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New Th.M. Scholarships at Western Seminary

I am very happy to announce a new and very generous scholarship opportunity at Western Seminary.

We now have 5 scholarships available for Th.M. students, each of which will cover all tuition during the first two years of the program. Since most of our Th.M. students finish within two years, this means that for most students, these will be full ride scholarships, though they do not cover books, travel, or living expenses.

The Marvin O. Johnson Educational Ministry Scholarship aims to assist students preparing for teaching careers. So, if your vocational aspirations involve, for example, teaching at a Christian high school, college, or seminary, this scholarship is for you. You may also qualify if you have bi-vocational aspirations (e.g. pastoring with significant adjunct teaching). Basically, if you think that your future involves having some significant role in Christian education, you may qualify and should at least inquire about the scholarship.

To qualify for these scholarships, you only need to meet the following criteria

  1. You must be a new Th.M. student.
  2. You must meet the entrance requirements for the Th.M. program.
  3. You must intend to pursue an educational career in some capacity. (The award is flexible enough to meet a variety of vocational goals. So, if you have any questions, please inquire.)

If you’re not familiar with our program, you may be wondering if you have to move to Portland to be a Th.M. student. The answer is “no.” Although many of our Th.M. students live in the Northwest, we have students from Montana, California and recently as far away as New York. We offer several classes every year as 1-week intensives. So, as long as you’re willing to make occasional trips to Portland, often in the summer when Portland is at its finest, this program is for you.

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If you would like more information about the scholarships and how to apply, or if you would just like to hear more about our Th.M. program, please contact me at mcortez [at] westernseminary [dot] edu.

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So, if you are considering, have ever considered, or might be tempted into considering a Th.M. as you prepare for the future, this is a great opportunity that you should consider. And, if you know anyone who might be interested in an opportunity like this, please feel free to pass the word along.

For more information about the Th.M. program, check out the following pages:

6 things we can learn about worship from the Dark Ages

Yesterday’s post on 9 things worship leaders need to stop doing raised a number of concerns about modern worship practices. But, as I was reflecting on those issues a bit more, I realized how similar some of them are to difficulties that the church has faced before. And, if God’s people have dealt with these challenges before, wouldn’t it make sense to take a look back and see what we can learn?

So, I thought it would be interesting to start a short series on what we can learn as we wrestle with some of the same challenges in a new historical context. Specifically, I want to look at challenges that developed in the church’s worship practices during the early middle ages, particularly as they relate to the Eucharist (communion), and how that can help us understand the difficulties we encounter today.

For those of you who aren’t into church history, I realize this might sound a little abstract. What could we possible learn from the “Dark Ages.” Well, first, “Dark Ages” is a horrible label for this time period. Far from being a time of unrelieved darkness, the early middle ages are a fascinating time of exploration and discovery in the face of tremendous challenges. But, more importantly, regardless of what we call this time period, it’s still a time in which God’s people sought to carry out God’s purposes in God’s world. Unless we want to believe that God abandoned his people during this time (he didn’t), then we should still be able to learn plenty. So, stick with me.

Here’s what I have in mind. As we look at the eucharistic practices of the early medieval church, we’ll find them wrestling with 6 key issues that I think have parallels to today’s worship struggles. I’ll tackle these one at a time over the next week or so and see what we come up with.

  1. The Difficulty of Language
  2. The Problem of Attendance
  3. The Role of the Visual
  4. The Complexity of Worship
  5. The Design of the Churches
  6. The Understanding of the Act

9 things worship leaders need to stop doing

We ask a lot from our worship leaders today. They’re not just song leaders anymore. Instead, they’re supposed to craft and lead worship “experiences” that people walk away from saying, “Wow! I really met with God this morning.” So basically, they have to create worship so amazing that God actually shows up, because apparently God doesn’t attend the really boring services down the street.

So, worship leaders have a tough job. And, having served as the worship leader in a number of venues over the years, I understand what that job is like. So, I don’t want to pick on worship leaders any more than absolutely necessary.

But, I really enjoyed Philip Nation’s recent article on 9 Thoughts for Worship Leaders. He does a nice job highlighting a number of mistakes that we can make when we forget that we are “leading” others in worship – i.e. we’re not just doing what we like or what sounds good. And consequently, we have to keep in mind the people that we are leading.

Check out the article to see all of his comments, but here were a couple that really resonated with me.

2. We don’t sing La-La-La.

For some reason, songwriters will substitute words with Ooh’s, Aah’s, and La’s of different progressions and combinations. Though it may sound really cool on the radio, most of us just feel stupid standing around singing La-La-La-La. And, anyway, it doesn’t feel like worship when I’m just cooing like a baby at God.

4. Stop singing in the key of “Tomlin.”

Let me say it plainly: if the worship leader is singing toward the top of his/her vocal range, then you have left everyone behind about seven bars ago. If you can sing like Jason Crabb or Chris Tomlin, that’s great. For you.

9. Love Jesus more than music.

All leaders face the temptation to love their work for God more than God Himself. It is our own temptation toward idolatry. To speakers, I would say that they should love Jesus more than their words about Him. For worship leaders, love God more than the music about Him. No matter what else happens on the platform, it will be obvious where your passion rests.

Although I think there are a number of other things that could be added (e.g. we need to stop referring to ourselves as the “worship” leader if we’re only responsible for music), he does a nice job of highlighting some issues worth considering.

9. Love Jesus more than music.

Nation somehow shocked by human nature again

The satirical “news” site The Onion posted great piece yesterday on our incredible ability to view sinful behavior as abnormal despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Despite there being nothing unusual about the incident in Brandon, the media has descended upon the small town in droves, somehow finding a way to portray the event as if it were a novel phenomenon or some sort of aberration within human society, an assertion that even a cursory glimpse at the species’ violent past would immediately disprove.

There is, of course, truth in the idea that some acts are more heinous than others. But, we do maintain an incredibly optimistic outlook on human behavior, an optimism that causes us to be constantly surprised when the reality of sin confronts us in unavoidable ways.

5 things I learned about the Gospel from a serial killer

He’s a really nice guy – generous, kind, neat, and patient.  He works for the police, catches bad guys for a living, and in his spare time…he murders people.

I just finished watching season 1 of Dexter, a Showtime series about a serial killer. Well, to be fair, he’s more of a psychopathic vigilante. Because of a traumatic childhood experience, Dexter is unable to feel real human emotion, has no sense of right and wrong, and possesses a deep-seated need to kill people. But, fortunately for him, he was adopted by a well-intentioned police officer and raised to channel his violent tendencies in “healthier” directions – i.e. only killing people who really deserve it.

I don’t want to comment on the entire series. In many ways, it’s very well done – especially the acting, writing, and directing. At the same time it is violent, graphic, and disturbing. So, it’s definitely a watch-at-your-own-risk kind of show.

But ironically, as I was watching the show, I realized that it had a lot to say about the Gospel.

  • We’re all broken. Dexter is clearly broken, an emotionless murderer incapable of developing real connections with other people. But, one of the show’s clearest messages is that we’re all broken (selfish, overly ambitious, narcissistic, violent, insecure, lonely, etc.). Indeed, in some ways Dexter comes across as being “healthier” than the others because he at least recognizes his brokenness and deals with it head on. In the end, we’re all in the same broken boat.
  • We all learn to cope with our brokenness. Dexter learned to deal with his brokenness by pretending to be normal, and he was quite good at it. As the show progresses, though, you begin to realize that all the characters are pretending. They’re all trying to find ways of coping with their brokenness by hiding behind masks and activities. They all find ways of hiding from the terrible reality of their lives just long enough to make it through another day.
  • Coping is lonely. It’s interesting that Dexter’s biggest problem is not that he’s a serial killer; that’s just his reality and something he needs to live with. His biggest problem is that he’s alone. He’s convinced that he’s so broken, no one else could possibly understand him. And, although he’s good enough at faking “normal” to be in a dating relationship, he realizes that it’s not true intimacy. But, what he doesn’t understand is that everyone has the same problem. Because they’re all hiding behind their coping masks, broken by shame and guilt, they’re all alone in their own ways.
  • Everyone longs for “normal.” At a deep level, the show is really about hope. Although everyone and everything in the show is broken, they all hold onto the hope that there’s more out there. There’s this illusory thing called “normal” that no one ever seems to achieve, but that you should strive for nonetheless. And, it’s this hope for “normal” that keeps them all pushing forward.
  • You can’t fix the brokenness with more brokenness. Thus, each of the characters in the show remains somewhat heroic. Striving for “normal,” they’re not content with the brokenness and constantly seek to put things right. But, like Dexter, the only tools they have at their disposal arise from their own broken state. So, no matter how hard they try, things stay broken. Indeed, their efforts often leave things more broken than when they started. Thus, although the show is about hope, it is a vain and illusory hope.

Sadly, that’s as far as the story gets. In Dexter, the Good News is….well, there really isn’t any. There’s hope, but it’s never realized, constantly blocked by the reality of brokenness. The best that we get (at least by the end of season 1) is the “good news” that if you try really hard you can learn to fake “normal” well enough to make it through another day.

So, in the end, I really didn’t learn that much about the good news from Dexter. But, the show certainly does a good job drawing you inside the broken reality of the world so that you really begin to see the desperate need for the Good News that is out there.

Mapping the spread of the printing press (1450-1500)

Here’s an interesting graphic showing the spread of the printing press right before the Reformation. It’s amazing to see how rapidly the printing press spread in late-medieval Europe and how it set the stage to distribute the writings of the Reformers as quickly as possible.

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click to embiggen

HT 22 Words

Jesus in every book of the Bible – from an 11 year old

In an age where most kids would be hard pressed even to name the books of the Bible, here’s an 11 year-old doing a walk-through of where you can see Jesus in every book of the Bible.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhVrcV6WmfQ&feature=player_embedded#at=119

HT Joe Carter

Flotsam and jetsam (evening edition)


As I mentioned a few days ago, I had to put flotsam and jetsam on hiatus for a while so I could focus on some other projects. But, after several appreciative comments and emails, I’ve decided to try a few evening editions. I still won’t be putting these out on a daily basis, but hopefully this is better than pausing the posts altogether.

Ordinarily when we speak of “the Bible as literature” we mean the literary nature of the Bible itself.  My venture in this essay provides another angle on the concept of “the Bible as literature.”  I have explored what the biblical teaching on justification looks like when it is transmuted into works of imaginative literature–the Bible as literature, that is, as imaginative literature composed by extrabiblical authors.

  • Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article on Baylor University’s decision to open up more of its board to non-Baptists. (See also Al Mohler’s comments on the secularization of religious schools).

While a number of Baptist colleges and universities in recent years have loosened or ended ties to state Baptist conventions, the move by Baylor is notable because it is widely considered the flagship university of Southern Baptists. The move came despite opposition from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which last year voted down a similar proposal by Houston Baptist University to permit the election of a minority of non-Baptist trustees there, with church leaders arguing at the time that allowing non-Baptist trustees would dilute the university’s religious identity.

Thousands of defiant protesters in Iran‘s capital have clashed with security officials as they marched in a banned rally. One person was reported killed, with dozens injured and many more arrested.

Push-up bras, pedicures, hip-hop dance classes: These are now the social currency of the under-10 set. What happened? And how can we help our girls stay girls for longer?

Water, spirit, and life: dry bones made new again

You’re standing by the Jordan River waiting for your turn. In the middle of the river, John the Baptist is just straightening up from baptizing your friend Joseph, water streaming down his arms and dripping from his beard onto Joseph’s head.

Suddenly John stiffens, eyes wide with surprise.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn. 1:29)

Um, what now?

This is the One? Are you sure? After all this time, could it really be?

Well, if it’s actually him, then surely he’ll do something cool next—fight some Romans, make water flow from a rock, or eat a locust. Well, maybe not the locust. John does that a lot, and it’s pretty disgusting.

And then the weirdest thing happens, not what you were expecting at all.

The One gets baptized (Mt. 3:13-17).

And, as he rises from the water, what looks a bit like a dove—only more ethereal and glorious—comes down from the sky and settles around his head and shoulders. Could that really be the Spirit of God? What’s going on here? Who is this guy?

Then.…the voice.

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Do you see what’s happening here? Water, spirit, life. The Spirit of God descending on the Son of God to bring the life of God to the people of God. The Promised One is here!

That’s why John the Baptist gets so excited when he says that this is the one who would come and baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Without the Spirit no one can enter into the Kingdom (Jn. 3:5) because the Kingdom is all about God’s people being brought to life by God’s Spirit so that they manifest God’s glory in creation. And, Jesus is the one who gives the Spirit to God’s people without measure (Jn. 3:34) because he is the one who is full of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Jesus is the Promised One who brings Spirit and life into the world again.

To a woman caught in a spiral of sin and shame, Jesus offered himself as the living water who would restore her to true life eternally (Jn. 4:14). To a crowd more interested in the spectacular and the miraculous, Jesus offered himself as the bread of life who would satisfy their deepest cravings (Jn. 6:35). To a woman crushed with grief over the death of a loved one, Jesus offered himself as the resurrection and the life—the one who would defeat death and bring hope to a people lost in despair (Jn. 11:25).

Water, spirit, and life returned to a broken world.

And, Jesus brought new life for the whole person. The lame walk, the blind see, the leper is healed…broken bodies restored to life. This wasn’t just some “spiritual” life that renewed our inner selves but left the rest of us relatively untouched. No, when Jesus offers new life, it’s new life for our whole being.

Dry bones. Everywhere you look, the lifeless bones of your people. Dead. Empty. Hopeless.

Then He comes.

And everywhere he goes, spirit and life seep into the parched skin of a once-dead people. He spreads it around like an overly exuberant flower girl at a wedding, unabashedly scattering multicolored petals of joy on the surprised guests.

God promised. Jesus came. Life returns.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

Happy Valentines – Zombie Style

Just because I didn’t want to let this special holiday go entirely unrecognized.