Archive for September, 2010

Resources for improving our prayer lives

September 30, 2010

As promised in last Sunday’s sermon, here are some online resources that foster daily, disciplined prayer lives. The purpose of these websites is to provide guidance and structure for praying. If they’re not useful to you, then that’s perfectly O.K. For some people, prayer comes easily; it’s second nature. For most, I suspect, prayer is more of a struggle—as it is for me! And don’t think for a moment that being a pastor or working at a church makes the struggle magically disappear!

If you’re like me, you might find one or more of the following websites helpful. I’m sure there are many, many more good online resources out there. Here are a few that I’ve used—and trust. What others should I know about?

The Daily Office: “Office” in this context means prayer service. I use this site nearly every day. In fact, my family and I light a candle and say the Compline (late night) service each night before the kids’ bedtime. The Daily Office is an ancient service of prayer for use throughout the day (morning, noon, night, late night) based on the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, all neatly laid out for each day by Josh Thomas. Each service includes psalms and other scripture readings, prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria Patri, a time for personal prayer and reflection, and often the Apostles’ Creed. You can also access the site through its Facebook fan page.

John and Charles Wesley would have been well acquainted with the Daily Office and used it as part of their own spiritual formation.

Upper Room Daily Reflections and the Upper Room Daily Devotional: Here are a couple of easy-to-use United Methodist resources for prayer and reflection from the Upper Room. The daily devotional reading is identical to the one found in the Upper Room magazine that you’ve probably seen around church. Our bishop, Mike Watson, told us clergy at a retreat last week that his mother read the daily devotional to her kids every morning before they went to school.

Rejesus Daily Prayer: Here’s an ecumenical prayer resource sponsored by churches in Britain that offers different prayers, reflections, scripture readings, and activities depending on the time of day and season of the year.

Sermon for 09-26-10: “Missions Emphasis: Being and Doing”

September 30, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 14:13-23

[Please note: After you press the play button, you may have to wait several seconds before the video starts playing.]

The following is my original manuscript.

If you’ve followed the news recently, you may have heard about a crisis going on among us clergy. According to a recent Duke University study, we pastors suffer obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. Our life expectancy is lower. Many pastors don’t feel like they can take vacations; many of them feel guilty for slowing down or taking time off or taking time away. Many of them wish they could change careers. The problem, in other words, is burn-out. And this burn-out obviously affects their parishioners, not to mention their marriages and family lives. One doctor who studied the problem said that clergy “think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no.”

I’m sympathetic with my fellow clergy who struggle in this way up to a point… But let me put my cards on the table and say that I’m more sympathetic with this great Christian thinker named Dr. Don Martin. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Don likes to say that doing ministry for him—whether it’s preaching or going to Honduras—is a lot like eating chocolate cake. Do I have to eat chocolate cake? Now, it’s not always like this, of course. I’m not saying that doing ministry isn’t sometimes very trying and difficult, but I’ve been at this for six years now; I’ve had a career outside of church; and I honestly believe that doing ministry ought be a lot more like eating chocolate cake most of the time than eating broccoli, if you know what I mean. And don’t lie to me and tell me that you like eating broccoli. No one does! It’s something you eat because it’s good for you! Read the rest of this entry »

Two-part sermon series “Love and Marriage” starts Sunday

September 28, 2010

Are Christian attitudes toward sex realistic? Can the Bible helpfully guide us through this sexually confusing age? Why do marriages fail at such an alarmingly high rate? Does cohabitation before marriage make sense? What harmful messages do we receive (and believe) about love and marriage in our popular culture? How should Christian marriage be different from prevailing cultural norms? Has the church gone soft on divorce?

What can we do to improve our marriages and enable them to be everything God wants them to be?

We’ll explore these questions and more in our new two-part Vinebranch sermon series, “Love and Marriage,” which begins this Sunday. Our scripture for October 3 will include 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 13. Our scripture for October 10 will include Ephesians 5:25-33.

About all those smart atheists

September 28, 2010

Based on a Pew Forum telephone survey of more than 3,400 people, a popular article in today’s New York Times tells us that self-identified atheists and agnostics are less ignorant of religion than Christians of all persuasions (Catholic and Protestant, evangelical and mainline, white, black, and hispanic). Out of 32 general questions about different religions, the atheist/agnostic group averaged about 21 correct answers. The nearest Christian group (“white evangelical Protestants”) only about 18. (Jews and Mormons, however, were very close behind the nonbelievers.)

Let me fight back my strong initial response to this survey (“Who cares?”) long enough to take it seriously. No religious authority of any stripe was quoted in the article, only a representative for an atheist advocacy group called American Atheists, Dave Silverman.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

This is nonsense on so many levels. First, I’ll bet that a large number of Christians, Jews, and Mormons own Bibles, and have read at least some scripture (more than your typical nonbeliever). Given that believers greatly outnumber nonbelievers in our population, the burden of proof is on Mr. Silverman to show how owning or reading a Bible “makes” atheists. In terms of sheer correlation, one might reach the exact opposite conclusion. I received a Bible at ages 6 and 14, and I became a Methodist minister. In fact, all the clergy I know were given Bibles at some point in their lives. Hmmm…

Second, I’m sure that self-identified nonbelievers are relatively well-educated compared to the general population (the vast majority of whom, remember, are believers). This is hardly an indictment against believers (although it may be an indictment against our educational system)—because there are still many more well-educated believers than non-believers. It’s meaningless to compare the relative knowledge of any small, well-educated group to something like 90 percent of the population. Why not, for example, compare “white mainline Protestants” with a graduate degree to “atheist/agnostics” with a graduate degree?

What Mr. Silverman wants to say, of course, is, “See, we really smart people know better than to believe in God.” Please!

Third, atheism often stems from a lack of knowledge—the knowledge that comes from actually practicing a religion. In other words, many people who practice a religion know something about that religion that an outsider like Mr. Silverman cannot know, certainly not from reading a textbook, reading a newspaper, taking a freshman philosophy course—or even reading the Bible as a disinterested outsider. When it comes to religion, oftentimes believing is seeing.

Finally, since atheists and agnostics make unprovable metaphysical claims about reality, they are every bit as “religious” as those of us who believe in a reality that transcends time and space. Mr. Silverman doesn’t get off the hook for being religious. He’s a person of great faith, just like the rest of us.

Emphasis on missions tomorrow in worship

September 25, 2010

Tomorrow we conclude our month-long church-wide emphasis on missions. I’ll be preaching a missions-related sermon in Vinebranch entitled “Doing and Being.” The text is Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 (which is more like feeding 20,000, when you consider the women and children) in Matthew 14:13-23. As we think about how Jesus fed the hungry multitude in that scripture, Jesus will also feed and nourish us through Holy Communion, which we will celebrate tomorrow.

Here’s a missions-related article I wrote for September’s Church Matters. Read the rest of this entry »

Prayer for this week

September 24, 2010

Collect from the Book of Common Prayer, season after Pentecost, Proper 20:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for 09-19-10: “Salvation, Part 4: Arriving Home”

September 23, 2010

Sermon Text: Romans 6:1-11

Please note: After you press the play button, you may have to wait several seconds before the video starts playing.

The following is my original manuscript.

As some of you may recall, I grew up Baptist; my mother remains a Baptist. She still can’t quite accept that I joined the dark side, but here I am… I have deep appreciation for the Baptist tradition. In fact, there’s a Baptist preacher and evangelist I like and respect a great deal named Tony Campolo. Campolo is Baptist, but he’s not one of those types of Baptists, if you know what I mean. He is aware that there are negative stereotypes and misperceptions about Baptists out there, and when he speaks to audiences of people who aren’t Baptists, as he often does, he immediately tries to put them at ease. He says, “I don’t believe you have to be Baptist to go to heaven… but why take that chance?”

I grew up with some friends down the street, brothers Wes and Tim, who were those types of Baptists. Strict, rigid, perhaps a bit judgmental… In fact, one time Wes really hurt my feelings. I was at his birthday party. He turned 11. He whispered something in another friend’s ear, and I knew he was talking about me. I said, “What did you say?” And he reluctantly volunteered he told his friend that I was not saved. And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And he said, “Well, I don’t think you’re saved.” If he could only see me now! Ah, who am I kidding? Now that I’m a Methodist minister, I’ve removed all doubt! Read the rest of this entry »

The myth of progress and Christianity

September 22, 2010

Creepy animatronic dad, who looks frighteningly like Saturday Night Live's Will Forte, talks about how great life is in the 1940s. Never mind the Nazis, I guess.

In my sermon this past Sunday, I cast grave doubt on the idea that our world was becoming a better place. To be sure, science and technology advance, new political and economic solutions are implemented, and some people in in the world experience gains in their standards of living and life expectancy, but it’s not clear at all that we—as a species—are making “progress.” The success of the Enlightenment project over the past three centuries, with its emphasis on reason and science, is at best a mixed bag.

This may not be news to anyone, but it does go against the propaganda that we learned in school and was fed to us through popular culture. As I pointed out in my sermon, the implicit promise of Disney World’s “Carousel of Progress” never came to pass. Our world continues to be mired in sin and evil. Everything else may change, but humanity’s capacity for and inclination toward evil hasn’t.

Does this mean that Christianity failed—or the gospel of Jesus Christ failed? Read the rest of this entry »

A favorite band is blacklisted

September 20, 2010

I was heartbroken to learn this week that a major Christian college invited and then un-invited one of my favorite bands to play on their campus. Calvin College, a Reformed college in Michigan, un-invited them for the same reason I’m reluctant to say the band’s name in a church setting: they’re called the New Pornographers.

But I hasten to add, “They’re not pornographic! They don’t endorse pornography.” The name comes from something that televangelist Jimmy Swaggart said many years ago, calling rock and roll the “new pornography.” I’ve seen the band in concert several times now. I have all their albums. A couple of years ago, in fact, I had tickets to see them on the very same night I had my annual evaluation by the Staff-Parish Relations committee. I explained to the chairperson that I had tickets to an unnamed concert, and could I be evaluated first, so I could duck out early and make it to the show. And of course that was no problem. Read the rest of this entry »

About that guy who coined the phrase…

September 16, 2010
Billboard for new atheist ad campaign

John Lennon himself failed to have "no religion"

I talked on Sunday about this group’s ad campaign promoting secularism and atheism in the metro Atlanta area. The billboard above trades on the perception that John Lennon was himself an irreligious “free thinker,” defiantly standing up to the oppressive forces of organized religion. After all, Lennon was the one who courted controversy in 1966 by saying that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” He was the one who wrote a kiss-off to the Maharishi in the White Album’s “Sexy Sadie.” He was the one who, in his stark and powerful 1970 anthem to disillusionment, “God,” lists a number of things that he doesn’t believe in—including Jesus and the Beatles. Finally, of course, he wrote and performed the 1971 hymn to secularism, “Imagine.” Read the rest of this entry »