The Name of a Thing

It's a fundamental principle of the universe that names have meaning. Our Bible study in Ruth has now discussed the meanings of the names in chapter one: Naomi ("pleasant") becomes Mara ("bitter"); Elimelek ("My God Is King"); Mahlon ("sickness"); Kilion ("wasting"); Orpah (possibly "fawn" or "neck"); and Ruth ("friend"). We all know "Immanuel" is "God with us." My own name, Christopher, is Greek for "Christ-bearer." Names help us call something what it is; they're marks of identity. If for no other reason than this, the power of an identity should remind us to call a thing by its true name. You can't alter reality simply by using different words. Call a scorpion a butterfly all you want, bu

Both/And

I like watching things with ministers in them. From Ted Crilly to Adam Smallbone, from Pastor Dave to Reverend Fordwick, I enjoy fictional preachers. One of my favorites, though, is the Rev. Ford from Pollyanna. I just have to feel for him. A little girl shows up and turns all of his sermons upside-down, and he goes from fire and brimstone to "826 happy passages." I think most preachers fall on one of those two sides by default. Many of us are quick to preach hellfire, and many others will only talk about how God wants us to be happy. The people in Pewville (as one professor used to say) leave feeling either like worthless wretches or like perfected saints. One of those applies more to earth

The Days Ahead

Yesterday I finished my sermon series on the Book of Acts. It was something I had wanted to do for a while, and I believe it was what was called for during those weeks. Now, however, we turn our collective gaze to the days and sermons ahead. Let me announce, then, for the first time, what the next sermon series is: There isn't one. Series are great for what they do, and what they do is systematically cover books or topics addressed in Scripture. Since I've been at RSCC, I've preached through four books (Exodus, Mark, Judges, and Acts) and hit a variety of topics. The ability to preach a well-crafted series is considered the mark of a mature minister. And, quite frankly, it's easier to prepar

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

The fourth movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 has been popularized in the "Ode to Joy," or, as it appears in countless hymnals (including our own), "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." Henry van Dyke added the lyrics to Beethoven's tune, and now we all sing, "Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, / God of glory, Lord of love; / Hearts unfold like flow'rs before Thee, / Opening to the sun above." Aside from just being a really catchy tune, the song hits a major theme: our worship of God should be joyful. We have all sat in church services devoid of that joy. (If we're honest, we've had more than a few of our own.) We leave knowing something was off somehow. We may be thankful Jesus died for us; we m

Frequently Asked Questions

Tonight wraps up our Wednesday evening series on "Frequently Asked Questions." For the last three months, we've paused our regular Bible study to take a look at some of the questions you all wanted to address, the things that kept coming up in your everyday lives. Just to recap, in thirteen weeks (counting tonight), we will have covered: Homosexuality Islam and Christianity The Lord's Supper (which took three weeks!) Baptism Noah's Flood Evolution/Origins/Genesis Predestination (tonight's topic) We had a few weeks of canceled classes for various reasons, but we still made it through some fairly heavy topics. Together we have maintained a civil conversation about many controversial things, an

After Acts

Next Sunday (the 25th) will be our last week in the sermon series on the Acts of the Apostles. Acts shows us the practices and teaching of the earliest Christians, and it's critical for us to know how the New Testament Church functioned. Many of their practices are still in use today unchanged, and the others have just been adapted slightly to fit our times and our places. Acts is the last history book in the Bible; there aren't any other books of stories and narratives to tell us what happened after we leave Paul in prison awaiting his execution. To me, that means we're given the job of writing the next part of the Christian story. We can look back over 2,000 years of church history and see

The Horizon

History tells us that one reason we discovered the earth was round was the way ships disappeared over the horizon. Instead of just shrinking in the distance like they were moving in a straight line, people noticed that first the hull vanished, then the masts slowly sank, and finally the tops of the sails disappeared -- like something moving downhill or over a curve. And when they were sailing into port, the ships appeared in reverse order: the tops of the sails, then the masts, then the rest of the ship. We've always wondered what could come over the horizon. It could be the sun to start a new day; it could be an invading army to topple the country. Beyond the horizon is the unknown, the pro

Dona Nobis Pacem

The title of this post is actually a song title as well, and one you may know (whether you realize it or not). It translates from Latin as "Give Us Peace." It's been in use as a prayer for centuries, and it's a simple request each of us can pray daily: "Dona nobis pacem, Domine." Give us peace, Lord. As I write this today, the headlines are swirling in chaos. A shooter opened fire on congressional Republicans at a baseball field. A huge apartment structure in London, U.K. burst into flames, killing at least six. Investigations continue into the 2016 presidential election (and the current president). Churches are in annual meetings discussing splits and loss of members. A company in Australia

VBS Week

Vacation Bible School begins at 6pm tonight, and let me tell you, the church is transformed. The sanctuary looks like an outdoor observatory. Classrooms are planetariums. Walls are covered in stars, and the fellowship hall looks like it's about to play host to two or three different things at once. MistyJo, Cammie, Pam, and a lot of the rest of you have been hard at work for a month to prepare for this week, and I thank you for everything you've done to make this a great week coming up. I want to take time today, then, before we get started, to remind us why we do things like VBS. It's not because the deacons wanted craft time. The elders didn't put in a request for cardboard trees and lesso

Sowing Seeds

As many of you know, I have a black thumb -- the opposite of a green thumb. I have killed every plant I have ever attempted to grow. Right now, in a sort of last-ditch effort to break the pattern, I have a flower box in which I've planted marigolds. So far, I have nine plants up -- a record! But every one of them looks to be on death's doorstep, so don't be surprised if I soon tell you, "I've killed another nine flowers." Having a black thumb can sometimes make it difficult to fully appreciate all the farming analogies used in the Bible, but that's still one of the dominant images we see in Scripture. We're all familiar with the Parable of the Sower: a sower sows seeds, some falling along th

Nothing New

You may have noticed some of my blogs have posted later than usual in the last week or two. I'd love to say it's because I've been busy doing other things which had priority, but that's just not true. Things have been late because I've sat down at the keyboard, stared at the blank page, and came up with absolutely nothing. I had nothing new, nothing novel to say that day in that moment, so I had to wait around until inspiration struck and I had The Next Big Thing to discuss. That happened today, and then I realized I've written 140-something blogs over the last year or so. Each time, I've attempted to look at something in a new way, talk about a current event, or just say "this is what God h

First Impressions

We've all heard the saying that first impressions are the most important. When you meet someone for the first time, what you think of them in that moment will stay with you forever and will shape how you view them thereafter, no matter how the person (or you) changes. I honestly think that's why a lot of people have bad experiences with church early in life and never come back when they're older. The God they were introduced to was hateful and petty, and no matter how hard we preach about the love of God or His goodness, they'll never see it. We gave them the wrong first impression. This applies to the church building itself, too. I personally have problems accepting the true depth to which

Asking for Directions

Last week, I ordered a new desk. My desk at home has been moved one-too-many times, and it's been falling apart for a while. So I managed to time it just right, hit the right sales, and get a much better desk for what was close to half price. That desk was due to be delivered yesterday, but the driver couldn't find my road (you can't google it) and didn't call me to ask for directions. I'll now get it next week. Sometimes we just need to ask for directions. Men are notorious for thinking we can do all things on our own. Something comes with an instruction manual? Step One: throw away manual immediately. Step Two: proceed without directions. When on the road, we're never lost, because being l

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