.

And believe it or not, the Christian Left may be showing signs of life. (Maybe.) For a sympathetic (if overly long and wordy) look at what's happening on that side of the aisle, try Dan Wakefield's article in The Nation. And if that article is just a little too long and wordy, there's a quick summary of who's who on the Christian Left on BeliefNet.

Finally, the noted classicist and Catholic writer Garry Wills takes a look at both Left and Right, only to declare "a plague on both your houses" in The New York Times.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Gospel of Judas (updated April 16)

There's been a big to-do in the news lately about The Gospel of Judah -- a brand-new version of Christ's life that reveals the shocking fact that Judas was a hero!

You know -- just like in Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Actually, there's nothing new about the message of this particular "gospel" (even if this particular gospel is "new"). It's just one more example of "gnosticism" -- that old, old philosophy that says Jesus was a kind of "New Age" teacher who had nothing to do with the God of the Old Testament.

Want to know more? Click on this title of this post for a link to Collin Hansen's article in Christianity Today. And for another view, try this article in The New York Times: Document is genuine, but is its story true? Adam Gopnik has a good summary in The New Yorker. And if you'd like to read excerpts from the "gospel" itself, it's available in a PDF file from
National Geographic

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana" -- Groucho Marx.

My love is like a red, red rose.

She has aphids.

And thorns.

And every now and then, we have to spray her with sulfur; otherwise, she gets that “black spot” fungus-thingy that makes her leaves turn yellow and fall off.

And if you think this particular metaphor is getting way out of hand, then you’ve just learned something important about this week’s Sabbath School lesson.

None of us know God as He really is, after all – das Ding an sich is beyond our understanding. So we use metaphors. We use analogies. We compare the God whom we cannot see or hear or touch with something we can.

“God is our Father,” we say – and no, that doesn’t mean he has XY chromosomes. Or that He likes to watch football on Sunday afternoons. Or that He is married to God the Mother (which is a perfectly obvious extension of this particular metaphor, but certainly not orthodox theology). No, we mean that God cares for us in much the same way as does an (idealized) father . . . and if your father was an abusive brute, then you’re perfectly free to go and find another metaphor.

In short, every metaphor has its limits; every time we say God is like something, we need to add, “but not really.”

When the Bible says that the Holy Spirit “descended on Jesus like a dove,” for instance, it’s talking about the relationship of Jesus to God’s Spirit – that the Spirit “descended” (i.e. God took the initiative) like a dove (i.e. gently, as opposed to falling on him like a ton of bricks).

And yes, I know this week’s lesson is happy to push this metaphor even further – that the Spirit doesn’t just descend like a dove, but it is really, really like a dove in many important aspects of its character – but that way lies madness. The next thing you know, you’re going to be drawing great spiritual lessons out of the fact that doves have feathers, and they live in flocks, and they bear exceedingly ugly young.

I mean, really – have you ever seen a squab?

Likewise, you can talk about the Spirit as light. As fire. As water. As oil. As breath or wind – and it’s worth remembering that even the idea of God’s Spirit as a “spirit” (or “breath” or “wind”) is a figure of speech – but remember: there’s only so much you can do with any one of these metaphors.

And in that respect, a metaphor is just like a rose.

Except, of course, when it is not.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's like a library without walls

Click on the title for a link to Bookcrossing -- a group that encourages you to read a book, then give it away. The incentive? They'll help you keep track of who reads your book next, and what they thought of it! (And somewhere, somehow, somebody's going to think of a way to use an idea like this for evangelism.)