Showing posts from March, 2008

How being connected is linked to being rude

The tech companies in Silicon Valley have become fully aware that when people are too connected technologically, they tend to be disrespectul and even rude to each other. This article from the LA Times explains how more and more tech companies are banning laptops and other personal electronic devices (cell phones, etc.) from the meeting room. The reason is that when every participant in the meeting has a laptop or device in front of him/her and is connected to e-mail and the internet, they don't really interact with the other human beings in the room.

One person in the story complains that he would spend hours preparing a presentation, only to be virtually ignored when he presented it to the too-busy executives who were talking to everyone else electronically while they paid him only partial attention.

I'm no enemy of technology, but I know that we can only pay attention to so many sources of input at any one time. And when one of the sources of input is a human being sitting in…

Jesus' prayer life - liturgical or extemporaneous?

I have been arguing that based on historical research and biblical evidence, we can be sure that Jesus, his disciples, and his contemporaries prayed liturgically. The reason I have been arguing this point is that most low-church evangelicals (a) want to follow Scripture as the authoritative guide for matters of faith and worship, and (b) stamp out liturgical prayer because it smacks of (what they think of as) unbiblical, Catholic tradition. That is a self-contradictory position. What I am saying is that to be biblical is to be liturgical. If Jesus practiced liturgy, why wouldn't we?

I am making an argument based mostly on silence and circumstantial evidence. Jesus nowhere makes a point of teaching his followers to pray liturgically. On the contrary, he cautions them against praying with empty repitition. In other words, mean what you say.

However, he nowhere instructs his followers to stop saying the set prayers (like praying the Shema in the morning and evening). If it was accepted…

The Lord's Prayer as Liturgy

It has been observed by NT scholars that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, they were asking Jesus for a prayer that expressed his "yoke." A rabbi's yoke was his religious worldview. It was his way of approaching life in the light of his understanding of God and his Law. We must also keep in mind that Judaism in Jesus' day was highly liturgical. Set prayers were commonly used. For instance, Jews regularly prayed the Psalms (as do we). Therefore, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, they were asking for a set prayer that had Jesus' unique stamp on it. They were essentially asking him to write his own psalm that they could pray.

They got what they asked for. The Lord's Prayer was most likely taught and practiced by Jesus on multiple occasions. Therefore, the disciples knew it before Jesus died. After he had died, risen, and ascended into heaven, his followers continued to recite the Lord's Prayer as the centerpiece of their dail…

Prayer in the earliest church

For most evangelicals, Acts 2:42 is the prototype that shapes how church ought to be done. "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (NRSV)

Thus, the earliest church was a place of learning from Scripture, relating to one another, eating together and taking Communion together ("the breaking of bread" most likely refers to both eating common meals and celebrating the Eucharist), and praying. What kind of praying, though? Here is where many evangelicals selectively interpret Acts 2:42.

The NRSV translates the Greek taisproseuchais as "the prayers" -- i.e., prayers plural. This is a correct translation of the Greek. Without drawing unwarranted conclusions, it is true that the verse does not say "prayer" in the singular. It is "prayers" in the plural. "Prayers" as in liturgical prayers.

Was there liturgy involved in the early church? Yes! This verse does not conclus…

Impossible dreams

Last night in a prayer meeting I met with a challenging question. Are our dreams big enough and impossible enough that they can only be accomplished through prayer? How about dreams that are impossible enough that they can only be accomplished through radical dependence on god expressed through prayer and fasting? Is there anything we are hoping for that is that far outside the box?

As I wrestle with this question, I also want to remain attentive to another dynamic of having dreams for the future. If you are dreaming with God, you don't want to control the content of the dreams. You might not have ideas that are big enough. Someone once said, "Don't come up with the dreams; discover them."

So... what if we seek to have God open up our hearts to dream and receive dreams from him that can only be accomplished through prayer, or even prayer and fasting?

Easter sunrise service

This morning we had Easter sunrise service beside the Pacific Ocean. When we started the service at 6:00 AM, it was dark, and the full moon hung over the ocean. By 7:00, the sun had come up behind us, illuminating a clear blue sky. At one point I suddenly noticed it was daytime. We began the service in the night, and it ended in the day. It reminds me of an excerpt form Paul's letter to the Romans:

"Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Rom 13:11-14)

The passing night speaks not of the darkness but of the growing light. Just as the dawn cannot become darker again, neither can we allow ourselves t…

Fasting in the consumer economy, 2

Here is a brilliant quote from one of the people Baab interviewed as she prepared to write her book:

"Mark, a consultant in his sixties, reflects, 'What I've learned from fasting is that it is often difficult to know that for which we are hungry when we are satiated all the time. We actually need to experience physical hunger in order to trace what our real spiritual and emotional hunger is.'" (p. 47)

What do you think? Is he right?

Fasting in the consumer economy

I am reading a good book on fasting: Fasting by Lynne Baab (IVP, 2006). She has taken a little talked about part of the Christian life and given it a fine treatment, rich in stories and very much in dialogue with both Scripture and contemporary culture.

Here's one point she brings out about fasting in America today. It runs so strongly against the grain of our culture that most Christians don't practice it. Our culture is closely tied to our economy, and our economy runs on consumption. Advertising drives desire, and desire drives purchasing of goods and services. Purchasing of goods and services provides jobs. And the cycle continues.

The consumer economy works, and we are thankful for our jobs. However, in stirring up our desire for goods and services, our culture badgers us with an incessant stream of advertising that is designed to keep us wanting... coveting... overspending. On top of this, one of the mantras of the consumer culture is that any kind of deprivation should be…

Banging the drum

Another great aspect of yesterday's all-night prayer and worship vigil is that we engaged in participatory music. Usually at our church gatherings, there is a talented and trained worship band that leads us relatively untalented and untrained people in musical expressions of worship. Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning we all made music together. We had one guitarist and lead vocalist, our worship pastor, Loren Johnson. The rest of us formed a large percussion band. There were bongo drums and other percussion instruments set around the room for anyone to use. And use them we did!

I liked this experience for two main reasons. First, we all expressed ourselves to God musically, and we did it in community. We were together in that expression. There were no spectators, only participants.

For me, it was a wonderful sensation getting to play along with the "big boys." I sat next to two masterful percussionists, and I did my best to blend in with their lead as I experimente…

Heavenly moments

Last night I participated in an all-night prayer and worship service at our church. I got there at 11:00 and didn't leave until 4:00. And I could have stayed longer. There's something about being in an atmosphere of worship in the middle of the night that makes you lose track of time. You are removed from other places, and your appointment calendar is irrelevant (other than wondering whether you will be coherent for the things you need to do the next day). In a very real way, it felt heavenly. God was personally present, and we were caught up in enjoying him in community with each other. It reminded me of the heavenly city in Rev 21.

I am relishing the experience of last night (more properly, this morning). A very real sense of peace is lingering well into the day. Isn't that what we Christians call an "after glow"?

And yet I also have to look into the future. I am re-energized to create an atmosphere in my daily life that lends itself to heavenly moments happening…

Keeping truth on the table

You may already be aware of this, but there is a battle raging in the church over the concept of truth. Today we talked about it in a pastoral meeting. The grist we used was the opening part of John MacArthur's book, The Truth War. Although I cannot tolerate MacArthur's propensity to leap into frenzies of "bride-bashing" (criticizing other Christians with unfair tactics and damaging rhetoric), I will hand it to him that he is staking out a place in the debate.

I think the service he provides to the church during this season is that he is keeping the concept of truth on the table. These days a lot of postmodern evangelicals are skittish about using the word 'truth', because it tends to enter the room dragging behind it a motley assortment of modernist baggage. For instance, in an effort to build neatly arranged systems of theology, evangelicals have tended to treat the Bible like a repository of propositions (true-false statements). Indeed, the Bible is full of…

Being neither here nor there

Today I was sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my son to have his arm x-rayed. (He broke it a couple of weeks ago jumping off of a swing.) We had been in our assigned room for what seemed like an eternity. Does time slow down when you are in a doctor’s treatment room or does it just seem like that? Fortunately we had both brought good books with us. It was strange sitting in a small room for an extended period of time – probably about 25 minutes – and not talking to each other. But we were both engrossed in what we were reading.

At one point, however, I stopped reading because I was distracted. There was a woman in one of the rooms nearby who boomed out her words like she was conversing with someone down the hall. She pulled my attention from my book like she was yanking a weed from her front yard. The trouble was that when I actually decided to listen to her, I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. I caught about every third word. “Sister… is raising… daughter… don’t te…

The peaceful church - more on 1 Thess 5

More on Paul's portrait of the church in 1 Thess 5. In vv. 12-13, Paul addresses the people who are under leadership (see my post on March 5). In v. 14, he shifts gears. At the National Pastors Convention during morning Bible study, Dr. Gordon Fee stated that in v. 14 Paul switches audiences and now issues instructions to leaders. Here is what he says to do:

"And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil." (vv. 14-22, NRSV)

Without getting into a drawn out exegesis of the passage, let's notice a couple of things. First, this is far fr…

Being a church that makes a difference

I just read an outstanding article written by my friend, Tim Morey, pastor of Life Covenant Church in Torrance, CA. His article, entitled Reflections of a Young Church Plant, bursts with passion, vision, and hard-earned wisdom about his church's successes and failures to be a community that makes a difference in the world.

It is challenging on a personal level as well. See if you aren't prompted to prayerfully ask some pointed questions. For instance, Tim speaks of his church's struggle to fend off the ongoing siren song of consumerism. As Darrell Gruder puts it, the consumer mentality sees the church as a "vendor of religious services and goods." You have to ask yourself, "How much do I reflect this kind of mentality? How much do I encourage it in others?" These are crucial questions for us have-it-my-way suburbanites to ask ourselves.

Thanks Tim!

"Please don't pray for me"

File this under the category of "please don't pray for me"... (and please know this is tongue in cheek)...

Last week I was at the National Pastors' Convention in San Diego. Each day I went to morning prayers. On Wednesday, the first day I was there, I offered up prayer for all our families at home. That day my daughter came down sick, and my son broke his arm.

I didn't pray for them the other two mornings. Let me know if you want me praying for you...

The peaceful church -- 1 Thess 5:12-13

I have grown very fond of Paul's portraits of the church over the last couple of years. In ministry circles, we engage in "shop talk" -- approaches, strategies, and methods to doing the work of God. Using methods to do the work of God may sound oxymoronic to you -- and maybe it should. But that's another conversation.

Back to the refreshment of Paul's portraits of the church. This morning I would like to comment about 1 Thess 5. For this post I will just comment on two verses: 12-13.

"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves." (NRSV)

This is instruction for the people of the Thessalonian church who are under the leadership of others. How are they to act toward those leaders? With respect, great esteem, and love. Paul adds, "Be at peace among yourselves." It occurs to me that p…

Practical theology, 2

I said yesterday that theology is good partly because it informs and shapes the Christian life. In other words, your theological beliefs should drive or orient your decisions and practices. But is this an accurate depiction of the relationship between beliefs and practices? Do beliefs drive practices? Many thinkers today believe that kind of one-way relationship to be an oversimplification. Instead, they see a two-way exchange between beliefs and practices. Sure beliefs influence practices. If you believe Christ is uniquely present and active in the Eucharist, you will tend to take the Eucharist more often.

What about practices influencing beliefs? You bet. Today I was explaining to a friend that I value liturgical worship in part because it has the power to shape one’s character. If you are attentive during the liturgy over an extended period of time, the familiar words that you hear and pray every week begin to seep into your bones. The prayers of the liturgy, many of which are direc…

What is practical theology?

I guess the first thing to say is that practical theology is the opposite of non-practical theology. I remember being in seminary classes and hearing more than one theology professor state that all theology is practical. That is, it is all meant to be practiced. I heard it said that “all good theology is practical theology.” What I found noteworthy is that these theologians felt compelled to make that point. If you have to argue for the practicality of theology, then maybe there is some distance between Christian theology and Christian practice.

Sadly that is the case. For several centuries, the vast majority of academic theology has remained remote from everyday life. Now I am not knocking the technical discussions that need to take place in the academy. I have been privileged to take part in some of them myself. However, it is no secret that theologians have had a less than stellar record in speaking plainly to the Christian masses who have done well just to make it to church on Sund…