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Thought for the Day (if not the Millennium)

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants  and—brace yourself—painfully amateur “special music” now and then.

Why?

Well, for one thing, when the Gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

But more importantly, I want to be part of an uncool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus. Like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool. They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people and crazy people.

Think on these things.

The Order of Christian Worship

Thanks to Chaplain Mike for laying it out so simply. Even a seminarian could understand it!

As “liturgical” as my current church thinks it is, it still doesn’t often move past the threefold revivalistic pattern Chaplain Mike describes. I would like to think that, as the “Invitation” continues to become abbreviated in our worship, people might start to decide that there really ought to be a good, holistic, Christian way to express our commitment to and participation in the Word of God we have heard read and proclaimed.

I’ll be there when they do. 😉

The Scandal of the Evangelical Imagination

From Brandon O’Brien at Out of Ur:

I don’t mean that evangelicals produce bad art (although we do), and I’m not issuing a call for more sophisticated creative engagement with culture (though we need one). Imagination is broader than that. The dictionary defines imagination as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas,” or “images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” This has to do with faith at its core. We are accustomed to trusting our senses to tell us what is true. But imagination offers a broader perspective on truth. If imagination is the capacity to visualize, and be confident in a reality, even if it contradicts our experience, then it refuses to let our senses determine the limits of what is possible. Faith requires us to envision and inhabit a world that we cannot perceive with our senses–a world where an invisible God lovingly maintains his creation, where the Son of God can become a human child, can die on a cross to save sinners, and be seated at the right hand of God in glory.

Worship: Nine Proposals (or Theses?)

Chaplain Mike reviews Robert Webber’s nine proposals about worship renewal some thirty years on.

Miners Trapped Near Middlesboro, Kentucky

Yahoo! News is reporting:

LOUISVILLE, Ky (Reuters) – A state official said that three miners were trapped by high water in an underground coal mine in southeastern Kentucky on Monday.

“They’re fine, they’re safe,” said Dick Brown, spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. “We have rescue teams there putting pumps into place to remove the water.”

Brown said he expects the miners to be rescued later this afternoon.

The flooding in the mine near Middlesboro, Ky., which is owned by the Bell County Coal Corporation, was caused by an overnight rainstorm that dumped 4-6 inches of rain in the area, Brown said.

The miners are in an elevated area above the water, about 600 feet from the entrance. They are in phone contact with the mine’s command center, Brown said. Brown said his office was contacted about the incident at about 8:30 a.m. on Monday.

This is in Bell County, where all my family is from. I’m sure all those involved would appreciate your prayers.

(Thanks to Jim West for sending out the alert.)

The Archeology of Synagogues

Eric Meyers has a nice article about the earliest synagogues in The Jewish Week. He is especially interested in the immediate post-70 situation and what it might tell us about the development of Judaism:

One of the more important and sensitive historical issues that has emerged in the course of this debate, based to a large degree on the paucity of synagogue remains post-70, is the degree to which classical Judaism arose in response to Christianity or the degree to which the tragedy of the two wars with Rome (66-70, 132-135 CE) led the Jewish people to re-evaluate their tradition and successfully reinterpret it within the changed circumstances of two crushing defeats.

In my view this period in the history of Judaism was as definitive as the period after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE when the exiled Judeans not only survived but managed to pray without the Temple and began the task of editing the books of Scripture that would help them maintain their identity and keep the traditions of former times. The first centuries after 70 CE also led to publication of the Mishnah by 200 CE and many of the early biblical commentaries. It is unimaginable that all of this literary creativity, along with the development of the synagogue liturgy, could have happened without a physical setting in which it could take shape. The most logical setting is the synagogue as a structure where the Torah was read, translated and interpreted; where homilies were given; and where the liturgy was sung and recited.

(H/T: PaleoJudaica)

I’m Going to Give Johnny Cash the Last Word on Harold Camping

As much as I usually resist it, I find there’s still a lot of Bell County, Kentucky in my spiritual pilgrimage. So here’s to Southern gospel music, heart-felt religion, the hope of heaven, and good old fashioned meat-and-potatoes spirituality.

Now, off to church. The faithful gathered in Jesus’ name, the word of God proclaimed, the bread and the cup: Rapture!

To Disillusioned Followers of Harold Camping

Dear Fellow Believers in Jesus Christ,

I had intended to hold back this post until tomorrow morning, but since Family Radio agreed to concede defeat if nothing happened by midnight Jerusalem time (about half an hour ago, if I’m not mistaken), I thought it was worth it to go ahead and click “Publish.”

Since I do not share your particular theology, it may not surprise you that I was still here to post this the morning after the rapture was supposed to take place. Many of you, however, may be surprised that you are here to read it. In fact, you may be experiencing a great number of emotions right now:

You may be surprised or confused that the rapture did not take place.

You may be panicked by the thought that there really was a rapture, but you’ve missed it. (Don’t worry; you haven’t.)

You may feel silly or embarrassed because of all the people you told that yesterday was going to be the day.

You may be fearful or anxious because you have quit your jobs or maxed out your credit cards, assuming that you would not be here to deal with the consequences.

You may be heartbroken and remorseful over what all of this has done to your family or your church.

You may be relieved because, deep down, you hoped for a little more time to pursue earthly goals related to education, travel, romance, rearing children, or whatever.

You may feel angry that you have been duped by a religious leader who turns out not to have known what he was talking about. Perhaps you are even angry with yourself for being so gullible.

You may feel God has lied to you or even doubt that God exits.

I’m not going to tell you what to feel any more than I would tell mourners at a funeral home what to feel. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to doubt.

If you’ll let me, however, there are a few things I would like to tell you. I would consider it an honor if I were to have some small part in helping you sort out what you are feeling today and how you can move forward.

I’d like to tell you that you can trust God.

Maybe you got caught up in the rapture hysteria because you craved certainty in life. That is a powerful motivator! Lots of religious movements have begun because people have wanted to have things pinned down and settled. I understand the desire to know accurately what God has said. I desire it, too.

There is nothing in the world wrong with wanting clear answers. But my sense is that if we dig deep enough we would see that often this desire is the product of questions related to trust. Can I trust God? Can I trust what God has said in Scripture? Even a little bit of insecurity on those questions can create great anxiety for some believers. The next thing you know, we’ve built up whole systems of theology to ensure we’ve nailed everything down. More often than not, what we’ve built is a house of cards. Disturb one piece and the whole thing falls apart.

I also wonder if there might be other things in your life over which you feel you have no control. Might the quest for certainty in this area be a way of coping with great uncertainties in other areas?

It’s not realistic to expect that God will answer all our questions. If he did, how would we ever learn to exercise faith? If God settled everything for us, how long would it be before our “faith” looked more like a math problem we had to solve and less like an organic relationship of love and community?

God wants us to know him. And God wants us to be certain—absolutely certain—of his love, grace, holiness, justice, compassion, and forgiveness. I’m not too sure God wants us to have all the details worked out too finely, however. So it’s not God’s fault when our systems crash. God didn’t let you down yesterday; Harold Camping did. I’m sure you know how to tell the difference!

In a different context, Jesus spoke about the priority of seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and all the other things we are prone to worry about will take care of themselves. Let me encourage you to take that lesson to heart. Make it your priority to seek God and love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And if lesser things remain fuzzy, so be it.

Please don’t give up on God. God can be trusted, even when he is silent.

I’d like to tell you that you can trust God’s church.

I know, I know. The church has fallen into apostasy. It is wallowing in its own sin and has lost its moral and spiritual authority. The church is a mess—except when it isn’t.

If I may be so blunt, it wasn’t the mainstream of institutional Christianity that jumped on the false teaching of a May 21 rapture. You did that. The rest of us weren’t taken in. Would you like to know why? At least in part it was because we were connected to an interpretive community that was bigger than one man with a Bible and a calculator.

Eventually, you are going to have to own up to the fact that you have harmed the cause of Christ and made him a laughingstock. All those unbelievers who’ve been mocking you, whose sneers you’ve welcomed as proof that you were right? You’ve given them another reason to doubt that God even exists. You’ve made the job harder for the rest of us.

I know it will be hard after all you’ve said about us—and what some of us have said about you—but for the sake of your spiritual well being, you need to find your way to a church that is grounded in historic Christian teachings. No church is perfect, but it’s not that hard to find a congregation where Jesus is preached,  God’s people worship in Spirit and in truth, and  folks put the gospel into action by caring for their neighbors and practicing grace and forgiveness with one another. In churches like that, I find that discerning truth from error is much easier than when I try to seek God’s guidance by myself.

Since you have been taught that all contemporary churches were spiritually compromised, I assume you haven’t been going. You need to start back. I’m fully aware you may well be too too embarrassed to go back, but please do. You need a body of believers to keep you grounded and, whether either of you fully understand it right now, they need you. Most immediately, they need you so they can put into practice all that Jesus has taught about restoring an erring brother or sister.

By whatever path, I pray you eventually find yourself at home in a church full of Christ-loving people who help each other think clearly about the issues of life and eternity.

I’d like to tell you that you can grow in grace

As painful as the last few hours have probably been, those hours are now a part of your spiritual pilgrimage. They are part of who you are, both as a human being and as a Christian. It is possible to embrace those hours as you reflect on how you got to this point.

I expect you have already grown spiritually through this experience. You have learned some gut-level lessons about spiritual discernment that you might have never mastered in a Bible class. Hopefully, you’ll go forward in your Christian life with greater sensitivity to other believers who struggle with questions of certainty and doubt, or who long to have God’s truth spelled out for them in greater detail than God seems willing to provide, who are quick to find fault with this or that church or biblical interpretation, or who, frankly, have majored on minor points of theology and left undone the “weightier matters of the law.”

It is possible to accept these lessons as evidence of God’s continuing grace. In 1 Corinthians 1:4, Paul praises God for comforting us so that we may be able to comfort others with the same comfort God has given us. The Greek word translated “comfort” might also be translated “exhort” or “encourage.” I interpret this verse to mean that, as far as Paul is concerned, the church needs you. We need you to share your experience. We need you to exhort, encourage, and comfort those who are in danger of falling prey to the next false teacher who comes down the block. By God’s grace your experience, though painful now, will bestow a blessing on many.

So let me encourage you to be honest with yourself and your fellow believers in Christ. There’s no need to pretend you didn’t get swept up in the rapture hysteria. Find a small group of Christians whom you can trust, and live out your faith authentically among them, both the joys and the struggles. You’ll be surprised how many people you’ll be able to touch with your story.

Thank you for stopping by. God bless you.

Further Reading:

My Plans for Sunday

It is easy to mock Harold Camping and his crew for insisting the rapture will take place tomorrow. Mockery is without question a valid biblical response to false teaching, as Isaiah and many of the other prophets will attest. I’m pleased to see on Facebook and in my feed reader this morning some posts that go beyond mockery to address the issues surrounding the current hysteria with appropriate biblical and theological astuteness. If nothing else, Camping has provided an opportunity to teach people what the Bible actually says about these matters.

But I can’t help thinking about the pastoral needs of people whose worldview is going to come crashing down when, as the overwhelming majority of Christians believe, nothing particularly eschatological happens on May 21. It’s hard to idly mock after reading stories of real-live people who have been caught up in the hysteria. When their foundations crumble, I would prefer that they embrace historic Christianity rather than feel driven into even weirder or more dangerous cult-like groups.

In that spirit, let me share a half-baked idea I’ve had. James 4:13-17 warns us against being too arrogant in our plans because we honestly don’t know what tomorrow may bring. But barring any unforeseen circumstances I’ll be posting a sort of pastoral letter on May 22 for those few who may be prepared to read it.

“Coming Out” as Christian

Here’s a thought worth pondering:

“It’s often harder for young people to come out as Christians than it would be for them to come out as gay,” she says. “Because of the vocal atheists – Dawkins and so on – people think your judgement is impaired if you say you’re Christian at work. The problem of serving two masters is at the heart of it. There’s a worry that Christians are up to something, that they’re loyal to something other than the firm.”

Two questions:

(1) For those who would know, is this a fair representation of what it’s like these days in London?

(2) When unbelievers figure out Christians should be “loyal to something other than the firm,” isn’t it perhaps time for Christians to follow suit?