Thursday, August 30, 2007
I am down with some nasty bronchitis today, and my laptop crashed. So, if I don't get back to some of your posts or emails for a bit, please understand (and pray for my healing). Thank you for the encouraging, tender, challenging and all sorts of other messages from all of you. May the Lord stand with us, even while we sit and wait.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
- + THIS POST IS ABOUT A YEAR-AND-A-HALF OLD. SOME OF MY THINKING HAS EVOLVED, SOME IS STILL IN PROCESS. I'M STILL RECTOR OF AN EPISCOPAL PARISH. THERE ARE POCKETS OF HEALTH IN THE DENOMINATION, AND GOOD SHEPHERD, SIOUX FALLS IS ONE.
- + THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH HAS PUBLISHED ITS OWN "STATE OF THE CHURCH" REPORT, ADMITTING TO A NUMBER OF THE PROBLEMS I TALK ABOUT HERE. IT IS A CONFLICTED, MESSED UP ORGANIZATION BY ITS OWN ADMISSION.
- + IF YOU ARE READING THIS TO NURSE A GRUDGE OR YOUR HURT FEELINGS, GET OVER YOURSELF.
- + NO, I DO NOT MEAN THAT THE CLERGY DEPLOYMENT GUY GOT HIS JOB BECAUSE HIS WIFE DONATED A KIDNEY. BUT I STAND BY WHAT YOU WILL READ HERE - HAVING THREE RELATIVES RUNNING A DIOCESE IS NOT HEALTHY AND THE SOONER IT ENDS, THE BETTER FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE DIOCESE.
- + AREN'T YOU GLAD I'M NOT LIKE THE BISHOP NOMINEE IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN? AS SOON AS PEOPLE BEGAN INVESTIGATING HIS SERMONS, HE TOOK THEM ALL OFF OF THE WEB. I STAND BY WHAT I WRITE, AND AM NOT ASHAMED OR AFRAID TO HAVE IT OUT HERE. I RECOGNIZE THAT I AM AN IMPERFECT, SIN-TAINTED MAN, BUT IN JESUS CHRIST I AM SAVED AND I LOOK TO HIM TO BRING OUT WHAT IS GOOD IN MY WORDS AND TO FORGIVE THE REST.
The Limits of “My Congregation is Orthodox”
As a priest, I have spiritual needs that will influence my decision – needs that cannot be met by my relationship with my congregation. I cannot seem to get that reality across to my current TEC parish, which is overwhelmingly orthodox by just about any measure and which shows me great affection.
A spiritual leader needs to be under Biblical oversight. Without this, a rector or vicar is more vulnerable to temptations of various kinds. Pride becomes a great danger – “We don’t worry about the rest of the church – we have you” is one of things I’ve heard from well meaning parishioners here. That is dangerous to my soul, however lovingly intended.
A spiritual leader needs to have a trusting relationship with overseers, colleagues, mentors and other leaders. “Just me and my people” is inadequate, because I am inadequate. I need guidance, spiritual direction and pastoral care from Godly leaders. That is the Biblical design and Anglicans have written tons of stuff about “sacred orders of ministry.” But I need those over me to be under the headship of Christ, which is not assured with current TEC leaders. Here in South Dakota, half the diocesan budget is a grant from General Convention. The Bishop here called for a “new American revolution” against the Anglican Communion. The head of the Standing Committee is a priest who donated a kidney to the bishop (an act for which we all gave thanks) and has been adopted as his sister in a recent Native American ceremony. Her husband is now the Clergy Deployment Officer for the diocese. Even beyond my theological differences with them, I am an intruder in a closed “family” subservient to the TEC bureaucrats; in a diocese that loses the equivalent of a congregation per year in ASA. My isolation is painful and spiritually unhealthy.
A spiritual leader cares about the people. I care who confirms them and what kinds of things they hear from sermons, news statements and pastoral letters. I care about the deployment process they will be under should anything happen to me. The congregation’s continued assertion that TEC problems are “out there, not here” is a terrible case of denial. The denomination and diocese walk into a parish at some very important points in its life. And TEC’s continued centralization and tinkering with Canons will lead to more bureaucratic, revisionist intrusions.
A spiritual leader cares about the mission. I want to lead people in the cause of Christ, not some poor substitute. I care that our resources are going to an organization that is suing faithful Christians. I care about us being used as propaganda – “See? We have a ‘conservative’ congregation in Sioux Falls. Our diocese is a happy family.” I care that our growth (ASA up from 42 in 2004 to over 100 today – in August with no air conditioning!) will be used to demonstrate “health” in a diocese that is aging and shrinking at rates beyond alarming, or for a denomination that has repudiated the cross of Christ.
Look, Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, is a joy – a gift from God. They have grown numerically and in God-honoring ways. We have people of different races, ages and life situations (we have cops and people with “records” at the altar together). People are engaged in prayer groups, Biblical learning and serious servanthood (they are developing a major initiative to meet an unmet need expressed by city leaders). As a perk, they treat me with great love and respect. But my ability to be their spiritual leader is daily damaged (“corroded”, to use Fr. David Baumann’s memorable word) by continued contact with unfaithful TEC.
The Limits of “You Must Get Out.”
Because I want to be part of a church that is led by Biblically faithful overseers, and because Good Shepherd has neither the inclination nor the resources to litigate its way out of TEC, I have made personal application to Common Cause entities outside of TEC and this diocese. This earned me a grim email from the Diocesan Chancellor (never heard from the Bishop), but all was well once I assured them that they would lose only Tim Fountain, not any buildings or bank accounts. But as I explore the realignment route, I do so with humility. There are limits to zealous claims that it is the only way.
Spiritual leaders persist in many imperfect situations. There are valiant Christians living under hostile governments. There are faithful saints under Muslim “dhimmitude”, forced to pay special taxes to Christ-denying religious leaders. Do they have to emigrate to be considered true Christians, or are they the body of Christ right there in an imperfect setting? Be it “Windsor compliant” TEC entities or simply faithful parishes in hostile dioceses, make room for “dhimmi” Christians within TEC. Pray for them, don’t dump on them.
Spiritual leaders have overlapping Biblical responsibilities. Family is a big one. Some Old Testament priests brought disaster on the people by neglecting their family responsibilities. I Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I give these Biblical examples for those (usually lay people) who grouse, “Clergy won’t leave TEC because they only care about pensions and mortgages.” Well, maybe they care about those for whom their finances provide. In my case, I have a disabled wife and an autistic son, as well as a high schooler (who by God’s grace is a healthy and wonderful young man). Refinancing our house to cover some huge medical bills has us “upside down.” Should I take an out-of –state parish, we will have to live separately for at least a year. We will do that, and accept the freeze of my TEC pension, if God opens the way out of TEC. But I would be “worse than an unbeliever” to impoverish and neglect my wife and kids.
Spiritual leaders do not create churches without practical help. Two African models I hear about are a) lay people form a congregation, get things up and running, and clergy are deployed when the community can support them; b) a province or diocese provides a period of support for missionary clergy, who devote their efforts to building up a congregation or diocese that takes over their support. I’ve heard people argue, “Just start something new. God will provide.” Well, God uses supportive people to provide in the most vibrant missionary settings. Don’t harangue clergy about leaving unless you are active in a body that can help them. If you can’t subsidize them, make it the congregation’s work to find them secular employment. And if you are not part of an actual Anglican church that is trying to grow, just save your words. Don’t lecture clergy about their duties when you’re not being a disciple yourself.
I don’t have a conclusion. What’s next is in God’s hands.
I’m reasonably certain that institutional TEC will not rejoin Christianity any time soon. That means a) I will be out of TEC altogether or b) I will remain in it under some kind of dhimmitude. I have made preparation either way, and will walk through whatever door God opens. I am blessed by my family’s courage and support in this – they will endure whatever sufferings or sacrifices come.
A few weeks ago, as we prayed together, my wife and I were drawn to Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The seemingly trivial word “while” is what caught us. We are in Dr. Seuss’ “Waiting Place”; or sitting like explorers on a becalmed sea. “While” we wait, “while” God’s plan unfolds, we’ve done all that we can to argue points, explore options, and make choices. We’ve done all we can to warn Good Shepherd about TEC’s corruption (and we’ve been clear and emphatic about this). We’ve knocked on other doors. “While” the conclusion remains open, there’s no more to do.
“While” we wait for what’s next, we rely on what Scripture tells us: God does not need us to force a particular outcome. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And it is on the cross – the one that TEC rejects but that still “towers over the wrecks of time”- where God will always show his love for us, wherever we are.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
August 28, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
John of the Cross (1542 - 1591), The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Prologue (2).
Kavanaugh/Rodriguez translation, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1991.
Friday, August 24, 2007
"This is not our forever house. It will serve for the time being. But there is nothing like the moment we enter his door." (Traveling Light, Page 156)
This coming Sunday's Gospel is Luke 13:22-30. Jesus is asked if many or few will be saved, and he answers by talking about his door.
The door is narrow. To use Traveling Light terms, too much luggage will prevent us from getting in. In Baptism and Confirmation, we promised to drop "the world, the flesh and the devil." That's a lot of baggage, and all of us struggle to let go. But it needs to be dumped if we are to pass through the narrow door.
The owner of the house controls the door. Not everybody gets in. People who knew about the owner, even hung around him (maybe in church?) but never really knew him will be locked out. Lucado tells us to hang on to one burden - that of "homesickness." Maintain a desire to know God - join St. Augustine in praying, "My heart, O Lord, does not rest, until it rests in Thee." Open your heart to Jesus now and he will open his door at your arrival then.
There will be surprises at the door. Some of us who lagged way behind, dragging our too many bags for too much of life, will be among the first welcomed in to the heavenly party. And others, who seemed to be racing ahead, will be locked out. How can that be?
Lucado's book assumes that we will keep on Traveling. But some will become complacent and "stay home." Even though they were off to a good start toward the narrow door, they will stop traveling. They might go to church - kind of like watching a movie about some place but never really going there. Yet their lives will still be cluttered with all of the baggage. It won't feel heavy, but it will take up all kinds of space in their lives.
Those who stay on the journey will struggle, but they will be dumping luggage all along the way. Only by staying on the path do we discover what is necessary and what is disposable. Only on the journey do we learn to give up what we don't need.
And isn't our Christian challenge to follow Jesus on a journey?
God bless you as you travel on. Thank you for sharing this little part of our journey. Faithful brothers and sisters in Christ make the trip so much better.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
But much good spiritual insight comes from staying with the difficult parts of our Holy Scripture. Clergy are obligated to do so - we swear at ordination that we "believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation."
So, what can we learn and apply from the bloody death of King Saul, the execution of a guy who claimed to have killed him, the gory murder of his heir, and the death and mutilation of the heir's assassins?
The whole mess moved me to prayer - to lift up a sad moan to God for The Episcopal Church.
- Saul had been trying to kill David. But when news of Saul's death came, David lifted up a song of mourning for the one who had persecuted him. The Episcopal Church (TEC) has inflicted all kinds of indignity and cruelty on those of us who accept the authority of the Bible. Like David, "a man after God's own heart," we need to mourn for TEC as it wastes away.
- David kept referring to Saul as "the LORD's anointed." However much Saul might have failed, he had received God's authority to be king (that's why David dealt harshly with those who claimed to have killed Saul and his heir). TEC's leaders were, at one time, anointed by God to preach the Word and minister the Sacraments. However much they have squandered that awesome gift, we need to mourn for them as their denomination crumbles.
What does prayerful mourning sound like? It can be groaning without words, a prayer supplied by the Holy Spirit.
Or, it can follow the example of Jesus, who mourned for those who rejected him:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. (Matthew 23:36-38)
TEC has refused the gifts and talents of many wonderful Christians. Many of the clergy who leave TEC are those with gifts for evangelism and building up the church. Many of the departing lay people have given time, talent and treasure in sacrificial measure over the years. All would have brought more of God's living Word and the Holy Spirit to TEC, and TEC was not willing. And TEC is increasingly "desolate" - empty of blessings, of people, of meaning, of influence and impact in the world.
And this is not a situation for gloating or "Told ya so." It is time to mourn - to empty our hearts of grief, and look to God to fill them with hope and love for his good work to come.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
In an analogy, all the characters count. I was taken with the brief appearance of the lawyer. He was called on to represent the indigent brother, and went above and beyond courtroom work to seek out the sister. This lawyer's efforts were an important part of the eventual recognition and reunion of the separated siblings.
Can we be like the lawyer? Do we seek Christ, in prayer, on behalf of those who do not know him?
Liberal theology downplays the idea of "lost" people. Heaven is seen as an entitlement. The church exists merely to give money and volunteers to earth-bound causes.
But this is very far from the message of Jesus, who preached an array of sayings and stories about finding the lost. Our work in his service is to find the lost and work to reunite them with him.
This means opening our eyes to see lost peoples' need for God. It means opening our hearts to care about their destiny. It means opening our mouths to intercede for them and, guided by God, to speak the Good News to them. It means convincing our busy, turned-in congregations that Jesus wants them to find the lost.
It will mean enduring rejection when our appeal bounces off of peoples' doubts.
But it will mean sharing the heavenly party when even one lost person is reunited with Christ.
I ask him how it's going. "Well"—he lowers his voice—"I'm rather trying to keep my head down." Well, why, in that case, I want to reply, did you seek a job that supposedly involves moral leadership?
Let us pray for Archbishop Williams, asking the Holy Spirit to strengthen him with Biblical truth and hope:
Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God and prayed: "O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens." (Ezra 9:5-6)
Come, Holy Spirit, and fill Rowan with holy fear. Let him confess his own sin and the sins of the Anglican Communion, and let him make intercession for the people in his care.
But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. (Psalm 3:3)
Come, Holy Spirit, and remind Rowan to put on the whole armor of God. Give him confidence in the power of Christ.
Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:9)
Come, Holy Spirit, and give Rowan vision. Let him see that he stands at the ancient doors of the church, and show him how to open them to the King of glory. Let him lift up his head and receive the mind of Christ.
He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110:7)
Come, Holy Spirit, refresh Rowan with living water, and give him an abundance overflowing into the whole Anglican Communion.
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:28)
Come, Holy Spirit, remind Rowan that his Redeemer lives and will stand upon the earth. Let Rowan know that his work today has eternal consequences for many, and give him every gift to do work that pleases the Father.
We pray in the Name of Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Chapter 18 (last chapter!) on Friday
Well, here we are in the final week of our summer book blog. God bless all of you who've taken part - I can tell from the comments that God ministered to you in personal and exciting ways.
ENVY is the burden described in Chapter 16. God gave me grace to laugh at myself - as an occasional devotional writer, I find it easy to envy Max Lucado. I can sinfully covet his wide recognition, while jealously imagining that he writes effortlessly. I bet he writes these devotions on cocktail napkins at dinner, and they come out perfectly finished before the salad arrives. I'm sure he never gets edited. He's never had a rejection notice, I'll wager.
As our chapter shows, it's all about the cup. I need to look at the fullness of my cup, not try to grab Max's out of his hands. Even when it comes to devotions, the one I posted here over the weekend (just scroll down - you'll find it) was posted at other folks' sites, and I've received a number of messages from folks around the country who were blessed by it. Same is true of my sermon yesterday - I'm getting wonderful testimonies about how it reached people. I get to serve the living God by doing things I enjoy, like writing and speaking? "My cup runneth over" indeed!
In all the shake-ups facing The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, don't envy "them", whoever "they" are - look at your overflowing cup and be thankful to God, who keeps pouring in blessings.
"They" might keep a pretty building - but God will make some humble place fragrant with your prayers.
"They" might get the earthly titles and entitlements for their little club - but God will make you a steward of heavenly treasure for many.
"They" might get pats on the head from Christianity's enemies - but you will hear "Well done!" from Christ.
A new site has opened with Scripture readings and Anglican prayers - it is a good resource.
Lent & Beyond (in our "Useful Links" on the left side of this page) is posting prayers on a regular basis.
We are encouraging South Dakota Anglicans to use Wednesdays as a special day to fast and pray - but please use any days and times as the Spirit moves you!
Saturday, August 18, 2007
He's a pretty unflappable sort (a welcome generational correction for his parents' emotional ways). So he called, we arranged a tow truck to a trusted mechanic, the repairs did not take long, and I arrived to pay the bill. My son was back on the road.
Desperation seldom speeds things up. Jesus remarked on the uselessness of worry. Acceptance of reality and asking for the right kind of help are better approaches to our needs.
A wonderful old prayer asks, "Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." 1928 Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity.
- The reality is that we have needs ("petitions") and that God has "merciful ears."
- But, our desperation sometimes corrupts our prayers. Our craving for something good, or at least relief from something bad, renders our prayers ineffective. We need God's help to "ask such things as please" him.
Our prayers need fixin' from time to time. We need to ask God to make the repairs. Jesus told Paul to stop praying for relief from a problem and start offering praise and thanks for the Lord's power. Paul, problem and all, went forward in Christ's strength to build up churches, raise up leaders, and write much of what is now our New Testament.
When I was younger, good looking and very available, I went through a lonely season. I did a lot of dating and had some "relationships", pretty much all of them unsatisfying (and in some cases destructive). I kept asking God to take away the loneliness.
During this time, I took a trip to California's central coast (that wonderful backdrop for the movie Sideways). I stopped in to pray at Mission San Buenaventura. The Calvary Shrine there is very brutal to behold. Jesus' knees are scraped from his falls on the way to the cross. Every injury is detailed. As I prayed at the foot of the cross, I continued my desperate petition for relief from the loneliness.
Then the Holy Spirit took a wrench to my spirit. Without thought or intention on my part, my prayer changed. "Jesus, you understand suffering. Use my pain to change me."
This new, Spirit-fixed prayer started a series of powerful changes in my life. God didn't remove the loneliness, but helped me confess attitudes and repent of behaviors that were creating it. Within a year, I met my wife.
We need to stay alert for God's desire (he loves us) and ability (he's all powerful) to fix our prayers. He likes to reach in when our prayers are rattling and wheezing, tweak our spirit, and fix our words to give them new power.
One more example. I was praying in the car the other day. I was complaining and begging for relief from financial and church leadership problems. All of a sudden, the prayer changed to something like:
"Daddy, I know that you have a surprise for me. I know that you have it and I'm really wanting to open it up. I know that you love me and that you won't keep it hidden too long. I'm so excited!"
I went from moaning to an obscure god to tugging gleefully on dad's pant leg. That was the fix that my prayer needed - that was the fix that the Spirit made. And it is in joyful expectation that I am approaching life this week.
Ask God to fix your prayers. "Father, give me the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit, fix my prayers so that they please the Father. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen."
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Those who sanctify time with The Book of Common Prayer are reminded of this truth every morning, as they offer Venite, exultemus Domino, Psalm 95:
O COME, let us sing unto the LORD... For he is the Lord our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
It is so vitally important to come to God in prayer daily, hourly, in every moment and situation.
The Book of Common Prayer gives us tools to honor the daily and seasonal calls to prayer that God wrote into the whole creation. As we break from the things that distract (and disappoint?) us, we let the Shepherd anoint us. Even in the middle of an exasperating day, An Order of Service for Noonday (1979) calls us back to our Good Shepherd for anointing: The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:5).
We need to keep coming to God in prayer. This Sunday, I'll preach from Hebrews 12. It is written in the language of physical exertion and endurance. One of the things I'll point out is that infrequent exercise does not carry much benefit. The gains from a workout dissipate (there's another "dis" word, Max!) quickly - so we increase our strength, endurance and flexibility only with regular training. If we rely on an hour (or less) in church once a week (or twice a month, or less?), we can expect to huff and puff under all the heavy baggage that Lucado warns about. We need frequent prayer and fresh anointing.
Just three chapters to go in our summer book blog! Thanks to all who have been reading and especially those who have shared insights along the way. Next week, we will follow our Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting pattern to the end of the book.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
But it grieved my heart as well. My own shame for past failures came up... questionable marriages and baptisms I should not have performed over the years, terrible sermons preached, standards compromised, people I've turned off to church by my flaws... Yet the final story is never my inadequacy, but the "full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction" offered by Christ on the cross and celebrated at the altar.
There's also grief to be felt when one looks at the Episcopal Church. TEC needs to feel ashamed, but doesn't. Other Anglican Provinces are refusing to share Communion with TEC over its infidelity toward Christ. I could not help but think of TEC where Lucado wrote, "Jesus prepared a table in the presence of the enemy. Judas was allowed to see the supper, but he wasn't allowed to stay there." (page 119)
Today (Aug. 15th) is the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, Mother of the Lord. From her, Jesus took his human body and blood to offer for us. In Mary's great prayer, her soul "magnifies the Lord." May we magnify the Lord, making Him much, much larger in our lives, and letting our shame shrink in comparison to his great love for us. And may his great love console and inspire us through the church problems that distract us.
Chapter 15 on Friday... we will finish the book by the end of next week!
Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift; Send down upon our Bishops, and other Clergy, and upon the Congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honour of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Father in heaven, we ask you to give Rowan your Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit rest on him with every holy gift. Let the fruit of the Spirit flourish upon him.
Jesus, Son of David, the afflicted call on you for healing and deliverance. Pray for Rowan, that he receive the healthful Spirit to drive error and evil from your church.
Holy Spirit, your presence with us is not earned or deserved, but a gift. Surprise Rowan with grace, comforting and strengthening him under the pressures of his ministry.
We ask all this, Father, in the Name of Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Archbishop Williams, along with other representatives of the Anglican Communion, will make a special visit in one last effort to maintain unity in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The meeting places terrible weight on his shoulders, and he will need God's help.
If there is no serious HOB response to previous Anglican statements, there is likely to be serious fracture, involving not only TEC but various provinces around the world. Those who define the church by the Good News of Christ crucified, and who accept the authority of the Holy Bible, will likely be divided from those who define the church as a kind of club membership and who take their highest authority from bylaws and bureaucracy. The Archbishop has tried to encourage movement toward a Covenant of core beliefes, but progress is slow and patience is wearing out around the Communion. Many are looking to him for more decisive leadership and discipline. The pressure of his Office is tremendous.
Fasting can be any degree of abstention from food, drink or anything pleasurable for all or part of a day. Offer the loss or discomfort to God with special intention for the Archbishop.
Prayer can be during your own devotions, at services with others, from reminders attached to your 'fridge or mirror - anything that places you in God's presence as an intercessor for the Archbishop. Some great prayer resources are being posted at Lent & Beyond.
This week's Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is good preparation for a season of prayer:
LET thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
"All by myself Dont wanna be All by myself anymore All by myself Dont wanna live All by myself anymore" Really Cheesy Pop Ballad
Lucado describes several familiar examples of loneliness as agony. But he goes on to suggest that this same suffering can give way to blissful intimacy with God.
The poem The Dark Night by John of the Cross is often invoked as an expression of lonely agony (ever had a priest tell you, "Wow, you are really going through a 'dark night of the soul'"?) But John's mystical words really take us into the moment when the profound absence of everyone and everything becomes Christ's caress. Read the whole poem at the link (and John's own commentary on it when you have time), and note especially these stanzas:
3. On that glad night,in secret, for no one saw me,nor did I look at anything,with no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart.
4. This guided me more surely than the light of noon to where he was awaiting me- him I knew so well - there in a place where no one appeared.
May the lover of souls bless your loneliness.
Chapter 14 on Wednesday.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Over at TitusOneNine, Kendall Harmon links to this message from Bishop Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. The Bishop's home was invaded by men who were ready to kill him, but at the last moment relented. Bishop Kwashi describes how he looked to God:
...I knelt to pray and read from the Bible Psalm 124 waiting for my death; a little while later Gloria joined me and we were praying together; about 10 minutes later they were gone. [Note: do have a look at Psalm 124].
Bishop Ben and his wife took their eyes off of death and looked to God. And Lucado ends Chapter 12 by asking, "Now what were you looking at?"
Chapter 13 this weekend or maybe Monday. Keep looking to God, my friends.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
I tell those who've suffered loss that grief is an expression of love for a person we can no longer hug, kiss or even see. The absence of grief would suggest indifference or cold-heartedness. Such reptilian stoicism is encouraged only by those who perceive "religion" as a "tool" to help people "get over it" and (prepare to gag) "have closure."
Christian faith should make us vulnerable to grief. Romans 12:15 tells us to "weep with those who weep." In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul responded to questions about death and loss. He did not say "keep a stiff upper lip" - he said, "Yes, grieve, but not like pagans who see only death and no hope." (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).
How could the apostles teach any differently when the Lord taught them, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Matthew 5:4)? What else could be concluded when the One who could give new life still wept at a friend's grave ?
I think Lucado does a very fine job bringing out the hardest spiritual probelm - "anger at God. Anger that takes the form of the three-letter question - why? Why him? Why her? Why now? Why us? You and I both know that I can't answer that question." (p. 91)
"Why?" is one of the main themes running through The Psalms. And with that fact, we know the question is not offensive to God, since God Himself breathed it into our Bibles. Jesus used two little stories to tell us that prayer is like pestering or nagging God until we get our answer. (See Luke 11:1-13 & 18:1-8 ).
At Easter dinner in 1991, we told my dad that my wife was carrying his first grandchild. It all seemed perfect - he would make such a wonderful "grandpa" and what better time than Easter to celebrate a new life, especially since my dad had suffered the early death of my older brother?
But my dad died a week later. I have no answer to my "Why?" I had such a neat version of cosmic justice and mercy all set for him. Why did God have a different plan? And why was my son deprived of someone who would have given him much love, wisdom and joy?
As Lucado says, "God is a good God. We must begin here. Though we don't understand his actions, we can trust his heart." (p. 91) The Jewish Mourner's Kaddish reflects this - in the face of death, lift a song of praise to God.
And this is where our faith and works meet - when we act as though our beliefs are true. As many of us will hear in this Sunday's Epistle: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) When we mourn from loving hearts, ask "Why?" in prayer, carry on in hope of seeing the dead raised to eternal life, and praise God though it all, we show faith that our unseen Father is the loving, listening and life-giving God revealed by Jesus, taught in the Scriptures and at work in us through the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 12 on Friday.
Monday, August 6, 2007
"In the midst of life we are in death," The Prayer Book reminds us at the graveside. Youthful vigor can blind us to this reality, although in this time of war and terrorism perhaps mortality will assume a more prominent place in the consciousness of all ages. Perhaps one of war's casualties will be our Western assumption that "religion is to comfort the old" as they approach medically managed deaths after long, comfortable lives.
The Bible offers a promise that our nagging signs of mortality can point us toward spiritual vitality: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (II Corinthians 4:16). We are being renewed. This is not our own, unaided effort. We must look to the one who does the renewing. This is the Good Shepherd, always with us.
Chapter 11 on Wednesday.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Since Chapter 9 warned against ARROGANCE, I will not blather on about me again. Instead, I offer:
1) No post for Chapter 10 until Monday. Feel free to comment on Chapter 9 here OR to summarize any of your thoughts from the first half of the book. Or just have a peaceful weekend - whatever God puts on your heart!
2) I'll share one devotional tool that has helped me. Psalm 95 is the traditional first Canticle in Morning Prayer. As Lucado notes about Psalm 23, the focus of Ps. 95 is on God. If you offer it as a morning devotion, try inflecting it to emphasize who it is all about:
O COME, let us sing unto the LORD; * let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; * and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God; * and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth; * and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it; * and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down, * and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For he is the Lord our God; * and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth; * and with righteousness to judge the world, and the peoples with his truth.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen.