Christianity 201

October 28, 2012

A Biblical Understanding of ‘Place’

Gen 15:7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

Jer 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Over the weekend, I have been immersed in the book The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Zondervan). The book deals with life in monastic community as experienced in 2012. In particular, chapters are titled:

1. Why We Eat Together
2. Why We Make Promises
3. Why It Matters Where We Live
4. Why We Live Together
5. Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
6. Why We Share Good News

The verses quoted above introduce what turns out to be the longest chapter in the book, a study of place or location which was fundamental to Israel. This is but a very brief excerpt:

For so many of today, church is a place we go to on Sunday, just like work or school or home are the places we go every other day of the week. Where we live often has little to do with where we worship. This makes it difficult for us to see how we’re called to make our whole life true worship in a place.

But incarnation interrupts us. To confess that Jesus took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood is to see that we are invited to dwell in our places and grow up into “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Eph. 1:23). As the letter to the church at Ephesus demonstrates so well, the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is within us to overcome the “principalities and powers” (6:12) of our present age. A culture of hyper-mobility is not greater than God’s plan to redeem the world through Christ’s body, the church. But Ephesians is equally clear that this power is made manifest in the peculiar way of engagement that we learn from Israel and Jesus: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but … against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that … you may be able to stand your ground” (6:12-13).

If we pay attention to the conquest stories of Israel, we learn that God’s people did not gain their promised land through cunning or military might. They left Egypt through the Red Sea because God made a way out of now way. When they came to Jericho, it was God who made the walls come tumbling down. Israel’s greatest hero, David, won his monumental battle against the Philistine giant, Goliath, by refusing the royal armor and trusting God to use the simple slingshot he carried as a shepherd boy. Over and again, God makes clear that Israel isn’t in charge of securing its own place in the world. “The Lord will fight for you,” Moses says; “you need only to be still (Ex. 14:14).

This standing in place is the posture that the New Testament exhorts the church to maintain. Jesus told Peter, the rock upon whom he promised to build his church, that he should put away his sword in the garden of Gethsemane. The violence of this world’s kingdoms would not be the means by which God would establish the peaceable kingdom here on earth. Jesus’ refusal of worldly power is not, however, a passive submission to the status quo. Jesus stands before Pilate, just as the martyrs would stand before authorities after him, neither backing down nor succumbing to the ways of an order that is passing away. “Fight the good fight of the faith,” Paul exhorted his young disciple Timothy (6:12), recalling that Timothy had made the same “good confession” Jesus made while testifying before Pontius Pilate. It was confession made not so much with his mouth as with his feet. In the power of the spirit, he stood his ground.

~Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Awakening of Hope, pp. 101-103

January 17, 2012

One Thousand Gifts

One of the blessings of living in Christian community is the variety of people that you get to meet; the unique individuals who form the body of Christ.  A year ago here we introduced the ministry of Ann Voskamp, and included a short book trailer, but I thought you might appreciate hearing more of Ann’s story. She is the author of the bestselling Zondervan book One Thousand Gifts.

Part two:

November 22, 2011

Prayer and the Imagination

This is from a forthcoming book by Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears, publishing in December from Zondervan.

Neuroimaging has shown that as we age, the center of cognitive gravity tends to shift from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain. And this neurological tendency presents a grave spiritual danger. At some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory. Instead of creating the future we start repeating the past. Instead of living by faith, we live by logic. Instead of going after our dreams, we stop circling Jericho.

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

…As we age, either imagination overtakes memory or memory overtakes memory or memory overtakes imagination. Imagination is the road less taken, but it is the pathway of prayer. Prayer and imagination are directly proportional: the more you pray the bigger your imagination becomes because the Holy Spirit supersizes it with God-sized dreams. One litmus test of spiritual maturity is whether your dreams are getting better or smaller. The older you get, the more faith you should have because you’ve experienced more of God’s faithfulness. And it is God’s faithfulness that increases our faith and enlarges our dreams.

There is certainly nothing wrong with an occasional stroll down memory lane, but God wants you to keep dreaming until the day you die. You’re never too old to go after the dreams God has put in your heart. And for the record, you’re never too young either. Age is never a valid excuse.

~Mark Batterson

May 11, 2011

Read the Fine Print

For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the deal.  They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary.  So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine print.  That’s especially true of Ameican Christians.  In part, this due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism.  It has created a culture of consumers in our churches.  Instead of approaching their faith with a spirit of denial that says, “What can do for Jesus?” they have a consumer mentality that says, “What can Jesus do for me?”

…One of the reasons it’s so hard for us to deny ourselves is because the whole idea seems to go against our greatest desire in life. Most everyone would say that what they want more than anything else is to be happy.  We’re convinced that the path to happiness means saying yes to ourselves. Indulgence is the path to happiness, so to deny ourselves seems to go in the opposite direction of what will make us happy. The right to pursue happiness seems to be in direct conflict with the call to deny.

…That’s what the story of the Rich Young Ruler is really all about.  It’s not just about giving up money and the things that money can buy; it’s about giving up, period.  That’s what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ.

~Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan, pp 148, 150, 155

(publishing May 31st)

January 28, 2011

Introducing the Ministry of Ann Voskamp

We’re going to take a break today from the regular format to introduce daily devotional and Bible study readers to the ministry of Ann Voskamp, author of the just-published One Thousand Gifts.

First, you might want to get to know Ann’s website, A Holy Experience.  Make sure your speakers are turned on, as music plays underneath.  Or not.  I read one reviewer who valued Ann’s words so much, readers were advised to make sure their speakers were turned off!  I guess we each process things differently.

Second, read Ann’s story.  Some of you have blogs of your own and you’ve had that experience of creating an “about” page where you try to sum up your life journey in a few words for people who you’ve never met.  If not, open a word processing program or open a blank e-mail and take about fifteen minutes to craft your own personal “about” page.  (If you like the result, you can post it here as a comment!)

Finally, watch and listen to an excerpt from the book in this video.  Usually on days like this I embed a Christian worship video, but this time we’re going for a different kind of video that is so suited to Ann’s ministry. I realize not all of you are into poetry, but consider the following:

  1. The Bible devotes five books to wisdom literature, much of which is poetic in form.
  2. In many places that we don’t think of as poetry, the simple repetition of words (i.e. “Holy, Holy, Holy”) is following Hebrew poetic forms familiar to the audience.  There is a beauty to the language of scripture that our language, English, causes us to overlook.
  3. The Bible is filled with Psalms in places other than the book that bears that name.  Mary greets the angel’s news that she is the one chosen to bear the Messiah with the song we know as The Magnificat.  While it is largely a reiteration of various scripture; combined it becomes poetic.  The passage in Philippians about Christ’s humility (“Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…”) is indented in most modern Bibles because it’s recognized as an early Church hymn.

So watch, listen and enjoy…

October 8, 2010

Wanting To Hear From God

Over the past six months I’ve discovered that launching a blog of this nature is much more challenging than when I launched Thinking Out Loud earlier.   People will gravitate to topical articles, humor, cartoons, links to other blogs, and the latest gossip information about famous Christian individuals.   Even theological and doctrinal blogs will get a good following because people love a good debate.

But it’s the people who are serious about their faith that will seek out a devotional blog.   They want something that digs a little deeper, that cuts to the heart, or that processes things at a 201 or 301 level instead of just Christianity 101.   (And I confess that I some days, we don’t always get there.)   What is he speaking to fellow believers on the internet? What is God saying to me today?

I’m currently reading The Power of A Whisper by Bill Hybels (Zondervan) which is an entire book devoted to hearing God’s voice.    Here’s a checklist from page 108 of the book for your consideration if you feel that you’re not hearing God’s voice:

First, fervently and frequently ask God to improve your hearing.  Pray every day for God to give you ears like the prophet Samuel’s.  Ask Him for increased capacity to discern His voice and for heightened attentiveness to his promptings.

Second, reduce the ambient noise in your life.   For me, a sure way to get quiet before God is to head off solo on a boat.   For you, it might be listening for Him while you are driving, exercising or enjoying the quiet of your bedroom at night.  Wherever it is, be sure to carve out moments in your day when you can practice listening for the voice of God.

Third, you simply must fill your head with scripture…  Most of the promptings we receive at critical decision points in life come as the Holy Spirit reminds us of scriptures we already know.   We hear whispers that reinforce Biblical truths and we understand immediately what the Spirit is trying to say to us.  So saturate yourself with God’s word and see if His whispers don’t increase over time.

Finally, the Bible makes it clear that any ongoing pattern of wrongdoing compromises our communication with God — in both directions.   Our prayers don’t get through to God and God’s promptings don’t get through to us.  If you are stuck in a rut of sinfulness and deceit, confess your sin and turn away from it today.   Let the laser light of truth permeate every corner of your life.   Don’t truncate your communications with the Father because you’re unwilling to let go of a sin pattern in your life.

April 25, 2010

Prayer: Part of Our Common, Shared Experience

We all experience prayer differently.   I think the success of Philip Yancey’s book Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? was that he touched on so many different aspects of it that it resonated with Christ-followers even though their experiences in prayer — and their understanding of prayer — may vary.

I think the success of Philip Yancey’s small-group curriculum on prayer is that those varied experiences are going to contribute to some rather lively, interesting discussion.   It’s probably the best discussion-starter curriculum on the market.

The reason is simple:  Although it’s never listed in those 7 – 12 “core” doctrinal statements your church, denomination or Christian organization has as part of its charter, prayer is part of the common, shared experienced of all of us.

I’ve never met a Christian who said, “I am a committed follower of Christ, but I don’t believe the practice of prayer needs to be part of that package.”

No way.   So why isn’t prayer mentioned in that handful of “core” doctrinal sentences?   Is it too self-evident?

My review of the Prayer DVD