“This is when you know we’re going to hell.”

This was too much fun to pass up. I’m not sure what profitable use this could possibly be in your ministry, but I’m sure you could come up with something if you really tried. Thanks to Jim West for posting this and providing us all with an enjoyable (and devastating) two minutes.

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Gollum saves the day

I’m a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But, one thing always confused me. Why did he call the last book The Return of the King? If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know that the title refers to the fact that the kingdom of Gondor has been without its rightful king for a very long time. And, the true king of Gondor, Aragorn, has not yet returned to claim the kingdom as his inheritance. So, from the title, you presume that the heart of the book will be the return of Aragorn to reestablish the kingdom of Gondor.

And, in one of the story’s climactic scenes, that’s exactly what happens. A huge army of vicious, ugly orcs has invaded Gondor and looks certain to destroy its capital city, slaughtering all of the Gondorians (Gondorites? Gondorans? Gondor-people?) along the way. At the last possible second, Aragorn and his companions arrive on a fleet of black-sailed ships. Leaping from the side of the ship, Aragorn stares down the waiting orcs before unleashing his own army of ghost-soldiers (it’s complicated) to destroy the opposing army and save the besieged humans.

The king has returned.

Big deal.

The story isn’t even close to being over. Indeed, there’s an even larger orc-army just waiting to be unleashed on the humans. And, they haven’t faced the evil overlord, Sauron, who is behind all of this in the first place.

So, the good news is…the king is back. The bad news is…you’re about to be eaten by an orc anyway.

The story doesn’t seem to find its true resolution until the Ring of Power, which Sauron needs to sustain his awesome evilness, is destroyed by being tossed into the depths of a powerful volcano. Actually, it doesn’t really get tossed into the volcano. Technically, one of the more interesting characters in the story, Gollum, steals the ring and while triumphantly dancing around with glee, he falls into the fiery volcano with the ring clutched in his greedy little hands. (The moral of the story, of course, is that one should never dance near open volcanoes.) And, once the ring is destroyed, Sauron dies and his orc armies are finally vanquished.

So, the real hero of the story is…Gollum. After all, he’s the one who destroys the ring and defeats Sauron. The evil one is defeated. Victory is won. Let’s go home.

So, why does Tolkien call this book The Return of the King? Why not Gollum Saves the Day? Wouldn’t that be a more fitting description of the book’s real climax? Not for Tolkien. Killing Sauron isn’t really the point. Sauron needs to be defeated, of course. But, that’s just one part of a much larger story—the restoration of the kingdom. That’s why Tolkien continues the story even after Sauron dies, telling us about Aragorn getting married, establishing his kingdom, and ruling for a nice, long time. That’s the good news. Killing bad guys is one thing. But unless the king returns and establishes the kingdom, things still won’t be the way they’re supposed to be. It’s only when the kingdom comes that you have all the blessings of the kingdom: peace, justice, prosperity, pretty elf-wife—shalom.

The good news is about the return of the king.

Flotsam and jetsam (on hiatus)

I hate to say it, but I’m going to have to put flotsam and jetsam on hiatus for a little while.  For the next few weeks, I really need to put some additional time into working on the Gospel book (which, by the way, still doesn’t have a title other than “Gospel book”) and prepping for my Jonathan Edwards seminar this summer. Mornings are the best time for me to do that, but that’s also when I’ve been putting the flotsam and jetsam posts together. I may try to switch things around and do some evening editions of flotsam and jetsam so that I don’t have to stop them entirely, but we’ll see how that goes.

And, so I don’t leave you entirely without something to reflect upon this morning, here’s an interesting graphic of God’s power over time.

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HT James McGrath via Facebook

Children asking awesomely awkward questions about Jesus

Apparently this is from the show Outnumbered, which I know absolutely nothing about except that it has some terrificly obnoxious kids asking some weird questions about Jesus. (HT 22 Words)

My favorite comes right at the end: “What would Jesus do if he were attacked by a polar bear?”

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQak6ng0RXQ&feature=player_embedded

A call for renewal in the Presbyterian Church (USA)

A number of pastors in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have joined together to issue a call for renewal in the denomination. Scot McKnight posted the letter this morning on his blog, and it has sparked some interesting discussion. The letter itself offers an outline for denominational renewal in general, though some of it is specific to its Presbyterian context.

I’ve posted the full text of the letter below (minus signatories). What do you think? Are “denominations” worth renewing? Can they be renewed like this? Is the letter missing anything necessary for such a renewal?

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A Letter to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

February 2, 2011

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

To say the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is deathly ill is not editorializing but acknowledging reality.  Over the past year, a group of PC(USA) pastors has become convinced that to remain locked in unending controversy will only continue a slow demise, dishonor our calling, and offer a poor legacy to those we hope will follow us. We recently met in Phoenix, and have grown in number and commitment. We humbly share responsibility for the failure of our common life, and are no better as pastors nor more righteous than anyone on other sides of tough issues.

Our denomination has been in steady decline for 45 years, now literally half the size of a generation ago.  Most congregations see far more funerals than infant baptisms because we are an aging denomination. Only 1,500 of our 5,439 smallest churches have an installed pastor, putting their future viability as congregations in doubt. Even many larger congregations, which grew well for decades, have hit a season of plateau or decline.  Our governing bodies reflect these trends, losing financial strength, staffing, and viability as presbyteries, synods, and national offices.

How we got to this place is less important than how to move forward. We are determined to get past rancorous, draining internal disputes that paralyze our common life and ministry. We believe the PC(USA) will not survive without drastic intervention, and stand ready to DO something different, to thrive as the Body of Christ. We call others of like mind to envision a new future for congregations that share our Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical heritage. If the denomination has the ability and will to move in this new direction, we will rejoice.  Regardless, a group of us will change course, forming a new way for our congregations to relate.  We hate the appearance of schism – but the PC(USA) is divided already. Our proposal only acknowledges the fractured denomination we have become.

Homosexual ordination has been the flashpoint of controversy for the last 35 years.  Yet, that issue – with endless, contentious “yes” and “no” votes – masks deeper, more important divisions within the PC(USA).  Our divisions revolve around differing understandings of Scripture, authority, Christology, the extent of salvation amidst creeping universalism, and a broader set of moral issues. Outside of presbytery meetings, we mostly exist in separate worlds, with opposing sides reading different books and journals, attending different conferences, and supporting different causes. There is no longer common understanding of what is meant by being “Reformed.”  Indeed, many sense that the only unity we have left is contained in the property clause and the pension plan; some feel like withholding per capita is a club used against them, while others feel locked into institutional captivity by property. While everyone wearies of battles over ordination, these battles divert us from a host of issues that affect the way our congregations fail to attract either young believers or those outside the faith. Thus, we age, shrink, and become increasingly irrelevant.  Is it time to acknowledge that traditional denominations like the PC(USA) have served in their day but now must be radically transformed?

We need something new, characterized by:

  1. A clear, concise theological core to which we subscribe, within classic biblical, Reformed/Evangelical traditions, and a pledge to live according to those beliefs, regardless of cultural pressures to conform;
  2. A commitment to nurture leadership in local congregations, which we believe is a primary expression of the Kingdom of God.  We will identify, develop, and train a new generation of leaders – clergy and laity;
  3. A passion to share in the larger mission of the people of God around the world, especially among the least, the lost, and the left behind;
  4. A dream of multiplying healthy, missional communities throughout North America;
  5. A pattern of fellowship reflecting the realities of our scattered life and joint mission, with regular gatherings locally, regionally, and nationally to excite our ability to dream together.

Our values include:

  1. A minimalist structure, replacing bureaucracy and most rules with relational networks of common purpose;
  2. Property and assets under stewardship of the local Session.  Dues/Gifts for common administration should only allow and enable continued affiliation among these congregations;
  3. Rather than large institutions, joint ventures with specialized ministries as congregations deem helpful [PC(USA) World Mission may be a source of joint support, aspects of the Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Global Fellowship, Presbyterians for Renewal conferences, Outreach Foundation, etc.];
  4. An atmosphere of support for congregations both within and outside of the PC(USA).

We invite like-minded pastors and elders to a gathering on August 25-27 in Minneapolis to explore joining this movement and help shape its character.  Our purpose is to LIVE INTO new patterns as they are created, modeling a way of faith: the worship, supportive fellowship, sharing of best practices, and accessible theology that brings unity and the Spirit’s vitality.

OUR PROPOSAL:

  1. A Fellowship: The most immediate change we intend is creating a new way of relating in common faith, a Fellowship (name to be determined). The primary purpose of this Fellowship will be the encouragement of local congregations to live out the Good News proclaimed by our Savior, increasing the impact of the Kingdom of Heaven.   This Fellowship will exist within current presbyteries for the time being, but energies and resources will flow in new directions.  It is an intermediate tool to bring together like-minded congregations and pastors, to enable us to build a future different than our fractured present.
  2. New Synod/Presbyteries: In the near future we will need “middle bodies” that offer freedom to express historical, biblical values amid ordination changes in the PC(USA).  More importantly, we long for presbytery-like bodies with theological and missional consensus rather than fundamental disagreement over so many core issues.  We need new processes that identify and support the next generation of leadership differently than the current model, which unintentionally weeds out the entrepreneurial persons we so desperately need in our congregations.  Many current functions should be removed; some, like curriculum and mission relationships, have become less centralized already.  We will work with the Middle Governing Bodies Commission since changes to The Book of Order will be needed to step fully into this reality.
  3. Possible New Reformed Body: Congregations and presbyteries that remain in a denomination that fundamentally changes will become an insurmountable problem for many. Some members of the Fellowship will need an entity apart from the current PC(USA). It is likely that a new body will need to be created, beyond the boundary of the current PC(USA), while remaining in correspondence with its congregations.  The wall between these partner Reformed bodies will be permeable, allowing congregations and pastors to be members in the Fellowship regardless of denominational affiliation.  All kinds of possibilities exist, and much will depend on how supportive the PC(USA) can be in allowing something new to flourish.
  4. Possible Reconfiguration of the PC(USA): We intend to continue conversations within the PC(USA), and have met with both Louisville’s leadership and that of the Covenant Network in the past few months.  We believe the denomination no longer provides a viable future and perceive that the Covenant Network also sees a broken system.  We hope to work together to see if some new alignment might serve the whole Church.

Any model that includes an entity outside the PC(USA) does mean fewer remaining congregations, pastors, and elders to fight the challenges of the current PC(USA).  Votes will swing in directions that had not been desirable before.  For many this outcome simply acknowledges that fighting is not the way we choose to proceed; our goal is not institutional survival but effective faithfulness as full participants in the worldwide Church.  We hope to discover and model what a new “Reformed body” looks like in the coming years, and we invite you to join us, stepping faithfully, boldly, and joyfully into the work for which God has called us.

The importance of reading strategically

One of the greatest frustrations many students have is the overwhelming feeling that they have more to read than could possibly be digested in a single, human lifespan. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it feels like that at times. How do you work your way through that stack of books, articles, and handouts while retaining some small shred of sanity?

Fred Sanders was recently interviewed about his reading habits, and in his response he offered some good advice for dealing with this very challenge – read strategically.

The most important advice I can give about reading is to make decisions in advance about what you want from the book you’re about to read. You’ve got to stay in charge, and not just let yourself accidentally fall into the reading experience. Before you really engage the book, decide if it’s the kind of book you need to read slowly, repeatedly, taking notes, and pondering. Or is it the kind of book that covers familiar territory and will only offer a few new details? Is it a book you want to immerse yourself in and get lost in, or the kind you want to dip into for bits of information? Or is it a book that you need to figure out so you can put it on your shelf and know how to use it for reference later on? Some books contain analysis and perspectives that are brand new for you, and require slow assimilation. But others just confirm, deepen, or extend things you already know. And it’s fine to read for fun and entertainment, or even to read haphazardly. But you need to have made a decision that you’re going to do so. There are some books that I’m done with in 90 minutes, because I already knew what was in them before I picked them up, and I got everything I needed from them in a short encounter. I’m not an especially fast reader, but I do read strategically.

Flotsam and jetsam (2/9)

These four qualities are indispensable to good preaching, but some are more indispensable than others. The farther you go down the list, the harder the traits come. But the good news is it’s the top of the list that matter most.

To say the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is deathly ill is not editorializing but acknowledging reality.

If the phrase “son of God” is tantamount to blasphemy to Muslims, is it acceptable to translate the phrase differently into Arabic in the name of making the gospel known?

  • Patheos is adding another new blog, and this one looks like it could be very interesting. Evangelical Crossroads features Mark Russell (Asbury), Allen Yeh (Biola), Michelle Sanchez, Michelle Stearns (Mars Hill), and Dwight Friesen (Mars Hill). (HT)

How to Placate the Typography Gods

Here are some good tips for keeping an editor (or picky professor) happy with your writing projects. (HT 22 Words)

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2011 Desiring God Conference sessions online