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Archive for December, 2010

Wednesday’s Round-up

Christian Century interviews Anna Madsen, a “freelance theologian” and founder of the OMG Center for Theological Conversation, who consults with churches struggling through theological problems. Her business sounds a lot like the Center for Theology, except she gets paid.

Carson T. Clark, an self-proclaimed “moderate Evangelical Anglican”, writes about the divisions in the church over homosexuality.

CNN’s BeliefBlog asks a very important question: Was Harry Potter a good Christian?

Meanwhile, Sarah Hey, a traditional Anglican writing over at the blog Stand Firm, asks: What is the Christmas Spirit?

Finally, Stanley Fish reviews the recently released movie “True Grit”, calling it a “truly religious movie” on the “grace of God.”

 

 

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The blog Episcopal Café provides perspectives from the media (and Richard Dawkins) on the relationship between the Bible and culture.

Fr. George Clifford explores the spiritual aspects of Church architecture, and explores some problems latent in Evangelicalism (hint: it has to do with architecture!).

The blog Anglicans Ablaze asks: How can we keep Christmas going all year round? Thankfully, they’re referring to repentance, rather than presents.

Finally, TitusOneNine provides a short comment from 20th century theologian Karl Barth on Christmas.

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If you haven’t yet, be sure to read the eighth post in Adam D. Rick’s series on Jesus and the Nations.

The blog Anglican Curmudgeon has an amusing (but serious) essay comparing blood samples between the possibly-related-to-Jesus artifacts of the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo.

John Richardson writes over at The Ugley Vicar on the challenging questions facing intellectuals today.

The blog Creedal Christian argues that the Christmas season is just as important in the liturgical calendar as Holy Week and Easter.

Finally, be sure to listen to Bishop Bill Murdoch’s Christmas sermon, over at Pulpit Talk.

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Luke 24:45-49

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and  rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”

After following him around for three years, the disciples are only now having their minds “opened” so that they can comprehend what they’ve witnessed.  They’ve seen Jesus preach to large crowds.  They’ve seen him heal many people.  They’ve seen him calm storms and raise people from the dead.  Most climatic of all, they’ve seen him betrayed, abandoned, executed, and—wonder of wonders—come back to life again.  It is at this moment, and not before, Jesus opens their minds that they might understand the significance of what they’ve witnessed.  And Jesus concludes by in fact declaring his disciples to be “witnesses.”  What does he mean by this?

It may help us to start at the most basic meaning of the word.  A witness is a person who knows something by personal presence or perception.  This is especially so when the circumstances of that something are in legal dispute.   A witness offers testimony about what they’ve experienced that is recorded and has legal status.   It thus becomes a legal basis for establishing fact.

This legal nuance was as much true of the term in Jesus’ day is at is in ours.  This means that Jesus’ disciples can offer legal testimony to the world about Jesus’ ministry and his person precisely because they “are witness of these things.”  What things?   His teaching?  Sure.  His miracles?  Of course.  But most important, his suffering, death, and resurrection.   It is for a full understanding of this testimony that Jesus “opened their minds.”  It is on the basis of this testimony that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”  The Apostle Paul himself recognizes the importance of this connection when he declares in 1 Corinthians 15:17 that if Jesus was not historically raised to bodily life, that the Christian proclamation is without factual merit and damnably void.   It is therefore because they bear the testimony of Jesus’ death and resurrected life that their entire identities can now be summed up in one word: witnesses.

And this is true even for us.  We are witnesses because we bear testimony about Jesus.   This means of course that we can and ought to share our own personal stories about what Jesus has done in our lives.   But the testimony we offer, like that of Jesus’ disciples before us, is of a fundamentally more profound nature than any one person’s life story.  So profound indeed is this testimony, so central to our common identity and purpose, that together we repeat the content of that testimony every Sunday morning:

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

By calling us “witnesses,” Jesus gives us a clear sense of what it is that we about in the world.  By tying our identities into that of a witness on the stand in a court of law, Jesus mandates us to speak truthfully about him to the world.  We do not to bear testimony about ourselves, or even primarily about our own experiences with Jesus, as important as those are.  We bear testimony about him, in whom God acted in history once and for all to restore the human race.  Indeed, it is because of the certainty of his life and passion that we have confidence to speak of him to our friends and neighbors who have not yet heard our collective testimony about him.   Let us then with boldness give them the truest testimony they will ever hear:

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

 

Look for final part of this series, entitled “Ut Unum Sint”, soon.   For the original setting of these devotionals, see my introduction to the first post in the series here.

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Christianity Today has put together some short excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas.”

Fr. Dale Matson has posted a reflection on our overly-busy lives over at the blog Soundings.

ToAlltheWorld has posted an eccentric video portraying a digital version of the Nativity–Jesus was born in a digital manger?

Finally, Christopher Benson has posted a list of the most notable books in 2010 over at First Things.

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First, be sure to read the seventh part of Adam D. Rick’s devotional series, “Jesus and the Nations: The Counselor.”

Pope Benedict XVI, in an exhortation to cardinals, archbishops, and bishops in the Roman Curia, blamed the sexual abuse crisis infecting the church as the natural result of embracing modern culture’s moral relativism.

LifeWay has released survey results showing that more and more Americans are celebrating a “non-religious” Christmas.

For some levity, check out the list of “Worst Advent Calendars” over at Seven Whole Days.

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John 14:25-27

All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.

It is just before the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and he is here comforting his disciples in the upper room before his betrayal.  He has just announced to them that he must leave them, but he assures them that he will not leave them despondent.  He will send them the Holy Spirit to comfort and empower them.  What Jesus says about the Holy Spirit gives us quite an image for who the Holy Spirit is and what he does for the people of God.

The Holy Spirit above all works in the name of Jesus.  Everything he does for the people of God is meant to glorify Jesus.  The Holy Spirit does this largely by “reminding” the people of God of all the things Jesus said and did.  Perhaps more importantly, the Holy Spirit opens our minds that we might understand the significance of what Jesus said and did.  Further, he will empower us to likewise say and do the things Jesus said and did for Jesus’ sake.  Finally, the Holy Spirit grants us a peace—a special peace imparted to God’s people by Jesus himself—that enables us to endure the bald reality that the world will reject us on account of Jesus.

In these ways we perhaps understand the Holy Spirit reasonably well.  We know that he reminds us of Jesus’ teachings.  We know that he empowers us unto mighty works in Jesus’ name.  We know that he comforts and guides us.   In terms of what the Holy Spirit does for the people of God, we are reasonably clear.

What we perhaps often miss is that the Holy Spirit’s principle function in all these things is not really meant just for the people of God.  No, he works in the people of God to empower them unto one noble task: to move the message of Jesus into the world.  That is to say, the Holy Spirit is first and foremost an evangelist.  Jesus gives this word to his disciples in the context of the disciples’ witness about him to the world.   The refrain “that the world may know” is seasoned throughout the narrative.  The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus said and did so that we can share his teaching with the world. The Holy Spirit empowers us unto miraculous works as a sign to the world that the God is on the move in restoring it to himself. The Holy Spirit gives the people of God a profound peace so that we can endure the hardships of engaging with the world. The Holy Spirit’s primary work in the world is to empower the people of God to get the word out about Jesus, to wit: Jesus has died; Jesus is risen; Jesus will come again.

The take away for us is that the work of mission to which we’ve committed ourselves in the Church is not in the last analysis our work at all.  Since the beginning of this movement we call “the Christian church,” it has been the Holy Spirit who has pushed the people of God forward.  It has been the Holy Spirit who has persuaded and compelled the hearts of people to hear the word about Jesus.  In many respects, we here are simply along for the ride.  This is not to say that we needn’t teach about what Jesus said and did, or engage in the work God has given us, whether mundane or miraculous.  It is to say that the Holy Spirit is going to help us to do all of these things.  That is fundamentally why we have this fabulous peace Jesus promises here, because we know that, since the Holy Spirit is quite eager to get the word out about Jesus, he will not fail to work in us when we set our hands to that task.  Now that is quite a peace indeed.  Let us then set ourselves to this work with confidence, knowing both that the Holy Spirit loves to glorify Jesus and also that he is to that end quite alive and well in this world.

 

Look for Part 8 of this series, entitled “ Witnesses”, soon.   For the original setting of these devotionals, see my introduction to the first post in the series here.

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The blog Anglican Curmudgeon writes on the historical dating of the nativity, exploring new evidence that may change the timeline.

Lynne Hybels, wife of Bill and a ministry leader at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, has decided that many of our social Christmas rituals don’t really matter.

Evelyn Pence searches for things to do while she’s waiting for Christ during the Advent season.

Finally, Losana Boyd lists her top ten sacred Christmas songs.

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Adam D. Rick has provided his sixth post in his series “Jesus and the Nations,” entitled “Hearing for Ourselves.”

Thinking Anglicans has released a Top Ten list of reasons why the Anglican Covenant proposed by Rowan Williams is a bad idea.

Catholic intellectual George Weigel provides a list of his favorite books just in time for Christmas.

Catholic theologian David Mills has a provocative essay on Advent over at First Things.

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John 4:28-30, 39-42

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?”  They came out of the town and made their way toward him.  Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.  And because of his words many more became believers.  They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

The scene described in this passage is our manifesto, our constitution if you will allow me, for the task to which we are setting our hands tonight.  It contains for us all the secrets for a  successful evangelistic ministry.  Can you see it?  Let’s walk through it together.

This woman knows what it is to be on the outside.   For starters, she is a Samaritan, a group of people from the first century who lived on the fringes of Jewish society and who, while claiming a legitimate title to Jewish history and expectation, were nonetheless considered outsiders by their distant Jewish kindred.  Further, she is what we might now call a “loose woman,” one who for reasons unknown to us had flouted the sexual mores of her own people.  Thus she is outside even those who are together outside.  And she has had a dynamic encounter with the living Lord.  This encounter leaves her so changed that she forgets the very worldly task that brought her to Jesus in the first place: she leaves her water jar behind.

Like anyone who has experienced such a transformation, she immediately goes and tells all her countrymen—the Samaritans of her village—about her encounter with Jesus.  The urgency described here tells us about the significance of that encounter.  Having been so changed, nothing else matters to her but to gather her family, friends, and neighbors and share the news.   Her testimony is so powerful indeed—not least by how much of an outsider she truly was, a fact she freely reminds all—that they all respond in faith by her very word alone.   But she cannot leave it there.  She must bring them to hear for themselves.  And so they likewise meet Jesus, and are so amazed by him that they forget their prior belief on account of the woman’s word, and they believe a second time.   And they know in their heart of hearts that this Jew, if he is to be the savior of Samaritan as well as Jew, must be the Savior of not one people or the other; he must be the savior of the whole world.

Do you see it now?  Do you see our manifesto for evangelism, our constitution for our outreach to a world outside God’s grace?  The woman is our model.  She encounters Jesus for herself first, and is transformed by the encounter.  Likewise, we can only testify to that which we know for ourselves; our mission comes out of our own transformation by the power of Jesus.  Further, she leaves behind her worldly labors to spread the word.  Likewise, the magnitude of our encounter with the living Lord should drive us out of homes and jobs and into the streets proclaiming the Christ.  Even her past shame, that which kept her on the outside of her own community,  became a tool to reach that very community with joy for the magnitude of her transformation.   Likewise, we do not bring merely our doctrine about Jesus to the world; we bring the powerful evidence of our own lives transformed.

But there is one final element which we should not overlook.  The woman does not ask the villagers to rely on her word alone.  As powerful as that is, it is not enough in itself to transform hearts and minds.  No.  She brings them also to Jesus, that they might hear the word for themselves from the very source.  Let’s not mince words about what we are called to do here.  We are not compelling our neighbors by the power of our arguments or the rigor of our evidence.  The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, and even the evidence of our own lives can be explained away by a skeptical world.   No.  We speak only to bring people to Jesus.  He alone has the power to truly transform lives.  He alone can transform skepticism into belief.   He alone has the ability to bring those on the outside in.  And that is indeed what he does.  That alone is why we the Church do any outreach at all, because we believe that is what he does.   Let us then set our hands to nothing else than to bring our neighbors to the feet of Jesus.   As with our sister in the faith from this story, he will take care of the rest.

 

Look for Part 7 of this series, entitled “The Counselor”, soon.   For the original setting of these devotionals, see my introduction to the first post in the series here.

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