Friday, August 31, 2007
To give you an idea of the kind of man he was, consider something that happened in 1894. By that point in his life, Larimore had developed a certain practice. He would go somewhere for what we call a “gospel meeting” and would stay for as long as he and the host congregation thought that he was doing some good.
On January 4, 1894, Larimore began preaching at a congregation in Sherman, Texas. He would speak every day, twice a day, and three times on Sunday; fifteen sermons every week.
He kept up that pace until June 7th. During those five months and three days, the number of people who made the good confession and were baptized into Christ numbered 254 (Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, pp. 452-53).
A great speaker and writer, Larimore championed the unity of all believers in Christ. He would often quote Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”
Then he would make this observation: There are many things that are good, but that are not pleasant. An operation that removes a cancerous growth is lifesaving, which is good. But it’s not pleasant.
Other things are pleasant, but are not good. For most of us, eating pie or cake, candy or ice cream is pleasant. But it’s not necessarily good. And if you ate nothing but sweets that certainly would not be good, even though it might be pleasant.
Very few things in this world, said Larimore, are both good and pleasant, things that actually benefit you and provide a pleasant experience as well. One of those few things is the unity of God’s people. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”
[Larimore's actual words can be found in his sermon “Unity,” in Biographies and Sermons, edited by F. D. Syrgley. It's not an easy book to find. I've yet to see a copy myself].
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Kappa stands for koinonia, fellowship. Chi is the first letter in christos, Christ. Fellowship in Christ. I'm the faculty sponsor for this group. Naturally, I want to do everything I can to promote it.
This new school year, Kappa Chi will meet for the first time next Wednesday, September 5th, at noon, at the Amarillo Bible Chair. We're located on the corner of 25th and Jackson, just across from the Washington Street campus.
Lunch will be provided at this meeting. But we need those who plan to come to RSVP no later than next Tuesday. The number to call is 372-5747.
If you know an AC student who might be interested, please send them this information. We want to do all we can to help students "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Monday, August 27, 2007
There's an Old Testament survey course that begins this morning at 10:30. Tonight at 7:00 is the first meeting for "Introduction to World Religions."
Tomorrow morning we'll start the New Testament class. And a week from tomorrow night is the first meeting for "Basic Biblical Hebrew."
It's not too late for students to sign up for any of these classes.
For those who are on the edge of decision, here are (drum roll, please) the "Top 10 Reasons You Should Study Biblical Hebrew" (with thanks to those who contributed):
10. Saint Peter doesn't know English.
9. If Albert Einstein has something in common with The Three Stooges, it's got to be good.
8. Not study Hebrew? How unorthodox!
7. If you like to start at the back of a book, you'll feel right at home.
5. It's the Lord's first language.
4. Nothing clears your throat like pronouncing a "hchet."
3. Ever seen the salaries for rabbis?
2. Barney sings the Hebrew alphabet. Wanna be dumber than him?
1. Gives you four times as much Bible compared to Greek!
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
I frequently check out the attendance and contribution figures. Every once in a while, I'll do some math, dividing the dollars by the attendance in order to derive a figure for giving-per-person. But please don't tell anyone. That just seems so, I don't know, . . . unholy.
Anyway, I often read the articles too. I've discovered that some preachers are especially good writers. One of my favorites is Dalton Key.
But then there was this recent article, by someone I won't name, that just floored me.
The writer begins by explaining that he's a southerner, and that he likes to eat biscuits and gravy. There's just one problem. He has high cholesterol.
So, he can't have biscuits and gravy. If he had that meal as often as he wanted to, he'd soon be dead. So he lays off the biscuits and gravy.
Unlike him, though, a lot of so-called religious people give in to their own form of biscuits and gravy. They happen to like "instrumental music" and "choirs."
However, warns the writer, if they go on "practicing what they are practicing" what awaits them is "certain spiritual death." And all because they liked and indulged in instrumental music and choirs.
The article closes with these words: "When those who practice such error face the fiery pits of Hell and ponder their position for eternity surely they will not respond with the exclamation, 'But I like it!'"
How does this happen? . . .
How do people get to the point where they think that a cappella worship and the absence of choirs is part of our dying to sin?
How do people conclude, and say with a straight face, that hell is reserved for instrumentalists and choir people?
I'm no fan of biscuits and gravy. But that other part makes me feel sick.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
In the speech, Weaver refers to the newish book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007). Picking up some ideas from that book and building on his own experience, here's what Weaver had to say:
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"One problem that most educators face--any adult whose interest is communicating with others--is something that Heath and Heath call 'the curse of knowledge,' and unless we are aware of it, it is unlikely we will compensate for it.
The curse of knowledge can best be demonstrated by a simple game--a game studied and explained by Elizabeth Newton who, in 1990, earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford based on her study. She assigned people to one of two roles: 'tappers' and 'listeners.' Tappers received a list of 25 well-known songs like 'Happy Birthday' and 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' Each tapper was asked to pick a song from the list and tap out the rhythm to a listener by knocking on a table. The listener's job was to guess the song based on the rhythm being tapped.
Now, listen to the results. Over the course of Newtons' experiment, 120 songs were tapped out, but listeners guessed only 2.5 percent, or 3 out of 120.
You may wonder what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology?Before listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked tappers to predict the odds that listeners would guess correctly. This is what is stunning: tappers predicted that the odds were 50 percent. They got their message across 1 time in 40, but tappers thought they were getting it across 1 time in 2.
The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge--the song title--and it makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they're tapping, they can't imagine what it's like for listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the curse of knowledge--once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has 'cursed' us, and it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind.
Heath and Heath remind us that this tapper/listener experiment is reenacted every day with CEOs and front-line employees, teachers and students, politicians and voters, marketers and customers, writers and readers. "
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Hmmm. Preachers and pew-sitters too?
This experiment and observation has me wondering, How does 'the curse of knowledge' impact preaching, or attempts to teach and evangelize?
How is "the curse" related to the big question of Christian unity?
Is the curse something that Christians have brought into the church by over-emphasizing the importance of "head knowledge"? A loaded question, I know. ;-)
I'd like to hear what you think.
Source: Richard L. Weaver, "Sticky Ideas" in Vital Speeches of the Day (August 2007) p. 354.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
- " . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you" (v. 21).
- "May they be brought to complete unity . . . " (v. 23).
On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. (John 7:40-43)
Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. (9:16)
At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?" But others said, "These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" (10:19-21)
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. (12:42-43)
Believers are different from unbelievers. And, in the world of unbelief there are many divisions.
Ironic, isn't it? If there's one thing an unbelieving world might agree about, it's that divisions among Christians are a sign that their message itself is inconsistent. How does the Holy Spirit feel about that?
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Here's how it works. Every few days the hosts come up with a question. Most of the time, the question is related to both religion and current events. Then, the dozens of folks on the panel get to respond.
The responses have a blog-like quality. Anyone and everyone can comment on something written by a member of the panel, which includes a wide array of folks like N. T. Wright, Richard Mouw, Martin Marty, Elaine Pagels, Elie Wiesel, and Brian McLaren.
Every once in a while, I scroll down to read the dozens of comments following the wise-and-witty words of some of the panelists. Even when (or especially when) a response is coming from a place much different from my own, I usually find there's something there for me to learn.
But then--and it almost never fails-- at least one person has posted a comment like, "What a load of crap!" A lot of the time, it's more offensive than that.
Usually, the commenter says enough to prove that (s)he doesn't even begin to understand what the panelist has said, is completely out of his/her depth, and really doesn't belong in the conversation.
It's one of the most obvious examples of something that bugs me now and then. There's a real downside to the near-complete democratization of publishing called the World Wide Web.
Fact is, one person's opinion is not just as good as another's. And frankly, I don't like it when brilliance and blathering are given equal (or nearly equal) space.
Yeah, they used to say the same kinds of things when the printing press was a new invention. But we know there are differences. For example, even fifty years after Gutenberg's invention, how many people could actually use it so quickly and easily as you and I use our computers?
People who maintain a high view of humanity aren't bothered much by the proliferation of nonsense. Their assumption is that good, reasonable people eventually separate trash from treasure. Truth and goodness in time prevail. But it seems to me like there are a lot of examples to the contrary.
While I am constantly amazed at the ability of ordinary human beings to do great and godly things, I'm also amazed at the capacity of even "good" people to be foolish in their thinking, blinded by their prejudices, brutal in their actions.
I know, it's a little late to start a campaign to put the Web genie back in the bottle. Besides, that's not what I want. What I want is for the portrait of the Book of Revelation to be realized; for the Truth who is God to overwhelm everything else, and for his kingdom alone to be established.
Until that happens, blasphemy and blathering will still bother me. Maybe I can manage to not be a part of the problem.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Check out Bible Fight, especially the weapons and dirty tricks of the various fighters. It's good for a laugh.
And if you play for a while, I promise not to tell anyone.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
According to Jesus, the acknowledgement and completion of the unity of all believers is both mission and apologetics. It's what the church should do. And it's what causes the church to be credible.
I've heard preaching that emphasized that Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers, and that he uttered that prayer on the night he was betrayed, the timing adding to its significance.
What I haven't heard proclaimed as often are the purposes and results that Jesus connects to the unity of his people.
Jesus prayed that all believers would be in him and his Father "in order that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).
Jesus prayed for believers that they would be brought to complete unity "to let the world know that you [the Father] sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (17:23).
Seems like important, powerful stuff, doesn't it? I like C. K. Barrett's comment on that phrase in verse 21:
"The unity of the church in God is the supreme testimony to the truth claim that Jesus is God's authorized emissary. The existence of such a community is a supernatural fact which can be explained only as the result of a supernatural cause. Moreover, it reveals the pattern of the divine activity which constitutes the Gospel: the Father sends the Son, and in his works the love of the Father for mankind is manifest, because the Son lives always in the unity of love with the Father; the Son sends the church, and in the mutual charity and humility which exist within the unity of the church the life of the Son and of the Father is reflected. The church's unity in word and faith means that the world is challenged to decide between faith and unbelief."
Some related questions I have are . . . .
1. Why isn't unity more of hot topic in the world of Christendom today?
2. Is it simply the case that we have gotten used to the concept of the church (universal) and the various churches making up that church?
3. Or is it more the case that the fragmented world of Christendom seems hopeless when it comes to unity?
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Christian Unity as a Good to be Preserved
Although the New Testament has a lot to say and imply about Christian unity (John 17:20-23, for example), the word "unity" (henotes) occurs only two times: in Ephesians 4, verses 3 and 13.
As many have pointed out, in Ephesians 4 Paul is just getting started with an extended section of exhortation. Already in chapters 1-3, he has told his Christian readers what God has done in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Now, in chapters 4-6, Paul goes on to tell them what they should and must do in response to the loving mercy and grace of God.Part of the instruction about "worthy living" (4:1) includes this in 4:3:
"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
The unity of the church is here called "the unity of the Spirit" because God the Father, in Christ Jesus, has created such unity by his Spirit. Christian unity, therefore, is God's creation. It is not, nor could it ever be, produced through the effort of sinful people. Instead, we experience and know unity with God and with other Christians only because it has been given to us through grace.
However, although Christian unity is not produced by Christians, it must be maintained and preserved by them. In fact, according to verse 3, Christians are to spare no effort in the maintenance of this gift they have received from God. It is both urgent and important.
Paul describes the means by which Christians maintain their unity: they do this "through the bond of peace." Jesus Christ himself is the peace of the church (Eph. 2:14-18). Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is present, you will find among other things, peace (Galatians 5:22). By imitating Christ, by staying in step with God's Spirit, Christians live lives of peace and reconciliation.
Christian unity is a good that must be preserved.
Christian Unity as a Goal to be Pursued
As Paul goes on in Ephesians 4, he reinforces his point about unity with the impressive list sometimes called "the seven ones". It's found in verses 4-6. But then, he immediately turns to the truth about diversity in the church:
"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it" (verse 7). When he says "as Christ apportioned it" he clearly has in mind the varied gifts of different sorts of people in the church. And it begins with leaders.
Christ has given "some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers" (verse 11). The common task of these different kinds of leaders is "to prepare God's people for works of service" which has the purpose of building up the body of Christ (verse 12).
But such a purpose and effect has its own goal: "until we all attain
- to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God
- to the mature person
- to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"
Here, Christian unity is clearly something that Christians strive to and "attain" or "reach" (NIV). Unity is not merely a good that Christians receive and maintain. It is also a goal that they pursue and achieve through a deeper knowledge and appreciation for what God has done, is doing, and will do through Christ.
Interestingly enough, in that great prayer of Jesus', his petition for future followers includes these words: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23).
Christian unity is a goal to be pursued.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The class will meet each Tuesday evening, beginning at 6:30, at the Amarillo Bible Chair, 2501 S. Jackson (corner of Jackson and 25th). That's just across the street from the south parking lot of the Washington Street campus of Amarillo College.
At this point, the plan is to study for about two hours (until 8:30 p.m.). But sessions can go a little longer if body, spirit, and time permit.
Because this class is not yet a part of the curriculum at Amarillo College, it is not yet a credit class. However, several people have asked about and shown an interest in studying Biblical Hebrew. They simply want to learn at least the basics of the language. So the class is a "go" and I'm excited.
Textbooks: To begin, students must purchase Biblical Hebrew, Second Edition (SET). The two books and three audio CDs come packaged together. The "SET" is available for purchase at the Amarillo College Bookstore, located in the College Union Building on the Washington Street campus of AC. Because the College bookstore has gone ahead and gotten several copies of the SET, my request is that students purchase these materials from them.
Questions? You may call me at (806) 372-5747, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, August 10, 2007
"Part of the problem, particularly in the United States, is that cultures become so polarized that it is often assumed that if you tick one box you're going to tick a dozen other boxes down the same side of the page--without realizing that the page itself is highly arbitrary and culture-bound. We have to claim the freedom, in Christ and in our various cultures, to name and call issues one by one with wisdom and clarity, without assuming that a decision on one point commits us to a decision on others."
--part of Wright's introductory remarks in a presentation on "Women's Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis" delivered at a symposium at St. John's College, September 2004.
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I had seen it before, but over at Brian Mashburn's blog I recently came across it again: Joe Beam's description and classification of Churches of Christ in the U.S. Have you seen this? It's worth a read and consideration. I'd be interested to hear your reactions to it. You can see the article, "What is Happening to Churches of Christ?" here.
Now, here are a couple of my reactions:
1. I understand the desire to simply identify and describe what is happening. And I think that Beam's analysis is, I'm sad to say, mostly on-target.
2. For me, the upshot is this: the group Beam is describing, the Churches of Christ, is the one where I grew up, where I belong, where I worship and work, and where I (God, help me) have agreed to be a leader of sorts. Because that's true, I am compelled to not only ask "What is happening?" but also to ask "And what am I doing about it?" I believe that in this case a leader is someone who is willing to take up responsibility for dealing with the sin of disunity in what is already a splinter group.
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Hey, check out Jim Martin's latest post, "Creating Opportunities to Learn." I'll soon be listing Jim under my sidebar "Some Bloggers I Like." He certainly belongs in that group. His blog "A Place for the God-Hungry" never fails to whet my appetite.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
I'm coming back to the numbers because I recently checked out the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 2007. According to this source, between 1999 and about 2005 the Churches of Christ grew by 9.3%. The Yearbook also reports that the "inclusive membership" of this group in the United States is 1,639,495.
The Yearbook says that, until now, it has received no statistical report from the Churches of Christ since 1999. Of course, most denominations are highly centralized and report from their headquarters (when else?) every year. One can only wonder: Who delivered this most recent update for the Churches of Christ? Why was there a six-year break? And what's the basis for the numbers now being published?
Because of the radical autonomy of the congregations that make up the Churches of Christ, the group as a whole is one of the hardest to count. Its numbers will always be debatable. Either way, a 9.3% rate of growth since 1999 certainly looks and feels better than the numbers given in the Chronicle, 1.6% since 1980. However, my experience suggests that the lower rate of growth is closer to the truth.
Aside from the question of which set of numbers is more accurate, some would ask if it even matters. After all, the Lord knows who are His. When it comes to who's justified and who isn't, what people assume and what God says can sometimes run in opposite directions (Luke 18:9-14, for example). Besides, if current trends keep going--with religious brand identity and loyalty continuing to erode--then the future will be a place where fewer people know or even care about such things.
I guess I have to admit that I'm not merely a washed-in-the-blood Christian. I'm also a dyed-in-the-wool member of this group I'm talking about. I love and care about it. I want to know how it's doing, its successes and failures, challenges and opportunities.
It might be a relatively small section of the kingdom of Christ. But it's where I worship, where I work, where I belong. And, like a lot of other folks in this group, I think it has great potential for bringing honor to God; that it has something to say and gifts to give to others who also live under the banner of the Cross. So I hope and pray that it grows in spirit and, yes, in number too.
Years ago, Phil Slate told me that the late great Ira North, preacher for the huge Madison Church of Christ near Nashville, was onced questioned in public: "Don't you emphasize numbers a lot?"
"Yes, we do!" said North. "We emphasize numbers because every number represents a person for whom Christ died!"
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
RELG 1301 Old Testament 10:30-11:45 MW
PHIL 1304 World Religions 1:30-2:45 MW
RELG 1302 New Testament 9:00-10:15 TTh
PHIL 1304 World Religions 7:00-9:45 M
Non-Credit Basic Biblical Hebrew 6:30-830 Tu
All of these classes (except "Basic Biblical Hebrew") may be taken for humanities credit and will apply toward any degree program at Amarillo College.
Students at Amarillo College may choose to major in Religion.
All credit course work is guarenteed to transfer to any college or university in Texas.
Classes may be taken for "Leisure Studies" credit, and anyone is welcome to simply audit a course free of charge.
Pre-registration is underway, and classes begin Monday, August 27, 2007. To enroll, visit the AC website at www.actx.edu/enroll/
For more information, please call and speak with Becky Hugg or Frank Bellizzi at (806) 372-5747, or visit our website at www.amarillobiblechair.homestead.com/
Monday, August 06, 2007
Obviously, this one can start from a lot of different places and go in a bunch of different directions. So I've decided to begin my study and thinking at that place in the New Testament where we actually have the expression, "the unity of the Spirit." Of course it comes from the first paragraph of Ephesians 4:
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy
of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (verses 1-6, New International Version).
My first question is: Why does Paul refer to unity or oneness in the church as "the unity of the Spirit"? I have some inklings that I want to explore, and would appreciate your feedback.
A concordance search in Ephesians points to the many places in this short letter where the word "spirit" or "spiritual" appear. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, there are several passages where the Spirit of God is said to be the agent or instrument through whom God the Father in Christ Jesus accomplishes certain things in behalf of the church. For example . . .
- Through Christ, Jew and Gentile Christians "both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (2:18).
- In Christ, Gentiles are also "being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (2:22).
- The mystery of Christ "has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets" (3:5).
- Paul reports that he prays for the Ephesian Christians that God the Father "may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (3:16).
It seems natural, then, to conclude that (a) if the oneness of Jews and Gentiles in Christ is a oneness that the Father has created, and (b) if the Father's work in Christ is often said to be done by or through the Spirit, then it stands to reason that this unity might be called the unity "of the Spirit."
I've got a bunch of other questions. But I want to stop here. So far so good? What would you add?
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Okay. Michele and I went to see "Ultimatum" last night. I think that was my first time to see a much-awaited movie on opening night. The theatre was absolutely packed. Being patrons of the second-run dollar theater, we're not used to that.
The review I read was on target. Anyone who liked the first two Bourne movies will not be disappointed by "Ultimatum." The plot and the script hold together really well; the action scenes are also what you've come to expect in these films.
I have to say that, compared to the car chases and fistfights, I prefer the scenes like the one in London's Waterloo Station. Bourne plants a new un-tapped phone, communicates with someone he's trying to save, and out-smarts an army of surveillance.
I might enjoy the "pure action" scenes more, but sometimes the jumping-camera effect that director Paul Greengrass seems to prefer is just too much for me. It gets to the point where you're not sure what you're watching. But that's nit-picking.
"The Bourne Ultimatum" is riveting from start to finish, movie escapism at its best. So, have you seen this one yet? What did you think?
Oh, and by the way, if you didn't see either of the first two Bourne movies, not to worry. You can get this one without the lead in.