CHRISTIAN CARNIVAL CCCCXXX

As you can guess from the state of neglect in which you find this blog, I haven’t around here much. It’s not a sign I have turned my back on my faith, or stopped writing, in fact the opposite is true. I have been focussing my energies on my speculative ficton writing (with a pleasing amount of success), and have also been writing Christian resources and articles that due to copyright I can’t always share here.

So, it looks like this will be the last Christian Carnival I will be hosting for a long time, but I thank God for the fact that at number 430 it is still going strong (stronger than ever), and it is somehow deeply reassuring to know that whatever I might be doing, I will always be able to come back and find a Christian Carnival to read. Speaking of which, enoguh from me, here is a Christian Carnival to read!

Amber at So Love That brings us a “Mother Daughter Challenge” -  This is an idea of a Bible reading and prayer challenge that a mom and daughter can do together!

Something I certainly could use, Kevin brings us a guest post from Jason, who shares 10 Ways to Save Money on Gasoline this Summer   at the One Money Design  blog.  -”Do what you can to avoid traffic jams to save money on gasoline this summer and also follow these 9 additional tips…”
In May Gray, Rebecca LuElla Miller of   A Christian Worldview of Fiction  shares a  devotional   -  Thoughts about God’s self-existence precipitated by a Southern California weather phenomenon known as May Gray.

” {God} is, in fact, I AM, the self-existent One. He is — whether we are or not, whether we believe He is or not, whether we see Him or not. Simply put, He is in no way dependent upon us. He is complete in Himself, content, self-contained, in need of nothing. We can not add to Him or take away any of His value. His love is not diminished no matter how much He gives it away. Neither is His mercy or goodness or righteousness or any other quality that is His.”

Neil Schultz  of Church Leaders Campfire shares his post,  Tintin ministry failure and pain, saying “This is a blog post I wrote on the idea that we are not failures when we go through pain and yes… make mistakes”.

In another wonderful devotional entitled Rise Up, O Men of God,   Barry Wallace  of  who am i?  shares a classic hymn:

“Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.”

Michael  of  Prayers for Special Help  turns the Biblical spotlight on healing in Healing in the Bible   – What does the Bible say about healing?  Should we turn to God when faced with ailing health?  Let’s turn to the scriptures and examine this subject closer.

Ridge Burns  of Ridge’s Blog  reflects on the significance of Flags 

At InFaith’s Mission Blog, Debbie Woodard  shares a lovely devotional,Walking with God

“As I walked during the daytime, I was filled with joy when I heard the birds singing and fluttering in the trees; I was filled with serenity when I saw the painted skies at sunset, and I experienced an immense joy when I saw the stars in the night sky silhouetting the tree branches all around me.”

Writing on a subject that I am passionate about, Sarah of This is what Sed Said talks about Christians and the Environment, asking how we, as   Christians, should respond to environmental issues.Great stuff, and I couldn’t agree more!

Sue of  Abstractions  asks,  “What does it mean to each of us to ‘love our neighour as ourselves’?” in Love is…

And just to prove I haven’t been completely idle, I have shared my latest article. I respond to the idea that Crucifixion needs not be a historical fact to be spiritually important.

Thanks so much for dropping by! Remember you can find out more about the Carnival here, and submit articles to future carnivals here.

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Does the Cross really matter?

This piece first appeared in the Easter issue of On Fire, the magazine of the Salvation Army

The idea that the Crucifixion and the Resurrection might not have happened as presented in the Bible is not a new one. There are several best selling novels based on the idea of finding proof that Jesus did not rise from the dead, like finding a skeleton in a tomb, while many more present the idea that he somehow escaped crucifixion and lived to a ripe old age. There is even a major school of teaching in Islam that Judas was crucified instead of Jesus so he could make a getaway.

However, while it might not be too surprising that people outside the church might discount these events as a little too hard to swallow, I was lost for words when an ordained minister told me that he didn’t think that a physical resurrection was a necessary part of Christianity, that a spiritual resurrection was what was important and easier to swallow for modern people than a man rising from the dead. I have seen this idea in other places since, most notably from Bishop Spong.

After I had recovered from this realisation, this did get me thinking. What would it mean for Christianity if the crucifixion and resurrection were simply metaphors or occurred on a spiritual level, if Jesus did not physically die and come back from the dead? Can we have a Christian faith that does not believe this happened? Does it even really matter if it did happen or not, or is it just an inspiring story that we can take spiritual truth from?

I think that is very hard to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt to the sceptical that Jesus existed, died and rose again in the same way that it is hard to prove that Socrates, or any such historically removed figure, was a real person. We have lots of circumstantial evidence that a man called Jesus Christ did exist and that he had followers who believed he was holy. There are mentions in Roman and Jewish histories that attest to this, but ultimately the bulk of our knowledge of who Jesus was comes from the Bible.

I can understand why those outside the church might not be willing to take this as reliable, but if we do believe the Gospels to be the recordings of Christ’s life then we are presented with some extraordinary claims that we need to decide to accept or reject. For me, it is when I look at the details of the stories that I am convinced. Any one who has ever tried to tell a complex lie knows that it is not in the surface stuff that you get caught out, it is in the little details. You can make claims that sound convincing, but when they are examined more closely they fall apart because the incidentals do not stand up.

But with the Gospels it is the major parts that are hardest to swallow. A man healing the sick and rising from the dead? Inconceivable! But, the little throwaway lines stand up remarkably well. An example of this is when Jesus is on the cross and his side is pierced, we are told that a mix of blood and water flows forth. Modern medicine tells us that, yes, this would occur if a man died under such circumstances. But, this is not trumpeted as proof in the Gospels that Jesus actually did die, just reported in a matter of fact way that makes it all the more convincing. It is these little touches that give it the ring of truth.

Perhaps the most convincing sign we have of the historicity of the crucifixion and resurrection, though, is the dramatic change we see in the character and behaviour of the disciples. Leading up to the events of Passover we are presented with a picture of a fractious and undisciplined group. Whether it is disputes about money, or squabbles about precedence that end with some of the disciples running to their Mummy, they do not seem like the sort of people who are capable of going on to change the world.

After the crucifixion itself, we still aren’t filled with a great deal of confidence in their character. Jesus’s death is pivotal moment for this fledgling movement, but at a time when strong leadership is required more than ever, Jesus’ right hand man denies that he even knew Christ three times, and the rest of the apostles scatter. In a bit of an “in your face” to those who would seek to downplay the role of women in the early church, it is only the female disciples who are brave enough to wait around at Jesus’s tomb.

If the apostles, or the early Church were going to lie about the events of Jesus’ ministry, then what I know about human nature tells me that they would have presented themselves in a much better light. We might have gotten a Hollywood version of the story, with Peter organising his own Ocean’s Eleven to bust Jesus out of gaol along with all the treasure of the Great Temple! Instead, the candid revelations of their foibles and frailties inspire our trust and faith. If they are so honest about their failures, why would they not be about their triumphs?

But even though we get to know a fairly uninspiring bunch in the Gospels, as we read the Acts of the Apostles, and learn more about the history of the Early Church, we are confronted with a transformed group of people. Almost without exception, the apostles die martyrs’ deaths, executed in often horrible fashion as they refuse to renounce the name of Christ or stop spreading His message. The same Peter who denied his Lord became so committed that he refused to be executed the same way as Jesus, saying he wasn’t worthy, and was instead crucified upside down.

What could possible change people this much? The only explanation that makes sense to me is that they witnessed something so incredible that their lives could never be the same. Their remarkable transformation is a testament to the fact that something extraordinary happened in history, and it is this that convinces me that it is more than metaphor or parable. All the struggling and striving of the early Church is inspired by the assumptions when Jesus promised he would rise again he was telling the truth, that Death could not conquer him, but instead was itself conquered by the Son of God.

As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, without a resurrection the witness of the disciples is all for nothing. Their willingness to sacrifice themselves and their faith that Jesus was who he claimed to be are deluded. God’s promises are broken, and like a house built on a rotten foundation, everything else we take as articles of belief fall down. Without a crucifixion there is not atonement for our sins, without a resurrection there is no triumph over death or hope for eternal life.

Most importantly though, Jesus is revealed as a charlatan, another false prophet whose grandiose claims are proved false. The Gospel goes from being a beautiful story of faith and hope, to be just another tragedy where another self-deluded man suffers and dies for nothing. If we do not believe that these events really occurred, then there is no point believing the rest. It is not enough to see at as an inspiring story, it is either true and wonderful, or false and the greatest hoax ever perpetrated and a betrayal of people who deserved better.

However, my friend was right in saying that there is danger in seeing the Crucifixion and the Resurrection as merely historical events, remarkable but existing only in the past. The truth is that they stand as hinges on which the whole of creation turns, their significance reaching forward through the centuries and impacting on our lives in the here and now. On the Cross, Christ died as much for my sins as he did for Peter’s, and when he rose from the tomb he defeated my death as much as that of Moses.

Two thousand years is a long time, and it is easy to feel removed from the Gospel story. But, the impact of those events is still being felt today. When Jesus died and rose again it changed the world forever, and history took a different course. The challenge is to allow it to change us. The disciples were transformed by what happened in a provincial outpost of an empire that no longer exists. The miracle of Easter is that in a very different time and a very different world, we can be transformed too.

 

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CHRISTIAN CARNIVAL CDXII

Welcome to the 412th edition of the Christian Carnival! It wasn’t without drama, for some reason my domain host decided to go down today, so I am not quite as organised as I would like. But, here we are, ready to launch a New Year with some wonderful posts!

What better way to kick off than with an opportunity to help those less fortunate than ourselves? Rodney Olsen presents Cycling to Release Children from Poverty posted at Beyond Belief.

 

apologetics

Maryann Spikes presents “God and Evolution” reading log from Facebook :) posted at Ichthus77.

Zowada presents Why I Believe In God: Because I Don’t Always Agree With Him. posted at Zowada Blog, saying, “Should we always understand or instinctively agree with God?”

David  presents SuperMorality. posted at Revenge of Mr Dumpling

 

devotionals

Shannon Christman presents a post from Ridge Burns called Running Errands posted at InFaith

Rebecca T presents Fear of the Lord posted at The Upside Down World, saying, “I look at the meaning of the proverb that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Adam Birr presents Baptism posted at Adam Birr’s Blog.

Cindy Jeffrey presents Prayer for Courage and Love and to Cast Out Fear posted at Christian Prayers Daily, saying, “What’s the opposite of love? It’s fear, where we choose self over the other. In today’s prayer for courage and love, we seek to cast out fear.”

Russ White presents God’s Pure Grace « Thinking in Christ posted at Thinking in Christ.

Violet N. presents God’s will for you and me posted at Other Food: daily devos, saying, “As we begin a new year perhaps the greatest longing in the heart of every Jesus lover is to do God’s will. And yet that will often seems unclear. Is it His will that I study nursing or pharmacy. Marry Jeff or Doug? Buy a house or continue to rent? Move close to the kids, or stay in the community where my friends are?”

Shannon Christman  presents a post from Ridge Burns entitled 2012 Values posted at Ridge’s Blog

 

finance

Chelsea Prescotti presents How Children Can Impact Your Tax Situation | CreditScore.net posted at CreditScore.net, saying, “Children have tremendous tax implications for parents. Typically, the implications are favorable for the parent, as conditions associated with having children qualify the parents for certain exemptions and tax credits. This is a good thing, considering how expensive raising a child can be for parents. From diapers to diploma, children cost their parents far more than Uncle Sam provides in credits and exemptions. Without those tax breaks, some parents might have to consider asking their children for a refund on all those years of allowances, not to mention student loan payments, first cars, and that envious Senior trip to Europe.”

 

That concludes this edition. I hope that God uses these posts to speak to you and bring you closer to Him, and this year is a wonderful one for you and your ministries.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the christian carnival using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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SuperMorality

This article first appeared in the 5 November 2011 issue of “On Fire” magazine, one of the Salvation Army’s publications.

Every writer dreams that they will create a character that will capture their reader’s imagination, and endure. But when, in 1932, two young Jewish-American comic book writers came up with an idea for a new superhero, they could not have imagined that it would not only outlive them, but become a permanent fixture of culture itself.

Almost eighty years on, Superman is still going strong, having survived not only interstellar threats and mad scientists within the pages of his comics, but everything that has been thrown at him outside of them. From ill-advised makeovers to terrible movies, from the renunciation of his American citizenship to reboot after reboot, the Man of Steel has risen above it all—truly invincible as he inspires generation after generation. As we prepare for yet another movie reboot, with the buzz around Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel reaching a fever pitch, it’s worth looking back and reflecting on what makes Superman such an iconic character, and what we can learn from him.

Though never a true comic book fan, I discovered Superman as a child through novelisations and movies and was immediately hooked. I devoured everything I could find. I’ve watched all the movies (yes, even Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), the animated series, and I wrote most of this article sporting my Superman pyjamas. Years later, after coming to faith, I began to see that there are many elements of the Superman mythos which are of value to my Christian journey.

You don’t need x-ray vision to see the parallels between Superman and Jesus: sent to Earth by his father, raised by an adoptive, human father and growing to become a ‘saviour’ to all. One iconic story, The Death and Life of Superman even had Supes’ resurrected from the grave. But it’s Superman’s actions and character, and the moral lessons we can take from them, which are most readily applicable to our Christian walk.

If you have timeless values, they will sometimes be out of step with the values of the world.

One of the criticisms levelled at Superman is that he is a bit old-fashioned. Many of his values seem to come from another time, and he is often referred to (not always fondly) as the Big Blue Boy Scout. As comics moved with the times they, like the world, began to represent moral choices not in black and white, but in shades of grey. It was at this time anti-heroes rose to popularity—superheroes who were just as likely to kill or maim villains and criminals as they were to arrest them. A character like Superman, who upheld values like truth and justice and adhered to a strict code of behaviour, seemed quaint in comparison, and decidedly uncool.

The parallels to Christianity’s narrative are obvious. It used to be that western society drew its values from the church, but this is no longer the case. For a lot of people, the things the Church upholds as important no longer matter. Relics of the past. Some churches try to keep pace with this ever-changing world, trading in truths that don’t match with the majority view for fresher, ‘more relevant’ perspectives, but I believe this is a mistake.

Yes, we must try to be relevant in the way we interact with the world around us, but if we believe that the truths that we adhere to are timeless then we have to accept that they will remain true even as the world around us changes. This means that we will be out of step with popular culture, that we will be mocked as old fashioned and that passing fashions will gain more applause. But, just like Superman has managed to weather almost eighty years in the volatile comics industry, if we remain faithful to the core, timeless truths we hold dear we will endure and the Church will continue to outlive and outlast things built on weaker foundations.

There is a right and wrong in the universe and it’s not that hard to tell the difference.

One of my favourite Superman writers is Elliot S. Maggin, who not only wrote storylines for comics, but also produced a number of classic Superman novels. A recurring theme running through his stories is that there is a right and wrong in the universe and it really isn’t that hard to tell the difference between the two.

As much as we argue about different cultures and relative-versus-objective truth, it is plain to me from the conversations I have with people that we all have a basic understanding of right and wrong. So many times I hear the same comment, that ‘I don’t really hold with that church stuff, but I am a good person, I believe in God, I wouldn’t kill anyone or steal stuff, or …’, and everything else they consider a yardstick of what is good.

Most people look at the world and can see what the right thing to do in a given situation is, even children. Anyone who watched a toddler’s wicked smile as they commit an act they know is wrong can attest to this!

In the comics, Superman is faced with moral choices of vast significance, but even in the most complex of situations, it is plain to him what the right answer is. When confronted with something that doesn’t have a simple answer, we are easily tempted to compromise or talk about ends justifying means as a way of abdicating our responsibility to make the right choice. Superman looks past the peripheral issues and sees the heart of the matter, refusing to make excuses or compromise what is right.

Doing the right thing is not easy.

One of my favourites Superman stories is the animated feature Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. It features Billy Batson, a young orphan living in poverty, who always tries to do right by others even when it puts him in danger. He gets beaten up by bullies after stopping them hassling a homeless man and asks the understandable question ‘Why does doing the right thing never seem to be rewarded?’ A reporter, Clark Kent, who is writing an article on street kids, tries to reassure Billy that doing right is its own reward, but Billy is not convinced.

Without giving away too much, Billy is granted magical powers and is able to transform into the superhero Captain Marvel, teaming with Superman to battle the evil Black Adam. After much destruction and witnessing Superman apparently killed, Captain Marvel finally has Black Adam at his mercy and is tempted to claim revenge by finishing him once and for all. But in a wonderful speech, a not-so-dead Superman reminds him that, ‘Doing the right thing is not easy,’ and if it were, everyone would simply do it.

This really spoke to me, because it mirrors so completely what I see not only in the world around me, but in my own life. Figuring out the right thing to do isn’t hard, but behaving accordingly can be another thing entirely. It seems to me that the easiest option, the path of least resistance, is usually the wrong thing to do, which hardly seems fair. Every day I find myself in situations where it would be so much easier to not do something I should, or to do something I shouldn’t, despite knowing better.

All around, we see people not just getting away with doing the wrong thing, but prospering as a result. And those who do try to do the right thing seem to find little reward. Like Billy, we can’t help but ask why we should bother. But, just as Superman tells Captain Marvel, God tells us that we don’t do the right thing because it is easy or for what we receive in return, or even for a reward in Heaven, but because he has declared it is the right thing to do, and therefore worth doing.

It is easy for us to sneer at comics, and treat them as if they are something childish with little to teach us about life. But many are full of truths that can speak to us all, whatever our age. We need heroes, characters who speak to the best parts of us and make us dream of doing great, courageous, sacrificial things. They inspire us to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and make us want to be better.

Superman was not designed to be a Christian hero, nor were his creators Christians. But, despite that, in choosing to create a hero who embodies all that is good, they were able to reveal something of the God from whom all good things spring. When I became a Christian I was amazed to discover that many of the qualities held up as virtues in God’s word were ones I was already familiar with through Superman. I remain grateful to those two men that one of my childhood heroes, and a hero to millions of others, is someone who reflects so many of the qualities that God cherishes.

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RIP Louie

I got a text today from Mum saying that their dog, Louie, had died. I can’t say it was unexpected, his health had been deteriorating for a over a year now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still sad.

He had been a big part of our life for a long time now, and it is hard to remember a time when he wasn’t around. We got him the weekend of my 18th birthday party, and I can remember what a hit he was, a cute and cuddly ball of brown fur being passed around adoring arms.

He was no pedigree animal, but a mix of various breeds that had somehow combined to produce one of those dogs that demand to be petted, all soft fur and friendly eyes. He was fluffy, though in our hot Wimmera summers it was necessary to trim him. I remember a vet with a sense of humour shaving him down to short fur, with the exception of a mane and a ball of fur on the end of his tail. He found this an affront to his dignity and hid for hours. The gales of laughter that greeted his emergence probably didn’t help.

Everyone adored Louie, he was not one of those annoying yappy dogs, or a high maintenance type, he just loved being around people and people loved him being around him. Even people who didn’t like dogs as a rule, and talked about them in derogatory tones, somehow found him their lap with them scratching his ears.

It was a tough decision for Mum and Dad, I am sure, to take him to the vet. After the kids had moved out that had grown even closer to him, if such a thing were possible. But every day had become and ordeal for him, and as Mum said, owning a pet brings responsibilities, not just joys. It’s a cliché, but he did live a long and full life. When I get to the end of mine, if I can look back and say that I brought as much joy into the lives of others, and was loved so much and gave so much love in return, well I will consider myself to have achieved a great deal.

There is a poem written a long time ago, about another dog that seems timely.

Epitaph to a Dog

By Lord Byron

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.

This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808.

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown by Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on – it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one – and here he lies.

It could have been written about Louie. I have no way with words like Byron, this post will have to be good enough. But, that’s the thing, whatever I did was good enough for him, because he loved me, and I loved him. In his eyes I was something special, and I never fell short.

Louie went into that final sleep today, held in the arms of someone who loved him. There are people who say animals have no souls, but I cannot believe that. Deep theological thoughts aside, I offer one compelling argument for why I believe Louie is in a better place right now, and it is as simple as this.

Dogs must go to heaven, because a heaven with no dogs would be no heaven at all.

CHRISTIAN CARNIVAL CDI

Welcome to the 401st (that’s right!) Christian Carnival! As usual, you will find a range of posts, on a range of subjects, but all united by the poster’s desire to share their experience of God. I hope you find something that helps you in your own walk with HIm.

I think at this point it would be more than appropriate to send a shout out to Parableman for his hard work over the years, and his contribution to towards making the Christian Carnival the great resource that it is. He is taking a well earned step back, but I am sure will continue to read his most excellent posts.

I have put people’s posts under the categories they assigned them. As always, if I have forgotten yours please let me know and note that I have posted this under the US timezone, where it is still August 10th, not the 11th as it says (so you know when to look for the next one!).

Narratives

To get this spiritual party started, Jennifer in OR presents a lovely reflection in Stormy, Yellow Thoughts of Thunder and Puddles posted at Diary of 1.

Michael S. Pearl provides us with an excellent reflection and examination of the moive “The Tree of Life” when he presents The Tree of Life and The Way of Grace posted at The Kindly Ones.

It is not for nothing that Jesus used children as a positive example in many of his teachings, because we can learn a lot from them, as Ridge Burns shows us in the The God Story posted at Ridge’s Blog.

Envy  may be a sin, but I must confess I am little envious of seeing these pictures from Chris Price. As he presents his post  Jan Hus–Pictures of Bethlehem Chapel in Prague posted at American Church History it reminds us of the the vast history of our faith and those who have gone before.

Tonya Duncan presentsa fun little story that holds a deep spiritual truth in The Infamous You Owe Me Coupon posted at No Judging Allowed. I think we can all identify with this!

Social Justice is a an issue that lies hevay on my heart, and I believe that Christians have to be at the forefront of these battles. So, as michelle presents i didn?t know? posted at and she went out…. I say READ IT!!!

Apologetics

Snowball presents the delightfull titled Charles Finney is NOT a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing posted at Rick S. Bell. I have to admit that I hadn’t muck knowledge of Finney before this, so this comprehensive examination was fascinating.

Toni Styles takes a look at one of my favoruite books of the Bible when she presents I digress- Ordinary Life posted at Toni Elizabeth Styles.

Every day I thank God that in Australia we don’t have to worry about how the idea of separation of Church and State is interpreted, and legislated. Billy Hart presents Thomas Jefferson – A Wall of Separation Between Church and State posted at HistoricWords | American History | Founding Fathers | Politics | Faith | Quotes.

Gordan Smith presents a list of sites to avoid in 10 Examples of Cults Going Online posted at Internet Provider.

Deb examines the nature and purpose of apologetics, and their practical application as a way of reaching people rather than just proving them wrong, when she presents Brothers, Birthright and The Good News posted at All Things New.

Kaleb shows the comfort that can be taken in the Word, even in the face of a hostile world, in The World Says posted at W2W Soul.

Devotionals

Barry Wallace points us to a very useful sounding resource when he presents Not all marriage books are created equal posted at who am i?.

Joe Plemon goes to the heart of what prosperity should be about when he presents A Prosperity Theology Dilemma: What Does “Living Like a King’s Kid” Really Mean? posted at Personal Finance By The Book.

Russ White talks about the importance of managing expectations in The Power of Expectations « Thinking in Christ posted at Thinking in Christ.

Isabel Anders presents a lovely piece in How Soul Moments Begin | BlogHer posted at BlogHer. I love the J.M. Barrie quote!

Jason Price presents an extremely useful post about balancing generosity and following God’s will in Finding our Own Calling for Biblical Giving posted at One Money Design.

Theology

Jeremy Pierce always gives us real meat for the mind, and it is no exception when he presents When Avoiding Inclusive Language Becomes Mistranslation posted at Parableman. Words ARE important, and we need to think about the ones we use rather than taking them for granted.

Finally, I wanted to share some preaching tips here. I hope they will be of some use.

Thanks for popping by, and I pray that God will use all these posts to help us serve Him better! Look out for next weeks at The Bible Archive.

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Preaching Tips

Over the past few years I have had the privilege of preaching at numerous venues, from small intimate crowds to larger, more intimidating masses. At the risk of sounding arrogant (after all false modesty is a sin, too!) I feel that it is one of my spiritual gifts, and that I am reasonably good at it. While I firmly believe that God equips us to do what He wants us to do, I also believe that we have a duty to try and develop our gifts through practice and not just expect God to do all the work. So, I thought it might be useful to share some of the techniques that I have found useful when it comes to preaching.

Finding your own method is important. I have seen preachers who stay rooted at the platform and those who roam the stage, some who work from a fully written out piece of paper to those who ad lib the majority, and I can think of examples of all these types who have been extremely effective. The points listed below are what work for me, and may not apply to you at all, but it might give you a starting point.

CONNECT

There is nothing worse than a public speaker who simply looks down at their pages and drones on for the whole of their sermon or speech. I struggle with eye contact at the best of times, but what I have found is the best way of connecting with the audience is to pick someone to look in the eye for a few minutes at a time, before you move on to someone else. This gives the congregation the feeling that you are, in fact, speaking to them. Just don’t stare at one person for the whole time, that is just creepy!

RELATE

People want to feel like the person up the front knows what they are going through, that they are speaking from the heart and that they struggle with the same things. Use examples from your own life to illustrate a point rather than only ones from theoretical situations. They carry far more weight that way.

STIMULATE

It is a sad fact that people’s attention spans are not what they use to be. Think about the average person, they watch a TV show and they only have to concentrate for about 5min before there is an ad break. People are used to having a stop start focus. This may change as people download/record more TV (a discussion for another time), but for now, allow for it. I will try and say something funny, or controversial, every five minutes or so to grab people’s attention as it begins to wander away.

TEACH

I don’t know how many sermons I have sat through desperately fighting the urge to jump up and begin to rail against the tepidness of many of the messages we hear. Often they are simply feel good life style coaching, the sort of thing more at home on Oprah than on the platform. You could substitute the words “the power of you” for the Holy Spirit, “self actualisation” for prayer and “positive thinking” for Jesus and get about as much real teaching. Make sure that your sermon cannot stand if you take God away, and that you back up your opinions with Biblical truth.

CONFESS

Don’t put yourself up on a pedestal. You don’t have to be perfect, or have it all together. Yes, you need to be trying to follow Christ in your life, but if you are talking about something you struggle with, admit that. The congregation don’t need to be given a false idol to live up to, they need to know that they are not the only ones who struggle and fall short from time to time. I don’t know how many times I agonised and beat myself up because I couldn’t be perfect like my leaders seemed to be. When I realised that they too had their trials it made me realise that perhaps I wasn’t a lost case after all.

APPRECIATE

When you are listening to someone else preach, don’t just be passive, really listen. Think about what is working for you, and what isn’t. Learn from how they are doing it, whether good or bad.

RESEARCH

Make sure you know what you are talking about. One of my pet peeves is when people use and example or story and present it as a fact, when I know it is an urban legend and that five minutes searching on the internet would have revealed that. Make sure any facts you present are, in fact, correct. Read the history of a subject and what those who have gone before have preached on in regards to it. We truly do stand on the shoulders of giants, take advantage of that!

TARGET

Preach to your audience. Are they all people who have knowledge of the church and of the faith? Are they seekers? Are they completely unchurched? Tailor your message. And, make sure that every level of intellect and education and maturity will get something out of what you say.

PRACTICE

Practice your diction and projection at home. Give your message a read through first.

CONDUIT

The most important thing, though, is to listen to what God wants you to say and don’t rely on your own intellect or biases. Be a conduit for God’s Word, and let Him speak through you. I have heard the amateur of speakers give a sermon that has opened the gates to intense spiritual experiences, and the most polished of presenters give shallow, useless words. It is about God, not about the preacher.

I hope that these tips have been of some use to you. Please feel free to post tips of your own in the comments!

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I’ve said it before..

…but I will say it again. Gideon Haigh is the the greatest living cricket writer, and one of the all time greats. Not only does he fiercely champion Test cricket as the paramount form of the game, but he refuses to compromise by pandering to the dominant forces in world cricket and hands out criticism equally, not just to one or two groups. Sadly, I feel that the jingoism prevalent amongst many fans (one only has to read the comments on Cricinfo to see what I mean) means he doesn’t receive his due, because people cannot accept comments critical of their nation or team – even when they are true. There are famous cricket writers who seem to write their articles to appeal to the lowest common denominator, fortunately Gideon Haigh is not one of them. This article is well worth reading. And for those who accuse him of bias against India, the following quote:

Number one today is India, which is a happy event, because they also happen to be the most attractive team to watch. And for all the hypermodernity of Indian cricket, MS Dhoni’s team is full of genuine five-day cricketers, not jumped-up one-day players and Twenty20 non-entities. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Dhoni himself, would succeed in any age; when you watch them excel at their craft, time seems almost to stand still. That is an illusion, as you realise when you range back over the generations and grasp the way that the leading teams of their time have been just that: creatures of their time. But it’s an appealing and warming illusion, and a comforting one to nurture at the pub.

It’s not the Indian team, or India itself, that he scorns, it is the BCCI who certainly deserve it. There are lots of people who can’t differentiate between criticism of the BCCI and criticism of India the nation, which I think says more about them than about Mr Haigh.

Speaking of wonderful cricket writing, I came across an article today that I had to mention. I didn’t necessarily agree with it all, but there was one phrase that stood out. I often do that in books, it’s like watching a cricket match and seeing a perfect on drive or a brutal pull shot, you just sit back and admire the skill and artistry that goes into, the joy of a craftsman at work. This was an equivalent moment.

Yesterday we had the ultimate cricket pathos of Sachin Tendulkar, the Little Master still pursuing his 100th international century, polishing a little diamond of an innings among the Indian rubble. He hit boundaries of exquisite quality, he explored the best of what is left of his repertoire and showed us why he has been revered for so long. It was like looking at a masterpiece hung in an otherwise ransacked museum.

That is good writing.

Dhoni deserves some of the criticism coming his way for the team’s performance, he is captain after all. But, he went up in my esteem a great deal after his recall of Ian Bell, as did the the entire Indian team. You can argue about Law versus Spirit all you want, but it was an edifying moment in a sport that needs all the edification it can get. To me cricket is the noblest sport of all, despite the money grubbing and the politics and all the rest, and it is moments like this (or this) that embody why it is more than just a game. Bravo, India!

Sambit Bal’s article on the event is well worth a read, as well as this one.

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Stephen Hawking: Genius not always that smart

I have a great deal of respect for Stephen Hawking, he is obviously a genius. But, I am not sure that means he is really that good at philosophy. There is a fascinating interview on the Guardian, but sadly I think people are going to use it as some sort of magic atheist stick to quote as a debate ender. But, like the famous Douglas Adams quote, on closer inspection I don’t think it really proves anything.

Take this for example:

What is the value in knowing “Why are we here?”

The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.

For a start, I don’t want to live in a society that is based on Darwinian values. I don’t want to fall victim to Godwin’s Law here, but historically that really hasn’t worked out that well, has it now? And, I really don’t want to sound cruel, but can noone else see the irony of a man confined to a wheelchair by a genetic condition holding such views? The idea that all humans are of intrinsic value regardless of whether they are suited to pass on genetic material is certainly not rooted in Darwinianism, but instead comes from the idea that there is more to the Universe than what is strictly qualifiable.

And, if science can’t solve those equations, what can? People like Hawking can certainly help illumiate the “how”, but they are no good at the “why”. That is where God comes in.

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CHRISTIAN CARNIVAL CCCLXXVIII

Welcome to this week’s Christian Carnival! As always, it is lovely to have you here and I hope you enjoy the wide variety of posts that you will find here today. Without further ado, let’s begin.

First cab off the rank, Engelbert Hudson gives us a great resource in 20 Useful Specialty Search Engines for Bible Scholars posted at A Blog of Biblical Proportions.

Courtney Kleppinger presents simple yet compelling argument from design, showing that an argument doesn’t have to be overly complex to hold weight, in Kindergarten Apologetics posted at In His ocean I’m ankle deep.

In a lovely post that examines what is truly valuable, Marisa presents My Prized Possessions posted at Me, You, and Creamed Corn.

One of the things that amazes me about good Christian teaching is that it is as relevant to our lives today in the 21st century as it was to the lives of those who have gone before us, whether it be two thousand or two hundred years ago. We see this timelessness of the Bible’s teachings when Joe Plemon presents 5 Bible Verses John Wesley Used For His Money Decisions posted at Personal Finance By The Book.

Jason Price talks about discontent as a motivating force in When Discontent is a GOOD Thing posted at One Money Design.

Josh presents an extremely comprehensive roundup of Bible verses relating to stregth in Bible Verses About Strength- 25 Encouraging Scripture Quotes posted at What Christians Want To Know.

Timothy Yordy presents a hilarious post about some of the excuses people used to get out of trouble in Old Testament times. Check out An Old Testament Guide to Getting Out of a Jam – Timothy Yordy posted at Timothy Yordy. Number 5 is my preferred method, what’s yours?

Ong Seng Aun presents some useful tips on identifying cults in Cult Checklist – Tipskey posted at Tipskey – Unlock Practicality.

Looking at the last Christian Carnival I was amazed at the beautiful presentation of the post, and of the blog that hosted it. It really is one of the best presented blogs I have ever seen. But, it is not just style, there is substance as Fadi shows in Love your Neighbor as Yourself – Part 1 posted at INSPIKS.

Kaleb shows us that there is no such thing as a harmless sin in The Progression of Sin posted at W2W Soul.

“Reflections on beauty as seen in a dream: Why was I living in this shack when under my very feet was a mansion?” Jennifer in OR presents My Reflection part 2 posted at Diary of 1.

Maryann Spikes (Ichthus77) takes a very comprehensive look at “The Reason for God”, including sermon links, when she presents Blog Discussion and Sermon Ideas for Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” posted at Ichthus77.

Rey Reynoso takes a look at the topic of the moment when he presents Should Christians Rejoice Over The Death of the Wicked? posted at The Bible Archive.

michelle gives us an admirably honest insight into what she is thinking and feeling in what are you thinking? posted at finding God’s way….

Ridge Burns reflects on the recent Royal Wedding in The Royal Wedding posted at Ridge’s Blog.

A truly lovely post from Paige Carter who presents Paigerific: Even if you fall posted at Paigerific.

The always erudite Jeremy Pierce presents Hezekiah’s post-mature death posted at Parableman. Man, that guy is SMART.

Forgiveness is tough, as Weekend Fisher finds in Problems in forgiveness posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.

And finally, my rambling thoughts as I try and come to grips with the celebrations at the death of Osama Bin Laden.

If you have any questions about the Christian Carnival, please visit here.

Thanks for popping by!

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