A preach up!
Today I had the privilege to preach Pentecost! This was as the church filled with “billows of smoke” (as it says in Acts 2!)… I took a risk – time to speak plain, to give it straight from what I felt the Spirit saying. I had pondered this message for three weeks – how Pentecost was already an established feast, what it was, why Peter quoted Joel, the context for Joel’s prophesy, the implications of the day, how the birth of the church, the coming of the Spirit was not a reaction – but God’ plan from the beginning and the mandate we have as a result of it! It went really well – only offended a few (unintentionally!), but most loved it – though it pricked them to incarnate their neighbourhoods as the body of Christ!
I don’t often push the recordings out there, but thought I might share it with you while it’s hot off the press. If you are in need of a laugh, want to do a little critique, give it a listen.
Preamble: This is not a theological defense or attack. It is not a thesis. It is a thought or two, a consideration, an encouragement. I also confess I am an Anglican, a Catholic Evangelical… So, get over those hurdles and start from a post-reformation saint trying to authentically and orthodoxically follow the Messiah… Now, read on!
I have Catholic roots. I have evangelical roots. I am an Evangelical Anglo-Catholic who is a missional missionary and leader in an urban post-Christian post-modern reality in a western context. I suffer the same over marketed drowning culture as you, if you’re reading this! There is no space for reflection, getting perspective unless one turns off, tunes out, blocks space to slow down and actually really do real thinking and meditating.
Ever been in a time praying with others and the most common phrases were, “Lord we just…” or “hmmm…” and rambling 1000 words to say what could be said in 50? Yet in those times come birthing authenticity and earnestness. There is strength and weakness. Like most things in life, it is not complete or holistic. It becomes trite and shallow and only includes what we feel and think about right now… in the moment and doesn’t help us see, think, feel (also known as align) with God, His will, or transform us, but reduces prayer to our limited shallow theology and emotions of the day. BUT it also presents the real needs of the day – and mysteriously God includes us in His efficacious engagement with the world by moving in our prayer! A mystery! I heard it said recently that God somehow includes us, begins our reign with Him even now, even sharing His power with us, by making us part of the way He moves! A huge mandate to intercede!
Yet that is incomplete.
I have experienced seasons (two plus years to be gut honest!) where it was dark, real dark. I had no words. I was out of words. I didn’t feel and what I did sense was dark! I didn’t even have energy to intercede regularly. The only thing that kept me; what healed me; what sustained me – was praying the Divine offices…. regular times of prayer every day, where I was led, like spiritual therapy, as compared with physical therapy. It impacted me emotionally, mentally from the core of spiritual therapy. It guided me, reminded me, told me and exhorted me – because my heart was too dark to remember. I am every grateful for those times of liturgy.
I am also limited – I need and have come to find encouragement, even transformation in liturgy! I have found that it helps me get how to worship and adore Him, without a string of dime store, supermarket check out queue romance novel empty words I don’t relate to beyond mental ascent, but certainly not with the faithfulness of the command to Love the Lord my God with all of my mind, all of my body, all of my heart, all of my strength (will).
Why? What is the draw to the liturgy? Most holistically, what is the draw to a holistic and authentic use of liturgy – which makes plenty of room for the need of the day, the intentions of the heart, the aches and emotions that need and should be expressed?
There are several reasons for this BOTH AND to be holistic and healthy and that any liturgy provides for the former and while shaping us in the latter. First, We don’t reflect seasonally or thoroughly through all of the things we should reflect upon without a plan, a calendar. We don’t remember well at all. Liturgy drives this. Second, Liturgy is mostly Scripture! All Anglican and Catholic, and Orthodox liturgies are formed and collected from Scripture. Can one object to praying Scripture? Third, by the first two, it helps form us, transform us, and align us. Ever pray, “Your will be done?” Ever pray “we want what you want God?” Well, this is how we align our desire, our posture, our perspective to God. Scripture guides us, and the liturgy is in a schedule, a routine that helps us think through and worship in a holistic way. Fourth, Liturgy aligns our world, our lives along God’s paradigm, instead of a pagan calendar… these two are a step closer to a Biblical world view. In a world where there is less than 10% Biblical world view held by the Christian population of all traditions, this would be very helpful.
Furthermore, when you reach – and you will – if you’re young and in denial, okay, I’ll wait for life to slap the ever loving s*** out of you and you’ll be back to tell me you now get it – that point where you cannot even form a prayer, the liturgy takes you there, where you should and need to be and that transformation and slow realignment, rebirth of your soul can occur – because it aligns you with Him, His will, His perspective, and the release to trust and allow God to be, well, God! It’s surrender, but that’s not popular today.
These well written, theologically thought through liturgies and prayers are the 50 words to say what can be said in 50 words, verses 1000 to say what could be said in 50! They are thought out, constructed, well chosen vocabulary, and have been prayed and reflected upon and sharpened over centuries. There is wisdom in listening to good orators, or reading good writing – well, here you are! AND it’s shared and prayed with thousands of others same day and in a world where the time zones shift, it means it is prayed repeatedly every hour for twenty-four hours! AND it’s been prayed for centuries. It exposes you to others. Within the Anglican tradition there are approved liturgies and prayer books across the globe. They are the same, but also include innovative thought through contributions of others.
Then for those who are passionate about expressing what’s on the heart, liturgy provides space every time you gather to pray openly, in your own earnest passion about anything and everything! It also frames prayer to include the things and reflect the values of a diocese, a society, today. So, there is nothing lost.
I think the resistance when we get honest, is a) uneducated fear of it being unorthodox or boring, or too rigid, b) not accustomed to anyone having any form – we so embrace no form (discipline) of any type, we resist it even when it’s good to allow input to help form us holistically. Think of it as doing sit-ups; if you only do crunches and belly muscle work, you’ll be humped over in a short time, because you haven’t holistically trained your body to also address the counter balance of strengthening the back; and c) the lie of our time that if it’s old its irrelevant and modern only is good. Additionally, I think we don’t know how to focus, to slow down, to listen well. Liturgy provides that space – we need it desperately! Our lack of it has birthed theology for how we feel today – lack of orthodoxy at best and heresy at worst. We’re moved by the emotion of today… because we feel it earnestly doesn’t make it right or true; yet it has become the arbitrating reality today.
So, give it a consideration! Don’t go nuts. Where I am, we practice morning and evening prayers together. It’s not some painful hour for our busy contemporary lives. It’s 8.30a and 5.30p… It frames the day. The New Zealand Anglican Prayer book also offers a short mid-day prayer and compline/night prayer for the end of the day. It is chalked with variations and options, festival days, etc, providing variance and routine and freedom to adapt and move with the earnestness of the day. It is respected not just by the global Anglican Communion, but other traditions as well. There is also the Book of Common Prayer – still used (with editing over time) since the early 1600’s! One can also draw from the Orthodox and Catholic Missals. Our fore-fathers and mothers developed Divine offices, set times of day where different forms/types/postures/purposes of prayer occur. I practice seven offices each day – none are ordinarilly long, five alone, some very brief, altering time when conflicting in a meeting, etc. I vary how I do it, but it helps me, forms me, reminds me, makes sure I practice all the postures from intercession, to repentance, to adoration, etc. Do I ever just pray? You bet – regular form of life for me; and at times do retreats, as well as long prayer walks on my own, where I just talk with God – telling Him more than one would ever want!
To sum it up, in good consolation seasons of life, or the dark nights of the soul, it keeps me. It keeps me when I can’t keep it. It helps me holistically seek, know and be known, to posture myself and keep perspective. I’ll give you one short example. At 4p daily, my phone/laptop/pad gives me a reminder for none (9th hour of the day prayer… anytime from 3-4p daily… I set mine for 4p because it best fits my life demands. At none prayer, the reminder in my phone has notes to help remind me, a very short liturgy that helps me keep perspective, to think, be reminded and to align my heart to God’s – to surrender. How? Here is my None prayer: “It is mid to late afternoon. It is the fading part of the day, the time of decline, when shadows begin to lengthen. The fading of time brings home death and impermanence and the need to connect with something transcendent.” This simple reminder puts my very temporal time here on earth in perspective with the eternal reality inwhich I live. I don’t take myself or my contribution in this world so serious that I think “I’m all that.” It reminds me I am small and I serve with authenticity and sincerity, but the world is His! In the notes of this reminder for None, is “None is nine; the night hour of the day. It is mid to late afternoon. It is the fading part of the day, the time of decline, when shadows begin to lengthen. The fading of time brings home death and impermanence and the need to connect with something transcendent (beyond time). This perspective helps us connect with what is most important. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the limits of our lives.” You see? It keeps me. It keeps me a humble disciple. I’ll not bore you with all of my prayer structure here, but will gladly share them with you if they would help. In the mean time, I encourage you to consider adding liturgy to your rhythm of life as a Christ follower. For a taster, I’d recommend Common Prayer, http://commonprayer.net/. It’s a once a day contemporary taster for anabaptist traditions. You can also source the NZ Prayer Book, http://anglicanprayerbook.nz/, or the Book of Common Prayer, along with many other resources, http://anglicansonline.org/resources/bcp.html. Feel free to research divine offices, etc. Don’t go nuts! Start slow – mine grew over years of practice and experimenting, participating with monks and living in and amongst Anglicans here in New Zealand.
In closing – I’m not saying ditching spontaneity in prayer. Of course pray without ceasing. Pray when needs arise, when parting or gathering, or for a specific move in the heart – including the persecuted church which is always on my heart (!). BUT be holistic, as one is with exercise or diet. Be healthy! Your body will wear out and die. Your soul – who you are is eternal! So be healthy! Learn to see life (think, feel, posture, attitude, action) in a holistic healthy full orthodoxy and allow yourself to be shaped by Scripture as you pray and pray together! My experience is people who practice this, especially committed with a group of others, come to faithfully value it and miss it immensely when it’s not a regular part of their lives! And I’m talking about millennials, not boomers or x’ers.
I’d love to hear how others are experiencing this!
I’ve watched the events unfolding in the Middle East MY ENTIRE FREAKING LIFE! It’s ALWAYS BEEN chaotic; always multifaceted and many guilty parties. My conclusions, to date anyway, are not popular with anyone. I reject taking up “others’ views” to simply be accepted within a “tribe”, to belong.
We see a region, from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, across Israel, Palestine, to Egypt and all the way to Morocco. The recent events with super powers involved in an effort to “destroy ISIS” without being on the ground is futile and we all know it, but no one is satisfied with allowing ISIS to continue, nor to commit boots on the ground to stomp them out, either. Peace seems a virtue ISIS scoffs towards and uses it only to outmaneuver for treachery. What a mess! It feels surreal, like the summer of 1914, a world war waiting to happen for no clear reason or worthy sacrifice for what is about to be demanded to pay death itself.
Look, on one hand – and many will NOT like what I am about to say, the mess in the Middle East has been fostered by a century of imperial meddling from many countries, the US, UK, France, Russia and now the latest, China. The lust for oil, control of a geographic key region has driven people to fight over this area for the history of mankind. The past century directly lays ground work for internal strife, and the chaos of today. We continue to define “our interests” at the expense and lack of voice by those who “get to” endure our will played on them. In other words – a big part of this mess is OUR FAULT (the western powers, and I’d throw Russia and China into this complicity.
BUT, and here is what is not allowed to be said…. BUT… the core of this mess is a violent culture, a violent predisposition that has fought amongst itself from all of history. The Old Testament reveals a history of war, genocide and racial dominance and NON-STOP bloodshed. Many site the curse of sin and the nature of the races that God told Israel to wipe out because their DNA was evil. Others will say they are merely working out the internal defining Europe did centuries ago. Some will say it’s all our fault, making money off warfare, war we participate in and we sell to when and when we’re not directly involved.
I think all of it is true. What is not allowed to be said is that the Middle East, from the Persians, to the Arabs, to the North Africans – they have some deep cultural VIOLENT and literally murderous tendencies that they are not owning up to. Life is cheap, “my way” or die (the eternal fallen human disposition) is real there. They choose this reality and as a people and region are not willing to come to terms and compromise to co-exist together.
The unbridled freedoms of the west, what liberals insist will bring harmony to the Middle East, are exactly the core of what they hate – despise, loath and froth at the mouth over. They do not esteem freedom at all, but concrete and clearly defined boundaries of absolute obedience. Free thought, critical thinking and a willingness to tolerate any dissent is odious to the Middle Eastern cultures. Hence, reason does not work and why democracy is ludicrous and a waste of time by the right and the left persuasions. The right simply wants to lull them to peace with profits and markets. It’s a mere temporal anesthetic that will not be effective long, as so many realities of the region reveal.
So, what do we do? Great question – no clear answer or answers. The first step though is realising NO answer will fix it. There is no “right” choice. There is NO fix to this region. Dour? Yes. Yet the entire history of the region is dour and I’m not allowed to say that either. The Kingdom of God is the ONLY fix to the region. Yet, a helicopter marketed shiny western evangelism of celebrity isn’t the way either – rather an upside down kingdom approach of humility – but we’re not patient enough for that, are we?
*Thank you to my nephew, Joel Knight, for this beautiful photograph (Wellington, New Zealand, 2015)
Unlike other Old Testament messengers, Amos was not a professional prophet; he had no special training, nor was he related to any other prophets. He was a peasant farmer and sheep tender called by God for a special mission. A native of the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos received a powerful commission from God to preach to the -people of the northern kingdom of Israel. In the first half of the eighth century BC, during a time of great expansion and prosperity in Israel, Amos spoke out against the economic injustices between urban elites and the poor. Rich landowners were acquiring money and land, taking advantage of small farmers and peasants. Although Amos was not wealthy, he was sent to warn the wealthy and invite them back into the good way of God’s justice.
Amos spoke out, saying, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land. I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [From Commonprayer.net, 28 March]
O’ God, we need an Amos today, one empowered with authority to speak that there might be change, real change. Amen
We’re in a world of undefined people. I speak as a man, so I am writing at this moment to men, as I am not confident to speak to women on this subject. What in the heck do I mean by “undefined”?
I use undefined to refer to us as people – not knowing deeply in our heart, from the centre of who we are, “who” we are. It comes across as insecurity, which can present itself as over confidence, self aggrandising and looking for value in external “skins” of materialism, consumerism, stuff, roles, fame, glory, etc. This isn’t new news. Simply look at the phenomena of celebrity through the media or sport, the arrogance of politic, the drunken power of the oligarchy now masquerading as nation state. Simply stated – we as people – especially men – basically have no idea who we are, and why we exist. Therefore, we grope for it in temporal shallow trite ways. We then try and convince ourselves of our identity and worth and remind ourselves (thanks, soccer mom/mum generation!) through rootless messages of ‘being exceptional – being exceptional to the point of confidence through cognitive dissonance… where we hold to our lie, in the face of overwhelming reality, facts and arguments… We believe the norm doesn’t apply, that the normal results, normal ability, normal foibles aren’t true about “me”. We tell ourselves we have so much specialness, worth, value, contribution and that the world will actually miss us when we leave.
This past two and a half years, I’ve spent more time on reflecting upon the reality of my own self, and life. I’ve thought about it for a longer time, but focused here over an extended time. The reality is: I’m normal. Yes, I am imperfect, have foibles, fail, am weak, am not always nice, am capable – but not exceptional…and if I am in one area, I am only okay in most and fail at several. I am not important – no qualifying adjectives allowed (that, very, or others that soften “not important”). I will get old… some think I am now… but will get elderly, and will diminish, and many opportunities are already closed for me, and will die. On the day, or season of my demise and decline – very, very few will notice, or stop, or care. A generation later, I’ll be forgotten, just like my great and great great grandfathers and do not even ask about great or great great uncles, aunts, etc., or 2nd and 3rd cousins. Who?
So is my message we do not matter? Well, ugh, sort of – but that’s not the end. We’re not something because the sun shines our of our butts (sorry, ladies, that was for the men)… but we are special – we are special to the Living God and we have value and worth because we matter to Him and He gives us identity, belonging, family and a purpose. Outside of that and we are left groping for little gods of meaning made of mere wood and stone, straw, sand. BUT in our true identity, beyond the circumstances and fate of the families we’re born into, we have immeasurable worth – but we must always remember that we are but dust and will not last in this world, but in His world, in His home, we will and can live as sons of the King. Tim Keller, noted pastor, church planter, author and speaker, wrote recently something to the effect, “Who dares wake a king at 3 in the morning for a drink of water, other than his child?” Us – that’s who! We are weak, quite helpless really… reality will visit us, if not in our family of origin, in the fate of life. Steve jobs got cancer and died, as do presidents, and tyrants alike, and even holy awesome souls like Mother Teresa.
Remember – you are a moment and gone, but remember who numbers your steps, hair on your head, knew you before you were and will know you eternally. Stand up and be a man, living out of that reality and not fooled by the false messages of a lost, empty meaningless world.
The division within the church on sin and redemption…. Why do “we” fight over sin being individual, society or systemic and not all?
In admittedly simplistic presentation, I submit this paragraph. There has been much divide in the past century – more divisiveness within the church than about anytime in history. There was a divide over reliability of the Word, and then a divide on “what is it to be a Christian” and “what is it to be the church”. The former was conservative versus liberal, and the battle circled around fights over relying on God’s Word, and therefore the efficacy of Christ’s work to redeem people to salvation – what it takes to go to heaven… The conservatives centred on Jesus’ work saves us, and we are to believe in faith. The liberals position circled around being good people and God’s Word being a guide, but not literal. This fight widened to the conservatives embracing “what we think” and the liberals embracing doing good things in society. Outside of this fight within western Europe, the UK and North America, was the theological developments through the developing world, which was awakening to the implications of massive colonialism, and the government manipulations. They began seeing the corporate systemic sins, and how God did not like this. They centred their theology on this experience.
All of this divided the church and dismissed the others. My issue is as one who holds to God’s Word being reliable, and yes, within literature genres but also in context of culture, circumstance and the weighing of God’s Word in the “whole counsel of God”… in other words, you must look at all of what God says implicitly and explicitly. What is meant is god flat tells us something very directly… do this, don’t do this. BUT there are clearly implied issues as well – where God tells us what He thinks and expects by how often He talks about it, how much it is weighed out in the actions of people.
The result is that God’s Word addresses our individual salvation (dealing with individual sin), but also dealing with systemic sins (where injustice is legitimised, codified and made “legal” or even “moral” by consensus or decree), and also the behaviour of individual saints and churches, and the whole church in being like Christ in how it engages people, individually and society. In summary, all is correct and part of what it is to be the church.
I’ve faced direct attack, and been dropped from financial support because I hold this position. If I talk about systemic sin by our society, if I talk about our “being like Christ” in loving and blessing people in simple sacrificial love, and I fail to talk solely or directly about individual sin, if I fail to discuss intellectual “think right” Bible Studies, then I’ve faced being labelled a liberal or social Gospel Christian. I resist these labes, because each is heresy without the other; each incomplete and to label one is to ignore or dismiss the other. Yet, there is so much implicit and explicit in God’s Word to address all three means of sanctification of the believer. We are called to individually be sanctified by believing, but this believing is never seen measured by having every detail in theology straight, but in the behaviour of the saint in trusting Christ by how the saint behaves towards others – social and systemic sanctification… how we love people practically and collectively as a society.
There is a lot of room for the church and for Christians to be speak prophetically, and to be behave prophetically in our individual and collective lives. This is not license to be ugly and repeatedly battling the society, as is so common today. Rather, the call is to be counter-to-the-culture, live differently; to shine as lights, be salt, be a fragrance – each of which is a positive experience for the world who encounters the church and believers.
So, may we not be in frontal combat with the world, but let us be a sweet fragrance, salt to enhance the taste, and bright to light up contrasting darkness. May we be the defenders who give preference for the disenfranchised, under resourced and oppressed, the poor, weak and vulnerable. May we not embrace Babylon’s system of power, or forcing Christ’s Kingdom on the world – Christ rebuked that when He was arrested in the garden that last night. Let us be the suffering people who redeem people through our humility, lives resisting sin, a people making a difference in society by bringing healing and as a church working for the Kingdom’s value lived out in changing the systemic wrongs.
During the church growth years…. there was much about how to make churches healthy – we are indebted to the hard work they did for us. From 1980’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, many leaders wrestled with how to mature the church and move people into engaging the world. The result they found was that it became an inward focused church on “feeding me”, an attractional model that created a gospel and how Jesus, God and church “felt” to me… and reinforced a culture of multiple choice. This was NOT the intent and their models worked to ground people and move them into mission.
The challenge was mission was something much later…some models literally using the baseball model where mission was introduced at the 3rd base to home plate leg of the journey – instead of a completely different model where it was inherent and natural for a saint to be involved in the Kingdom’s (Christ’s) main business….
There are a lot of great thinkers who have grown out of what our church growth fathers did. The best thinking today starts with the outcome – God’s intent and His Kingdom. From that Rubric, of God’s intent, we then aim and shape and form our mission, and then, and only then, from our mission do we form, shape, develop & grow and organise the church.
In other words, our eschatology forms and shapes our missiology, which forms and shapes and ecclesiology.
Therefore, what is our eschatology (the end result, time, event, goal). It starts in Genesis 1 & 2, and why God created people, and the creation… He was wanting community with His creation and namely in personal relationship with us.
His entire eschatology is to redeem, and restore that holistic relationship, now veiled awaiting our complete redemption and the redemption of the entire creation (1 Corinthians).
Hence, our missiology is a waste unless it is aligned, submitted and coordinated with His plan for the world and creation. Our mission is a farse if not part of that ultimate plan. We’ll not achieve this in our own efforts, but we are called to be a part of what He’s doing in the world and He works through us – and that is woven in being His hands and feet in the most practical ways of loving, serving and blessing others – to manifest the values of the Kingdom (Isaiah 58, Isaiah 61, 2 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12).
Then, and only then is there a purpose for the church. Ever wonder why God even instituted the church? If we read our eschatology, and then our missiology – which is threaded through God’s Word, then the versus on the church (read Jesus’ biographies, and the epistles and it’s clear our purpose is the missiology, by being ambassadors, leaving the fragrance of Christ, being light, being salt… these behaviours, reflecting values of the Kingdom in the simplest ways become the jar that holds the message, Gospel, hope we have, are supposed to have anyway! Then the message makes sense. Then the “telling” of the Word makes sense and isn’t just God judging and condemning. Then, following, surrendering and sacrificing our wills to Him makes sense. For then, we also see and are aware of a) our lost state (Romans 1-4) and b) how great is His plan (eschatology) (Romans 5-8).
Now we have a life that makes sense, for God’s plan, intent, heart is the core and foundation for our efforts to reach the world, and our motivating central DNA of our behaviours as the church on mission.
In growing and being the church, we have a role, indispensable role – for Jesus only has physical hands, feet, eyes, mouth in us! He never re-inhabited the 2nd Temple, but He did inhabit us in the Holy Spirit. Wow! What a plan!