Welcome Back

Wellll…

welcome back, one and all.

Hope you all had a great Christmas and are already making the most of 2010.

Yes, this is another boring housekeeping post. I think you can deal.

You may have noticed the new look. I’m not sure how I feel about it just yet, because like most people I fear change. You probably do too. And once again, you can deal.

Thanks to all of my faithful readers. At the end of the day, this blog exists as a means of disciplining myself to write about…well, if you’ve been reading long…everything.

And I realize that many of my pre-Christmas posts were pretty heavy and theological in nature, like – oh, I don’t know, the series of posts that all had latin names. Once again…deal (you’re starting to get it? Good).

I have lots of ideas for future posts. Tomorrow I’d like to address the heat over Tiger Woods being invited to turn to the Christian faith.

Look also for posts on a variety of subjects, including Christianity and singleness, Bifrost Arts (yes, another post – they’re that good), worship,theological issues affecting young Christians and

the Church and the arts.

I’d also like to dedicate a few posts to some of the links on my blogroll, some familiar, others requiring and deserving of more attention than they presently receive.

So stick around. Subscribe by email to stay “in the know.”

Happy Festivus!

 

Happy Festivus!

I think Festivus is a pertinent celebration to observe, given yesterday’s post on secularism and Christmas.

This post is mainly a piece of housekeeping, to announce that as of today I am taking a brief leave of absence from this blog until the New Year. New posts are currently planned to resume January 4. Until then, I encourage you to take the time to search through the archives (see the button on the sidebar).

As a parting gift, I took a bit of time to share a true story that reflects the tremendous gift of the incarnation. It appears below.

God bless you all and have a great Christmas and New Year.

Tri State Fellowship: The Mystery of the Manger

I wanted to take the time to encourage you to attend my home church’s Christmas production.  This year’s program is entitled “The Mystery of the Manger: It’s the Gospel Truth!!!” 

There are many talented, highly creative people at Tri State Fellowship, and I strongly encourage you to come out and see the fruits of their efforts. 

Shows will be at Tri State Fellowship (click here for directions) this Saturday and Sunday at 6:00 P.M.  Admission is free, so come out and bring your friends.

Advent and Incarnation

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Advent Season.  Advent is comprised of the four Sundays preceding the Christmas holiday.  Historically, Advent is the beginning of the church calendar for the Western church. It is both a remembrance of Christ’s arrival, as well as embracing the expectation of His imminent return. 

Advent is accompanied by many traditions, including the use of an Advent wreath to mark the occasion.  Each Sunday before Christmas, a new candle is lit: the first candle the first Sunday, then the first two candles the following Sunday, etc.

In some traditions, each candle has its own specific meaning.  The first candle is the “prophet’s candle,” followed by the “Bethlehem candle,” then the “shepherd’s candle” and then the “angel’s candle.”  Some traditions even light a fifth and final “Christ candle” on Christmas Sunday. 

The prophet’s candle was meant to symbolize the hopeful expectation of Christ’s arrival.  The post that follows shall be the first in an intermittent series celebrating the incarnation.

Shane Claiborne: His Letter to Unbelievers

Having put a good bit of time into a recent assignment for work, I’m too lazy to do any serious writing. 

So I pass on to you a letter appearing in Esquire magazine, written by Shane Claiborne.  Claiborne is well aware of the image problem facing contemporary Christianity, and this letter is written to all his “nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends.”

While I find myself in frequent opposition to Claiborne’s Campolo-inspired “radicalism,” I felt his letter was well handled.  Granted, the gospel is not presented (though you do find Claiborne’s strong social emphasis), but this is nonetheless a great example of pre-evangelism, and a powerful means of breaking down barriers in a culture that is so mistrustful of the contemporary church.  Click here to read the letter.

Cross Cultural, Part 6: Recommended Reading

Thank you for reading this series, and thanks again to Curtis Miller and ONE Worship for so kindly allowing me to share. 

Having completed our series, I wanted to offer a list of resources that will help you and further guide your thinking.  Some of the following books are intended to serve as introductory material; others are designed for those in leadership positions who wish to see their missional communities advance to the next level.  Click the titles to purchase any of these resources from Amazon.com.  

RESOURCES ON COLOSSIANS

Since we have spent such extensive time in Paul’s letter to Colosse, I thought I’d tip my hand and allow readers to become better acquainted with the specific resources I draw from.  All three commentaries listed reflect excellent, conservative scholarship.  I list them in order of difficulty. 

Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, N. T. Wright.  Wright has received heavy criticism for his “new perspective on Paul,” however this commentary does not reflect this.  This is an excellent, introductory level commentary whose greatest strength is in its brevity.  Wright lucidly and succinctly evaluates the argument of Paul’s letter in a format that – unlike the lengthier commentaries below – most will find highly readable and easy to follow. 

 The Epistles to Colossians, Philemon and to the Ephesians, F.F. Bruce.  Whenever you find anything by F. F. Bruce, you can be assured of good Biblical scholarship.  This commentary is a more technical commentary than Wright’s, making it an excellent resource.  Bruce analyzes the Greek text well, but the more technical comments are in the footnotes (a trademark of this particular commentary series), accessible to those with a background in the original language, without being an obstacle for those who do not. 

The Letters to Colossians and Philemon, Douglas J. Moo.  This is the most recent commentary on Colossians (and therefore the most expensive!).  Though less “devotional” than the other two commentaries, it is the most thorough of the three.  This is an excellent resource especially for pastors or lay teachers who wish to more fully explore the text.  Like Bruce, Moo deals with the original language, but it does not interfere with the readability of this commentary.

RESOURCES ON MISSIONAL LIVING

These resources are excellent examples of thought on living Christ’s mission in daily practice. 

Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out, Mark Driscoll.  Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle.  This book focuses on how a missional model has influenced the character of that church, and it is full of stories, testimonies and statistics regarding the intersection of the gospel and culture.  While written from the point of view of a lead pastor, it is a book for anyone with a desire to live their faith in an outwardly focused way, and is therefore the book I recommend first. 

Revolution, George Barna.  Barna draws from his extensive research in creating a book encouraging young people to move beyond the walls of the church and to “embody” the church instead.  The strength of Barna’s work is in its fidelity to the current state of culture and the church, though admittedly his work may seem to minimize the significance of the local church.  With a study guide available online, this may be an excellent tool for personal study or even a small group discussion. 

Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, Darrell L. Guder.  This is the most thorough of the three resources.  Guder meticulously analyzes the changing character of the North American church and describes the powerful influence of a missional ministry model on the ministry of the local church.  This is an excellent starting point for those wishing to delve even deeper into the principles of an outwardly-focused church.  Those wishing to read further could do no better than to consult The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church by Allen Hirsch.   

RESOURCES ON CULTURAL ANALYSIS

Many wish to better understand our culture but are unsure of where to start.  These resources offer an excellent starting point for a lifestyle (and lifetime) of cultural engagement. 

Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  This book is the resource for understanding our non-Christian neighbors – specifically of rising generations.  Each chapter focuses on one of the major negative perceptions of Christians (e.g., “too sheltered,” “too political,” etc.), featuring both testimonies and carefully gathered statistics.  This is an excellent portrait of the growing population of unbelievers in America today.  Those who appreciate this book will also appreciate Thom Rainer’s Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them

The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity Lite, Dick Staub.  Staub’s work offers a convicting, incisive critique of just how shallow contemporary culture – including the church – has become.  This is not a work that advocates being “culturally relevant” for the sake of being “trendy,” but rather offers a powerful, encouraging message of why Christians must reengage the world around them through culture and the arts in order to most fully realize our God-given humanity. 

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, Kevin Vanhoozer et al, eds.  Vanhoozer’s opening chapter lays out a detailed method for analyzing culture – a chapter well worth the price of admission.  The remainder of the book is a series of essays on various cultural issues (film, the blogosphere, funerals, etc.), applying Vanhoozer’s method to each.  This is one book in a larger series (those interested in film should consult Robert K. Johnson’s Reel Spirituality: Faith and Film in Dialogue), with other works on modern art, music and environmentalism

RESOURCES ON APOLOGETICS

As we seek to “season our speech with salt,” it will often become necessary to give “a reason for the hope” we possess (1 Pe 3:15).  I generally dislike apologetics resources as they often oversimplify issues to the point of obscurity (and only add fuel to the “culture war”).  However, these resources keenly and fairly address the issues we currently face as we navigate a culture of spiritual confusion.   

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller.  Any time an author is compared to C.S. Lewis, the expectations are high.  Keller meets and exceeds them with a book designed to both answer common objections to the Christian worldview as well as offer a well-reasoned defense of the Christian worldview.  Packed with illustrations, this is a great resource to read for yourself, or even to give to (and discuss with) your skeptical friends and neighbors. 

Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, James W. Sire.  Sire starts at the very beginning by addressing the fundamental question of worldview.  This treatment allows readers to better understand the philosophical underpinnings that give shape to the ideas and values expressed in our culture.  This analysis is continued in The Universe Next Door: Basic Worldviews Catalog, which outlines the basic belief systems of common worldviews (i.e., religions and philosophies). 

Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ, Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace.  Recent years have seen many attacks on the nature of the Biblical Christ (e.g., The Da Vinci Code, Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus, the infamous “Jesus tomb,” etc.), so much so that many Christians and non-Christians find themselves doubting the words of the Biblical text.  This book answers these concerns in a thorough and timely manner, challenging readers to rediscover that Jesus existed in history in the same way he existed in scripture. 

AND THE REST

And of course, there are a whole host of other great resources to improve both our minds and our character.  Glancing briefly at my shelf, I recommend the following books that have so greatly influenced my faith and life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ and Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel.  I’ll even plug my own creation, Dearly Beloved – contact me to order a copy. 

And this is to say absolutely nothing of the wellspring of scripture itself.  St. Augustine, while wrestling with his decision to accept Christ, heard a young child singing the words tolle lege over and over.  Tolle lege!  Tolle lege!  Tolle lege!  The words meant, “pick up and read.”  And as he read Paul’s words in Romans 13, it was then that he decided to give his life to Christ and live in service to His gospel. 

It is in that spirit that I close, inviting you into a lifetyle of learning, reflection and humble service, joining in the saints who have gone before – that “great cloud of witnesses” – through our devotion to God’s word. 

Tolle lege.  God bless.

This Friday – ONE Service, “Cross Cultural” ministry

Greetings, readers. 

This Friday I have the privilege of speaking at the ONE Worship Service, a local gathering consisting of mostly young adults. 

My message is entitled Cross Cultural: Rediscovering the Heart of the Christian Life.  I’ll be going through the Book of Colossians.  Our world is more spiritual than ever before…but what do they think about Jesus?  How can the gospel teach us to live cross culturally?  Come this Friday as we rediscover the heart of the Christian life.

I’d love to see you there.  I’ll be posting the contents (in a more developed form) as a blog series all next week. 

My local readers can find directions by clicking here.  It starts at 7PM on Friday, November 6.

Special thanks is due to organizer Curtis Miller for allowing me this privilege. 

God bless.

Yes; I’m still here

Well, well well. Reports of the death of my blog have been greatly exaggerated. I apologize to those who were expecting more regular postings. The truth is, this blog is the only thing completely under my control and frankly, it’s good to be able to take a break, especially considering how busy life has been lately. So thanks to those who have faithfully been reading despite my absence.

There’s a lot in the works, so stay tuned. Look for the final posting of the “Take Me to Your Leader” series on faith and politics. Also this week, look for posts on the subjects of both Halloween as well as Reformation Day. In the next week I plan on doing a brief series on faith in the workplace, in which I will be briefly discussing my (limited) experience as a truck driver.

Stick around; don’t forget to subscribe. God bless.

Congratulations, Contest Winners

As you may or may not have been aware, I have been encouraging subscribers to my blog by offering a contest where the prize is a free copy of my book, Dearly Beloved.  As soon as I hear back with the mailing address of each winner I will be sending them a copy.  So congratulations to each of you.  

As for the rest of you, keep subscribing to receive updates via email. 

If you are interested in my book, but didn’t win the contest, email me at WilesCJ@hotmail.com.

Weekend Update

 Howdy all.  Hope your weekend was as good as my own.  The highlights?

 (1)   Spoke twice – two morning church services – on the subject of the Philippian church, and what it means to live as a Christ-centered community.  The highlight was losing my voice after the first service, and drinking cup after cup of water to try and regain it before the second (and I did).  Public speaking has never been high on my list of skills, and so I find myself thankful that with experience I’m better able to inject my own personality into my delivery, and am even more thankful for those who have stood beside me, those who have listened to me, and those who have encouraged me; you’ve done more than you know. 

 (2)   After lunch went swimming for a while, and listened to the same Clash album over and over (London Calling…you can’t go wrong). 

 (3)   Had a great time kayaking on the river last night.  Some cool (and a few not so cool) friends and I went kayaking, and I had apparently forgotten how good it is to get away and spend time with friends.  Having missed a friends’ wedding (congrats to Ryan and Bonnie, if they’re reading), it was good to be able to connect with some people and socialize.  So, thanks guys, if you’re reading this, and we should try and do it again in the not-too-distant future. 

That’s all I have to say.  As promised, look for another “Changing Generations” post coming very soon, as well as some other stuff down the pipe.  Peace and God bless.