What’s the value of the liturgical calendar?

For some years now I have made a practice of observing the Church Year, something with which I was totally unfamiliar, even through my seminary years. Now a large part of my spiritual disciplines revolved around its seasons. There is a Church Year calendar over my desk.

I think for most Evangelicals the Church Year looks too simplistic, too bare of the fullness of our faith. It seems that so much gets left out. However, I have found that it keeps calling me back to the center – the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming of our Lord. It is around these realities that our faith turns. When these are lost sight of, diminished, left un-preached, and un-taught, we are on a trajectory that leads away from Christ and might be guilty of having itching ears, failing to simply abide in Christ.

After 40+ years in ministry, I have lived long enough to see what happens to a church when it loses touch. No longer satisfied in the classic statements of our faith and in the essential beliefs of the Gospel, soon the church finds itself confused, weak and no longer clear on what it has been called to proclaim. The space left empty by the absence of this “Gospel Satisfaction” gets filled with secondary things that soon become primary things.

In my own life I have had to pull myself time and again into the center as I explore, expand and investigate. I have been known to get lost! The Church Year gives me the handrails to keep me on the path of the Gospel once delivered. I would not make the claim that this is necessary for all. But I would make the claim that its absence is the cause of much vagueness in our Christianity.

Here is a short video reflection that highlights the benefits of the Church Year.

God and the Gay Christian

Today is the official release of Matthew Vines’ volume, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Vines has gotten a lot of press as a spokesman within the Evangelical church for ssm. He is soft-spoken, articulate, kind, and speaks the lingo Evangelicals want to hear – including a supposedly high view of Scripture. Vines’ publisher — Convergent Books — is closely related in organization and leadership to evangelical publisher WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. This would seem to present ssm as some sort of option among Evangelicals. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, responds, “What is new is the packaging of the argument and the fact that this is being published — at least to some extent — within evangelicalism by an imprint associated with WaterBrook Multnomah that is targeting itself toward the evangelical community.”

Also released today is God and the Gay Christian? is a 100-page critique of Vines, edited by Al Mohler, who also contributes a chapter. Other contributors are: James M. Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology; Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies; Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history; and Heath Lambert, assistant professor of biblical counseling. Burk, Strachan and Lambert teach primarily for Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.

Here we go folks. The players are getting into the ring. Many of the blows that have been landed on Evangelicals are from those outside Evangelical camp and vice versa. This is within! It won’t be so much about Vines. It will be more about Evangelicals who are looking for an off-ramp to move away from this issue, diminish its significance, consider it as just one among many issues we are allowed to disagree on, and then move on to other things. It is not going to be that easy. Those who will not declare themselves one way or another, who refuse to address the morality of ssm, will be safe for awhile. But ultimately the rift is only beginning. And the rift, as it almost always is, is about the nature and authority of the Bible.

Of course, this debate will not touch the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. Their acceptance of historic Christian morality is a done deal. They are not even having this discussion, even as they are not discussing the ordaining of women to the priesthood. Watch as Evangelicals continue to slip into these communions due to their strong moral commitments. Evangelicals who do so will have to seek ways to diminish some of the doctrinal barriers that continue to exist between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, particularly over justification by faith alone. Evangelicalism in the West might have to shrink for awhile as it clarifies what its moral commitments really are. SSM won’t be the only topic. The Evangelical comfort with easy divorce and cohabitation is going to come into the crosshairs, too. It will be hard for the Evangelicals to isolate ssm from its own looseness on other issues of sexual morality. It is already happening and will only pick up speed. Western Evangelicals better be quick to settle this one or increasingly be marginalized by the worldwide communion of the Evangelical church.

In my own ministry I have made it clear that I stand with the historic church on what constitutes marriage. But I have so far not publicly taught on ssm for the simple reason that the Evangelical church needs to be clear on its own acceptance of divorce as normative, a de facto state of affairs, if not exactly a doctrinal surrender. Let’s start there. The church as it is made up of 50% of its marriages dissolving and then remarrying or cohabiting, often with multiple remarriages and multiple partners. Given this state of moral condition, it does not have much of a platform to address the sexual immorality of anybody.

We all fall short. No arguments there. But it’s not about that. It’s about the teaching position of the church, its moral aspirations and vision. Does the church teach, support and expect “one man, one woman, with children, together for a lifetime”? Hardly. As far as I can see, it is the Roman Catholic church alone which nurtures this vision. While I do not support many of the ways it seeks to enforce this vision and its often heavy-handed authoritarianism and legalistic process for annulments, it has not accommodated the cultural pressures to diminish the sanctity of marriage. There are a thousand qualifications I would want to make about this, but the broad outlines are clear. I regularly hear the horror stories of how the church has handled those divorcing and the piling on of unnecessary pain. It often, maybe even most often, is not very redemptive.

I am hopeful concerning this purifying process. The deep Christ-followers in the pews have grown tired of the waffling leadership of their churches. They will be encouraged that now choices will be forced and their leadership pressed out into the open on these moral issues. It will be dramatically clear if these leaders do not want to come into the open. Churches which are clear will be blessed with growing numbers of Christians who want to follow the Lord.

Of course, churches must not slip into legalism or harsh authoritarianism and must tenderly and mercifully exhort the flock of God. Some will be unwise and think that their stand of this or that moral issue will ipso facto make them a good church. Not so. At the heart of the church is love of God and love for people. This must be the root from which the church takes growth.

Matt Taibbi To Lead First Look’s Next Digital Magazine

Matt Taibbi is moving on from Rolling Stone after years of fierce writing about the 2008 financial crisis. Taibbi is one of the few who have kept the misdeeds of the financial industry alive and who has not forgotten what they did to the American people.

If I had a life to live over again, my avocation would be pursuing legislation that puts the financial industry on a level playing field with the rest of us and puts its leading miscreants in jail. The devastation they have worked on Americans is beyond weighing and describing. They changed everything for everybody, and then after that were invited into the White House to reconstruct the new economy after the meltdown. to this day, no one has walked the perp walk. They remain in charge, and not only in charge but financially profiting as much as before.

As a Pastor I have seen so many devastated lives flow out of the financial holocaust, so many retirements ruined, so many jobs lost, so many houses lost – all by people playing by the rules who had no idea that others saw them as suckers ready for a blow they could not see coming. The close collusion between Congressmen, White House and financial executives for a time rose above the surface for all to see, and now it has descended again. Taibbi reaches down into the abyss and brings it up for all to see. No one else has his energy level nor his writing skill to keep it before the common man.

Go to his page on Amazon to peruse his titles.

I am surprised how little involved the church is in uncovering this fiscal mess. It is not even on their screen as I sift through website after website, ministry after ministry. The church is preoccupied on taking care of bodies that float downstream rather than going upstream to see what is causing it all in the first place.

One thing is for sure. The financial powers have guaranteed that Walmart will have plenty of seniors to supply their stores’ employee needs for years to come. Every time you go to a Walmart and see a senior there, don’t imagine how happy they are to have a job. Consider what forced them back into the work place at the very point where they should be enjoying grandchildren, taking time to love and laugh, sit at the dinner table a bit longer than usual and share with their husband or wife, watch the early news and check Facebook photos of  new grandkids before slipping into PJs and reading a new book just checked out of the library.

Matt Taibbi doesn’t forget.


The NY skyscraper that almost came down

Fascinating documentary of the NY skyscraper that almost came down. A design flaw in the Citygroup Center was discovered that would mean in a certain speed of wind (with odds of every 16 years) it would all come down. Not just come down but fall to the side, creating a domino effect on nearby buildings. It all began with an architecture student calling the building designer revealing the flaw. An amazing story of catastrophe averted, right under the public’s nose with no publicity of the danger. Worth the watch.

Is This Any Way to Talk About Grace? – Hyper-Grace in Hyper-Drive

It’s all grace!!! This is the essential Christian confession. Of course, the various denominations and movements accuse one another of not being grace centered enough. The Protestants say to the Roman Catholics that though they confess grace they obfuscate it by introducing works into ultimate justification. The Reformed accuse the Arminians of short-selling grace because Arminians believe, generally, that one can fall from grace. The Arminians accuse the Reformed of limiting grace because saving grace is only for the few and not for the many. The Lutherans accuse the Reformed of not making a careful enough distinction between the Law and the Gospel, and the Reformed accuse the Lutherans of not seeing the grace of God in the three uses of the Law.

We are all trying to “Out-Grace” one another. It takes us to some very absurd expressions and overstatements so that our view of grace is seen as the biblical one. It is in these overstatements that one can lose touch with the biblical mindset, for it is not only what we say but how we say it, how often we say it and what we don’t say.

I am increasingly hearing phrases like this: “we can’t out-sin the grace of God.” As it stands, it is true, everything else being equal and those words meaning exactly what the Bible means by them. However, we can sin in such a way that the grace of God is without effect if it is not mixed with faith and repentance. We must speak of faith and repentance when we speak of grace. If we do not, we lose grip on what the Bible means by grace. Un-responded to grace ceases to be saving grace. The absence of cooperation with grace means being lost.

I hear loads of hopeful words about the grace of God that are not measured. And churches fill up with people absolutely enthralled about how much God is for them and how certain they can be of his favor. But there is hardly a word about faith and repentance. It is almost as if in some minds this dampens grace, qualifies grace, limits grace. This is not wise. It is not the biblical message. Grace always invites us to repentance and faith and obedience. These do not earn grace, by definition, or otherwise it would not be grace. But let there be no mistake, the Bible qualifies in what sense grace is to be understood.

We must speak about grace the way the Bible speaks of it in order to do good to sinners. I am finding in NeoCalvinism a flirting with antinomianism in some of their more extreme statements. Us Pastors are finding many a parishioner living in the most garish of sinful lifestyles absolutely assured that because grace is grace heaven is their certain home. Where did they come up with this model of grace? Did they dream it up on their own? Hardly. This they have been taught. And anyone, they have been told, who does not believe the same is a legalist.

I appeal to those task it is to teach God’s Word, say what God’s Word says in the way that it says it. Keep one truth in balance with other truths. If we don’t, sin will increase and the church will fill up those who under the banner of grace have not appetite for holiness and no lifestyle of deepening faith and repentance.