Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Book Review: Peculiar Speech

June 6, 2019

Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized by William H. Willimon

 

This was another suggested text for the preaching workshop I attended in Chicago this week.

(As an aside, if you preach regularly to the people of God, consider checking out this resource – Craft of Preaching.  They sponsored the event, but also provide some good theological resources for those called to proclaim God’s Word.)

This is a fantastic book.  Willimon’s style is enjoyable.  He’s a deeply intelligent man able to convey his ideas in understandable ways without sounding condescending.  He has some fantastic things to think about if you preach to the people of God, not the least of which is to remember that you are preaching to the baptized, to people who are ostensibly the people of God.

My one complaint is that – particularly towards the end of the book – Willimon drifts increasingly into ideas of the Church as adversarial to the powers and structures of the world.  Of course this is true.  But choosing to be adversarial rather than simply preaching the love of God the Father in God the Son Jesus Christ through the power of God the Holy Spirit can be problematic. Yes, the Church must never allow itself to be coopted by the powers of this world (something the Church is very poor  at), but we must also as the Church proclaim the truth and reality of Romans 13.  The Gospel is subversive by its very nature, but if we begin to glory in that adversarial quality, we risk sins of pride and disobedience.  It is truly a difficult line to walk sometimes, particularly in times where the expectation of defiant and inflammatory rhetoric tempts us to grandstand.

Otherwise, there is a lot of good food for thought here if you preach on a regular basis!

Book Review – Justification is for Preaching

June 5, 2019

Justification is for Preaching, Edited by Virgil Thompson

I recently attended a preaching workshop in Chicago.  It was a great workshop, but like most workshops, if there’s a reading list, the workshop is more or less a rehash of prominent ideas from the reading list.  This workshop was no exception, which is both good and bad.

This was one of the suggested texts, a collection of essays in a jubilee volume celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Lutheran Quarterly.   As with many such collections, the essays vary greatly in tone and helpfulness, ranging from the very esoteric and academic to wonderfully applicable theological nuggets.  If you’re a fan of Oswald Bayer or Gerhard O. Forde, they figure prominently and repeatedly in this collection.

I very much appreciaged Forde’s essay Forensic Justification and the Christian Life.  There he grapples with one of the challenges in Lutheran theology – how to describe the Christian life in such a way that it does not either render the Law toothless and optional, or contradict a very Biblical theme of God doing all of the real work of creation, redemption and sanctification.  He picks up on St. Paul’s language of saint and sinner for this.  Typically, we emphasize that we are born anew in Christ through faith and baptism and maintain a sort of dual identity  of saint and sinner throughout our lives, with the sinner gradually, more and more weakening as the saint in us grows.  We are typically exhorted heavily towards this end, or we tend to de-emphasize it in order to better highlight the work of Jesus in our justification and redemption.  Forde does a good job of offering a third alternative where the in-breaking kingdom of God within me expands over time within me, so that the sinner in me is eventually completely squeezed out (at death or our Lord’s return).  The emphasis is the ongoing grace of God the Holy Spirit at work in me, rather than my bulging faith-muscles.  Very helpful.

Also of interest was Forde’s article Preaching the Sacraments, where he discusses the connection between preaching and the sacraments (defined as confession, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper in Lutheran circles) and the importance that preaching not undercut the Sacraments.

If you like theology, and particularly if you are called to a vocation of preaching (or perhaps if it is your vocation to listen to sermons!) this is a helpful book.

Movin’ On Up

April 22, 2019

Perhaps not exactly to a deluxe apartment in the  sky, but an improvement all the same.

I’ve bit  the bullet (paid) to upgrade my blog site from free to a paid plan through WordPress.  The annoying advertisements are now gone.  I intended to do this much sooner but, well, life and money and what have you.  Look for some tweaks and changes to roll out as I explore the options I have available now as a paid user of the site – including possibly a change back to my original domain name (livingapologetics.org) instead of the WordPress name.

All in good time, but at least it’s the first step.  Perhaps a step up?

He Says it Better

January 24, 2019

lewis

St. John Wang Yi Zinzendorf the Baptist

December 17, 2018

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.  ~ Nicolaus Zinzendorf

This mantra has been stuck in my head for over a year now.  While there is some doubt as to whether the words were ever written or spoken by Zinzendorf in exactly this format, the spirit of them is definitely attributed to him.  In a world that seeks immortality through works and words and the acclaim of others, the Bible calls us to obedience to the God who created us, redeemed us, and alone can grant us immortality not simply in the memories of others but in flesh and blood and spirit.

Faithful obedience is not often glamorous.  Not often memorable.  Not often noteworthy.  It’s the decision to get up in the morning and do what needs to be done.  Laundry.  Cooking.  Earning a living.  Faithfulness to those around us.  Restraint.  Hardly laudable qualities in a modern culture that calls after fame and glory in 120 (or 280) character tweets or 4-second vines.

This past Sunday we considered Jesus’ words to John the Baptist – blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  John the Baptist is remembered 2000 years after his untimely death.  He remained faithful to the one who created him, the one who would redeem him.  Whether that faithfulness changed the world around him was not to be John’s concern, any more than whether or not he would ever be freed from prison.

Persecution is hardly new, and it isn’t something that I think we should seek out.  But if we attempt to be faithful, persecution is apt to find us in one way or another.  John the Baptist found this out.  Jesus knew this.  Pastor Wang Yi now lives with this reality.  While we don’t have any words known to be written personally by John the Baptist, I like to think that perhaps he might have said something similar to Pastor Wang Yi.

I pray that if I find myself in a similar situation my words will be very similar, seeking not to be remembered – so very, very, very, very few of us are, even for a short time! – but to be faithful.

A Few Statistics

October 26, 2018

Not including this post, WordPress informs me that I have made 2,791 blog entries since August 24, 2006.  In addition, I have 25 entries in various stages of preparation that I haven’t published, either because I lost interest, lost steam, or reconsidered whether I really wanted to publish it, yet didn’t want  to delete it.  I have one unpublished entry from 2017 that is counted as deleted and never published, but I could restore it and start working on it again if I wanted to.

Readership levels have fluctuated over the years.  So far in October, I’ve had visits from people in 32 different countries, though the overwhelming majority of my visitors are from the United States.  I average between 450-500 visits to my site per month.  I have 160 WordPress users that follow my blog.  Many of these I suspect don’t actually read what I write.  I often am told that people start following my blog.  When I go to check out their blog to see what they’re writing about, it’s frequently a site designed to accumulate users and followers by offering positive thinking quotes (not quite sure why they are following me!), advice to writers, etc.  A lot of blogging is now focused on gathering followers and subscribers to reach levels where you can sell advertising, and I assume they’re hoping that I’ll reciprocally follow their site.

I don’t.

Thanks to all of you who are regular or irregular readers over the years.  I hope I’m helpful in generating thought and reflection.  You may not agree with me, and I’m always open to being challenged (though it rarely happens here).  Frankly I always hoped this place would develop into a forum for discussion but that remains a hope to be fulfilled.  Some of you I know and interact with in real life on a regular basis and we discuss in person what I’ve written here.  I love that!  But feel free to post your reactions here.  My goal is civilized discourse, whether we agree or not.

Hard to believe it’s been 12 years.  It will be interesting to see how long God lets me continue!

Grinding Back Into Gear

March 15, 2018

At some point I have to listen to my own sermons and apply Scripture to myself.  Zinzendorf’s mantra keeps running through my head.  Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be Forgotten.  This is what I’m called to do, blessed to do, challenged to do.  And there have certainly been more challenges this year than I’ve had in a while!  As such, I haven’t felt much like sharing here, and it didn’t seem to be something helpful for myself.  However, I’d like to think that in some small ways, this blog helps me to share the Gospel.  Helps me to think through the application of God’s grace in my life and the world around me and find my place in the midst of all of that.  Perhaps it’s even helpful at times to others.   And if so, it’s time to shake off the debris and get back to the work at hand.

That means I need to finish my project regarding alcohol and Scripture, among other things.  And I need to get back to being myself to the best of my ability, knowing that I can’t speak to everyone, so I’ll continue to speak to those who will listen and pray the Holy Spirit’s blessing and guidance towards that end.

Soli Deo Gloria. 

 

Don’t Get Cute

December 21, 2017

Someone – someone I’m not sure I even know – sent me a hard copy of this missive today.   What a great Christmas present.

Because of course pastors are stressed out about Christmas Eve service.  As my buddy notes, there is an added pressure to this service, perhaps more so than any other service the entire year.  Additional people present.  And not just extended family of current members, but others as well.  Perhaps estranged former members of the congregation.  People that had a falling out with a pastor some years ago – or perhaps with me! – might show up for some reason they can’t even define well themselves.  People injured by the Church in the past, stepping their toes back in the water after years or decades away.

To have the perfect message – witty, sparkling, engaging – could mean so much for these people and my congregation!  Old faces returning and new faces showing up on Sunday mornings.  Is there a better feeling as a pastor to be told that you’re the reason that someone has decided to return or come to church or the faith?  The monstrous pride that lurks within many preachers and pastors, sometimes masquerading as pious humility – that monster gorges itself on those sorts of comments.  It’s not that the comments are bad, or shouldn’t be shared.  It’s just that the sin within me wants to lead me down dangerous, dark roads of self-congratulatory ego-caressing.

But the perfect message isn’t mine, it’s God the Holy Spirit’s.  And while the Holy Spirit deigns to work through imperfect pastors that fall out in different places on a dizzyingly broad spectrum of speaking skills and writing mastery, the message that counts is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  The baby in the manger and the God on the cross.  I should care about delivery and about making it enjoyable for the people festively attired in the candlelit pews, but only towards the end that the Holy Spirit’s Word might penetrate the heart, might strike the lethal blow that leads to the death of the old Adam within us, and raises up a new creation in Jesus Christ.  I can’t do that, only the Holy Spirit can.

So I will endeavor, as I like to think I always do, not to be cute.  To make sure the full message is delivered, and that the results of that are to God’s glory not mine.  On Christmas Eve and during every other worship service of the year.

Friday Musings

December 1, 2017

A couple of random, Internet-inspired thoughts today.

The first is just to share two beautiful poems I stumbled across today.  First, a touching picture of divisions within the Church and how they play out in the Christian life.   A book I’m finishing (and will blog about shortly) emphasizes the very real, very actual expectation that Christians will live together differently.  In our homes, in our communities, and most of all in our Churches.  What a horrible, ugly, painful failure it is when we are unable or unwilling to do so.  The second is a poem by Wendell Berry, an author I have been telling myself for years that I will purchase one or more of his books.  I’m always struck by his way of expressing himself and his ideas.  I really need to do that.

Secondly, while I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular the way her doctrines of sexuality and marriage interrelate in a way Protestantism frankly disappoints, I don’t agree with other major aspects of her doctrine.  Such as the idea that I owe God particular things in worship participation.  Rather than talking about the blessing of receiving the grace of God in Word and Sacrament as often as possible, this is an example of the legalism that is easy to substitute for such grace.  Worship becomes not a gift of God that we should joy to participate in, but rather a legal obligation – with all the attendant nit-picking about the precise nature of what fulfills  that legal obligation.

I trust there are plenty of Roman Catholics who worship out of joy and in response to God’s love rather than an institutional demand, but I ache for those who are weighed down by the guilt inherent in worship obligations.

 

Reunions and Other Missings

November 6, 2017

 

Sonny sits by his window and thinks to himself

How it’s strange that some rooms are like cages.

Sonny’s yearbook from high school is down from the shelf

And he idly thumbs through the pages.

Some have died, some have fled from themselves.

Or struggled from here to get there.

Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls,

Runs his hands through his thinning brown hair.

~ Paul Simon, The Obvious Child ~

 

This Saturday past was my 30-year high school reunion.

I wasn’t there.  As I wasn’t there for the 20th or the 10th.  I flew out of high school a bat out of hell, swearing never to return, never to reminisce, never to idealize the living hell that had been four years of my life.

But time is strange and treacherous and this many years out there was an actual a tug, a curiosity that bordered on yearning at moments.  Who were these people now?  For that matter, who had they been then?  I hate that I was curious.  I’ve stayed in touch with the people I was close to in high school beyond the constructs of class reunions, a group of folks I can count on one hand.  We talked briefly about meeting up at the reunion.  I said I wouldn’t go to the reunion but I would come into town to see the rest of them around it.  In the end it came to nothing and I don’t think any of the others went.

Pictures of the reunion have fluttered across Facebook since Saturday night, and I’m relieved that I didn’t cave in to the passing of years and the desperation for connection across the decades.  The people in those pictures were strangers.  Not just strangers in the 30-year removed sense, but strangers even in my memories.  I knew some of the names but they were not people I ever hung out with in high school.  I only shared classes with a few of them.  I might as well have walked into a room full of complete strangers for all the reminiscing I would have been able to do with those folks.

Out of a class of 900 there were maybe 40 people there.  They had things to relive together, I presume.  Shared memories and experiences.  I would only have shared a coincidence of timing with them, and geography.   We were in the same walls for the same four years and passed through similar classrooms at alternating times of the day.  But the memories aren’t there.  Only the reminders of who I used to be, or who I wasn’t, and I hang out enough with those shadows plenty already.

It looks like everyone there had fun.  I certainly don’t fault them for going.  Part of me is jealous they could share things together that I can’t.  Or perhaps time smooths over the different social classes and standings so folks who never had much in common 30 years ago are suddenly long lost brothers and sisters.  Perhaps the ache for who they were is so strong such incidentals mean little compared to seeing a name and a face that might remember who they were, might be able to give some insight or a reminder of a forgotten incident, rekindle a forgotten feeling.

As for me, I have to side with Thomas Wolfe –  You Can’t Go Home Again. Or perhaps you can, but I can’t.  Why deny the obvious, child?