Archive for April, 2008

“Working the Angles”

April 29, 2008

A good friend of mine recently started reading Eugene Peterson’s, Working the Angles. He couldn’t recommend highly enough. So much so that he thought it ought to be required reading for all elders/deacons/overseers (whatever your Church’s  leadership is called)

I found my copy this morning and re-read the introduction. 

I agree with my friend’s recommendation.

Here’s a couple of quotes to stoke the fire a little:

“The pastors [elders, etc…] of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeepers concerns- how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package goods so that the customers will lay out more money.”

Then this;

“Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else. The acts are praying, reading scripture, and spiritual direction…. They do not call attention to themselves and so are often not attended to…. None of these acts is public, which means that no one knows for sure whether or not we are doing any of them.”

And this;

“It doesn’t take many years in this business to realize that we can conduct a fairly respectable pastoral ministry without giving much more than ceremonial attention to God.”

Strong stuff, I need to hear it.

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Thinking Differently

April 24, 2008

 

 

 

 

I don’t care what you think of beer.

That’s not what this is about. 

Go read this and come back and answer this. (HT- Mark Nikirk

How come this looks more Gospel-like than a lot of us?

 

Best Reminder I’ve Read In a Long Time

April 23, 2008

Dan Edelen over at Cerulean Sanctum posts the best reminder of what it means to others for us to the hands and feet of Jesus. 

Go read it here.

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplnes (part 6)

April 22, 2008

 

 

 

My youngest doesn’t like to be alone. Not even when we are in the next room. Sometimes he’ll come wondering in from somewhere else in the house and sit close beside me without saying a word. I’m usually aware enough to know what this means. He was alone and maybe just a little afraid.

 

I can’t say that I blame him. The world is a big, scary place when you’re all alone. Wild things come out when you’re alone. Especially at night, and especially when you’re only eight.

——

Wild things come out when you’re alone as an adult too. That’s part of the problem when we start talking about the discipline of solitude.

Most people think that solitude is simply being by yourself. The Christian discipline of solitude is not quite that simple, or easy. Solitude is being alone with God.

In solitude you are likely to encounter God, and yourself. Both can be pretty scary. Both can be difficult to hear. Our defenses against spending time with either are well established and strong. Your adversary is likely to be there too, pleading with you to leave this barren place and rejoin the security of the crowd.

Before we go any further, let me add that silence is so closely linked to solitude that for me to talk of one means to talk of both. Although they are separate disciplines, silence is usually observed to some degree when solitude is practiced.

One of, if not the, biggest problem we have with solitude is all the noise and activity around us.

Maybe I’m stating the blatantly obvious, but I think we’re addicted to noise and activity. Just look at what happens to most of us when we find ourselves alone and in the quiet. Our knee begins to bounce up and down, we become restless and agitated, an almost uncontrollable urge to get up and do something takes over. We look like junkies needing a fix. And I think that’s exactly what’s happening. We’ve become so used to the noise and bustle of our modern lives that we can’t operate without it. Rehab is a long process, years for most of us, but must be done if we are to learn to listen.

This is exactly the kind of world I’d design if my aim was to keep people from hearing a still small voice. Noise everywhere, words on everything in sight, Tv’s, iPods, computers, radio, newspapers, music in the background everywhere I went. And do it so long that it becomes the water everyone swims in, ceasing to notice it because it’s so “normal”, and “all I’ve ever known”.

Try an experiment sometime today, get alone for ten minutes and try to be still and quiet. Note how your body responds, where your mind wonders off to, what emotions or feelings you experience. See if it’s not true.

Most of the time I get three responses from people when we do this.

1. Restlessness and a desire to get out of there asap. 75% (not addicted, huh?)

2. They fall asleep. 5% (maybe a sign we’re out of balance?)

3. Relief that they can stop running at warp speed. 20%

The purpose of solitude is a multiple choice question that “E) All of the above” answers. The A-D answers are, (in no particular order except the first) to spend time with God, to get the noise of this world to be quiet for a little while, to get the noise/voices inside your head to be quiet too, to learn to listen to the still small voice of the one who loves you more than you love yourself.

You will think this is a waste of time. And in a world like ours running several miles a minute, it will be. But only as far as this world’s ends are concerned. What you are concerned with is an apprenticeship of sorts. We are learning the ways of Jesus. (see Matt. 4, Luke 5:16, Ps 46) Jesus said that he only did what he saw the Father doing, and said only what he heard the Father say. Solitude is the place where you become attentive to the Father.

Start with 5 minutes and work your way up from there. Maybe soon you’ll start to look forward to this holy waste of time.

“I cannot say I did not hear….”

April 18, 2008

The One Who Stayed

You should have heard the old men cry,
You should have heard the biddies
When that sad stranger raised his flute
And piped away the kiddies.
Katy, Tommy, Meg and Bob
Followed, skipping gaily,
Red-haried Ruth, my brother Rob,
And little crippled Bailey,
John and Nils and Cousin Claire,
Dancin’, spinnin’, turnin’
‘Cross the hills to God knows where —
They never came returnin’.
‘Cross the hills to God knows where
The piper pranced, a leadin’
Each child in Hamlin Town but me,
And I stayed home unheedin’.
My papa says that I was blest
For if that music found me,
I’d be witch-cast like all the rest.
This town grows old around me.
I cannot say I did not hear
That sound so haunting hollow —
I heard, I heard, I heard it clear…
I was afraid to follow.

-Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

“A 20th Century Prophet”

April 16, 2008

For those who don’t know, I’m an A. W. Tozer fan. Apart from scripture no book has had a bigger influence on my formation than
The Pursuit of God.

If you haven’t read it, stop whatever you’re doing (after reading this post) and go get it. If you need more than my recommendation here’s the preface. If you’ve read it before, read it again and feel that heartache, that longing again.

The Pursuit of God

A. W. Tozer

 

 

Preface

In this hour of all-but-universal darkness one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself. They are eager for spiritual realities and will not be put off with words, nor will they be content with correct `interpretations’ of truth. They are athirst for God, and they will not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water. This is the only real harbinger of revival which I have been able to detect anywhere on the religious horizon. It may be the cloud the size of a man’s hand for which a few saints here and there have been looking. It can result in a resurrection of life for many souls and a recapture of that radiant wonder which should accompany faith in Christ, that wonder which has all but fled the Church of God in our day. But this hunger must be recognized by our religious leaders.

Current evangelicalism has (to change the figure) laid the altar and divided the sacrifice into parts, but now seems satisfied to count the stones and rearrange the pieces with never a care that there is not a sign of fire upon the top of lofty Carmel. [See 1 Kings 18 for the allusions.-ccp] But God be thanked that there are a few who care. They are those who, while they love the altar and delight in the sacrifice, are yet unable to reconcile themselves to the continued absence of fire. They desire God above all. They are athirst to taste for themselves the `piercing sweetness’ of the love of Christ about Whom all the holy prophets did write and the psalmists did sing.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals oft he faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy. I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: `The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’

It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table. The truth of Wesley’s words is established before our eyes: `Orthodoxy, or right opinion, is, at best, a very slender part of religion. Though right tempers cannot subsist without right opinions,yet right opinions may subsist without right tempers. There may be a right opinion of God without either love or one right temper toward Him. Satan is proof of this.’

Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold `right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church.Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the `program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.

Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience, they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.

This book is a modest attempt to aid God’s hungry children so to find Him. Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.

A. W. Tozer Chicago, Ill. June 16, 1948.

What Are We Afraid Of?

April 15, 2008

Brant Hansen has a list of the Most Influential People in American Christianity, the ones who have most influenced the way we think and act as Christians. Check it out, and the comments too. Very interesting reading, at least to me.

Jesus came in tenth (tied with one of the Wesley brothers).

His point is that we seem to want to follow someone else rather than Jesus, to hear about Jesus from others, instead of from Jesus himself. While I think we desperately need to hear this in Evangelical America, it’s not a new distortion. Paul knew the same thing with some claiming to follow him, some following Peter, some Apollos. But why is that?

I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but I think mainly we’re afraid.

When I ask God to speak to me I run two risks.

The first risk is that He won’t show up. At all. That the god (little “g”) I’ve been praying to doesn’t exist. It’s likely to be true, at least to some extent, because the god we imagine and the God of the universe are, in fact, different beings. Rousseau hit upon a truth when he said, “God created man in his image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” The God of the universe doesn’t often act the way I want him to, or show himself just because I want him to. His ways and thoughts are far above and beyond us. “What can be known about God has been made plain”… the rest we try to fill in ourselves. 

The second risk is that he actually will show up. Things (people) are never the same after he shows himself, and that’s pretty scary. The Israelites pleaded with Moses to speak to God and then report back, for fear they would die if He spoke directly to them. Isaiah fell down as though dead when he realized he was in the presence of God. Paul’s life was a little different after his trip to Damascus, and I don’t think Peter went back to being a fisherman after pentecost. 

We’re afraid that he won’t show up, and we’re afraid he will show up. 

When Jesus showed up, scripture says that the people were amazed at his teaching because it had authority, unlike the teaching from their leaders. When he said, “I am”, on at least one occasion, people were knocked to the ground.

But it wasn’t just authority and power that got him in trouble, it was what he said that was dangerous. Just try to do what he said to do and see what happens.

Turn the other cheek, go with your oppressor two miles instead of one, and give him your coat as well as your shirt and while you’re at it pray for him. Those are hard enough, but offer forgiveness to the “wrong” person, and you’ve got enemies. Challenge “the way things are” and see how quickly it gets ugly. Be a peacemaker and see who gets chewed up and spit out. 

Kingdom talk gets you killed.

But once you’ve heard it and it takes root, it captivates you, it changes everything. Suddenly you live in a much bigger world, one that centers around a throne where songs of praise are sung day and night, where the One who sits on that throne laughs at the scheming kings of this world, one where you pledge your life to a King who is always faithful to you.  It’s no longer about you and what you want, it’s about the King and what He wants this day, not in the sweet by and by. It means you have to re-think everything. Things (people) can never be the same again. Eugene Peterson, speaking of this truth of the Kingdom says this;

“If Christ is the King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus…A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things–what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’–is required.” ~ From The Jesus Way

That’s what scares us most, “an obedient following of Jesus… is required.”

Straton’s Story

April 11, 2008

I was very tempted to put up a video of just about any televangelist and this one, then ask, “Which of these is more like Jesus?” But if I’m going to compare anyone to Jesus (or Straton, for that matter) it had better be me.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.


(HT:Shaun Groves)

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 5)

April 9, 2008

   I was going to write the next post, in this series, on solitude, but I just got back from meeting with a friend of mine who reminded me of the importance of spiritual direction in it’s many forms.

He and I are roughly the same age, and (I would like to think) roughly in the same area of spiritual maturity. We talked for about an hour and a half telling our own stories, asking questions and listening to responses – both from each other, and from the Spirit of God.

My friend said something in the course of our time together that I know was from the Spirit. It was a word that spoke to my heart and my circumstances. It was a word that came from listening to me, and then listening to God, discerning where he was at work in me. He simply asked me a question, “Did I see any connection between this thing and that one? I hadn’t, really, until then. But there it was as plain as day. And boy, did I need it.

Now, I won’t go into details about what we were talking about, both because it was about my own personal circumstances, and because I don’t need to for this to illustrate what I am talking about.

My friend had done what any good “soul friend”, or spiritual director does.

1. Listen. Both to me, and to what the Spirit was pointing out.

2. Ask questions. Questions prompted by things I had said, asking for clarification, expansion, and connection.

3. Not have all the answers. And even if he thought he did have the answers, having the good sense not to share them, letting me come to see it myself, and then…

4. Let me think it through with God.

I need folks in my life like this. I need folks who know how to listen and discern where God is at work in me and around me. So do we all.

If you don’t have someone like this in your life, stop whatever you’re doing and find one. Pray that God will bring one into your life ASAP.

Yes, it really is that important. But don’t take my word for it. Edward Sellner tells this story of St. Brigit,

A young cleric of the community of Ferns, a foster-son of Brigit’s, used to come to her with dainties. He was often with her in the refectory to partake of food. Once after going to communion she strikes a clapper. “Well, young cleric there”, says Brigit, “do you have a soul friend?”. “I have”, replied the young man. “Let us sing his requiem”, says Brigit. “Why so?” asks the young cleric. “For he has died”, says Brigit. “When you had finished half your ration I saw that he was dead”. “How did you know that?” “Easy to say, (Brigit replies) from the time that your soul friend was dead, I saw that your food was put (directly) in the trunk of your body, since you were without any head. Go forth and eat nothing until you get a soul friend, for anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head: is like the water of a polluted lake, neither good for drinking nor for washing. That is the person without a soul friend”.

This Is Pretty Cool

April 8, 2008

If you ever had dreams as a kid of making it to the majors, this will be pretty cool. (HT-Kurt Nordstrom)