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Blessed is the man who… Psalm 1:1


Psalm 1:1  Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers….

How do the people of God come under the influence of the counsel of the ungodly?

It is everywhere around us, from financial counsellors to marriage counselors – from news programs to TV entertainment – from public school teachers to political figures. The trinity of pagan gods – Mars, Venus, and Mammon – clamor for our attention as violence in war or entertainment, promiscuous sexual activity or porn, and the greed for money and possessions.

When we stand at the water cooler with our coworkers and absorb their world view almost by osmosis, we are not being transformed by the renewing of our minds through the Holy Spirit given to the children of God.

Second century Christians even avoided the games and would be shocked at how avidly we follow professional sports. Think about it. Why do people watch football? Is it the cheerleaders with large breasts and hips but very narrow waists? Or is it the violence of the game? We know that TV, the owners, and players all are greedy for money – as are the advertisers. This is so much a part of our Culture that it almost unamerican for a male above the age of 10 not to be a fan of the NFL.

This is but one example of how we are sucked into the vortex of the culture of the day. Other examples abound from the day time “soaps” to the schoolyard playground. Peer pressure affects much more than teenagers. We all have a desire not to stand out too much from the crowd, unless it is to stand out in the esteem of the crowd.

But God calls us to a different life, a life of seeking him, his kingdom, and his righteousness. He says to us, “Be holy, for I am holy.” As his children we are to be like him, not in the power he possesses, but in the character he exemplifies, the character Jesus modeled for us while he was on earth and saying to those whom he called, “If any man would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

To enable us to do this, he puts his Holy Spirit within us to give us a new heart, a new mind, and a new counselor who will guide us in his ways – ways of love that forgives those who sin against us and of love for God that says to him, “what do I have on earth but Thee?” – and means it sincerely.
But God calls us to a different life.

A NEW KID-KIND OF KINDERGARTEN


I just watched a TED talk about a new sort of Kindergarten that gives kids a less structured environment with a limited amount of danger along with lots of opportunity for play and exploration.

As I watched, I thought of how many American kids grow up with TV babysitters (or other electronics on phones and pads), who are given trophies for participation, and are seldom challenged to excel. All of the time, they are being told how well they are doing in their mediocrity.

This continues through elementary and secondary school – and even into universities – where they protest if someone expresses an opinion that “offends” them. They do not know how to reason with someone they disagree with; they simply attempt to shout them down.

Yes, there have always been people of that sort – but to the magnitude we see today? We seem to be having a blizzard of ‘snowflakes’ who melt-down with any problem they face!

Watch the full TED Talk here and see if such an introduction to life just might be better than the highly structured activities that stifle so many kids today.

To me, it seems that it would produce healthier, better adjusted children. It takes me back to when I was a child and didn’t have an adult watching over me all of the time, though my parents and teachers (usually) knew where I was.

Did I do some dangerous things? You bet I did! (And I was not as adventurous as many youths.) Did I ever get hurt? Yes, I got plenty of scrapes, minor cuts, and bruises – but I learned from them what I could and could not do. I also learned how to interact with both kids and adults.

And I didn’t just play. I also worked at jobs that earned me money – from the time I was 5 years old peddling flowers my mother grew, to paper routes, raking leaves, collecting papers to sell to nurseries, to helping harvest watermelons, and many more besides.

I learned as I earned. I graduated from high school at 16 and earned my B.A. at 20 with a double major (Secondary Education & History) and Magna Cum Laude honors – and only $150 debt. (Of course a college education was much less expensive in the 1950’s – the debt came from my last semester, which was in 1960.)

Did my early freedom with parental guidance help me to do this? I’m confident it did. That’s why I’d like to see more kindergartens like this one available in our country.

When Less Is More: A Book Review


WHEN LESS IS MORE: A Paradox of Christian Leadership – by K. Paul Dawson.

This is a highly readable, intensely personal, but widely needed book on stress in Christian ministry. Dawson does not just talk about stress; he has lived it for much of his 35 years in active ministry, which includes 20 years as a missionary high up the Amazon River in Brazil and 15 years of church renewal ministry in Texas and Florida. I thank him for the privilege of reading this book when it was nearing its final draft. I just wish I had read it 50 years ago (I’m now 78); however, Continue reading

THE WAY OF THE DRAGON OR THE WAY OF THE LAMB – A Book Review


The Bible is a story of cosmic conflict between the Creator God Almighty and one of his creatures. He created, not only the physical universe with all we see, but also what the Jews call “the third heaven.” This third heaven is the spiritual realm, the world we do not see. In this world are the angels and other spiritual beings, all created by God.

Among the spiritual beings created by God are some who rebelled against him. Ezekiel seems to describe one of those who rebelled. Continue reading

AN IMAGINED JESUS


From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)

This is something of an enigmatic statement, coming as it does on the heels of:

  1. John, from Herod’s prison, sending his disciples to Jesus to ask if he were the one to come or if they should look for another Messiah.
  2. Jesus sent them back to tell John what they saw and heard, adding ‘Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
  3. Jesus then commended John to the multitude, saying none born of woman is greater than he, but that the least in the kingdom is greater than John.

The Messiah said this to people who expected a military deliverance through the Messiah, but Jesus did not conform to their image of what the Messiah should be. Continue reading

Musing About Baptism


As a life-long member of the Church of Christ, I have had a keen interest in the subject of baptism as long as I can remember. In 1976, I wrote my Master’s Thesis on the subject The Use of Baptism in Exhorting Christians in which I demonstrate that the apostolic use of baptism when addressing Christians (i.e., in the epistles) was to encourage them to unity in Christ, purity in life, and surety in their hope. More recently, I have been tossing another idea around in my head about baptism for the remission of sins, an idea that deepens my understanding of Acts 2:38 considerably. Continue reading

Live Like You Give A Damn: Join the Changemaking Celebration by Tom Sine: A Book Review


Product Details

Tom Sine explains the provocative title in his introduction with a story of  eating in a restaurant priding itself on “serving only local, sustainable food.” He noticed  staff wearing shirts with the slogan “Eat Like You Give a Damn!” He said, “That’s it! I need to ‘Live Like I Give a Damn.” To do this he took 3 steps: volunteered to get “out of the bleachers and back on the field of play”; joined “those committed to empowering a new generation of changemakers”; and decided “to change to become a more authentic follower of the radical way of Jesus” by listening more closely to God, to others (particularly youth trying to change the world in innovative ways), and being disciplined in his use of time and resources. This book is an expression of #2 above. (p. 10)

This is the latest book (2016) to join the dozen plus books listed on Amazon authored or co-authored by Tom Sine. This futurist looks at the church, not just to project current trends, but to imagine new possibilities. He envisions what can be if the promise of the gospel is taken from pews into neighborhoods of our communities by those who choose to “Live Like You Give a Damn.” For those who accept his challenge, he sees celebratory joy, peace, and new sense of community with fellow-travelers. Without changes, he wonders if the church in North America, Europe, and Australasia has much of a future.

He takes his cue from the Millennial Generation and its interest in living to make a difference, whether through volunteerism or what he calls “social entrepreneurism” – sustainable businesses making real differences in the lives of people by making a better society. Many of the dozens whose work he reports in this book are not Christian (though some are). In looking at these, he challenges Christians to do the same, but to mix that spirit with the love and grace of Jesus.

Tom writes with passion in a “stream of consciousness” style. The book is not carefully edited, as he frequently repeats himself. He “has a gift for new suggestive phrasing that helps us see afresh.” (Walter Brueggermann, in the Forward, p. xvii) As examples, Brueggermann gives these:

  • Changemaking celebration.
  • The gift of disorientation.
  • Dreaming and scheming.
  • The future you want to inhabit.
  • The age of imagination.

There are others like these in the eight chapters including an introduction that sets the stage and maps his course ahead, a final chapter renewing his challenge to the reader to imagine what the future church could be if we truly began to Live Like You Give A Damn in a way that will bring youth back who are deserting the church because they see no authenticity, but only commitment to tradition and dogma, with six chapters in between in which he challenges us to:

  • Ignite Our Imaginations Today to Create Our Best Tomorrows
  • Anticipate New Opportunities to Create our Best Tomorrows Today
  • Choose a Changemaking Purpose Today for All Our Tomorrows
  • Imagine New Community Empowerment Today to Create Our Best Neighborhoods Tomorrow
  • Imagine New Social Enterprises Today to Create Our Best Tomorrows
  • Imagine Living on Purpose Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow (from the Contents)

Each chapter has group exercises for those interested in doing what he suggests. Thus, this can be a “hands on,” practical book.

Theologically, this book shows strong influence and quotations from Walter Bruggermann and N.T. Wright, scholars in the Old Testament and New Testament respectfully. Socially, he is inspired by the activism of Jim Wallis, whom he also cites. Most of social inspiration, however, comes from those in Gen X and Gen Y and their youthful enthusiasm for making a difference that betters the world.

I do see some weaknesses in this readable, short volume (206pp including 10 pp of Bibliography with 181 entries).

First, he whets a taste for change with examples of things being done by change makers around the world – but does not give enough information about these for us to be truly inspired by them to make real changes. Most examples receive only a few sentences.

Second, an index would be useful, especially when making reference to previous examples by saying “Remember….” Unfortunately, my memory is not photographic, and without at least a page reference I am unable to refresh my memory easily.

Third, at times he appears to be seeking change for the sake of change. I believe change is necessary, but also recognize that not all change is beneficial. In biology, nearly all mutations are harmful. The same can also be true in sociology and ecclesiology.

Fourth, he preaches a social gospel of activism in which even the activity of unbelievers is taken as evidence of the moving of the Spirit of God and that those activists are living the gospel of God’s kingdom. It is certainly true that Jesus said “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8, ESV). There is nothing wrong per se in looking at what non-Christians are accomplishing to make a better world, or even in joining them in their enterprises for good (see Philippians 4:8). Yet, to fail to do these things in the name of our Lord does little to promote the knowledge of the glory of God in the world.

I recommend this as a sourcebook that can challenge imagination and lift our eyes to opportunities yet undreamed. Without shaking up the imagination and the practice of the church, there is likely to be little change. After all, as some wise person said, “Insanity is doing the same as you have always done but expecting a different result.” Most will agree the church needs different results. So why do we keep doing the same things? In this book Tom Sine attempts to shake us out of our rut into doing different things that will bring better, eternal results.

Note: I received this book with the understanding I would publish a review on this blog. I was not told what to say. This review is my honest opinion with no further consideration. – Jerry Starling

A Reminder in a Tumultuous Election Year


In this tumultuous election year, all Christians need to ponder Isaiah 33:22. “For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us.”

Note that the LORD is all three branches of government, as defined Continue reading

Are Fractured Churches Necessary?


(18) For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.  (19) And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

– 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 (ESV)

Is verse 19 facetious? Do we really have to have factions in the church so we can recognize who is genuine and accepted by God?

Or is Continue reading

Where Is Your Allegiance?


….Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…. –Paul, Philippians 3:20b-21a, NIV.

A few months ago, I saw some articles about a movement among some Protestant congregations to put a Christian flag in a place of prominence over the flag of the United States, contrary to the protocol of always displaying the Stars and Stripes in the preeminent place: on a pole, it is the top flag; on a podium, it is to the right of the speaker, etc.

This was largely in response to the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding homosexual marriages. It was those congregation’s way of saying that God’s authority is greater than the authority of any human court. They said, “After all, the pledge of allegiance to flag says, ‘…one nation, under God…, and that’s what we are showing.”

This, of course, is in keeping with the statement of the Apostles when they were ordered by the Supreme Court of Judea, the elders of the Sanhedrin, not to speak or act any more in the name of Jesus. They responded:

We must obey God rather than men…. –Peter, Acts 5:29a, NIV.

This is not to say that Christians are not to respect the laws of the nations in which they live. Even when Nero was the Roman Emperor, Paul wrote to the church in Rome that they should “be subject to the powers that be,” for God had put them in place to maintain order in society (Romans 13:1ff). Paul also took advantage of his Roman citizenship when a Jewish mob threatened to kill him, even appealing to Caesar for judgment.

This does emphasize that our final allegiance is to God, not to any human government. This ultimate submission to God is the basis for the following “Christian Pledge of Allegiance.”

“I pledge allegiance to the Father of the united saints of the kingdom, — and to the Redeemer by Whom we stand — One Body, unified in Spirit, indivisible, with liberty and love for all.”Al Maxey

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