Monthly Archives: February 2009

A Missional Church in Tulare, California

Last weekend, February 20-22, I had the privilege of ministering in several different places in California’s Central Valley. For those who do not know the Central Valley is the most fertile and productive farming country in all of the United States. Both the soil and climate are perfect for growing a large number of crops that feed millions of people. I personally enjoyed a tour of a huge almond growing operation and learned more than I can begin to share in a short blog. It was a lot of fun for me and allowed me to see an agribusiness in a whole new personal light.

My primary purpose for this trip was to serve a new flock led by my dear friend, Rev. David Moorhead. David is a church planter with the Reformed Church in America in Shafter, California, a town about 20 miles north of Bakersfield. New Hope Community Church, this new congregation in Shafter, was begun just a few months ago

By |February 28th, 2009|Categories: Missional Church|

Justice in America? The Failure of Our Prison System

Our prison system is an unmitigated disaster. Very few Christians know the real problems in the system and even less really care. This is positively wrong. We need to become advocates for justice and mercy in the very best sense of both words.

Our system is moving towards a serious collapse and few know the answers. An obvious problem can be seen in the simple, observable fact that those who have money generally avoid prison and those who are poor do not. But even worse is how we treat those who are incarcerated.

California has the largest penal system. This is no surprise since it is our most populous state. It is also one of the worst systems in America. The state has been building new prisons, since 1970, at a rate that is almost beyond belief. The entire system is so overcrowded and inhumane that a federal court recently ordered the state to reduce the prison population by

By |February 27th, 2009|Categories: Ethics|

The Intersection of Faith, Media and Politics: An Evening with David Brooks

Last week I enjoyed another one of those great lectures that I get to hear now-and-then. (I have made reference to these several times recently.) This time the presentation was an evening hosted by the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) at Wheaton College. The speaker was New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of my favorite columnists. Brooks spoke about how he began to embrace the conservative philosophy of Edmund Burke while he was a liberal undergraduate student at the University of Chicago (B.A., 1983). As he saw the impact of  socially liberal political philosophy on real people on the south side of Chicago he was forced to question what he had always believed about government and people. In short, Brooks began to embrace a serious view of human sinfulness and depravity and this pushed him away from his liberal assumptions about mankind and how much government can actually serve the betterment of ordinary people. Don't misunderstand, Brooks is not a silly right-winger but a serious, intellectually thoughtful, political and social conservative. He is also a friend to evangelicals, though he

By |February 26th, 2009|Categories: Politics|

Ash Wednesday: The Beginning of Lent

Many evangelicals believe that Lent, and thus Ash Wednesday, are Roman Catholic celebrations. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this instance the "evangelical sub-culture" has misinformed multitudes of people to embrace a reactionary response against church tradition.

I was pleased to see in the news today that several non-liturgical congregations in my suburban Chicago area were actually holding Ash Wednesday services. So far as I can tell this is further evidence that liturgical celebration is spreading into places where it was once taboo. This, I believe, is a very good thing.

Lent is the season of forty days that comes before Easter. It is generally considered a "fast" time though various traditions deal with the "fasting" part of this celebration quite differently. Originally embraced by some Protestants the Reformed only began to embrace such seasons in the 20th century. Now others are following this pattern as Baptists, and other non-liturgical churches, consider the value of placing more

By |February 25th, 2009|Categories: Church Tradition|

The Passing of the Peace

One of the most basic traditions of holy worship practiced by Christians down through the ages is called "the passing of the peace." This tradition is rooted in the several passages in the New Testament that refer to giving one another a "holy kiss."

I remember the first time I read those texts and asked the adults of my church why we didn't practice these customs the answer I got was unsatisfactory. I was puzzled at how insistent we were about interpreting the Bible literally but we tended to pick those things out of the Bible that we liked and left the rest. Such was the case here.

Then I discovered the "passing of the peace." This practice usually precedes coming to the Lord's Table. Part of the reason for this is so that we will all come having sought reconciliation with each other. We will also have a proper way to greet each other in the context of congregational worship.

The greeting is simple:

Leader: The

By |February 23rd, 2009|Categories: Church Tradition|

The Season of Epiphany

Epiphany We come today to the last Sunday in Epiphany. Next week begins Lent and the church's preparation for Easter. Most Christians, at least those who are Protestants, know very little about this celebration. This is actually a sad loss since whole segments of the church do not not use the church calendar. January 6 is the actual day of "The Epiphany of our Lord." Then the Sundays that follow are called: "The First Sunday after Epiphany," and "The Second Sunday after Epiphany," etc.

Two major themes dominate this season. The first is the coming of light into the world and the power of that light to draw us to God. That light is Jesus. The second major theme is revelation. The texts associated with Epiphany are chosen to reveal to us who Jesus is. There is an emphasis in these chosen texts on calling individuals and congregations to teaching and healing ministry.

Epiphany is one of the oldest

By |February 22nd, 2009|Categories: Church Tradition|

Michael Beschloss on Presidential Courage

One of the privileges I am afford, living in a city like Chicago, is the opportunity to hear various noteworthy scholars, teachers and journalists speak publicly. Elmhurst College, where both my wife and daughter received a B. A. degree, is only about twenty minutes from my home. It is a first-rate liberal arts college that is affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC). It is also the host of an endowed annual lecture devoted to history and social science. Past speakers have included names such as Robert Dallek, David Gergen, David Halberstam, Taylor Branch, Richard Norton Smith, David Tracy and Martin Marty. This year's lecture was held last Sunday evening, February 15. Beschloss_Michael The speaker was Michael Beschloss, esteemed historian of American presidents, and a frequent guest on NBC and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Beschloss has authored several best-sellers and is a good writer. He is also an excellent speaker, or at least a very good story-teller. He did not provide us with

By |February 21st, 2009|Categories: America and Americanism|

The Academy Award Goes To . . .

SDM The five nominees for Best Picture are Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, and The Reader. Slumdog Millionaire received ten Academy nominations and thus will, most likely, win the most awards this year. There is some suggestion that Academy voters will create a last-minute backlash against the film since it became popular so long ago and because so many think it will obviously win. Michael Phillips, film critic of The Chicago Tribune, believes it remains the best bet to take home the best picture Academy Award this Sunday evening. I happen to agree with Philiips, though I see two other movies that have a decent chance at winning the award: Frost/Nixon, a truly first-rate film, and The Reader, a film with very provocative adult themes set in a Nazi context, a context that is popular again this year. Why do we remain so fascinated with the Nazi's? Perhaps we need these cultural reminders of the potential for human

By |February 20th, 2009|Categories: Film|

24: The Seventh Season

Yes, I really do enjoy 24. I actually think this is a much better season than the last several years in the 24 series. The shift to Washington, D.C., is genuinely great and the recovery of the heart and soul of the old CTU team is unexpected and great fun. The new "Madam President" is both tough and likeable but will her husband survive? Maybe find out next week. I'm not sure what to make of the "first husband." (He is not Bill Clinton, which is a blessing of sorts I guess.) And Jack Bauer is truly back, back saving the nation and hunting down the bad guys by living on the edge. Will he end up in with a significant other with the FBI agent he is now working with? The chemistry is growing. Jack is, well, Jack! I remain a big 24 fan and thus I am also thankful for my DVR, which allows me to cut the commercials and save time by seeing it on Monday night in only

By |February 19th, 2009|Categories: Television|

Sudan Will Not Go Away

Michael Gerson noted this last week "That while a new administration is just getting started, history doesn't stop." He expressed deep concerns about the problems in Sudan and Darfur. There is a very good reason for this concern. President Obama's Africa policy team is already working on these issues and what they will find should open everyone's eyes if the truth on the ground is brought into the light.
Everyone familiar with this part of Africa knows that it is a terrible situation that needs a careful and involved contribution from the United States.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), of the United Nations, issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of the Sudan last week. He is charged with war crimes. Thus the new administration faces a very tough question: "Can a hunted war criminal also be a partner in the Sudan peace process?"

Gerson wrote last week that when

By |February 18th, 2009|Categories: Current Affairs|

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