Experiencing the Divine
Today is the last Sunday in the season the Church calls Epiphany. We have been looking at passages of scripture that remind us of wonderful manifestations of God. In today’s text we have perhaps the greatest epiphany before the glorious resurrection of Jesus. It is called the Transfiguration.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray. In Luke’s Gospel, prayer is usually the supreme posture for experiencing a divine manifestation. Remember how after his baptism Jesus was praying, and at that precise moment the heavens were opened, the Spirit descended, and the voice of God was heard.
Now Jesus was on a mountain praying. Suddenly he was transfigured. He face and clothing became a dazzling light. Those sleepy disciples became instantly awake! I can almost picture them shaking their heads and rubbing the eyes, then peering again into that light. Continue reading
Our Minister to Preschool and Children shared this resource with our staff for helping parents and children talk together.
We feed the hungry and minister to prisoners and
victims of domestic violence and we welcome strangers,
because Jesus Himself told us that he would be among them
In past months, I have received invitations to attend meetings on the issue of immigration. I have expressed myself both publicly and privately to my lawmakers about what I think about the issue and have written about the matter.
It is now getting new attention since the election, and has been for a while by political party leaders in both Republican and Democratic circles for a very pragmatic reason—the realization that Latinos are and will be ever more politically influential as a coalition that can turn an election. Many years ago, when I taught a course at Samford University’s night school on the history of American Christianity, one of the issues that the writers saw as emerging was how religion and democracy would fare in the 21st century as our nation became less and less a nation of majority European white Christians and more and more a pluralistic and diverse culture.
Politically, of course, the immediate implication is whether our way of government and our fundamental political faith in freedom and opportunity can survive without an underlying cultural and ethnic commonality. The jury is out in many commentators’ minds, but for Christians this is not really a central matter. Continue reading
[This is a pastoral email that I wrote to our church family last week in the wake of a tragedy in our community.]
Over the last several weeks, Jim and I have been preaching a series entitled “What do I tell my kids about …?” and we have offered biblical answers to challenging questions that kids ask their parents. We’ve not shied away from talking about non-Christian religions, sexual orientation, and why bad things happen. But sometimes a question comes up that you just didn’t expect. Here’s one that came our way earlier this week:
You asked last week to send in any questions about this week’s subject (partying), but we had something different come up today. The question that I know I will have to talk with my kids about is suicide. A 6th grade boy at our son’s middle school has committed suicide. My kids know the definition of suicide, but not the why. Why would a kid feel that there was no other answer? Why would God not help this kid?
This issue isn’t in our message series, but it is worth addressing right now.
Often the crucial question is one that another mother has already called me about this week: “Is suicide the unforgiveable sin? Is it the one sin that guarantees eternity in hell?” So let’s start there.
The idea of an unforgiveable sin comes from the lips of Jesus himself. But it has nothing to do with suicide. Here’s what Jesus says:
And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)
Obviously the question on the table is, What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Here’s my analysis.
Let’s look at the story leading up to Jesus’ statement, so we can discover why he said it, and to whom.
Jesus had just cast out an evil spirit from a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. The commoners were amazed at the power that could make this man see and speak. But the religious leaders mocked Jesus and said, “You cast out demons by the prince of demons!” By rejecting God’s obvious sign of power in the person of Jesus, they were guilty of the unforgiveable sin. And it’s unforgiveable because at its heart it’s the sin of unbelief. To see Jesus display the awesome power of God in an obvious miracle, then doubt that God’s Spirit was behind it, is to reject God. That’s the only sin God can’t forgive: rejecting his power and grace.
Now for suicide. Obviously it’s a sin – meaning it’s not God’s will, it’s missing the mark, it’s falling short of God’s glory. But it’s not the unforgiveable sin. As Jesus said, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men” except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Suicide is therefore not unforgiveable. Or to remove the double negative, suicide is forgivable. It’s not what would send anyone to hell. As always, it’s our response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ that determines our eternal destiny – and our meaning in life now.
But that doesn’t cheapen the seriousness of suicide – it’s a tragedy for all involved on many levels. It’s tragic for the young man who took his life. None of us may ever know why he got so sad or depressed that death looked good to him – but as always, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That’s why it’s so tragic. In addition, the family that is left behind suffers in unspeakable ways. Parents and siblings are plagued with guilt (“If only I’d been more …”), sadness (“I’ll never see him grow up and …”), fear (“Is God angry with me …?”), and even despair (“How long will this pain last?”). If that’s not enough, the family will also be dogged by a haunting shame that follows them throughout life. If you have a family member who dies and later someone asks you how it happened, most of the answers are “noble” and acceptable: cancer, heart attack, kidney failure, car wreck, old age, serving your country. But if your family member took his or her life, there’s no good way to answer the question as to how the death occurred. The sad truth is that your loved one got so sad or low or confused that death looked more attractive than life. To the living, that’s an irrational answer. That’s why it’s clouded in shame.
I’ve taken a long time to address this matter, but it’s one of the toughest things any of us will ever face, regardless of age.
May God’s wisdom increase our understanding and compassion for the middle schooler who’s gone, and for his family. May God’s love renew our sensitivity to those around us, knowing that some are carrying burdens that we could never imagine. May God’s grace fill our mouths so that we can speak words of comfort to our children and to all who suffer this day. Amen.
A Review by R. LaMon Brown of Changing Signs of Truth: A Christian Introduction to the Semiotics of Communication by Crystal L. Downing, IVP Academic, 2012
I was attracted to this book for three reasons. I had read with benefit Downing’s earlier work How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith. One of my favorite authors is the Italian Semiotician Umberto Eco, who wrote The Name of the Rose. And as a former missionary and present pastor, communicating the Gospel is central to my vocation.
Semiotics is the study of signs. Downing is convinced and I am convinced by her that this book can help readers to understand how words and signs work so that we can more successfully communicate the Christian faith in today’s pluralistic culture.
Downing calls us to become effective communicators by (re)signing the truth. Her word (re)sign has two components. 1. We are resigned to the essential truths revealed by God. (As all through the book, she reveals hidden or forgotten meanings of important words. The word resigned here uses an old meaning “to yield oneself up with confidence.”) 2. We need to re-sign truths by generating fresh signs or metaphors that will make those truths meaningful to contemporary audiences.
Downing refuses to idealize either the past or the future. She calls on Christians to be like an ant on the fluted side of a quarter, between the right side and the left. Only from this position can we effectively (re)sign the truth.
To summarize this complex work is simply beyond my abilities. I wrote 17 pages of notes! The argument of the book proceeds piece by piece from chapter to chapter in which she deals with specific semioticians and historical movements. By the time she gets to chapter 7 and the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, Downing is able to affirm that how we perceive reality reflects the Trinitarian nature of God who created us. Her argument at this point is brilliant—or so it seems to me.
In addition to the Trinity, Downing isolated two additional beliefs that are central to her understanding and communication of truth, i.e. the Incarnation and the gift of salvation through Christ’s atoning work.
The latter part of the book is devoted to the practical application of the earlier portions. However, one cannot simply start there. She warned early on that the book must be read as it was printed. Each section builds on the next.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. I hope to reflect more and more on the insights offered in it.
Two suggestions for future editions. A convenient glossary is needed for new terms and other words that are used in a technical manner. It is too difficult to find the original place where a specific term is defined and/or described. Continue reading
“Brave,” the most recent collaboration between Disney and Pixar, was released June 22 to a mixture of mediocre-to-good reviews. My family (including our three-year-old grandson) went to see it and enjoyed it in every way. Set in Scotland in a mythical, magical, medieval time, it features the first female protagonist in a Disney movie in many years: Merida.
The teenage daughter of a king and queen, Merida is not exactly a typical tomboy. She would rather be an archer or a swordfighter than a princess – but what she really wants is to be her own woman. Appalled that her parents want to pick her husband for her, she tries to “neutralize” her mother’s controlling tendencies by asking a witch to cast an innocent spell on the queen. The spell backfires, however, and Merida must reverse the curse that threatens to destroy her family and the entire kingdom. If she’s going to save the day, she must be brave.
This film will do well at the box office (reviews aside), because it gets us in touch with a handful of sensitive subjects facing our own society. The story is first about a teenage girl who wants independence from her mother. Along the way, though, Merida realizes how much her mother loves her and how much maternal wisdom she’s missed by going her own way. Every 21st century mom who’s struggling with a female “teen-with-a-tude” should see this movie, if only to remember that she didn’t become a dunce the day her daughter turned 13. Every mother needs that kind of shot in the arm.
The film is also about everyday bravery. As only Disney and Pixar can do, they have created a heroine who inspires children to call on uncommon courage when calamity strikes. Given the mixed signals coming out of Hollywood about the nature of heroism, it’s nice to see an old-fashioned icon of simple courage, where the hero is the one who self-sacrifices for the benefit of others. Every kid wants to grow up to save the day.
But what caught my attention most about “Brave” is that the hero is a girl. While most of our society has theoretically accepted the reality and necessity of women leaders, I still believe that quite a few still ask the question raised in this film: can girls grow up to be courageous leaders who save the day? Continue reading
Click on the link above to hear the final of four presentations on “The Way We Were” by Dr. Humphreys, in which he sets forth and vision of Baptist theology for the future. For an outline of the four presentations click here: Handout on the Baptist Theological Tradition for Vestavia Hills Baptist Church July 2011
Snow White and the Myth of Redemptive Violence
by R. LaMon Brown
Recently my wife and I saw the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman”. We enjoyed the movie though I will leave for others to discuss its value in terms of acting, script and direction. I want to point to a religious motif that cropped up from time to time in the movie.
Snow White was a religious person. Imprisoned in a lonely tower by an evil queen who had killed her father and usurped the kingdom, Snow White prays. She prays the Lord’s Prayer. This seems to be a part of her daily routine.
Eventually she escapes from the tower and joins with a group of allies who want to overthrow the wicked queen and restore the land to its former beauty. At one point someone tells Snow White that the people hate the queen and would support her. Snow White responds that she did not hate the queen, but instead felt sorrow for her.
Later Snow White and the evil queen are matched in a fight to the death. Snow White wins, piercing the queen’s heart with a dagger. However, unlike many heroes in film, she does not rejoice or glare in satisfied contempt at her vanquished opponent. No, there is a look of sadness in her eyes. Continue reading
Acts of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 13:13, John 3:1-17, Romans 8:12-17
Many years ago, I was a doctoral student at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. I was also pastor at Tangipahoa Baptist Church. I don’t remember the occasion, but the Methodist pastor was with us at an evening service. I called on him to close the service with prayer. He prayed, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”
He and I were standing together after the service when a middle aged woman came up and complemented him on the closing prayer, saying something about it being beautiful. I don’t think she realized that he had used one of Paul’s benedictions. It is found in 2 Corinthians 13:13. Continue reading
Reflections on faith, music, culture, the arts, life and other related subjects by Gary A. Furr