OK...thanks to Google Analytics, I can see what the most read posts from my blog in 2012.
But first, a word about why I blog. I blog to process thoughts and ideas, not to assert conclusions. Most of my posts are theses-in-process. I want push-back; I need the critical thinking of a thoughtful community to help refine these ideas. Yes, I want to provoke thinking, especially in ares that we tend to get lazy about. And yes, I'd love it if theses post prove to be conversation-starters. But at the heart of it, I think out loud so that you can help me think more clearly.
So, here are my top five posts from my blog, in reverse order:
5. Is God An Imaginary Friend?
Written after Easter, this post takes a provocative look at what Christians functionally believe about Jesus and His resurrection. An excerpt from the opening an concluding paragraphs:
This is a new billboard in our city. While some may have a strong reaction to a sign like this, I think Christians ought to listen to what our atheist friends are saying to us because it says a lot about us. The billboard is a massive mirror of how our lived faith looks. (This is not unlike Nietzshce's late 19th-century proclamation that "God is dead", which was not a statement about belief in God but an indictment of a culture that claimed to believe in God while they had functionally deconstructed a theistic worldview.) The uncomfortable truth is that for many Christians, God is like an imaginary friend. This is especially highlighted around Easter season by the way we talk about Jesus' resurrection...
...I suspect that if Christians really began to grasp just what Jesus' resurrection means-- that new creation has begun!-- we would begin to live like Jesus is the risen King over this world, here and now. Our engagement in this world would be different. It would involve caring for physical and material needs and not simply "spiritual souls". Our ethics would be different. We woud love and forgive like we believed love overcomes all. Our hope would be different. We would speak of a restored world and not a spiritual heaven as our final home.
And then maybe it would be harder to say that for us God is simply an imaginary friend.
4. If You Can Apply What I Preach, I've Failed You
No, I'm not recommending "unpractical" sermons. I'm inviting us to think about whether we ought to be inspired to run out and "try harder" and "do better", or to cry out for God's grace to once again empower us to do what He has asked of us. It's what putting the Eucharist after the sermon will do to your preaching. Here's a bit from it:
The proper response to the preaching of the word should not be, "Oh, that's a great little insight. I think I'll go apply that." I think it ought to be, "O God, what are we going to do now?" The New Testament often records people being "cut to the heart" after one of the apostles preached. Their goal was not to give people a few tips on their marriage or a few pithy phrases to guided their business transactions. (Though there are "wisdom" books in the Old Testament that do that...there is a place for it.) The overall goal in New Testament preaching was to reveal Christ-- Christ as the full revelation of God the Father, Christ as the only Savior of the world, Christ as the true and rightful King of this world, even now!
When you preach that way, people will inevitably see how far off we are...When the Word is proclaimed, when we enter the story and soak ourselves in the narratives, not only is God revealed, but God's goal for us in becoming the people of God is revealed (And, yes, that includes ways of being better husbands and wives and children and employees, etc.). But the first response is not to take information and apply it. If that's all people are doing with our sermons, then they should stay home and watch daytime TV during the week. As pastors, we are not merely dispensers of good advice; we are proclaimers of the Word of Christ.
3. Popular Sermons and Juvenile Chirstianity
OK, this one may come off a bit harsh. But my goal is satire not judgment. It was written after reading Christianity Today's article on Juvenile Christianity. So, I want us to laugh at ourselves and then take a good long look at ourselves, in light of Jeremiah's lament about the popular preachers of his own day. Excerpt:
There are basically five sermons. None of them are untrue; some are misguided, others are simplistic. All are a bit, well, juvenile: good messages for adolecents, but not great sermons for mature believers, nor do they help in a believer's maturation. Without the richness of the whole sweep of Scripture or the texture that other theological themes add, these sermons become like white bread: enrich it all you want but it's never going to be meat.
2. Advent Resources, Advent, Lent and Reflections on Following the Church Year
I'm kinda cheating on this one, because it's three posts. But since they are all related to the Church Year in general and certain seasons within it in particular, I thought I'd combine it. Here are the three:
A list of our family's favorite prayerbooks, prayers, books, devotionals and more for Advent.
How Advent Can Be Much More Than The Christmas Season
A non-fussy description of how following Advent-- and the Church Year-- can be a wonderful spiritual discipline.
What is Ash Wednesday? Why Observe Lent? Why Should I Care About the Church Calendar?
I think the title speaks for itself!
1. What Does the Visual Layout of Our Worship Services Say?
This may be the riskiest post of the year. Risky, because I have led and continue to lead worship in band-centric rooms. Moreover, our church has a stage as the focal point. To be clear: I'm not suggesting it's wrong. I'm only asking us to think about what the visual layout of a room for corporate worship communicates-- about God, and about us as His people. And the truth is, I think we can do better without sweeping or expensive changes. Here's an excerpt:
But let's compare this to John's vision of heavenly worship in the Book of Revelation. In the Revelation, the "worship leaders"-- the ones who cast down their crowns and cry out night and day, "Holy, holy, holy"-- surround the throne in a circular fashion. The One who sits on the Throne and the Lamb are the visual center of heavenly worship. The "worship leaders" are the closest circle of many concentric ones to the throne. But they all face inward toward the Father and the Son.
In our modern worship contexts, the eyes of the worshipper are drawn to the worship leader, who does his or her sincere best to deflect the attention away from themselves and to Christ. But our eyes can't help themselves. We cannot see the Father and the Son, so we look at the worship leaders...
...When the worship leader and the Object of our worship occupy the same visual space, the worshipper is easily confused-- consciously or subconsciously-- about Who the Center truly is.