Archive by Author

Matter Matters to God

“Matter matters to God. It’s what the sacraments teach: bread and wine and water and oil and hands matter to God.”

That’s one of the better quotes in this beautiful video on the fact that matter and flesh matter to God, and why that should matter to us. Other great lines include “God cares about your nostrils” and “Our souls have fingerprints all over them.”

Check it out and let me know what you think.

ARVE Error: The Vimeo endpoint located at returned a 404 error.
Details: Not Found

Flotsam and jetsam (1/28)

HT Tim Challies

Good Reads

  • How difficulty nourishes creativity: Robert Frost famously quipped, “I’d no sooner write free verse than play tennis with the net down.” Frost had meter; Christian leaders have budget shortfalls and funding stipulations or liturgical formulae and intractable congregations. Such difficulties offer the gift of rough ground against which we find traction to press forward to solutions, and learning to receive such resistance as a gift is the heart of “traditioned innovation.”
  • Divine Rhetoric: God In The Inaugural Address: In modern times, religion has become so intertwined in our political rhetoric that the failure of any president to invoke God in a speech as important as the inaugural could hardly escape notice. Thanks to this graphic in The Wall Street Journal, we noticed the presidents who did (nearly all) and the few who didn’t (Teddy Roosevelt, Rutherford B. Hayes).
  • Secret Fears of Your Pastor: The bottom line for many pastors…is that they are afraid to level with their people — person to person.

Continue Reading…

When You Just Can’t Pray

Sometimes silence is the best you can do. Maybe you want to pray and just don’t know how. Maybe the press of life is so bad that you’re not even sure you want to pray. Either way, the prayers won’t come. You’re stuck. Now what?

prayer, priesthood of christ, christ's priesthood, jesus christ priest, intercession

According to Alan Torrance, this is where we need to understand the priesthood of Christ. That’s the core argument of a paper he recently presented at the first Los Angeles Theology Conference. Torrance argues that we focus too much on the priesthood of all believers, shifting attention away from Christ as the one mediator between humans and God, and placing the individual at the center of his/her own spiritual life. As he says early in the paper:

The priesthood of Christ was replaced by a quasi-democratic focus on the priesthood of all believers. The impact of this on the shape of evangelical worship…has been immense. As a result, the focus in the practice of worship and in our understanding of prayer was transferred to the individual, to the self. I become my own priest, the sole mediator of my own worship.

In other words, when I am my own priest, I am solely responsible for making sure that my offering of worship is adequate, leaving me wracked with questions about the quality of my own spirituality: did I pray earnestly enough? did I worship sincerely enough? did I repent contritely enough? And what about those times when I’m not even sure how to pray and worship, those times when I’m overwhelmed by the tragic realities of living in a broken world, shattered and unable to serve as my own priest. What then?

Continue Reading…

Flotsam and jetsam (1/23)

Coincidence? I think not.

Good Reads

  • As public religion declines, faith goes to the movies: The point is not that these movies are pro-Christian, or pro any other religion for that matter. Some of them are most definitely not. Still, it is striking how persistently we, as a culture, are addressing faith and spirituality in our films even as institutional religion recedes from our public lives.
  • On the Necessity of Theological Courage in the Public Square: In the grand Christian ethical tradition, prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude or ‘courage’ have formed what are called the cardinal virtues, from the Latin meaning ‘the hinge of the door.’ According to our guides, all other virtues “hinge” upon practicing these virtues as necessary for experiencing the moral life.
  • Reading Luther Wisely But Well:  Luther is a complex thinker whose writings in the hands of the inept enthusiast fulfill a function analogous to that of a cut-throat razor in the hands of a child who wants to emulate his father’s morning routine ‘so as to be just like daddy.’ The result can be messy and sometimes dangerous.

Continue Reading…

How Imagination Shapes Your Brain

Did you know that you can get better at playing the piano just by thinking about it? That may sound like the beginning to a bad infomercial for a self-help seminar on the power of positive thinking, but according to recent research, it’s true. Thinking about an activity triggers the same part of the brain used when actually performing that activity, thus strengthening the neural structures associated with that activity and actually improving performance when you finally get around to doing more than just thinking about it. And you do have to perform the activity eventually, of course. Just thinking about it will only take you so far. But the fact that just thinking about the activity has any impact on performance is a testimony to how much we can impact our own brains through our thoughts.

I guess it really is the thought that counts.

Check out the video below for a nice introduction to the research. Although the video focuses specifically on using imagination to improve performance of specific tasks, it seems to have pretty obvious implications for how thinking about pretty much anything for extended periods can affect our brains. This could be quite positive (e.g. meditating on scripture), but similar research documents the negative impact that prolonged exposure to pornography can have on the brain. So this is just another reminder that our thoughts matter.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/21)

One of my favorite Calvin strips.

Good Reads

  • Chronicling Porn’s Damaging Effects: Last year, ExtremeTech ran a piece on some of the largest porn sites, to see how much traffic they generate, and the numbers they uncovered were simply staggering. One such site served over 100 million page views a day, which translated into 950 terabytes of data (most of it video) every single day… and this was only the second biggest porn site in the world.
  • A Fresh Look at Small Groups: Adult formation is the most broken part of the system. What the church has done is treat all adults the same. All adults are lumped together in terms of faith formation.
  • Why I Offer Clean Needles in Jesus’ Name: A clean needle is often that next teeny, tiny step forward. When the clients are met by volunteers who have walked the road of addiction and have emerged on the other side, a redemptive and profound connection emerges. As “sketchy” and misunderstood as this kind of work can be, it is undeniable that there is a redemptive element at work.
  • Five Reasons to Read the Heidelberg Catechism This Year: If you love the Heidelberg Catechism and have for a long time, read it again this year. If you learned the Heidelberg Catechism years ago and dismissed it as cruel and unusual punishment, give it another chance. If “Heidelberg” sounds like a disease to you and catechism sounds as thrilling as detasseling corn, try it anyway.

Continue Reading…

A Prayer for Sunday (Gregory of Nazianzus)

Keeping with the theme from the last couple of weeks, today’s prayer comes from the third of the great Cappadocian fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus. Like his friends Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus was a staunch supporter of Nicene trinitarianism and a leading theology of the fourth century. Indeed, his influence on Christian theology and worship was so great that is revered in the east as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs.

Although there is some question as to the exact date of Gregory’s death, it is likely that he died on January 25 in 389 or 390. So this Sunday’s prayer comes from him in memory of his amazing life.

Continue Reading…

Flotsam & Jetsam (1/18)

Sounds like fun.

Good Reads

  • Theology and Doxology: Theology that doesn’t make us sing has failed in its mission, no matter how correct it may be. Worship that doesn’t take us deeper into Christ has also failed, no matter how glorious the music or how applicable the sermon.
  • Church Tribalization: The staggering amount of choice and customization we encounter in daily life allows us to construct a reality that can be quite different from the realities of our neighbors. And when that combines with the ability to surround ourselves, whether virtually or in reality, with others who think and believe just as we do, we form our own tribes that, naturally, view the others with contempt and suspicion.
  • 10 Things I Guarantee You’ll Never Say: I love to drink mediocre coffee. No you don’t. Nobody does. Which is why when I have people over to my house, I serve the best stuff that I’ve got. Or I go get my hands on the best stuff I can find. All coffee is not created equal.

Continue Reading…

Flotsam and jetsam (1/16)

It's a trap!

Good Reads

  • Are Babies Born Good? Where morality comes from is a really hard problem….There isn’t a moral module that is there innately. But the elements that underpin morality—altruism, sympathy for others, the understanding of other people’s goals—are in place much earlier than we thought, and clearly in place before children turn 2
  • Scientific evidence that you probably don’t have free will: (As with much popular science writing, the title of this one is overblown. But the article is still worth reading.) As the early results of scientific brain experiments are showing, our minds appear to be making decisions before we’re actually aware of them — and at times by a significant degree. It’s a disturbing observation that has led some neuroscientists to conclude that we’re less in control of our choices than we think — at least as far as some basic movements and tasks are concerned.

Continue Reading…

Questioning the Call

Sitting on the dock, looking out over the still, dark waters of the lake, I just knew. It wasn’t surprising; I’d been toying with the idea for almost a year. But now, after much prayer, and at the end of an especially meaningful retreat, everything was clear. My mind relaxed, the decision made: I was going into ministry.

I can still remember that easy certainty, the calm assurance that this was what I supposed to do. In hindsight, it’s a little surprising how quickly I set aside my other plans and launched into ministry preparation. At the time, though, nothing could have been more obvious.

Three years later, everything was different.

It was late, well after midnight, and the church was empty. All the kids had gone home hours ago. But I was still in my office, alone with my questions: Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing with my life? Why is it so hard? Why am I so drained? Am I cut out for this?

At first I was so sure. But now, just a few short years later, that quiet confidence eluded my anxious grasp. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. Maybe I was never really called to ministry.

This is the beginning of my most recent post over at Please head over there to read the rest.