Archive for ‘Reflections’

God Saves by Grace

by   |  07.21.21  |  Class Teaching, Reflections

I was questioned recently about my assertion in a Sunday morning class that “God always saves by grace.” This statement troubles some people because they have heard that the only way for Israelites to be saved was by obeying the whole Law. However, the door into a covenant relationship with God (salvation) for a Jew is not the Law but circumcision. I paraphrased in the class John Ziesler who summarizes what all current Pauline scholarship now affirms, “However, there is no authority in Jewish texts that taught God’s approval was to be earned, nor that salvation was by human merit. Salvation is always divine grace and well understood in Jesus’ day even by the Pharisees.”[1]

To support my view, I asked the class a few weeks back to recall when we studied Deuteronomy. One of the key passages in that study was, More »

Timely Quote

by   |  01.29.19  |  Lectionary Text, Ministry, Practical Theology, Preaching, Reflections

While preparing for my sermon I read the following.

Today people are fundamentally consumers: they want what they want when they want it, even in the church. If they do not like what is happening or what they hear, they leave and start shopping for a better deal. Meanwhile, the pressure is constantly on preachers to increase attendance, to raise the budget, to grow a church–to do whatever it takes to improve market share. Be nice; be funny; make promises; do not offend. There is an inordinate desire for approval, for applause, for appreciation on the part of pastors today. To Paul’s queston, “Am I seeking human approval, … am I trying to please people?” (Gal 1.10), many preachers today would have to answer, in all honesty, yes. When preachers are captive to public opinion, when churches too easily become purveyors of gospel gimmicks, offering the religious goods and services people want, what is sacrificed is the ability to be a slave of Christ in service to his unchanging gospel. More »

Teaching Preaching

by   |  07.02.13  |  Preaching, Reflections

Recently on the GST Blog site, I posted the following note about Teaching Preaching.

God’s Glorious Ministries

by   |  09.10.12  |  Reflections

A few years ago, my family and I were traveling in the southeast on vacation. Late Saturday night, a storm covered the entire area with a sheet of ice. Power lines and branches lay scattered throughout the region. Nevertheless, being proud Hoosiers who knew no fear of snow, we went to church. We arrived with six other brave souls. The song leader knew the situation. He traversed two hymns, a prayer, communion, and announcements in ten minutes. Even then, our eyes watered from the fumes of a kerosene heater. After the invitation song was announced, a guest speaker began his 45-minute dissertation. His subject was … can you guess? Of course, “church attendance.” What is more relevant to those who braved the harsh elements in order to attend? These are moments that define the phrase, “preaching to the choir.” And these are the moments that cause us to laugh because they are sad and too typical. Sometimes church is discouraging. Sometimes we all lose heart. Sometimes we just want to quit. Where is the glory?

Much of contemporary church life does not appear glorious. Preachers and teachers disappoint us. Infighting, sectarianism, meanness, and selfishness become our identifying marks. Sometimes the mire is public for all to see. The indecent exposure of the volunteer at the youth retreat is broadcast by the local news. The man who converted my father committed adultery with an elder’s spouse. The deacon curses in the foyer at the nursery attendant for being late. But mostly, the bitterness and bickering of folk are hidden corrosives that gnaw and bedevil. Insinuations and whispers occur in the corner more often than Twitter. Sometimes we just want to quit. Where is the glory? More »

God’s Incarnational Ministry

by   |  09.10.12  |  Reflections

“In the beginning God…” Genesis assumes God. God does not have to be introduced. God is the primary character. And God acts. God creates, blesses, gives laws, judges, grieves, saves, elects, promises, makes covenants, provides counsel, protects, confers responsibility to humans, and holds them accountable, all before Abraham shows up on the scene. Genesis is all about God. The Bible begins with a testimony to the universal activity of God. And God is the hero of every story.

Before time began, God existed in community. The mysterious doctrine of the Trinity confesses God’s oneness as a relational and communal being. Fellowship in love within God’s being describes God’s existence prior to any word about the world. “In the beginning God…” More »

Advice to New Pastors

by   |  04.24.12  |  Reflections

I recently read a blog entry posted by Jason Goroncy “William H. Willimon: Advice for New Pastors.” The link for the post is here.

The Function of Sermons

by   |  04.05.12  |  Book Excerpts, Definitions, Reflections

I am currently writing a text A Turn towards the Listener. The following is an excerpt from the section entitled, “Changing the Function of the Function.”

In homiletics, the terms “aim,” “purpose,” and “function” are often been used to describe what the preacher intends the sermon “to do.” Preachers intend that sermons accomplish certain ends; realize particular consequences. Preachers intend to persuade hearers to become and consequently to act. The most oft used definition of a function statement comes from Tom Long, Witness of Preaching. Quoting David Kelsey: “Part of what it means to call a text ‘Christian scripture,’ is that it functions to shape persons’ identities so decisively as to transform them … when it is used in the context of the common life of Christian community.”[1] Advocating that biblical texts say things that do things, and the sermon is to say and do those things too. Content and intention are bound together (focus and function), and no expression of proclamation is complete without them. Long writes, “A function statement is a description of what the preacher hopes the sermon will create or cause to happen for the hearers. Sermons make demands upon the hearers, which is another way of saying that they provoke change in the hearers. … The function statement names the hoped-for change.” [2] Function statements raise the question of how the preacher’s words will be taken up, acted on, or become embedded in the practices of the congregation. More »

Growing Up with Ordained Habits

by   |  03.30.12  |  Reflections, Research

The Eucharist in an Unarticulated World

Mikhail Bakhtin’s understanding of dialogism and heteroglossia implies that all discourse communities are located in historical situations that involve complex interactions. To address what teenagers within Churches of Christ believe about the Eucharist, there exists the need to return to the naked immediacy of experience as it is felt within the utmost particularity of a specific life. Subsequently, an ethnographic journey of what teens believe and practice about the Lord’s Supper will involve other conversation partners. Seeing and participating in a weekly observance of communion gives these teens access to a larger conversation. For teens to experience “deed” (in Bakhtin’s system), they will need to mediate between their lived experiences of the Lord’s Supper and their reasoned representation of the act. The question this research asks is: are teens able to account or give meaning to the act of participating in weekly Communion? Or as Bakhtin says, “For as much as I have experienced and understood in art, I must answer with my life, so that what I have experienced and understood in art does not remain without effect in life” (Art and Answerability, 56). Can these teens “answer with their life” in the context of the act of the Eucharist?

In the book, Soul Searching, author and researcher Christian Smith wrote a detailed analysis of his findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion. In it he wrote: More »

We Gather Together

by   |  07.05.11  |  Issues, Reflections

Assemblies that move us to a more profound alleluia!

Everyone has assemblies. Even non-religious people have assemblies. The Moose Club on 5th Avenue has assemblies. Football lovers have assemblies. Art guilds have assemblies. Assemblies define who we are. We choose which assemblies are primary for us.

Christians have assemblies. God has gathered us together to be God’s people. As God’s people, we gather each week in joyful assembly. More »

Christ Is Still Upon the Throne

by   |  06.01.11  |  Reflections

Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia (341 C.E.) was the first to establish Ascension as a separate and special day. It may not always be possible to hold special services on Thursday (forty days after Easter). On this special service, we connect the resurrection to the ascension. Christ death and resurrection secured our hope for eternal life. Christ ascended to the right hand of God assured us of our future glorification. His ascension set the stage for the coming of the Spirit.

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:1-11) More »