A Church of Mercy

(cross-posted from simplyxian.com)

Protestants, especially conservatives and/or Evangelicals, are often hesitant to champion social causes or acts of mercy…typically equating them with the ‘social gospel’ of the early 20th century and its associated liberal theology. The connection, however, is clearly unwarranted and unscriptural.  Hopefully that incorrect connection will soon fade away into memory as more and more Christians get involved in reaching out to help those in need, as Jesus did.

Richard Stearns’ Hole in Our Gospel is a powerful antidote to this kind of thinking.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  You won’t be able to put it down, and then you won’t be able to get it out of your head.  Also, Jeremy Tate has just written a wonderful post of being a Church of mercy.  While I don’t agree with his conclusion that her consistent acts of mercy show the Roman Catholic Church to be the one true church, the example set by Catholicism in this respect is definitely humbling and worthy of others’ imitation.

read: A Church of Mercy

photo courtesy of stock.xchng
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What Happens in Worship

Lutheran worship is primarily the proclamation of the gospel in Word and sacrament. As we gather together for worship, God speaks to us in his Word. Through the preaching of his law he crushes us with the stark and painful reminder of our own sin and unworthiness; he causes us to tremble at his holiness and justice; he speaks to us his urgent call to repentance. But in that same time of worship, a gracious God speaks to us words of full and free forgiveness. He points us to Christ and to the cross where his sacrifice paid the price of our sin, removed our guilt, and opened the door to heaven itself. In that same time of worship, we poor miserable sinners kneel side by side and receive the same body and blood that were given and shed for us. We commune with our God and with each other. In that same setting of worship, we witness how the power of the Holy Spirit, working through nothing other than his Word and simple water, creates new life and faith in the hearts of children and adults as they are baptized. And even when we join our voices to praise God in our words and songs, that praise is always focused on what God has done for us in Christ, adding our voices of gospel proclamation to the voice of the shepherd God has called to serve us.

If that is what happens in Lutheran worship, if the proclamation of the gospel and the preaching of Christ crucified is the center of what happens in our churches, then our worship services are not only times when God is nourishing the faith of believers; worship services also become a time and place where true evangelism and outreach take place. It is in that kind of Christ-centered and cross-focused worship setting that people hear not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. It is then that people receive something effective and lasting—not the passing emotional high that soon fades outside the church doors, not the hollow recipes for happiness, worldly success, or outwardly godly living.

Mark Schroeder

from here

simply, Christian (a new project)…or where have I been?

My absence around here has been extended, and I’m not apologizing because I’ve started working on something that really excites me–a new website/blog titled, simply, Christian.  Here’s what it’s all about:

simply, Christian is about choosing to live simply in midst of busyness in order to free our time, resources, and desires that we might focus on what is truly important and simply live.

It is about taking seriously Jesus’ world-changing, life-redeeming good news to address not only people’s spiritual condition but also their physical condition.  It is about daring ourselves to address the most pressing calamities that face humanity today in order to bring real, lasting transformation to others’ lives.  It is about making small changes in our daily activities that we might bring large changes to others, especially those…

  • who are orphans
  • who are affected by disease, especially HIV/AIDS and malaria
  • who lack clean water
  • who have not been shown mercy

It is about challenging one another to live simply, Christian.

My name is T.C. Judd, and these are my thoughts.  Of late, my life has been dramatically impacted in two completely different ways by two completely different writers.  With respect to simplicity, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits (and more recently, Everett Bogue of Far Beyond the Stars) has helped me to see the clutter and chaos that fills much of life and has challenged me to simplify.  With respect to living the whole of the Christian life, Richard Stearns, in The Hole in Our Gospel, brought to my attention the immensity of the social crises facing our world today and challenged me to make a difference.  Over time, I realized that the two blended well together–truly living a simple life (not a minimalist one, in my case) as a vehicle for truly living a Christian life.

So that, in a nutshell,  is what it is to live simply, Christian.

I’d appreciate if you’d head over to simply, Christian and check things out over there.  I’ll still be blogging here, though I expect the pace to remain slow for a while until I’ve gathered some momentum.

Book Review: The Voice New Testament

When I first heard about the Voice New Testament, I was excited and intrigued.  The idea of a rendition of Scripture written primarily to be heard excites me, because until very recently in history, Scripture was not read like a textbook but heard by the people of God during times of corporate worship.  At the same time, I was intrigued because the translation team included many individuals who were clearly qualified with respect to their academic credentials but who are not well-known as Bible translators.  Neither of these points is inherently good or bad–they just formed my initial reaction to hearing about the project.

After reading a great portion of the Voice New Testament, I concluded that there are two reasons I cannot recommend this translation / paraphrase (?) for study or general use.  First, the text contains many insertions within the biblical text of notes attempting to clarify the text’s meaning.  These are essentially footnotes embedded in the main body of the text.  Though italicized to indicate that they are not part of the text, their placement within the flow of the text could be misleading to readers, unintentionally elevating these comments to the same level as inspired Scripture.  The second reason I have against recommending the Voice is that, while billed as a dynamic translation, it really reads more like the Message, which I would consider to be a paraphrase versus a true dynamic translation (like the New Living Translation).  The translation team took lots of liberties with the text–ones I think go well beyond what is either needed or desirable to satisfy their charter of highlighting “the beauty of God’s communication to His people” to ensure “the voice of God is heard as clearly as when He first revealed His truth.”

In sum, while I admire the goals of the Voice, it is not a translation I can recommend.  If, in the future, a revision was made to address these concerns (and those raised by others), I would gladly revisit this edition, but until then I will not refer to it often in my devotions, preaching, or teaching.

You can find out more about The Voice on the publisher’s website (here) or on Amazon.com (here).

The Gift of Music

I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone…Next to the Word of God, music deserve the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions–to pass over the animals–which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found–at least not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate…what more effective means than music could you find?

…the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.

Martin Luther, LW 53:321, 323-324

Book Review: Reading God’s Word Today

Reading God’s Word Today, by George Martin, is a clear, thoughtful, and eminently readable book on getting the most out of spending time reading Scripture.  Though brief (less than 200 pages), it is by no means short on substance.  Though written from a Catholic perspective, it is one of the few books, besides the Bible itself, I sincerely wish I could place into the hands of every Christian, Protestant and Catholic alike!

The book is divided into two parts, the first providing a model for how to read Scripture and the second focusing on how God reveals himself to us through it.  Martin is quick to point out that Scripture is to be read in the Christian life devotionally–that is, as part of the ongoing, daily conversation between the Christian and God.  The point to spending time daily in God’s Word is not to check off boxes on a reading plan or read through the entire Bible in x number of days.  Instead, we are reminded of the importance of taking our time meditating on the words of Scripture, mulling over them that we might not only understand what we read but that we might truly hear God’s voice speaking to us through them.  The approach Martin outlines is the classic, time-tested Christian practice called lectio divina (holy reading), which consists of four parts:  reading, understanding, listening, and praying.  The point, as he succinctly writes, “is to help Scripture ‘come alive’ for us.”

The second half of the book discusses the proper understanding of Scripture as the Word of God revealed to humanity.  Martin explores God’s use of inspired human agent in the process of divine revelation and how the Bible consequently revels God to us and recreates us, by the power of the Spirit, into his people.  In this section, he anticipates some common questions and objections about the origin of Scripture, discusses the necessity of understanding the background and cultural setting (especially of the Old Testament), and points out how the infant church was impacted by both Jesus’ teachings and the writings of the Apostles.

This little work is a very practical, wonderfully helpful book and a gift given to the body of Christ from Martin’s pen.  Every believer at every stage of their Christian life would benefit from reading this book…and then reading it again later on to be reminded of its great truths.  As a Christian, this book reminded me of the great treasure we have be been given by God in the Holy Scriptures–I read it, marked it, and re-read it.  As a chaplain, this is one of the books I hope to be able to make available to all I encounter from day to day, whether Protestant or Catholic.  As a parent, besides Holy Scripture and our Catechisms, I will definitely work through Reading God’s Word Today with my children that their understanding of God’s Word might be deepened.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Reading God’s Word Today for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, the largest Cathlic store online. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

On Sending Folks to War

[Last Friday I had the privilege of seeing one of our Texas Air National Guard units off to war.  For their security and that of their families I won’t mention the unit name, deployed locations, dates, etc.]

At once, I have the strangest and most wonderful “job” in the military. I am a chaplain. It’s part of my “job” to talk to people–to be there for them, to get to know them, and just to be with them. They call me ‘padre,’ ‘ preacher,’ or ‘our chaplain,’ which are all titles I am proud to bear because I am proud to serve them and to serve with them. I genuinely enjoy being with my troops.

Today was different.

It was different, because today I sent people that I know and love off to war. I visit with these folks each time we assemble. I see some of the full-timers during the week at Ellington. I joke with them. I cry with them. I drink coffee with them. I talk of serious events and about their favorite ball teams. I lead them in worship. I pray with them and for them. I read them the Word of God. I offer them the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament.

Today was different.

It was different, because today I met many of their families for the first time–wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Today, I played with their kids as Mom and Dad embraced for the last time for a while. Today, I held hands and prayed with husbands and wives who were prepared for this day but not ready for it. Today, I exchanged hearty handshakes and smiles with those who looked forward to the adventure, and I gave tissues and a shoulder to those who were afraid. Today, we all bowed our heads in prayer together–those who are faithful to attend chapel and those whom I’ve never heard utter the Lord’s name without a closely-attached expletive. Today, in the midst of the deployment chaos, we stopped what we were doing and asked God’s protection to be upon those who were leaving and those who were left here at home.

Today was different.

It was different, not because it was the beginning of another deployment, but because it was a new kind of deployment for many of our troops. A deployment “outside the wire” where our folks are almost certain to come under fire. “Outside the wire” is the domain of the Army and the Marines, a place unfamiliar to many Air Force folks. “Outside the wire” is where in the harsh reality of war, people kill and are killed.

After we prayed, there was the call to say goodbye and the hurried shuffle of boots and bags out the door. There on the flightline, in Hemingway-esque fashion, our troops waved a final goodbye in the pouring rain and climbed on board the waiting C-130. As the dull drone of the Herc’s four engines revved to life, the plane gracefully lifted off, where it was soon engulfed in the low-hanging clouds and out of sight.

Some saluted. Some waved. Some sobbed.

There is a part of everyone who wears the uniform that wishes they were going too–and an even bigger part that wishes no one had to go at all.