Enable us, Lord, to reach the end of this luminous feast in peace, forsaking all idle words, acting virtuously, shunning our passions, and raising ourselves above the things of this world.
Bless your church, which you brought into being long ago and attached to yourself through your own life-giving blood. Help all orthodox pastors, heads of churches, and doctors [theologians].
Bless your servants, whose trust is all in you; bless all Christian souls, the sick, those tormented by evil spirits, and those who have asked us to pray for them.
Show yourself as merciful as you are rich in grace; save and preserve us; enable us to obtain those good things to come which will never know an end.
May we celebrate your glorious birth, and the Father who sent you to redeem us, and your Spirit, the Giver of life, now and forever, age after age. Amen.—A Syriac Christmas Liturgy (late third or early fourth century)
What makes a great church? Not its size or buildings or heritage or preacher or quality of its membership. What makes a church great is the real-as-life presence of Christ and its faithful living of the story. What gave rise to Christianity? It was not the disciples' superior moral precepts. It was their proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead and was in some form still alive in them. This is what birthed the church, and what still holds a Jesus community together. Not rules. Not fear. Not causes. Not programs. Grace--the free gift of love and mercy that makes us participants in the divine nature--is the glue of Me/We solidarity.
- Leonard Sweet, Me and We: God's New Social Gospel
What, indeed, makes a great church?
Dr. Sweet says that it is grace, a grace evidenced by the presence of Christ at work among his people, guiding the church by the Spirit into a faithful and fresh living of the story of God's people across time.
Christianity arose, and is alive and well, where the gospel of Jesus' resurrection is proclaimed, and testimony is given in word and deed that in his resurrection, there is life. Christ reigns in heaven and on earth, and in us, forever.
Often we believe that the greatness of a church is determined by size, influence, or fame. We mistakenly believe a church is great because of what we have made it. We envy a leader, a preacher, a budget, a facility, a programmatic innovation, and think, "If only we could have that here."
But there is only one church, and it is great because of what God has made and is making it through Christ. Whenever we, made part of that church, experience the presence of Christ, give testimony to his life in us, share the gospel truthfully, or live the story faithfully, then there is only one proper response: humble praise.
The very thing that makes the church great, Jesus the Christ, is available and accessible to all believers, in any time, at any place.
We are invited to trust him, and open ourselves to his work in our midst. May his glory be revealed in his church, in all times, and in every place.
photo credit: In John 12:3-8, Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume and wipes his feet with her own hair, to which Jesus says that it was intended "she should save this perfume for the day of my burial". via photopin (license)
When preparing to teach or preach a text from the Bible, we are responsible for presenting the truth and for expressing care for our people.
The best presentations are contextual and local, while simultaneously possessing a global and universal dimension. The eternal and the temporal, commingling. God, unchanging in love, molding and shaping the hearts of the people. The teacher or preacher is a vessel for the work of God.
There is a temptation, however, for leaders to single out a person or a group, and to "preach at" that person or group in an attempt to wrangle conviction, change, or some predetermined outcome. This is a mistake. It is also an abuse of power.
Rather, the obligation of the preacher or teacher is to the Word of God, both written and Incarnate. The Word does its work, not independent of the vessel, but through it.
Alec Motyer, in his book Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, illustrates this kind of misstep with a story:
Bearing in mind the needs of individuals in our care is very different from 'preaching at' somebody! I did that once, and learned a sharp lesson. On the Monday morning, on the way to post a letter, I actually met the man whose ear I had hoped to fill with truths tailored specifically for him. 'Oh,' said he, 'I enjoyed your sermon last evening.' 'Well that's a bad start,' thought I. 'You shouldn't have! You weren't meant to!' 'It's a pity,' he continued, 'that them wasn't there as it was meant for!' The pulpit is no place for trying to 'get at' people. It is a place for the Word of God, sensitively and carefully fashioned and phrased for their welfare.
Trust the text, the God who gave it, and the Lord who works in and through it. Also, trust that the people in your care will ultimately be guided by God. Trust God's providential, sovereign purposes. Be faithful by pointing to Christ, and what he might say to us through the Scriptures.
God gives the growth.
Jesus, my feet are dirty. Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold, but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, “If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you.” Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship.
— Origen (c. 185–254)
That makes this the fourth annual Simpson Bracket Challenge.
March Madness is a great time a year for sports fans and my family. My wife becomes interested in college basketball and I love it. Many people fill out brackets and follow along, even though their picks might be based on mascots and jersey colors rather than matchup analysis or overall record.
Last year I was flat out broke and this was all for fun.
This year, I'm offering some modest prizes, as follows:
- Third Prize: $5 GC to Amazon.com
- Second Prize: $10 GC to Amazon.com
- First Prize: $20 GC to Amazon.com, and a surprise shipment from me.
Another quick note on prizes. In 2013 (I think), Matt Lipan wanted me to pay it forward on his prize when he ended up with a first place finish. So every year henceforth, I'll give Matt a nod and tell everyone to check out his blog. Read his work. And follow him on Twitter.
Now, click here and join my bracket challenge. Have some fun.
Here is the bracket password: readtheblog.
So, how do you sign up?
The first way is to click the link above.
But do me a favor.
I'm serious about this. I want to know what you think.
Comments are rare on blogs nowadays.
With all the trolls out there, I don't blame folks.
But this blog is different.
I punt trolls. It's one of my hobbies.
Answer this question in the comments. Use a valid email address:
Who do you think will win the NCAA tournament?
When you comment, an email will drop in my inbox.
If you haven't signed up with the link above, I'll send along the league information and password.
The Bracket Challenge is hosted this year by CBSSports. Last year, I went with Yahoo!
Invite your friends. Make it a crowd. Follow the tournament. Have fun.
If you are new to the blog and joining the challenge, connect with me here:
Spread the word.