Twelve Days of Christmas – Follow Through – Eight

My eighth of the extended Twelve Days of Christmas came before August 17th which is the date I have chosen for each month because it is my wife’s birthday and St. Patrick’s Day. I am happy to report that I did follow through and it does feel good.

I have marked my 2015 calendar for each of the twelve months as a way of extending the wonderful spirit of Christmas throughout the entire year. My hope is that others will join in the spirit and make it a wonderful time for all of us. It does not need to be a grand gesture. Just make it something simple. Something you will do. If it becomes over complicated we will not do it. It is simply a way of sharing. The book, The Killer App., offers many ideas for taking our faith into the workplace in a non-threatening manner. An easy one is to share a book you like or find helpful by lending or giving it to someone. Another one is to share a vital contact with someone else. Get permission first.

I am writing this as a part of my accountability to myself to remind me to follow through. We all have great intentions, but follow through is always the test. Please join me as we go through the year. Help brighten someone’s day.

Prayers for President Jimmy Carter by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush – Day 1

August 14, 2015

Jimmy Carter is no stranger to cancer. In his remarkable book A Full Life: Reflections at 90 he writes of how he lost his father and two siblings to pancreatic cancer, all before they reached 60.

Now the 39th president of the United States has revealed that he too has cancer and will undergo treatment in Atlanta. Many of us who have long admired Jimmy Carter have responded with appropriate worry and call for prayer.

Given his faith, I am sure these prayers are appreciated and that the president hopes and even expects to make a full recovery. I had the privilege of interviewing the president just two weeks ago and he hardly sounded like someone who was weary of this life — if only because he told me that each day he grows more in love with Roselyn, his wife of 69 years.

However, perhaps because he has lived such a remarkable life, the president did also not appear to fear death. When I asked him about his own understanding of what happens to us when we die and what constitutes a good death he responded:

Well, I’m a Christian and I share the same faith that we all have that through our faith in Jesus Christ we are given permanent life after we are dead in some form that we don’t comprehend. I think the most simple explanation of it is Paul’s use of the seed that is like an acorn that is planted and it becomes a tree so you don’t even know what the future will be in your heavenly life. So I don’t try to assess exactly what it will be but I feel completely confident about it.

But also the basic principle in Christianity is that we don’t start living our future life after we are dead, but we start living our better future life now. And start to let our religious faith and our moral values and ambitions be shaped to do what we think is ultimately better for other people, not in some future day but in the life that we lead today.

One of the best examples of that was given to me by a Cuban-American pastor with whom I did one of my mission trips and his advice to me was that we must love God and love the person in front of us at any particular time, that’s a very profound theological statement I think and
pretty much encapsulates my religious beliefs.

While I join people around the world in wishing President Carter a full recovery and pray for his health, I am also inspired by his faith in the face of death, and his reminder to recognize that every day in this life is an opportunity to love God and love our neighbor, and to plant a seed that grows a beautiful tree in this life and in the life to come.

Jimmy Carter has spent his life planting such seeds with his presidency, his peace activism, his health work and his deep love for his friends and family. We all pray that he will have many years in front of him to plant many more seeds of peace and love in this world before he passes onto the next.

Paul Raushenbush wrote the Foreword to my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, published by SmythandHelwys.

Healthy Disbelief by Dr. Molly Marshall

Healthy Faith includes disbelieving what is not of God. By Molly T. Marshall A rather heated exchange about the atonement theory of a hymn has ensued. Baptists and Presbyterians have weighed in on what the cross of Christ “satisfied,” the nature of divine wrath, and whether singing an objectionable phrase in a hymn constitutes doctrinal confession. (I find it amusing that the Baptist supporters of “In Christ Alone” are demonstrating more Calvinism than the Presbyterians who excluded the hymn.) It is as important to identify the God you do not believe in as it is to confess the One in whom you do believe.

Walter Harrelson, the acclaimed Old Testament scholar, told of learning the Bible at his aunt’s knee — the first critical interpreter he knew. When they encountered the texts in the Hebrew Scriptures that instructed the people of God to decimate the Canaanites, this mountain woman from western North Carolina would gently say: “Now boys, that is not what God is like. Let’s look at some other passages that tell the larger story.” Aunt Zora was teaching healthy disbelief in a God who purportedly inscribed violence. Theologian Christopher Morse calls thoughtful Christians to “faithful disbelief,” which allows one to winnow truth from falsity. In Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief, he observes the struggle of the German church following 1933. Co-opted by aspirations of national dominance and Aryan supremacy, most of the church abdicated its authentic role and became an instrument of oppression, subservient to the Nazi regime. Thus, Morse writes: “To believe in God is at once to disbelieve what is not of God. Faith in God … is not only believing; it is disbelieving as well.” Over the years my mind has changed on matters of faith. Faithful disbelief has compelled me to challenge imbedded theology and move to a more deliberative theological construction. For example, I no longer believe that God wills everything that occurs. To believe that every occurrence is somehow God’s intent creates insuperable obstacles — both for human free will and for a coherent vision of God.

Freighted arguments to justify God in the face of evil cannot survive the burden of the tragic. I do not believe that patriarchy is God’s intent for human relations or the spiritual leadership of God’s people. To maintain that God privileges men over women requires a hermeneutical bias that is not sustainable as we review the larger witness of the Bible. Further, a growing number of churches testify to the good pastoral work offered by women. I do not believe that Western culture is the only apt vehicle for Christian identity. Exporting culture along with the gospel has affronted other contexts by presuming them to be inferior. In our school’s work in Myanmar, we quickly learn of the commendable aspects of ethnic culture and hear the lament of those who felt disregarded. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit is the least member of the Trinity, nor do I believe that the Spirit is confined to Christian believers or church structures. Certainly followers of Jesus have more intimate relationship with the Spirit of the Risen Christ, but God’s Spirit is at work in creation as well as other ways of faith. Returning to the reason for the kerfuffle over the hymnal, I do not believe that the penal substitutionary view of the atonement gives an adequate interpretation of the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross. The idea that forgiveness is only possible after divine wrath has been assuaged is contrary to Paul’s great declaration: “the proof of God’s love is that Christ died for us even while were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). One reason the church’s conversation about the atonement has continued is because the varied New Testament and historical images can only provisionally illuminate the great work of God through Christ for us. Yet, the church has perceived that some of the theories overly stress certain aspects of the divine character and, therefore, cannot be approved with good conscience. Disbelieving false gods is a faithful practice. It also helps clarify the confession we hold fast. This column originally was posted on Aug. 20, 2013. OPINION – See more at:

You Have a Transforming Story to Tell – Morning Worship – July 24, 2015 Mary Lee Talbot


Chautauqua Daily

All week long, at the beginning of his sermon, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III has said, “Let the congregation say amen.” Each day, he repeated it three more times, always ending with, “Now let the church say amen like you mean it.” And he always asked the congregation to hold hands with the people across the aisle as he prayed for the Holy Spirit to anoint the assembly. Friday was no different as he brought his week of preaching to close with a sermon titled “I Have a Transforming Testimony” at 9:15 a.m. in the Amphitheater. His text was Psalm 37:23-28. “The [recent] shootings show us that we are living in an irrational world where even a Bible study is not safe,” he said. “We are in need of a great awakening, and if I had time I would share how the founders of Chautauqua started this place because they knew that people needed a wake-up call throughout their lives.” Reid reviewed the sermon series that he presented this week.

“Every one of you has a story,” he said. “Every one of you has a God-given destiny. As you live and walk the road of life, character is built. Your life has a story and if you listen to it, it will give you strength.” He quoted the dedication page of Marina Keegan’s book, The Opposite of Loneliness: “I will live for love and the rest will take care of itself.” This is what David in Psalm 37 was trying to tell us, he said. David looked at the irrationality of his life, his dysfunctional family, his power as king. “I encourage you to embrace the irrationality of life,” Reid said. “When you embrace it, like Jacob wrestling with the theophany, or as the old people said the angel, remember that the steps of a good person are ordered by the Lord. After all the hell of life, you are still standing. You are still alive even though you are aging. “You can strive for perfection as we Methodists do,” he continued. “Though you fail, the Lord will uphold you. We can look back at our lowest points and know that we are empowered because God held us in his hands.” When we engage irrationality, we are empowered. “I have been young, and now I am old, but I know that the righteous are not forsaken,” Reid said. “Keep on pushing; there is power in your story. ‘Blessed assurance Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.’ This is our story, praising our savior all the day long.”

“You have a testimony, and if you hold on, God will uphold you at the most difficult moment,” he continued. “We weep for a night, but joy comes in the morning. We are praising our savior all day long. ‘I will live for love and the rest will take care of itself.’ You have got a transforming testimony.”

An Encompassing Christology – Molly Marshall – Baptist News Global

Thursday, July 23, 2015Columns

An encompassing Christology

God’s plan to bring all together through Christ is the fulcrum of Holy Scripture.

By Molly T. Marshall

The Baptist World Congress is assembling in Durban, South Africa, and it holds much promise because of its setting and its theme. South Africa manifests significance for the whole world because of its pursuit of truth and reconciliation following the gross indignities and violence of apartheid. The nonviolent approach of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela prevented mass bloodshed, and their leadership bore witness to a pathway for peace. The practice of forgiveness, costly to be sure, opened a new route to a more just society.

Durban is a richly multicultural city, and Gandhi spent time here honing his own nonviolent resistance amidst diverse peoples. Indeed, this city is a great crossroads of Zulus, Afrikaans, Indians, and other tribal groups. As I observe the interactions across racial lines, I am encouraged by the process this country has undergone — and continues to perfect.

Baptist Christians will have opportunities to learn from varied communities as they experience mission opportunities in and around this city. Eager to hear the stories of how people make their way here, visitors will be enriched by the faith and endurance of those who have lived through perilous times. South Africa offers its distinctive gift of Ubuntu, the reality that we can only be by being together.

The theme for our gathering is “Christ the Door,” and it seems that this hinge of our faith is swinging wide open. I just attended a press conference where BWA General Secretary Neville Callam articulated an encompassing Christology. Known for his theological depth, he spoke of the Body of Christ as more than our insular congregational expressions; rather, Christ has significance for all God has called into being, which includes other ways of faith and this fragile earthly home.

Ever the theologian I thought further about the implications of this vision of Christ. I believe that he is engaging the expansive Pauline vision of the Risen Christ, through whom all things cohere, as the great Christ hymn of Colossians intones (1:17). The centrality of Christ can hardly be fathomed, and through him all things hold together. Indeed, Christ is the door through which God walks, and Christ is the door through whom humanity meets God. In my judgment, Baptists have spoken too narrowly of Jesus Christ, and we have often truncated his mission to saving the souls of those who confess their faith in him. The larger social implications are subordinated to this individualistic priority.

Because the Risen Christ extends God’s redemptive mission in promissory fashion for the whole world, there is a connection with all of humanity. That God’s very Word became flesh connects divine presence with all made in God’s own image. Choosing to be made after human likeness, God in Christ holds the door open for all. Such is the humility of God, according great dignity to humans to participate in God’s very life.

The Risen Christ thus encompasses more than the resurrection of Jesus. The corporate Christ, built up through the Spirit of life, makes room for both thematized faith (as Karl Rahner put it) of those who confess Christ explicitly and the inchoate longing of those seeking redemption. God’s plan to bring all together through Christ is the fulcrum of Holy Scripture.

It is refreshing to think anew of God in Christ reconciling the world. It is enervating to fathom that God’s wide mercy desires to include all. It is humbling to consider that God will use human beings as instruments of this ravishing grace, through whom God’s ineluctable pursuit is embodied.

The breadth of Baptist life points to the larger reality of God’s mission in the world. Some 40 million strong in 177,000 churches, Baptist Christians bear a particular witness to God’s desire to bring unity through Christ into being. There are representatives from countries in conflict here; Russians and Ukrainians, for example, will worship together in this congress. Baptists who disagree over sacramental theology will receive communion together; and Baptists who divide over the role of women in ministry will hear a Bulgarian woman preach in plenary worship. Our unity is larger because Jesus Christ is the door. In Christ the walls of partition are coming down, and an open door is set before us. As we study, worship and break bread together in these days in Durban, I trust we will better understand the height and depth and length and breadth of God’s love in Christ Jesus. Christ is our peace, and we can become one as we walk through this door together.

OPINIONViews expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

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