Monday, December 31, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
Much traditional devotion sees this piercing sword as the maternal grief Mary would experience at the death of her son, Jesus.
But I think there is much more going on. The image of the piercing sword shows up in Hebrews 4:12-13.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Luke 2 and Hebrews are rich with images from the Jerusalem Temple and Old Covenant practices, and the piercing sword expresses violent change as the New Covenant is recognized in Jesus. Perhaps the sword is a prophetic reference to the destruction of the Temple by Roman soldiers - an event which wiped out the Old Covenant sacrificial system.
- In Luke 2, Simeon shows up to offer the sacrifices sought by Joseph and Mary, but is instead "dismissed" by God, having seen the Messiah as the promised salvation. Compare this with Hebrews 4:14, which introduces Jesus as the new "High Priest" who replaces the earthly Temple Priesthood. The blade is turned away from the necks of sacrificial animals, and aimed at the thoughts within us.
- Simeon is relieved of a decades-long wait, and given peace in the presence of the Savior. Hebrews 4 explains that Joshua's conquest of the promised land was not an abiding rest, but part of a greater plan that would lead to eternal rest in the Messiah. The sword is taken from our striving, struggling hands and we are directed to come empty-handed to the "throne of grace," where Christ is ready to help. The sword cleaves apart self-justifying works and the gift of faith.
- Simeon's inner faithfulness is exposed and blessed by Jesus-in-the-flesh; the incarnate Lord is the sword. Hebrews, expressing life after Jesus' ascencion and the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit, says that the word of God (Holy Scripture) is the sword (confirmed by Ephesians 6:17) by which our thoughts are exposed for rebuke or for praise from God. The sword cuts down any external religiosity which is inconsistent with the "Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation" (Book of Common Prayer).
None of this should erase the popular devotion to Mary - we do well to note that her "Yes" to God led to the greatest agony a mother can experience. She models the way of the cross for all of us.
But the piercing sword must not be enshrined as a sympathetic tribute to someone else. The sword is always unsheathed and in use, hacking and probing to see if our external "religion" has any organic connection to a living, inner faith in Jesus Christ, as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Mary proved true - and the sword that pierced her points at us.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
- Even Time Magazine recognizes that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are "disintegrating" over departures from clear Biblical teaching, and that the traditional Anglicans are not some small, insignificant group as the Presiding Bishop continually tells the press.
- Significant Anglican leaders from around the world, representing a majority of active Anglicans, will come together in the Holy Land in June for the Global Anglican Futures Conference. This is apart from the Lambeth Conference hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and shows that serious Christians from the growing provinces of the Anglican Communion are not interested in endless, meaningless talks with anti-Bible church bureaucrats.
- Today is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the most philosophical of the Gospel authors. A group of us will be "prayer walking" a local campus, supplied with prayers by faculty, staff and students and interceding for the college while it is quiet and still during the Christmas break. May the Word made flesh dwell more visibly in the life of the college, and the light that gives life shine through all spiritual darkness.
- Despite The Episcopal Church's hostility to our witness here, we continue to pray for the Diocese of South Dakota. The diocesan emails we get are mainly obituaries and bad medical news. Clergy are in short and shrinking supply - I got news today that no priest showed up for the regularly scheduled Holy Communion at a Sioux Falls retirement community. This Bible passage tugs at my heart. There are dear people in the diocese and they are not told that there is another, better way. Then there are those represented by a letter that our AAC/SDK chapter received - something like, "Don't write to me! I will DIE Episcopalian!" Unintentional prophecy, I'm afraid.
- On a lighter note, Christmas in Sioux Falls was beautiful. Second heaviest recorded snowfall for Christmas day here (and there's only a 25% chance of snow on Dec. 25th to begin with!). We got about 5 inches and it was fluffy stuff - no harsh wind, just gentle and lovely, all day long.
- I will be on retreat here this weekend. Your prayers are asked and deeply appreciated.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Fr. Tim Fountain
What Are You Waiting For?
(Titus 2:11-14 & Luke 2:1-20)
*Maybe a round of parties, presents and other pleasures to fill a few hours. (And I won’t deny that I’m right there with you in waiting on some fun this season!)
But is there more that we are waiting for, those of us who have come out tonight for Christian worship?
*Might we be waiting for self-control and hope to replace failures and fears?
*Might we be waiting for confidence and inspiration to burn away old regrets and shame?
*Might we be waiting to change the world instead of letting the world stick us with the same-old, same-old?
If you are waiting for these better and brighter things, then you don’t really have to wait any longer.
*Join the shepherds, who said, “Let’s go now!” Don’t just endure the same old words about Jesus, step into them and meet him.
*Join Mary, and start treasuring and pondering God’s good news in your heart. Let God change you from the inside out, starting right now.
*Join the whole communion of saints across all times and all places, and let your passion to do good bring more of God into your life, your home, your work, your community and the whole world.
Tonight we give thanks that Jesus lives in our world – and because he is with us, we can stop waiting for so many things:
*If we are waiting to find affection, “the grace of God has appeared”. We don’t have to attract or impress Jesus or earn his attention; just hear the angels announce that he is a gift because “God favors us.”
*If we are waiting for reassurance about our regrets and failures, Jesus “brings salvation to all…redeems us… and purifies us for himself.” He’ll do all the clean up work on our messes.
*If we are waiting for direction and meaning in life, Jesus “trains us” and makes us “zealous for good deeds.” He shows us the way, if we listen to his word.
So, what are you waiting for? He’s here with us now. Let us pray… together now in church, and later – on your own, with your family, in other places – let us pray:
Father in heaven, thank you for love.
Jesus, thank you for coming to help us tonight and always.
Holy Spirit, thank you for making us new every day.
Dear God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, help us to be more and more like you:
by letting you love us so we can love others;
by letting you help us so we can help others;
by letting you change us so we can help you change the world.
We pray in the Name of Jesus, your gift to all of us. Amen.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Prominent theologian notes role of American Anglican Council/South Dakota in current Episcopal unpleasantness...
(Warning - warped and tasteless video)
But on a serious note, The Reverend Canon Kendall Harmon, host of the Anglican blog TitusOneNine and Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, spoke to "Communion Clergy and Laity of Colorado" on November 3, 2007, saying, "...there’s a new group that’s sprouted up in South Dakota in the last year and a half that’s driving the bishop crazy, so..."
Sigh. Our purpose is NOT to do the Bishop any harm. We simply want true statistics and realities in the Episcopal Church to get to the people of the Diocese of South Dakota before there's no diocese left. The problems here are not entirely unique and, sadly, neither are the consequences of the way the Episcopal Church operates. Kinda like the video.
Anyway, the 70s song that annoyed her out of sleep today was the very whiny All By Myself by Eric Carmen. That, and my wife's faitfulness in prayer, and an early email from a prayer partner, got me thinking about the fact that we are never "all by ourselves" when it comes to prayer. By the grace of God,
...the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-7)
... He [our ascended Lord, Jesus Christ], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:24-25)
By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit raise us to thy glorious throne.
(Charles Wesley, Advent Hymn 66 in the The Hymnal 1982)
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Speaking of God : Job and the “New Atheists”
One reason I chose the first text is that I am a philosopher, and here
you have one of the earliest Christian writers, St. Paul, telling you
that you should take whatever people like me say with a grain of salt.
This is an important caveat. (Of course, if you take me seriously
when I tell you to take seriously a text that tells you not to take me
seriously then you have a problem worthy of a philosophy class.) More
seriously, there are a lot of people who talk about God, but just
because they use the word “God” doesn’t mean that they mean by that
word the same thing you mean. The difference may be important, and so
we should not assume that anyone who calls himself an atheist is
someone with whom we have nothing in common or from whom we cannot
As for the text from Job, let me remind you of the context. Job is an
upright man who suffers unjustly. His friends come to comfort him,
and sit with him in silence. Eventually Job cries out to God and
complains, and the friends begin to worry about Job’s theology. They
give him lessons in theology and show him how his suffering must be
the result of sin, as he argues with them and continues to cry out to
God. Eventually God appears in a whirlwind and tells the friends they
have not spoken well of God as Job has. It’s quite confusing, since
it’s not plain what Job has said correctly, while the friends’
theology is very tidy. We’ll return to that in a moment.
The “New Atheists” and fools
First I want to consider the third text, which I think has
considerable relevance for a public conversation we’ve been having in
this country lately.
The text from Psalm 53, which also shows up identically in Psalm 14,
is a favorite one for evangelists: the fool says in his heart, “there
is no God.” Seems to me I’ve occasionally read of clever-sounding
evangelists who answer their atheist interlocutors, by saying “even
the fool is smart enough to only deny God’s existence in his heart;
but you’ve said it aloud. You’re more of a fool than the fool!”
Recently, a number of very well-educated “fools” have written books
claiming that there is no God. Collectively, the press has labeled
them “The New Atheists.”
Christopher Hitchens has written a sneering and, I think, inadequately
researched God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything;
Daniel Dennett has written a nice book called, Breaking the Spell,
Religion as a Natural Phenomenon; Sam Harris exposes mellifluous ignorance (i.e. his own) in his Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the
Future of Reason; Victor Stenger has the inappropriately and misleadingly subtitled God:
The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist;
Richard Dawkins spins out a steady stream of books, including The God
I have just called them “fools,” but the fact is they’re all very
bright men. Four of them hold doctorates; all of them have published
multiple books and are both good writers and good thinkers in their
I think it’s interesting that the press calls them the new ‘Atheists.’
Most, if not all of them do in fact label themselves atheists, and
each one has at some point or another (I think) said he does not
believe in any God.
On Atheisms: Can we prove there is no God?
The ones who are more careful with their logic, like Daniel Dennett,
have recognized that proving that there is no God is remarkably
difficult. To prove something does exist, you only need to give an
example of it. We can prove there are pheasants on the prairie by
walking around and finding just one, for instance.
But to prove that something does not exist requires one of two things.
Either one must show that it is somehow impossible for a thing to
exist or that there exhaustively and conclusively is none anywhere.
The first case is easier. There are no a square circles, since the
phrase “square circle” is absurd and meaningless. And there are no
existing nonexistent stones, since that phrase “existing nonexistent
stone” involves a contradiction. But God is neither necessarily
absurd nor contradictory, so we cannot disprove God that way.
So what about the second case? Can you prove there are no invisible
beings in this room? How much more difficult it is to prove there is
no invisible God anywhere in the universe.
You can see why it is so difficult to disprove the existence of God,
and why the psalmist might say “the fool says in his heart that there
is no God.”
More Than One Kind of Atheist
So now you may be asking, “how can there be any atheists at all?” If
they cannot prove there is no God, how are they justified in not
believing in God?
The answer, I suppose, is that there is more than one kind of atheist.
The “New Atheists” are not in fact concerned with the existence of
God. What they are concerned with are the consequences of belief in
So their only interest in God is not in the question of whether or not
God is, but of what happens when people believe in God. Dennett
claims that religion is a natural phenomenon, something that we came
up with to survive the early stages of the evolution of our species,
and which we’ve now outgrown. Dawkins and Harris also take it to be a
vestige of evolution and evidence of poor thinking. Most of them
argue that when people believe in God even a little, we provide the
cover of respectability for religious extremists and terrorists.
Dennett refers to religion as an “attractive nuisance” like an
unfenced pool, and claims that moderate religious people should be
held responsible for the acts of religious terrorists.
You can see that one thing they all have in common is an unwillingness
to discern differences between religious beliefs; all religion is bad
religion, they argue, and that is all you need to know about religion.
All other theological or practical distinctions are mere
ornamentation on backward and dangerous beliefs.
Now my aim here is not to try to whip the religious troops into a
fervor about these New Atheists. Rather, it is to point out that we
have some grounds for agreement and for conversation with them, and to
offer you a way to begin to respond to them productively.
One piece of common ground is that we all think people should be
reasonable and should live well.
Another plot of common ground is that, like Christians, the New
Atheists are proselytizers. They have a missionary zeal to convert
theists into atheists, and like us at our worst, they’re often willing
to play the bully.
Another piece of common ground is that we all share the belief that
religion affects the way you live your life.
Now here is an important point. The New Atheists are not, as I said,
strictly opposed to God’s existence. Rather, they are unimpressed
with the evidence. They look at religious people and they do not see
anything they want to imitate.
It is tempting for us, when we read Job, to think of ourselves as
being like Job. The New Atheists tend to see us as being more like
Job’s friends, however: we offer a lot of talk about God, and tidy
theology, but very little actual comfort. Job’s friends are even
willing to sacrifice their friend to their theology: they know he’s an
upright man, but their theology says that suffering is payment for
sin, so if Job suffers, it’s because he’s a sinner. They throw away
what they know of the man, their friend, to defend their theology.
We must take care, in responding to atheists, whether New Atheists or
old ones, not to do the same. Job’s friends were right when they sat
in silence with Job for a week. They erred only when their theology
became more important to them than the man who suffered before them.
Responding to the New Atheists
So how shall we respond to the New Atheists?
The first thing is to sit in silence and hear their complaints. Just
because they call themselves “Atheists” doesn’t mean they’re subhuman
or our enemies. What concerns them all is that there are religious
fanatics out there who use the name of God to hurt other people.
Their point is not a metaphysical or religious point; it is an ethical
point, or a political one.
When I sit and read them honestly, some of these books strike me as
worth reading. I forewarn you that they’re all glib rhetoricians, and
all of them wind up making bigger claims than they can support. The
best defense against the snake-oil salesman is a large group of
thoughtful people. I recommend reading these books in the company of
the saints, both those who’ve gone before us and those who are with us
Here is some of what you may expect to gain from reading these books:
In certain instances, honesty, and especially an honest critique of
Usually, help in winnowing out my beliefs. Just as they help me to
see what is wrong with my apologetics, they are also helpful in
reminding me of the ways in which I have been tempted to make God into
a prop for what I want to believe rather than the source of that in
which I ought to believe.
Almost always, help in seeing Christianity from the eyes of those who
do not believe in Christ. This is important for those who would take
seriously the task of telling others the good news. Good news is
always given in a context in which the news is news and in which it
may be seen as good.
They remind us that even though we Christians have talked about God a
lot over the centuries, there are some smart people have yet to be
That being said, let me offer two critiques of their works:
1) They selectively ignore history. Dennett takes 240 pages to get to
the point where he says he thinks historical arguments aren’t worth
“History is bunk?” If God made an historical appearance, i.e. an
appearance in the real world, wouldn’t that be evidence worth
considering? I am surprised as well at the dismissal of
Christianity’s historical contributions to the arts, sciences, and
social justice. Increasingly, I find young people are also
historically ignorant of these things. Just in the last month I have
been asked several times, in utter seriousness, as though it were a
conversation-stopper, “What has Christianity ever done for the world?”
Of course, it is not enough to rest on our laurels; such questions
call for a twofold response: first, to give an honest historical
answer; and second, to continue to do good things, in Christ’s name,
for a world that may well ignore them.
2) Dawkins tells us that it is ignorant to say that there is meaning
in the universe.
His point is that science is about what is, not about what the world
means; therefore, he says, we cannot answer questions about meaning.
But there is a hidden premise there: “Whatever science cannot explain
cannot be explained at all and should not be looked into.” This seems
a bit extreme, especially when we put it in simpler terms. What
Dawkins is saying is that “the word ’meaning’ has no meaning.” This
is the rough equivalent of that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when
Dorothy is told “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
Dawkins has fallen for the honest temptation of assuming that, since
he has a very big hammer, all that matters in the world are the nails.
Does this also call for a response from us? Yes, it does.
Unfortunately, many Christians have given an “Oh, yeah?” response by
trying to challenge the foundations of natural science, which is both
ignorant and foolish, and, by the way, tends not to be very convincing
to anyone who knows anything about science.
Learning From Job
We are told that he “speaks well of [God].”
How shall we do the same? Are we to parrot Job’s theology? Hopefully
not, since his theology is awfully difficult to put in creedal form.
He’s all over the map:
“I curse the day that I was born!” If only I had never lived!
“Though God slay me, yet shall I worship him.”
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”
(Borrowing similar language from Jeremiah in the Vulgate) : “Utinam
disrumperes caelos et descenderes!” Which, roughly translated, means,
in Job’s terms, “You want a piece of me? Come and get it!”
No: the imitation of Job is not about learning his lines and repeating
them in a play. All I can offer you are two observations about Job:
1) The friends only speak to Job; but Job speaks to both humans and to
God. That is, Job prays. We should never become so distressed that
we cease to pray. Sometimes speaking well about God means having the
willingness to speak to God. Prayer, it turns out, is an argument
(though not a proof) that God really is.
2) Job speaks from his heart, and he is honest. He does not pretend
to know what he does not know. The atheists cannot prove God does not
exist; but if we are honest, we must admit that we cannot easily prove
that God does exist. All we can do is point to history, point to what
Viktor Frankl called our Hunger for Meaning, and point to our own
experience of redemption and, yes, of frustration. I suspect that an
honest witness will, in the end, be of greater service to Christ than
if we pretend to know what we do not know. The kingdom of God shall
not be advanced on lies.
St Francis reportedly told his brothers, “Preach the Gospel
continually; and when necessary, use words.”
May God grant us the grace to speak well of God as Job did, with our
words as well as with our lives. In the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Friday, December 14, 2007
· Feeling powerless can lead us to anticipate the worst.
This week, I had three separate conversations with church members who said something like, “I want to grow as a Christian, but so many things in my life keep me from doing that.” They feel powerless over circumstances and anticipate spiritual failure.
· God also spoke to this concern this week when my wife and I read Mark 4:18-19, in which Jesus warns that some of us “hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
If you are anticipating that kind of fruitless failure, you are in good company. Our Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11) begins with John the Baptist locked up in prison and starting to doubt.
Jesus’ response to John tells us that we must set aside much of what WE anticipate and make room for what JESUS anticipates.
· Instead of a “yes or no” answer, Jesus sends John a series of signs: “…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Jesus anticipates that John is a true prophet and will understand the signs.
· And all of these signs can be understood as fulfillments of Jewish prophecies, pointing to the Messiah. In fact, Isaiah 42:7 speaks of the blind receiving sight – and also prisoners going free. By adding “the dead are raised”, Jesus addresses John’s future. John will “see” the answer to his confusion and recognize Jesus as the Messiah foretold in Scripture. John will leave the prison, but will do so by dying as a martyr and rising to new life in the kingdom of heaven.
· In short, where John anticipates the possibility of his mission ending in failure, Jesus anticipates John’s coming triumph - which looks like defeat in the world's eyes but is victory in God's.
We must train ourselves to make room for what Jesus anticipates.
· For example, our lesson from James says that we must develop patience, so that we can prepare for the future that Jesus anticipates for us.
· In an example from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, we read that Jesus sent 36 pairs of disciples ahead of him to places he was going to visit. They came back excited about their power to drive out demons, but Jesus reminded them, “…do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We are not to anticipate our own achievements, but to anticipate that God has accepted us and offers us a future. This is consistent with the order of things in 1 John 4:19, “We love because God first loved us.” We anticipate who God is, and this guides us to anticipate who we can be with God’s help. This is why our Men’s Prayer Group sessions begin with “adoration” – focusing on who God is before we get to our own concerns.
· In Luke Chapter 13, Jesus tells a parable about a tree that would not bear fruit. It was to be cut down (talk about anticipating the worst!), but a vineyard worker (who stands for Jesus in the story) asks permission to invest another year, caring for the tree to make it fruitful. Again, we might anticipate a future ruined by our own weakness and failure, but Jesus, if we are open to Him, anticipates “good fruit” – that our lives will be meaningful in God’s work on earth, if we recognize that Jesus cares about us and we let Him work on us.
As we get ready for Christmas, we need to stop anticipating lumps of coal and other measures of “naughty ‘n’ nice” in our lives.
· Instead, we need to anticipate who God is – Who GOD is – as we pray in the words of our traditional Communion services: “That for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven…”
Thursday, December 13, 2007
But I would say that they are among the most dedicated. We have two sons. The older is a scholar-athlete with prior experience in a really good private school. The younger is autistic and needs special ed.
Both of them have grown and developed wonderfully here in South Dakota, and a big part of that has been the public school teachers who have invested real caring, encouragement and effort in both young men. They have received as much if not more here than they did in much better funded schools in other states.
Please pray for teachers, especially over the coming break. Pray for our schools and give thanks for those who invest in our children - and encourage our lawmakers to invest in our teachers.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Your offerings at work - Episcopal Church uses $500 per hour lawyer, over $1,000,000 to sue Christians
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
5 God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.
6 He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,' and to the rain shower, 'Be a mighty downpour.'
7 So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor.
8 The animals take cover; they remain in their dens.
9 The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds.
10 The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen.
Father in Heaven, marvelous beyond our understanding, bring your power to our help in this severe winter weather. Protect travelers, warm the cold and strengthen the hands of all working to provide comfort and safety. We pray in the Name of Jesus, who shared our frail humanity, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
+David was consecrated by Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, with other bishops from around the Anglican world participating. Our prayers are with +David as he begins his apostolic ministry with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).
Building ministry with men requires building trust. Many activities that churches might look down upon as trivial or "unspiritual" are the best places for men to feel at home with one another and are the precondition for their sharing fellowship with God. I heard Lyman Coleman of the Serendipity Bible Studies remark on the importance of Matthew 18:3 when explaining icebreakers for small groups. Playing together can put us in an open, childlike state and can open us up to God. Sometimes, Anglican intellectualism and aestheticism work against this. So give the church softball team a couple of seasons before you start badgering men to "be more spiritual."
When trust exists (and often, a desire to "go deeper" will come from some of the men if they haven't been hassled), here is a weekly format that's worked for me in a couple of churches:
- 15 minutes of Adoration. You can use worship music, readings or extemporaneous prayer if you have some leaders who can voice praise for God. A really good thing to do with Anglicans is to have Prayer Books present, and do responsive readings from Psalms that focus on God (we used Psalms 103 & 104 the other night, and they were dynamite.) Use stuff that's really focused on God - guys tend to go "into their heads" and will wander into interpretation and moral application almost automatically. The group leader needs to keep pointing toward God. Ideally, once the group grows in comfort, leadership should be rotated with a different man leading the adoration period each week. He gets to pick the style of prayer and resources.
- 15 minutes of Confession. Offer a penitential (but also inviting) Bible verse, such as I John 1:8-9. Invite each man to share a "struggle" or "challenge" he's dealing with as he tries to live a Christian life. You will be amazed at how quickly men can move into some honest and significant sharing when trust is present. There should be no comments or cross-talk when confessions are being made. The group must avoid any inference that some members are "above" or better than others. A technique that has worked well is to have all the guys turn their chairs toward the wall, and turn back toward the center of the room when they are ready to voice their confession. It is a good tactile experience of moving from estrangement to reconciliation. Once all have confessed, the weekly leader should offer Biblical words of assurance. The traditional "Comfortable Words" (p. 332 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) are perfect for this.
- 15 minutes of Thanksgiving. Invite the guys to freely share good stuff in their lives for which they are thankful. One of the wonderful things that happens after a group is together for awhile is that guys will start giving thanks for spiritual progress, often with reference to things they've been confessing over the weeks.
- 15 minutes of Supplication. Invite the guys to express prayer needs and to pray for one another. The most effective way I've found for this is a "hot seat." Put a chair in the middle, and have the guys take turns sitting in it. As each guy takes the seat, he can share his prayer requests - and then all of the other guys should place a hand on him and pray for him. All of the other group members should be given time to pray for the one in the chair. When all have had a turn in the hot seat, have the group join hands and close with the Lord's Prayer.
This is a bare bones explanation of the model I've used. Obviously, you need to employ many of the common techniques for small group effectiveness:
- Group members make a firm committment and show up. A "covenant" is useful - the group members promise to make attendance an absolute priority for 6 weeks, say, and then have the option to continue or opt out.
- Time, location, the presence or absence of refreshments and other practical details are up to the group.
- Confidentiality is vital. What is said in the group stays there.
- Good leadership needs to be modeled, especially in the first few meetings. Some guys will talk too much, intellectualize, go off on tangents, etc. Beware of, "I know this isn't exactly what we are talking about, but..." They need to be kept on track. Other guys will try to sit on the fringe and "observe." They need to be led into participation.
- Keep it to an hour. Guys have obligations and time stewardship is a big deal. Also, it is better to have a meeting end with guys wanting more than to wander around until everybody is bored and exhausted.
- Keep an open chair - newcomers should be welcomed and the group members should be welcome to invite friends into the group.
- Once the group gets beyond about 8 men, it needs to subdivide. This is not a lecture or a liturgy. It needs to stay small enough to give each man time for real participation. Plan this in advance (who will be willing to lead a new group, when and where will it meet, etc.)
Finally, don't resist the Spirit. At one of my churches, some guys tried out the prayer group and didn't like the model, but went on to start a really good Christian book study group. Don't let any one format become an idol or a stumbling block to other ways that men might find growth as disciples.
As I wrote to Brad, his comments are like South Dakota - severe yet beautiful.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Our house church Holy Communion service included special prayer intentions for the San Joaquin Convention and for this week's meetings of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), meeting in Virginia. Canon David Anderson, leader of the American Anglican Council nationally, will be consecrated as a Bishop in CANA on Sunday.
The chapter now offers a weekly service in Sioux Falls, a monthly fellowship gathering and board meeting, and will have meetings in other places around the state beginning next year.
A few years ago, I saw a TV show that showcased this professor from Rutgers who studied up the nativity. He claims that Jesus was born on April 17, 6 B.C.E. or something like that. It gave me a case of the "Christmas blues". But last year, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that perhaps God wanted us to celebrate the Light of the world at the darkest time of the year.
This is where the church's liturgical calendar is such a treasure. Yes, in some cases (many Saints' days, for example) it observes verifiable historical dates. But, most of the time, the liturgical calendar is walking us through a constant celebration of faith-claims about Jesus.
The date of Christmas is a great example. The Biblical text itself gives little to suggest a "cold winter's night." It is very hard to argue for December 25th as the literal, historical birthday of Jesus.
What we celebrate at Christmas is John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. It is the fact of the Incarnation that we proclaim, and it is true on December 25th or April 17th or any day. In fact (as with so much of the Bible) the most important point can't be verified or disproved by historical investigation. Even if we knew the exact date of Jesus' birth, it would be secondary to our faith claim - that the unique Son of God took on our human nature in order to be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.
My friend also mentions another spiritual theme - that of the Light shining in darkness (John 1:4-9). December 25th was a well-established pagan festival to cheer up folks in the darkest days of winter. Rather than try and beat the celebration out of existence, Christianity responded to a natural need for reassurance and brought in the spiritual truth of Christ, the Light of the World.
The church calendar keeps us walking through the whole message of Christ over and over again (just the way the Bible should be read - there's always something new). The Scriptural message is not a list of religious factoids and trivia to memorize. It is the source of our constant "participation" in the life of Jesus Christ.
"I find this representative of all that is wrong with the Episcopal Church today. If you don’t remember praying this Collect, it is because the 1979 prayer book moved this extraordinary prayer to the end of the church year, the Sunday closest to November 16, which means that some years it is skipped or trumped by Christ the King Sunday. The only collect in the Prayer Book that speaks of the authority of Holy Scripture has been denied its rightful place in the Church year. The only folks who seem concerned about this are the clergy and laity of the Continuing Church who knew the Book of Common Prayer very well. They broke with ECUSA in the 1980s and continue to use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and for good reasons."
Visit Alice's site, Just Genesis, from our "Useful Links" down the left of this page.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
- In Jesus, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14), therefore we are free to use artistic representations of God. In Colossians 1:15, Jesus is called "the image (ikon) of the invisible God."
- Icons receive only "reverence" as holy items, but "worship" is offered only to God. Gestures of respect in the presence of icons are reverence, while true worship, in prayer, "passes through" the icon to God, who alone is worthy to receive worship.
Anglican liturgical worship is practiced along a broad spectrum, from very plain and austere (emphasizing the spoken word) to very elaborate (involving more of the senses). Those at the more elaborate end give thanks for John of Damascus and others who have valued the arts as a means to direct our worship toward God.
2) In Virginia, the Congregation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) is holding its Council and Convocation this weekend. Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria will attend and consecrate four new bishops to serve CANA's missionary efforts in the United States. One of these is Canon David Anderson, CEO of the American Anglican Council.
Please pray for a fruitful gathering, for relief from TEC's lawsuits, and for the Spirit to fill the new Bishops with all the gifts they will need for their work to come. You can read more by clicking on "CANA" in our useful links, down and to the left on this page.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
O MOST loving Father, who willest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of thee, and to cast all our care on thee, who carest for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which thou hast manifested unto us in thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O HEAVENLY Father, thou understandest all thy children; through thy gift of faith we bring our perplexities to the light of thy wisdom, and receive the blessed encouragement of thy sympathy, and a clearer knowledge of thy will. Glory be to thee for all thy gracious gifts. Amen.
The sad news so far is here.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
But we're not the same
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt
the familiar Collect for the First Sunday of Advent is one of my favorites of the whole year. Just marvelous.
The Collect (pronounced CA-lect, a prayer appointed for specific times to gather the church in a shared prayer focus) is so marvelous that it "made the cut" into the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The rubrics (instructions in "fine print", once printed in red for visibility) in the 1928 BCP appoint the Collect for I Advent to be included all through the season, after the Collects for II, III and IV Advent.
Here it is:
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Fr. Handy is right. This is a marvelous summary of the Christian's quest. What more do we need to ask? It is a perfect prayer to begin the church calendar year, as we begin a fresh annual participation in the Way, the Truth and the Life - Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father, in your Kingdom all creation gives glory and peace, and nothing causes harm. Bless us in this earthly life, with protection, comfort and solace in our times of distress.
As you protected Joseph and Mary on their journey to Bethlehem, so protect all travellers.
As you provided your Son warmth and safety in the womb of Mary, so bring warmth and shelter to those in need.
As the Advent of your Son brings light to those who dwell in the shadow of death, give rest and peace to those who have died in this harsh winter.
We give you thanks for all in emergency services, public works and utilities who labor for our comfort and safety. Bless their efforts and meet their needs.
We ask all this in Jesus' Name, who with you, Father, and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Why? Because we were watching the great Los Angeles football rivalry between my alma mater, USC, and my wife's dad's school, UCLA. The ABC announcers said, "It is a chilly evening here in L.A. - temperatures in the 60s..." My wife, older son and I began laughing derisively. Maybe we are becoming Dakotans after all... first snow arrived in Sioux Falls today, by the way, and we had a few below zero mornings last week.
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Also arriving: Advent, the start of a new church year. A time to renew our thanks for Christ our Savior and to rekindle our hope for his coming again, to bring a new heavens and new earth restored to the perfection of God's own plan.
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer calls for The Exhortation on the First Sunday of Advent. It is a strong instruction to take seriously the gift of God that we receive in Holy Communion - the very body and blood of Christ, the Word become flesh in the birth of Jesus and sacrificed for our sins on the cross:
DEARLY beloved in the Lord, ye who mind to come to the holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ, must consider how Saint Paul exhorteth all persons diligently to try and examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup. For as the benefit is great, if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; so is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily. Judge therefore yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord; repent you truly for your sins past; have a lively and stedfast faith in Christ our Saviour; amend your lives, and be in perfect charity with all men; so shall ye be meet partakers of those holy mysteries. And above all things ye must give most humble and hearty thanks to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for the redemption of the world by the death and passion of our Saviour Christ, both God and man; who did humble himself, even to the death upon the Cross, for us, miserable sinners, who lay in darkness and the shadow of death; that he might make us the children of God, and exalt us to everlasting life. And to the end that we should always remember the exceeding great love of our Master, and only Saviour, Jesus Christ, thus dying for us, and the innumerable benefits which by his precious blood-shedding he hath obtained for us; he hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, as pledges of his love, and for a continual remembrance of his death, to our great and endless comfort. To him therefore, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, let us give, as we are most bounden, continual thanks; submitting ourselves wholly to his holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve him in true holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. Amen.
God fill you with hope and holy anticipation during Advent, and with light divine at Christmas.