Month: November 2009

Promoting Marriage As Community Care

Churches can care for their communities by providing resources to encourage and strengthen marriage.

The Brookings Institute’s Ron Haskins writes — “Higher marriage rates among the poor would benefit poor adults themselves, their children, and the nation.”  Haskins believes that churches and other non-profits should encourage marriage by offering courses on marriage, parenting, money management, anger management, and other family-related issues.

Out-of-wedlock births continue to increase in this country, as marriage rates continue the decline begun in 1972.  Haskins contends that —

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children living in single-parent families are about five times as likely to live in poverty. There’s also a high probability they’ll drop out of school, get arrested, be involved in teen pregnancy themselves, have more mental health problems, and be less likely to be employed or in school as young adults. Indeed, parents themselves are physically and psychologically better off when married than single.”

But churches will also have to address the reasons that some choose not to marry.  According to Amanda Drew’s article, Declining Marriage Rates, young adults are choosing not to marry for a variety of reasons:

  • Couples choose to live together before marrying;
  • College graduates are taking a year off after graduation to travel before settling down;
  • The expense of a full-blown wedding is not appealing to some;
  • The decline in church attendance and the moral values that come from practicing one’s faith;
  • Fear of divorce.

I am convinced that the task of the church for the decade of the 2010’s is going to be a reimagined “care of souls.”  Churches can have a positive impact on their own communities by providing nurture and care for marriage and its attendant benefits.  Because the poor have a disproportionately lower rate of marriage, churches could find themselves caring for the “least of these” within their own communities in this vital area.  What is your church doing to encourage marriage and the advantages marriage brings in your community?

Sermon for Advent: God Keeps A Promise

God Keeps A Promise

Jeremiah 33:14-16 NIV

14 ” ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

15 ” ‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it [a] will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.’

The Good News Defined

Well, here we are again — the beginning of Advent, the season of anticipating the coming of the Christ.  Followed closely, of course, by Christmas.  As a matter of fact, most of us not of the liturgical tradition see Advent as the run-up to Christmas.  It is that, but even more.  For not only is Advent the preparation for Christmas, it is an event in and of itself.  In Advent we are looking for, anticipating, preparing for the coming of God’s Messiah.

To us on this side of that event, this doesn’t seem like such a big thing.  On our way back from Amy’s yesterday, we stopped to eat at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.  We have probably eaten at more Cracker Barrels than any other human beings, and we are expecting an award any day now for being such loyal customers. That, however, is not my point.

My point is — while waiting in the checkout line after our meal, I noticed one of those “count down to Christmas” cardboard gizmos.   You know, the ones where you open a little door in this brightly-colored cardboard display each day before Christmas, and behind each door is a little piece of candy.  Usually the doors have the date on them and you open one per day until Christmas comes.  That’s one way to anticipate Christmas.

But suppose you lived before the coming of God’s Messiah.  Your perspective would be totally different.  And that is what Advent should do for us — remind us of what life would be like if the Messiah had not come.   A kind of spiritual “It’s a Wonderful Life” if you will.

And that’s where this word “gospel” comes in.  Of course, the word “gospel” doesn’t appear in this passage, but bear with me because I do have a point here.

The word “gospel” means “good news.”  It comes from two Greek words — “eu” which means good, and “angelion” which means message or news.  Put them together and it comes out “euangelion,” which is the one from which we get our English word “evangelism.”

But back to the gospel or the good news.  I ran into an interesting discussion the other day about the definition of the Gospel.  So, let me ask you the question — If you had to define the word “gospel” how would you define it?

Most people, including the account I was reading, said something like this —

“The gospel is the account of man’s sin; God’s sending Jesus to pay the penalty for that sin, and rise from the dead; and, the gift of eternal life which Jesus provides to all who will receive him.”

Now, that is the story of what the Bible tells us, but is it the gospel — the good news?

The Good News in the First Century

If our definition is correct, it will hold up in the New Testament uses of the word.  Let me give you an example:  In Mark 1:14-15, Mark says this about Jesus:

14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus uses the word “gospel” or “good news” himself.  And Mark says Jesus proclaims the good news, and he gives us an example of how Jesus proclaims the gospel — the good news of God.
“The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Now it would make sense to us to use our definition of the good news here.  Jesus says “Repent and believe that man sinned, God sent Jesus to die on the cross and rise from the dead, so that all could have eternal life.”  That would make sense to us, but it wouldn’t make sense to anybody that Jesus is speaking to.
Here’s why:  Our definition of the good news makes sense to us because it’s already happened.  We know God sent Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sin.
But at this point in Mark’s gospel, none of those things has happened. So, what was the “good news” that Jesus proclaimed?  What was the good news they were supposed to repent and believe?
Well, we have a clue, actually we have a definition of the good news in Acts 13:34 —

32“We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.

Here’s the definition of the good news:  “God keeps His promises.”

“What God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.”
That’s the good news — God keeps his promises.
Why Is God’s Promise Important?
So, why is this the good news, that God keeps his promises?  Why is it so important that God keep his promises?
To answer that question, we need to know what the promise of God is.  God made a lot of promises, or covenants with people, but the gist of all of them is found in God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:7 —

7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

God will be with them, and they will be with God.

 

Of course, that is exactly the way we started out in the Garden of Eden. … Or at least Adam and Eve started out that way.  God would be with them, walking with them in the Garden in the cool of the evening.

And, as we read last week, that is how things will be in the New Heaven and the New Earth —

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  — Rev 21:3

 

So, God with the people of God is God’s plan from beginning to end.

What Went Wrong?

If you look at the stories of God with his people in the Bible, you get a wonderful picture that the dwelling place of God is indeed among God’s people.  From the Garden of Eden to the call of Abraham to the Exodus.  The story of the Bible is the story of God with his people.

And when God’s people abandon and betray God, God seeks them out, corrects their disobedience, and welcomes them back again.  The entire book of Hosea is the story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer.  Hosea takes Gomer back in spite of her unfaithfulness to him, and that story becomes a symbol of God and his people.

The people of God are in this repeating cycle of relationship with God, exile from God, and return to God.  We see it in the Garden, we see it in the story of the Exodus, we see it in the kingdom of Saul, we see it in the lives of the prophets among God’s people, we see it in King David himself.

But the bottom line is — God is always with His people.

  • If you want to find out what God is doing, get among his people.
  • If you want to know God’s will, find it among his people.
  • If you want to understand God’s ways, look at how God deals with his people.
  • If you want to experience God’s love, get to know his people.

But what went wrong is that God’s people have a very bad habit of rejecting God.  Beginning with Adam and Eve, and zooming right on through the Old Testament the idea of relationship, exile, and return plays itself out.

Until we get to New Testament.  We somehow see the New Testament as having nothing to do with the Old, and nothing could be further from the truth.  the New Testament is the continuation and culmination of everything the Old Testament was telling us.

The story of Jesus’ birth is not just a good story to kick off the New Testament.  The story of Jesus’ birth is the ultimate “God with us” story.  It is the climax of what God has been doing for 1500 years leading up to the birth of the Messiah.

God With Us

Remember what Isaiah said about the Messiah —

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you [a] a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and [b] will call him Immanuel. — Is 7:14

 

Of course, Immanuel means “God with us.”  There it is again, God with his people.

Jeremiah says —

14 ” ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.15 ” ‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it [a] will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.’

There it is — a righteous Branch from the line of David.  And the result is Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem live in safety.

Now, that doesn’t just mean the nation of Judah and not Israel.  Judah represents all of God’s people, and the city of Jerusalem contains the Temple, God in the midst of his people.  So, God is saying, everything will be fine.  God will be in the midst of his people again, and the nation will be “saved” — made whole and healthy — and live in safety and peace.

That’s God with us.  That’s what the Messiah was to do.

Back To The Good News

So, you see why this idea of the good news is important?  Here’s what we covered so far —

  • The good news is God keeps his promises.
  • The promise if that God will be with his people.
  • The presence of God is with his people, but they continue to reject him.
  • Finally, God comes in the form of a man, Jesus, and literally lives in the midst of his people.

God kept his promise.  That’s good news.  That’s what we look forward to in this Advent Season.  God with us.  Really with us.  God keeping his promise to be our God, whether we keep our end of the deal or not.  God with us, with a face like ours, with a physical body like ours, with the limitations that are ours.  God with us to save us, not just for heaven, but to save us for this life.  To save us by making us healthy and whole spiritually.  To save us by fixing the brokenness of our relationships both with God and our fellowman.

That’s what this Advent season is about.  Looking forward to the One who will come among us, who has come among us, to repair our relationships, restore the image of God in us, redeem us from the penalty of our own sin, and transform us into his body, where again he can continue to be among us through his Spirit.

Look for the coming of God among us this year.  Watch for the ways in which God repairs that which is broken, heals that which is hurt, opens eyes that are blind to his presence, and feeds us with the bread of life.  After all, the good news is — God keeps his promises.

Back from the farm

Amy, Wesley, and Debbie at Amy and Randy's farm in Tennessee.

Debbie and I just got back from Thanksgiving with our daughter Amy, her husband Randy, and our grandson Wesley at their farm in Santa Fe, Tennessee. They live out in the country in the rolling hills of south central Tennessee, and do not have cell phone service or internet access at their farm.  So I spent a week of being “unplugged” from the grid and the Blackberry.  Except, of course, for the occasional trip into Spring Hill to the local Starbucks.  We had a great time and Debbie will post more photos of the farm on her Goodthoughts blog soon.   Happy belated Thanksgiving!

Sermon: I Believe in The Life Everlasting

I Believe in the Life Everlasting

John 6:53-68 NIV

53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

The Last Line of the Apostles’ Creed

We’re almost there!  Today we look at the last line of The Apostles’ Creed — I believe in the life everlasting.  And so the Creed that began with Creation — I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth — now ends without an end.  We affirm our belief today that this life is not all there is, that there is a life that extends beyond our ability to see or know completely and that is the life everlasting.

You will remember that last week we spoke about the resurrection of the body.  We discovered that we are not disembodied spirits — that’s Greek or Roman thought, not Christian theology — but rather we are given new bodies, changed bodies, spiritual bodies unlike anything we can imagine.

Some scholars speculate that this line of the Creed was added at a later date, and that is entirely possible.  The reason it was added, some think, is because in both Greek and Latin the word for “resuscitatation” and “resurrection” are the same.  But there is a big difference in the two ideas.

Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was resuscitated.  Jesus brought him back from the dead — and he really was dead and everybody knew it.  But Lazarus died again.  So, perhaps some of Jesus’s followers were confused at the idea of the resurrection of the body.  It’s great to be raised from the dead, but were they going to die again?

This last phrase clarifies and expands on the phrase we looked at last week — “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  So, not only are we going to be raised from the dead, we aren’t going to die again.  That’s the whole point of “resurrection” — resurrection is the defeat of death and the triumph of life, and this phrase in the Creed affirms that the resurrection life in Christ goes on forever — everlastingly.

But what of this life everlasting?  The renowned skeptic and atheist, Bertrand Russell, said that the worst thing he could think of was an eternity that did not end because it would be incredibly boring.  I must agree with Russell in the sense that I do not look forward to eternity either if it’s going to be boring.  Fortunately, the life everlasting is not boring.  Let’s take a look at what we can find out about it from the passage we read today, and from others as well.

The Life Everlasting Is Given by Jesus and Sustained by God

Jesus is teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum, the city he went to after he was rejected in his hometown, Nazareth.  There is some support for the ancient belief that Simon Peter’s house was in Capernaum, and that Jesus stayed there while in the city.  In Capernaum the ruins of a 4th century synagogue were found about 1900.  But, it was almost 100 years later that archaeologists discovered that the 4th century synagogue had been built upon the foundation of a much older structure from the 1st century.  That foundation was most likely the foundation of the synagogue in which Jesus delivered this “Bread of Life” message.

This is very early in Jesus’s ministry, and his references to eating his flesh and drinking his blood are totally lost on the disciples.  His hearers still don’t get it even when he says —

“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

They do understand the reference to manna in the desert.  This of course was the way God provided, the way God sustained the lives of the people of Israel during the 40-years they spent wandering from the captivity of Egypt to the promise of the land of Canaan.

You know the story — because they are nomads, pilgrims, they cannot stop to plant and harvest.  God provides from them each day an amount of manna which was sufficient for that day’s provision.  On the day before the Sabbath, God provides two days’ worth so they do not have to do the work of gathering on the Sabbath.

Now flash forward to the New Testament, to Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray.  We call it The Lord’s Prayer, and in it Jesus tells us to pray for God to “give us this day our daily bread.”  Just as God had sustained Israel in the desert one day at a time, Jesus reminds us to pray that God will do the same for us.

And, that daily sustaining comes from God, both now and in eternity.  Jesus is the Bread of Life, and God sustains us in eternity through the work of Christ on our behalf.  In other words, the life everlasting is a life provided by Jesus and sustained by God.  The life everlasting is similar to God’s provision for Israel, but something greater and more lasting than the manna.  After all, those who ate the manna all died.  Those who partake of the life of Christ all live.

The Life Everlasting Is a Difficult Idea

Some of those who heard Jesus had real problems with what he was saying, and John says “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  They turned back to what?  To their old beliefs, to their old way of life, to their old ideas and old fears.

  • They turned back because they could not believe that anything greater than the Exodus experience could ever happen to the people of God.
  • They turned back because they could not believe in life that goes on forever.  After all the first century was a difficult time.  Life was hard, conditions were rough, mortality was high, hope was in short supply.  This business of another life, a life eternal, a life everlasting was too mystical for them.
  • They turned back because they missed the real work of God.
And, here’s where we need to spend some time.  Here’s what most of us have heard and believe:
  • God created and loves us, and God has a wonderful plan for our lives.
  • Sin has separated us from God.
  • God sent Jesus to die on the cross and rise from the dead to bring us salvation.
  • Trusting in Jesus is the way to gain eternal life.
Basically, what I have just outlined for you is “The Four Spiritual Laws” or the plan of salvation, as it was called years ago.  And, that’s what we believe.  That’s what I believed when as a 6-year old Primary boy I gave my life to Jesus.  That’s probably what you believed, too, when you accepted Christ and became a Christian.
And, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But there is a more complete way to look at what God is doing, and why we have or need eternal life.
First, eternal life isn’t an after-thought, as in, “Oh, now I’m saved, and so I guess part of the deal is I get eternal life.”  Eternal life is the main thought.
The only problem with the Four Spiritual Laws approach is its like looking through a microscope at a tiny part of the universe.  You can see that part really well, but you really should be looking through a telescope to get the big picture.  Here’s the telescope view of what God is doing and why we need and want life everlasting:
  • God did create us, but God also created the world, the universe, the Garden of Eden, all the plants, animals, the earth, the sky, the oceans, the fish, the air, all living things, and us — human beings.  So, we are part of and one of God’s creations.
  • Everything is going along just fine in this new world that God has created.  So well, that God sees everything God has made and says after each and every creative act — “That’s good.”
  • And when God creates humankind, Adam and Eve, we are the high point, the culmination of creation.  We are uniquely made in the image of God, and God breathes into us the breath of life.  The word for breath and spirit in Hebrew are the same, so in essence God breathes the Holy Spirit into us this new creation we know as mankind.  So far so good.
  • God places Adam and Eve in a lush, wonderful fully-stocked garden.  They have to do a little caretaking, but basically all their needs are met, including companionship with God. Everyday, God meets them in the garden.
  • Until one day, Adam and Eve don’t show up to walk with God.  God goes seeking for them, finds them hiding because they are ashamed at their nakedness.  God knows what has happened, but God leads Adam to confess that he has sinned, he has disobeyed God.  Adam confesses that he sought to be god himself, rather than obey God.  Of course, Adam tries to lay the whole business off on Eve, but God is having none of it.
  • So, everything God has done is messed up.  The Garden of Eden is now off-limits to Adam and Eve.  They whole deal is thrown off track because of the sin of disobedience to God.
  • So, God sets about reconciling creation back to God.  God calls people to help accomplish this task.  God calls Noah to save enough of creation so God can begin again.  God calls Abraham to be the father of a great nation.  God calls Moses to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt.  God calls David to be king of Israel, and on and on.
  • God also calls prophets so God’s voice is always heard, even when the people disobey.
  • Then God sends Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, Immanuel, God-with-us to reconcile creation.
  • Jesus lives, dies, God raises him from the dead, Jesus ascends back to heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus calls followers to help proclaim God’s new creation, the new people of God, the new Kingdom of God.  Jesus teaches the disciples to pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • God is clearly reconciling creation back to God.
  • And then, God plans for all of creation to be back in fellowship with God — to be in God’s presence as Adam and Eve were in God’s presence in the Garden of Eden.
  • So, we get a glimpse of eternity in several passages of scripture, and one of the more interesting is in Revelation.
“So, what’s the difference in the Four Spiritual Laws, and this?” you ask.
Just this — the Four Spiritual Laws approach focuses the microscope on us — God loves us, our sin is the problem, God sent Jesus for us, God will save us.  And that’s true.
But, a better perspective is the telescope view — Here’s what God is doing.  God is creating, reconciling, and redeeming.  God is at work on the whole of creation, not just us.  God is putting everything to rights again.
Jesus says in the Book of Revelation, ”  Behold I am making all things new.”  Jesus doesn’t say, “Behold, I am making all new things.”  No, Jesus is making all things — all of creation — new again.  Just as it was in the Garden, just as God intended.
Our own personal salvation is a microscopic part of God’s greater plan to fix everything that went wrong.  And we find ourselves being invited to get fixed, and get in on what God is doing for all of creation.
So, I’ve said all of that to say that eternal life doesn’t start when we die.  Eternal life started when God created the world.  We did not exist before our birth, but when we make our appearance on God’s stage, that is when eternal life begins.
The Life Everlasting Isn’t Just About Time

But, the life everlasting, eternal life, isn’t just about time.  We tend to think that eternal life is just about life going on forever.  But it’s more than that.
Eternal life is about life with God.  In Revelation 21:22, John says, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”  In other words, God is right in the middle of his people.
And, this is the New Jerusalem, the New Heaven and the New Earth.  This is creation made again into what it is supposed to be.  But this time, we’re not in a Garden, we’re in a city, a gigantic, three-dimensional city that sings!
And, in the words of the Isaac Watts’s Amazing Grace
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days, to sing God’s praise,
Than when we’d first begun.
No, everlasting life isn’t about time, it’s about life with God.  It is everlasting because God sustains it.  It is everlasting because the giver is The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the End.  It is everlasting because His Kingdom shall know no end.  It is everlasting because there is no place else to go, and nothing else to do.  When you’re in the presence of God, there is no other place to be.
And so we sing with the saints who have gone before us —
Come and go with me to that land,
come and go with me to that land,
Come and go with me to that land where I’m bound.
No more crying in that land,
no more crying in that land,
no more crying in that land where I’m bound.
Come and go with me to that land,
come and go with me to that land,
Come and go with me to that land where I’m bound.

Zondervan Models Repentance, Humility By Pulling Controversial Book

Zondervan Publishing announced yesterday that it is pulling all the copies and support material for its controversial Deadly Viper Character Assassins book.   Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and others in the Asian-American Christian community pointed out the culturally offensive title and content of the book to the authors and to Zondervan Publishing. The company listened, and then did the right thing by withdrawing the book from distribution permanently.

You can follow this story as it has developed on Soong-Chan Rah’s blog by starting here and working your way back through his updates on this incident.  Professor Rah is author of The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity.  Rah has challenged other Christian publishing house gaffes — one in 2004 from LifeWay’s VBS curriculum, Rickshaw Rally, in which Asian culture is co-opted for a cutesy but stereotypical depiction.  Zondervan had another faux pas regarding Asian-Americans in a skit book published in 2006 in Skits That Teach.

While LifeWay did not recall the offensive VBS Rickshaw Rally, and actually was rather hostile to the objections of Dr. Rah and others, Zondervan did recall the skit book and deleted the skit that stereotyped Asian speech patterns in offensive ways.  Seems Zondervan is batting 2-for-2 in doing the right thing.

To avoid future mistakes of this nature, Zondervan’s president, Moe Girkins issued this comment, which I have excerpted from the full Zondervan statement:

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart.  In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products.  He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward.  We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is to be commended for the courage, humility, and sacrifice they have made in righting an inadvertent wrong so quickly and completely.  Their stock just went up in my estimation.

Soong-Chan Rah has acted as prophet to the white-dominant Christian culture.  Like many prophets, not everyone has appreciated Rah’s position and some have responded with insensitivity themselves, further compounding and confirming racial and ethnic insensitivity by our largely Eurocentric culture.

Futurists predict that by 2050 there will be no majority ethnicities in the United States.  That’s only 40-years from now, and the cultural landscape will look much different.  The United States has elected its first biracial, African-American president.  The national Republican party chairman is also African-American, and the Republican governor of Louisiana is of Asian Indian descent.  The lone Republican vote cast for healthcare reform in the U. S. House of Representatives was cast by a Anh “Joseph” Cao, Vietnamese born congressman from Louisiana.  My point is that the seeds of ethnic diversity and change are already apparent in our culture.

Churches and Christian organizations, such as Zondervan, are awakening to the new reality that their congregations and audiences are no longer just white, but consist of a rainbow coalition of ethnicities.  This is the future of the United States, the world, and of our Christian communities.  I am reminded of John’s description of the multitude which occupied the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation — “from every kindred, tongue, and nation.”  We might add to the “one anothers” in the New Testament “be sensitive to one another” as we follow Zondervan’s lead of repentance and humility.

Silly Titles For Serious Topics

Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed how silly Christian book titles have become?  Zondervan is in a dust-up with Soong-Chan Rah and other Asian-American church leaders over the book Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.  Dr. Rah’s beef, and rightly so, is with the cultural insensitivity of the book.  But, if you don’t already know the subject matter of this book  (behaviors that can lead to moral failure in a church leader’s life), then you’d never guess it by the title.  The fact that it premiered at Catalyst, an event targeted to young pastors, might be a clue to the title.  However, if I were a young pastor, I think I would be insulted.

I also ran across Frank Page’s book, The Incredible Shrinking Church, online the other day.  Page, former SBC president and now North American Mission Board evangelism head, seems to be a very nice guy with some serious things to say about church decline, growth, and evangelism.  Yet B&H Publishing, a Lifeway imprint, titled the book for 7th graders rather than church leaders.

While these are two examples, they are not the only instances of trivial titles used to sell books on supposedly serious topics.  I’m all for a little light-heartedness, but is this dumbing down of Christian leadership books a trend, or am I just getting too old and grumpy to get it?  Actually, I never buy books that look like they are written for the lowest rung of the church leadership ladder.  What about you?  Do these catchy, and somewhat silly titles put you off?  Or, are you not one to judge a book by its cover?

A Non-Conference Worth Noting

The Deeper Church Non-Conference sponsored by missonalcommons.org is worth noting.  As a rule I do not promote conferences and seminars on my blog — except the ones I speak at, of course, which is shameless self-promotion I admit.   There are just too many conferences and most of them cost a small fortune.  But these guys are doing something different — a non-conference for FREE!

That’s right, kiddies!  Free.  FREE!  No charge, no fancy promo, no sign-up now and get a big discount.  They do have a Facebook page where you can tell them you’re coming, but that’s it.   Also, no paid speakers, no book signings, no celebrity guru stuff.  Here’s what David Fitch (The Great Giveaway) says:

Amazing! We’re doing it again. A bunch of us missional pastors/leaders/church planters are gathering in Ft Wayne, Indiana to encourage each other and discuss the stuff of doing missional church as communities. We call it a Non/Conference because there are no fees, no paid speakers and big sponsors selling stuff. –  IT’S FREE!!!! – It’s just a bunch of people gathering to pray, talk Missional church and encourage one another in the Spirit. This year, on the Friday night, we’re gathering to discuss the questions of racism and diversity in missional church. We’re reading Soong-Chan Rah’s book The Next Evangelicalism. If you come to this, be sure to have read the book, and be prepared for some serious theological/cultural engagement. On Saturday, the day is wide open for conversations led by various pastor/leaders. NO PREPARATION NEEDED – JUST COME AND JOIN IN!! The theme is “Deeper Church: Churches as Whole Communities.”

I sat in on David’s seminar at NOC09, and he had some really good stuff to say about what his small missional church is doing in the Chicago area.  So, he’s doing the ministry he talks, teaches, and writes about.  Anyway, click on over to his blog, and read the rest for yourself.  I may just show up there in Ft. Wayne for this one.