Monday, September 27, 2010

My Most Important Books, rev.

BOOKS THAT SIGNIFICANTLY INFLUENCED MY LIFE
(whether they should have or not)
TOM JOHNSON – September 2010

FICTION
Berry Wendell, the novels, esp. Jayber Crow
Bunyan, John, Pilgrim’s Progress
Camus, Albert, The Stranger
Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Endo, Shusako, Silence
The Golden Books (children’s books)
Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey
Howatch, Susan (the Starbridge Novels)
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World
Irving, John (the novels)
Lewis, C.S., The Narnia Chronicles, The Space Trilogy, et al.
MacDonald, George, Lilith
Maugham, W. Somerset, Of Human Bondage
Mother Goose Stories
Orwell, George, 1984 and Animal Farm
Pirsig, Robert, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Potok, Chaim (all the novels)
Russell, Mary Doria, The Sparrow
Shakespeare, William (all the plays, esp. the tragedies)
Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbitt, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Twain, Mark, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer
Updike, John (all the novels)
Williams, Charles (all the novels)
Young, William P., The Shack

RELIGIOUS or ABOUT RELIGION
Abhishiktananda, Prayer
Apostolic Fathers, The
Baillie, John, A Diary of Private Prayer
Bainton, Roland, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther
Barclay, William (all, esp. the commentaries)
Beckwith, Paul, ed., Hymns (Intervarsity Press)
Berger, Peter, The Heretical Imperative and The Sacred Canopy
Bhagavad Gita, The
Bible, The (KJV, RSV with Apocrypha)
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (all the theological writings)
Book of Common Prayer, The
Book of Order, The (PCUSA)
Brown, Raymond E. (all the biblical studies)
Bruce, F. F. (all the biblical studies)
Brunner, Emil (all the theological works)
Bultmann, Rudolf, Existence and Faith and The Theology of the New Testament
Calvin, John, The Institute of the Christian Religion (2 vols.)
Carnell, Edward John, A Philosophy of the Christian Religion, and An Introduction to Christian
Apologetics
Cloud of Unknowing, The (ed., William Johnston)
Cullmann, Oscar, Christ and Time and Salvation in History
Davies, W.D., Paul and Rabbinic Judaism
Dead Sea Scrolls, The
De Caussade, Jean-Pierre, Abandonment to Divine Providence
De Mello, Anthony, Awareness
Dunn, James D. G., Unity and Diversity in the New Testament
Foster, Richard, A Celebration of Discipline and Prayer
Fowler, James W., Stages of Faith
Frykholm, Amy, Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography and Rapture Culture
Girzone, Joseph, A Portrait of Jesus
Grenz, Stanley J., Theology for the Community of God
Gutierrez, Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation
Hammond, T.C., In Understanding Be Men
Hick, John, Evil and the God of Love, The Existence of God, and Philosophy of Religion
Holmes, Arthur, All Truth Is God’s Truth, The Idea of a Christian College, and Faith Seeks
Understanding
Hordern, William, A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology
Hunter, A. M. (biblical and theological studies)
Johnson, Thomas F., The Antitheses of the Elder, and 1,2,3 John (NIBC commentary)
Julian of Norwich, Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love
Keating, Thomas, Invitation to Love and Open Heart, Open Mind
Kelly, Thomas R., A Testament of Devotion
Kempis, Thomas à, The Imitation of Christ
Ladd, George E., A Theology of the New Testament
Larson, Bruce (Faith at Work writings)
LaSor, Wm. S., Hubbard, D., and Bush, F. W., Old Testament Survey
Lawrence, Brother, The Practice of the Presence of God
Lewis, C. S. (all the theology)
Luther, Martin, The Three Treatises
Malina, Bruce, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology
Manning, Brennan, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Ruthless Trust, and Abba’s Child
Marsden, George, Reforming Fundamentalism
McDonald, George, Unspoken Sermons
McLaren, Brian, A New Kind of Christian
Merton, Thomas, New Seeds of contemplation
Miller, Keith (Faith at Work writings)
Mulholland, M. Robert Jr., Invitation to a Journey
Munger, Robert Boyd, My Heart, Christ’s Home
Murphy, Roland E. (all the biblical studies)
Nee Watchman, The Normal Christian Life
Niebuhr, H. Richard, Christ and Culture
Nouwen, Henri (everything)
Packer, J. I., Knowing God
Pennington, Basil, Centering Prayer
Phillips, J. B., Your God Is Too Small
Pinnock, Clark, The Openness of God and Unbounded Love
Ramm, Bernard (all the theological writings)
Ramsey, Paul, Basic Christian Ethics
Rinker, Ros, Prayer: Conversing with God
Sider, Ron, Christ and Violence and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
Sire, James W., The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog
Smith, D. Moody (all the biblical studies)
Stott, John R. W., Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, all the commentaries
Talbott, Thomas, The Inescapable Love of God
Tillich, Paul (all)
Tozer, A. W. (all the spiritual-theological writings)
Tugwell, Simon, Ways of Imperfection
Whale, J. S., Christian Doctrine and The Protestant Tradition
Whiston, Charles, Pray and When Ye Pray, Say Our Father
Whitely, D. E. H., The Theology of St. Paul

NOT PRIMARILY RELIGIOUS
Adams, Henry, Mont St. Michel and Chartres
Adler, Mortimer, How to Read a Book
Bennis, Warren, On Becoming a Leader
Berger, Peter, The Social Construction of Reality (with Thomas Luckman)
Buber, Martin, I and Thou
Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Copleston, Frederick, A History of Philosophy (3 vols.)
Covey, Stephen R., The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Dana, H.E. and Mantey, J., A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament
Detroit Free Press, The (1950-61, 1971-76)
Dyer, Wayne (all)
Eisley, Loren, The Immense Journey
Frankl, Viktor, Man’s Search for Meaning
Goffmann, Erving, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
Janson, H. W., History of Art
King, Martin Luther, The Strength to Love and Why We Can’t Wait
Knowles, Malcolm, Self-Directed Learning
Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Long, Edward, War and Conscience in America
Malcom X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
May, Gerald, Addiction and Grace
Metzger, Bruce, Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Mortenson, Greg, Three Cups of Tea
Norris, Kathleen, Dakota
Palmer, Parker, To Know As We Are Known and The Courage to Teach
Panofsky, Erwin, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism
Peale, Norman Vincent, The Power of Positive Thinking
Peck, M. Scott, The Road Less Traveled and Further Along the Road Less Traveled
Plato, The Dialogues of Plato
Robert’s Rules of Order
Rogers, Carl, On Becoming a Person
Strunk, William and E. B. White, The Elements of Style
Wallbank, T.W. and Alastair Taylor, Civilization: Past and Present

There are many other books in the fiction and non-religious nonfiction that I cannot recall. Every once in a while, I see someone else’s list of the “best books” and think, “Oh yeah, that was important to me too.” So, I’ll keep reading and revising the list.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Eleven Beliefs That Cause Problems

From Albert Ellis, edited by Kathie Keeler and Tom Johnson

Our behavior is determined by what we believe, whether we are aware of it or not. Anxiety, depression, sadness are all caused by what we believe. Below are listed eleven common beliefs that cause problems. The list is adapted from the work of Albert Ellis , one of the originators of cognitive-behavioral therapy. His pioneering research brought a significant paradigm shift to the world of psychology.

1. I must be loved by everyone.
Actually, everyone doesn’t have to love me, or even like me. I don’t necessarily like everyone I know, so why should everyone else have to like me? I enjoy being liked and loved, but if someone doesn’t like me, that’s OK. I will still feel loved and am OK. I can’t make someone like me anymore than someone can get me to like them. I don’t need everyone’s approval all the time or anyone’s approval all the time. They don’t approve of me: that’s OK. I don’t approve of everyone else either.

2. I must be perfect.
No, it is okay to make mistakes. Making mistakes is something we all do, even serious ones. I’m still a good person even if I make mistakes. So I won’t let them upset me. I choose to keep on trying to do better. Other people can make mistakes too without me getting on their case. I choose to be gentle with myself and with other people.

3. People who do things I don't like are bad people.
Not necessarily. They aren’t evil just because I don’t like what they have done. Why should other people always be the way I want them to be? Should I be the way someone else wants me to be? No. I can’t control others or change them. They are who they are, and we all deserve basic respect and reasonable treatment.

4. Things should be different. I need to control things.
No, I don’t have to. I will be OK if things are different than I want them to be. When we don't accept things the way they are, we're fighting against reality, and that causes stress. I don't always need to control things. I may prefer something different, but I can choose to not stress myself over things I can't change. Even if I don’t like something, I can live with it.

5. It is your fault I feel this way.
No, I am responsible for my day, for how I feel and for what I do. Other people don’t make me feel things; I choose my emotional response. It is not the responsibility of other people to change so that I feel better. I refuse to give emotional control of my life over to other people.

6. Something may go wrong, and I have to worry about it.
No, Things may go wrong – they sometimes do – and I don’t have to worry about it. I can handle it when things go wrong. Actually, most of the time, things go fine, but when they don't, that’s OK too. I don't have to cause myself stress by worrying. There are solutions. I’ll deal with it and be OK.

7. This is too hard; I can’t do it.
Yes, life can be hard, but I can try. Even if I have to deal with difficult situations, facing them is better than avoiding them. Taking on challenges produces a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. Not everything can be easy. Things worth having are worth the effort. I can’t do everything, but I can do something

8. I need someone stronger than me to lean on.
Most of the time, I am strong enough to handle my own problems. I am a capable, intelligent person. I can take care of myself, and when I need help, I am free to ask for it. But I can also think for myself and make my own decisions. I don’t need to be dependent on someone else for my well being.

9. I can't change.
Of course I can, if I choose to. I don’t have to be a certain way because of something that happened in the past. Every day is a new day, and there are options. I don’t have to be the way I was yesterday. I can change.

10. You need me to fix up your life.
Actually other people are also quite capable and intelligent; they can act to solve their own problems. I don't need to fix up other people's lives or to change them to feel good about myself. I can care and be of some help, but it's not my job to rescue other people or to “run the world.”

11. There's only one right way to do things: my way.
There is almost always more than one way to solve a problem or resolve a situation. I can be flexible. I am not the only one with good ideas and experience. Other people have them too. I can contribute my part and remember that everyone has something to contribute that’s worth listening to.

So - - - - -
I can change the false and negative beliefs that are causing me problems by becoming aware of them and replacing them with the positive truth. It may not happen overnight, but I can make a start today. I can post this list and read it at least once a week. It can change your life, and it has helped change mine.

Tom

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Letter from Old John

A Letter from Old John

My friends and I are excited to tell you about our experience with the One who has made a great difference in our lives. We think he belongs to another world, that he came from the One True God to give us Life, and that he is that Life. We are passing on this good news we’ve found so you can share the same joy and be friends with us, united in knowing God and Jesus, the One whom he sent.

Another way One way to express this good news is that the One True and Living God is Light and only Light. We do not have to worry about God; there is no dark side. That’s an illusion, a lie that some people have made up. God is Light, period.

Yes, I know there are people who claim to have a personal relationship with this All-Light God even though their lives emit more darkness than light. You can be sure that such people are self-deceived and are not saying or doing what is right.

Instead, it works like this: if we are seeking to live our daily lives in the presence of the All-Light God, and to the extent that we actually do, we experience true community with others who are seeking to do the same, and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the Cross, completely takes care of any leftover darkness in us.

The wrong way to deal with the darkness in us is to deny that it’s there, to deny that we are capable of doing real harm. That’s just a lie. There is scary darkness in us (the All-Light God is working on it), and we can hurt ourselves and other people.

The right way to respond to the obvious evidence of our own personal darkness is to tell the truth about it: Yes, it is there in me, and there is no way to hide from it. And when we are honest about ourselves in God’s presence, an amazing thing happens: the All-Light God completely forgives us (God isn’t surprised about who we really are; he already knew, and he also knew we couldn’t move on if we tried to live dishonestly). God takes away any barrier between ourselves and God. When God says we are forgiven, he means it.

So, there is no way forward in your life if you deny your own brokenness and darkness. You can’t hide it (God and your friends see it anyway). Agree with God about the specific evidence of darkness in your life, and you get straight with the truth. Healing follows the Doctor’s diagnosis of the real problem.

Look, I want you to know that darkness is serious (it separates us from the experienced love of the All-Light God) and should not be minimized with the easy excuses we sometimes offer. When we act inconsistently with the Light (and these are almost always failures-of-love of some sort), there is another solution, the answer God has provided (it will take a dose of humility to admit you can’t eradicate the darkness by yourself, and it takes a long time for some of us to admit it. God is quite patient.). And that answer is Jesus, our court-appointed attorney, who also happens to be the best one, one not even money could buy. When you have Jesus for your lawyer, you have a friend who has your best interest at heart. He knows the All-Light God like no one else, and his reputation is impeccable. He is good: good at what he does, and good in who he is.

He knows that we need a way to be made right with God, to deal with the darkness in us, to be healed of our deepest infirmities. And he himself becomes this Way. He absorbed our darkness on the Cross, sucked it all up, and put it to death. He absorbed so much darkness that for a while he couldn’t even see the Light. He felt our intense loneliness and emptiness, and maybe even hell itself. And he did this not only for us who now know him, but for every last human being who has ever lived. He could do this because he was not only fully like us, and, therefore, represented all humanity, but he was also, in a very real sense, God, sent by God’s love to represent God.

I realize that there are a lot of religious people out there who claim to know God, even to be saved, or to have a personal relationship with God, but their claim is a proved a lie, as far as we can tell, by the way they live. It’s like Jesus said about the tree being known by its fruit. God’s commandments are for our good: they keep us in the Light and the darkness out of us. God’s basic command, sovereign over all the others, is the rule of love: love for God and neighbor, including appropriate love for ourselves. All the other rules fall under this one. So, if you’ve got two people, and one is following the rule of love to the best of her ability and the other isn’t: guess which one might know God and which one is probably doesn’t?

Following God’s way leads to a growing and maturing love for God. So, if someone claims to know God or to be saved, and they’re not growing in love, forget it; their claim is bogus. Jesus’ followers ought to look at least a little like Jesus, and he was the embodiment of love. So, do the people who really know us see us as loving persons?

This is really old stuff I’m reminding you about; we’ve been told it since we were children: love one another. On the other hand, love never becomes “old hat.” It’s always fresh and new, whether it comes from Jesus or from a friend. But it is only possible to live this way, to be a genuinely loving person, as we let the All-Light God push out all our darkness. And we believe that one day he who is the Light of the World will bring an end to all the darkness in us and in the whole world.

So, religious people who claim to hang out with the All-Light God but do not love the people around them, especially the people they know, are actually deepening the gloom around them. They’ve lost their way and are in danger of becoming spiritually blind to what really matters. Only as we seek to love our neighbors, the people who cross our path each day, can we authenticate any such claim to an acquaintance with the All-Light God. In fact, such people are lighting candles in the darkness all the time, helping themselves and other see the way and avoid painful falls.

I also want you to know that, no matter what your age or maturity level, there are certain things that you should never forget: God loves us and forgive us; trust the knowledge of God you already have; the power of evil has no power over us; and God’s Logos, his living Word of Life, has come to live in us forever. Let these assurances be your strength and confidence every day.

Moving on, there is a right and a wrong way to love the world. We are called to love the people but not the values the world gets all caught up in. Jesus said we can’t serve two masters, especially when their agendas are in serious conflict. The desires and demands of the world flat out opposed to what the the all-loving Father cares about. One path leads, step by step, to spiritual death, while the other, less traveled, leads to life.

I know it’s not always easy to choose God’s way. The world’s agenda for us looks good, sounds super, feels groovy, smells amazing, and tastes great. And at some level (where there is still residual darkness) we really want it. What’s more, other people try to sell us stuff or experiences that will “make us the envy” our neighborhood or our school or our office. But the world does not have our best interests at heart as the Father does. Friends, I urge you to see through the glitz and feels-good, and choose God’s life-giving way instead. Trade your culture’s plea for short-term gratification for long-term loving obedience to the Father and for joy without end. It’s a way better deal.

We live in apocalyptic times. So much change and much of it not good! They are always offering us substitutes for Jesus and his way, false “Messiahs” with their superficial fixes for what’s wrong with us and the world. We may even know some of these salespeople. They are human just as we are; they may even have been Christians or said they were. But they’ve left the path and the friendship of those who are seeking to trust the All-Light All-Loving God. Their true identity has become clear. They are following the other way, the perilous way of the world. So, don’t be shaken by the spiritual claims of such people. You’ve got to be discerning. Remember, you do know God, and God’s Spirit has come to live within you and to teach you. That’s all you need..

Though I’m confident you already know what’s right and wrong in these matters, here’s a test you can use: what do these teachers say about Jesus? Do they ignore him, the One whom God sent to bring us home? Are they offering another way, a way that minimizes who Jesus is and what he has done? If so, then walk away: they and their philosophy are false and even dangerous. They simply don’t yet know the love of the One True God.

Jesus is the way God has opened for us to know him and to live in the Light. Reject Jesus and you cannot get to God. So, hold on to the welcoming message you’ve always known was true. Let it sink deeply in. As it becomes part of your core convictions, you’ll find that God’s love and care will never leave you or forsake you, now or in the life to come. This is his solemn promise.

OK, then, we want to live in such a way that, whether we see Christ’s return (as he promised) or we meet him on the other side of death, we won’t be afraid. Instead of shrinking back in fear, we will rush into his arms of love, and he will welcome us to be with him forever. After all, we are his beloved brothers and sisters, God’s own dear children. He is the Truly Good Person, the authentic image of God’s own character. We have come to know him, we have begun to be like him, and this proves we are related, children of God, siblings of God’s own Son.

All this is due to the amazing love God has for us. His love is unconditional; he just gives it to us freely. We are indeed his own dear family. Our pictures are on his desk and in his wallet. Not everyone knows our true identity, of course. But if they knew Jesus, and we hope they will, they would know us too. Then we would all be at the eschatological family reunion!

So, have no doubt: here and now you are God’s beloved family. What God has in store for us in the future cannot even be imagined. What would you do for your children if you were God? We have no clue, except that it will involve the on-going (already started) inner transformation of becoming like Jesus. One day we will see him in the Light, with no shadow of “this present darkness,” and that true and pure vision will transform us. We will become like him, with all our darkness burned away in the purifying fire of God’s love.

If, then, this is what (or rather Who) you are looking forward to, let’s get started now. Let God burn away anything in you that is not like Jesus. Remember the story of Abba Lot who went to Abba Joseph and said, "Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer, and meditation, and quiet: and as far as I can I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else should I do?" Then Joseph stood up and spread out his hands to heaven, and his fingers shone like ten flames of fire, and he said, "If you will, you can become all flame" (from “Sayings of the Desert Fathers”).

Living in the darkness means living contrary to God’s rule of love. Spiritual darkness is the absence of this loving way, and that’s not what God intended for any of us. Jesus came from God to remove the darkness, and he is all Light, the Light of the world, all flame. So, as you live in on-going communion with the Light, you won’t live in the dark. People living in the dark are still looking for the Light; they haven’t met him yet.

Be careful, though, of false religious teachers, whose claims to be right and good are contradicted by their lives. Jesus is the truly right and good one: follow him and you’ll be all right. Walking in the darkness is the devil’s way, and he has been in the dark since the beginning. Jesus the Light came to bring an end to the devil’s dark ways. God’s true children don’t walk in the darkness because they have God’s interior Light to shine on their path.

You can tell God’s family from those who follow the dark side by seeing which ones actually do what is good, right, true, just, kind, humble, and especially loving, and which ones don’t. Loving one another has always been God’s way. Cain and Abel were brothers. Abel’s life was good, but Cain chose the dark side, and the results were deadly and evil.

And, don’t be shocked if the Jesus-way you follow is completely rejected by people who don’t know him yet: Jesus’ values and the values of society can be radically different. But that’s okay: we choose to love one another, and that way leads to life. Rejecting the way of love leads to death. If you hate other people, it’s tantamount to wishing them dead. God’s true life cannot be in such a person.

We have come to know what love really means because of Jesus giving his life for us; therefore, we ought so to love that we sacrifice our lives for each other. But if we see people in need and won’t lift a finger to help them and say we don’t care about them, how then can we claim to be following the way of Jesus? Real love shows up in practice; it’s not just a good idea.

The practice of sacrificial love can help assure us that we are on the right path; it is real evidence before God. We do have our doubts and sometimes wonder if we’re okay with God, but God’s love is greater than all our doubts. We can be confident that God already knows the whole truth about us, good and bad, and still loves and forgives us. This confidence before God can keep us praying effectively, especially for others, because God sees that we are trying to obey him and do what is right.

And this is what God really wants; it’s the heart of all I want to say to you in this letter: trust Jesus God’s Son, believe in him, and love one another. Faith and love: it’s not that complicated. Follow this way and you will know God and live in tune with God, and, of course, you have the help of God’s very Spirit who has come to make her home in our hearts.

While I’m on the subject of the Spirit, please don’t believe everyone who claims to be “spiritual” or who says they are only doing what God has told them to do. There are false religious teachers in the world, and some of them are listening to a spirit that’s not God’s. One way to discern God’s Spirit is how these people treat Jesus. Did the real Jesus, the Jesus who walked this earth a few decades ago, really come from God or not? If the “spiritual people” do not affirm that Jesus came from God, then you know you are dealing with a spirit that is opposed to Christ. He warned us that this would happen, and now it is.

You that you do not need to feel put down by these false teachers. It is you who are God’s beloved children, and you’ve already won the battle (you don’t need to fight them), because it is in fact God’s own Spirit that lives in you. They belong to another kingdom than God’s, and that realm shapes their message. They might even have a big following. No surprise. But it is we, in fact, who belong to God’s kingdom and are God’s family; we know the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow him, even if everyone else thinks we’re crazy. We know which Spirit is true, and which is false.

So then, since God is love and you are God’s children, love one another, for God is all about love, and those who practice such care for each other show that they are God’s people, the ones who really know him. Those who don’t practice love and care for other people show they don’t really know God, despite what they say.

God has decisively demonstrated his love for us by sending his only Son into enemy territory to give us life at great cost. So, don’t make a big deal about your love for God, as some people do. Love is not so much about what we do but about what God has done. He loved us and sent his Son to completely take care of our darkness once and for all. God’s good example compels us to love one another. Love makes God visible, and it shows you are in tune with God, enabling God to help you love even better.

We are tuned in to God only because God’s Spirit, the divine receiver-transmitter, lives within us. The Spirit causes us to play the song “For God so loved that world that he gave his only Son.” So, if we confess that Jesus is God’s Son, our Savior, we too will get tuned in to God and get to know him deeply, as he promised.

We have experienced God’s love, and now we believe it, trust it, and rely on it. The very essence of God’s nature is Love, and if seek to live a loving life, we will find that we are living in sync with the All-Light, All-Love God.

Living a life of love will give us calm confidence on the day when God judges the world, for we are already on the way to becoming like God’s own Son. We won’t be afraid, then, or wonder if God will punish us, because God’s love will have rooted out and thrown away all fear. Remember: whatever love we do have is only because God loved us first; it is all grace from beginning to end. So, don’t keep taking your spiritual temperature: it’s not about you; it’s about God, the grace of God.

Yes, there are religious people who claim to love God, but they want nothing to do with sacrificial concern for others. They “love” everyone in general but no one in particular. Really, how likely is it that we would truly love the invisible God while turning away from our highly visible brothers and sisters? The simple command is: if you say you love God, love your neighbor as yourself, period.

Another thing: why are you letting people upset you about whether you belong to God or not? If you love and trust Jesus, it’s taken care of. And, if you love God, you will love his children, right? Are you worried that your love isn’t good enough? Then ask yourself if you are seeking to trust Jesus and care for your neighbor. That should settle it. Loving God means trust, obedience, and service. It’s meant to be simple. I’m not sure why some folks make it more complicated.

You have already won the day over whatever is trying to defeat you. Trust Jesus, and God takes care of the battle, through the victory Jesus won over the powers of darkness. He knows what suffering and death all about, because he was truly human as his death on the Cross showed. Water and blood came from his side to cleanse us. You can believe what the Spirit has told us about this. Water, blood, Spirit – three evidences to be trusted that Jesus was no “spirit being,” or that he was above suffering. He was God in vulnerable human form. That’s the truth.

Look, don’t’ we usually accept valid human testimony? So why wouldn’t we accept the witness of God’s own Spirit to the identity of Jesus? You already have this witness within you. If you know Jesus, listen to what the Spirit is saying in your heart. But it’s also true that people who reject Jesus don’t have this witness in them at all.

What the Spirit says is: the new life God has given us is directly linked to Jesus and our faith in him. He is already saving us. We have him, and, more importantly, he has us. This is why I wrote you.

This truth gives you boldness to pray effectively. Seek God’s will and God will answer your prayers. For example, you can be confident that God will rescue friends who have gone astray. So, pray for them, though if they’ve rejected Jesus, we just leave that situation up to our merciful, all-loving God. Most of the lostness we see in ourselves and others, however, is entirely curable through prayer. Jesus the Shepherd loves to play lost and found.

Let me sum up. God’s children don’t live in spiritual darkness, because Jesus keeps us in the Light. The power of evil cannot harm us (though it is a huge influence in the world at large). So, (1) Jesus has come to give us true knowledge (personal knowledge) of God, (2) we are being kept safe in Jesus, God’s Son, and (3) we have life in him. Our job is to keep way from every other so-called god. Thanks for listening. Amen.

Old John

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The prodigal and the unreligious

Here is another brief blog that appeared recently in The Christian Century.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Famous Little Bo Peep Expository Sermon

I cannot take credit for this sermon, but I have embellished it based on years of teaching exegesis and expository preaching. I am sure I heard a sermion very like this once, but I may have been sleeping at the time. Enjoy.

Little Bo Peep Sermon

I would like to read to you from the 14th chapter of the book of Mother Goose, where we find these words recorded. “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep, and she doesn’t know where to find them, but leave them alone and they’ll come home wagging their tails behind them.” Thus endeth the reading of the text.

Now I would like to go through this passage with you and explain to you as best I can the pearls of wisdom contained therein.

The first line tells us that “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep.” Immediately we learn that the name of the main character in our narrative is Bo Peep; to be more precise, Little Bo Peep. Now from this we can ascertain that Little Bo Peep was a child or possibly a small adult. But since there aren’t too many small adults around named Bo Peep, we will for today’s message assume that Little Bo Peep was indeed a child; although there aren’t very many children named Bo Peep either. What kind of a stupid name is Bo Peep anyway? Can you imagine anybody naming a poor, defenseless, little child Bo Peep? Why was she called Bo Peep? But I’m sure you realize that in the genre “poetry” certain words must rhyme. Consequently, in this case, the name of the little girl must rhyme with the word sheep. Now the writer could have chosen such words as beep, creep, leap, veep, or weep; but he/or she
chose Peep. Actually that was not a bad choice, I would say, given the alternatives.

We are told that she lost her sheep. Now evidently, Little Bo Peep was given the task of guarding the family flock: a rather serious responsibility for a small child. But the sheep got away; she lost her sheep. Whether she dozed off, or wandered off into the woods leaving the sheep to fend for themselves, or lost track of time reading Beatrix Potter or Harry Potter, this we do not know. We know only that she was negligent in her task, the one task that she was assigned, and that the sheep got away. She lost her sheep.

We hear next that, quote, “she doesn’t know where to find them,” unquote. Of course she doesn’t know where to find them: they’re lost! We’ve already been told that the sheep are missing. If she knew where to find them, they wouldn’t be lost anymore, would they? Of course they wouldn’t. But it’s in the Book, “and she doesn’t know where to find them.” Apparently she doesn’t even have a clue.

And as if this still isn’t enough, the writer has the audacity to say, “leave them alone.” Or more precisely, “but leave them alone.;” Pray tell, what else can the poor girl do but leave them alone? They’re lost, aren’t they? How many times do we need to explain this? How many times? She lost her sheep, and she doesn’t know where to find them. It seems to me she has no other choice in the matter. She has to leave those dumb sheep alone, doesn’t she? Of course she does. But it’s in the Book. Leave them alone.

“Leave them alone and they’ll come home,” it says. Now who am I to say what sheep will do when they are lost? Dogs usually come home; even cats have been known to come home when they are lost. But sheep? They may or may not come home. Just between you and me, at this point, I couldn’t care less one way or the other. I am quite ready to leave those sheep and this whole narrative alone.

He says that they will come “wagging their tails.” Have you ever seen sheep wag anything but their tails? What else can a sheep wag but its tail? As a matter of fact, I will go on record here as saying that if a sheep is wagging anything, it is his or her tail that he or she is wagging. Most assuredly.

And the clincher, my dear friends, are the final two words of this little poem, this poignant narrative of one Bo-Peep, the small. (You don’t suppose there was actually a large Bo-Peep, do you?. This is mere speculation. It is not in the text.) But we digress. Where were we? Ah yes, “wagging their tails.” Are you ready for this? Wagging their tails….behind them! Behind them indeed! Have you ever seen sheep wag their tails in front of them? I assure you, dear students of the word, it is an absolute physical impossibility.

Now I would like to go through this pathetic little poem one more time leaving out all the stupid phrases which the original poet-ignoramus has written here; and we find that all he or she is trying to tell us is simply that:

“Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep,
but they’ll come home wagging.”

Here endeth the lesson. Amen.