Recommended Reading Round-up

1) The significance of ritual in and out of church:
This PIECE from a Lutheran blogger reflects upon the importance of ritual and formality in light of a firefighters' memorial ceremony and in light of the ways that "worship wars" are playing out in his own denomination.  Good stuff here that I wish more American Christians would consider.

2) The rise of the Intolerant Left:
Many have been commenting in recent weeks about how 'illiberal' liberalism seems to have become in our nation.  Was all that talk about tolerance and inclusion and respect for all peoples was just a smokescreen to disarm critics until the Sexual Revolution had gained enough power to simply impose its views and silence all dissenters?  Or will an empowered left reclaim the classic "progressive" values of freedom of thought, speech, and expression along with freedom and protection for dissenters and minorities?  A Christianity Today article explores these issues HERE.

3) Jeb Bush's comments on Religion and Freedom:
In connection with #2 above, THIS article at The Federalist discusses Jeb Bush's comments about the positive contributions that Christianity has made to American culture (quoting everyone from Chesterton to MLKjr) and the importance of freedom of religion, as he tries to court evangelical voters at Liberty University.

4) Memorializing a good Oak Tree:
THIS piece at the ever-thought-provoking Front Porch Republic site explores our human condition in connection to place and time as it reflects on what to do when an historic oak tree at the center of town dies.

5) Finally, Why ISIS is winning:
And what the world should be doing to stop it, HERE.  I've been saying in conversations and on this blog that I believe ISIS and its allies form the most purely demonic political and military movement in our world since the days of Hitler and Stalin.  What is perhaps even more shocking than the rapid rise and expansion of ISIS - which by some estimates now has some 100,000 fighters and controls a territory the size of Indiana - is the halfhearted response of the West.  I understand the reasons for caution.  Our ill-conceived adventures in the Middle East are likely one factor that contributed to the rise of ISIS to begin with.  Yet surely the world's most powerful nation cannot stand by wringing its hands while the Islamic State establishes itself as a permanent 'state of Terror,' founded on the blood of tens of thousands of innocents, and implacably opposed to human rights for anyone and everyone who does not share their own ideology of militant Islam?

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Recommended Reading Round-up

I've made something of a commitment to myself to spend more time focused on fewer hobbies and activities, which is one reason I have not been blogging so much in recent months, and that blog posts are not as long as they often were in years past (this blog is actually approaching it's 10th Anniversary!!).

Though not writing as much on this forum, I still want this to be a place where serious ideas are shared.  Since I still read a good many (perhaps too many) online articles - from news and political analysis to theology and philosophy - I have decided to start a doing "Round-up" posts with links and brief summaries of the most interesting or significant articles I've read in recent days.  I've done this before, but now it will be a regular feature of this blog (or such is the plan).

So, here is today's Round-up of Recommended Reading:

1) Young adults and Church:
There has been much wringing of hands over the much-discussed decline of Christian faith among young people (or at least, the decline in the number who identify with traditional denominational labels when surveyed by pollsters - God only knows about faith).  Should we become more liberal on sexual morals since that is in fact where many younger people are on those issues?  Or should we become more conservative since it is in fact the more conservative congregations and denominations that are actually reaching and keeping younger people for Christ?  Along side this debate we've also seen on-going debates about whether churches should adopt more liturgical or more contemporary/rock-music type worship services in order to keep younger folks in church.

Yet, according to the Huffington Post, research has revealed many of these debates might largely be "adventures in missing the point."   The single strongest indicator of whether younger people will become and remain committed Christians is whether their parents take the Christian faith seriously and promote faith in Christ at home.  Check out the article HERE.
So as a pastor may I ask: is it time for your family to establish a home altar or a family prayer time?  Do you ever discuss the significance of the Bible around the dinner table with your children?

2) When support for Gay 'Marriage' turns ugly (and irrational):
After the somewhat hysterical, but not always well-informed (but nevertheless politically successful) reaction to the religious freedom law in Indiana and other states, we've (thankfully) seen a bit more discussion in public forums about freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for religious and social conservatives, who are now a new minority in this country.
One such article was THIS ONE at The Week.  Ryan Anderson, a prominent, young, and articulate marriage traditionalist has been "shunned" by his Alma Mater because a vocal group of marriage liberals insisted on it.  The author of this piece is himself liberal on the marriage question, but wonders if we are seeing a movement in the direction of suppression of free and open debate of freely-expressed ideas.  He also wonders whether the ability of future generations to debate ideas reasonably will erode and indeed whether we will in fact raise up a generation of "cry-babies" unprepared for the challenges of the real world should our great institutions always give way to those who shout most loudly and frequently how 'offended' they are about whatever it is they happen to disagree with or dislike.

3) David Brooks' new book on Virtue and Character:
I must confess that I have always found David Brooks to be a refreshing voice in the contemporary media world.  He is one of the very few calm, thoughtful, and articulate conservatives who regularly gets a hearing on NPR and PBS.  I have also been intrigued for a while by the fact that Brooks is also Jewish, a child of Abraham.  The Christianity Today editors also apparently like him, because they've featured his new book on character HERE.

4) The Lasting Influence of the Inklings:
Dad sent me THIS somewhat long but very engaging piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education celebrating the lasting influence of the Inklings of Oxford - a group of Christian authors including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield among others.  Compared with their (at the time, more fashionable) secular counterparts in the literary world, the Inklings have had a greater influence on mainstream culture, and are coming to be more recognized in serious academic circles as well.

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Prayers for the Bible-preacher

When I was in high school I attended a "non-liturgical" and fiercely evangelical Baptist Church.  I put "non-liturgical" in quotes because, though that is how we would have thought of ourselves over against Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, we certainly had a very regular pattern - so much so that certain words and prayers were actually exactly the same from week to week.  Even though it was not written down  in a book or bulletin in front of us, it was a ritual liturgy.

Each week the service began with words from Psalm 122, "I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord..."  The number of hymns and general order of the service was exactly the same each week.
Each and every week the minister said the same prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, and asking for "clarity of thought and mind" before he began to preach his (often fiery) sermon.

Now that I do a lot of preaching, I have found myself coming back to certain prayers again and again as I prepare to study Scripture and as I prepare to write sermons.  Even to the point that I've written a few of them in the front of the journals that I use for making notes and sermon outlines.  So, here are the prayers I use most frequently.  You will note they either come directly from Scripture, or are taken from the rich and ancient liturgical tradition that is shared in common by Anglicans and Methodists. What are yours?

Prayers before studying the Bible:

O Lord, Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.  Amen.
                                 -Psalm 119:18

Blessed Lord, you have caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning.  Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.  Amen.
                                -United Methodist Hymnal, 602;
                                 taken from The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 236

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.  Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart...Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.  Amen.
                                -Psalm 119:33-34, 38

Prayers before writing the sermon:

O Lord, Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!  Amen.
                               -Psalm 90:16 & 17 (NRSV & ESV)

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings, with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
                               -United Methodist Hymnal, 705;
                                taken from The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 832

And, a reminder...
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
(Romans 10:17, KJV)

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Thinking theologically about how we 'do church'

Here is a video that I really liked from the President of Asbury seminary encouraging graduating students and pastors to think theologically through practical ideas like having "different worship style options" at church, while pointing out the tendency - at least among evangelicals - to address issues like this (and there are numerous other examples we might come upon) simply in terms of consumerism or marketing ("what do people want/what is the demand"), which leads to the "commodification" of the Gospel.

Challenging stuff here for the 21st Century American Christian.

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