Friday, December 24, 2004

nice story

i could post a nice Christmas Eve message but i was reading Jeremiah this morning and i was led to read the following cutting verses:

2:13 "my people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water"

2:19 "your wickedness will punish you, your backsliding will rebuke you. consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me," declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.

the Word became flesh for more than a nice Christmas story about a babe in a manger... the Word became flesh to rescue us from our broken cisterns and the evil and bitterness that occurs when we forake the LORD and have no awe of Him, the Lord, the LORD Almighty.

may this move you to be in awe of the Lord as i am moved as i type this now...

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 23, 2004

the role of the Lord's Supper

the purpose and carrying out of the Lord's Supper has been a topic of discussion, debate, and other types of arguments throughout church history. this entry is not meant to detail every aspect of that debate.

i do want to point one aspect that has challenged my notion of the Lord's Supper. i have viewed Communion throughout my life as an opportunity to remember God's work through Jesus Christ on the cross for my sins and to confess my sins. the bread and grape juice have always been a symbol to me of this work. most of my understanding has come from the 1-2 minute introduction that pastors have given for Communion (this shows just how important those 1-2 minutes are).

the idea that has challenged me is Martin Luther's notion that the purpose of communion is to motivate believers to fellowship. in his "The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ", he opened the view of the Lord̢۪s Supper for the community not just the individual. his argument is that the body of Christ is strengthened because individuals are taking in the body of Christ and this leads to further unity. as Christians, we are bonded to Christ so that it is as if he were what we are, he makes whatever concerns us to concern him as well, and even more than it does us. in turn, we so care for Christ, as if we were what he is, which indeed we shall finally be - we shall be conformed to his likeness.

the result of this is we should have a stronger sense of being the body of Christ.

do i really believe that i am part of the body of Christ in the sense that if someone is hurting then i should be hurting? how often do i really live that out? is that something i ask God to press upon my hardened heart?

how often have i heard pastors focus on the body of Christ (community of saints) during the 1-2 minutes before communion? how has this 1-2 minutes contributed to my heavy focus on my individual, personal walk with Christ at the expense of caring for my brothers and sisters (and also my enemies whom i should love in order to help them be my brothers and sisters)?

does this shed any light on Jesus' example prayer where he calls us to forgive others for their debts? how can we expect God to forgive us our sins at the Communion table if we do not have our brothers and sisters in mind?

to be blunt, wouldn't it look silly if i took the Lord's Supper by myself? what does that reveal?

i have more to reflect on but this is a starting point. i would love for anybody who reads this to add a comment to let me know about their impressions or experiences with the Lord's Supper.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

decision point

what determines whether we react selfishly to a situation?

i was driving from new hampshire to new jersey today. at one point, the cars came to a complete stop on one of the interstates. my initial reaction inside was to think "this sucks! now we are going to arrive 30-60 minutes later than expected". for some reason, something (my conscience, God, my memory, something) inside of me raised the idea that a horrible accident might have occurred.

quickly, i shifted my thoughts toward praying for the person or persons who were suffering as a result of the accident. (i thank my sister for this because she always prays for people in ambulences whenever they go by)

5 miles down the road i saw a massive tractor trailer off the side of the road on its side. there were countless medical personnel as well as many distraught observers. i realized right away that the person who drove off the road would not be around for Christmas this year and that his or her family would not have him or her present.

back to my original question. what determines how i react to a situation like that traffic jam? will i ever have an immediate selfless reaction or will i always think about myself first? can God work in and through a person to move them to a point where his or her immediate thought is "i should pray for the person who was in the accident"?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

the purpose of the church

i must admit that i have been holding off on writing because i haven't been able to formulate my ideas into a readable and respectable presentation. i am not concerned with that here because my mind is boiling over with ideas that i need to start turning over. These ideas are all a work in progress. i'm sure i will add/remove/change the content of what i write as many times as the days i have yet to live.

i have written a few times about how my study of church history has broadened and challenged my understanding of the church. the question that currently presses me the most is how do i account for the reality that a majority of the church's existence was different than what i have experienced in my 28 years of life. in other words, the last 400 years or so have produced a wide variety of denominations since the Reformation and the make-up of these churches has always been considered "the right way" for me. but this "right way" has existed for a minority (far minority) of the church's lifespan. how do i reconcile this with my church experience today? the better question is, how can i learn from the church's history spanning 1600 or so years before the Reformation? how can i reassess my experience based on the church's pendulum swings over the years?

This question plays out in five areas (in no specific order or importance):
1. purpose of the church
2. view of the Lord's Supper
3. deification or co-redeeming
4. baptism
5. role of tradition

First, i will consider the purpose of the church. the Catholic view of a follower of Christ, from what i have gathered in my readings, is they are a Christian because they are part of the church. contrarily, the Protestant view is an individual becomes a Christian by putting their faith in Jesus Christ and then they join a church. this shift has contributed to the weakening of the community of faith because the recent focus fuels the consumer culture of the church. why should a individual believer stay with a church if the church (local body of believers located in a building with a specific set of programs, worship style(s), and pastor with a level of 'quality') does not serve them? in contrast, if a person's is faith is more closely tied with the local body of Christ, then doesn't that remove the personal taste test and shift the focus to the body of Christ? the difference is subtle but very eye-opening. the view that ties a person's faith more closely with the community and not merely with the individual's "personal walk" provides a stronger foundation for the body of Christ being salt and light of the world (sharing the gospel) as well as being a set of people who love each other and lay their lives down for one another.

my immediate response, based on my years in the church, asks how does this shift back to the church-first view account for an individual's salvation. i think that this is not the most pertinent question for this discussion. the issue in question, at least for me in this discussion, is not how to get more people saved but how the church should be the body of Christ to a dying world.

i believe that the Protestant church has a lot to learn from the prior 1600 years of the church's existence and that I shouldn't blow off those 1600 years due to my lack of understanding of three or four controversial issues that i haven't taken the time or energy to investigate, namely, the form of bread/wine at communion, 'worship' of Mary, prayer formulas for forgiveness, and worship of statues that shed blood or tears. i have started to understand the background of these issues through my study of church history and i can already see how they are not as divisive as i have always thought.

in summary of my first subject, the purpose of the church needs to be re-examined in light of more than the past 400 years and the notion of a person being a Christian because they are part of the church as opposed to becoming a Christian and then joining a church should be considered again.

could this be part of the explanation i have been looking for to account for my recent internal frustrations with salvation campaigns that are run to convert people like market-experts look to convert people to their products? does this provide further backing to the notion of the Christian life being a long race instead of merely crossing the starting line (see Missing the Point by Campolo/McLaren)? is the church's only purpose to save as many individuals as possible or is it also to then be salt and light to the world? in many ways the answer is both but in the Protestant world it is more likely that they focus on the former while the latter suffers. the pendulum has swung toward the individualized view of faith. this swing should be questioned and balanced by incorporating a focus on the church as also playing a role in salvation.

the other four topics will have to wait for another time (2. view of the Lord's Supper, 3. deification or co-redeeming, 4. baptism, 5. role of tradition)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

too many lines of thought...

i haven't written anything in awhile because i haven't been able to wrestle any ideas down that have been jumping around my brain. every day i think, "i have to write something to that blog because my brain is about to explode"...

yesterday, a discussion on art in the church led to 349384089340 thought lines...

i plan to finally bring some thoughts back to this blog very soon.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

the truth

sports is an empty endeavor sucking the life out of all males who put their faith in teams that only serve to let them down...

(now try to argue against me that context has nothing to do with our view of life, God, and the world)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

current snapshot

i have noticed a potential problem with Christians who seek to teach others from their experience. i particularly see this when the they teach on issues that have to do with sanctification, or the process of growing in holiness. the problem is that an individual naturally teaches from his or her point of view. more specically, an individual tends to share from his or her specific snapshot of the world at that point in time.

what do i mean by a snapshot? if all people were to take a mental, experience-based picture of their current lives (today, at this hour, at this minute, at this second), then they each would have a unique view of the world based on their experiences. this view pervades all aspects of life, including spiritual growth.

the role of this snapshot impacts an individual's teaching message more than many would like to admit. for example, a pastor can share a message that details how a person should deal with a specific sin. this message may include Biblical references, personal experiences, and, most likely, ways to apply the lesson.

do his specific application points apply to everyone who hears?
what happens if someone in the community is just starting on his or her journey with Christ?
how does the message strike a person who has been a follower of Christ for 60 years?
what is the impact of the application points on someone who tends to be more rules-focused than freedom-focused? or vice versa?

i have witnessed well-intentioned pastors teach convicting messages on sin and then provide very specific application points. this is what pastors are called to do, right?

sounds good, but how does a pastor's specific profile of experiences, lessons, and spiritual growth path impact his or her lesson to the community?
how does the pastor's life journey, including successes, failtures, disappointments, surprises, influence his or her perspective?
would a pastor's message be more effective if he or she included a description of a spiritual path in the sermon, lesson, or writing?

i have witnessed how some pastors share very specific applications which end up serving more as specific laws in the life of the hearers. these laws cause people to focus on the action instead of the attitude (and required maturity) behind the action.

one example i have seen is a pastor taught on immorality in the media and then made the specific call for all people listening to avoid all R-rated movies. this recommendation is a good one but does this simple recommendation undercut a listener's potential journey in coming to this conclusion through his or her spiritual growth over time? would listeners own the idea or behavior if they arrived at it through a process of seeing the harm of going to R-rated movies on their own?

where does this leave the pastor or teacher in terms of how to share specific applications of a message or the Word of God? am i suggesting that a pastor should avoid all references to specific "take home" points? i am not recommending a complete removal of the final 5-10 minutes of a sermon or lesson but i am recommending that these ideas be assessed in light of the specific teacher's personal experiences.

one potential way to account for the teacher and the listener's spiritual journeys in the communication of a lesson is for the teacher to share some (if not all) of the process that he/she went through to arrive at his/her conclusions or perspectives. this would provide the listener with an idea of how the teacher arrived at his or conclusions.

how much more would this reveal the power of God's Word in the process?
how much would this reveal the power of prayer in the process?
how much more would this reveal the power of community in this process?

in conclusion, a snapshot is just that - a single reference point that is understood most initimately by the individual who took the picture. however, the snapshot is best explained to other not by describing the content of that specific picture but the background information that led the individual to arrive at that point.

where did this idea come from? i have experienced the spiritual journey of Augustine through his classic book Confessions. i learned more from walking with him through his life as portrayed in the book then i would from sitting in an Augustine seminar which included the 7 Habits of St. Augustine...