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Christian Theologians List

On my blog there are many theologians and then church leadership types I repost a lot of. There are also many I read that I do not post much of. So here are many that have helped shape and strengthen my journey with Jesus. (Note listing them DOES NOT IN ANY WAY mean I agree with all their positions, interpretations, etc. at this place in my life nor ever).

Ben Witherington III
NT Wright
Craig Keener
Gordon Smith

Amos Yong
Walter Brueggemann
Greg Boyd
Cheryl Bridges Jones
James KA Smith
Volfgang Vondey
Miroslav Volf
Vladimir Lossky
Roger Stronstad

Note: I will be adding some. I also wish there were more women and global church leaders in this list...

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If You’re Not Secure…On My Mind Today

Squashing others gifts and dreams is not a Kingdom of God activity. The devil doesn't need an advocate. #besecureinchrist

Yes, we all have bad seasons/moments where we are not working for the best or at least not at cross-purposes with those around us. Remember those were not a pretty times to experience, nor good for you when you werethe one doing it. It was probably rooted in insecurity. Real leaders want others to "do that, got the t-shirt." They create space for others, even risking at the highest level with some they see similar gifts in. Calling out others in their gifts that are different from their as well into service and growth.

The worst leadership comes when we act out of insecurity. Insecurity (not being rooted and ground in God's love in Jesus) causes us to push towards "self-invention, competitive productivity, and self-sufficiency" (WB).

Sometimes we confuse what God is calling us to die to with what God is working to bring to life and a new level in us, through us, for the sake of others.

On another note... Teaching in scripture makes space for others. Jesus often stopped and pulled aside the disciples for learning, prayer and then thrust back out into action. All of this was Kingdom of God ministry. We cannot compartmentalize it. Not to mention when looking at Jesus for our guide we need to do much learning since we are removed by 2000 from a culture and context that the disciples shared and were raised in.

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freewillarminian view of romans 9 greg-boyd

How do you respond to Romans 9?
17 Jan 2008
Posted By: Greg Boyd

The Deterministic Interpretation of Romans 9
Many people believe that Romans 9 demonstrates that God has the right and power to save whichever individuals he wants to save and damn whichever individuals he wants to damn. I’ll call this the “deterministic” reading of Romans 9, for it holds that God determines who will be saved and who will be lost.

On first glance, it may seem that the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 has a strong case. For in this passage Paul explicitly says that God “has mercy on whomever he chooses and he hardens whomever he chooses” (vs. 18). He then illustrates God’s sovereign election by referring to God’s choice of Isaac over Ishmael (9:7-8) and of Jacob over Esau (9:10-13). Regarding this latter choice Paul writes:

“Even before [Jacob and Esau] had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) [Rebecca] was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’

As it is written,
‘I have loved Jacob,
but I have hated Esau'” (Rom. 9:11-13).

Without regard to anything Jacob or Esau did, God chose to “love” Jacob and “hate” Esau. Hence, Paul concludes, God’s choice of people “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

The support for the deterministic interpretation seems to grow even stronger as Paul goes on to depict God’s relationship to humans as a relationship between a potter and his clay. God has the right to fashions us, his clay, however he sees fit. And this is precisely what he does, according to Paul.

“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:21-23).

According to the deterministic interpretation, Paul is teaching that God simply fashions some vessels for destruction in order to display his wrath and power and other vessels for mercy in order to display his mercy. He hardens the former and has mercy on the latter. And this hardening and granting mercy is not based on anything God finds in the vessel. It is simply based on God’s free decision. If this seems unfair, as it undoubtedly does, Paul’s response is simply to invalidate the sentiment: “[W]ho indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom 9:20).

So, the case for the deterministic interpretation initially looks strong. Nevertheless, I think it is mistaken. Indeed, I shall argue that a central point of Romans 9 is to argue the exact opposite of the conclusions drawn from the deterministic interpretation. For, in contrast to the deterministic interpretation, God is not an arbitrary, deterministic deity. He rather is wisely flexible in his dealings with humans.

I will offer six arguments in response to the deterministic interpretation.

1. The Absoluteness of Christ and the Universality of God’s Love
First, as with all theological issues, we must begin and end all our reflections on the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one and only Word of God (Jn 1:1), the image of God (Col 1:15) and the perfect expression of God’s essence (Heb 1:3). He supersedes all previous revelations and can be superseded by none. He is the definitive revelation of God.

The deterministic interpretation of Romans 9, I believe, is in tension with the God we find revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus dying on the cross for his enemies reveals the essence of what God is like — God is love. In contrast to this, the deterministic reading of Romans 9 forces us to conclude that this is only partly true of God, for it only applies to some people (viz. God’s “elect”). Behind the beautiful portrait of God in Christ, we find a deity who is unilaterally determining some to be saved and some to be damned, all for “his glory.” This means the revelation of God in Christ is pen-ultimate. It doesn’t really reveal the heart of God. Calvary conceals God as much as it reveals God.

If we rather resolve that Jesus is our definitive picture of God, and that this picture cannot be placed alongside of or qualified by any other, then we must conclude that there is something amiss with the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9. For Christ reveals, and the biblical witness confirms, that God’s love is universal, his love is impartial, his love is kind, and his love desires all to be saved (e.g. I Jn 4:8; Duet 10:17-19; 2 Chron 19:7; Ezek 18:25; Mk 12:14; Jn 3:16; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:10-11; Eph 6:9; I Tim 2:4; I Pet 1:17; 2 Pet. 3:9).

2. Has God Broken Covenant?
Second, the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 assumes that Paul is concerned with individual salvation in this chapter. But, in point of fact, this is not the issue Paul is addressing. The expressed issue Paul is addressing is whether or not “the word of God had failed” (Rom 9:6). That is, had God’s promise to be the God of the Jews and to have them as his covenant people been rescinded?

The question was a burning one for Paul, for to many Jews this shocking conclusion seemed to follow from what Paul was preaching. Most Jews of the day understood God’s covenental faithfulness toward them to depend on two things: their nationality and their obedience to the law. If what Paul was preaching was true, however – that is, if salvation was available to anyone, including Gentiles, simply on the basis of their faith — then neither a person’s Jewish nationality nor their obedience to the law counted for anything (cf. Gal 5:12). It seemed that the uniqueness of the Jewish identity and calling had been undermined.

Even worse, it now seemed to be working against them. Because they strove for righteousness based on the external observation of the law (works) instead of faith, they were now being hardened – as evidenced by the fact that so few believed in Jesus (Rom 9:31-32). This meant that, if Paul’s Gospel was true, the very ones whom God made covenant promises to were now being hardened! Hence it looked like “the word of God had failed.”

This is the question Paul is addressing in Romans 9 (as well as in chapters 10 and 11). It’s a question of God’s fidelity to Israel as a nation and the basis by which God makes anyone a covenant partner. It has nothing whatsoever to do with how God elects individuals to salvation. We are misguided if we try to use this passage to answer this question.

3. Election to Vocation, Not Salvation
The way Paul answered this objection also shows that his concern was with God’s relationship to a nation, not with individual salvation. Paul refuted the idea that God’s covenant promises had failed by showing that God’s covenant promises were never based on a peoples’ nationality or external obedience to the law. Rather, Paul argued, God had always exercised his sovereign right to choose whomever he wanted to choose.

Paul illustrated his point by referring to God’s choice of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, made without any consideration for their attributes or merits (9:8-13). Both examples underscore God’s right to choose whomever he wishes, for both choices were made ahead of time and both were wholly unexpected. Moreover, both choices reversed the role of primogenitor, both concerned individuals who were not exemplar in their character, and most surprisingly – and telling — Isaac was supernaturally conceived.

In offering these examples, Paul was defending God’s right to choose whomever he wants and to do so by any means he chooses. Hence, Paul is arguing, it shouldn’t be shocking to Jews if God now chooses to enter into a covenant with Gentiles simply on the basis of their faith. He’s always been a God who could do whatever he wanted. At the same time, it is important to remember that in using Isaac and Jacob to illustrate God’s prerogative to choose whoever he pleases, Paul was not concerning himself with the eternal destinies of people. His concern was solely to show God’s sovereignty in electing people to a historical vocation.

To underscore God’s sovereign prerogative, Paul emphasized the arbitrary way God brought about a chosen people, through Isaac and Jacob, whose mission was to serve God and the world by being a nation of priests (Isa 61:6) and a “light to all the nations” (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 60:3). They were to be the means by which all the nations of the world would be blessed by hearing about the one true God (e.g. Gen 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18; Ps 67:1-2; Isa 2:2-4; 55:5; 61:9-11; 66:19-20; Jer 3:17; Rom 4:12-18). Their election as a nation was always primarily about service, not individual salvation.

Paul emphasized the arbitrariness of God’s choice of the Jews to unsettle those who thought God’s word had failed because he had rendered their nationality and external observation to the law obsolete in Christ. Throughout Romans 9 through 11 Paul was at pains to show that God’s goal all along had been to reach out beyond the borders of Israel and win the whole world (Rom 9:25-26, 33; 10:10-21; 11:11-12). Indeed, Paul insisted God was yet going to attain his goal. But since Israel as a nation had rejected the Messiah, Paul argued, God was now going to use their blindness rather than their obedience to achieve it (Rom. 11:11-32).

In any event, we are reading far too much into Romans 9 if we think that Paul was suggesting that Ishmael or Esau—or anyone else not chosen in the selection process by which God formed the Jewish nation (e.g. all of Joseph’s brothers?) — were individually damned. Paul is simply not concerned in this chapter with individual destinies. Indeed, he uses the examples he does precisely because they represent more than individuals: they represent nations. In choosing Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, in other words, God was illustrating his choice of Israel (the descendants of Isaac and Jacob) over the Moabites (the descendents of Ishmael) and the Edomites (the descendents of Esau). Again, this didn’t mean that all Moabites or Edomites were eternally lost. It just means that these nations were not chosen for the priestly role in history for which God chose the Israelites.

This national focus is emphasized in the fact that the Old Testament passage Paul cites to make his point about Esau (Malachi 1:2-3, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau” [Rom 9:13]) is explicitly about the country of Edom. Some might suppose that God’s pronouncement that he “loved” Jacob and “hated” Esau shows that he is speaking about their individual eternal destinies, but this is mistaken. In Hebraic thought, when “love” and “hate” are contrasted they usually are meant hyperbolically. The expression simply means to strongly prefer one person or thing over another.

So, for example, when Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26), he was not saying we should literally hate these people. Elsewhere he taught people to love and respect their parents, as the Old Testament also taught (Mk 10:19). Indeed, he commanded us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:44)! What Jesus was saying was that he must be preferred above parents, spouses, children, siblings and even life itself. The meaning of Malachi’s phrase, then, is simply that God preferred Israel over Edom to be the people he wanted to work with to reach out to the world.

Hence, there is no justification for interpreting Romans 9 as though it were trying to teach us anything about how God saves or damns individuals.

4. Paul’s Summary and Free Will
A fourth argument that demonstrates the error of the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 concerns Paul’s summary at the end of this chapter. Whenever we are struggling to understand a complex line of reasoning such as we find in Romans 9, it is crucial to pay close attention to the author’s own summary of his argument, if and when he provides one. By all accounts, Romans 9 is a difficult, complex and highly disputed passage. Fortunately, Paul provides us with a very clear summary of his argument in this chapter (vss. 30-32). Unfortunately for the deterministic interpretation, it appeals to free will as the decisive factor in determining who “receives mercy” and who gets “hardened.”

Paul begins his summary by asking, “What then shall we say” (vs. 30)? If the deterministic interpretation was correct, we would expect Paul to answer by saying something like, “The sovereign God has determined who will be elect and who will not, and no one has the right to question him.” As a matter of fact, however, Paul doesn’t say anything like this. He rather summarizes his argument by saying:

“Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (vss. 30–32).

This is extremely significant. Paul explains everything he’s been talking about throughout Romans 9 by appealing to the morally responsible choices of the Israelites and Gentiles. The one thing God has always looked for in people is faith. The Jews did not “strive” by faith, though they should have (cf. 10:3). They rather chose to trust in their own works. The Gentiles, however, simply believed that God would justify them by faith. This theme recurs throughout chapters 9 through 11. As a nation, Paul says, the Jews “were broken off because of their unbelief…” (11:20, emphasis added). This is why they have been hardened (Rom. 11:7, 25) while the Gentiles, who sought God by faith, have been “grafted in” (11:23).

We see that God’s process of hardening some and having mercy on others is not arbitrary: God expresses “severity toward those who have fallen [the nation of Israel] but kindness toward you [believers] provided you continue in his kindness” (11:22). God has mercy on people and hardens people in response to their belief or unbelief. And he is willing to change his mind about both the hardening and the mercy, if people change. If Gentiles become arrogant and cease walking by faith alone, they will once again be “cut off.” And if the Jews who are now hardened will not “persist in their unbelief,” God will “graft them in again” (Rom. 11:22-23).

To the Jews who trusted in their national identity and/or external obedience to the law, this hardening seemed arbitrary. Hence Paul chides them by asking, “[W]ho indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20). But, as Paul makes abundantly clear throughout Romans 9-11, the hardening was in fact not arbitrary. It was perfectly consistent with the criteria of faith God has always worked with. He gives mercy in response to faith and he hardens in response to unbelief. It’s not the other way around. People don’t have faith as a result of God having mercy on them, and people don’t have unbelief as a result of God hardening them.

Yet, to Jews who remained convinced that their national identity and/or good works were the basis of God giving mercy, it now seemed like God was arbitrarily hardening them and arbitrarily extending mercy to the Gentiles.

5. The Flexible Potter and Willing Clay
Fifth, if read in the light of its Old Testament background, Paul’s analogy of a potter working with clay doesn’t imply that the potter unilaterally decides everything, as the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 suggests. Indeed, in the Old Testament passage that makes the most use of the potter-clay analogy, it has the exact opposite meaning.

In Jeremiah 18 the Lord showed Jeremiah a potter who was working on a vessel that didn’t turn out right. So the potter revised his plan and formed a different kind of pot out of it (Jere 18:1-4). In the same way, the Lord said, since he is the potter and Israel is the clay, he has the right and is willing to “change his mind” about his plans for Israel if they will simply repent (Jere. 18:4-11). Indeed, the Lord announced that whenever he’s going to judge a nation, he is willing to change his mind if the nation repents. Conversely, whenever God announces that he’s going to bless a nation, he will change his mind if that nation turns away from him. In other words, the point of the potter-clay analogy is not God’s unilateral control, but God’s willingness and right to change his plans in response to changing hearts.

The passage fits perfectly with the point Paul is making in Romans 9. While some individual Jews had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, the nation as a whole had rejected Jesus, and thus rejected God’s purpose for themselves (cf. Lk 7:30). Hence, though God had previously blessed Israel, he was now changing his mind about them and was hardening them. Ironically, and shockingly, the Jews were finding themselves in the same position as their old nemesis Pharaoh. He had hardened his heart toward God, so God responded by hardening him further in order to raise him up to further his own sovereign purposes (Rom 9: 17). So too, Paul was arguing, God was now hardening the Jews in their self-chosen unbelief to further his sovereign purposes. He was going to use their rebellion to do what he had always hoped their obedience would do: namely, bring the non-Jewish world into a relationship with him (Rom 11:11-12).

Even here, however, the sovereign potter remains flexible. If the Jews will abandon their unbelief – clearly God’s hardening is not determinative or irrevocable – the potter will once again refashion his plan and graft them in. Conversely, if the Gentiles ever abandon their belief and become prideful – clearly God’s mercy is not determinative or irrevocable – the potter will once again refashion his plan for them and cut them off (Rom 11:12-25).

In any case, we see that the point of the potter analogy is the opposite of what the deterministic interpretation would have us believe. Paul’s point is that the sovereign potter has the right to revise his plans in response to the clay, which is exactly what God was doing to the nation of Israel. And, however arbitrary his revisions may appear to Jews who trust in their nationality or good works, they are in fact perfectly wise and just revisions.

This sheds light on why Paul responds to the charge that God is unfair by quoting God as saying, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (9:14, cf. 18). He is not suggesting that God gives mercy or hardens people without any consideration of the choices people make. To the contrary, as has always been the case, the people God chooses to have mercy on are those who have faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. And the people God chooses to harden are those who don’t “strive for [righteousness] on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works”(vs. 30–32). But to Jews who insisted that God must choose people based on their nationality or works, God’s right to have mercy on whomever he wishes – even if they have nothing other than faith going for them – needed to be emphasized.

It is also significant to note the original context of the Old Testament quote Paul is giving. The Jews had just turned away from God to worship idols while Moses was receiving the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai – the terms of the covenant God was initiating with them (Ex 32:1-6). God responded by telling Moses he was planning on destroying the Israelites and starting over with Moses alone (Ex 32:9-10). Because of Moses’ intercession, however, the Lord changed his mind and gave those who were willing a chance to repent (Ex 32:14-35). The flexible potter refashioned his plan.

In a tender dialogue between God and Moses that followed this episode, the Lord allowed Moses to behold some of his glory, telling him “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Ex 33:19). The Lord was saying that, to people of faith like Moses, he gives mercy, while to people like the Jews who rebelled – and like Pharaoh – he gives judgment. By choosing to have faith or to rebel against God, individuals decide which they will receive. They determine whether God will fashion them into a vessel of mercy or a vessel prepared for destruction (Rom 9:21-23).

This also explains why Paul says that God “endured with much patience” the vessels he was preparing for destruction (Rom. 9: 22). Why would God have to “endure with much patience” rebellious people if he was the one making them rebellious in the first place? Why would he go on to say, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (10:21, quoting Isa. 65:2) if he was the one molding them to be disobedient? And why would a God of love intentionally fashion people to rebel against him and bring destruction on themselves in the first place?

In point of fact, the potter endures with much patience the vessels that are being prepared for destruction because it was not his original will to fashion these people in this direction. He would love for all “disobedient and contrary people” to come to him, and so he is patient with them. But so long as they persist in their unbelief, they are clay that can only be fashioned into a vessel fit for destruction.

6. It’s About Wisdom, Not Power
This leads to my sixth and final point. When Paul responds to the charge of injustice by asking, “who… are you, a human being, to argue with God?” (vs. 20), he is not thereby appealing to the sheer power of the potter over the clay. He is rather appealing to the sovereign wisdom of the potter in refashioning clay in a manner that fits the kind of clay he has to work with. When “clay” yields to his influence and has faith, he fashions a vessel of honor. When “clay” becomes “spoiled” (Jere 18:4) and resists his will, he fashions a “vessel of ordinary use” that is being prepared for destruction.

Again, this fashioning looks arbitrary to Jews who believed that they were the “vessel of honor” by virtue of their national identity or good works – Jews who did not “strive for [God’s righteousness] on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (Rom 9:32). It is to these people, expressing this sentiment, that Paul sarcastically asks, “Who are you…?” In truth, God’s fashioning is not arbitrary at all. It is based on whether or not one is willing “to seek” after the righteousness of God that comes by faith, not works (9:30–32; 10:3–5, 12–13; 11:22–23).

Conclusion
On the basis of these six considerations I conclude that the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 is as misguided as it is unfortunate. It is misguided not only because it misinterprets Paul, but because it fundamentally clashes with the supremacy of God’s self-revelation in Christ. And it is unfortunate because it tragically replaces the unsurpassably glorious picture of God as Jesus Christ dying on the cross for undeserving sinners with a picture of a deity who defies all moral sensibilities by arbitrarily fashioning certain people to be vessels fit for eternal destruction — and then punishing them for being that way. It exchanges the picture of a beautiful God who reigns supreme with self-sacrificial love and flexible wisdom for a picture of a God who reigns by the arbitrary exercise of sheer power.

I unequivocally affirm that the sovereign God “has mercy on whomever he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whomever he wants to harden.” I would simply add that the “whomever” he has mercy on refers to “all who choose to believe” while the “whomever” he hardens refers to “all who refuse to believe.” The passage demonstrates the wisdom of God’s loving flexibility, not the sheer determinism of God’s power.

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He Descended Into The Place of the Dead – Not Hell/Gehenna.

There is some misunderstanding about the descent to the dead of Jesus after the Crucifixion. It is sometimes translated as "hell/Gehenna" this is not where Jesus was. It was the spiritual place of the dead.

Descent to the Dead

The Descent of Jesus Into Hades

In this Speaking the Truth in Love podcast, Fr. Thomas Hopko uses the Paschal icon as an opportunity to clear up some misconceptions about Sheol/Hades and Gehenna/Hell.

Also some teaching on the Orthodox view of Hell. It's the presence of the God as experienced by those who reject the grace and mercy of God. In other words the torment of the wicked is their personal reaction to "very presence of Christ Himself." In other words relationship to Divine Love determines whether you are in hell or not.

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Yep

Sometimes I think, "I will make no mention of his message. I will not speak as his messenger any more." But then his message becomes like a fire locked up inside of me, burning in my heart and soul. I grow weary of trying to hold it in; I cannot contain it.

-Jeremiah 20:9

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To Keep or Not to Keep the Minister’s Salary Public?- Art Rainer

Shel: I have never been in a church that published individual salaries (lead or staff). I think the block reporting with individual access is best for many reasons. Of course the teams/boards in charge of oversight know because they are involved in the process, etc. Art has some good points:

(http://www.artrainer.com/to-keep-or-not-to-keep-the-ministers-salary-public/)

"There are certainly divided opinions about this issue. Stated simply, should the minister’s salary be kept public before all church members on a regular basis? For example, some churches distribute the monthly budget receipts and expenses of the church. In that monthly report you often see, to the dollar, exactly how much each minister makes.

Other churches provide only a total of all personnel costs or salaries. An individual minister’s salary is not visible in the total.

Some churches have policies or denominational guidelines about how this matter should be handled. But most don’t. So, for the vast majority of churches that have no guidelines or guiding principles on this issue, what is the best direction to take?

First, it is not a moral issue of right or wrong as long as there are no deceptive practices taking place. Second, most people, not just ministers, are uncomfortable having their salaries displayed before the public on a regular basis. Some positions in the secular world require such disclosure as with politicians and executives in publicly traded companies. But most people do not have to deal with the prying eyes of personal finances.

It is not a moral issue of right or wrong as long as there are no deceptive practices taking place.

Is there a way then to provide the best of both worlds? Allow the minister a modicum of privacy while maintaining a culture of openness in the church? In many churches, the minister’s individual salary is not made available for general public consumption. Any member, however, has the right to come to the church office to see the salaries if he or she desires. Most members really don’t worry or think about such matters. But, for those who do, the information is readily available.

Every church will have its own personality and thus have its own way of approaching this tension between transparency and privacy. Some ministers have no problem with their salaries being visible to all; others will struggle. For the latter group, the suggestion above may have merit.

Should I opt out of Social Security? How much housing allowance do I take? Do I have enough for retirement? Should I ask for a raise? Why should I even care about my financial picture? The Minister’s Salary was written to shed light on some of the issues that seem to most burden ministers. With simplicity and clarity, it provides a holistic look at key financial issues. The Minister’s Salary is an excellent, concise resource for anyone seeking answers to some of the most common financial questions asked by ministers. Now available!" -Art Rainer: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0692364676/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0692364676&linkCode=as2&tag=artraicom-20&linkId=7D6DEQ2H7EFYVP4J

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Sometimes I Read Something That Makes my Hair Stand on End and Makes Me Want to Shout “Hallelujah!”

As I continue reading, taking notes and slowly writing my thesis there is so much great stuff I come across. Obviously I can't post it all, but here's one - let it sink in:

"The wonder of creation is matched in the ancestral narratives of Genesis 12-50 with the capacity of God to call forth, in each successive generation, a faithful people that has itself reached a dead end. The narrative is shot through with the promissory resolve of YHWH.

Writ large the promises of YHWH concern a land for the family of Abraham and Sarah that is also to be blessing to the families of the nations (Ge. 12:3). But those large promises depend upon the intimate promise made to the old couple, Abraham and Sarah. In their aging days, Abraham, "as good as dead" (Heb. 11:12), and Sarah received a promise form God: "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son (Gen. 18:10). By the end of the narrative, it is affirmed that God can do the impossible: "Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?" (Gen. 18:14). The rhetorical question receives a "no" in the tradition; no, it is not impossible for God! It is impossible for the old couple to have a son and an heir.

The entire narrative of Genesis turns on this divine impossibility, a wonder that is reenacted in subsequent generations for series of barren women. The entire future of Israel depends, in each generation, on the capacity and resolve of YHWH to make a way out of no way. This reiterated miracle of new life in a context of hopelessness evokes in Israel a due sense of awe that issues in doxology (praise!). Well, it issues in laughter: "Now Sarah said, 'God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me'" (Gen 21:6).

In subsequent Christian tradition, that laugh has become an "Easter Laugh," a deep sweep of elation that looks death and despair in the face and mocks them. The ancestral narratives attest to the power of YHWH to create new historical possibilities where there is no ground for expectation."

WOO HOOO!!!!!

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Thom on Why Churches Plateau

06 Apr 2015 From Thom Rainer:
http://thomrainer.com/2015/04/06/five-organizational-reasons-many-churches-hit-attendance-plateaus/
Five Organizational Reasons Many Churches Hit Attendance Plateaus

In a recent post, I noted that 90 percent of churches in America will not go beyond the 350 attendance barrier. I also said that one key reason is organizational challenges. A lively discussion ensued in the comments of that post.

For many years, leaders have moved away from the discussion of numbers and organizational issues. To many, such issues seem unspiritual or secular. Indeed, if the numbers become an end in themselves, such arguments have merit. I fear, however, we are throwing out the baby with the bath water. In our zeal not to seem numbers-focused, we are often failing to be good stewards of our God-given resources.

As I have noted in other posts, the number one reason for declines and plateaus in churches is declining frequency of attendance of church members. Though there are many possible explanations for this reality, some of the reasons are in the category of organizational issues. Let me note five of them.

  • The church does not keep good records of attendance of worship services and small groups.
  • Do not neglect this stewardship. You will not begin to know the nature of the problem until you have this data on an ongoing basis.
  • The church’s small groups are not an organizational priority.
  • Those in small groups are five times more likely to be active in the church than those who attend worship services alone. Leadership in the church must give fastidious attention to small groups and Sunday school classes.
  • The church does not organizationally have some method of action reminders.
  • For example, I know of one church that contacts anyone who has been absent from a small group for two consecutive weeks. The leaders shared with me that it has given them great insights into pastoral needs and hurts before the members drop out of church life.
  • The church is not organizationally a high expectation church.
  • I have written and spoken on this issue many times. The best way to address member expectations is through a required new members’ class.
  • The church does not have organizational accountability.
  • For example, a small group leader should be accountable to someone to make sure anyone in his or her group is contacted if they miss consecutive weeks.

    At the risk of redundancy, let me again emphasize: The number one reason churches are declining or hitting plateaus is the declining frequency of attendance of church members. I have noted five organizational issues in this post. There are many more we will discuss later. In the meantime, let me hear from you.

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    Historical Arguments for the Gospels and Jesus

    Response to the Jesus seminar and militant pop-atheists, Dr. Craig Keener

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    Prayer of Relinquishment

    This Lenten season I've been in the school of "letting go" or put a little more suavely, "relinquishment."

    Here are two good articles on it:
    http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/433
    http://www.hannahscupboard.com/prayer-relinquish.html

    For this season of life (by choice and by chance) some of my spiritual gifts, natural talents and acquired skills have been "put on the shelf." This has caused some deep work and darkness which has led to more self-awareness than ever before.

    However, I am also aware that God often "shelves" us for season of renewal and preparation. That head knowledge is helpful, but does not negate the emotions of release, grief, and inactivity in gifts that bring the most life. Most of the great leaders (or servants of God - whatever language you prefer for people God uses to impact others experience of God) in scripture all (by choice or chance) were brought into the school of relinquishment before doing greater things. They needed to learn to be and re-rooted only in the love of God and re-attuned to God's activity around them - even if they experienced more silence than before.

    Emotional and spiritual health go hand in hand. New Life Fellowship Church in NYC has gone a long ways down the ancient-future path and has some amazing resources (http://newlifefellowship.org/ministries/prayer/).

    So in this period I've been drawn to this prayer, almost daily as part of my personal daily office (devotions with ancient rhythm and prayers):

    A Prayer of Relinquishment
    Today, O LORD, I yield myself to you.
    May your will be my delight throughout the day.
    May your way have perfect sway in me.
    May your love be the pattern of my living.

    I surrender to you my hopes,
    My dreams, my ambitions.
    Do with them what you will, when you will, as you will.

    I place into your loving care
    My family, my friends, my future.
    Care for them with a care that I can never give.

    I release into your hands
    My need to control,
    My craving for status,
    My fear of obscurity.

    Eradicate the evil, purify the good,
    And establish your kingdom on earth.
    For Jesus’ sake, AMEN.

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    A pastor-theologian who loves the questions…