The Chicken Dance Banned from Many Wedding Receptions

The Chicken Dance Banned from Many Wedding Receptions

In a sign either that the human species is less doomed than I had thought, or that the heat death of the universe is more imminent, FiveThirtyEight.com reports that The Chicken Dance was banned at 23.1% of wedding receptions last year.

The value of this datum is somewhat diminished by the fact that they found that many songs appear both on their most requested and their most banned list.

I read FiveThirtyEight‘s Significant Digits column every day precisely because it provides this sort of critical information.

You can return to your day now.

PS: Six percent of wedding receptions banned anything by Justin Bieber. I regard that latter figure as much too low.

Praying for Our Leaders

Praying for Our Leaders

There has been some fuss recently about praying for political leaders, in particularly, regarding an image of folks praying for President Trump. I think that many prayers for and against leaders mistake the value that prayer has. Further, complaining about what other people pray is largely a waste of time, and again reflects a misunderstanding of the value of prayer.

I recall the quote that “most people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.” (I looked it up and found this attribution to former SBC president Adrian Rogers.) When the majority of our prayers involve telling God what to do, what does that say about our believe in the omniscience, omnipotence, and indeed, the wisdom of God? Many of those who pray positively for President Trump, advising God to destroy his enemies and to prosper the president, also prayed quite negatively regarding President Obama. Just as happens in the broader American society, in Christianity we tend to exchange scripts when the party in power changes. About the same number of prayers get said, and the same number of complaints made. They are just made by different people.

My prayers for our leaders have not changed with the change of presidents. No, I do not deny having opinions, even strong ones, regarding various political issues. I have just chosen to spend my time on other things. But I prayed regularly that God would bless President Obama, and I continue to pray that God bless President Trump, according to his will.

How can I do this since I must disagree with substantial policy choices of one or the other? Very simply. I believe that God’s blessing is always a positive thing. Some people worry about prayers that they don’t like. I do not. I believe God can and does work, but I both believe that he doesn’t need advisors, and that he’s not going to let self-appointed advisors get in the way of his divine plan. Some are concerned about “prayers amiss,” but I think that idea is the result of a misapplication of James 4:3, which actually supports the idea that God is not going to respond to a prayer for evil.

So I welcome prayer, even ones I don’t like. I suspect that if I seek God, I may somehow get closer to him than I was before. The same thing applies even to those who advise God to do things I would disapprove. Opening yourself to God is both dangerous and wonderful.

When God Ordains a Change

When God Ordains a Change

We’ve had some discussion of Romans 13 over on the Energion Discussion Network, with contributions from David Alan Black, Elgin Hushbeck, Jr., and Steve Kindle (via comments). The question is just what it means to be subject to the “higher powers,” and when or whether a Christian can ever be involved in a revolutionary movement. I commented on some of my own view on this in a post some time ago, but today I want to look at another passage. I think it’s an excellent illustration of why we should refrain from the phrase “the Bible clearly teaches” as much as possible.

So what about when God ordains a change? A fun example of this occurs in 2 Kings 9. Actually, this starts with 1 Kings 19:26 when Elijah is told to anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi as king of Israel. This doesn’t happen until 2 Kings 9:

Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophet and told him, “Get yourself ready and take this vial of oil in your hand and go to Ramoth Gilead. You’ll go there and you’ll see Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi, and you’ll take him from among his brethren and take him to another room. You’ll take the vial of oil and pour it out on his head, and you’ll say, “This is what YHWH says, ‘I have anointed you king over Israel.’ Then you’ll open the door, flee, and you won’t hesitate.”

You can read the rest of the story that follows in 2 Kings 9. It makes for some very interesting reading. It was probably a rather good idea for the prophet to flee!

There are a number of very obvious differences between the situation faced by Elijah, Elisha, and the sons of the prophets and that faced by Paul when writing the letter to the Romans. Israel was being treated as at least a sort of theocracy. In this case, God’s people were a nation, not people living within a nation. Further, in this case we have a direct order recorded from God via a prophet to be the catalyst for this change of government. The situation is complicated by the fact that God’s people are divided into two nations, Israel and Judah (the result of another case of God ordaining a change, 1 Kings 11:26-40), and that all of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel are rated as evil.

It points to the complexity that arises when one views all government as ordained by God. Almost definition, all government is permitted by God. The difference between “permitted” and “ordained” when one speaks in consideration of divine power are fairly close in meaning.

Many modern readers would assume that the key difference is that God was able to order this via the prophets. That is not an explanation that I find useful. God directs in many ways. In fact, I believe God can direct through simple moral choice, i.e., if the government forces one to do something that is immoral, one ought to obey God rather than human authority. In the case of Elisha, God was willing, according to the story, to order revolution against a government that had become intolerable. Interestingly enough, Jehu’s dynasty was not that much better, though it does get a slightly better report than the dynasty of Omri.

It strikes me that it’s dangerous to make too much theology out of one passage.

James and a Living Gospel

James and a Living Gospel

Our pastor at Chumuckla Community Church started a sermon series on the book of James. This provoked me to look again at Bruce Epperly’s little book Holistic Spirituality: Life Transforming Wisdom from the Letter of James. Here’s a sample:

Despite Martin Luther’s misguided dismissal of James as “an epistle of straw,” due to James’ emphasis on agency and lifestyle rather than receptive grace as central to Christian experience, James is good news for congregants and seekers. It is the gospel lived out in everyday life, not by words alone or doctrinal requirements, but by actions that transform the world. This is the good news of Jesus Christ who shows us the pathway to abundant life, and not a dead letter or a soul-deadening creed or abstract doctrines about the divinity of Jesus unrelated to daily life. James invites us to be companions on the pathway of the living Christ. (p. 4)

Dave Black quoted today from Gordon Fee’s commentary on the epistles to the Thessalonians, discussing the connection between believing and living. I’m going to link to Dave’s post again tomorrow, when I briefly discuss Bible commentaries, but Dave’s post is worth reading in this connection as well.

Bruce Epperly comments again on the supposed contrast between James and Paul:

While Paul’s theology is often contrasted with the Letter of James, both Christian leaders believed that faith without works is dead (James 5:17).8 Paul affirms “the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (5:6). (Galatians: A Participatory Study Guide, p. xxvii)

I think we frequently see contrasts when we should see differences in emphasis and even in circumstances.

 

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Quick Note on Open Dialogue, Tim Keller, and the Kuyper Prize

Quick Note on Open Dialogue, Tim Keller, and the Kuyper Prize

I’m traveling, and will only comment briefly. I would link to the Princeton Seminary president’s comments and to the basic information about the Kuyper Prize.

I’m not going to get into the details of this issue. It appears that Keller will speak, but will not be awarded the Kuyper prize. I’m definitely not in the Reformed camp, so who gets honored is very much not my affair.

I’m very interested in religious dialogue, and for there to be real dialogue, there must be substantial differences of opinion. As a moderate, that means I must dialogue with people at what appear to me to be the extremes. For a conservative that means listening and responding to views of liberals or progressives. For both progressives and conservatives, I think it means more openness to dialogue with those in the charismatic movement.

While I do support the right of any private organization to determine what ideas it will support, at the same time I mourn when dialogue with substantial movements within the Christian community is diminished. I’m pleased that Rev. Keller will still speak. I am less concerned about giving prizes, and it appears he is too! Having been through the experience of having a speaker uninvited, one who responded with grace, I appreciate the grace shown here.

I would say to my more progressive friends that Tim Keller represents a very substantial movement within American Christianity. The size of the movement means those who disagree must engage it. Engaging is not agreeing. Dialogue is not support. Rather, dialogue is the best way to challenge bad ideas.

It may feel good to declare someone else’s view “outside the bounds,” but I don’t believe it’s the best way to change minds. Thus I publish views on both the conservative and the liberal side of the spectrum, not to mention occasionally charismatic, that others think I should not. No, I don’t have to provide “those people” with a platform, but I think it’s valuable to have a common platform, and to use it to encourage growth.

Who Is Saved

Who Is Saved

I can believe someone else has a good relationship with God, is saved, or is going to heaven without also believing they are right in all their beliefs. I believe I’m in a good relationship with God and am doubtless wrong about many things.

Paul and the Law Tangle

Paul and the Law Tangle

I’m working through key elements of Galatians 3 & 4 tonight and drawing in some material from Romans and elsewhere. My main topic will be to look at Paul’s use of the word “law” in these passages. My main references other than the Bible text will be Galatians: A Participatory Study Guide pp. 43-47 and Meditations on the Letters of Paul, Chapter VIII, pp. 89-97

Here’s a sample:

No Jew would deny the wisdom of Torah, or disavow its validity. Neither did Paul. When arguing for the universality of God’s promise to Abraham, and that all those who like Abraham have faith in God are justified before God, Paul asks rhetorically, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31). For that to be the case, Paul must have in mind more than one way of seeing the authority of the law, or the way it functions. (p. 92)

The chapter in Herold Weiss’s book (Meditations) is one of the most helpful presentations I’ve found on this subject.

Elgin Hushbeck on Apologetics

Elgin Hushbeck on Apologetics

One of the blessings in my life is the number of friends I have found (and I don’t always make friends easily) who are willing to have great discussions. By “great” I mean ones in which we challenge one another’s ideas with vigor but without anger or condemnation. If you seek only friends and associates who agree with you, you’re missing out on a great blessing.

Elgin Hushbeck is such a friend. I think I tend to emphasize the places where we don’t agree over those were we do simply because I find those discussions more useful and enjoyable. Elgin is a Christian apologist, which did not help me to warm up to him or his writing (this was before I was a publisher). Apologists often get a bad reputation for a number of reasons, including obsession that makes them narrow, a vigor in presentation that belies weakness of content, discourtesy, and some carelessness with factual accuracy in a good cause. And this is not to mention mistaking a catalog of facts for the good news of the gospel from time to time.

Elgin doesn’t do this. I want to call attention to his post yesterday on the Energion Discussion Network.  If we could get the “gently and respectfully” part taken care of, the rest would work much better.

I have found that the style is not a characteristic of one or another theological or political position. Whatever it is you’re advocating, gently and respectfully is going to accomplish more in terms of communicating your message, assuming that’s your goal. If you just want to stick it to the people who disagree with you, your strategy will obviously differ.

But with regard to the gospel, if your goal is to stick it to an opponent, don’t imagine that you are actually proclaiming the good news. The good news isn’t that you’re right and the other guy is wrong. Rather, it has something to do with God loving both of you, no matter how wrong you are. It depends on God and the Holy Spirit to fix that wrongness.

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)

Are Sermons of Value?

Are Sermons of Value?

I have very frequently spoken disparagingly of sermons. I prefer more interactive activities in smaller groups as a way of learning and passing on information. It’s commonly said that a pastor is lucky if, on a Sunday, any congregants remember the topic of the previous week’s sermon, much less what was said about it.

On the other hand I remember stunning Dr. James Londis, who was pastor of the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church when I was an 18-year-old college student and a member. His first sermon there had to do with applying the Laodicean message to his new congregants. Accurately, I might add. I mentioned this memory to him about 40 years after he had preached that sermon. For some reason he was surprised!

Nonetheless, I publish one book on how to preach (Overcoming Sermon Block), and a number of sermon collections (So Much Older Then … [Bob LaRochelle], The Character of Our Discontent [Allan R. Bevere], A Positive Word for Christian Lamenting, The Forgotten Beatitude, and Holidays, Holy Days, and Special Days. Most of these books are by Dr. William Powell Tuck, who has a few others as well. One of my criteria for publishing a sermon collection is that it is useful for reading as an essay collection as well.

Bill Tuck, when I interviewed him on the topic, said very simply that a major reason that sermons are looked down on is that so many of them are so bad. They are often poorly prepared, poorly presented, lack evidence of thought and reflection, lack depth, and so forth. I’m going to put the video of my interview with him at the end of this post.

A problem behind the problems is the lack of time spent in preparation. There is, of course, preparation of the sermon. But there is also preparation of the person. Bill Tuck says this in Overcoming Sermon Block:

One of the most important disciplines a minister has to maintain is his spiritual or devotional life. If we are too busy for our own personal devotion, we are simply too busy. We have to keep our priorities right. Our personal spiritual nurture is absolutely essential. To fail here is not a  minor shortcoming but neglect in a critical point of our own relationship to God. How can we guide others to worship and serve Christ if we neglect our own spiritual development? Our spiritual development affects our preaching as well. As we “labor” at our spiritual nurture, the amazing thing is that we are not only fed spiritually, but often sermon ideas arise out of our own devotional study and reflection. That is not our main purpose but it happens nevertheless. (p. 18)

That contains some excellent advice for everyone. I am only rarely called to preach, but I find that when I am called to share, my devotional life is most critical. Sunday School teachers take note.

Here’s the interview: