Archive for July, 2012

Defending God’s existence and wanting God to exist

July 31, 2012

Philosopher and Christian apologist Jeff Cook argues that the way most Christians do apologetics is wrong. He watched a recent debate between apologist William Lane Craig and new atheist Sam Harris. According to Cook, Craig won on points—hands down—but Harris won on style. Craig’s God seemed perfectly reasonable to believe in, but Harris wondered aloud why anyone would want to.

According to Cook, this wanting, this desire to believe in God, should be the focus of apologetics going forward. He’s even written a book about it. I look forward to Cook’s writing more about this over at Scot McKnight’s blog. He had a new post about it yesterday.

I’m sure I agree with Cook’s main thesis. This is a line of thought that our era’s best (although unofficial) apologist, N.T. Wright, uses in the first chapter (or so) of his book Simply Christian. Why is it that we have such a strong desire to see justice done? Why do love, relationships, and beauty seem so meaningful? Why do we seem programmed to crave a spiritual life?

Of course, evolutionary biologists have their creative and speculative just-so explanations, which are, to say the least, simplistic. Evolution, after all, implies no ought. It doesn’t describe what ought to be; it merely describes what is. There’s no moral content to it whatsoever. Anyone who’s tasted deeply of life can’t be satisfied for very long with scientific explanations—even if he believes that these are the only explanations possible. At best, he resigns himself to them: “I wish things were different, but they are what they are. What you see is quite literally what you get.”

But what if there were a God? That would solve the problem of the ought-ness of human life. Suddenly, justice, goodness, love, and beauty actually possess deep meaning, as our intuition already screams loudly that they do.

By all means, wishing doesn’t make it so. But start with the wish… start with the desire. I’m all for that.

But don’t abandon reason, either. I have great respect for William Lane Craig. There is no argument against God that he isn’t equipped to handle. No one is going to out-argue him or surprise him with an argument he hasn’t already considered. If it’s reason you want, it’s reason you get from Craig. I’m very glad that he’s out there making the case, unafraid to take on all comers. I have benefitted greatly from his website on several occasions. But he’s never going to win on style. He’s a bit of a stiff. He seems humor-impaired. But he is also kind, respectful, and always fights fair. Those darn Christians! Isn’t that the way they often are?

Didn’t you know? It’s a requirement for ordination

July 31, 2012

I occasionally use an app on my iPhone that tells me how slow and out of shape I am. It posts to Facebook when the run is over. Here’s what it posted today:

Do we really like the gospel of free grace?

July 30, 2012

Leave it to a Baptist to teach us what it means to be Wesleyan. Roger Olson, a theology professor at Baylor and a favorite blogger of mine, is—as we Methodists are supposed to be—Arminian. This means, among other things, that he rejects the Calvinist ideas that God predestines everyone to either salvation or damnation, that Christ died only for the elect, and that grace is irresistible (for those lucky enough to be elected). Arminianism emphasizes human responsibility—that human beings are able, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to respond to God’s grace.

Unfortunately, our Wesleyan-Arminian emphasis on human responsiveness to God’s grace gets easily distorted by critics. Are we saying that we have to do something to earn our salvation? Are we, like the worst of medieval Christianity, falling victim to works righteousness? The answer is no, as I discussed a couple of weeks ago, in this blog post.

As if to put an exclamation point on what I wrote there, Olson offers this sermon illustration and asks his readers whether or not it’s sufficiently Arminian:

In 1689 the city of Windsor, England was in an uproar. The city fathers had commissioned famed architect Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, to design a new town hall. The building was complete as desired with one exception.

The city fathers wanted their meeting rooms above a “corn market”—an open space for farmers and others to display and sell their products. But when they inspected the new building they were dismayed. Wren had used a new technique for supporting the floor/ceiling below the meeting space and above the corn market that required no pillars (except, of course, at the edges). To the city fathers and others, it seemed obvious that the ceiling of the corn market would soon fall under their weight as they met above it.

The city fathers insisted that Wren add four pillars in the middle of the corn market to support the floor of their meeting room above.

Olson explains that Wren adamantly refused, insisting that his design was safe and that the pillars would detract from the beauty of the open space. Finally, to appease the city fathers, Wren reluctantly added the pillars. Except…

Some years after the building’s celebrated dedication the corn market ceiling needed re-painting. As workmen built their scaffolds they noticed something strange. Wren’s pillars did not touch the ceiling. The space between their tops and the ceiling was so small as not to be noticeable without close inspection. The ceiling had long stood without support except in the city fathers’ imaginations. Wren was dead by the time this was discovered. The city fathers then added material to fill in the gaps “just in case.”

Here’s the punchline:

Like Wren’s deceptive pillars, our good works, intended to shore up our salvation (justification) and/or our favor with God in Christian living (sanctification) are at best psychological spiritual crutches. We are often so uncomfortable with the gospel of free grace that we demand our spiritual leaders give us something to add to God’s grace to support our sense of worth in God’s sight. Or our spiritual leaders are so uncomfortable promoting the gospel of free grace they add “grace boosters” we must perform to win and keep God’s favor. But, in fact, as beautiful as they may be, all such good works fall short and, in fact, detract from the beauty of the unsupported grace, the free gift of God’s favor in the cross of Jesus Christ. “For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves….”

So, is this illustration Arminian or not? After receiving comments on the question for a couple of days—the consensus of which seemed to be mostly negative—Olson answered his own question. The answer—surprise, surprise—was an emphatic yes. An Arminian ought to say that this illustration accurately describes the relationship of grace and works.

Since I never got around to commenting myself, it’s easy for me to say in retrospect that of course it reflects Arminian theology. But go back and read “God’s Grace from Beginning to End”and tell me how I could come to any other conclusion? Our salvation is built solely on the atoning work of God in Christ. As the hymn says,

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Having said all that, let me add my own, small qualification to the illustration. While good works don’t contribute a thing to our salvation, they will necessarily flow—enabled, of course, by the power of the Spirit—from a life that has been justified. They will do so because God doesn’t want us merely to be saved from the consequences of sin on the other side of judgment (which this illustration emphasizes), God wants us to be saved from sin in the here and now. Sin is that which keeps us from being what God created us to be: creatures capable of perfect love, both of God and his Creation.

Salvation isn’t an event. It’s a process by which the Holy Spirit continues to transform us until we arrive safely in God’s kingdom on the other side of resurrection. As the Spirit transforms us, good works will follow: because doing good is part of what it means to love. We will be saved in the future as we continue to trust in the Lord; we are being saved now in order to love.

How do you know it’s an accident, “remarkable” or otherwise?

July 29, 2012

From my infrequent conversations with atheists over the years, I’ve noticed that they sometimes have (or pretend to have) an insufficient ability to experience wonder. They sometimes refuse to be impressed by how remarkable it is that we have life in a universe capable of sustaining life. Are they afraid, perhaps, that they would be yielding too much ground to us believers?

It all just seems so unlikely, doesn’t it? Maybe to an average person, yes. But these atheists shrug and say, “No. Of course it seems that way to your untrained eye, but that’s because you don’t understand that…” And what follows is an explanation that simply pushes the question back one generation. They evade the question, “Yes, but why are things like that?”

For all I know, Laurence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, is an atheist, but in this New York Times essay, he at least allows himself to marvel at the sheer improbability of the universe. Twice in this short essay, he refers to the physics behind the Higgs boson as both a “precarious accident” and a “remarkable accident.” He even calls it a miracle before conceding, rightly, that talking about miracles is the “stuff of religion, not science.”

Be that as it may, explaining existence by calling it an accident isn’t a scientific explanation—because, in doing so, you’re peaking behind a curtain to which you have no scientific access.

I prefer to call it a miracle.

Wesley in Savannah

July 28, 2012

Yesterday, for the first time in my eight years of pastoral ministry, I visited Savannah’s Reynolds Square, which commemorates John Wesley’s brief, unsuccessful ministry in the new British colony of Georgia. God used even this failure to form Wesley into the powerful leader who would start a reform movement that persists—however faintly and imperfectly—to this day.

I’m not so hard and cynical that I didn’t get a lump in my throat. God, I love this man! Thank you, Jesus.

This monument marks the place where Wesley’s parsonage stood. (Those are my kids!)

As you can see, Wesley didn’t serve Georgia very long. His ministry here ended in failure. Not to worry: God used even this failure to form Wesley into the man that he would become.

Wesley never had an unpublished thought, so you can imagine how inadequately short this list of quotations is.

“Ich bin ein Southern Baptist”

July 27, 2012

Thanks to the new controversy, eating or not eating the restaurant’s tasty fried chicken sandwich is a political statement.

Long before he became Disney’s go-to guy for movie music, including Toy Story‘s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” Randy Newman was famous, or infamous, for writing scathingly satirical songs like “Sail Away,” whose majestic opening piano chords sound like a patriotic hymn until you get to song’s subject matter: he’s singing from the point of view of a slave trader, beckoning Africans to slavery in America:

In America you’ll get food to eat
Won’t have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It’s great to be an American

Ouch. At his best, Newman’s music is sometimes a punch in the gut. His narrators often assume the unblinking, first-person perspective of deeply unsympathetic characters, as was the case with his biggest hit, “Short People.” That song’s refrain tells us that “short people got no reason to live.” “Short People,” however, wasn’t the best example of Newman’s gift for daring to empathize with these otherwise unsympathetic characters.

The best example of this gift may be “Rednecks,” from 1974’s Good Old Boys album. Wikipedia tells me that the song reached #36 on the Billboard charts, which makes me wish I could hear the always-congenial Casey Kasem introduce this particular song on American Top 40. It begins:

Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart-ass New York Jew.
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox,
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too.
Well, he may be a fool, but he’s our fool.
If they think they’re better than him, they’re wrong.
So I went to the park and took some paper along,
And that’s where I wrote this song…”

(The song’s writer, please note, is a Jew from L.A.)

Lester Maddox, in case you don’t know, was a segregationist governor from my home state, Georgia, from 1967 to 1971. Newman says the occasion that inspired the song was watching The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, on which Maddox appeared. Cavett is about as WASPy as they come, of course, but it makes sense that the bigoted narrator would mistake him for “some smart-ass New York Jew.”

Newman said in an interview that watching the host and the audience openly mock the Georgia governor on national TV made Newman indignant on behalf of Georgians: “They had just elected him governor, in a state of 6 million or whatever, and if I were a Georgian, I would have been offended, irrespective of the fact that he was a bigot and a fool.”

To which I say, Good for Newman. Lester Maddox may have been a fool, but he was our fool—my fool. These are my people, people like Lester Maddox—even though I was still an infant when Maddox left office. You think I didn’t grow up in a family and culture that was deeply bigoted, in which the N-word, racist jokes, and racist commentary were part of the air that we breathed? Good heavens! If Lester Maddox weren’t “my people,” too, then I’d have to disown my family of origin, which I’m unwilling to do.

When I was a child of 6 or 7, I consciously tried to root out my southern accent. In the Atlanta suburbs in which I grew up, few of my friends (or friends’ parents) talked the way my family did. I was ashamed. And I’m now ashamed of being ashamed of the way they talked.

I’m hardly a redneck or good old boy, but I’m still a southerner. And sometimes I feel conscious of being a southerner. Like many years ago when I worked for a large corporation, which was headquartered in New Jersey. Once, the president of our business unit, who was from up north, came to speak to us. She said to our audience, “I hope I’m not talking too fast for you to understand me.” We’ll try to keep up somehow, I thought. Grrr. It wasn’t exactly a case study in “how to win friends and influence people.”

And I felt very southern this week, as Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy and his company deal with fallout associated with his recent comments regarding his support for traditional marriage. If you have a Facebook account, you’ve heard about the controversy, from one direction or another. Here’s a paragraph from a Time article about the Boston mayor’s attempt to prevent the restaurant chain from opening stores there.

“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston,” Menino told the Boston Herald on Thursday. “You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against the population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion. That’s the Freedom Trail. That’s where it all started right here. And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail.”

(Don’t you love the way the mayor pretends not to know the name of the fast-food chain. I suspect, as capitalism always triumphs over principle, he and the rest of Massachusetts will know it soon enough!)

Let’s first take a deep breath. No one’s accusing Chick-fil-A of discriminating against anyone. In fact, based on my experience, I’d be willing to bet that gay people who go to Chick-fil-A—like all people who go to Chick-fil-A—will be treated with far more respect, in general, than they will at their friendly neighborhood McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, et al. I’ll bet it’s not even close.

No, Chick-fil-A doesn’t discriminate against gays. Rather, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy has voiced his support for marriage as it has been traditionally defined, between a man and woman. It turns out that he and his family also give money to non-profit organizations that share his point of view—for example, Exodus International, the gay Christian support group that I blogged about last week.

But you know what non-profit organization remains unmentioned in critics’ discussion of the “anti-gay” or “homophobic” organizations that the Cathy family supports? The Southern Baptist Convention. You see, I’ll bet that a very large portion of his charitable giving—if not the largest—goes to support the Cathys’ church, which defines marriage as between a man and woman and believes that sex outside of such a marriage is sin.

Does that make Southern Baptists homophobic, i.e., irrationally afraid of homosexuals? If so, it also makes members of my United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and most evangelical churches and denominations—in other words, the vast majority of Christians in the universal Church—homophobic as well.

Come to think of it, since Boston and Chicago—where Alderman Joe Moreno is also threatening to use his political power to stop Chick-fil-A’s expansion there—are overwhelmingly Catholic, should we expect these crusading politicians to take on the Catholic Church for their stance on marriage and homosexuality? Will they express indignation that Cardinals O’Malley and George are similarly “ignorant,” “bigoted,” and “prejudiced” to support such views? If not, why not? What’s the difference?

I think I know. Dan Cathy is from the South. After all, Cathy couldn’t support the traditional definition of marriage on religious principle. He must be acting out of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice, right? He must hate gay people. Because, you know… he’s a southerner, and that’s just the way we are.

As for my fellow Methodists who have joined in the chorus of condemnation directed toward Cathy and Chick-fil-A, I would remind them that by their own standards, John and Charles Wesley were homophobes. I know what they would say: “They were victims of their time and place. We know better than them now, don’t we?”

Well, I don’t. I haven’t improved upon the Wesley brothers, thank you very much. I wish I could!

So today, I say proudly, alongside Chick-fil-A and the Cathy family, “Ich bin ein Southern Baptist!”

And I’m also a southerner. Because don’t misunderstand: I’m not mostly bothered by the criticism of Chick-fil-A as a Christian. I’m mostly bothered as a southerner.

Here’s the great Randy Newman:

Sermon 07-22-12: “Sunday School Heroes, Part 8: Esther and Mordecai”

July 26, 2012

“Who knows,” Mordecai asks his adoptive daughter, Queen Esther, “but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” He was challenging Esther to imagine that, despite the desperation of her plight, God was working behind the scenes in her life and world in order to accomplish his saving purposes. In other words, he was challenging her to believe in God’s providence—that we don’t live a moment of our lives apart from God’s love and care. That was true for Esther and Mordecai and their fellow Jews, and it’s true for us today. In this sermon, I’ll explore the meaning of providence for us.

Sermon Text: Esther 3:8-11; 4:1-17; 7:1-10

The following is my original manuscript.

I’m guessing that Tim and Stephanie Newton’s favorite sporting event is the NCAA basketball tournament, especially those championship games that their beloved Kentucky Wildcats often seem to win. But their second-favorite sporting event is one that most of us probably care nothing about: I’m talking, of course, about the Kentucky Derby—which I think is just an excuse to wear funny hats and drink mint juleps. Still, even I had some interest in the Kentucky Derby a few years ago, when a horse named Mine That Bird won the race.

The horse was such a longshot that the Sports Illustrated writer assigned to cover the race never bothered to find out about him before the race. The horse had lost 31 of his previous 32 races. At 50-to-1 odds, he was the longest longshot to win the race in over a century. One newspaper handicapping the race said that that horse ought to just stay in the barn.[1] And for most of the race, true to form, Mine That Bird was in the back of the pack, where everyone thought he belonged. Then, at the last turn, with 12 horses in front of him, Mine That Bird began a late surge and passed all the other horses so quickly that the TV announcer doesn’t even have time to figure out the horse’s name until the race was nearly over. So how did the horse pull off this upset? The jockey explained, “I rode him like a good horse”—the implication being that, by all appearances, this wasn’t a good horse. The jockey had to act as if the impossible were really possible—you know, the way we Georgia Tech fans act every Thanksgiving weekend when we play the Bulldogs! The jockey had to stare in the face of near-certain defeat and believe that the horse could somehow win, and to act as if the horse could somehow win. Read the rest of this entry »

“A more robust Christianity” in a post-Christendom world?

July 25, 2012

The boys and I at St. Simons Island. (I went to the North Ave. Trade School, but I like Auburn, too.)

This week I’m at St. Simons Island, which has historical significance for us Methodists. John and Charles Wesley spent some time here when they were in America. Naturally, there is a United Methodist retreat center here, called Epworth-by-the-Sea. It is the setting of our annual Georgia Pastors School, a teaching conference for us United Methodist clergy in Georgia. We have classes in the morning (taught this year by a biblical archaeologist) and worship services in the evening—with camp activities for the kids.

Our preacher during worship this week is the Rev. Dr. Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Tennent is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and an expert in the field of missiology.

In last night’s sermon he shared some eye-opening—if not downright shocking—statistics about the number of self-identifying Christians in this post-Christian, post-Christendom culture in which we find ourselves. I don’t have the exact numbers from the sermon, but here’s similar data he’s shared elsewhere:

The white Caucasian peoples, once the standard bearers of global Christianity, are now losing the faith in record numbers (between 4,700 and 7,000 per day).  To put this in generational perspective, 65% of the “builder” generation identified themselves as Christian; whereas only 35% of the “baby boomer” generation did.  Generation “X” has only 24% who identify themselves as Christian and the millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) is only 15% Christian in their self identification.  If this trend continues then the next generation will be statistically able to be classified as an “unreached people group” as have quite a few European groups in the current generation.

Bear in mind, these numbers reflect a decline in cultural Christianity—Christendom—which isn’t altogether bad. Living in a so-called “Christian” culture comes at a cost. In this blog post, Dr. Tennent writes,

Christendom always finds ways to sand down all the rough edges of the gospel so its prophetic, radical proclamation gets gradually domesticated.  The result is that, over time, Christianity gets quite removed from the proclamation and experience of the New Testament.  Gradually, being a “Christian” gets domesticated to little more than “being nice to people.”  Sin moves from binding ourselves to the human rebellion against God to an “inconvenient slowing down of our moral development.”  The righteous judgment of a holy God is quietly dropped in favor of the proverbial “man upstairs” who is more like Santa Claus than the God of biblical revelation.  Preaching, over time, becomes bland moralizing and child-like admonitions.  Pastors become endlessly manipulated and coerced into the larger cultural project rather than remembering our prior calling to serve Jesus Christ and to help usher in the Kingdom through the witness of the Church.

The way forward, Dr. Tennent writes, is the way back: to “reclaim biblical Christianity as the Church.” The church itself needs to be re-converted to the gospel.

My greatest concern is that those of us who are pastors and leaders have ourselves forgotten the gospel.  The early church didn’t spend a lot of time wringing their hands over the paganism of Rome.  They took it for granted and set about evangelizing it.  This cannot be done if we are angry (this is not the time to start burning Qur’ans).  This also cannot be done if we are too passive (this is not the time for silence and cultural acquiescence).  The greatest need for conversion today is not the unbelieving world, but the church itself.  After all, doesn’t Scripture teach us that judgment begins in the household of God?  (I Peter 4:17).  We cannot even begin to effectively respond to the godless drumbeat of this generation until we ourselves learn to listen to the gospel with better ears, better hearts, better feet, and a lot more good old fashioned courage.  There are few things more troubling than the quiet surrender of the gospel at every turn while, in the same breath, we blather on endlessly about the importance of making the church more “culturally relevant.”

Last night’s sermon reiterated many of these thoughts. I came away being reminded again (I seem to need constant reminding!) of the urgency of our mission—including the urgency of my task as pastor. I believe the Lord is telling me, “Don’t get complacent, Brent. Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”

Loose ends from Esther sermon

July 24, 2012

In Vinebranch on Sunday, I encouraged the congregation to read the entire book of Esther. Among other things, it’s an entertaining story—and short, at just 10 short chapters. (By the way, I enjoyed this capsule summary of the book by a Canadian blogger.) But it’s filled with preaching potential, and I’m afraid my sermon barely scratched the surface. The scripture I chose for the sermon, Esther 3:8-11; 4:1-17; 7:1-10, was inadequately brief, but I hope it covered at least the heart of what I preached.

An early draft of the sermon included the following paragraph establishing context for the book, which I had to mercilessly cut in the interest of time. Here it is:

Our scripture is set in the Persian empire during the reign of King Xerxes. Centuries before today’s scripture, after Israel’s King Solomon died, you may recall that Israel split into two kingdoms. In the eight century B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom disappeared, although many of their descendents became the Samaritans that we hear about in the gospels. Later, after the Assyrian empire fell to the Babylonians, the Babylonians defeated the southern kingdom and the remaining two tribes of Israel—Judah and Benjamin. This is the part of Israel that we know as the Jews. They were sent into exile in Babylon. Some Jews returned to their native land after Babylon fell to Persia—that’s the story told in Ezra and Nehemia. Other Jews, however, remained abroad, scattered around the Persian empire—which is where we find our two heroes, Esther and Mordecai, in today’s scripture.

In my sermon, I emphasized that when the Jews in Persia heard King Xerxes’ proclamation of the upcoming pogrom, they did what most people do when they are reminded of or fearful for their mortality: they repented. They sought to get their lives right with God. (See Esther 4:3.) The NIV Application Commentary argues that Esther 4 intentionally points to Joel, a prophetic book calling for Israel to repent in the face of a destructive swarm of locusts. The Hebrew phrase translated as “fasting, weeping, and wailing” in Esther 4:3 also appears in Joel 2:12, the only other place in the Bible that that combination of words appears. Also, the “who knows” of Joel 2:14 (“Who knows whether he will have a change of heart…”) shows up in Esther 4:14. This is likely an intentional allusion.

Finally, I wanted to say more in the sermon about Esther’s strange (to our ears) fear of entering King Xerxes’ inner court without a summons in vv. 10-11. We know for sure that Persian kings had these sorts of rules, and given that the king’s ardor toward Esther had cooled (since, as she points out, she hadn’t been summoned in a month), what would stop the king from having his own wife killed? There were plenty more beautiful women where she came from, and Xerxes was a very shallow person.

But if I had more time during my sermon, I would have connected Esther’s fear of entering the throne room with our privileged position as Christians. We have access to the throne room, not of some earthly king, but to the of the King of kings! What exactly do we think is going on when we pray? Do we take this privilege for granted? How thoughtlessly do we often approach our King?

A prayer in the wake of last week’s shooting

July 24, 2012

I prayed the following prayer last Sunday.

Almighty God, whose word we hear not often in the violent wind and the earthquake and the fire but in a still small voice: We pray that your Word won’t return to you empty. Let it accomplish your purposes in our hearts this morning. After the violence and chaos of last week’s tragic shooting, we need your peace—the peace that passes all understanding. Indeed, the world needs your peace. And so we pray that you would ease our justifiable anger, calm our anxious hearts, and speak your word to us again—the word saying that vengeance belongs to you and you will repay; the word saying that we should not fear for the one who can kill only the body and not the soul; the word saying that you are merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; the word saying that no person or principality or power can separate us from this great love. Remind us that your Son Jesus defeated the forces of sin and evil on the cross and through his resurrection won a victory over death itself—a victory that will be made manifest on the other side of our own resurrection. Until then let us wait patiently alongside your Creation, as it groans with the pain of childbirth, waiting for redemption, waiting for renewal, waiting for new birth. Enable us your Church around the world to play the role that you’ve given each of us to play in giving birth to this new world. Enable us your church at 69 North Main Street in Alpharetta to be faithful to the task and mission you’ve given us. It is your mission, and we are grateful that you let us share our best selves in carrying it out. We pray this in the name of our Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. Amen.