Showing posts from October, 2018

Four Beasts, the Human Being, and the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7)

Thoughts on Daniel 7
I have been sharing a few words (or more than a few words) about the Book of Daniel, one of the more challenging books of the Hebrew Bible. Like the Book of Revelation, it has a strong apocalyptic component. In the first six chapters of the book we encounter six court tales, stories of life lived by exiles in Babylon. Daniel and three friends find themselves selected for training to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. From there we read of their adventures. There are visions to be interpreted, flames to be avoided, and lions’ mouths to be closed. The message throughout seems to be that despite the situation God is in control. Things might look bad, but God is present. The question is, of course, the nature of this sovereignty. Is God pulling the strings, or do Daniel and his companions have some agency here? I think you can interpret either way, though due to my embrace of the idea that God's love is uncontrolling, this is more difficult for me to say God is in control…

Your People Are My People - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 24B (Ruth 1)

Ruth 1:1-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been li…

Seven Practices for the Church on Mission (David E. Fitch) -- A Review

SEVEN PRACTICES FOR THE CHURCH ON MISSION. By David E. Fitch. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018. 135 pages.

What is God doing in the world? How might we who are Christians participate in that work? These are the central missional questions. As we seek answers to them, we might wish to explore the practices that would under-gird our participation in this mission of God. Seven Practices for the Church on Mission is David Fitch’s answer to these questions, offering practices that he believes can empower and sustain Christian participation in the mission of God.
Fitch’s book under review here is an abridgment of his earlier book Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission(IVP Books, 2016). I’ve not read the earlier book, but I found this abridged version of the book to be insightful. While I can't speak to the larger book, except to accept the author’s testimony that the new book is an abridgment of the earlier one, I did find this brief book to be insigh…

The Uncontrolling God of Love, Resisting Evil, & a Shooting at a Synagogue

I have had the pleasure of spending the past two days with my friend Dr. Tom Oord, who is in town to give the annual Perry Gresham Lectures at Central Woodward Christian Church. Tom has been addressing the age old question about why a God of love, if truly powerful, doesn't prevent evil. It's a question that many raise who have chosen not to believe in God. Suffering has long been a challenge to those of us who believe in God. Some say God doesn't cause evil, but permits it, perhaps with the intention of bringing about a greater good. While this seems like a good answer on the surface, in the end we wouldn't give each other a pass if we were able to prevent evil. So, what if God can't prevent these acts of evil? What if  by God's nature, God who is love, cannot prevent these acts? Does this mean God is weak? Some would say so -- better a God who chooses not to act, but could act, than a God who simply cannot act. I once thought that way. It was one of the reas…

Saying No to the Politics of Division in Michigan 41 and Everywhere

With the 2018 General Election less than two weeks away, the ads have become ubiquitous. In some races they are becoming increasingly nasty, filled with untruths and inflammatory speech. These messages come not only in the mail and on TV and Radio, but also in the form of emails and social media messages. Many of them are designed to not only divide but suppress the vote. As I write this the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating what at last count was nine pipe bombs sent to well-known Democrats and critics of the President. I've been a political junkie most of my life. I've seen angry rhetoric before, but things seem more out of hand today. I'm especially concerned about attempts to divide and conquer minority and immigrant communities from each other. I'm white and I'm male. I have a certain set of privileges that come with that status. I also know that there are many who share my characteristics who are afraid they might lose these privileges …

In the Lions' Den - A Reflection on Daniel 6

 Daniel 6
The journey through Daniel reaches its midpoint. Six stories featuring Jewish exiles, doing what Jeremiah told his fellow exiles to do:

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  (Jeremiah 29:4-7) Daniel and his three friends settled in and sought the welfare of the city where they had been placed due to Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah and their removal from their homeland to Babylon. There’s no evidence of wives or children, but they fulfilled their calling to be a blessing, even as they remaine…

Is Everything Back to Normal? -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23B (Job 42)

Job 42:1-6,10-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
42 Then Job answered the Lord: “I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”
****************** 10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The Lord ble…

Preaching as Resistance (Phil Snider) -- A Review

PREACHING AS RESISTANCE: Voices of Hope, Justice, & Solidarity. Edited by Phil Snider. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2018. Viii + 167 pages.

Preaching in the Era of Trump(that's the title of a book that appeared shortly after the election of the current President is not easy. Of course, preaching is never “easy,” even if many of us find it fulfilling and even enjoyable. Nevertheless, these are especially difficult times for preachers, who seem to face one crisis after another, seemingly demanding a homiletical response. It is common to hear on Saturday afternoon a message from colleagues on Facebook telling us that if we're not addressing this action or that statement by the President or some other figure, we should be shunned by congregations and colleagues. Yes, even if your sermon is fully prepared and you’re as ready as you’ll be for Sunday, you need to toss it out and write a new sermon. As for me, I've resisted being bullied into turning into a reactive preacher. None…

Choose Whom You Will Serve -- A Stewardship Sermon (Joshua 24)

Joshua 24:1-15

When Moses was nearing the end of his life, he gathered the people of Israel, so he could prepare them to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the Promised Land. Even though Moses wouldn’t cross over with them he wanted them to know that God would be with them (Deut. 1:1-8). Now it was Moses’s successor, Joshua, who was nearing the end of his life. Like Moses he gathered the people of Israel to prepare them for a new future without his leadership. Again, the message is God is faithful and God will be with you as you move into that new future. He does this by retelling the story of Israel. He begins with Abraham and takes the people on a journey through time.   
Joshua reminds the people how God led Abraham to Canaan from the land beyond the Euphrates, making a covenant with the promise of many descendants. We hear again the stories of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau, as well as the sojourn in Egypt that leads to the call of Moses and Aaron, who led the people out of slave…