Friday, December 30, 2011

Nuptial Apocalypse

Curing you
of the legend of me
are my sins
against God and them
and you.

But vows with blood, benedictions, and life
together are recreating me,
as the myth becomes
our history:
a flickering image of God
healing waters from softened stone

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Us vs. the Shepherds

In Luke 2, we have presented to us the story of Jesus' birth, followed immediately by the revelation of Christ's birth (via a multitude of angels) to some shepherds nearby.  The shepherds, having heard the report from the angel and having visited the Holy Family, proceed to tell others and to praise God for what they had seen and heard. (Luke 1:17)

We might say that anyone would've responded like these shepherds, given what they saw, but the reality is that few people are such faithful and exuberant witnesses to God's work.  John Calvin gives us some great insights on this:  "The shepherds knew with certainty that this was a work of God.  Their zeal in "glorying and praising God"(Luke 1:20) is an implied reproof of our indolence, or rather of our ingratitude.  If the cradle of Christ had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ [be for us] in raising us to God?" The shepherds response shows us how dull we are, and their example calls us to a more appropriate reaction to God's work than we usually have.

We too have the opportunity to worship Christ for his birth and the mystery of the Incarnation.  But unlike the shepherds, we also have the rest of the story: Christ's life, his death, resurrection and ascension.  We have been told also of his glorious return, and we have seen Christ's works in his Church for nearly 2,000 years. Looking at these shepherds, we must ask our selves:
  • How is our response to these great works?  
  • Do we make known what has been said as the shepherds did? (Luke 1:17) Whom have you told? 
  • Do we glorify God and praise Him for such great works as the shepherds did? (Luke 1:20) Is that a goal for you this coming Christmas?
Indeed, many of us think we are educated, well-taught, and filled with the Holy Spirit.  And many of us may actually be these things and more.  But we are nearly all of us put to shame by these shepherds who responded so appropriately to God's works: telling all who would listen and worshipping God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's not about me

It's always good to get in touch with reality, but it is not always fun.  This was my experience with the morning Psalm on Wednesday during this last week of Advent.  As I read Psalm 72, I had nothing to "connect with" as I do when I read other psalms.  There was no crying out to God in anguish, no thanking Him for good things He's done for me.  There was no asking God for help with enemies or for deliverance from times of darkness.  In fact, I came to a startling (and yet refreshing) realization as I read this Psalm: "This isn't about me at all!" This was exactly the message I needed to hear as Christmas is drawing near.

Psalm 72 is in a category of song called a kingship psalm, and as you may have guessed, this is a kind of song that is about the king.  It was a rather common type of song in the Ancient Near East outside of Israel, and there are many kingship psalms in the Bible as well.  The point of a kingship psalm seems to be nothing but praising the virtues of the king.  And indeed, this is exactly what Psalm 72 does, and it is what we are doing whenever we read or sing this psalm today: we are not thinking or talking about ourselves, but we are thinking and talking about our King, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David.

In the Ancient Near East, if you had a good king, life was usually pretty good for all the people as well. And in songs about the king, the people are expressing in song their appreciation for the goodness of the King, but in addition to this, these kingship psalms also expressed the hopes and expectations of what the King should be.  Sometimes a king fulfilled these hopes and other times... not so much.

In Psalm 72, we see what was expected of and hoped for King Solomon.   The king should "defend the cause of the poor... give deliverance to the children of the needy." (v. 4, also vv. 12-14).  He should defeat all the enemies of God's people, so that these enemies would end up serving God and his King. (v. 9-11).  The king of God's people should rule with integrity and according to God's law (vv. 1-2), and provide abundance of good things for his people (v. 16).  He would not be corrupt or self-serving with his power.  It was hoped that his kingdom, according to God's promises (see 2 Samuel 7) would extend over all the earth and for all time (vv. 8, 17).  For who wouldn't want such a good government to rule the world forever?  So then, these expectations were placed on Solomon by the Law of Moses (see also Deuteronomy 17) and likely by King David himself.

Well, anyone who knows the story (read 1 Kings sometime) knows that Solomon did not live up to these expectations.  The Kingdom of God was indeed expanded during his time and did have a time of prosperity unlike any before, but Solomon's reign and kingdom ended in shambles.

And that is why Jesus, another son of David, came.  He came to have the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32).  He came to bring the kingdom that Solomon (and David and Moses and Adam) could not.  He came to bring peace and goodness, to take away pain and all evil (in you and in me).  Indeed, this is what Jesus did the first time He came to us through his death on the cross and resurrection.  It is what He is still doing through his Church and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And it is what He will ultimately do when He returns, not in humility as He did on that Christmas morning so long ago, but in glory and power greater than any king or government that has ever been, unlike anything we've ever seen.

Christians are citizens of this Kingdom right now, and this King and this Kingdom are our hope and delight.  Because we are in Jesus' Kingdom we can pray, say, or sing a song like Psalm 72.  Not only can we ask God through this psalm to make our heart love the King and the Kingdom more, but we can also, with the words themselves, offer up a song that our King deserves (even when we aren't 'feeling' it).  We can use Psalm 72 to praise another son of David who came and established (and is establishing) a Kingdom like the one we sing about in this psalm.  In doing these things, we remind ourselves that the Kingdom isn't about our problems, our sins, our needs and that through looking at God's Kingdom rather than our selves, the eyes of our heart can lifted up to what is most real, a thing beyond ourselves that defines us and gives our lives and salvation meaning beyond ourselves.  It is this transforming vision that God seeks to give us in Psalm 72, and it is exactly what I need during this cluttered season right before Christmas.  It's not about me, and thank God.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Readiness and Watchfulness

The readings for this Thursday in the third week of Advent included Jesus' parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.  This parable reminds us that it is a terrible thing to be unprepared for God's arrival.  As Jesus tells this story, we cannot help but feel the horror of the five virgins who are shut out from God because they don't have oil for their lamp.  Feeling their loss, we should be asking ourselves: "What must I do in order to make sure my oil flask is full? How I can make sure that I am ready for Christ's return?"

As we see in the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30), the passage immediately after the Parable of the Ten Virgins, readiness includes obedience to the Lord Jesus' and his teachings.  But before we move to this obedience, we must not forget the thing that precedes these works.  We cannot forget that the first part of readiness must be watchfulness and a true, relational knowledge of the One who is coming.  In light of this, we must consider two things:

1. Am I watching for Christ's return?  Do I long for it?  In this parable, all ten of the young women seem to long for the appearing of the Bridegroom, but only some (five to be exact) desire it in such a way that it is noticeable.

Imagine what these ten virgins were doing before this parable begins.  If you would've encountered any of the five foolish virgins during the weeks before the wedding, their lives would've looked the same as any other girl's in the village.  They were doing their chores, eating and living with their families. If you weren't able to talk to them, you may have never known they were preparing for a party on the wedding night.  However, if you would've watched the five wise virgins during the weeks preceding the wedding, you would've noticed them working harder, saving money here and there, so they could buy enough oil to be ready (no matter how late the Groom was).  Even without talking to them, you would've seen their longing for that night by the way they lived.

Many of us claim to love Jesus and many talk about his return, but only those whose lives are oriented around their longing for Christ truly long for his return.  It is their longing for Christ that produces their obedience, that makes their lives look different.  They have plans on seeing Jesus, and they've rearranged everything for those plans.  Without the longing there is no difference, and their longing is proved by this watchfulness.  Do you long for Christ's return? Is it provable by the way you live and your life plans?

2. Do I know Him?  The root for this proper longing for Christ is a true and deep knowledge of Him.  One reason why we don't long for Christ's return is often because we don't really know Him.  This can be true even for people who have been Christians for years and years.

It is difficult to be ready (or to even want to be ready) for the arrival of someone we don't really know.  It is  like picking up someone from the airport.  When we are looking for that person in a crowd, we always have in mind what they look like.  You scan the crowd for them, comparing all the other people you see to the image of them in your mind's eye.  "Oh, there he is!  No, he's too short."  or "Oh, there he is!  No, he's the wrong colored hair." If we don't know someone very well, or if haven't seen them in many years, it can be difficult to recognize them.  In the same way, as we are prepared and are watchful for Christ, we keep ever in our hearts the image of the One for whom we are looking.  But it is crucial that we know Him and that we are remembering him rightly.

This is where the second reading from Thursday comes to our aid.  In it, St. John offers us a vision of the One for whom we are watching.  It is a picture, among many in the Scriptures, for us to contemplate, read again and again, to visualize and to memorize.  Here is the One we're watching for: "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered... [the] Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth..." (Rev 5:5-6).

If this description of Jesus seems odd to you or me, it is only because we don't really know the Scriptures.  This passage is filled to the brim with meaning from the Old Testament, and this description, along with every other description of Jesus in the New Testament, cannot be understood without a thorough knowledge of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures and as experienced in the relational context of the Church.  To try to know Christ through any other means is to not really know Him at all.

For Christians, it should be a given that we cannot know Christ apart from the Scriptures and life in the Church.  And yet, many of us still harbor in our minds and hearts pictures of Christ that are not formed by these things and are, therefore, not true. Even when we try not to, we often remake Jesus into something more to our liking.

Sometimes we do this because we are ignorant of the Scriptures and of who Jesus really is.  Sometimes we try to remake Jesus because we don't understand who Jesus is, so we dumb down the complexity of who He is (by rejecting the mystery of his divine and human natures) or we reject some of his teaching. Sometimes we belittle Jesus by treating Him as less than the absolute monarch of all things because we just don't want anyone in control over our lives.  Unless we look again and again at the true picture of Him in Scripture, we will not know the real Jesus.

So, I think that in this last week of preparation in Advent, we have to ask:

- Do I know Him?  Do I really know Him?  Have I gained by picture of who Jesus is from the Scriptures and through knowing Him within the life of the Church?  Or have I gained a picture of Jesus shaped by the latest Christian fad teaching or the whims of my own heart?  Do I know the Scriptures and how each part of them relates to Christ?  Have I lived with Jesus day in and day out, or have I tried to keep Him and his Body (the Church) at a distance?

- Do I long for His return?  Or am I afraid of it? Am I indifferent about it?  It is impossible to have a life of preparation without this longing.  And it is impossible to have this longing without knowing Him.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Gospel Too Big for My Heart

This week in the Daily Office we have been taken on quite a journey... through visions of Christ walking among his churches (Rev. 1:12-16), to songs of confidence in the goodness of God to his people (Psalm 30).  We have heard of his mercy on our sins (Psalm 32) and also of God's great judgment against our sin (Matt 23:1-12; Amos 8; Psalm 38).  We have read of the requirement of our endurance as Christians (Rev 1:7, 10, 17, 26), of the unfathomable and mysterious depths of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and of how he fulfills all the things we read (Matt 21:41ff).  And then, at the conclusion of these readings, each day we return to the Apostle's Creed (BCP, p. 94) to proclaim and hear the good news of the work and reality of the Triune God who ties all these varied passages together.

What has hit me this week is that the works and goodness of God are more than I can take in.  The gospel is simply too big for my heart to contain, and I cannot hold all the good news of God in Christ Jesus in my thoughts, emotions, and words all at once.  I seem to bounce from one aspect of the gospel to another.  I am so small, and my heart too weak, to hold onto a gospel is so big, so vast, rich and deep.

It is like trying to view the vast panorama of Yosemite from Glacier Point all at once:  you just can't take it all in.  One moment you're looking at Half Dome, and another El Capitan, then the valley floor and then the vast wilderness beyond. You can step back and look at the whole thing, but not without sacrificing a more concentrated view on these other works of beauty.   Though we can keep the other parts in mind as we look, we can only respond in awe to the portion we are seeing at the moment... and even then, we are not grasping the fullness of its beauty.

A similar thing happens when we read the good news of  God manifest in the Scripture, especially when we read through so much of it as we have this week.  One moment we are focusing on God's grace in Christ's teaching, another in his atoning sacrifice, another in the preparation through God's prophets, and yet another in his holy call to his people (and we could go on and on).   Though we can try to keep the whole in mind, we can only respond to the one part set before us, and that one part is so beautiful, so grand, our being cannot contain the reality of it, nor the praise God deserves for it.

This, I have come to believe, is all part of the plan and is why reading through the whole of the Scriptures is so important.  As we walk through the Bible, God sovereignly works through his Word to bring us to the part of his character and his work we need at that moment.  Though we can never completely take it in, we can respond appropriate to what we can see.  (And this is what so many of the psalmists do!)  For our part, we must keep returning again and again to what He has said and what He has done as revealed in the Scriptures.

May we grow in our ability to know it and take it in "so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith-- that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God."  (Eph 3:14-19 pronoun changes mine).

Advent 2011, Week 2  

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Charles Simeon on Preaching

A quick nugget here from Charles Simeon (via John Stott's lecture on Simeon) on preaching.  His simple three-part description of the goal of preaching should cause all preachers to reevaluate the motivations and results of their own preaching.  

Simeon said that preaching should: 

1. Humble the sinner
2. Exalt the Savior
3. Promote holiness 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Seek Me and Live

During this first week of Advent, we hear words from God through the prophet Amos.  The Lord says, "Seek me and live... Seek the LORD and live... Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts will be with you..." (Amos 5:4,6,14) When you read these words did they surprise you?

That the LORD calls his people to repentance is no surprise.   Since the chapter two of Amos, we have heard of nothing but the sin of God's people:  "they have rejected the law of God... they have sold the needy for a pair nice sandals... a father and a son go into the same girl...  [they] commanded the prophets, saying 'You shall not prophesy'... they do not know how to do right." (Amos 2:6,7,12; 3:10)  So, it is not a surprise to hear God's call to repentance, for them to seek good and not evil.  And as we reflect this Advent on our own sin, it should be no surprise to us that we also have need to repent.  Indeed, many of the sins that God condemns in Israel and Judah (and in the surrounding nations, see Amos 1:2-2:3) are present in our own country and in our own lives.

The big surprise of Amos 5 is that God is not only calling his people to repentance, but also to Himself.  He says, "Seek Me and live... Seek The LORD and live..."

When we are wronged by someone, especially when it is a big grievance (as in abuse or slander or unfaithfulness), anyone can easily admit the need for the offending party to repent, to turn away from the thing they are doing or have done.  But how many of us would readily call those who hurt us to come near?  How many of us would hold out open arms to those who have abused us, hated us, slandered us, belittled us, or ignored us?  That is what God is doing here.  He is calling the people who hate Him to come to Him.

In Advent, we put ourselves in Israel's position, and rightfully so.  We too have wronged our God.  We too have been unfaithful.  We also need to repent.  And we need to feel deeply the surprise of God's invitation.   We too need to be shocked that despite all our sin, He is still calling us to Himself! Indeed through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ that we anticipate during Advent, we are reminded that today the invitation of God for wayward sinners to come to Him is greater now than ever before!  Not only does God invite us near, but He Himself has come to us in Christ, and even more, He has taken our guilt on Himself!  He has displayed his love yet again, his mercy as unfathomable! Remember what St. Paul said? "For rarely would anyone die for a righteous person--- though maybe for a good person someone might dare to die-- But God shows his love to us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us... through him we have received reconciliation." (Rom 5:7-8, 11) God calls us to Him, and He has made a sure way to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1)

The question that hit me this week was this:  Will I go to Him?  Amidst all the craziness of this time of year... will I go to Him?  Will I seek Him and not a method; seek Him and not just repentance.  Seek a Person and not just amendment of life. Yes, I need to repent, but in addition to that, I need life, and life can only be found in Him.  As the Psalm for Friday of this week reminded us:  "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (Ps 16:17) He is better than any other thing in your life right now.  Seek Him and live.  Seek the LORD this week and have life that is truly life.

Advent 2011, Week 1

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Prayer for Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, 
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks 
for all your goodness and loving-kindness 
to us and to all whom you have made. 
We bless you for our creation, preservation, 
and all the blessings of this life; 
but above all for your immeasurable love 
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; 
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. 
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, 
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, 
not only with our lips, but in our lives, 
by giving up our selves to your service, 
and by walking before you 
in holiness and righteousness all our days; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, 
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

God isn't like me

Yesterday evening, during the time in evening prayer that begins our Sabbath day, my wife and I read aloud the appointed Psalm for the evening, and it contains the following words:  "By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host."  (Ps 33:6)  

For years this verse has been a key to open my heart in worship toward God.  When I consider the impact of this statement, it causes me to see how great a Being the true God must be.  Consider that it was simply by his words alone that God made the universe (or perhaps the multiverse).  In this case, we are not pressing  an overly literalistic reading of the text; Genesis 1 corroborates this sense of "the word of LORD."  For in Genesis 1 we are told that God said a sentence (i.e. "Let there be light"), and, in the ultimate in Hebraic understatement, "it was so."  It was the decree of God, anthropomorphically described as his voice, that was his instrument of creation.  The analogy God is using here tells us that it was as easy for God to create the universe as it is for us to speak a single word.  Think about it:  how hard is it for a healthy, normally developed adult to speak a word?  We do it with barely a thought, don't we?  We do it without exerting any noticeable effort, do we not?  This is how it was for God to create the ever expanding vastness of space with everything the floats around it.  God made the wonders that Hubble sees (and more!) with as little exertion as a "hello."

Is it any wonder then, that we don't "get" Him?  Is it any wonder that, if our own nature is a mystery to us, that His Nature as Triune, doesn't make sense to us?  Should it surprise us that He can simultaneously hear all the prayers of all time?  Indeed, if He created like the Bible describes, should it surprise us if He does anything, such as speaking through frail, evil men or even raising the dead?

Two somewhat recent movies come to mind when I think about these things.  One is Bill Maher's Religulous.  In this film Maher mocks the idea that God could possibly hear all mumblings (prayers) of so many people.  Maher would be right if God were like us, but the vision of God given to us in the Scriptures shows us a God for whom such listening isn't ridiculous.  (Indeed, does a brilliant author have any trouble keeping track of what his characters have said and are saying, even though, in the world of the story they are speaking at the same time? How much more so the 'brilliant' God?)  

I think Maher would do well to consider something Dr. Manhattan says in Watchmen.  After being asked if he is God, Dr. Manhattan, the god-like super man of Alan Moore's nihilistic masterpiece, states that he doesn't think there is a God, but if God exists he is "nothing like me."  The latter part of this statement, found in a work of art that is no friend to the Christian worldview, is profoundly true.  God is not just some super man.  He is not, like the Graeco-Roman gods, some projection of human perfection into an ideal or infinite state.  He is qualitatively other.   He isn't like me or you, not in an ontological sense.  He may reveal Himself to us, as He speaks of his "voice" or "hand," but these descriptions do not contain Him.  His act of creating all things of nothing through a word is a wonder, but He Himself is a wonder beyond words.  

In light of all this, we may also marvel at what the Psalmist says elsewhere:  "When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Ps 8:3-4)  The greatest wonder is that God cares for us, that somehow, with an mind that is beyond our comprehension, He not only sustains the whole universe with every unpredictable atom, but he also is mindful of us.  So mindful that He, the ineffable God, became a man that He might bring mankind into the very mystery of God's own life.  (More on this during Christmas!)

Season after Pentecost 2011, Proper 28

Friday, November 18, 2011

I am the 1% (but not in the way you think)

Either because of oppression from the law, disunity from within, or the advent of the winter's cold, the Occupy Wall Street movement has begun to peter out.  Expressing discontentment with an elitist monopoly on power and wealth, the Occupy Wall Street movement has brought together a surprisingly diverse group and has received ample media coverage.   The battle cry has been "We are the 99%."  The implication being that only 1% holds the keys to the kingdom: the keys of wealth, power, and privilege.  

The coherence of this movement's goals aside, it proclaims a compelling narrative:  a few receive special attention while so many are at risk and left out.  Almost anyone can relate to and become emotionally involved in this story.  It's the 1 vs. the 99.

The elitism that Occupy protests seems to go against every foundational pillar of our popular understanding of democracy: where's the equality in this kind of math?  A few are privileged with so many are seemingly left out, and neither group seems to get what it truly deserves.    (See To Change the World by James D. Hunter, p. 101ff)

Jesus too offered a narrative with the same mathematical tension, but Jesus' story turns the Occupy narrative on it's head.  Though I would not want to force an untenable allegory between the Occupy movement and this parable, there are striking points of connection and contrast.  This parable comes to us this morning as a part of the daily readings from the Book of Common Prayer's daily lectionary:  

Jesus offers the crowds a parable: "What do you think? If a man has a 100 sheep, and 1 of them has gone astray, does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of the 1 that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the 99 that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that 1 of these little ones should perish."  (Matt 18:12-14) 

In Jesus' story, the focus is not on the 99, but the 1.  And in Jesus' story the 1% does not have the privilege of food, shelter, and comfort, but rather the 1% has none of these things.  In fact, the 1% is a lost sheep, wandering aimlessly in a hostile world.  In a sheep's economy, being away from the flock and away from the shepherd has a very low standard of living, indeed.

In Jesus' story, the privilege of the 1% is only that he or she has been sought out by the Shepherd.  To be the privileged in God's Kingdom is to not get what you deserve, to be an object of grace.  

It is here where Jesus inverts the Occupy narrative and the narrative of the American Dream that Occupy movement and its detractors lift up. The narrative of Occupy (and our culture) seems to assume the supremacy of equity.  Everyone deserves a portion of what the 1% has.  But in Jesus' economy and in Christian narrative no one deserves what the 1% has, even the 1% who get it.  In Jesus' parable the division between the 99 and the 1 collapses because in Christ's Kingdom, we are all the 1%.  We are all the lost sheep who have gone astray, who did not get what was deserved, and who have been brought into a different social contract, one we could have never found or chosen.  By being Jesus' 1%, we are brought into an Occupation that will never end, never peter out, and ultimately, that will bring us to the fulfillment desired by our hungry souls, namely, a deep relationship with the Triune God who seeks and saves us wayward little creatures. 

I am humbled to be Jesus' lost sheep, the 1% of the Kingdom of God.  Are you this 1%? 

(Pardon typos, I had to write this in a hurry!)

Season after Pentecost 2011, Proper 28

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A Prayer for Being a Disciple of Jesus

And now, beloved, let us bind ourselves with willing bonds to our covenant God, and take the yoke of Christ upon us. This taking of his yoke upon us means that we are heartily content that he appoint us our place and work, and that he alone be our reward. Christ has many services to be done; some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honor, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations, and temporal interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is assuredly given us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Therefore let us make the covenant of God our own. Let us engage our heart to the Lord, and resolve in his strength never to go back. Being thus prepared, let us now, in sincere dependence on his grace and trusting in his promises, yield ourselves anew to him:

    I am no longer my own, but thine.
    Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
    Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
    Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
    exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
    Let me be full, let me be empty.
    Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
    I freely and heartily yield all things
    to thy pleasure and disposal.
    And now, O glorious and blessed God,
    Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
    thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
    And the covenant which I have made on earth,
    let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Prayers for the Sabbath

Collects for Saturday Evenings
O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending 
day upon us who watch for you, that our lips may praise you, 
our lives may bless you, and our worship on the morrow give
you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

We give you thanks, O God, for revealing your Son Jesus Christ to us by the light of his resurrection: Grant that as we sing your glory at the close of this day, our joy may abound in the morning as we celebrate the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Sunday Mornings
O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of
the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this
day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week
to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Sunday Evenings
Lord God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ triumphed over 
the powers of death and prepared for us our place in the new
Jerusalem: Grant that we, who have this day given thanks for 
his resurrection, may praise you in that City of which he is the 
light, and where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Our "Best" Sabbath

In a previous post (long ago), I promised to post some specifics about how to spend the Sabbath.  I had hoped to have other people chime in on this, since obedience to the 4th Commandment in this way is still so new to me, but this never materialized.  So, what follows is my "Best" Sabbath: the way I would ideally spend any given Sunday.

It is important when suggesting specific ways in which the Sabbath can be lived out not to recreate the casuistry of the Pharisees.  We must remember, on the one hand, that the Sabbath was made and commanded for our benefit and for our good (Mark 2:27; Deut 10:13).   It is one key to joy and freedom.  On the other hand, we must also remember that it is a command from God and that there have been some guidelines given for it in both the OT and NT.  There is freedom in obedience to this command, room for varied opinions, but there are also fences to it.  I would encourage you to read my previous posts on this and to investigate for yourself the Sabbath commands in the OT in order to discern how we might apply them today.  

Keeping the tension above in mind, what I'd like to do in this post is share with you what it looks like for me and my family to practice the Sabbath.  What I'll put forward here is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be binding, as if it were a command from the Scriptures; it is the way that one man tries to lead his family into joy and freedom under this commandment.  And I must say this:  try as we might, we still do not do all these things every Sunday.  I wish we did, and we are trying to do them more.  As I said above, what I am presenting here is our "best" Sabbath.  
  • Evening Prayer on Saturday Night: When the sun goes down on Saturday night (or when the baby goes down!), my wife and I will sit in our living room and pray together using the prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer.  There are three different formats for evening prayer given in the BCP, and we've used all three.  Having a form to stick to helps us immensely, and I would highly encourage using a fixed format.  You can "riff" off it, but in my experience, without a plan, most good ideas don't get executed.  So, if we can, we begin our Sunday with prayer and reading from Scripture on Saturday night before bed.   This is following an Eastern model: the beginning of a day is the evening before.
  • Rise Early:  Even though I have duties at church on Sunday, I still try to get up early and read a Psalm (either Ps 95 or Ps 100, or the appointed Psalm for that morning) before I walk to church.  Also, if you can walk, I would highly recommend it. I do not watch TV before going to church.  I do read the news online but only because, as a pastor, I need to make sure nothing major has happened in the world that needs to be addressed during the service.  (Can you imagine if another 9/11 happened, and the preacher was totally unaware!?) 

  • Always go to Church:  Even when we are on vacation, my wife and I have decided that we will always attend church on the Lord's Day.  No matter where we are, we are going to gather with any believers who are around and offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. (Heb 10:24,25) 
  • Don't buy anything on Sunday:  This is a new thing for me as of this year, but I try to avoid going out to lunch on Sundays.  I also try to avoid buying anything.  The idea here is that this day is meant for worship and for rest, and that if I'm going to the store, I am complicit in someone else working on this day.
  • Have people over for lunch:  I love having people over for lunch after church.  Sometimes I can get carried away (I need to consider my wife's introverted nature!), but if I could, I would invite someone over for lunch every Sunday.  It is a day meant to be spent with community!
  • Talk about the things of God:  I try to make an intentional effort to discuss with whoever is around  things of God: whether it is his Word, the sermon that day, the beauty of nature or of humanity.  Sometimes I'll talk with friends about a book we've read or something to that effect.
  • Read the Bible: I try to use Sundays as a day where I do some extra Bible reading.  For people who have very busy lives and who don't seem to have any time during the week for Scripture reading, I would highly recommend taking a few hours on Sunday to read and talk to God about what you're reading. One Sunday this fall, we invited some friends over to read aloud the Book of Acts.  It took a few hours, but we sat in the back yard on a beautiful day... it was awesome.
  • Nap:  I love taking a nap on Sunday in the afternoon.  When the weather's nice, the hammock is my spot.
  • No TV:  I try to unplug as much as possible on Sundays and that includes the TV.  The idea here is to have godly thoughts and discussion on the Lord's day.
  • Good food and drink:  Every Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, and it is always a feast day! So, I drink a good amount of good beer on Sundays.  We try to eat good food and have large desserts.  When our son gets old enough, Sundays will be candy days!
  • Dinner together:  We try to have a big meal on Sunday night if possible.  
So, there are some of the things we try to do around the Bost house on Sundays.  (I would add that once dinner is over and the kiddo is down on Sunday night, we get to work again.  Both my wife and I have work that requires us to start on Sunday nights.)

So, what does your family do on Sundays? Are you trying to obey this commandment as best you can?  Have you experienced how good it really is? 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Prayer for Truth

Lord Jesus, Word of God, power of God, wisdom of God; you are the way, the truth, and the life, and you desire truth in our inmost parts.  Send out your light and truth that they may lead us, open our eyes that we may see wonderful things in your law, and bring us, by your grace alone, to that holy City of which you are the light and where you live and reign, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cana Hymn

Cana Hymn by Ben Sharpe 

Our feast has failed, its fullness fled.
His mother pleads him in our stead
And prays him to restore the mirth
Which once in Eden filled the earth.
Sure of the might that now lies hid
Servants hear, “Obey what he bids!”

In faith the stony jars are filled.
Creator God is now revealed
Who spoke the darkness into day
And drives the night of death away.
Plain water hears its Master’s chime
And blushes humbly into wine.

The feast is spread, the wine is poured
Christ here is present and adored.
The Godhead beckons us to come
And share the dance that has begun.
Now let us leave our empty past.
And drink the best that's saved 'til last.

God's bounty here with us is shared;
A foretaste of the feast above.
This is the offering of his life
And fullest witness of his love.
Thus let us cast off every care;
Let joy and plenty be our fare.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

600,000 Children About to Die

As I write this post, I'm working on two very different things.  I'm preparing to officiate a very special wedding on Saturday, and I'm putting together a sermon to preach this Sunday on the 6th Commandment: "Thou shall not murder" (Ex 20:13). My heart and my mind are preparing, at the same time, for the celebration of the divine mystery of marriage, which promises to bring so much joy and life into this world, and for a message that will challenge us as a church to consider the darkest parts of the human heart.  These two things just don't go together.  

What strikes me, and indeed what I cannot get away from tonight, is how I am seeing this tension on the world stage: on display in East Africa we are seeing marriage and it's purpose being thwarted by disregard for the 6th Commandment and it's purpose.  It is the intersection of these two things that has brought about the famine in East Africa.  Children are being killed violent men. 

If the articles I am reading are correct, the famine is bad, but it has been exacerbated by corrupt government and by militant groups such as Al-Shabaab who restrict the flow of aid.  As a result of this corruption, CNN is reporting that approximately 600,000 children are starving to death right now in East Africa.  Those kind of numbers simply do not compute.  But the picture posted to the right does.  I cannot imagine seeing my own son in this condition.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to hold this baby.  I do not know if this little guy made it or not.  He's the same age as my son: seven months.  

I saw this picture last week and have not been able to shake it.  Babies are starving to death by the hundreds of thousands.  Lord, have mercy.  

At the bottom of this post I am going to provide a list of relief organizations through whom you can give to help with this tragedy, and apart from exhorting you to pray and to give, I would end with this hope (my Christian friends will understand):  Long ago, when evil men broke the commandment "you shall not murder" and killed Jesus Christ, a Marriage was inaugurated whose purpose cannot be thwarted.  On that day, God made the great Tragedy into our salvation and the beginning of the end of all such evil.  A new creation began, and the curse is being reversed.  One Day it will be gone, when these "former things have passed away." (Rev 21:4)

List of Relief Organizations (just click and give): 
Compassion International 
World Vision
Feed the Children
Samaritan's Purse

Friday, August 05, 2011

Do You Need Rest? (Part 2)

In a previous post, I described what the Sabbath as we see it in the 10 Commandments.  (By the way, what follows won't make much sense if you don't read that post first.)  In this post, I hope to outline the reasons why I think the Lord's Day (a.k.a. Sunday) is the day on which Christians should obey the Fourth Commandment.  

Is the weekly Sabbath still for us?  

To answer this question we must look to see what Jesus and the apostles did and taught about the Sabbath.  If Jesus wants us to continue to keep the Sabbath, then as his followers, we should seek to do so.  What the apostles did, as those chosen by Jesus to continue his teaching, also matters to us.  

Many Christians today do not think we should keep a weekly Sabbath day, but if we look carefully, we will see that neither Jesus nor the apostles abrogated Sabbath obedience, rather, the Sabbath in the New Testament is upheld, transformed and kept. 

The Sabbath Upheld by Jesus and Paul:
  • Jesus:  In order to understand Jesus' teachings on the Sabbath, we must keep his historical context in mind.  In Jesus' day, the Sabbath was an abused teaching: many things were added to it by men that obscured God's purposes for the command.   In seeking to correct wrong views of this commandment, Jesus emphasized three things in his teaching about the Sabbath.  First, He asserted his authority as the Son of God to give commands concerning the Sabbath (Matt 12:8).  Using his authority, Jesus reminded the people of God's over-all purpose of the Sabbath ("the sabbath was made for man" Mk 2:27) and also recognized that some extreme situations  required one to "profane the Sabbath" and step outside of normal Sabbath-keeping (i.e. the importance of one's livelihood (Matt 12:11), religious duties for ordained ministers (Matt 12:5), and issues of life and death (Matt 12:3)).  It was because of Jesus' recognition of these extreme situations, and because he opposed the traditions built up around the Sabbath, that He came into conflict with the teachers of his day.  However, despite what Jesus' accusers said, He never broke the real Sabbath as God gave it, but only the rules men added to it over the years.  
  • Paul:  Paul's teaching context was slightly different than Jesus.  While Jesus primarily ministered among the Jews, Paul primarily ministered among the Gentiles.  For Paul, both abuse of the Sabbath AND neglect were problems in his churches.  For many of Paul's churches, abuse of the Sabbath came in the form of viewing obedience to the command as works righteousness.  The false teachers called the Judaizers were doing with the Sabbath what they did with all the commandments:  making them requirements by which to gain merit with God (Gal 4:8-11). Neglect of the Sabbath was rampant in the Gentile community, but this was largely because the weekly Sabbath was unknown to them.  To these communities, Paul taught Lord's Day observance of Christian worship (1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7).  
The Sabbath Transformed Because of Greater Works of Creation and Redemption

As we saw in the previous post, in the OT the Sabbath commandment changed slightly over time as God did more and more great works.  In a similar way, we see in the NT a transformation of the Sabbath in light of God's new works of creation and redemption.  

Up to this point in history, God had not created anything new nor had he done any greater work of redemption than the Exodus from Egypt.  But that all changed with the coming of Jesus Christ.  In the resurrection of Christ, God began a new work of creation.  This work, which continues today in those who are in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), began on the first day of the week, called the Lord's Day by the earliest Christians (Rev 1:10).  Not only did God do a greater work of creation on the Lord's Day, but He also accomplished a great work of redemption on the same day.  The resurrection of Christ from the dead accomplished a work of redemption greater than the redeeming of God's people from slavery in Egypt.  Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished redemption from the slavery of sin for all who have faith in Him.  

In light of these new works of God, Christians seemed to have shifted their day of worship from Saturday, a day set apart for remembrance of God's older works, to the first day of the week, the day on which God did these new works.  This kind of shift is not unusual in the New Testament.  God always keep the categories from previous covenants, only to transform them in the New Covenant.  For example, after the work of God in Christ, the Passover, the covenant meal, is transformed into the Lord's Supper.  Circumcision, the covenant sign, is transformed into Baptism.  And the Sabbath, the covenant community day of worship, is transformed into the Lord's Day.  (See Col 2:11-17)

And though the Sabbath day is transformed, what we do on the Sabbath does not change, at least not in a broad sense. Christians still remember God's works on this day:  

1. Remember: We celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday and revel is the fact of God's new creation in Christ as we marvel that God's redemption allows us to be a part of it.  

2. Rest:  We cease from all our works as much as we are able (I say "as much as we are able" because for centuries many Christians were slaves and could not rest on this day.  And today, some of us have jobs that relate to Jesus' extreme situations listed above).    

3. Worship: We gather with God's people each Sunday to worship, regardless of whether we're traveling, with company, or if other events are scheduled that day.  

4. Anticipate:  We set aside this day to anticipate Jesus' return, and we do so through every action of the day. 
  • In our rest anticipating the ultimate rest (Heb 4:1-13) of the New Heavens and New Earth.  
  • In our worship anticipating the great gathering of the saints in the heavenly temple. 
  • In our feasting with family that day anticipating the wedding feast of the Lamb. 
In the coming weeks, I hope to post a few examples of how the Lord's Day can be observed today on Christ Church's pastor's blog.  These last two posts just lay the ground work and give us the following conclusion, but much more could be said about how we actually live this.  I think in that area it is very helpful to hear from fellow Christians in our own day who have taken the 4th Commandment seriously.  I would encourage you to ask people at your church who fit this description, and even to pray with those in your home about how you can take full advantage of the Lord's Day.

So, in closing, I go back to my original question:  Do you wish you had time for what matters most in life?  Are you taking the time God has already given you on Sundays? Or are you filling it with fluff instead of drinking deep from what real life and real rest really is?  

Do You Need Rest? (Part 1)

Would you like a break?  
Don't you wish you had time for the more important things in life?  Don't you wish you had more time with God in prayer and in the Scriptures, more time with your family and friends?  We all want more time for real rest.  

For most of us, this kind of time is only found when we're on vacation.  But what if God has a better plan for us?  What if He has already cleared our calendars for the rest we really need?  The fact is that God has designed our weeks to give us rest, and He does so through the 4th Commandment: "Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy..."

Before we dive into what God's rest looks like from the 4th Commandment, let me tell you where we're going with this.  I had to divide this discussion up into two posts.  This post will take a look at what the Sabbath commandment is, and the next post will ask how we should live it out today as Christians.   

What is the Sabbath and what is it for?  
In the Sabbath commandment, God is teaching us what real rest is.  He is forcing us to keep our weekly labors in perspective by putting them on the shelf for a day, and He is calling us to turn to Him and his many blessings.  He's calling us to a feast, to celebration, to life.  The Sabbath is a day for us, each week, to revel in our God and his goodness.  This is real rest.   

If we were to look at the 4th Commandment as it is given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, we could see four basic activities that the people of God are to be engaged in on the Sabbath:  

1. REST from daily work: God says in the giving of the 10 Commandments in both Exodus and Deuteronomy that "Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates."  (Ex 20:9-10).  The prohibition seems to be related to regular, daily work.  (And this is implied in other places as well.)  Everyone is commanded to rest: the rich, the poor, the kids, the adults, even the animals.  We cease from our labors on this day, but we do not do so at the expense of others by making them work. 

2. REMEMBERING God's work of creation and redemption: The remembrance is the heart motivation for observing the commandment, and though the command to rest does not change, the motivation for the commandment evolves over time.  

The first time the Sabbath is commanded among the 10 commandments (Ex 20:11-12) God gives the following motivation for the command:  "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."  Here God is telling his people to observe the Sabbath day because of the pattern He set down in creation.  It was a day of rest with God's creative works in mind.  

The second time this commandment is given among the Ten (Deut 5:15), the circumstance and the rationale have changed.  Instead of being at Mt. Sinai just after being taken out of Egypt, God's people are on the plains of Moab about to enter into the Promised Land.  And now, the LORD commands them to keep not just his creative works in mind on the Sabbath, but also to remember God's works of redemption:  "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." (Deut 5:15)  We are to remember on the Sabbath that God redeemed his people from slavery, and this is another reason to rest.  

We will discuss this later, but it is important to note that the reason for the commandment is always the work of God.  As God builds upon his great works by doing more work, the reason for the commandment becomes more multi-faceted.  

3. WORSHIPPING GOD with the covenant community: We are to  "keep [the Sabbath] holy" (Ex 20:8).  What is implied in this statement is what is said explicitly in Leviticus 23:3, that the Sabbath day is a "holy convocation" (that is an assembly) to the Lord.  An essential part of the Sabbath is that it is not spent alone, nor is it spent with non-believers: it is spent with God's covenant community.   And it is not just spent with members of the covenant community, but it is, in part, spent with members of the covenant community in worship proper directed to God.  

4. ANTICIPATING the fulfillment of God's promises:  The commandment for the Sabbath, indeed the whole of Exodus and all that follows, is set in the context of God's promise to Abraham.  Without God's promise to Abraham, there would be no people to receive the 10 Commandments.  God made a covenant with Abraham and promised him that through his seed all the nations would be blessed.  God promised Abraham an inheritance, both of children and of land.  (For God's covenant with Abraham, see Genesis 12, 15, 17).  Just as Abraham became God's man by believing and anticipating the fulfillment of God's promise, so God's people are a people because they believe God's promise and anticipate it's fulfillment (Rom 4:23-25; Gal 3:7-9; Heb 11).   On the Sabbath, we gather with our people, God's people through faith in the promise, and we anticipate the fulfillment of the promise in which we hope.  

So, in brief, that is what the Sabbath is about.  It's a day in which we stop our daily work in order to feast upon God by remembering his work, gathering for worship with other believers, and anticipating the fulfillment of our hope in his promises.

Do you love what you really need? 
It is only because we love other things more than God that we do not enjoy celebrating the Sabbath.  We love our leisure more than God, so we want to sleep or play rather than worship.  We love acceptance among family or friends more than God, so we treat it like any other day.  We even love our work more than God, so that we cannot even cease from it for a day, or even half a day.  It is tragic that something as good as the Sabbath is hard for us to live because of the idols in our hearts.  Unless God changes us, we choose stupid things (sleep, TV, sports, work) over the greatest things (God, intimacy with him, rest for our souls, time with family in deep things).  

But, perhaps you're thinking:  "This Sabbath stuff is Old Testament! This doesn't apply to Christians today?  And if it does, why don't we meet on Saturday instead of Sunday?" In the next post, we will deal with some of these questions.