Archive for March, 2011

Getting to know your neighbors

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Ben Stevens has written a thoroughly practical guide on getting to know your neighbors. His point—and it’s a good one—is that you must get to know your neighbors before you can love them as Jesus has called us to do:

You cannot love your neighbor if you do not know that neighbor. Time spent with neighbors that does not result in conversions, does not result in spiritual conversation, or does not result in any greater appreciation of the work of Christ, is not a net loss. Let us be resolved to undertake this kind of work confident that it is a legitimate end unto itself, that our culture deserves our attention, and that God will call us to account for the time spent serving neighbors.

[...]

I would like to make a radical suggestion. The suggestion is not that knowing the neighbors should be important to Christians. The radical thesis I would like to present is: actually get it on your calendar for next month, and make that a habit.

Head over to the Gospel Coalition to read the rest of the post, including six steps to take to make the gathering successful.

How have you successfully reached out to your neighbors? Is there anything from Ben’s post that you’d like to try?

What traits have you appreciated in your pastors?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

I’ve always appreciated pastors who are willing to share their struggles and foibles with the congregation. By modeling humility they create an ethos of openness in the congregation.

What about you? What traits have you admired in your pastors?

Share your thoughts!

How can you best help the people of Japan in the aftermath of disaster?

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Are you considering a charitable donation to help relief and recovery efforts in Japan? Good for you—but while you do so, take a few minutes to think about where your donation will do the most good. That’s the message from the Givewell Blog, which cautions donors to be careful about donating to just any charity that calls for donations for disaster relief in Japan.

It’s not that other charities are necessarily frauds or that your money won’t do any good. But as the blog post lays out, the specific needs of post-tsunami Japan are quite different than those of (for example) post-earthquake Haiti. In Japan, for instance, money may be a less pressing need than specialized relief teams.

The Givewell blog recommends Doctors Without Borders and the Japanese Red Cross as worthwhile causes. You might agree or disagree with those recommendations; but their reasoning seems pretty compelling. Perhaps you know of (and may have donated to) other organizations working in Japan. What charities would you recommend for somebody looking to help? When disaster strikes and you want to donate, do you give to the same organization each time, or do you tailor your donations specifically to the immediate need?

What’s your favorite part of Creation?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Up here in Michigan, the sun is finally starting to appear with a modicum of regularity. We’re sure to get hit with another snowfall—three years of living here has tempered my weather-based optimism—but until then, I plan to enjoy seeing all the friendly, happy faces out on the streets.

With Spring on people’s minds, I think it’s a good time to ask a simple question: what’s your favorite part of God’s Creation? Is it trees? Mountains? Lakes? Or something else?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Is Scripture Wholly Trustworthy?

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about the baggage that we bring with us when we approach Scripture. Anytime we open the Bible, a host of competing voices from our past and present jockey to offer an interpretation of what we’re reading. I often find it hard to silence those voices and just listen to what God has for me.

What kicked off this thought process was a convicting question at Near Emmaus: “If Scripture is not trustworthy where it bothers you, then why assume it is trustworthy where it does not?

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

If YHWH God seems angry and vindictive, they assume that Scripture is wrong. If there are passages that use language that makes us feel a bit of uneasy in our modern, scientific world-view, they assume Scripture is wrong. If there are passages that present eschatological statements that seem confusing and/or cryptic, they assume Scripture is wrong. If we read passages where Jesus is seen as cosmic judge, they assume Scripture is wrong.

If Jesus says love your neighbor, Scripture is obviously right then. If it condemns those who do not take care of the orphan and the widow, then the ethics of Scripture make sense as do threats of judgment. If it says God is love, well, we like that so it must be right.

Read the rest of the post and the comments at nearemmaus.wordpress.com.

I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I’ve done my personal Bible study over the past week. It’s been difficult, but worthwhile.

Are there specific passages or books that you find difficult to approach from the standpoint of “This is trustworthy?”

Twitter and Lent

Friday, March 11th, 2011

OpenBible.info just published its annual list of what twitterers are giving up for Lent. The top ten are listed below:

Rank Word Count Change from last year’s rank
1. Twitter 4297 0
2. Facebook 4060 0
3. Chocolate 3185 0
4. Swearing 2527 +1
5. Alcohol 2347 -1
6. Sex 2093 +3
7. Soda 1959 -1
8. Lent 1493 -1
9. Meat 1352 -1
10. Fast food 1303 0

It’s interesting to compare the lists from 2010 and 2009. Does anything on the list surprise you?

Are You Doing Anything for Lent?

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Not every Christian tradition celebrates Lent, but many do. While my denomination doesn’t require its members to participate in Lent, it does encourage us to use the time to “invest in practices that heighten our awareness of God.” In keeping with that, I’ve decided to set aside an hour of every day during Lent for private devotions. I’ve done this off and on before, but never consistently or for an extended season. After all, who has an hour every single day to spend doing “nothing”?

Some of you are thinking to yourselves: “One hour? I don’t have time for that!” Me neither—it’s going to be difficult for me to make the time, but that’s the point. And my hat is off to those of you who are thinking, “One hour? That seems so short!”

What about you? Are you fasting from anything, or doing anything special for Lent this year?

New Lent email devotionals available at Bible Gateway

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Looking for some Lent devotional reading as Easter approaches? Our sister site Bible Gateway has just launched two new email devotionals centered around Easter: a read-through-the-Gospels Bible reading plan and a Lent devotional email. Both begin on Ash Wednesday (March 9) and run through Easter, and both are aimed at helping you focus on Jesus during the Easter season.

Take a look—and if you have a favorite Lent/Easter devotional to recommend, let us know in the comments below!

A secular case for tithing?

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

The “The New Tithe” (below) was the winner of this year’s Project Reason video contest. Project Reason is “nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.”

The video light on hard facts and gets some fundamental things wrong about what most churches do with their money (ie it’s not all going to huge salaries and fancy buildings). For every church that misuses its money, there are thousands—if not more—who are transparent and responsible with their expenditures. All that said, I do think it’s interesting that someone would make a secular case for “tithing”:

I’d doubt this video will convince many Christians to stop giving to their church. Plus, as the blogger over at unreasonable faith points out in his thoughts on the New Tithe video, most tithing Christians find their local churches to be worthwhile endeavors.

However, it does make me wonder how people outside of my church perceive our churches. Should that change how we use our money? And thinking along those lines, are there guidelines for how a church should use its member’s tithes? Should 10% of everyone’s 10% go to missions for example?

Does “Christian outrage” work?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Several years ago, when The Da Vinci Code first graced bookstore shelves, I remember becoming aware of it not through its publisher’s marketing campaign or by favorable word-of-mouth recommendations from its readers, but through articles written by Christians (including several well-known apologists) denouncing it. The message of those many Christian articles—some angry, others calm, but all concerned—was that The Da Vinci Code was a Serious Threat that Christians ought to pay attention to.

Did all that talking help readers understand the flaws in The Da Vinci Code? Or did it just inadvertently promote the book, providing fodder for endless “Da Vinci Code controversy” news reports and turning a mediocre thriller novel into a subject of discussion in countless Christian households?

That’s the question raised by Christopher Hays in “The Folly of Answering Fools” at at Christianity Today. It argues that Christians, when we jump on offensive or controversial books, films, and games, inadvertently just end up playing into their promoters’ hands. Call it the “Christian Streisand effect“: the louder you object to something, the more you call attention to its existence. Here’s how Hays puts it:

[I do not] aim to silence genuine criticisms of the church or preclude taking seriously how non-Christians perceive the world. But not every insult is serious.

What I am saying is much simpler: Let’s be more circumspect about what we pluck from the roiling waters of culture and bring to the world’s attention.

I think it’s safe to say that when promoters manufacture fake Christian outrage to draw attention to their product, it’s time to re-evaluate the value of “Christian outrage.”

But here’s the challenge: it’s really, really hard to not speak up when you see a book or movie spreading misinformation about Christianity. Is keeping silent when a book or pundit attacks the church prudent, or will it be seen as an admission of defeat? How do you tell when a book or product is serious enough to merit a public Christian response?