Saturday, May 14, 2011
OK, you need to invent a villain, someone with a lot of power to battle the Hulk. You don't draw so good, nor are you much of a writer. What do you do? You come up with a figure that is basically a bunch of squiggly lines and has an unpronounceable name - That's right, you invent Zzzax. A sentient ball of electrical energy, Zzzax is really pissed off because no on can say his name right so he runs around creating destruction where ever he goes.
Now, let's stop down and think about this for a minute. One has to create a whole lot of destruction to make the Hulk look like the good guy. The Hulk is pretty much a destruction machine all on his own, so this guy must be pretty nasty. But just over a name? I mean sure, the invention of Zzzax probably represented the low point in Marvel's creative abilities in regards the the speech impaired community, but should not they be the ones on the rampage, not old Z-boy himself.
Not to mention the fact that there are some serious physics problems here. Electricity tends to disburse unless there is a capacitor or a conductor around somewhere. Not to mention that while our intelligence is a product of electro-chemical impulses, they too need a bit of organization called neurons - a brain even.
But mostly this guy needs a name. How's about "Zapper - the giant walking pest control device"? Yeah, that's the ticket!
Friday, May 13, 2011
Expressing Your Faith
As I read through these posts it dawned on me that we often talk about "expressing our faith" in terms of trying to bring someone else to church - but these private things, scripture reading, prayer, and sacramental worship are as much expressions of faith as is evangelism. In point of fact, without these private expressions of faith, the public ones will ring hollow.
Our witness is not built on words - it is built upon the Holy Spirit in us, working, changing, fixing. How do we access that work? We do so by these private practices and so much more.
How are you expressing you faith?
Thursday, May 12, 2011
One of the more crucial of John Wesley's early sermons, preached at Oxford at the beginning of the Methodist Revival was entitled 'the almost and the altogether Christian'. John Wesley was apt to say that you can be as orthodox as the devil, for the devil knows the truth about Jesus and God, but that truth has not transformed him, and still not be saved. For Wesley the heart of religion was the religion of the heart, by which was meant real internal conversion of the human mind and spirit by means of the Spirit of God.What a marvelous insight - even Satan has orthodox belief. For belief to be "real," maybe even "authentic," it must be effective.
"When the witness and the fruit of the Spirit meet together, there can be no stronger proof that we are of God." (John Wesley, letter: 31 March 1787). It was not just the inner sense of assurance of salvation, but the evidence of changed character and behavior that indicated a person was of God.
How little effective faith we see these days, and the effects we try to illicit seem to be misplaced. Here are some questions:
- If we go on a mission trip and spend the whole time bickering with others, is Christianity effective?
- If we seek the "rush" of "genuine" worship while the older members of the congregation leave because of the volume of the music, in Christianity effective?
- If we have to be comfortable with "our call" before we can serve others, is Christianity effective?
The effects of Christianity are less about what we do and more about how we do it. That is very scary stuff. We want light duty, God wants to strip us to our skeletons and remake us.
Sometimes we don't need to ask God what to do - we need to ask Him who we are.
Related Tags: Illuminated Scripture
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Get Out Of The Way
Near the beginning of his sermon on the 'Marks of the New Birth' John Wesley makes unequivocally clear that conversion is a work of God. Quoting John 1.12-13, he says "we must "become the sons of God, ...believe on his name; [becoming sons] which were born," when they believed, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh," not by natural generation, "nor of the will of man," like those children adopted by men, in whom no inward change is thereby wrought, "but of God." Wesley thus stresses that the inward change that happens to a person that makes them a believer happens through the work of God not through human will. God is the agent of initial spiritual formation which we call conversion or the new birth, we are not. God in the person of the Holy Spirit is also the primary ongoing agent of spiritual formation, we are not. It's a matter of our co-operating with what God is already doing in the body of Christ, and in us as individuals as well. In fact, as much as anything, it has to do with our getting out of the way of the Holy Spirit, ceasing to quench or grieve the Spirit in our lives, but rather opening ourselves up to the Spirit's renovating, gifting, character forming powers.Grace over all, that's good - but most people's response is a passive, "Good I'm covered, God will take care of it - NEXT!" But stop and think about this for a minute - "cooperating with the Spirit" is not about waiting - it's about seeking and following - and most importantly it is about not being satisfied until the change has occurred.
MMI recently quoted Tim Keller - a normally very smart man:
I try to do petition in the morning. I try to do repentance in the evening. So I try to pray in the morning and in the evening. In the evening I look back on what I did wrong and repent.That sent up some red flags - our prayer life is not based on our emotions - it is not meditation. Our prayer life is a conversation with God seeking to find His desires and gain the resources necessary to bring them to pass. Indeed, those resources may be patience, but the point is prayer is not about us, but it is active.
But in the middle of the day I try to catch myself and I look for four kinds of emotions.
Brief illustration - let's say you are following someone on the road from point A to point B. That is a very different thing from being towed. You have to watch them, you have to watch traffic. You have to keep yourself positioned to see them at all time. They may have bought the car and even paid for the gas, but you still have a lot to do to follow well.
So it is as we follow Jesus - we have a lot to do - it just is not our agenda.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Sometimes spiritual formation literature can get pretty weird and demanding, especially if you are an ordinary Christian just trying to improve your Christian life. Sometimes it sounds like you are being called to be some sort of individualistic spiritual superman or superwoman. John Wesley had a good deal to say about the wrong sort of spiritual fanaticism that involves more heart than light, that reflects a zeal, but not according to knowledge. And sometimes too, the call comes in the form of insisting, 'if you don't have the spiritual gift I have, then you are not a Spirit-filled, mature Christian.And, primarily drawing on Wesley, offer some good solutions:
John Wesley certainly had some thoughts about this whole matter, and one of the interesting things about Wesley is that he did not think one size of spiritual formation fits all. In fact he set up societies, classes, and bands, three different levels of spiritual commitment to help persons at different stages in their spiritual growth learn to draw closer to God.I am struck by how this model of both the Christian life, and the church, is at great variance with most churches today. In general these days a church seems focused on evangelism and mission. Worship is "the front door" - which means that instead of genuine worship and sacrament we are treated to a evangelistic Young Life club - and mission is full Christian service - which means a vacation with a few days construction thrown in qualifies as pretty much the totality of the rest of the Christian life.
To begin with then, the normal Christian life involves doing one's best to observe the Lord's Day every single week. It involves coming prepared each week to wholeheartedly get caught up in love and wonder and praise of God in Christ with the congregation. We will say more about this in a minute, but it needs to be added that participation in learning about God through Sunday school or Bible study or small groups, learning with a group of fellow travellers, fellow Christians, is equally important.
The Christian life involves both education and transformation, both learning and loving, both fellowship and worship, both being lifted up in spirit and being enlightened in mind. The normal Christian life needs balance not only between work and rest and play, but that life cycle needs to include worship and learning as well. To some degree the Christian faith is something caught, through participation in worship, to some degree it is something taught, through Christian education. And in a Biblically illiterate age, we need large doses of both.
Community is more than just a lot of people in one place - it is also a lot of people in one place doing a lot of different things. Yet anymore we we seem to design churches to funnel through a lot of people doing precisely the same thing.
Seems to me that is what got missionaries in trouble in Hawaii and other places around the world all those years ago. People are more complicated than that.
Monday, May 09, 2011
It's Not All About YOU
In other words, Wesley saw spiritual formation primarily happening in a congregational context, or a small group context, but not primarily in a solitary context, much less in a scenario where one 'get's thyself to a nunnery'.And from Part Three:
What has happened in the age of narcissism and 'me first' is that spiritual formation exercises and inventories have all too often taken on the character and ethos of the age, including the radical individualism of our culture. When you take a spiritual inventory that keeps asking questions about your feelings about God, or how close you personally feel to God, there is a good reason to become uneasy. The language and praxis of modern psychology and psychological counseling has crept into the discussions of spiritual formation as if emotions were some sort of good guide or gauge to the state of someone's soul or their relationship with God. But in fact, this is often far from the truth.If I was going to put this in a nutshell, I would make two short statements:
- Christ came to "fix" us, but since we do not have a good handle on how we are broken, those fixes are going to be very different than what we think or maybe even desires.
- In order to "fix" us, Christ pulls us out of ourselves and places us squarely in community and forces us to ask "What is best for the community," not what is best for us.
And yet, the church in its efforts to offer up a plethora of attractive options seems to give precisely the opposite message - "We have what you want." But that dear friends is not what it is about - It is not about you.