Month: March 2010

Review: “Kingdom Ethics” Transforms Life in the Way of Jesus

Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee.  InterVarsity Press, 2003. 491 pages.

In Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen (Fuller Seminary) and David Gushee (McAfee School of Theology) provide a Christian ethic rooted in the idea of the Kingdom of God as defined by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. But this is not a typical treatment of either.

Perhaps the most helpful aspect of their Kingdom perspective is the section on the “Transforming Initiatives of the Sermon on the Mount.” The authors present the commonly held views of The Sermon on the Mount, but then move to give new meaning to the Sermon and its application through a new look at the construction of each teaching section.

The heart of their argument is that Jesus’s teaching is a tripartite entity, dealing with the problem, the vicious circle caused by the problem, and the transforming Kingdom initiative which places both the problem and those involved in it, in a new light.  An example would be:

  • Traditional Righteousness: Matthew 5:38 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'”
  • Vicious Cycle: Matthew 5:39 — “But I say to you, do not retaliate vengefully by evil means.” (This is the vicious cycle of violence, retaliation, and more violence.)
  • Transforming Initiative: Matthew 5:40-42 — “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if any one wants to sue you and take your coat give your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go the second mile.  Give to one who begs from you, and do not refuse one who would borrow from you.”

The authors contend that the entire Sermon on the Mount features this pattern of Jesus presenting the traditional view, the vicious cycle that results, and the alternative way of the Kingdom.  Rather than the Sermon being an ideal, but unattainable

Continue reading “Review: “Kingdom Ethics” Transforms Life in the Way of Jesus”

Palm Sunday Sermon: On The Road To Calvary

On The Road To Calvary

This Palm Sunday Sermon reminds us that the road to Jerusalem’s celebration was also the road to Calvary.

Luke 19:28-40

28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30″Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ”

32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38″Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40″I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

The Illusion of Victory

We know this story that we celebrate today.  It’s the story of Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Luke transports us back in time to the last week in the earthly ministry of Jesus.  And what a week it will be!

With his instructions to the disciples to go and find the colt in the village, Jesus seems to be doing exactly what his disciples expect him to do — take charge, make a bold statement, enter Jerusalem as the Messiah that he is.

And, so the colt is brought to Jesus.  The disciples create a makeshift saddle, layering their cloaks on the colt’s back.  And Jesus rides this colt into Jerusalem.

The crowds in Jerusalem have swelled to several hundred thousand, crowding the streets of Jerusalem as pilgrims and residents of the city prepare for The Feast of Passover, the most memorable feast in the history of the Jewish people.

Continue reading “Palm Sunday Sermon: On The Road To Calvary”

Think Churches Can Feed America’s Poor?

Churches are an important resource in caring for America’s poor, but the job is too big for churches alone. With all the talk about healthcare and the nation’s deficit, I’ve seen more  than one blog suggest that churches take over the responsibility for caring for the nation’s poor.  While that is a noble goal, moving all government “safety net” programs to churches is a numerical impossibility. Let’s just take one example — the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  The Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank, puts the food stamp program budget at about $75-billion dollars.  But, let’s use a more conservative estimate from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  They estimate that 36-million Americans (1-in-8) receive what most of us call food stamps, or nutrition assistance.  On average, each participant receives $133 per month, or about $1,596 per year. Okay, let’s do the math on those numbers: $1,596 x 36,000,000 = $57,426,000,000 or about $57.5 billion per year.  That’s less than Cato estimates, but will serve our purposes just fine. The total number of congregations in America is generally estimated between 350,00 to 400,000.  Let’s use  the higher guesstimate of 400,000 churches of all denominations in the United States.  The median size of these congregations is 90 in attendance each Sunday. Here’s where the numbers tell the story:  For churches to take over the feeding of America’s poor, each church in America would have to feed 90 people each.  That means that the average church would take on as many poor people as it currently has in attendance! But, even more difficult is the financial picture.  If each church allocated $133 per month to feed each of the 90 people, the total yearly cost would be $143,640 per church per year.  Most churches with 90 in attendance don’t have a total budget of $150K per year, much less a benevolence budget of that amount. Of course, this is only one program.  The SNAP program is run through the US Department of Agriculture, but other programs Continue reading “Think Churches Can Feed America’s Poor?”

You’re Not That Special

Those called to ministry are not that special, but we do serve a God who is.

Tiger Woods will return to golf at the Master’s in Augusta next month.  Today he did a couple of quick interviews with ESPN and the Golf Channel.  Among other things Woods said was that he felt “entitled” as the world’s number one golfer and world’s richest athlete, to do the things he did.

Having a good sense of oneself is important in golf and ministry.  Ministry can be especially hard on self-perception.  We start off being called by God, which is a pretty big deal, but can be misapplied to boost the ego.  “God called me, therefore I’m special.”

If that’s not enough, we hear it from lots of other folks.  Parents are usually proud of us, as are our spouses, most relatives, and our own church members.  I remember a high school teacher who, when she found out that I planned to enter the ministry, told me that was the “highest calling” anyone could have vocationally.  Some of that may have changed now, but ministry is still held in high esteem in many circles.

But we’re really not that special.  God may have called us, but we must retain a sense of realistic humility.  God did not call us because we were perfect, smart or particularly good-looking, although some of us may fit one or more of those categories.  God’s call had little to do with us, and lots to do with God.

Tiger Wood’s tragedy has been played out in ministry settings on a smaller scale for much the same reason — somebody thought the rules didn’t apply to them, that they were special, above the average, exceptional, and therefore, exempt from having to live life like everyone else.

Remember:  you’re not that special.  Neither am I.  The rules apply to us, too.  We’re not exceptional.  We’re regular people who serve an extraordinary God.  God is the One who is special.  Remember that this week.  It will change your attitude and your ministry.

Would Your Church Censor This Art?

Station 7 - Jesus Falls For The Second Time by Jackson Potts II

Ecclesia Church in Houston, Texas, whose website describes the church as a “holistic missional Christian community,” invited local artists to submit original artwork depicting each of the Stations of the Cross.

Young 10-year old artist Jackson Potts II, who has been studying photography with his photographer father for several years, was given the commission to produce a photograph showing Station #7, Jesus Falls For the Second Time.

Young Potts chose to interpret the scene by replacing the Roman soldier with a contemporary police officer, and he depicted the innocence of Jesus using a child, his own brother, to portray the fallen Christ.

The church was offended by the photograph, according to ABC News, and would not display the photograph in the church art gallery, Xnihilo.  The decision by church officials has led two gallery directors to resign, but the church did create a blog about the whole incident. You can follow all the links in the curator’s blog for further information, including links to local media coverage.

The church gave a variety of reasons for rejecting the photograph ranging from “the photograph would scare young children who trust and respect police officers” to “we felt it was provocative in the wrong way” to “[it] did not draw people closer to the risen Christ.

Which brings me to my questions:

  • If this were your church, would you have allowed the photograph to be viewed?  If not, why?
  • Is the purpose of art to convey the church’s message or the artist’s message?
  • When a church engages artists to produce artwork, should there be any restrictions on what they produce?  If so, what?

These are pertinent questions as increasing numbers of churches engage artists in producing artwork to be shown for church purposes.  Are we returning to “church art” of the Medieval period where the church was both patron and censor, or are churches genuinely interested in hearing what artists have to say?  What do you think, and more importantly, what would you have done in this situation?  Fire away in the comment section.

Sermon: The Right Thing at the Right Time

Jesus calls us to do the right thing at the right time as we seek to honor him with our lives.

The Right Thing At The Right Time
John 12:1-8 NIV

1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5″Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7″Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. ” It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

It’s All A Matter of Timing

Several years ago, friends of ours told this story about the pastor they served with.  This pastor was known for being rather abrupt, and was not the most subtle in conversation.  During a wedding at their church, the pastor was officiating, of course.  When the time came for the vows, the groom was rather nervous, as many grooms are.

The pastor began to read the vows —

“Do you, John, take Mary for your wife…”

At which point, the anxious groom interrupted by saying “I do.”  The pastor, obviously not finished with the entire reading of the vows, looked at him and said, “Not yet!”

The pastor started again, “And do you promise before God and these witnesses to to love her….”

Again, the groom jumped the gun, “I do.”

And again the pastor replied, “Not yet!”

Well this went on a couple more times until finally the pastor got to the last question —

“…and forsaking all others to keep thee only unto her so long as you both shall live?”

He paused and looked at the groom, who by now was so gun shy that he didn’t dare say a word.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pastor finally turned to him and said, “Now!”

Continue reading “Sermon: The Right Thing at the Right Time”

Vote for this blog during SBC Blog Madness

Update:  Well, we didn’t make the cut, but thanks for those of you who voted.  It was, as they say, an honor to be nominated.

Over at SBC Voices, the annual “SBC Blog Madness” coincides every year with basketball’s March Madness.  You have the chance to vote for Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, and keep us in the hunt for the Final Four!  Here’s what you do:

1.  Go to SBC Voices Blog Madness page.

2.  Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor is in the Midwest bracket (go figure) at #13.

3.  Check the box across from this blog in the voting area below the list of blogs.  Don’t confuse Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee (#12) with this blog.  My name — Chuck Warnock — is next to this blog’s name.

4.  Vote and then look at the results.  Hopefully, we’ll make the cut.

Thanks for voting.  Remember, as they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often!