BT Irwin Posts

A blog about looking for the Way of Jesus Christ in 21st century America

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The mistake that is causing churches and their ministers to collapse

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Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

This is what they call a “long read.”

It’s about church stuff.

Church leaders (and people who care about church) may get the most out of this post. I think, however, that anyone who leads a mission organization may get something from it, too.

I couldn’t stop thinking about something my dad, a lifelong minister (or what you may call a pastor in your circles), said to me a couple of weeks ago.

So I started writing and it turned into this.

You’ll find three parts in this post.

The first part is the story Dad told me about how he made a big mistake that led to his personal collapse and, perhaps, the collapse of the congregation he served for 22 years.

The second part is my take on Dad’s story and how I think many American congregations and their ministers make the same mistake that Dad made.

The third part is a personal story about how I...

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Friends with “repugnant” opinions

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Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash

This morning, I had a random thought about an old friend who came through for me at a time when I needed all the friendship I could get.

I don’t know why I thought of her this morning. Maybe it was the snow falling outside the window. I have good memories of the times she and her roommates hosted me in their home on winter days like this one. They were so generous and kind that I still feel warm all over when I think of them.

Like many friends from long ago, I only keep up with this one through Facebook. Once in awhile, I see her post something about her family and her life and what she is up to these days.

Once in awhile.

Most of what she posts, however, is what I will call passionate opposition to the precautions many people are taking against COVID. She is vigorous in her hostility toward any kind of mask and vaccine mandates.

I do not agree...

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What–and who–white Christians believe (MLK Day 2022)

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I woke up this MLK morning with insides buzzing, tense skin, and tight chest.

As I ran through all of the things that could be causing these feelings, I came down on one: I really wanted to publish a post on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. A week ago, I started writing and revising several posts in hope that the Spirit of God would fill the sails of one of them and carry it to you.

That did not happen.

It may be for the best. A lot of people will publish or share thoughts on Martin Luther King, Jr., today. Maybe it is not God’s will that I be one of them this time. Maybe my blog is not the medium God chooses for the message he has for the world today.

The pressure to write on MLK Day does not come from needing to prove that I am one of the good white men. As a Bible-believing Christian, it is a foregone conclusion that I am not good. As a Bible-believing Christian, I admit that...

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We Christians are looking at the darkness when we should be looking at the light

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The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!–Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew 6:22-23.

The problem these days is not the darkness in the world.

When has the world not been dark?

The Christ taught his apprentices and students to choose light, not to fixate and focus on the darkness of the world.

We are to choose what we see, which is another way of saying that we are to choose what we believe.

We can choose to see the darkness in the world. When we choose to see that darkness, we also choose to believe in the darkness. To believe in the darkness is to attribute power to it, to have a relationship with it, to let it take up space in our minds which leads to it taking up space in our...

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An opportunity for you to feed some friends who feed others

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L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams can tell you exactly how, when, and where her life–her purpose in life–changed.

Some of us would call it her “Aha!” moment. Others would call it her epiphany, her “Damascus Road,” or her stroke of genius.

Whatever anyone calls it, a new vision lit L'Oreal while she was in the middle of doing the most ordinary thing: Making supper for her kids.

At that time in her life, she was a full-time mom and part-time grocery store cashier staying in her native Detroit.

It was just another weeknight. The TV was on in the background as L'Oreal cooked supper for her family. All of a sudden, a news report caught her attention. She stopped what she was doing to watch.

The Food and Drug Administration had issued a national recall on lettuce for E. coli. L'Oreal’s first thought was about whether she had any of the bad lettuce in her refrigerator.

Then she had another...

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46

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I’m at an age when some people start to dread their birthdays. They may even lament out loud that they can’t believe they’re 46! Ugh! 46!

And I think to myself: “Well, at least you didn’t stop at 45!”

I stopped dreading birthdays on July 4, 1999.

That was the day I found that Randall Parks, one of my college friends, drowned while on a family vacation.

He and I rode around town in his pickup truck the night before we graduated from Harding University. We talked about our plans for life. He was off to graduate school on a full ride scholarship, a big step toward his goal of one day becoming an English professor at Harding.

Randall was gone just six weeks after that night. He was only 21.

I’ve thought about him on every birthday since he died.

I think about him every time I hear someone complain about their own birthday: Oh, you don’t like turning 46? Would you rather have...

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What happened to the shepherds after their appearance in the Nativity?

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Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

What happened to the shepherds when the camera stopped rolling?

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go...

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Omicron

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“When can we get back to normal?”

Asking a question like that is as human as human can be.

When we come out of the womb, our brains run on a default program that always looks for the easy way.

This is good. Our species made it this long because our brains work behind the scenes to figure out what is “normal” and to keep us there. That way, our bodies save energy. We stay safe in places that we know or at least know well enough that we can guess the best thing to do in them.

This is why we always want to snap back to “normal,” most of all in times when nothing feels normal.

Along with a brain, however, each one of us is born with an imagination. Something within us that strives to break out of “normal” to explore the wilds and maybe even make a new and better “normal”.

This is the divine spark, the great power that comes with great responsibility, the Holy Spirit of God.

...

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Christmas wishes or Advent hope?

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Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash

I wonder if, over the years, many Christians here in America mistook Christmas wishes for Advent hope.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to September for three big reasons: The Christmas catalogs from JCPenney, Montgomery Ward, and Sears came in the mail. As soon as I saw one of those catalogs on the kitchen table, I tore it open like a starving man tearing into a bag of bread. Within minutes, I found and circled the toys I wanted for Christmas.

Once the Christmas catalogs came, I studied them daily as if they were holy books. As soon as I came in the door from school, I found the Christmas catalogs and spent hours staring at the toys. Dreaming. Longing. Wishing.

It got so bad that Mom started hiding the Christmas catalogs when they came each September. She didn’t us look at them until after Thanksgiving.

What I remember about looking at those...

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A ship in harbor is safe…

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Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. John A. Shedd (1859-1928)

How I wish to be safe in the harbor now.

How I wish to harbor myself and the people I love from wave after wave after wave of building collapses, climate change, high grocery prices, the nonstop lying of politicians and pundits (and the violence of their followers), school shootings, social media shit storms, tornadoes, viruses, and wildfires.

How I wish to harbor myself where I don’t have to make decisions of great and lasting consequences. Decisions that affect my family. Decisions that affect my neighbors. Decisions that affect the people who work for me. Decisions I might get wrong. Decisions that make me prone to the anger, criticism, and resentment of the very people for whom I’m trying to care.

Decisions that make me prone to the harm and suffering...

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