Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vain repetitions

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." - Matthew 6:7 KJV
It has come to my attention that this is an all too common attack on the Liturgical churches of the Orthodox, Catholic, and high church Protestants by low church protestants. The liturgy, it is often argued, is a set of vain and empty phrases which do nothing to penetrate the heart. The idea being that this is not true worship, but rather, it falls into our Lords statement to the Pharisees:
     And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 
      “‘This people honors me with their lips,but their heart is far from me;
        7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’Mark 7:6-7(Esv)

An example of this might be the refrains of "Lord have mercy" or the Confession and Absolution in Lutheran Churches or the Jesus prayer in the Orthodox churches. Because, many have come to the conviction that prayer must be active, spontaneous, and emotion driven or else it is not sincere. There is, sadly, a cult of emotionalism in many, not all, evangelical circles. It is true that many can get swept up in the monotony of acting out traditions. It is also true that the emotional highs of many pop evangelical churches can elicit the same empty recitation of lines and phrases week in and week out. Daily or weekly Bible studies, going to church and worship all have the danger of becoming empty habits. However, this can not and must not stop us from doing those things. Rather, it should cause us to fall before the feet of Christ in humble repentance saying "Help my hardness of heart Oh dearest Lord.".

One of the first things I think is prudent to address is that realistically praise songs are prayers set to music. Which is what has left me baffled by the Pharisee like claims of vain repetition in liturgies because so many of today's contemporary worship songs lack depth and are replete with repetition resulting in repeated prayers that lack full worship for some. I am left perplexed as to why "Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord Amen." or a set of "Our God will never leave us" ad infinitum is outside the scope of vain recitation.

At the moment I do not wish to insist that the liturgy is deeper and far more significant than contemporary worship. Rather, I desire that this article be a catalyst for thought and dialogue among people from various traditions. Especially since the context of the Matthew 6 verse is about saying the same thing over and over again thinking that one is more likely to be heard. So, it is the reasoning that says "IF I pray three times a day every day in long and elaborate words then God will care about my problem." Jesus is saying NO! God hears you every time you pray trust him do not think you need to heap up words for your prayer to be heard like it is a magic incantation. 
In fact, it is right after the statement from Matthew 6:7 that Our Lord teaches his disciples how to pray and provides them with the Lord's prayer. My point being that the liturgy is not inherently vain repetition I experience a liturgical service nearly everyday and each time I am amazed by the scripture, and depth of the hymns and praise Our Lord all the more. So, if there is one major take away, I desire you get from this it is be careful to avoid being the Pharisee who claims to read hearts and be better than others. Because in that parable, it is the repentant tax collector who walks away justified before God.
(see Luke 18:9-14)

And may the peace of Christ be with you always.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Assembly line evangelism

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15 NIV)

With these words in mind and mulling over them, I must reflect on what the above passage, practically speaking, means. After all, I am sure many have been through the youth camp or the Sunday service where the pastor or speaker as the case may be "challenged" the congregation to "go out and invite a person to church."The implication being something like, you invite your friend; your friend hears the band which excites your friend, then pastor so and so hits home a sermon which convicts your friend, and God seals the deal. This may be one experience or a series of experiences that ultimately end in your friend "Saying the sinner's prayer" and thus, being "saved."
While, I am not here to discourage anyone from inviting their friend to church I am, however, questioning if this is anything like what Scripture is addressing. Is evangelism simply "inviting your friend to church" and using emotion to get them to pray the magic incantation which, by the way, is nowhere in the bible minus a loose reading of Romans 10:9. Instead isn't Jesus' call something more than this. Can evangelism and discipleship ever be separated? I think our Lord clearly makes evangelism something far more profound and deep and which, properly speaking; is intimately tied with Discipleship which is defined in the great commission:

 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)
So, if we are going to be "Evangelical" we must go and make the good news known, sure we can and should be connected to the church in this. However, if we are going to do this properly, we must recognize it requires Baptism and teaching. We must not separate the two because in evangelism we must disciple them. We have only begun the process when we tell them about Christ and his finished work.

Our calling is not found in telling someone "Jesus died for you" and stopping there we have failed. It is in discipleship so that they may be able to fulfill Scriptures call for us: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,". When we disciple people well we produce Christians who can also go and make disciples of all nations.
If, however, we have caught them in shallow emotional zeal and keep them in simplistic church programs so that they can not grow and do not know the fullness of God's word and the "new obedience" we are called to we have made mass produced cheap products and have built our foundation on straw.

"13each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Cor 3:13-15) 
Therefore, let our churches study the scripture, teach the fullness of scripture and go and make disciples not just "converts" of all nations. If we want people to come and stay, we must not fall for and preach a commercialized entertainment gospel. In fact, this is how the early church grew rapidly in spite of the persecution the faced. The church, at that time, was not softening the gospel. Rather, they taught people for months, if not years, about the faith under pastoral care with the help of the body of believers who bore witness to the new faith. If we want our faith to survive, I think we could stand to look to the Scriptures and the early church and how they took Jesus' call to make disciples.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Immenent and transcendent

I gaze in rapt attention at the dome with Christ's Icon towering above me set within a circle of the Holy Apostles calling to mind the testimony of our faith as the Choir chants: 
"Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Psalm 141:2)

This was one of my first Vespers in the Orthodox church and, though I am not Orthodox, the Icons and the hymn from the Psalm gave a profound sense of presence. It was, as if, the transcendent- God- has met the infinite- humanity- in a Divine symphony of which each of us has our own part. And though I write months after this first vesper I am struck by this concept. For so long, before coming to the Liturgical churches, I had been indoctrinated to view God as immanent and transcendent but primarily in a symbolic, or otherwise emotional, conceptual way; always there but never ready to be fully grasped, experienced.

That is to say; God is near in a bodiless manner that he is a loving father who, as stated in John 14 and 16, lives in and among us through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. It was in reaching the Liturgical churches- Orthodox, Catholic, Luther, and Anglican- that I saw that it need not be that God is either present in a vague cognitive or emotional sense or He is a two-dimensional image which would obviously be Idolatry. The distinction set up and against the Liturgical, and sacramental theology is one that either God is spiritually in our midst though not in a manner that can be fully grasped without emotional sensations or cognitive acknowledgment. Otherwise, we worship "the created." This is simply and demonstratively not the case rather, Sacred Scripture teaches:

"6But as it is, Christb has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second."  (Hebrews)

These verses remind us that we have a new and better covenant. This new and better covenant connects the believer with God in unfathomable ways, as he quickens us to repent, love God and our neighbor. He gives us a new heart, and we commune with the Trinity in Christ, and with the Church in the Sacrament of the Altar (the Lord's supper). On top of all this God was pleased to use the waters of baptism  as the Sacred Scriptures say:   

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." Romans 6:3-6
"As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

This passage shows us the Trinity's connection with the Baptismal waters which, by itself holds no power, but it is in the example of Jesus' own baptism that the waters of baptism were made significant (see 1 Peter 3:20-21). So, when we were, or are as the case may be, baptized we are reminded of the Trinity "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." which should bring our mind first to the great commission and then to Jesus' own Baptism. 
And it is in this unfathomable imminence with God. Through the Liturgy, we are reminded that we are on family in Christ and we praise him with the Angel as stated in the Eucharistic prayer of the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican church):

"Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and  Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever  sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:"
In the Beauty of the Liturgy, we encounter God and are reminded that God is the God of the living not the dead and we encounter his all powerful imminence along with the church triumphant and the angels. Each part of the Liturgical worship is filled with Scriptures and balanced reminders of God and our relationship with him. 

Because our God is not the distant God of the Deists rather, we have a faith where the Physical and Heavenly meet as a divine Orchestra taking place within the worship of the Christians. The Christians "rites" exist in such a way that we encounter the Trinity profoundly as we read the word and live out the faith together.
In fact, Jesus told Nicodemus; "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" We are brought back to this passage because it is a reminder that the Physical points to the Spiritual and the incarnation; which reverberates through the new covenant. This truth manifests in our worship reminding us that because God loves us he does, in fact, work within and among the finite for he is "good and a lover of mankind."


May the peace of Christ be with you.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Consuming Christ

Growing up in low church Charismatic Evangelicalism I remember always thinking that when Jesus said:
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” (The Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26).
That he was, logically, speaking entirely symbolically. I mean, how could he as God possibly mean this literally? It was not until my exodus from the church and my subsequent dive out of the shallow waters of modern Christianity into the deep ocean of the historic faith when I saw that, historically speaking, Christians out side of heterodox/heretical splinter groups universally confessed that at the very least they were participating in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). I could not for the life of me sink my teeth into this doctrine at first. How could God inhabit the material? How could Jesus be consumed?
I spoke with many many patient people about this doctrine because, as much as it terrified me it intrigued me. After months of chewing the meat of this doctrine, so to speak, I had an epiphany as I sat on the couch at a friends house. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:16–18 screamed at me and I, unlike many others, never had a deep connection to the argument in the bread of life discourse (John 6), though great men - such as Scott Hahn - have found that to be their life passage. The words of the 1 Corinthians passage clicked that one night specifically; “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” We truly participate in Christ just as the Jews truly participated in the sacrifice on the Altar. It is through this that we find God in a profound way. If Scripture said it, so I shall believe it. A further reading, though not Scripture, that proved to be the nail in the coffin for my Baptist mind set (I joined a Baptist church after leaving the charismatic one) was this quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch:
“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox…They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans. 6:2–7:1).
Note, the above is not the whole quote because much of the quote does not fit most Christians who hold to the Symbolic view in today’s age. In fact, as a general rule, most Christians who hold to the symbolic view of the Eucharist are considerably more orthodox than the people whom St. Ignatius was writing about. As to “abstaining from prayer” as I understand it is the prayer as it relates to the Eucharist.
Now, to address a common argument against Real Presence . People will often then say, generally in response to the bread of life discourse; “well, Jesus also said ‘I am the vine’ or ‘I am the door’”. On first appearance this argument is the death blow to Real Presence but, upon further examination, it really is hardly a well thought out refutation. Rather, one need only look at the structure of the sentence to dismantle the argument and “properly divide the word of truth” (para). One can quickly note that Jesus, in these examples, is not claiming that those things are him but that you can use these physical realities to better comprehend the Spiritual realities. As Jesus told Nicodemus; “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
Jesus was explaining to him that the Physical can often demonstrate truths about the Spiritual and or clarify things that are hard to comprehend, though they still remain difficult to understand. While this passage is not connected, directly, to the passages above it is part of the hermeneutic-interpretive method that I am setting forth for you today. In the passages where Jesus is explaining that he is a door, vine, or what have you he is stating that even the material world points to himself, this point will come up in another article I plan to write in the near future, whereas when speaking of the bread he says “This is”. The language and grammar used on top of the fact of what the church has historically confessed should be enough to note errors in the symbolic view which, realistically, is a form of thought borrowed from Gnosticism which creates heavy distinctions between Physical and Spiritual and claims, more or less, that God would not and could not take on flesh. The doctrine of the Eucharist is, therefore, heavily incarnational.

two party politics

            The two party system

America has been a two party system for a long time. But, many Americans assume that this has just always been the case, that it is - in fact- exactly what the founding fathers had intended for our great nation.

Yet, this is not at all the case; rather, our founding fathers were terrified of this concept. In fact, back in England the parliament of the time was largely a two party system, not too much unlike our system today. That system was primarily the Tories and the Whigs. According to the the two parties had; “their view of what government should do and how strong it should be. Tories wanted rule by a strong king. Whigs wanted ordinary people to have more rights and gain more control of their government. In time, as Parliament took greater control, the Whigs and Tories developed into organized parties.” These two parties and their stance probably sound fairly familiar to modern Americans!

Now, we must consider whether or not this was what the American Democratic Republic was really meant to be. I will posit that the answer is, in fact, a resounding no. One of the early American giants, - John Adams- wrote:

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

The concern the founding fathers had was that if two major political parties existed then our constitution would be in danger as “political parties become arranged under its leader”. The focus would then become an extremely polarized interpretation- of the constitution, as well as an extremely polarized nation. Which, again, was a problem they recognized from England!

Upon initial consideration it appears that two parties are the best option because, as we all know, choice can also be problematic. I personally really like that more restaurants have the “coca cola freestyle” but, it is also problematic because among all the carbonated goodness it becomes more difficult to know what to choose. And this is a fairly simple example to say nothing of ten million political parties vying for your undying emotion; all of whom cannot realistically get far.

Those of us more familiar with foreign politics will also recognize that some countries face problems of stalled progress because they have so many different political parties and people become so fed up with each one each new election that they just keep voting new ones into office and not much can ever be accomplished as a result.

 America does, technically, have more than two political parties. But, the other two parties exist as a monopoly over the system. Which is why I think we need to change the system because, as monopolies do economically, so the two party system does politically. A monopoly constricts creativity and ingenuity because competition forces new ideas to constantly be put forward. Which is why I believe Americans deserve more options.

The two party system also creates issues in how we understand our rights as Americans. I am a book worm and watching politics today I am struck by how much Americans are like the Animals in “Animal farm”, - a book by George Orwell, - for those of you who are not familiar I do not mean this as dehumanizing people. What I mean by this is in this allegorical story the animals run the farmer out of the farm and a leader rises up. This leader as this leader, and his crew, ultimately convince the farm animals that the “head animals” have more rights than the rest leading to one quote “all animals are equal some are just more equal than others”. It finally reaches the point that the animals can no longer “read” the “constitution” they wrote and are reliant on the “elite” to more or less tell them what each thing means and its practicality. While I do not think we have reached this point I am concerned that as America becomes more polarized this becomes more and more possible.
With all of this in mind, though I cannot say exactly how we can do this, I am, however, convinced that Americans deserve more than our two party sy

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Electoral reform a thought on Politics

So, I finally decided to do one on politics since I find it interesting here are my thoughts on the issue of how we vote in America

Contrary to what many think we don’t live in a democracy America is actually a Democratic Republic! This is significant because our founding fathers knew how dangerous it was when democracies crumbled. In fact, we can look at more recent examples of when democracies with limited checks failed. For example, Hitler’s rise to power. He was democratically elected because of a majority that was angry at other nations for how Germany was unfairly targeted post WWI and voted for the most corrupt leader in history. Our current system was put in place with the hope of guarding against majority mob rule lording their strength over a poor minority. 

So, I will be making suggestions for what we can do to balance our horribly flawed system that so many feel unrepresented by, a system in which neither party seems really concerned at helping to heal the scars our nation holds. It is not the destruction of the Electoral college, but a systematic reform which allows every American citizen a fair shot at having their voices heard.

I propose a system in which each state would split their vote so that any party receiving at least 25% of the popular vote would take one fourth of the State. So, if Illinois, which boasts 21 electoral votes, were to have a Republican win 25% of the votes they would receive 5 of the Electoral votes.

This would be significant because it would force both parties to cooperate with each state because they can’t just rely on that state voting like it always has. Rather, it now stands a chance of losing a substantial amount of ground and their candidate might just have more trouble making 270.

As a further attempt at this systemic reform, an area on the ballot should be included where you can vote for your first and second choice for president. For example, perhaps you are a Democrat who doesn’t like Hillary, but you definitely don’t want Trump as President. However, you’re worried, if you vote 3rd party, your vote will not count.  Under this reform, you can vote for Gary Johnson, who now would have a better chance since people will feel their vote is more significant. But, suppose he doesn’t make 25% in your state, you can still vote for Hillary as your second choice.

A further advantage of this system is, if it takes less to take a decent percentage of a state, it encourages more people to vote, creates a higher incentive for independents, for example, to finally go out and cast their vote. Lastly, it gives everybody a bigger voice. This would force both major parties to actually address the tough issues that exist more than they currently do because they cannot rely on taking a state. Perhaps we can see the day when more people have their voice heard without fear of being silenced by the system.

When there's no joy in the Desert

“Come on, buck up and just pray,” or “surely you’re in sin if you feel this way. Either that or you just aren’t focusing on God.” “If you are not joyful, then you are sinning.”

 These words reverberate through chapels and churches, Christian homes and conversations. They are plastered on t-shirts, hung on walls, and peppy phrases are placed on coffee mugs, sometimes called “coffee cup verses”.

But what do these words really mean? And what message are we sending out in our sanitized Christianese? I grew up in a Christian background that, in one way or another, seemed to ignore the reality of mental health through either making illness a god and condition from which there is no escape, or in denying it as anything other than sin and disobedience.

As someone who truly wrestles with self-esteem, in times where I am deep in the valley of brokenness and feel no motivation, the last thing that I need to hear is, “Buck up, what are you doing wrong?” I promise you that in those moments I am praying, I am in the Scriptures, and I am working to resist sin and live out my faith. Yet, despite my best efforts, these moments come.

What happens when the Church tells the broken that it is their fault, and that their attitude just needs to change? I’ll tell you. People become even more broken. And many, as I have witnessed, leave the Church because frankly, the world often - though not always - is more open to them. They have walks to de-stigmatize mental health, like the NAMI walk, they have organizations, counselors, and support groups that try to walk through the storms with the broken. So does the Church, at its best. But sadly, I’ve experienced an evangelicalism that says, “Psychology is demonic,” and claims that taking care of people’s mental health is a “sin”.

 This model does not help the church, indeed, it helps no one. It sets up boundaries to the cross, to healings, that many can never even approach. Rather, Sacred Scripture tells us:
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,’ (Matthew 25:37–40, ESV).
So, we see that Jesus calls his disciples; that is,you and me, to go minister to the broken, the poor, the outcast, and call them to God for, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” (Hebrew 4:15). Jesus understands despair, for he endured it when he went to the cross (see Hebrews 12:1–2), He understands temptations like the passage above, and with both in mind, we are called to proclaim the gospel and be ministers of healing and reconciliation. But, we need to remember that great people of faith, even in the Bible, had moments of brokenness and depression. Consider Job and David, and even Jesus going to the cross. Their sadness and anxiety were not based on sin but based on humanity, for even Jesus took on flesh, and though without sin, he understands our struggles even while calling us to healing. In the case of Job, his depression was not due to sin but due to the fall (see Genesis 3) and due to hard things happening in life.
Even people who are often considered “giants” in Christian history have experienced "dark nights". This includes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of “The Cost of Discipleship”, as well as Martin Luther who shortly after the Reformation, upon seeing all the pride and division, fell into a deep depression, even thinking that God was nowhere to be found. And, of course, St. John of the Cross who wrote “Dark Nights of the Soul.”
When people are struggling with psychological problems, yes, let us point them to healing and resting in Christ; but, let us also minister to them in their pain, not by telling them it’s their fault, but by bringing them to the Cross and Empty Tomb where healing can come, and that it is in God’s will where they can find rest and abundant grace. I will leave you with one last verse to consider, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
May the peace of Christ be with you all.