Friday, November 30, 2012

The Daily Office of Prayer

          I think that one of the things the season of Advent does for us is really expose that the trajectory of our daily schedules tend to revolve around, well, me! As believers in Jesus most of us would like to have our everyday center in Christ. But it does not often happen for a host of reasons, not the least for all the many responsibilities we have.

          Now, hang with me for a moment. I think one of the great tasks of all churches, ministries, and individual Christians is to be both indigenous and catholic. What I mean, is that we are to live our lives in such a way as to express our faith in ways that are realistic and consistent with the society and culture that we are in, but to do it in such a way that connects us with what Christians of all times and all places have done throughout history and do now all across the world. It is to this last point that we tend to woefully fail and find ourselves living a bifurcated existence with no relation between our faith and our work.

          One of the things that has been done throughout church history and can help connect us to Christ each day what is called the "daily office." This is a routine and rhythm of short prayers throughout the day that center in the life and death of Jesus. Hippolytus, a third century father of the faith, instructed Christians to pray immediately after waking up for God's presence through the day, at nine in the morning remembering that Christ was nailed on the cross, at noon because of the darkness that fell over the earth, at three in the afternoon to mark the death of Jesus, and before bed to give one's life over to God.

          The idea here is to always have Christ in your mind so that you do not succumb to temptation and live, instead, according to God's will. No matter where you are, at set times in your day, you can pray in your heart or out loud remembering Jesus and offering yourself to him, pressing the effects of Christ's redemptive events further and deeper into your heart. Why not give it a try? The only thing to lose here is a few ungodly thoughts and selfish decisions in your day. May you find peace in the coming of Christ.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Gospel Is for Everyone

          One of the finest ways of sucking the joy right out of the Christmas season is to subtly refashion the gracious "good news of great joy to all people" announced by the angel to the shepherds at Christ's birth into the Scrooge-ish bad news of great judgment to all people who aren't like me and who don't think like me.

          The church of Jesus Christ has struggled through its history to uphold this basic message of the gospel of grace for everyone. From the Council of Jerusalem in the book of Acts that met to decide whether one ought to become a Jew first in order to be a Christian, to the with-holding of membership to African-Americans in certain churches in the 20th century, to the just plain ignoring of the poor and marginalized among us, we must be intentional and deliberate about reaching and ministering to all people. The joy of salvation is that I do not need to jump through certain spiritual hoops to enter into Christianity, nor be a certain kind of person. The church is not an exclusive club of one particular sort of people based in race, gender, ethnicity, class, spiritual pedigree, or even certain preferences on issues. Through repentance and faith in Jesus, all may come to God.


          All people have intrinsic worth as individuals created in the image of God, and therefore need the attention of Christians in bringing the gospel to them. It is much too easy to ignore people we do not understand and who are different from us, or to look down on those who do not agree with me on disputable matters. When it comes to the good news of Jesus, having people out of sight does not mean we keep them out of mind. Too many people are often off the radar of many churches for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because poor and needy is trumped by wealthy and powerful for attention. To intentionally reach and minister to a different class or generation or race requires much love and many resources.

          Jesus had a big enough inner space to accommodate prostitutes, drunks, tax collectors, and a whole variety of sinners. How big is your inner space? Is it big enough to allow people in your life who are not like you without you feeling threatened and insecure? The Pharisees feared being contaminated if having table fellowship with such people; the Sadducees were afraid of losing their religious power over people if the status quo was changed in ministering to such low-lives; and, the Zealots feared continued Roman domination if Jesus kept up spending his time in graciousness to all kinds of sinners. So, all the religious people killed him.

          We enter this Advent season and celebrate the incarnation of Christ; the Son of God was born in order to die for us. The gospel of Jesus is the good news of great joy for every person who will look to him. We are to work together to propagate this message by having the shared purpose of evangelism to everyone without discrimination. When we together engage in this critical endeavor, there is tremendous joy, and the giant sucking sound of the joy going out of the season is gone. May you find the joy that is yours in Christ. May your heart rejoice and be glad, for salvation has come to every person who believes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why Does the Church Exist?

          Well, it ought to be obvious, right?  The church exists to meet my needs and expectations, and not to bore me to death.  Or maybe it exists to be the guardian of truth, and to never change anything, especially the worship style!  Rarely do we say this out loud, but often this is the bottom line of why we think the church exists.  Too often it comes down to personal preferences and homogeneous thinking, sort of like joining a good book club or a zumba class.

          Rather than being locked into such pragmatic concerns, a classic definition of the church that has existed for most of its history is that the church is the continuing presence of Jesus in the world, called and blessed by God to be a blessing to one another and to the world. The church is not a voluntary society of like-minded individuals that have come together for their own interests and happiness. Instead, the church is a group of people who have been called by God and joined to Christ with the Spirit's direction and enabling.

Here are some important implications of this definition -

1. It is God who makes a person a member of the church, and not my individual choice.
2. People often leave a particular church because they see it as a voluntary society which is not meeting their interests and making them happy.
3. The church exists to further God's glory and interests, not mine.
4. Jesus wants his church to continue his ministry and presence outside the church walls and programs.
5. The gospel is the good news of God's hospitality (literally "love of strangers") toward us.
6. The church is made up of called and redeemed people who are to be a community of hospitality, extending grace because we have first received it from Jesus.

          The list could go on, but the point is that the church exists not for me, nor to promote itself. The church is to have an outward focus of extending forgiveness and reconciliation in the world. The questions to ask, then, are "how can we be a blessing to others?" and, "what does it mean to be the presence of Jesus?" Not, "what's in it for me?" or “how can we get more people to give more money?” as if church were some sort of Scrabble game of personal point grabbing and no holds bar winning.

          No, I’m not some crotchety spiritual curmudgeon who bemoans the lack of genuine involvement in church while totally oblivious to the needs of church members around me.  It’s just that the whole focus of church is not that I or any individual joins a church; rather, God joins me to his church.  The action is God’s.  And because it is all about God, it ceases to be about us.  When it is about Jesus, then the amazing grace of God surprisingly forgives and meets the deepest needs of our lives.  Church then becomes a place of incredible blessing as God himself shows up to offer authentic unity, real reconciliation, and spiritual cleansing.  And those are things that transcend time and immediate needs for entertainment.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable work!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Prayer and Providence


          Prayer - the very word itself sometimes evokes feelings of guilt that we don’t do it more.  The core and essence of church leadership is prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).  Yet, prayer is often not at the center of ministry, being pushed to the margins by the rigors and demands of administrative tasks, meetings, and people problems.  We desire to pray, but don't pray enough or as much as we want. Sometimes the issue is not that we don't pray; the problem is that we don't persevere in prayer. Instead of taking the legalistic route of exhorting you that you should stop being so lazy and get on your knees (not very inspiring, is it?), let's consider God for a moment.

          Our Triune God is the Creator of the universe. Everything is his, and he is sovereign over all. His relationship to his creatures is what we call "providence." God's providence means that he is intimately involved in the world he has made. The Lord sustains and governs all creation. We, as the apex of his creation, are totally and completely dependent upon him. All creation was pronounced "good" because it came from God, who himself is good. Events, then, that happen in God's world are neither random and by chance, nor deterministic and by fate.

          The providence of God is working to fulfill his good plans in the world. God is, therefore, concerned to use human prayers to accomplish that plan so that intercession is integral to God's design, and not in contradiction to it. God is present and active in human lives. Question and answer 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism states, "How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us? We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved."

          Want to pray? Think about God, and be inspired to pray because of our great dependence upon him for everything, and since everything God does is good. Please join with me in prayer that God would save a whole bunch of people, and bring them into the life of the church. Even so, come Lord Jesus.