13 December 2011

Guest Writer: G.K. Chesterton

I have quite literally fallen in love with G.K. Chesterton as a writer this year. His keenness of insight and turn of phrase are fantastic. He was one of the great minds of the early 20th century and arguably deserves a place next to C.S. Lewis as one of the great gifts of England to the last century.

I read this short piece, from his collection of essays, All Things Considered, this morning and thought it fantastic. It is not particularly theological, and yet, as with all things Chesterton I have discovered, his faith is woven well into it. Enjoy.

The Fallacy of Success

There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men. They are much more wild than the wildest romances of chivalry and much more dull than the dullest religious tract. Moreover, the romances of chivalry were at least about chivalry; the religious tracts are about religion. But these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. These writers profess to tell the ordinary man how he may succeed in his trade or speculation--how, if he is a builder, he may succeed as a builder; how, if he is a stockbroker, he may succeed as a stockbroker. They profess to show him how, if he is a grocer, he may become a sporting yachtsman; how, if he is a tenth-rate journalist, he may become a peer; and how, if he is a German Jew, he may become an Anglo-Saxon. This is a definite and business-like proposal, and I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back. Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare to publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely any kind of verbal sense.

It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation. If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than any one else, or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success. Especially you cannot want a book about Success such as those which you can now find scattered by the hundred about the book-market. You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners. If these writers, for instance, said anything about success in jumping it would be something like this: "The jumper must have a clear aim before him. He must desire definitely to jump higher than the other men who are in for the same competition. He must let no feeble feelings of mercy (sneaked from the sickening Little Englanders and Pro-Boers) prevent him from trying to do his best. He must remember that a competition in jumping is distinctly competitive, and that, as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, the weakest go to the wall." That is the kind of thing the book would say, and very useful it would be, no doubt, if read out in a low and tense voice to a young man just about to take the high jump. Or suppose that in the course of his intellectual rambles the philosopher of Success dropped upon our other case, that of playing cards, his bracing advice would run--"In playing cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to win the game. You must have grit and snap and go in to win. The days of idealism and superstition are over. We live in a time of science and hard common sense, and it has now been definitely proved that in any game where two are playing if one does not win the other will." It is all very stirring, of course; but I confess that if I were playing cards I would rather have some decent little book which told me the rules of the game. Beyond the rules of the game it is all a question either of talent or dishonesty; and I will undertake to provide either one or the other--which, it is not for me to say.

Turning over a popular magazine, I find a queer and amusing example. There is an article called "The Instinct that Makes People Rich." It is decorated in front with a formidable portrait of Lord Rothschild. There are many definite methods, honest and dishonest, which make people rich; the only "instinct" I know of which does it is that instinct which theological Christianity crudely describes as "the sin of avarice." That, however, is beside the present point. I wish to quote the following exquisite paragraphs as a piece of typical advice as to how to succeed. It is so practical; it leaves so little doubt about what should be our next step--"The name of Vanderbilt is synonymous with wealth gained by modern enterprise. 'Cornelius,' the founder of the family, was the first of the great American magnates of commerce. He started as the son of a poor farmer; he ended as a millionaire twenty times over."

"He had the money-making instinct. He seized his opportunities, the opportunities that were given by the application of the steam-engine to ocean traffic, and by the birth of railway locomotion in the wealthy but undeveloped United States of America, and consequently he amassed an immense fortune.

"Now it is, of course, obvious that we cannot all follow exactly in the footsteps of this great railway monarch. The precise opportunities that fell to him do not occur to us. Circumstances have changed. But, although this is so, still, in our own sphere and in our own circumstances, we can follow his general methods; we can seize those opportunities that are given us, and give ourselves a very fair chance of attaining riches."

In such strange utterances we see quite clearly what is really at the bottom of all these articles and books. It is not mere business; it is not even mere cynicism. It is mysticism; the horrible mysticism of money. The writer of that passage did not really have the remotest notion of how Vanderbilt made his money, or of how anybody else is to make his. He does, indeed, conclude his remarks by advocating some scheme; but it has nothing in the world to do with Vanderbilt. He merely wished to prostrate himself before the mystery of a millionaire. For when we really worship anything, we love not only its clearness but its obscurity. We exult in its very invisibility. Thus, for instance, when a man is in love with a woman he takes special pleasure in the fact that a woman is unreasonable. Thus, again, the very pious poet, celebrating his Creator, takes pleasure in saying that God moves in a mysterious way. Now, the writer of the paragraph which I have quoted does not seem to have had anything to do with a god, and I should not think (judging by his extreme unpracticality) that he had ever been really in love with a woman. But the thing he does worship--Vanderbilt--he treats in exactly this mystical manner. He really revels in the fact his deity Vanderbilt is keeping a secret from him. And it fills his soul with a sort of transport of cunning, an ecstasy of priestcraft, that he should pretend to be telling to the multitude that terrible secret which he does not know.

Speaking about the instinct that makes people rich, the same writer remarks---

"In olden days its existence was fully understood. The Greeks enshrined it in the story of Midas, of the 'Golden Touch.' Here was a man who turned everything he laid his hands upon into gold. His life was a progress amidst riches. Out of everything that came in his way he created the precious metal. 'A foolish legend,' said the wiseacres of the Victorian age. 'A truth,' say we of to-day. We all know of such men. We are ever meeting or reading about such persons who turn everything they touch into gold. Success dogs their very footsteps. Their life's pathway leads unerringly upwards. They cannot fail."

Unfortunately, however, Midas could fail; he did. His path did not lead unerringly upward. He starved because whenever he touched a biscuit or a ham sandwich it turned to gold. That was the whole point of the story, though the writer has to suppress it delicately, writing so near to a portrait of Lord Rothschild. The old fables of mankind are, indeed, unfathomably wise; but we must not have them expurgated in the interests of Mr. Vanderbilt. We must not have King Midas represented as an example of success; he was a failure of an unusually painful kind. Also, he had the ears of an ass. Also (like most other prominent and wealthy persons) he endeavoured to conceal the fact. It was his barber (if I remember right) who had to be treated on a confidential footing with regard to this peculiarity; and his barber, instead of behaving like a go-ahead person of the Succeed-at-all-costs school and trying to blackmail King Midas, went away and whispered this splendid piece of society scandal to the reeds, who enjoyed it enormously. It is said that they also whispered it as the winds swayed them to and fro. I look reverently at the portrait of Lord Rothschild; I read reverently about the exploits of Mr. Vanderbilt. I know that I cannot turn everything I touch to gold; but then I also know that I have never tried, having a preference for other substances, such as grass, and good wine. I know that these people have certainly succeeded in something; that they have certainly overcome somebody; I know that they are kings in a sense that no men were ever kings before; that they create markets and bestride continents. Yet it always seems to me that there is some small domestic fact that they are hiding, and I have sometimes thought I heard upon the wind the laughter and whisper of the reeds.

At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride? A hundred years ago we had the ideal of the Industrious Apprentice; boys were told that by thrift and work they would all become Lord Mayors. This was fallacious, but it was manly, and had a minimum of moral truth. In our society, temperance will not help a poor man to enrich himself, but it may help him to respect himself. Good work will not make him a rich man, but good work may make him a good workman. The Industrious Apprentice rose by virtues few and narrow indeed, but still virtues. But what shall we say of the gospel preached to the new Industrious Apprentice; the Apprentice who rises not by his virtues, but avowedly by his vices?

06 December 2011

Gluttony, the Forgotten Sin

Gary Thomas, one of my favorite authors, addresses a topic that has been bouncing around in my head for a while now in his blog. You can read his post here.

The issue being, the church tends to have its hobby-horse sins that it loves to "be against." However, gluttony is not one of them. Yet, there is a serious problem with it in our society and our churches. It is an issue of self-control and self-discipline.

The four times a quick searched pulled up "glutton" it is always paired with "drunkard." I've heard many more sermons on the latter than the former. (Deut 21:20, Prov 23:21, Matt 11:19, Luke 7:34)

05 December 2011

Servant, Continued.

This is calling out some great stuff.

Counter to Galli's Article Here's a quote:
But increasingly, this is not the mission of the church today. In a post-Christendom context, the metaphor of pastor as healer, chaplain, or curer of souls is inadequate to the task and literally killing the church. 
When did the mission change? I've seen new translations of the scriptures, I haven't seen many "updates." I heartily disagree with the second statement as well. In my early ministry in the church, I would have done much better had I been trained as and focused on being a healer, chaplain, or curer of souls" than living in my fantasies of being a leader. I never received much ire from having or not having a vision statement or a good organizational chart. There are a couple of "pastoral calls" I failed to make that I still regret to this day.

Almost 5 years ago Gordon MacDonald wrote this piece that I just found (linked in the above article.) This is insightful and it bears reading and re-reading.

And of course, internetmonk is picking up on it all as well here.

Want some quick, unscientific biblical basis for all this "service instead of leadership" stuff? A quick search of the ESV reveals the following hits "servant": 504, "leader": 23. Makes one wonder where we've gotten all this "leadership" material in the last 30 years, doesn't it?

Consider the words of Paul:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6 ESV emphasis added)

And again in Ephesians:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.(Ephesians 4:1-7 ESV)

Notice that the word leader does not appear in either passage. However there are some very pastoral qualities that Paul emphasizes.

This is a discussion that is long overdue. I pray that it will bear fruit in people's lives, not just static on the internet.

04 December 2011


A couple of days ago, Mark Galli posted this over at Christianity Today. Since then, at least 3 of my friends have linked to it and its been commented on here. They both bear reading. I've been saying this for a couple of years myself.

Leadership is an idol in the contemporary church.

I can't put it any clearer than that. It's not about building our own little kingdoms. It is about being servants in the Kingdom of God. It is not about seeking our glory, but God's glory. If we'd put down the latest "leadership"tome and pick up the New Testament, we would see that.

12 November 2011

Decline and Fall

Techno Mass in Swedish Lutheran Church

It is so predictable, I hesitate to comment on it. But this article encapsulates it, inadvertently, but concisely, toward the middle.
Over the past 10 years, membership in Sweden's Lutheran church has fallen 13 percent and attendance at regular Sunday services plunged 50 percent to 4.6 million visits last year, worrying the clergy.

The church in Sweden has become increasingly progressive.

In 1958, it allowed its first female priests, and two years ago ordained its first openly gay bishop, Eva Brunne, and gave priests the right to wed same-sex couples.

Idestrom says his modern Mass is a further development on the road of progress.

You will note, "progressive." Is a key word. "Happening or developing gradually or in stages." "A group favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas." These are two of the definitions my dictionary gives, and they are using it in these senses. "Progress" is defined as "movement toward a destination." Well, they certainly are making progress....are they going anyplace worth going?, that is the important question that no one seems to be asking.

Let me fill in the rest of the sequence of events on how this happens.
  • We want to be "smart" like all the other academics at the university.
  • We start accepting ideas of "higher textual criticism" and other theological innovations.
  • Because of this, we make the subtle (at first) shift from allowing scripture to be our judge to being the judge of scripture.
  • Once we're the judge, we start to question (condem) the parts we don't like.
  • Once we start editing, truth becomes subjective and we become the source of all authority.
  • Once we lose hold on the revealed truth, we have become just like the world. (Now we are just like most of the people at the university).
  • Once we are just like the world, there is nothing to attract anyone to us, because we are just like everywhere else.
  • Then we have start turning to the ways of the world--flash and sensationalism--to attract people to us.
All of this is progress. The same way there was "progress" in Israel and Judah in the Old Testament. Way to be biblical! I suppose as long as we are ignoring great chunks of scripture, we can assume God's reaction won't be the same this time....

03 November 2011

Words Mean Things

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth....And God said, "Let there be...and there was." This pretty well summarizes Genesis chapter 1. Have you considered the impact of it?

God spoke, and things came into being. Sure, on one level, this is a blinding flash of the obvious. But when is the last time you spoke and something sprang into existence? Well of course not, you're not God, right? True, but keep reading....

"Because....you have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'you shall not eat of it,'....By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground." (Genesis 3:17-19)

Question: How did Adam work in the garden without sweating before the fall or the curse?

Possible answer: jump ahead to Matthew 21:19 "And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he [Jesus] went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. and he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again!' And the fig tree withered at once." Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples that this is nothing unusual, if they have faith, they can even tell mountains to get up and jump in the ocean, and they will.

Okay, I've never told a mountain to get out of the way. You? I've certainly talked to a few traffic jams lately, but not much luck there, either.

What's the point?

In the spiritual realm (God is spirit) words have obvious power. Consider the miracles of Jesus, the manner we generally see (with some exceptions) is he speaks, and something happens. The Centurion counted on that cause and effect in Matthew 8.

God works, at least as far as we have recorded in the scriptures, through speaking. With God, his words literally mean things. He speaks, and there is some thing where before he spoke there was no thing.

What's the implication for you and I as disciples of Jesus?

We are spiritual beings, too. We inhabit the flesh. We are used to doing things through the flesh in a very literal sense. We touch things and they move. We use tools to create things. But, as hinted at in the above verses, our words are much more powerful than we (and certainly the world) gives them credit for.

God created the heavens and the earth by speaking, and he will re-create it all again by speaking. Jesus healed the blind, lame and leprous by speaking to them. He cast out demons and raised the dead by speaking.

We are given some indications that our words have heavy significance as well. Consider Jesus' words to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)

If we take that seriously, there is some serious power. If we take Jesus' earlier words about trees and mountains seriously, it is hardly trivial.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and redeemer." (Psalm 19:14) Because, apparently, there is more to it than we realize....

01 November 2011

All Saints Day 2011

The first of November is, traditionally, the feast of All Saints. I take a "reformed" view of the day, and, I think, the biblical one as well, that saint means Christian. Paul addresses us as such in his letters. Just look at the opening of most of his epistles and you will see him using the term to address those he is writing to.

The readings for the lectionary (of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer at least) for All Saint's Day includes the beatitudes from Matthew's Gospel.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12 ESV)

Jesus' words at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount are appropriate to reflect upon on All Saint's Day because in them, Jesus illustrates that the Kingdom of Heaven--that is, "sainthood"--is open to all.

Often we hear these qualities lifted up as things to attain to, and this has a long tradition in the church. I think there is also validity in the view offered by Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy. Namely that as Jesus sat down to teach, he looked at the crowds, and reassured them. He was not in an Ivy-League lecture hall. He was not sitting in a great cathedral. He was sitting on a Judean hillside surrounded by the common people, and a lot of the outcasts of society.

Jesus speaks to their unspoken concern, "Is this for me? Sure, he healed me, or my friend--he's got my attention--but can I afford what he's selling?" Jesus turns the world's pecking order upside down, as he so often did, with the beatitudes. Those the world looks down on, marginalizes and even persecutes, those are the people my good news is for. Not so much for the all-together up-and-comers. No, this is good news for the down-and-out and the bent-and-broken.

Jesus, continues to live up to his name given by Gabriel--Immanuel. God with us. He is with us, so that we can be with him. He opens the Kingdom to all of us, so we can all become saints, and more importantly, children of God the Father. We celebrate our membership in the fellowship of the saints on this day, we are a part of the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12:1. They have gone before, and we are following after. One day, each of us will be one of those who has "gone before."

May we leave a heritage that is worth celebrating by future generations on this historic feast day of the church.

27 October 2011

Off the Ceiling? Maybe Off the Wall....

'I feel like my prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling.'

I've heard this one. Most of us have. We may have even uttered it from time to time. While I understand the sentiment, and that it is genuine at times, it reflects a horrible failure to grasp some basic theology.

First, God is not (solely) 'out there.' God is with us. A few verses state this point clearly.

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18)

"The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth." (Psalm 145:18

"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." (James 4:8a)

We miss a crucial point when we posit our heavenly Father "somewhere out there." "Our father who is in heaven" could be rendered, "Our father who is as close as my next breath, and as all around me as the stars up above." We are so afraid of being pantheist (God in everything) that we try to drive him totally out of our surroundings for his own safety.

Secondly, we, as believers, we have God within us. Let us not forget the Trinity--Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The third person of the triune godhead lives within each believer. We are in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure what that typically means to you, but if we take the doctrine of the trinity seriously, it means that God is within us.

The logical deduction from this is that our prayers don't even have to pass our lips, let alone make it to the ceiling to come before the throne of grace.

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (Romans 8:26-27)

The Spirit can do this because the Spirit is within us, cohabiting with our own spirits. (Which makes you wonder how on earth we could ever think we could hide anything from God.)

All of this, of course, is why we can pray "in our heads" and still be heard. So, if you're praying silently anyway, how could your prayer "get past the ceiling?" Because it does not need to. God is with you.

Immanuel--God with us. The gift of the Nativity. We would do well to remember it. He hears our prayers. The Holy Spirit is living in and with our spirit, and praying for us--keeping us in constant communication with God, even when we aren't consciously praying.

So, the only way your prayers can 'bounce off the ceiling' is if your theology is off the wall....I pray that is not the case.

16 October 2011

God is God

"In the beginning God…" Genesis 1:1

     Theology, rightly understood, is learning about God, it is not creating or defining God. When we look at Scripture, the first thing we are told is, "In the beginning, God." This is where all understanding, knowledge, wisdom, experience and existence has its genesis. God is the source, the author, the creator of all. Nothing pre-exists Him. He is the irreducible source of all things.

     One often hears talk about, "this or that kind of god," or, "A god that would do or allow such and such." In reality, such talk is ludicrous and nonsensical. If God is god, then there is only one God and what we think of Him is of no consequence to his identity and being whatsoever. We can either seek to believe and know the truth, or we can choose to believe fantasies of our own making.

     You may believe me to be the Easter Bunny. Your mistaken belief does nothing to change my identity. It will impact the way you relate to me. Ultimately, such a mistaken belief will cause you to relate to me in ways that are inappropriate and lead to disappointment and misunderstanding.

      We only have 2 choices in relating to God, to accept him or to reject him. To obey or disobey, to believe or disbelieve. We do not have the option to change him.

     When we discuss a "type" of God, what we generally mean is the interpretation or understanding that a particular person or group has of God. Phrases such as, "The God of the Catholics," or "The Muslim God" would be more accurately rendered as, "the Catholic conception of God," or, "The Muslim understanding of God." These may be studied, and analyzed, but they are of little value if they are not the truth. It is akin to someone who studies the "Star Wars universe." They may have much knowledge of Ewoks and Jawas and the Empire. Ultimately, however, it is of little value because it has nothing to do with reality.

     One must take into account deception from the supernatural. Satan desires to lead us astray, and if he can do that through giving us a false god to worship, he is perfectly content to do so. It is important to acknowledge that this is not just a passive pursuit, but a battle that is being waged all around us for our souls through the revealing and distorting of truth.

     Our goal, as Christians, is to understand God as he really is. This is important, because it is the God who really is who we will have to answer to. It is the God who really is who holds our destiny and existence in his power. Understanding the "God who is" is of prime importance for all knowledge and survival.

     Theology is not just a discipline, it is the primary and foundational science for humanity. To leave theology entirely to ivory tower academics is not only lazy, it is irresponsible. Assuming that God interacts with and has concern for individuals, then we, as individuals, should reciprocate the same interest toward God. Since understanding God is foundational to all knowledge, whatever our vocation or interest, understanding God is a prerequisite to right understanding and living.

     We must understand God if we are to understand anything in our world or in our lives as it truly is. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not a democracy. We serve a king, we need to understand his will, his desires and his rules. We are created in his image, he does not need us to return the favor and try to create him in our image. To do so is idolatry.

29 September 2011

Guest Writer: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From Life Together

Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for the little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for the daily gifts. We think that we should not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must be constantly seeking the great gifts. Then we complain that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experiences that God has given to other Christians, and we consider these complaints to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not so small!) gifts we receive daily. How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God's hand? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community in which we have been placed, even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith--and if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so miserable and so insignificant and does not at all live up to our expectations--then we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ. That also applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous parishioners about their congregations. Pastors should not complain about their congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. Congregations have not been entrusted to them in order that they should become accusers of their congregations before God and their fellow human beings. When pastors lose faith in a Christian community in which they have been placed and begin to make accusations against it, they had better examine themselves first to see whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image, which should be shattered by God. And if they find that to be true, let them thank God for leading them into this predicament. But if they find it is not true, let them nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of those whom God has gathered together. Instead, let them accuse themselves of their unbelief, let them ask for an understanding of their own failure and their particular sin, and pray that they may not wrong other Christians. Let such pastors, recognizing their own guilt, make intercession for those charged to their care. Let them do what they have been instructed to do and thank God.

p. 37-38, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1996

13 September 2011

Prayer Is Preparation

From today's entry for Experiencing God Day By Day. Too good not to share--

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (Acts 2:1)

Prayer does not give you spiritual power. Prayer aligns your life with God so that He chooses to demonstrate His power through you. The purpose of prayer is not to convince God to change your circumstances but to prepare you to be involved in God’s activity.

The fervent prayer of the people at Pentecost did not induce the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Prayer brought them to a place where they were ready to participate in the mighty work God had already planned.

Jesus told His followers to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:4–5). The disciples obeyed His command, waiting for God’s next directive. As they prayed, God adjusted their lives to what He intended to do next. As they prayed, a unity developed among them. For the first time the disciples used Scripture as their guide in decision making (Acts 1:15–26). The day of Pentecost arrived, and the city of Jerusalem filled with pilgrims from around the world. When God released His Holy Spirit upon the disciples, He had already filled the city with messengers who would carry the Gospel to every nation. Prayer had prepared the disciples for their obedient response.

Prayer is designed to adjust you to God’s will, not to adjust God to your will. If God has not responded to what you are praying, you may need to adjust your praying to align with God’s agenda. Rather than focusing on what you would like to see happen, realize that God may be more concerned with what He wants to see happen in you.

11 September 2011

2 Recent Books

I recently finished reading 2 books I've been working on for a while, Heretics, by G. K. Chesterton and Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. Both are excellent in their own rights. Heretics, being written near the dawn of the 20th century is in public domain and can be found online for free. Spirit of the Disciplines was penned in 1988 but is still available in publication.

Chesterton is one of those authors who I had seen quoted frequently and I appreciated the quotes, so I finally decided to go to the source and read some of his works on their own terms. I was not disappointed. His insight and interpretation of the world around him is forthright and refreshing. It was a bit of a struggle as he wrote Heretics as a response to his contemporaries, many of whom I am unfamiliar with or know only in name, but the main points of his arguments could be followed without much background.

Chesterton's best gift, at least in this book, is his penchant for "calling a spade a spade." He examined the thought of his time period and responded with a loud and unequivocal, "This is garbage!" Unfortunately, many of the trends in thinking and writing that he observed and challenged have proceeded over the intervening century largely unchecked. At several points I felt I was reading a commentary on something I had heard in class the day before.

"But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter." (Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2011). Heretics (Kindle Locations 55-56). Kindle Edition.) This really sums up much of his thought and I heartily agree. We hear such things constantly, but He has none of it. He continues, "I perceive that it is far more practical to begin at the beginning and discuss theories. I see that the men who killed each other about the orthodoxy of the Homoousion were far more sensible than the people who are quarrelling about the Education Act. (Kindle Locations 131-133).

There is much that I highlighted and would love to share, but for sake of space, I will stop there. He has a very good point. What we believe, what we believe about fundamental things--life, love, God, death--these things matter immensely, for out of our fundamental beliefs flow all of our actions and other beliefs. Somehow, we have lost this in our so-called "enlightened" age. It is both a tragedy and a farce. I sit in higher education once again and listen to academicians speak in such ways that reveals their biases while at the same time the claim--and with a straight face--to have none. This, of course, is insanity. One last quote form the end of the book to sum up.

Every man in the street must hold a metaphysical system, and hold it firmly. The possibility is that he may have held it so firmly and so long as to have forgotten all about its existence. This latter situation is certainly possible; in fact, it is the situation of the whole modern world. The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas. (Kindle Locations 2433-2436).

Okay, onto Willard. Dallas Willard is one of the few living authors I will willingly read. I doubt he'll put that bit of information on his resume anytime soon, but what I mean is, as I have stated in other places, is that much of what is written in contemporary times is either a) garbage or, b) recycled from previous times. Dallas takes the best of the latter and interprets and applies it with very little of the former.

This particular work of his takes some ideas that have been floating in my head for about 20 years and crystalizes them. The bottom line of the book is this--how we live as Christians matters. Not in some moralistic way, but in the very practical and spiritual way that it forms us. Just as Christ is fully God and fully man, we too are fully body and fully spirit. They two co-exist and reside within us. We can do nothing "spiritual" outside of our flesh and blood, and everything we do physically affects us spiritually.

From this obvious, though often overlooked, beginning, he lays out how discipline in the Christian life is necessary in order to train ourselves in righteousness. "Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going the "second mile," turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully–while living the rest of our lives just as everyone else does." (p. 5) Too often, this is the case. We go to church and talk about our "spiritual lives" as if they had nothing to do with our Monday through Saturday "real" lives.

"Either I must intend to stop sinning or not intend to stop. There is no third possibility. I must plan to follow Jesus fully or not plan to follow him." (p. 13)

Read that again.

Either I must intend to stop sinning or not intend to stop.
There is no third possibility.
I must plan to follow Jesus fully or not plan to follow him.

We cannot gloss over the way Jesus and his disciples lived their lives. They practiced regular prayer and solitude. They were disciplined in the way they lived their lives. Jesus words key us into this if we listen, "When you pray...when you fast,... when you give..." (Matthew 6) are telling. He does not say, "if," but when. The expectation is that we will do these things.

Unfortunately, through radical interpretations of reformation theology, we have largely discarded spiritual disciplines because we are afraid of "works righteousness." In truth, many of us are just lazy.

The disciplines for the spiritual life, rightly understood, are time-tested activities consciously undertaken by us as new men or women to allow our spirit ever-increasing sway over our embodied selves. They help us by assisting the ways of God's Kingdom to take the place of the habits of sin embedded in our bodies. (p. 86) They are training to be who we want to be. It takes effort on our part. Yes, God gives us the Holy Spirit and works in us and through us, but we must work with him. We cannot sit on the couch eating popcorn and expect to just poof become holier. It does not work that way, and no where in scripture does it tell us it does.

"The mark of disciplined persons is that they are able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done." (p. 151) We understand this in the purely physical realm. I cannot expect to be able to run a half marathon on the prescribed day if I do not train myself in preparation. So why are we so flabbergasted when we cannot resist a temptation, or speak against falsehood when it comes, if we have not also trained ourselves?

Enough of my rambling. If you haven't read either of these, do yourself a favor and read them.

14 August 2011


Well, since I've last written here, I've moved with my family to Central New York and begun an MBA at Syracuse University, courtesy of the US Army. In about a year, Lord willing, I will graduate and move on to manage resources for the Chaplain Corps....somewhere.

I've been attending, and assisting at Holy Trinity Anglican Church. So far I have delivered two sermons. They are available on the website. 14 August I spoke about Jesus Scandalous Grace and 24 July I spoke out of Romans 8 regarding suffering.

27 April 2011

Words Mean Things

(I know, I think I've used that title before, I promise I will probably use it again--it may even become the title of this blog eventually!)

In my studies in Anglicanism, I've been comparing the prayer books used in England and the USA throughout the history of the communion. It is certainly an interesting exercise and I think it is sharpening my theological vision.

One of the changes that has occurred that was brought to my attention by an article the late Peter Toon wrote is the addition of, "by the power of" to the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds in the 1979 US Prayer Book. You see, most renderings of the creeds say, "Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit." The 1979 changes that to read, "Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit."

So, what's the big deal? Is it theological nit-picking? Well, my first question is, "Why add it?" It does nothing to clarify the text. In fact, I think it obscures it. Consider this interchange between the Pharisees and Pilate:
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:19-22 ESV)
Did the Pharisees request alter the truth? No. We could argue that Jesus never actually said, "I am the King of the Jews," but his interchange with Pilate and his refusal to deny that he was make it clear enough. The Pharisee's request to change the sign hung on the cross does not change the meaning, but it changes the perception of the message.

Consider another example. Say we're at some social function and you and I have just met. I point to a woman across the room and say, "She's my wife." If I instead said, "That woman claims to be my wife," you would most likely get a much different impression. Obviously, (and thankfully!) my wife does claim me. The second statement would not be false, but it would be misleading. It would place questions in your mind that the former statement did not. It would cast doubt on her actually being my wife.

The same is true with  "This man said, "I am King of the Jews."" Those reading the sign would naturally wonder, "Does that mean he wasn't really? Is that why he's hanging there?"

"In the power of the Holy Spirit" also opens a door for us to walk through that was not present before. Obviously, if the Holy Spirit does anything, he does it through his power. I don't need to proclaim I am doing something in my own power, I only ever proclaim power when I am working on behalf of someone or something else. "By the power invested in me by the church and the state, I now pronounce you man and wife."

So, "in the power of" opens the door to another agent working, "in the power of the Holy Spirit." Like, say, Joseph? With that simple step through this theological gap created by this addition, the virgin birth is gone, and yet the appearance of orthodoxy remains because it is consistent with the revised creed. Granted, you still have that pesky line about the Virgin Mary to contend with...but I hope you see my point.

There is no historical precedent for adding "in the power of" and it creates potential problems and solves none. It only makes sense if there is an ulterior agenda at work. A revisionist, heretical agenda. It has been widely put forward in some circles that is what was at work with the 1979 prayer book. I would say this one small addition supports such a view. That is, unless someone can supply evidence to the contrary.

08 April 2011

Now I've done It....

I'm a deacon in the Convocation of Anglicans of North America.


To properly answer the question, we first have to examine, “why not stay Anabaptist?” There are several things that I had grown uncomfortable with over the years.
First, non-creedalism. Brethren are non-creedal, they don’t hold any creed as normative or prescriptive. Our Centennial Statement says so. I say this with irony, because it was written in the 1980s as a “snapshot in time” of the current state of Brethren belief, and has been latched onto and used as….our statement of faith, our “creed” if you will.
Yes, a creed is the invention of man, but it is a highly useful invention. It is a summary of the major tenants of our faith. To not have such a statement leaves each individual in the position of having to try to figure it out on their own or, more often, of just sort of having a vague idea what they believe and what the Bible teaches about various doctrines.
Second, free-church worship depends on the personalities up front, and often suffers as a result.  Sure, some can pull off a meaningful, grounded service. Many can’t, and the congregations suffer for it. This ties into my next point.
Lack of transcendence. We profess to worship a God who is spirit, who has filled us with his spirit, who can speak and cause things to be or cease to be. God, we proclaim, is amazing and beyond our comprehension, words cannot describe his majesty and holiness. How often is this communicated by our worship? Worship should give us a sense of being ushered into God’s presence, not a lecture hall or a concert.
Lack of history. To listen to and read much of the American evangelical church, Jesus died and was resurrected, nothing happened until 1950 when Billy Graham came on the scene, and now we’re here. That’s a bit simplistic, but reflects truth. By and large, we ignore 2000 years of church history. We overlook thousands of faithful saints who have sought after God with all their heart, mind and soul. Many of them preserved their years of learning and experience for us to learn from.
Instead, the evangelical church seems on a perpetual search for “the next big thing.” Most church conferences I have been to were either proclaiming to be that thing, or talking about what they thought it was, from small groups, to men’s ministry to whatever. We’re like kids who forget all the toys we have at home as soon as we step into the toy store, we want something new and shiny, instead of appreciating the heritage and message we have.
This ties into a disdain for theology, doctrine and depth. One of the last straws for me was a chaplain conference where theology was continually used as a negative thing that the speakers wanted to avoid or not go into. This was a conference of ministers. If we don’t discuss theology and doctrine, who will? Isn’t that part of our call?
Several people at this same conference stated this idea of “as long as you love Jesus and believe the Bible that’s good enough.” Well, that’s fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. Ask a Mormon and he’ll answer yes to that question. Jehovah’s Witness? The “minimum standard” approach so we can “count” as many people as possible has led to pews full of shallow Christians.
Finally, at least in some Anabaptist circles, to include the Brethren, pacifism is at least a historical position. As an Army chaplain, I have issues with that, especially considering I see no biblical support for it.

So, why Anglican?

They have a strong evangelical heritage. While I am quite critical of modern evangelicals in some regards, it is largely because they have failed to be true to themselves by keeping scripture as primary. Anglicanism holds the sufficiency of scripture in all matters of faith and practice.
Anglicans hold to a historic orthodoxy. They are unashamed to recite the Apostle’s, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, as the church has for over 1500 years. As such, they are not a break with the historic church, but a true reform of it. They don’t think that one day they opened the Bible and suddenly they figured it out. They trace a long history back to the Apostles. The acknowledge that errors were made along the way, and thus reforms were necessary, but they don’t throw out everything.
A higher view of the sacraments. Baptism and communion are important. Jesus commanded us to practice them and they are more than a route ritual that we do “just because he said so.” We can’t honestly read John 6:22-59 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 and think that communion is nothing more than a shot of grape juice and a wafer. There is spiritual significance in the actions. I can’t explain it all, but I have experienced it in myself and others.
Sound doctrine without being suffocating. The Anglican confessions—the 3 creeds and the 39 Articles of Religion lay down a foundation, but they don’t tell us what color the curtains are. There is some room for divergence on some matters, for better or worse.
Balanced liturgy. 4 scripture readings, confession, creed, sermon, Eucharist in every service. That’s a healthy diet.
Transcendence. A liturgical service is different. I see that as a strength. There is no mistaking this gathering for something else. The vestments, the procession, the incense, it all calls us out from our normal workaday world to a glimpse of heaven. This is different, we are on holy ground, we don’t come lightly or ill-prepared because God deserves our best worship.
Ecumenical. I am wary to ever claim I have it all figured out, and the Anglican tradition is open to learning from both Catholic and protestant sides of the faith. The via media—the middle way of Anglicanism seeks balance in this and other areas.
Intellectual heritage. Anglicanism has some great theologians and thinkers throughout the years. Cranmer, Whitfield, Wesley, Hooker, Lewis, Elliot. The list goes on. This is a tradition that values reason.
Anglicanism is also willing to accept “mystery” in a divine sense. They don’t have to have it figured to the last detail, they understand that sometimes we just have to accept what we know and trust God for the rest.
The Book of Common Prayer. After the King James Bible and next to the works of Shakespeare, there is no other more influential literary work in the English language. It is a concise distillation of the liturgy of the hours and other more cumbersome Catholic prayers and services, served up in the language of the people and stripped of the errors that had crept in during the middle ages. It is a great resource for both personal devotion and corporate worship.
Episcopacy. The offices of deacon, bishop and priest are not only biblical, but they are pragmatic as well. Having suffered through other less structured forms of church government, I believe good leadership is necessary in the church.
There are issues in the global Anglican communion. The Episcopal Church USA is an unmitigated liberal disaster currently. However, world-wide, there is a conservative majority that is pushing for revival and reform. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is an exciting combination of those from the ECUSA who want a return to scriptural authority and those “new Anglicans” like myself who are drawn to all that is above in the Anglican heritage. This global groundswell is coming largely from the “global south” African and South American and some Asian diocese. It is an exciting time to see these former colonies standing up to call the Church of England back to her roots.

There have been influences along the way that have pushed and pulled me in this direction, from picking up a Book of Common Prayer as a young pastor for help with performing funerals and weddings, to discovering deeper in meaning in the Eucharist while doing field services in the Army. From learning how to sustain a regular prayer time by using written prayers to finding myself feeling increasingly empty in “contemporary” services. I have read and met people along the way who have guided me on my journey—both Anglican and non-Anglican. Some are personal friends, others are merely acquaintances. 
I pray this creates more friends than enemies, more discussion than condemnation, more understanding than confusion.

16 March 2011

Debunking "Relevance"

Tertullian, an ancient Church Father had some good thoughts on being in the world and not of the world.


Difference is good. Light shines in darkness because it is not the darkness which surrounds it.

08 March 2011

Great Quote

In case you travel in different circles that I do on Facebook, it may have escaped your notice that Rob Bell is coming out with a new book and he did a little promo video for it that has thrown matches and gasoline on the Christian blog world. (Serioulsy, I've heard a whole lot more on this than on Charlie Sheen's current fiasco.)

But, I am not posting to comment on Bell's book, theology, or marketing. No reason to kick the dead horse.

What I want to highlight is a fantastic quote by Matt Kennedy over at http://www.standfirminfaith.com/
The quote comes from a piece he wrote addressing the "Bell Controversy."

The duty of the pastor is not to invite his congregation (and certainly not the general public) to join him as he meanders through his own personal journey of self discovery. His duty is to lead people to Jesus Christ.

I wrote it down. I am trying to figure out the best way to hang it near my desk where my sermon preparation happens. It is true and it needs to be said in this day and age.

This is not to say that ministers have to have all the answers (we don't). BUT, when we stand up to declare the word of the Lord, we need to speak with authority, conviction, and certainty. This isn't to say that we can't use a Socratic style in delivering a message. I am prone to that. But to wander down a path with our hearers that leads nowhere is nothing short of dereliction of duty.

We've all heard those sermons. Most of us have preached a few (forgive me, Lord). But our duty is to speak the word of life to the people of God. Nothing less.

(Here's the link to the article I took the quote from, if you're interested.)

04 March 2011

That didn't take long...

This editorial from World Magazine fits in with my most recent posts rather well.

Proof Texting.

Path of Least Resistance

Hermeneutic: n. 1. The study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of the Bible) 2. A method or principle of interpretation.

Today there are more various hermeneutical methods floating about than one can count. A great many of them come from taking an outside theory, philosophy or method and applying it to biblical interpretation and "seeing what happens."

I have settled into my own method, over the years, and I have not found it "out there" put forth as a method, so, I thought I'd share it.

The Hermeneutic of Least Resistance

What I mean is this, I try to find the interpretation of any particular passage that meets the following criteria:

1. The most literal, face-value reading of the text possible, acknowledging that the scripture does employ various styles within.

2. The interpretation that is most consistent with other teaching in the scriptures on whatever the topic is.

3. The interpretation that requires the least amount of explanation, disclaimer and linguistic and theological gymnastics.

That's it. You could sum it up as the "no buts" hermeneutic I suppose. That's my goal, not reading a passage and saying, "I know it seems to say such and so, but...."

I think it puts the authority in the right place, it allows the scripture to interpret my philosophy and world view, rather than the other way around, as much as possible.

25 February 2011

All People

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." Luke 2:10

One of the ways to test the authenticity of our message, the truth of our Gospel, is to stop and think if it applies to "all the people." Can I preach my Sunday sermon to persecuted believers in other countries? Would it "fit" if my congregation was poorer, or more urban, or less urban?

I'm not talking about illustrations and the peripheral things. Obviously, those may need tweaked. But, would the core of my message, the heart of what I am proclaiming--the theology and application--would that apply to any Christian, anywhere?

I am coming increasingly to the conviction that if the answer is "no," that I am not really proclaiming the Gospel. I may be proclaiming a church, a culture or my own hopes and dreams, but if it is not "for all the people" then it is not what the angels told the shepherds they were receiving in Christ.

And If that is not my message, why am I talking at all?

22 February 2011

Of Power Tools and Sanctification

Well, I'm 40 now. But this isn't a post about my aging. It's about a present. My wife bought me a router for my birthday. Not the computer type, the send sawdust flying in the garage type.

I'm pretty happy about this. I like building things, and this will allow me to build more and different things.

What does this have to do with sanctification?

Well, my dad, I am sure like many of your dads, passed along some sage wisdom as I was growing up and we would make birdhouses or pine wood derby cars together. One of those bits was, "Let the tool do the work." Most of us who have spent much time with a tool in our hands understand that bit of wisdom.

Funny thing about tools. I have several in my garage already, and I feel pretty safe in assuming this router is no different. I can set them in that garage, have wood, and even plans sitting on my workbench, and nothing will happen. I can't completely let the tools do the work. I have to put some effort into the process.

God has given us everything we need in Jesus. We are justified by his sacrifice in our place on the cross. He has given us a workshop, if you will. He has given us gifts in his word and his Holy Spirit. The tools. But unless we put our hand to them and use what he has given us, not much will be produced.

We can go out in our garage and look at the wonderful tools he has given us, and proclaim that they are, "All of the Lord." And we would be right. But we would also not be "Working out our salvation...."

Can I be saved without "doing something?" A lot of people would argue on both sides of that one. Can I have a workshop without ever building anything? Obviously. The question for both of those is, "What's the point?"

So, in the next day or two, off I will go to Lowes. I will buy some router bits and some wood, and I will put this router to use. Just like I open God's word and pray. Both produce more in my life, when I set my hand to them, to use what I have been blessed with.

16 February 2011


In this excellent article for the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, Dallas Willard lays out a brief history of discipleship (commonly called spiritual formation in recent years) and how we have arrived, as evangelicals, in our current vacuum regarding this biblical injunction.


14 February 2011


Authority is not a really popular concept, at least not in the United States, or in the churches that reside there. We'll talk and read about leadership until the cows come home, but authority is rarely discussed.

I find myself often distressed by the lack of "higher authority" in most churches. what do I mean? I mean there seems to be nothing that can be appealed to as the standard. Sure, we all look to Scripture. But the way we interpret it varies greatly and depending on who is doing the interpreting. Even heretics appeal to scripture.

I think a lot of this authority-aversion comes from 2 sources. First, it is a carry-over from the Protestant Reformation. Papal authority was challenged on many fronts and declared invalid by most of the historical reforms. The Radical Reformation took this a step further and clung to the idea of sola scriptura in a manner that excluded all else in most cases. With these streams, we tend to knee-jerk against anything that would claim authority over our belief and practice.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, is the influence of modern thought, primarily the existentialists thought that appeared in the 19th century. This idea that I am the center of my universe (to over-simplify the movement to be sure) is at the core of much of American, and Western thought.

We do not submit to authority willingly. We pick and choose and want the ability to quit whenever we want. This very idea gives a lot of business to chaplains in basic training units, believe me. ("You signed a contract and swore and oath--you can't quit.")

In the church this causes issues as well. Who is the authority? Pastor? Deacons? Elders? Congregation? Mr. Jones? Bishop? It varied from denomination to denomination in what the "official" church government is. Variety is okay, but even within those models, the "real" authority is often different than the "attributed" authority.

On matters of belief and doctrine, what is the authority? Scripture, right, I got it. Who's view of it? If we say we are an XYZ Church, what does that mean? (I would even question some groups using the word church at all...) What do we point to and say, "Here we stand"?

Is it negotiable? How much variance do we allow? I know Jesus spoke against the "polity police" of the Pharisees. I cannot help but think that in fear of that, we have allowed the pendulum to swing too far the other way in many circles. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis are both important to the church. All we have to do is read the Pentateuch to realize God is concerned with the way we believe and the way we worship.

We do not have as clear-cut guidelines in the New Testament. Obviously.

But, I think there is something to be said for saying "We believe this is the best way to do it, we believe this statement of faith and doctrine." And sticking to it. How else can we know what we are joining and aligning ourselves with? I don't know that we have to nail every last possible item down. But having our "core doctrine" as a non-negotiable certainly seems like a good place to start.

Without a firm authority to appeal to, we are likely to be blown by the winds of change and culture, instead of being the rock in the midst of these otherwise shifting sands.

30 January 2011

Who is it about?

I'm not big on "theology via YouTube" generally speaking. It tends to be right down there with "theology via bumpersticker." That not withstanding, this is a pretty good piece.

20 January 2011

What is the Purpose of Prayer?

[Note: I've been trying to make this a nice, neat post on the subject, but the more I work on it, the more it seems to grow like a patch of tangle-foot. So I'm just going to throw it out there as is.]

Why pray?

No, really. Have you given much thought to the reason for this practice? Why do we pray? To tell God what our concerns and joys are? We certainly seem to do that in prayer, but he already knows. (The Lord knows the thoughts of man Psalm 94:11a)

If God already knows, what is with this exercise in repeating it? Let me ask another question, is the purpose of prayer to make God aware of what is on our mind, or is it to shape our mind toward God's?

Prayer is a spiritual discipline. It is one of the 2 "primary" ones, along with reading of the scriptures. We practice spiritual disciplines rightly not to earn anything from God, because we can't. (Pelagius is still a heretic, despite his ideas popularity.) So why do we engage in spiritual disciplines?

To improve ourselves. To conform ourselves to Christ-likeness. Spiritual disciplines are also called "spiritual exercises" and I think that title is illustrative. I don't do push-ups because I think I will ever need to really do a push-up in any really life situation. I do push-ups because I understand it is a good and time tested way to develop my triceps and pectoral muscles so when I do need to use them for other tasks, they are fit and ready.

How does this apply to prayer? Well, if we hold that prayer is about shaping me and not shaping God, then it is a time to ingrain in ourselves what He wants for us and from us. I pray not because I have anything of value to say to the King of the Universe, but because, as his subject, it behooves me to listen to him.

Once we understand this dynamic of prayer, then our "shopping list" prayers suddenly become embarrassingly trite. Granted, we are commanded to pray for certain people. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) I think it is important that we obey Scripture's command on this. The list presented does not include our cousin, our neighbor's dog or any of the other usual targets of our petitions, however. Rulers and those in authority.

Pray is not conforming God to my will, but allowing God to conform me to his will, and, if it be his will, to allow myself to be used as an instrument of that will.

Lex orandi, lex credendi--Latin for "the law of prayer is the law of belief." What this means, essentially, is as we pray, so we believe, so we pray.

If we only pray about the common cold and the weather, it would seem to reveal that we think God is some sort of cosmic personal assistant. I don't think any of us would ever state that blatantly, but to listen to prayers, sometimes we hear that very thing.

To start with belief--what we profess--scripture, the creeds, well-written prayers that address the majesty and sovereignty of God, this shapes us in a more deliberate way. A way that causes our praying to conform to our belief.

An interesting exercise might be to write out your prayers for a week, or a month. (Or even record them.) Then examine them--is the whole counsel of scripture being reflected? Is their confession? Repentance? Prayer for those in authority? For the church? For the lost? Do you address the Trinity? Our future hope? Our history as the people of God? Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension?

You may not hit everything every day, certainly not in great detail. But are you getting a balanced diet? If lex orandi, lex credendi is true, and I think it is, then the implication would be in order to have orthodox belief, we must have orthodox prayers.

God used a year in Iraq to bring me to this place. It was no secret what my concerns were--I didn't want to catch a rocket on my way to the latrine in the morning. But that seemed a pretty shallow prayer life, as heart-felt as it was. I began writing out a daily prayer. I included Saint Patrick's Breastplate as the core of it.

I modified and shaped it over the remainder of my deployment. I found as I prayed the same thing day after day, the belief underpinning certain sections of it became clear, and I found I wasn't comfortable with all that at first sounded fine. I also began to deeply appreciate and learn from other sections.

This experience led me into the Book of Common Prayer, which I now use daily. It is a time-tested method of prayer, predating Thomas Cranmer's work in the 16th century, for he edited, translated and reformed the liturgy of the hours that had been used by the religious for over a thousand years before him, and still used by large sections of the church.

17 January 2011

Stop. Just Stop.

Lake Superior State University has again released their oft-quoted list of words that should be banished because of misuse and over-use. You can read it here. (Apparently I need to man up and make a few changes to my vocabulary...just sayin'....)

I would add one, for all of Christendom that the above list missed.


And all of it's adjectival, verb and noun forms. It means (unfortunately) absolutely nothing because it is used to mean almost everything. It can mean music, singing, slowly, redundantly, quietly, emphatically, church service, adore, praise and it goes on and on. I honestly had a gag reflex the other day when someone (on our "worship team" aka BAND) suggested that we sing (in worship--aka the singing portion of the service) a song in a worshipful (aka slowly and repeated ad naseum) way.

Stop it! Just stop! We need a moratorium on this word until it is cleansed out of our collective systems and we can maybe, begin to use it in a meaningful way.

Okay, I think I am done ranting about this, for now.

05 January 2011

Some Good Stuff

I've been reading lately...quite a bit. Here's a few good things I've found.

Pretty good list of "draws" of Anglicanism.

Developing a Consistent Prayer Life. Very good series (well, actually 2 that dovetail into each other) about reasons for the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer.

Beyond Smells and Bells. Okay, this one is a actual book, but a very good look at the "why" of deliberate liturgy.