search this site

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Get the eNews

* indicates required
Email Format
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    find ben simpson on facebook
    twitter updates


    The Prayer Jesus Taught: Declined

    Widely known as the Lord's Prayer, and found in Matthew 6:9-13, this advertisement from the Church of England featuring that prayer was reportedly rejected by a number of leading cinemas in the UK due to concerns that some patrons would be offended.

    Michael Frost, an Australian missiologist, had this to say on Facebook:

    The controversy, if it may be called that, is noteworthy.

    As I have returned to this advertisement, I've done my very best to put aside my surprise, or my sadness. And I've asked myself why I was surprised and saddened in the first place, and what these reactions say about me and my assumptions about the place of Christianity in culture today.

    The Church of England was quite clever, asking that this advertisement run to coincide with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is also smack in the middle of Advent. And it is quite well done, I think, to show the diversity of people, and places, and times and seasons of life, within which this prayer might be prayed.

    Death. Marriage. Worship. Solitude. Community. Work. Nature. Crisis. Baptism. In rural lands, and in cities. For the citizens of the UK, and for the immigrant.

    And in thinking on these things, and in putting aside any feelings of rejection or surprise, or sadness, I remember that this is the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. It is ours, given to the church. It is a gift.

    And while I would like all people to discover the joys of praying this prayer, with Jesus, perhaps it will have to be done apart from the disembodied witness of an advertisement, and must be brought through the apostolic witness of the church. The advertisement sought to be a beginning point, not an end.

    And it can still serve that purpose. But there are others ways to invite the world into prayer.


    Echoing God's Forgiveness

    All our forgiving is inescapably incomplete. That's why it's so crucial to see our forgiving not simply as our own act, but as participation in God's forgiving. Our forgiving is faulty; God's is faultless. Our forgiving is provisional; God's is final. We forgive tenuously and tentatively; God forgives unhesitatingly and definitively. As we forgive, we always wrong the offender by inadequate judgment and pride; God forgives with justice and genuine love. The only way we dare forgive is by making our forgiving transparent to God's and always open to revision. After all, our forgiveness is only possible as an echo of God's.

    - Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

    I often tell my students that forgiveness is a radical action, and is central to Christian identity.

    It is all the more radical if it is understood as a response to and extension of God's forgiveness of us in and through Jesus Christ.

    Christ calls us to forgive all people, friends and enemies, for faults large and small. Forgiveness is not always easy. I have enemies, some that do not even know they are my enemies. I also have friends, some who do not know ways they have hurt me. I forgive. And in my forgiving, I acknowledge the incompleteness of my own action, as seen in the grudges I continue to carry, the bitterness that lessens yet remains, and the mixed motivations both known and unknown that plague even my best efforts to release the one who has offended me.

    There are limits to our own efforts to forgive. But in our forgiving, we echo a greater forgiveness extended to us in Christ, who died for us, while we were yet his enemies, to reconcile us to himself.


    Saturday Reading Notes

    One of the lessons I learned from Stephen King's memoir On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was to never be without a book. My seminary professor Howard Hendricks also admonished us to learn continually, particularly through reading. A day seldom passes in which I don't read something--a book, an article, a selection from a magazine--all in an effort to refine my thinking, discover something new, and grow as a person.

    I find reading to be one of life's great pleasures.

    Here is what I have been reading this week.

    Peter Leithart on Barth on Gratitude

    On Thanksgiving, Peter Leithart published this reflection at First Things on gratitude. Leithart quotes Karl Barth, who in his esteemed Church Dogmatics, wrote that we have our "being in gratitude." What does this mean?

    Leithart writes of God coming to us in grace, and uses Barth to argue that our proper subjective response to God is thanksgiving. We can confidently give thanks to God, for we are possess knowledge of God's gracious action toward us. That kind of knowledge flowers forth as obedience to Christ and his call. Because it is right for us to give unto God our thanks and praise, we are then gladdened to act accordingly as disciples of Jesus Christ.

    In his concluding paragraph, Leithart offers these words:

    Thanks is the only appropriate human response to the word of grace that calls him into being. The being of man is an answer to God’s call and word, and since that work is grace, the answer that is man must be gratitude.

    Miroslav Volf's Free of Charge

    Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. His best known work is Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Volf is of Croatian heritage, and writes powerfully on themes of anthropology and sin, forgiveness, and redemption, having reflected extensively on the experiences of his people in the aftermath of the Croatian War of Independence (1991-95).

    In Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, Volf takes up two themes: giving and forgiving. God is both giver and forgiver, and human beings, created in God's image, respond to these gifts by giving and also by forgiving. But to give and to forgive as God gives and forgives is often complicated by our understanding of God, our motivations, and our neglect to act as givers and forgivers under grace.

    Volf writes, "The first things to which God's gifts oblige us is faith," and the second is to gratitude. In one of my favorite passages thus far, Volf states:

    Gratitude toward God is the corollary of faith in God. When I have faith, I affirm explicitly that I am a recipient of God's favors, and implicitly I recognize and affirm God as the giver. When I am grateful, I recognize and honor God explicitly as the giver, and I implicitly recognize and affirm myself as a recipient of God's gifts. In a way, faith and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. At the same time, there is a certain progression from faith to gratitude. Faith receives God's gifts as gifts; gratitude receives them well.

    Daryl R. Conner's Managing At the Speed of Change

    I'm not far along in this book, but I am in an organization that is undergoing change. And being part of an organization that is changing, I am very aware of how difficult change can be, and how pressing a need there is for wisdom in the face of change.

    In 2015, our congregation has been in a transition period. At the conclusion of 2014, our pastor retired after 21 years of ministry with University Baptist Church. As our congregation prayerfully prepares for the calling of our next pastor, we have engaged in an intentional process of reflection, discernment, and re-orientation, so that we might be best prepared for our next season of life.

    This may sound like a business book, and as far as its classification for booksellers might be, it has been labeled so. But Conner states explicitly that the wisdom he offers can be helpful for clergy and other church leaders. Conner writes, "we have the chance to be either architects or victims of our future," and that "whether it is problems or opportunities that dictate the circumstances of change, the shifting of basic paradigms generates conditions that can improve or reduce the quality of our lives."

    Change is a process, organizations and the invididuals within them possess a certain degree of resiliency regarding change, and understanding both the level of tolerance for change as well as how change is rendered is of vital importance for any leader.

    As far as our congregation is concerned, there is a tremendous amount of potential for us to be part of God's great kingdom work, even beyond our present level of faithfulness. So all the wisdom I can gain that might help us move from the present into a better future (Lord willing), I'll be glad to receive.


    Silent, Until Song

    The Silent Friends from Kauri Multimedia on Vimeo.

    Sing to the Lord a new song;
        sing to the Lord, all the earth.
    Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
        proclaim his salvation day after day.
    Declare his glory among the nations,
        his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

    For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
        he is to be feared above all gods.
    For all the gods of the nations are idols,
        but the Lord made the heavens.
    Splendor and majesty are before him;
        strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

    Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
        ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
    Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
        bring an offering and come into his courts.
    Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
        tremble before him, all the earth.
    Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
        The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
        he will judge the peoples with equity.

    Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
        let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
    Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
        let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
    Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
        he comes to judge the earth.
    He will judge the world in righteousness
        and the peoples in his faithfulness.

    - Psalm 96

    HT: Brain Pickings


    Would That We Might See You

    It is indeed eighteen hundred years since Jesus Christ walked here on earth, but this is certainly not an event just like other events, which once they are over pass into history and then, as the distant past, pass into oblivion. No, his presence here on earth never becomes a thing of the past, thus does not become more and more distant--that is, if faith is at all to be found upon the earth; if not, well, then in that very instant it is a long time since he lived. But as long as there is a believer, this person, in order to have become that, must have been and as a believer must be as contemporary with Christ’s presence as his contemporaries were. This contemporaneity is the condition of faith, and, more sharply defined, it is faith. Lord Jesus Christ, would that we, too, might become contemporary with you in this way, might see you in your true form and in the surroundings of actuality as you walked here on earth, not in the form in which an empty and meaningless or a thoughtless-romantic or a historical-talkative remembrance has distorted you, since it is not the form of abasement in which the believer sees you, and it cannot possibly be the form of glory in which no one as yet has seen you. Would that we might see you as you are and were and will be until your second coming in glory, as the sign of offense and the object of faith, the lowly man, yet the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, who out of love came to earth to seek the lost, to suffer and die, and yet, alas, every step you took on earth, every time you called to the straying, every time you reached out your hand to do signs and wonders, and every time you defenselessly suffered the opposition of people without raising a hand--again and again in concern you had to repeat, “Blessed is the one who is not offended at me.” Would that we might see you in this way and that we then might not be offended at you!

    - Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity XII.1 - XII.2