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On vacation, I was getting ready to add some resources to the sermon on the Tough Questions of ‘Suffering’ when the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy hit the news. The question sadly rages again as we groan and weep and pray.

Here are some important resources from the viewpoint of our Christian worldview:

Some books I often recommend:

Philip Yancey has written extensively on this issue. Where is God When It Hurts is still among the best.

Tim Keller’s book covers several tough questions: The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser is a more personal testimony of God’s help and grace.

C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain is a classic and helpful as ever.

Christopher Wright has written The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith, that has a helpful study guide.

Finally, David Bentley Hart, editorial writer for First Things, wrote this article in 2008 at the time of the Asian Tsunami. It is not easy vocabulary but worth the work. One of his statements is rich with insight: “…(our faith) has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead.”

Tsunami and Theodicy

No one, no matter how great the scope of his imagination, should be able easily to absorb the immensity of the catastrophe that struck the Asian rim of the Indian Ocean and the coast of Somalia on the second day of Christmas this past year; nor would it be quite human to fail, in its wake, to feel some measure of spontaneous resentment towards God, fate, natura naturans, or whatever other force one imagines governs the intricate web of cosmic causality. But, once one’s indignation at the callousness of the universe begins to subside, it is worth recalling that nothing that occurred that day or in the days that followed told us anything about the nature of finite existence of which we were not already entirely aware. Continue Reading…

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Lent Image-40daysThe “Lenten Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian” has become part of my regular prayer life. As I have done several times in the past – I “commend” it to you for your prayer (and repentance). The wording of the prayer is my latest version from much reading on the history of the prayer.  The commentary that follows is adapted from a commentary in Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent. (See my previous post on Lent)

Two practices that I am doing – and invite you to do – this Lenten season:
* to pray this prayer each morning or evening.

* to read and meditate through the letter of 1 Peter (which we will be preaching through at Christ Church starting next week).  Each day, I’ll post the short passage for the day on Twitter.  Feel free to “Follow” me here – or click the Twitter button on the right.

Here is the prayer – followed by the very insightful commentary:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.
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But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
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Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
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Continue Reading…

painting byTracy Taylor Davis

painting byTracy Taylor Davis

It was the third Sunday in Advent
and the theme was ‘Joy’
and the worship songs were chosen
Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
and Joy to the World;
a testimony of joy was ready
and this painting of joy returning.

Two days ago 26 innocent children and teachers died.
Can we sing and talk and preach of joy?
We alter our prayers and pray more
and sing with a solemn kind of joy.
But in light of the Man of Sorrows
who was also the Man of Joy.
how can we not read the scriptures
and be called again to “fix our eyes on Him,
who for the joy set before him, endured the cross…”
(Hebrews 12)

Listen to the Sunday’s personal story and sermon here.

On the Incarnation of the Word was highly recommended by Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, who in his great introduction suggested that contemporary Christian audiences could benefit from reading more ancient classics. Though Athanasius of Alexandria wrote this text in the 4th century, his writing is easy to follow and powerfully persuasive. It has been called one of the most foundational of all Christian texts ever written!

I read from this work in a sermon called Love with Skin On.  The text can be found on line, but here are two recommended editions:

The edition pictured here includes Lewis’ introduction and also a letter on the importance and use of the Psalms by Athanasius.

This Kindle edition (you don’t need a kindle device, just a Kindle APP on any device) may be the best $0.99 purchase you’ve made in long time!

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We were created and redeemed to be connected to God, to God’s people, and to be fruitful in God’s mission in the world.

Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit who would through his new community the Church, do “greater things!”

The beginning church in Jerusalem was not a set structure to be imitated, but it is a model of values and vision that continues to inspire the church of all times and places! It inspires us here and now.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers….And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.     (Acts 2:42,47, ESV)

In a recent teaching, linked at our website, I summarized the inspiring vision of the Church in this way.

We want to be a LEARNING Community
We want to be a SHARING (‘Koinonia’) Community
We want to be a WORSHIPING Community
We want to be an OUTREACHING Community

It means being taught the authoritative Word of God and being life-long learners;
It means knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served;
It means coming together for prayers and worship publicly and in our homes;
It means being a contagious people who live and speak the hope of Good News into our world.

It means being committed and connected – PLUGGED IN to Christ and his community.

Are you plugged in?
If not, what’s the one next step the Lord wants you to take?

I commend to your listening – a podcast by Orthodox writer, Frederica Mathewes-Green who podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio – an internet site I value.  This is part 2 of 2 on the subject of ‘Gay Rights.’  It is one of the most pastorally sensitive and Christ-centered presentations I’ve come across.  Increasingly it is the way I go in explaining that all Christian disciples are called to chastity.  It is not a matter of ‘suffer’ or ‘be promiscuous,’ when engaging a Christian who is honest about same-sex attraction.

Here is the link – I urge you to take the time to listen to it.

B. Kowanz

I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
Psalm 119:16

We are exploring how to create or develop a “Game Plan” for our lives as Christ-followers; a Rule of Life as it has been called for centuries.  We begin with a Game Plan for “Feeding on the Word.”

In the sermon (listen/download here), I quoted Bonhoeffer, who loved Psalm 119 and started a book of meditations on it. Some of his comments on v. 16:

God gave us the Scriptures to be read and pondered anew every day…
Why do I forget God’s word? Because I cannot yet say as the Psalm says:
“I delight in your statutes.”
I do not forget the things in which I delight!
(Works, Vol. 15, pp. 517-18)

10 times in the great Psalm of the Word – Psalm 119, the word DELIGHT is used to describe the Psalmist’s response to the revealed Teaching of God. E.g.

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. (v.14)
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (v.92)

A suggested practice to do
As a way of increasing your delight in the Word, read and meditate on one 8-verse section of Psalm 119 each week-day for 4-5 weeks.