May 27, 2017

John 14: When God Breaks Your Heart



Where Jesus makes the most controversial statement in the history of humanity!

March 31, 2017

The Dismal State Of Church Education

Just airing a grievance here. And I come at this from two perspectives: biblical theology (the study of God and his revelation) and pedagogy-andragogy (the art and science of learning).

At one time I was a serious student of the Proverbs. (I’d love to teach through the Proverbs if the Lord ever provides an opportunity.) And I have two sermons online from the Proverbs, which provide background and context for the point I want to make here:

Educating Ourselves To Death
Living Wise Among The Foolish

The Proverbs teach us Simpletons that there are two highways through life—and many crossroads between. The Broad Road leads progressively through Sin, Scoffing, and Folly, before reaching its final destination, Destruction. The Narrow Road leads progressively through Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom, before reaching its final destination, Salvation.

This pattern of growth from knowledge to understanding to wisdom is found everywhere: purgation, illumination, union; grammar, logic, rhetoric; apprentice, journeyman, master; shu ha ri; etc.

From the world of pedagogy-andragogy we know that people learn in many different ways, and that these ways vary not only by age but by stage of learning. (So, yes, this gets complicated.) Without getting into details here, suffice it to say the least effective method of education is simple lecture, or sermonizing, unless the Holy Spirit sets it ablaze. Just consider how Christ discipled—more of a Montessori approach—vs. how churches disciple today. And that difference is a significant part of our problem!

How much of all of this do church educators, disciplers, and catechists seem to know? You guessed it: nearly nothing. And the worst of it is that nobody is talking about it. Go ahead and Google it; you’ll come up with nothing. The only thing I can find is a reference to an unpublished doctoral dissertation on the topic by a PCA pastor, David Wallover, in Ohio. I contacted him and he says they’re working on this at their church and we may see a book someday; drop him a line of encouragement 😊 Maybe there are, in fact, other churches and ministries out there working on this too—a couple that come to mind are Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and the CS Lewis Institute.

Maybe I should be developing discipleship curricula instead of management training curricula? 

March 27, 2017

Psalm 23: Teach Us To Number Our Days

My homily from St. Francis yesterday, which was not recorded:

You want to hear something crazy? There are studies out there claiming we Christians are—you ready for this?—afraid of death! Can you believe it? “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now!” Especially, they say, Christians. The only people more afraid of death are Muslims; that I understand: they don’t have a Savior, they don’t have a Good Shepherd. But Christians, if we fear death we’ve missed something very important—like the gospel!

Death is on my mind this week because I attended a funeral on Monday. And death on our minds is good for us. I’m a third-order, meaning married and living in the world, Benedictine, and the Rule of St. Benedict exhorts us to “keep death daily before your eyes.” That’s pretty morbid sounding, huh? Why in the world would we do that? Psalm 90 answers that question: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” So this morning I want to talk about how meditating on death, numbering our days, teaches us two things: how to live well and how to die well.

March 16, 2017

UPDATED: The Shack

UPDATE: We saw The Shack last night. In spite of the fact that I dozed off, which tells you something, I give it 4 of 5 stars. Yes there's plenty to be concerned about theologically, and I think MovieGuide hits the nail on the head.  But I give it 4 stars because it creatively engages the big apologetic questions most people are wrestling with and, agree or disagree with the film's responses, it gives us much to think and talk about. It would make for a great small group discussion, and I'm sure there are already study guides out there. How many films can you think of that raise so many important questions? So go see it with your friends and neighbors and pray that the Holy Spirit uses it to open many hearts and minds.

ORIGINAL: I haven't read the book or seen the movie, yet. I plan to see it and will let you know my thoughts. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts from my favorite blog, Jesus Creed:

Baffled by the Criticisms of The Shack?
The Shack: A Review

Have you read or seen it? What did you think?

March 13, 2017

Thy Word Have I Hidden In My Heart

"Do you miss social media?" someone asked me, because I've given it up for Lent. No, to my surprise, and I might just give it up for good! "So what are you doing instead?" was the follow-up question. Two things: reading more and memorizing scripture.

I've talked about this scripture memory app before but want to recommend it again: I LOVE Remember Me, and I can even share the list of verses I'm working on, which means you can just read through it or even import it to jump-start your own Scripture memory discipline.

So what are you waiting for? How about a little less time on social media and a little more time in God's word?

March 01, 2017

Lent Resources

Hopefully by now you're a subscriber to the Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts's Advent and Lenten devotional series. If not, this is a great time to get started here. And I recommend you sign up by clicking the "Send Me Daily Devotionals" button at the bottom.

I use a variety of resources for daily prayer, depending on a number of factors, including how much time I have. During the season of Lent I try to make more time for prayer and sometimes use all the prayer resources linked at the bottom right of my blog's home page. But if I only have time for one, during Lent I make it The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare.

Finally, check out my Lenten meditation Remember You Are Dust, as well as my Lenten playlist on Spotify, Ashes to Ashes:

February 21, 2017

The Deep Roots Of Racism

Source: Duke Kwon
Race relations is so deeply divisive because, like everything else, it has been politicized rather than humanized. Regardless of where we stand on this issue or that policy, where we stand is not where we all need to get to as a people. There are no easy answers, to be sure, but a necessary step in the right direction is recognition that the roots of racism run deep and wide in this country. And much of the bad fruit we all like to grumble about--poverty, urban crime, etc.--is but the fruit of a tree we nurtured for a very long time. Did you know, for instance, that for years African Americans were denied social security benefits, union benefits, GI bill benefits, etc. etc. Healing will be a long time coming: centuries of injustice won't be alleviated in a generation. Nonetheless, with God's help, let us together keep moving in the direction of Thy Kingdom come...

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. --Book of Common Prayer

February 20, 2017

God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil

Joyce and I recently watched two truly terrible--because they're true--tsunami movies: The Impossible and The Wave. The sudden, tragic death of hundreds of thousands of people begs the age-old question of a good God and the problem of evil. This morning I ran across this brilliant essay by NT Wright entitled "God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil:"

One excerpt, which is classic Wright, and the reason every Christian leader should be reading him:

"The Gospels thus tell the story, unique in the world’s great literature, religious theories, and philosophies: the story of the creator God taking responsibility for what’s happened to creation, bearing the weight of its problems on his own shoulders. As Sydney Carter put it in one of his finest songs, 'It’s God they ought to crucify, instead of you and me.' Or, as one old evangelistic tract put it, the nations of the world got together to pronounce sentence on God for all the evils in the world, only to realize with a shock that God had already served his sentence. The tidal wave of evil crashed over the head of God himself. The spear went into his side like a plane crashing into a great building. God has been there. He has taken the weight of the world’s evil on his own shoulders. This is not an explanation. It is not a philosophical conclusion. It is an event in which, as we gaze on in horror, we may perhaps glimpse God’s presence in the deepest darkness of our world, God’s strange unlooked-for victory over the evil of our world; and then, and only then, may glimpse also God’s vocation to us to work with him on the new solution to the new problem of evil."

And this "vocation to us" is where it gets interesting. Because we, in Christ, are called to bear that same responsibility on our own shoulders as we daily take up our cross and follow him. It's a long but worthy read; if you're pressed for time jump to section "4. Implementation" and come back later for the rest.

Wendell Berry has a very different perspective, on floodwaters, at least--and I think both views are correct. Berry doesn't see floodwaters as representing evil and chaos but God's providence through the ongoing work of the Spirit. From his novel Jayber Crow:

"Where just a little while before people had been breathing and eating and going about in their old everyday lives, now I could see the currents come riding in, at first picking up straws and dead leaves and little sticks, and then boards and pieces of firewood and whole logs, and then maybe the henhouse or the barn or the house itself. As if the mountains had melted and were flowing to the sea, the water rose and filled all the airy spaces of rooms and stalls and fields and woods, carrying away everything that would float, casting up the people and scattering them, scattering or drowning their animals and poultry flocks. The whole world, it seemed, was cast adrift, riding the currents, whirled about in eddies, the old life submerged and gone, the new not yet come.

And I knew that the Spirit that had gone forth to shape the world and make it live was still alive in it. I just had no doubt. I could see that I lived in the created world, and it was still being created. I would be part of it forever. There was no escape. The Spirit that made it was in it, shaping it and reshaping it, sometimes lying at rest, sometimes standing up and shaking itself, like a muddy horse, and letting the pieces fly."

A very hard truth that a poet like Berry speaks easier than a theologian like Wright or a pastor like John Piper.

February 15, 2017

Answering Objections To "High-Church" Liturgy

A common objection to high church liturgy (Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox) is that it's just too hard to follow. Curious, I did a little research on average reading levels: 8th grade; and the reading levels of popular authors: 3rd - 8th grades. No surprise here.

Then I ran the liturgy through a reading level checker, expecting to get maybe 12th grade. To my great surprise I got 4th grade. I ran various portions of the liturgy separately and got 3rd - 5th grades.
I think the objection has more to do with attention span than difficulty. And to the fact that many people would rather watch a performance than perform the work (liturgy) of worship themselves.

Another objection: "Why are you stuck in the medieval period?" The liturgies are not from the medieval period but are authentic attempts to reproduce and preserve, best we can, the liturgies of the church from the earliest period. In fact, the same basic patterns can be traced even to Old Testament worship. And, while the traditions may be modified (Article 34 of our 39 Articles), we're pretty serious about holding to the Apostolic traditions we've inherited (2 Thes. 2:15) vs. reinventing the wheel.

"Can't invite unbelievers" is another common objection. We don't believe the Sunday worship experience is for unbelievers but believers; small groups is where we seek to reach unbelievers. In fact, the early church often prohibited unbelievers or dismissed them before the Eucharist.

For the believers, the repetition of the liturgy is important. Another common objection: "Okay already! Why do we repeat the same things every week? I think I've got it, let's move on." Two reasons: First, you don't have it until it oozes from your soul even in your sleep--it's formative. And this is very important, as philosopher Jamie Smith, Peter Leithart, and others demonstrate. Second, even if you've got it, your kids don't have it yet, neither do the people who just joined us last week, or the people who will join us next week.

By the way, for anyone who's not up on all this, the liturgies are 70% Scripture and the other 30% are prayers and the earliest creeds, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.

Finally, consider this: the Catholic church is BY FAR the largest church in the world, the Orthodox church is second, and the Anglican church is third. Together, "high" churches make up the vast majority of Christians around the world. And the Anglican church is largest on the African continent, the Orthodox church in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the Catholic church in Latin America and Western Europe. So maybe the high-church liturgies are not as offensive as we think. It seems to be only in America where this is so, which raises other questions that are beyond my pay grade.

February 09, 2017

Christians Go First


“At first I thought the Christian calling is just to get ‘saved.’ Then I thought the Christian calling is to get others ‘saved.’ Now I’m wondering: what exactly is the Christian calling?"

Good question! I’m blessed to spend a lot of time hanging out with millennials, believers and doubters all of us, discipling and being discipled, as we struggle together in the Way. Typically the questions are more challenging, but not more important. And lots of responses come to mind now: Micah 6:8, James 1:27, as well as a number of passages from Jesus, Paul, and even NT Wright. But yesterday my mind immediately went to the management course I teach on Servant Leadership.

Without saying so, of course, the entire course is based on a single passage of Scripture:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be held on to, but emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”—Philippians 2

This is one of the most profound, work / home / nation / world-transforming passages in all of Scripture. What does it mean to be a human? To be a servant. What is required of servants? Two things: humility and self-sacrifice. How is this taught? It’s not taught but caught; and “leaders go first”—the mantra of my course.

Leaders go first. That’s what Jesus did. He showed us what it looks like to live humbly and to give up our own desires, rights, powers, possessions, life itself, for the sake of others, even, especially, those who hate us and persecute us. For a while, it’s a losing proposition, to be sure, but the end game is a win-win: I serve you because I consider you more highly than myself and you serve me because you consider me more highly than yourself.  

Jesus went first, and Christians go second. This is what it means to be a Christian: to follow Christ. This, then, is our duty: to serve others, washing the feet of our friends, laying down our lives for our enemies. And this is love, which sums up all our religion. In the end, not necessarily in this life, love, and love alone, wins, as we all fall in line behind our Servant Leader. As for the saving, that’s God’s business.

What Is Christian Perfection?

This, as well as unity, is a major theme in Augustine:

"What is perfection in love? To love even one's enemies, and to love them to the degree that they may be brothers...Love your enemies in such a way that you wish them to be brothers; love your enemies in such a way that they be brought into your fellowship. For that is how he loved who, as he hung on the cross, said, 'Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing'...Many of them believed, and the shedding of Christ's blood was forgiven them. At first, when they were raging, they poured it out; then, when they believed, they drank it."
--St. Augustine, First Homily on the First Epistle of John

From his sermon on Matthew 6:

"You have enemies. For who can live on this earth without them? Take heed to yourselves, love them. In no way can your enemy so hurt you by his violence, as you hurt yourself if you love him not. For he may injure your estate, or flocks, or house, or your man-servant, or your maid-servant, or your son, or your wife; or at most, if such power be given him, your body. But can he injure your soul, as you can yourself? Reach forward, dearly beloved, I beseech you, to this perfection."

Love of our enemies is the only God-like love available to us, because it is unmerited, even as God loved us to the death while we were yet his enemies. Only this kind of self-sacrificing, cross-embracing love changes the world.