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Playing with Scripture Helps Us Remember
Gods people must never forget what God has done
We don’t need examples of how we are forgetful people. I’m reminded of my forgetfulness every time I go to the basement and stand there because I’ve forgotten what I wanted to get. On occasion I’ve met people with impeccable memories, who remember things like what I was wearing the first time we met. This astonishes me. I am good at remembering which years my husband and I took certain vacations. He remembers the route we drove to get there. But mostly I forget stuff.
It’s helpful to remember we’re forgetful. And remembering our forgetfulness is useful in worship too.
One reason we read Scripture in worship is because we’re forgetful. We forget what God did (historically) and we forget what God did in each of our own lives. So we worship to remember. “Christian liturgy is fundamentally an act of memory or anamnesis, an act of rehearsing God’s actions in history: past and future, realized and promised,” John Witvliet wrote in A More Profound Alleluia.
You may recall that remembering is a primary focus in the Old Testament. Why? Because God’s people are always forgetting what God has done. Over and over throughout the book of Deuteronomy, God’s people were reminded to remember the story of their enslavement, redemption, and wanderings in the wilderness. In Numbers 15, God even commanded that the Israelites put tassels on their garments so they would remember God’s commands. Traditional communion liturgy (and traditional communion tables) include the words “Do this in remembrance of me.”
We gather with other Christians to remember together, to remember what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is going to do. And a ...Mon, 27 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
Playing with Scripture
Make the Bible come alive to transform worship
“Play!” a theatre director once instructed me. “That’s why it’s called a play!” I can’t remember in which play I was told to play, but I was given freedom to play, and for me that was enough. I don’t know about you, but I love playing.
In Jaco Hamman’s book Becoming a Pastor: Forming Self and Soul for Ministry, he writes about the importance of developing the capacity to play, “the ability to move effortlessly between illusion and reality and to lose oneself in spontaneous or purposive activity. This in-between play space, the only space where ministry can take place, is a welcoming, forgiving, and nurturing space.” For Hamman this playfulness even carries over to Scripture.
But I wonder if this playfulness is lost when Scripture is presented in worship as A Book to Be Revered or A Book Few Can Truly Understand. Sometimes presented without rehearsal, many Scripture readings are demoted to the “static” portion of the service (as opposed to the “dynamic” parts that include congregational singing and narrative preaching). I’ve heard some worship leaders express caution about including longer or multiple passages as an example of “too much talking” in worship. “People don’t listen when there’s too much talking.”
Of course they don’t. Of course they don’t listen when the Bible is proclaimed as something we can’t understand. Of course people don’t listen when the Bible is read in a monotone with too many pauses and too little humor. Of course people don’t listen when they have no conceptual dynamic equivalences to grasp. Of course people don’t listen when ...Thu, 23 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
How to Pray for Your Congregation
To support your people in prayer, focus on who God is
When I helped my husband plant a church 30 years ago, I wanted to bathe the effort, and especially the people, in prayer. I felt that unless God was intimately involved in each person’s life, little we did would matter.
In the early days of our church, we were only about a dozen or so families, so it was fairly easy to pray specifically for each of them. I would often ask them about needs they had so I could pray for them.
However, when we began to number in the hundreds, I quickly became overwhelmed with needs. To help deal with that, I formed a prayer group and a prayer chain to cover those specific requests. These greatly helped me share the burden of those appeals, and I felt the weight lift from me personally.
This worked for years, but, eventually I became so weary with requests that even when I shared the burden with others, the prayer requests began to slowly rob me of my joy. I’m an empathetic person who is able to easily feel the suffering of others, so I’d see someone who had a heavy burden and I’d immediately feel the pain they were going through. As I took on more and more of other people’s problems, I began to become so involved in the details of their lives that it was as if I was going through their troubles with them. Yes, we are supposed to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (, ESV), but I felt I was doing a lot of the latter and not much of the former. And the bigger our church got, the worse I suffered over everyone’s deep burdens.
I also noticed something else about prayer requests. Rarely does anyone ask for prayer for the things I wanted to spend my time praying for. I would have gotten up and danced for joy if someone ...Mon, 20 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
Using Your Head, Igniting Your Heart
Teaching others to love Gods Word
I love the Bible. I find it instructive and authoritative for my life. I find comfort and correction and challenge in the pages of God’s Word. I have a Bible on my phone, on my desk, and on my bedside table, and you probably do too. Years of seminary and ministry have taught me that I cannot lead or love very well without spending time with God through his Word.
I try to always teach the Bible with the passion I feel for it, and I remember once finishing up a teaching and having a woman approach me. I had talked about reading a bit of the Bible before bed every night, and she said to me sheepishly, “I have a Bible by my bed…but I wish I had you on my bedside table too.” What this woman was experiencing was a gap between how she felt I was experiencing the Bible and the reality of what reading the Bible felt like to her.
It’s always tempting to want to be an expert—to be seen as knowledgeable and special because of your gifting and experience. But since that conversation, I’ve found myself eager to impart not just truth from God’s Word but also basic tools for reading the Bible. One of the problems we encounter as leaders is forgetting what it was like to be new—but even more than that, one of the main problems I’ve faced is realizing that many believers have never learned the basics of Bible reading and are too embarrassed to ask for help! So here are two ways I approach the Bible when I teach, bringing passion to the very basic tools of understanding the Bible.
Using Your Head
Whenever possible, I work into my teaching some comments about using a study Bible. I mention the benefit of scanning introductions to each book of the Bible as well as reading ...Thu, 16 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
No Substitute for Scripture
The downside of inviting new Christians to church
Your neighbor who has long avoided you is now eager to know what it means to follow Christ. She can no longer tolerate her life of pain. She’s admired your life from a distance and she wants to ask Jesus to come into her heart. You lead her through the sinner’s prayer—and together you both rejoice as she will embark on a whole new journey. What happens next? she wonders. You tell her to find a church; in fact, you invite her to your church. You tell her all about the wonderful programs and ministries to keep her connected and growing with Jesus. There's nothing wrong with inviting her to your church…is there?
Many new Christians are told, once they accept Jesus, to find a church. In my personal experience this is the wrong advice. Sure, we need to be in community of fellowship with other believers; however, the advice new Christians should be given is to start reading the Bible. If they don’t have Bibles, we should provide them. Our family paid the price for not understanding the importance of Bible reading for ourselves.
The Gospel of Prosperity
As new Christians, our family struggled very badly in our finances. We were losing our house and our vehicles and we could barely feed our then-three children. After our conversion, we were invited to a prosperity-preaching church. We thought going to church would automatically change our lives, and since no one ever told us the importance of reading the Bible we simply went to church and hoped we would somehow come out of our situation.
In a Wednesday evening service, the pastor preached on the importance of tithes and offerings. He used Proverbs 11:25: “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” ...Mon, 13 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
The Habit of Keeping Divine Company
A warning against the overcrowded life
A recent study on the habits of cell phone users reveals disturbing trends:
• 9 percent of U.S. adults are using their smartphones while they have sex.
• 35 percent are using their phones in a movie theatre.
• 33 percent are using them on a dinner date.
• 32 percent are using them at their child's school function.
• 55 percent are using them while driving.
• 12 percent are using them while in the shower.
• 19 percent are using them in their church/place of worship.
In our socially mediated world, we stream constant chatter and keep perpetual company. The modern world drones at a low, dull roar—and we need the regular retreat of solitude and silence, which Jesus himself practiced, and which Dietrich Bonhoeffer called in his book Life Together, “The Day Alone.” We need it to love the crowds.
The Example of Jesus
As the gospel writers record, Jesus had the habit of rising before dawn and escaping to desolate places in order to pray. Mark records one of these incidents in Chapter 1, noting how anxiously and urgently the disciples look for him. When they found Jesus, they seemed almost to scold him: “Everyone is looking for you” (1:37). The crowds need you, they insisted. But Jesus knew what he needed.
To see Jesus is to see the crowds, their pressing needs and constant interruptions. The crowds often gathered outside Jesus' personal home or the homes to which he paid visits, bringing their sick friends. On one occasion, recorded in Mark 2, the crowd was so thick and impenetrable that four desperate friends made a hole in the roof of Jesus' home, removing the straw mats and wooden timbers so they could let their paralyzed friend ...Thu, 9 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
A Matter of Priority
Why you cant be too busy for you
Busyness has become a celebrated lifestyle today. If people aren’t busy, we think less of them. In Overwhelmed, Brigid Schulte writes, about time researcher Ann Burnett, who studies Christmas letters and notes the rise of people sharing about their busy lives over the past fty years. Her research blew my mind. Schulte writes, “Somewhere toward the end of the twentieth century, Burnett and other researchers contend, busyness became not just a way of life, but glamorous. Now, they say, it is a sign of high social status…Busyness is now the social normal that people feel they must con- form to, Burnett says, or risk being outcasts.”
This lifestyle of busyness makes it a big shift in perspective for women to acknowledge that they are not too busy for themselves, but that is exactly the shift that needs to happen. Women today must make themselves a priority. I know this shift in thinking was hard for me. Lies like “I’m the mom, I need to make sure my children’s outts are perfect,” “I’m the wife, I need to have a spotless house,” and “I’m the business professional, I need to check email as soon as I wake up” repeatedly poisoned my thinking. Once I freed myself from the bondage of perfection and embraced a lifestyle that made time for my passions, I was happier in all of my pursuits and responsibilities.
Of course, I still have days when these lies creep into my head. But overall, I no longer feel like a bad housewife when I choose to craft instead of organizing my linen closet. I no longer have mom guilt when I choose to spend an occasional Saturday morning getting a massage and meeting a friend for coffee instead of hanging out with ...Mon, 6 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
Lead Me On: I Love Me, I Love Me Not
What we think about ourselves matters
Former NBC anchor Brian Williams has had a rough 2015, and last month it got worse.
His viewing audience was informed earlier this year that Williams lied about certain experiences he claimed happened to him during his time reporting in war-torn Afghanistan, and after several months of suspension it looks as if he will not return to the anchor chair.
Pundits say Williams lied because he felt insecure about colleagues with more substantial war and journalism experience. Maybe so, but surely a prime spot in our culture’s coveted television news anchor chair could boost his self-talk into a feel-good-about-himself status?
At the end of the day, that did not fuel a confidence in him that was, well, confident.
As believers, we can sigh in pious relief because we know how to turn to God for our assurance, strength, and sense of self-worth.
Except at the end of the day, that regularly does not fuel a confidence that is, well, confident. For many of us, at our core is still a resistance to confidently do what is ours to do, and, in turn, leave to God what is God’s to do.
Why? Because we pretty much doubt that he will. A lot of the time, we don’t even know what that means.
Which leaves us in a position not unlike Williams’. If I am out to sea here, I had better start crafting my own lifeboat. And that is going to require some exaggerations, because I know that what I have to offer is not going to cover me all the way.
Case in point: Abraham.
A few pages after Abraham set out to a new land and a new life with the one true God, Abraham pawned his wife off as his sister to get in good with an ungodly Pharaoh.
This was not a God-is-my-shield-my-very-great-reward kind of thing to ...Thu, 2 July 2015 08:00:00 CST
Can We Really Be Like Christ?
Rethinking the incarnational ministry model
Jesus is the example par excellence of obedience and self-sacrifice held up to the church, but Paul also uses his experiences, and those of his coworker Timothy and his friend Epaphroditus, as examples of selfless service. In recent years, an attempt to connect the Christ hymn with the modern church’s responsibility toward missions has given rise to a movement known as “incarnational ministry.” As with any movement, there is a range of views, but essentially this approach to evangelism, pastoral work, and cross-cultural ministry focuses on being incarnate to the group to which you are called to minister. By this is meant learning the language and customs of the new group’s culture in order to represent the gospel to them.
The Christ hymn becomes paradigmatic for missions in the following way: just as Jesus lived among to the Jewish people and learned Aramaic and their customs, so too missionaries today must live among the people they are called to serve. Alan Hirsch, a proponent of incarnational ministry explains, “The Incarnation not only qualifies God’s acts in the world, but must also qualify ours. If God's central way of reaching his world was to incarnate himself in Jesus, then our way of reaching the world should likewise be incarnational.”
The incarnational approach is right to critique patterns of missionary behavior that sequestered the missionary from the wider culture, sheltering their mission station with greater privileges than those to whom they taught the gospel. It is important that missionaries acculturate themselves into their new surroundings. Again, the approach rightly stresses relationships above programs. Much of the movement’s strengths come ...Mon, 29 June 2015 08:00:00 CST
Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World
A Book Review
By Carolyn Custis James
Published by Zondervan
Why I Picked Up This Book:
I attended the Missio Alliance National Conference, where men and women gathered to consider what it means to be #TrulyHuman. Author Carolyn Custis James introduced the book to that audience and shared her continued hope and vision for men and women living as a blessed alliance of image bearers in the kingdom of God.
Who Should Read Malestrom:
Carolyn typically writes for a female audience, yet this book in particular is an important consideration for men and specifically for male leaders in the church.
What’s In Store for You:
When addressing the dangers of patriarchy and the issues of violence in the world, Carolyn does a cultural and social analysis. From the start, it is helpful for the reader to have a clear definition regarding maelstrom: “The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species—causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons.”
In the forward, Dr. Frank James wrote, “The maelstrom produces schizophrenic males.” The author continues, “The malestrom is one of the Enemy’s single most ingenious and successful strategies.”
Perhaps the primary deception of the human race since the fall is the belief that any one “type” of human being has dominion or power “over” another human being. This incorrect narrative has played itself out in various forms of sin throughout history, including genocide, gender-based violence, slavery, human trafficking, ...Thu, 25 June 2015 08:00:00 CST