A Debate: God and the Problem of Evil.

evilexists2This is the audio from a debate hosted by First Evangelical Lutheran Church on April 19, 2018 on “God and the Problem of Evil.” Houston Community College professors Evan Friske and Brian Deer square off on how the “Triple O God” (omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent) can exist while so much evil remains in the world. This is a formal debate that allows for equal time among the participants. About 200 were in attendance, including many college students, so it was a great night to introduce the next generation to the world of debate.

A technical note: for some reason, my lapel mic did not pic up on the recording, so I am hard to hear at times. Apologies for the mishap!

Why the name “Sin Boldly”? Martin Luther wrote to his friend Philip Melanchthon in 1521: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” To sin boldly, therefore, is not to seek unholy living, but to follow the course we believe the Bible demands even if the world is against us. And if and when we sin, trust in an even greater savior.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here.  That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release. Otherwise, it may take a few hours from the time of publication until it shows up on the feed. To listen immediately, see below. 

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Cory Booker’s Inquisition. Sin Boldly 137.

694940094001_5769018865001_5769010087001-vsA solo show that looks at Cory Booker’s disturbing line of questioning to a Secretary of State candidate, Billy Graham’s marriage, and whether God and the Church are in competition with one another.

Why the name “Sin Boldly”? Martin Luther wrote to his friend Philip Melanchthon in 1521: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” To sin boldly, therefore, is not to seek unholy living, but to follow the course we believe the Bible demands even if the world is against us. And if and when we sin, trust in an even greater savior.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here.  That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release. Otherwise, it may take a few hours from the time of publication until it shows up on the feed. To listen immediately, see below. 

Top Ten Services of the (Liturgical) Year, Part 2

120513_0013-14smallLast week, I began a curious and potentially heretical list of the top ten liturgical services of the Church year. In truth, all services are fruitful to a life of faith. But my goal is twofold: to help us appreciate the rhythm and pattern of the Church year and to help us see better attendance at some extremely important services that are often ignored. So without further ado, lets jump into the rest of the list. 

8. Reformation Sunday. The most controversial thing about this being on the list is that it is only celebrated by Lutherans and other Reformed folk. Well, we’re Lutheran, so it stays on the list. This Sunday is not just about Brother Martin’s famous 95 Theses or about Lutheran distinctives, even, but rather about the work of the Spirit to sanctify the Church for the sake of its mission. We celebrate the Reformation because the Gospel was rediscovered and because the consciences of God’s people matter. 

7. Christ the King Sunday. Another “capstone” Sunday, this festival marks the end of the liturgical year as the following Sunday is always Advent 1, the first Sunday of every Church year. This Sunday reminds us of the high note on which things always end for Christians, with Christ as victor and Christ as King. This Sunday also always falls close to elections, so it conveniently reminds us that Christ is the sovereign king of all, even as we elect men and women to office. 

6. All Saints Sunday. Built into our life together is an annual remembrance of the dead and the newly baptized. This Sunday is also a wonderful reminder of what a saint is: a baptized believer in Christ. That is what makes one a saint, not a number of posthumous miracles or an especially renowned life on earth. All Saints Day (or Sunday) wonderfully marks endings (death) and new beginnings (baptism), both rooted in baptism. Coming to see more and more the power and comfort of our identity as Christ’s baptized people is always a good thing, and All Saints Sunday goes a long way in that regards. 

5. Ash Wednesday. Well, Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, is unlike any other service throughout the year, and combines both a reminder of our immanent death and promise of new life in Christ. It is point blank Law and Gospel as clear as day in one service. 

4. Pentecost Sunday. The Holy Spirit is particularly lifted up two Sundays per year: Pentecost and Reformation. Pentecost is rightly seen as the birthday of the Church, the day the Spirit is sent by Christ to give life to the Church and strengthen it in its work. The Spirit’s work in the Godhead is to bring men and women to confess Christ as Lord, and this dramatic story in Acts 2 shows its powerful beginning. Since we are still living in the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led era of the Church, its hard to overstate the importance of this festival. 

3. The Easter Vigil. This would be number one on many people’s lists, and I understand why. It is often considered the liturgical “crown jewel”. Historically, it was the time when catechumens of the Church would be baptized, and that is still true in our tradition when possible. What the Vigil does so well is rehearse Salvation History, from creation to Fall to prophecy to restoration: it sets the stage for the resurrection and is unlike any other service of the year. It would be nice if we could do all four parts of the Vigil (the fourth part being the Lord’s Supper on Easter Sunday), but it would involve either an 11:00 pm start time or a sunrise service. We simply roll that portion of the Vigil into the Sunday service and call it a day. This unique service still deserves to be at the top of the list.  

2. Easter Sunday. Can’t argue with this one being on the list. It’s the day we specifically focus on the resurrection of Jesus! Of course, every Sunday is a remembrance of the resurrection. In the end, we are a people of hope and a people of joy precisely because Jesus has been risen from the dead. This event is truly the watershed moment of cosmic history. Why is it not number one? It certainly could be, but you wouldn’t need a resurrection without…

1. Good Friday. Again, you cannot separate Good Friday from Easter. I get that. And Good Friday does not offer the full promise of Easter. But the death of Christ is so central to Christianity that observing it should be our top priority on that day. This is where God’s wrath and justice are satisfied. And the utter pathos of our friend, brother and Lord Jesus enduring suffering for our sake is worth observing with the full reading of the passion (at the very least!). Because every Sunday is a day of resurrection (and we do not tend to see every Friday as a day of crucifixion), observing the crucifixion in an intentional fashion is simply critical for Christians. That’s why it makes number one on my list. 

Responding to Kurt Vonnegut. Sin Boldly Episode 136

Buckley-popupThis solo episode begins with a response to a quote from author Kurt Vonnegut that often makes the rounds on social media. In the quote, he asks why the Beatitudes are not on the walls of the Pentagon, seemingly chastising Christians for “only” adoring the Ten Commandments. Its a good example of “too clever by half” atheistic rhetoric. I also look at a number of megachurch-related topics.

Why the name “Sin Boldly”? Martin Luther wrote to his friend Philip Melanchthon in 1521: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” To sin boldly, therefore, is not to seek unholy living, but to follow the course we believe the Bible demands even if the world is against us. And if and when we sin, trust in an even greater savior.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here.  That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release. Otherwise, it may take a few hours from the time of publication until it shows up on the feed. To listen immediately, see below. 

An Unusual Argument Against Megachurches

6a00d83451dafb69e200e54f30e8818833-640wiAs time marches on, we advance. At least in terms of better business practices. We constantly build better mousetraps, utilizing wisdom from failed experiments to improve. We have engineered our way to perfectly safe airplanes, we are constantly figuring out ways to reuse and recycle resources, and corporations merge to take advantage of efficiencies. Indeed, efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to making a dollar, so it only makes sense that as a society, we will become more and more efficient in all manners of life. 

The centralized, big box model of retail spaces – and even Amazon of course – are models of efficiency. “Volume discount” is the name of the game. The Church seems to have caught on. One of the ways the Church is “efficient” (though this has happened rather organically rather than by a board’s vote) is by having large, centralized congregations able to serve thousands of parishioners instead of hundreds. Since congregation will have some fixed costs in its operation – assuming it deems it important to have a piece of property, sufficient insurance, and some staff – why not decrease the fixed costs by having more people at one location? 

This is a good model for hardware stores and condominium development. But does it work in the Church? Is it a business model we should emulate? In the Church, the costs for these kinds of efficiencies are largely ministerial, a realty that has been pointed out at length over the last several decades. For example:

  • Most megachurches basically look the same and offer a bland, pop aesthetic that is meant to be familiar and comfortable to the unchurched. But it sure doesn’t do much to communicate an otherworldly, kingdom-centered reality! Its quite often a Top 40 rehash with an “inspirational” message at best.
  • There is relative anonymity at megachurches for many, as many leave as easily as they arrived. This “observer-only” reality creates the need for the “real church” work to be done in small groups, a potentially profitable or a potentially disastrous model depending on the health of the small groups.
  • The highs and lows of authentic community and personal relationships to clergy are missed out by most who merely attend these churches. 
  • Most importantly, we are seeing a deplorable loss of solid doctrine as Biblical teaching is sacrificed on the altar of appealing to non-believers. 

But I’d like to offer an unusual argument against megachurches: what we gain in efficiency, we lose in communal presence. Think of it this way: for every one Home Depot, lets say that four small hardware stores are put out of business. If the same is true when other big box retailers roll into town, is it true for the relationship between megachurches and normal ol’ small congregations? It seems so. Most attendees at megachurches are not new Christians; they are pulled from small and perhaps struggling small churches that cannot “compete” with the programs, comfort and predictability of large institutions like megachurches. 

Slowly, as more megachurches arise, the neighborhood churches close up shop, unable to maintain the fixed costs necessary to survive. Churches end up vacating where people live and end up as complexes along major thoroughfares or interstate highways. That effectively removes them from day-to-day communal life. The good and perhaps even irksome reminder that the Church is present, living, and active is quietly lost. Maybe it is more efficient to have one Home Depot rather than four neighborhood hardware stores. But the same is not true for the Church. It would be far better to retain four neighborhood parishes than have one megachurch, if, for no other reason, that is four times the statement to the world that we (Christians) are here and we intend to press on with our mission, never forsaking our location but using it instead as an outpost in the mission field. 

“But wait,” you say, “that’s four times the infrastructure cost! Consolidating is so much more efficient!” Only in an age where we tolerate Christian giving at the 2% clip would we think this way. Christians can and should easily be able to afford the upkeep and purchase of more properties, even if it is “less efficient”. We should even find ourselves in the position of a public nuisance, so present and so prevalent that government entities and businesses should have to compete with us for available land.  

Besides, as the megachurch model continues to prove it will not save or grow “Christendom” (if you will), but essentially produce consolidated congregations, it should be clear that the megachurch model is no guaranteed path to “success”. So lets go back to the plan before: multiplication of congregations, raising up sufficient leaders, generosity among Christians, and making a statement to the world that we are ready and wiling and able to serve within neighborhoods, and not just at the megacenter on the highway. 

Apologetics, Doubting Thomas, and Modern Cynics

350px-Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas“I would take 100 Doubting Thomases over 1 modern cynic. For at least Thomas cared enough and was curious enough to seek the answer to something he hoped was true! I’m not sure modern man really cares what is true.” That was a line f rom my Easter 2 sermon. The text, as you may have guessed, was John 20:19-31, the story of the apostle Thomas refusing to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead without adequate proof.

As it happens, Thomas, the lone (still living!) apostle who was not present the evening of the resurrection for Jesus’ big reveal, is singled out every year on the Sunday after Easter. You might as well call this Doubting Thomas Sunday. I think the general idea is to line up the weeks (Thomas seeing Jesus was the Sunday after the resurrection) and to serve as an apologetic for the resurrection in case those who heard the story the week before may have trouble believing it.

In fact, his refusal to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead is most curious. Did he not trust his friends? Did he think they were delusional? Was he waiting for an April Fool’s “gotcha” moment? Was he afraid of being vulnerable for fear he may be wrong? His doubt is indeed perplexing, for it seems impossible that his ten closest friends could and would have lied to him and that he would not have believed them.

But in Thomas there remains a willingness to be proven wrong. He says to his friends, “But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’” We hear that as stubborn pride and foolish reason, perhaps. But at the very least, he lays out a scenario in which he could believe.

This scenario is unavailable to us, of course, as Jesus has ascended into heaven and is no longer around to show us his wounds. The account that John provides is the next best thing, however, and we should note how quickly and decisively Thomas changes in the wake of the evidence. He makes one of the most remarkable confessions about Jesus in all the scriptures: “My Lord and my God!” Let it never be said that Jesus is not said to be truly God in the New Testament, for Jesus gladly receives the worship of Thomas and does not refute the confession as a falsehood.

So with Thomas, we do experience a doubter, but also a seeker, and one willing to be shown the truth and willing to adopt it as his own. What of the modern cynic? Are they as open as Thomas? I don’t think so. Skepticism has reached such a state of normalcy that the best of apologetics, especially if they are evidentially based, has no common ground from which to build a case. I would take 100 doubting Thomases over one modern cynic because, again, Thomas was open to the evidence available to him. His mind could be changed. And he wanted his apostle’s claims to be true.

The modern skeptic does not want Christianity to be true, and they do not care what evidence you have. They will write it all off as historical relics as useful as other myths, and they will pay that price even if it means they lose touch with the rest of antiquity. To the true Doubting Thomas’s of our day, the men and women who truly have open minds and are not overtly hostile to God, presenting them evidence seems prudent. But for the average modern skeptic, most are too far gone to give good evidence a fair hearing. The discussion must go deeper as soon as possible.

The only way to relate to the hardened modern skeptic is to help them see the absurdity of their own worldview and demonstrate that they are building a world using God’s capital. Before evidence will matter, they will need to see how much they take for granted in God’s world: objective morality, logic, and the uniformity of nature to name three of the larger points. But again, unlike Thomas, so long as they sincerely do not want the claims of Christianity to be true, they will not be interested in the evidence that proves them to be so.

Top Ten Services of the (Liturgical) Year, Part 1

120513_0013-14smallDuring Holy Week, I was thinking about which service is more important: Good Friday, or Easter? A classic dilemma. Both are important, of course, and you really can’t have one without the other. It is practically a trick question. Easter Sunday is far better attended, a fact that, frankly, irks pastors, because it is a little bit like getting the dessert without eating the meal. But it made me think beyond Holy Week services. How would I rank all of our liturgical services? What if I made a list of the top ten services of the liturgical year? Could it be done? After all, who doesn’t love those top 10 lists on the NFL network, like “The Ten Best Free Agent Left Tackles” or the “10 Best Second String Quarterbacks?” I know I’ve killed a few afternoons watching those.

My real goal here is to argue for the particular importance of some relatively ignored services and the liturgical year at large. Christians live into the liturgical calendar as well as the secular calendar. Anything that helps us live more in the latter than the former is good. (And as it turns out, I had so much to say, this will span two posts!)

A few caveats to this potentially heretical activity. First, all worship services are truly awe-some, that is, able to bring us to a place of awe in God’s presence. If only we had time and resources for them more often! Second, this list does not necessarily reflect the views of First Evangelical Lutheran Church or its parent Church, the Holy and Apostolic Church of Christ. Third, you will see that Holy Week is “disproportionately” represented, if that is even possible, and technically, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil form one service spanning three days. For the sake of this debate, we’ll separate them. Fourth, I’d love to hear your top ten list! Here we go…

Honorable Mentions: Lets start with some wonderful services that just didn’t make the Top Ten.

  • Maundy Thursday. Boy, this is a tough one not to include in the top ten. Again, it really is part of the “Three Days” of the Easter Vigil and Good Friday, so it is a little artificial not to include it there. It is most certainly an important night because it recalls the great commandment to love one another as Christ loved us and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. But those are themes that come up throughout the Church year, so I put forth other services.
  • Palm Sunday. Again, hard to keep out of the top ten, but if I included every Holy Week service, there would only be five slots left! Obviously, this was a momentous and prophecy-fulfilling day for Jesus and a uniquely bittersweet day on the liturgical calendar.
  • “Good Shepherd Sunday”, Easter 4. This Sunday always features a portion of John 10. We always have the 23rd psalm and sing “The King of Love, My Shepherd Is.” Kind of a greatest hits Sunday.
  • “Doubting Thomas Sunday”, Easter 2. This is a staple of post-Easter joy; it is arguably the most apologetic Sunday of the year.
  • “The End is Near Sunday”, Advent 1. Nothing like some unusual texts about the end of the world, and they always happen on Advent 1.
  • The Baptism of Jesus. A very important passage, no doubt, but frankly, I find it hard to preach on that story.
  • The Epiphany. Noted mostly for the story of the magi, Epiphany is an important festival, but it rarely falls on a Sunday during a crowded time on the Church calendar.
  • What I will call, “Popular Parable Sunday”. One of the thing that makes some Sundays great is that they are the Sunday on which a great parable falls, like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. Though these are “ordinary” Sundays liturgically speaking, the familiarity of the text gets them an honorable mention.

10. Holy Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is at the core of what Christians believe about God. It tells us who He is, how He has revealed himself, how He accomplishes our salvation, and it always comes after Pentecost Sunday as a kind of capstone to the first half of the liturgical year (Advent – Pentecost). Plus, we always sing “Holy, Holy, Holy”!

9. Christmas. While the obvious position of this service would be number two (based on church attendance alone!), the truth is that the birth of Jesus is more of a recent observation in the life of the Church. Early Christians did not think as much of this event. And the significance of these stories is not the birth, per se, but the Incarnation, a reality that is touched on in other passages of scripture. Still, especially in the light of the genealogies that Matthew and Luke provide, and for the insight that these narratives offer into the family life of Jesus, and for the sheer beauty and joy of the season, Christmas is definitely worthy of being in the Top Ten.

Well, that is all the room I have for now. You’ll have to wait until next week to see where and why I rank 8-1!

Conversion Therapy, Being Called to Ministry, and Justin Bieber’s Presentation of the Gospel. Sin Boldly Episode 135.

GettyImages-805742236_BIEBER_CHURCH_1000-920x584A solo episode. A look at conversion therapy, Perry Noble’s (probably unwise) return to the pastoral office, and the good and bad Justin Bieber’s Easter’s message.

Why the name “Sin Boldly”? Martin Luther wrote to his friend Philip Melanchthon in 1521: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” To sin boldly, therefore, is not to seek unholy living, but to follow the course we believe the Bible demands even if the world is against us. And if and when we sin, trust in an even greater savior.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here.  That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release. Otherwise, it may take a few hours from the time of publication until it shows up on the feed. To listen immediately, see below. 

Bishops, Popes, and Witches: What Good are they? Sin Boldly Episode 134

o90zqc457tue69x60vviOn this solo episode, I have some fun with the bizarre side of Christianity, or the spiritual realm in general. We look at the worst prayer ever uttered in human history, the Pope apparently saying there is no hell, and a witch who believes only she sees “entities” that trouble every human being on earth. Oh, and I include tips on laying sod and cooking delicious Sante Fe Green Chile Stew. (Pardon the decrease in sound quality from the usual! I could not record it directly to the computer, so I had to pull it off the archives from kpft.org.)

Why the name “Sin Boldly”? Martin Luther wrote to his friend Philip Melanchthon in 1521: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” To sin boldly, therefore, is not to seek unholy living, but to follow the course we believe the Bible demands even if the world is against us. And if and when we sin, trust in an even greater savior.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here.  That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release. Otherwise, it may take a few hours from the time of publication until it shows up on the feed. To listen immediately, see below. 

Richard Simmons, Trump and Evangelicals and Weirdly Hip Pastors. Sin Boldly Episode 133

81Vp2dSF08L._SL1500_This solo episode looks at an interesting lawsuit where Richard Simmons felt wronged for tabloid claims that he was transitioning to becoming a woman. How dare he! And another look at Evangelicals relationship to Trump, and a quick look at the weird hyper-hip pastors that worship Justin Bieber almost as much as God.

Why the name “Sin Boldly”? Martin Luther wrote to his friend Philip Melanchthon in 1521: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” To sin boldly, therefore, is not to seek unholy living, but to follow the course we believe the Bible demands even if the world is against us. And if and when we sin, trust in an even greater savior.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here.  That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release. Otherwise, it may take a few hours from the time of publication until it shows up on the feed. To listen immediately, see below.