Tab Sweep

Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer in eight minutes.

Princeton Seminary alum Dharius Daniels: From Church Plant to Congregation of 3,000 in a decade.

Hey! I took a missional theology from Darrell Guder too!

Joseph Yoo: Does Membership Matter Anymore?

Shane Raynor: Schism: Good or Bad, Don’t Believe the Hype

Thom Rainer: Seven reasons your church needs a social media director.

Six tips for your Easter sermon. Most of these are pretty obvious. Makes you wonder if these are news to preachers.

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Religion News Items

Menlo Park Presbyterian to leave PC(USA). Part of the reason was multisite. I’ve worshipped at one of their branch campuses and can’t imagine anything more ridiculous than the denomination sticking on this point.

Bill Gates’ family goes to Catholic Church. And some thoughts by Gates about poverty from the same Rolling Stones interview with Bill Gates:

The way we help the poor out today [is also a problem]. You have Section 8 housing, food stamps, fuel programs, very complex medical programs. It’s all high-overhead, capricious, not well-designed. Its ability to distinguish between somebody who has family that could take care of them versus someone who’s really out on their own is not very good, either. It’s a totally gameable system – not everybody games it, but lots of people do. Why aren’t the technocrats taking the poverty programs, looking at them as a whole, and then redesigning them? Well, they are afraid that if they do, their funding is going to be cut back, so they defend the thing that is absolutely horrific. Just look at low-cost housing and the various forms, the wait lists, things like that.

Some of the types of idolatry that can occur when Christians gather for worship.

How Viktor Frankl’s thoughts about a meaningful life inspired Donald Miller.

  1. Have a project you’re working on that requires your unique skills and abilities. And preferably a project that helps others.
  2. Share your experiences within the context of safe, loving relationships.
  3. Find a redemptive perspective on your suffering and challenges.

How to teach a new song to your congregation.

A preemptive church leadership conversation (about burnout).

Complaints about Presbyterians borrowing too much liturgy from Rome. (Here’s what Calvin used as a liturgy.)

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Religion News Items

First, a nice quote from Pope Francis:

We cannot be resigned to these divisions as if they were merely an inevitable part of the historical experience of the Church. If Christians ignore the call to unity which comes to them from the Lord, they risk ignoring the Lord himself.

As a bonus, here’s a quote from Spurgeon:

There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend the grand old monarch, the British Lion, with all our strength. Many suggestions are made and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and the other. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.

When I was leading small groups, I was discouraged from being “Mr. Goodwrench.” But where would Christian media be without lists of things to do?

7 killer lessons from Derwin Gray’s School of Ministry vision casting.

15 pointers for preachers. Nothing wrong with these, but it’s quite a checklist to run through every Sunday.

4 pillars of pastoral work. Nothing in there about visiting people in the hospital.

8 common money questions pastors ask.

This (paywalled and expensive) article appears to suggest the Justinian Plague was a contributor to the “Golden Age” of Islam. Huh. I’d never heard about the Justinian Plague, but the timing is right.

There’s a very affordable Hebrew Bible for Kindle.

Targeted Islamic outreach to Hispanics achieving results.

Red-letter Bibles aren’t something Kevin DeYoung likes. (I agree, although I try not to use abrasive words like “nonsense.” Still, without looking at Jesus’ actions, you’ll wonder what he meant by the things he said. Plus, Jesus himself said that thing about jots and tittles. And there’s what Paul said. And what Peter said. And what John said.)

Next, from the denomination that’s all about Discipline: church case dismissed against Ogletree. Ogletree, a retired UMC bishop, presided over the same-sex marriage of his son.

Also from the UMC, a proposal (?) to reopen the canon of Scripture. Well, what the author really wonders is whether to recognize the Apocrypha as having a sort of deuterocanonical status.

The PC(USA)’s Presbyterian Mission Agency is distancing itself from “Zionism Unsettled,” a publication of the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network:

In 2004, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) formed the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) to help move the church toward the goal of a just peace in Israel/Palestine. The independent group — which speaks to the church and not for the church — recently published a study guide, Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study. The guide is intended to prompt discussion on the ever-changing and tumultuous issue of Israel-Palestine. The IPMN booklet was neither paid for nor published by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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Christian Wedding Cake-Baking

Should there be a faith exemption from nondiscrimination laws? Should a wedding photographer be required to offer his services to gay couples the same as to straight couples? Should a baker be able to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on the grounds of her faith?

I won’t speak (here) to the legal issues except to quote Martin Luther King: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” I think it’s probably best to use the law to prohibit bad behavior rather than to require good behavior. But the law doesn’t concern me as much as the underlying faith issue.

Should Christians bake cakes for people whose lifestyle they disagree with? Kevin Deyoung asks that very question and suggests the answer is no, because to do so would be to compromise with a sinful culture.

Let me explain why I disagree.

What do you know about Joseph, the guy who wanted to divorce Mary quietly? Do you remember what his job was?

Joseph was a carpenter, according to Matthew, and, according to Mark, so was Jesus. The Greek word used in both places is tekton, which refers to craftsman who made things of wood. (Mark Driscoll says that Joseph and Jesus “worked construction,” which is a pretty good way to get the point across.)

What else, besides houses and cabinets, is made out of wood? Hint: Jesus died on one. They had three crosses on Golgotha that day.

Nothing in the Bible says so, but it’s not inconceivable that Joseph did the rough work necessary to fashion the beams used by the Romans to crucify people.

According to Matthew, Jesus’ family fled to Egypt during the reign of Herod the Great, and returned to Nazareth after he died. Not long after Herod died, someone named Judas the Galilean led a revolt that was centered around Sepphoris, the Roman capital of Galilee, about four miles from Nazareth. The Romans crushed the rebellion, burnt Sepphoris to the ground, and crucified 2000 participants. (See James Tabor’s summary or go look at Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Chapter 10, and The Jewish Wars, Book 2, Chapter 5.)

The Romans needed 2,000 crosses. Where did they get them? Probably not by shipping them from Rome! More likely, they bought (or simply commandeered them) them from the nearby villages. If the Holy Family was back in Nazareth by then, it’s not at all unlikely that Joseph worked on some of those crosses.

If Joseph did work on crosses — and remember, this is speculative — he probably found it repugnant. As a Jew, he wouldn’t have liked the Romans: not their culture, their religion, or their occupation of his country. And nobody approved of crucifixion — which was the point of using it.

As someone with reason to think a lot about God’s purposes in the world, Joseph’s theology would have informed his opinions. But if the Romans told him to make crosses for them, Joseph would have had to do so, unless he wanted to wind up on one himself. And if Joseph didn’t get caught up working on this project, others in his trade — siblings or cousins, perhaps — certainly would have been.

That wasn’t the last time the Romans crucified anyone in Galilee, either. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that Joseph (and possibly even Jesus) worked on crossbeams from time to time, long after that revolt was crushed.

Is this all too speculative? Then consider Colossians 3:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.

Why did the writer say that? (Ephesians 6 is essentially the same.) He wrote it because slaves don’t get to choose what they do and don’t do. Slaves have to obey their masters, and if they refuse, they’re punished. The only alternative available to a slave is passive-aggression: they can obey unctuously when their master’s paying attention, and then spit in the soup when he’s not looking. But that’s ruled out by the New Testament. Instead, slaves are told to do just as good a job even for a cruel master as they would do for Jesus himself.

What particular things do you suppose the writers of the New Testament letters were thinking about when they gave that instruction? There’s no telling. But it was probably something you wouldn’t want to do. It was probably something you’d find objectionable.

You don’t have to like this. Maybe you think the Bible ought to have told slaves to rise up in rebellion and throw off their chains. Fine. But it doesn’t. Other books say different, but the New Testament tells slaves to do what they’re told. (To be sure, masters are told their slaves have been freed and slaves are their brothers.)

Christians have always had to do things they didn’t approve of. So why should a Christian baker or photographer be exempt from the reality that applied to carpenters like Joseph, if not to Joseph himself? Why should Christians today be exempt from the reality that certainly applied to the slaves who may have been a majority in the early church?

So my counsel would be to go ahead and take photos at the gay mens’ wedding. Bake a wedding cake for the lesbian couple. Or, rather, bake it for the Lord, like you do everything. Then, when the lesbians have their wedding, they’ll say, “I don’t agree with Christians, but all the best bakers are Christians. They have superior products and deliver superb value. I wonder why they do that?”

I’ll close with this clip of Jim Burgen talking about this same topic but widening it not just to commercial transactions but to every interaction:

(Update: fixed some grammar.)

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Quick Links

No duh: a study concludes that clergy key reason worshipers switch congregations. (There’s a joke that pastors tell about this: when a person leaves a congregation, it’s the pastor’s fault. When the pastor leaves the congregation, it’s six people’s fault.)

I’m flabbergasted at how controversial the mere idea of church growth is, to people who joined a small church. I wish they’d read things like this: Disciple multiplication is the main thing.

Some implications of The Cultural Challenge of Biblical Illiteracy.

I like the art for the upcoming Son of God movie.

How does your state rate on a scale from most- to least-religious, according to Gallup?

Using the Concierge Model for Excellent Hospitality.

Willimon reviews a book that advocates theological reading of Scripture.

I need to correspond more. Here’s some advice about writing letters that I could follow.

Feel-good story: Englishman reunited with dozens he saved from Nazi death camp.

Fancy Church Buildings

I’m preaching a message on Haggai 2:1-9 inspired by the phrase “Desire of Nations” found in the advent song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The point of the passage is that the Second Temple that Ezra was building didn’t look very impressive to anybody who could remember the first one built by Solomon four centuries earlier.

Haggai was writing about 520 BC, so there’s nobody today who remember’s Solomon’s Temple. Apart from what the Bible says, we do know a little bit about the Second Temple from the Arch of Titus in Rome that celebrates its destruction in AD 70. Clearly, they used menorahs:

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus



(Click on a picture to see it enlarged).

What might Solomon’s Temple have looked like? From the text of Haggai, it seems to have had a lot of silver and gold decoration. How much? We can look at some churches built in the past for a clue.

Here’s the altar of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Worms, Germany:

Cathedral of St. Peter

Cathedral of St. Peter


Apart from its altar, St. Peter’s really a pretty austere place, as Gothic Cathedrals go. But it’s decorated with some seriously weird art. For example, what’s with this guy?

Death? or Resurrection?


Of course, Germany’s no patch on Italy. Here’s the church of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs in Rome, across the street from the train station:

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs


(For some scale, the guy tying his shoe in the second picture is leaning on the wall located about 4 o’clock across the floor from those two people in the foreground of the first picture.)

But that’s just a church in Rome. What about the Vatican itself? Here are some pictures from the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica:

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica


There’s a statue on your right when you enter the building:

Michelangelo's Pieta


But even the Vatican isn’t fancy, compared to the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valetta, Malta.

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John


The only problem is it needs more gold leaf, don’t you think?

More gold leaf? Coming up:

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John



“I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more gold leaf.”

Beside gold leaf, they also used a lot of Maltese Crosses in their decorating.

Maltese Cross

Maltese Cross


But it’s not just gold leaf and Maltese Crosses. There’s also a lot of marble. The only problem? They use it to make skulls and skeletons:

Skeleton in Marble

Skull-Themed Art

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Spam Countermeasures

I just implemented a bunch of spam countermeasures. Send me email if you got caught in the crossfire.

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Religion News

Here, without comment, other than the names I give them, are some interesting stories in the news:

Why did Westside Presbyterian Church of Englewood shut down?

Why “In Christ Alone” isn’t in the new PC(USA) hymnal.

A huge Presbyterian church in Dallas voted overwhelmingly to leave the PC(USA) and join the ECO. Why? Read and wonder.

Did mainline churches lead or follow the culture?

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Kirsten Powers’ Conversion Story

Via Donald Miller, the fascinating story of Kirsten Powers’ conversion to Christianity:

I sometimes hear Christians talk about how terrible life must be for atheists. But our lives were not terrible. Life actually seemed pretty wonderful, filled with opportunity and good conversation and privilege. I know now that it was not as wonderful as it could have been. But you don’t know what you don’t know. How could I have missed something I didn’t think existed?

Read the whole thing. There’s even a Presbyterian connection.

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