Evangelical Monk Blog

Ramblings on living a Christan life

Month: September, 2012

Foolish Fridays 7


In the Brennan Manning text, The Importance of Being Foolish, he begins a number of reflections seeking to discern how to think like Jesus. I will be traveling down this road with this text as my guide, and see what can be discovered. I hope you will enjoy the journey.

Manning asks us a question, but beware as it requires honesty and can be pretty indicting as a result. I don’t see this as a judgment per se rather a means of coming to a place of being a little more aware. “There are certain burning questions that every Christian must answer in total candor.”

Manning goes on to ask what I call the major questions, do you hunger for Christ for instance? He goes on to ask some more questions that require us to dig down deeply. For me, it’s the stuff of the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary, that really defines me as to who I am and who I worship.

Manning sets up 2 opposing sets of questions to consider. Okay, here we go….

“To ascertain where you really are with the Lord, recall what saddened you the past month. Was it the realization that you do not love Jesus enough? That you did not seek his face in prayer often enough? That you did not care for his people enough? Or did you get depressed over a lack of respect, criticism from an authority figure, your finances, a lack of friends, fears about the future, or your bulging waistline?”

“Conversely, what gladdened you the past month? Reflection on your election to the Christian community? The joy of saying slowly, ‘Abba, Father’? The afternoon you stole away for two hours with only the Gospel as your companion? A small victory over selfishness? Or were the sources of your joy a new car, a Brooks Brother suit, a great date, great sex, a raise, or a loss of four inches from your hips?”

Tough questions. Well I don’t think I will be sharing my answers for a while. Not sure I’m passing.

How did you do?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

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Facebooking My Life Away 2


Only the lonely – part 1 here – the sad thing about all of this techno stuff is that it isn’t just our youth.

This trend toward use of our social media to create personas for us isn’t limited to youth. Peggy Orenstein had a piece published in the New York Times, entitled, “I Tweet Therefore I Am.” She draws the conclusion, Twitter, for her, blurs the lines “not only between public and private, but also between the authentic and contrived self. If all the world was once a stage, it has now become a reality TV show: we mere players are not just aware of the camera; we mug for it.”

Jesus tells a very different story, Acts 2:42, they committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers (from The Message). Today these aims must appear insane. Friends used to require a level of intentionality and love. Friends are people who know our beings as well as what we are doing. Jesus tells us that the 12 are no longer servants, that is solely His students, but they are friends of Jesus (John15:13). The breaking of bread should not be an event limited to a few occasions each year, but should be a frequent step, one part of forming a shared life together.

For many Christians, our very best friends are our spouses, yet if we do not learn to be friends prior to marriage, and we buy into the allure of Facebook and Twitter (which are really just tools reflecting our desires and the incessant drive for what Os Guinness spoke about above) and are shaped, conformed and held captive by this ability to contrive who we are, we will never see any differences between say the rates of divorce between the evangelical world and the world at large or evangelicals will continue in their inability to do much to influence culture and the government, let alone our neighborhoods, and ultimately, we will lose our sense of saltiness – Luke 14:34, “But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.” (The Message)

In talking to a dear sweet young lady that I love, I once asked her what does she think about Dads loving their daughters, and she told me well you have to and as long as I’m good to you, you will keep loving me. That was hard, because she never really had a dad. I let her know, Dads will keep loving their daughters, and sons, regardless of the storms that pass through and scatter at times. The hard part is that I can’t push that through a Facebook world.

The loss of friendship as a way of life, particularly for believers, represents another example of the in-breaking of the culture into church and faith. If we allow ourselves to be shaped by, and actively engage in the creation of fictional personas, through social media, we submit to the ebb and flow of the greater social contract that governs us – a social contract that is increasingly fractionalized, increasingly chaotic, and increasingly individualistic if not narcissistic. We see all of this as a great freedom, but are we not ignoring or worse failing to realize the chains we are creating for ourselves.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Facebooking My Life Away 1


Only the Lonely -that 1960 hit by Roy Orbison was a break out hit for the fledging movement known as rock & roll. Loneliness appears to have been a theme in the rock & roll years, from the 1966 Beatles and their Eleanor Rigby (all the lonely people where do they all come from) to the 1974 hit by America, Lonely People (this is for all the lonely people thinking that life has passed them by). I’m sure Roy Orbison had no idea how prescient he was being.

Psychologist John Cacioppo noted the startlingly and frightening difference revealed in one survey that asked people how many close contacts they had, with the most frequent number being 3 in 1984, and a significant drop a brief 20 years later when the most frequent number was zero. For Cacioppo the oddity was that we have seemingly much more social contact than ever before.

Yet when we look at the forms of those social contacts, we see it is almost all driven by technology. Os Guinness observed, “What counts in the rationalized world is efficiency, predictability, quantifiability, productivity, the substitution of technology for the human, and -from first to last – control over uncertainty.”

Our main avenues for communication are technology driven, the internet and social networks, email (I guess that is rapidly becoming old school if you noticed the latest version of the Beloit Mindset List), texting and Twitter. It seems the key signifier is the number of “friends” I have on Facebook (as of today, 218), or the number of people who follow my tweets (none as I have not mastered that bit of technology).

Yet of course the question to be asked is how well do we know these “friends” and how well do they know us? The New York Times ran an article in its Sunday magazine that is telling as it describes the use of Facebook by our youth. The article notes, “Their [teens’] stylized, mannered projections of self are as invented as any in a novel,” and “A 14-year-old I talked to about this sent me a message that pretty much sums it up: ‘I write more enthusiastically on Facebook than I actually am in real life. Like if I see something remotely funny I might say ‘HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA,’when really there is no expression on my face.’”

More this Wednesday but to end up this little note – ever notice, man I am old school, how during a number of conversations with our youth, if they have their cells on them they are texting, receiving texts or facebook pushes, and they answer them back. Saying something will get you the response, I’m listening. What makes me sad, is yes they hear, but are they really hearing?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Foolish Fridays 6


In the next part of this series on the Importance of Being Foolish, Manning sets out what he sees as an essential characteristic of faith, “Authentic, evangelical faith cannot be separated from a willingness to act on the Word of God according to present opportunities…. “To say yes in faith implies a constant setting out,” writes Bernard Haring, “an ever-renewed readiness to receive the Word of Jesus and act on it.”

This quote, and in fact this entire section of chapter 2, is convicting. What grabbed me particularly in this reading was the time frame for expressing my faith – present opportunities. This idea of time has been a recent struggle. I have lost my mother a a few years ago, and now a dear man from church is seriously ill, in a light coma is the medical description, but he is elderly and has been fading for a period now.

By all of these events, it has me becoming so painfully aware of the question of time. The Scripture that comes to mind is from Matthew, when Jesus addresses our time window, in 6:34 from The Message, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.” As well, we are not, of course, promised any tomorrows.

What is scary is that Manning is now dealing directly with heart issues. I can know in my mind that this is truth – faith is walking in obedience (my earlier postings on this issue speak to my convictions on that point – though I need to be more explicit on the issue of obedience, but that will be down the road shortly I hope), but knowing that and making it a reality are vastly different worlds.

Maybe the more excellent way is to take this to heart – look at this day and only this day and listen. Do this day and only this day what can be done. Reflect on the Word in Hebrews 12:1 in The Message,

Strip down, start running — and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Maybe as each day that is given passes I will find that when I look back I will see that I have traveled along the path. Maybe I will come to better understand the goal is not my intentional action to accomplish, but my intentional action to listen and act on the Word of Jesus.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Performing


A while back I was caught up by a observation by Brennan Manning, “If we want people to experience the Kingdom of God and to dwell with God for eternity, then how they experience their relationship with us should be a foretaste of that goodness and joy.”

That relationship, in Manning’s view, should be a foretaste of the grace and joy that is our inheritance as believers. Stanley Hauerwas, in Performing the Faith, suggests “Our God is a performing God who has invited us to join in the performance that is God’s life.”

Hauerwas goes on to suggest, affirming Manning, “… the persuasiveness of the Christian faith springs not from independently formulated criteria but from compelling renditions, faithful performances.” I don’t take Hauerwas as suggesting right belief isn’t important, but something like James, not living with good works displays a dead, if not actually absent, faith, and Paul’s great message about being clanging gongs when we lack love, inserting Manning here, failing to live gracefully with our neighbors, leaves our faith as surely less than compelling.

Sometimes I am taken back by the idea that it isn’t the big things we do, but how we are living in the very ordinary mundane of the everyday that is what matters.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Habits


I believe it was Martin Luther who observed along the lines of telling the people to learn from me how difficult a thing it is to throw off errors confirmed by the example of all the world, and which, through long habit, have become a second nature to us.

This whole idea is rather scary as it suggests that we have been walking so long down the road that we may not even be in a position to recognize we took the wrong fork in the road way back when. And this isn’t something necessarily that I might have missed during this walk, but it may have been a collective wrong turn generations back and I lack the awareness and/or the courage to reverse direction or cut through the underbrush to get back to the right road.

Stanley Hauerwas wrote a great little essay, “America’s God is Dying” for the ABC Religion and Ethics website, wherein he noted, “Protestantism came to America to make America Protestant. It was assumed that was to be done through faith in the reasonableness of the common man and the establishment of a democratic republic. But in the process the church in America became American.”

Hauerwas goes on in the essay to suggest American Protestantism accepted the idea of liberty and individualism – both centerpieces of the American experiment – but in that process Protestantism “lost the ability to maintain those disciplines that are necessary to sustain a truly free people – people who are capable of being a genuine alternative to the rest of the world.”

This brings me back to Martin Luther and the long habit. How are our habits working out for us?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Foolish Fridays 5


In the Brennan Manning text, The Importance of Being Foolish, he begins a number of reflections seeking to discern how to think like Jesus. I will be traveling down this road with this text as my guide, and see what can be discovered. I hope you will enjoy the journey.

Manning opens his second chapter with a provocative reading of the Gospel, “To grasp the truth of the gospel is to fall on our faces in both sorrow and gratitude. To live as Jesus lived is to move off the floor and into the world.” He ends this section with another observation, “Paul was a living witness to a not-uncommon phenomenon of human existence – we come to resemble those we love.”

Have you seen those clips on the news, usually filler on the weekend shows, about dog owners and their dogs and how they resemble each other? Now not to take this metaphor too far as metaphors always will break down when you look deeply, the point I’m taking away is there is no question, for most of us, we love our dogs.

So the question becomes, of course, what happens to us if we love Jesus as much if not more? Would we begin to resemble the life Jesus lived, or more importantly, if we abide in Him, He promised to abide in us (the narrative of the vines and the branches in John 15). If He abides in us, what is blocking Him from being seen in us? Do we become transparent people in such a way that Jesus becomes someone people see in us?

Manning has made his view of the cause of our blindness known already – recall the narrative about Max the alcoholic and his breaking down in the AA rehab group. He goes right to the heart of the issue, “Often our preoccupation with the three most basic human desires – security, pleasure and power – is the cloak that covers transparency.”

The frightening part of all this is that not a lot seems to have changed over the 2,000 years since Christ came to our neighborhood – maybe some rhetorical flourishes and sophistication – but still the heart of the issue is this question. Whose yoke? I believe Manning will begin to look at that in the rest of his book.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Refuge


Refuge? Sometimes I have to think – is it really wrong for a church to be a refuge? That word has been percolating for a while. Listened a while back to a sermon on that word and it still sticks in my head. We hear so much about churches being a refuge for the folks who really don’t want to know anything about this Christ we serve.

Read this passage the other day, from The Message rendering, Psalm 91, first part:

You who sit down in the High God’s presence,
spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,

Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”

That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.

His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.

Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,

Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.

He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.

If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.

You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

Now I suppose I won’t be kicking lions and serpents anytime soon but the imagery is pretty hard to miss. Sometimes we talk about miracles and we are all expecting some great show and we can just sit back and say wow. But what if we understood a miracle is the simple fact that God is in our midst and actually cares and shows it?

I’ve seen a few miracles the last couple of days, and they did make me say wow, but there wasn’t any great wonders going on. Simply in some way and right at the proper time and in the right place some people reached out and God put people right there.

I wonder if that is what those verses mean – God will send his angels to guard you. If you stumble, they’ll catch you. Jesus tells me that when I follow Him I will have a door open right in front of me – I choose whether to walk through but when I do, maybe that door will lead me to someone who will be that angel for me, or maybe the other way around and I’m the angel if you will. In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus tells us to serve the least of these, as in that way we are actually serving Him.

So yes, a church has to be a refuge – both serving those coming inside and reaching out to serve those outside the doors. To do one or the other seems to chop up the Gospel message.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Foolish Fridays 4


In the Manning text, The Importance of Being Foolish, he begins a number of reflections seeking to discern how to think like Jesus. I will be traveling down this road with this text as my guide, and see what can be discovered. I hope you will enjoy the journey.

In this chapter, The Way We Live, Manning observes,

The joyful Christian is one who has retained a sense of awe and wonder before God, one who has existentially experienced membership in a redeemed community. She has a lively faith-appreciation of this great gift…. Of course, on a given day she may come to worship more depressed than anything else. In this vale of tears no Christian life is an unbroken, upward spiral to the mountaintop.

Yet Manning concludes this section with a most sobering observation,

When the light of this awesome truth bursts upon our consciousness, most of us are deeply moved for a few moments or hours; then we return to the normal occupation of our pedestrian existence without getting unraveled.

In the earlier sections I can see that Manning is steering me to a certain place – to see differently. My confusion as to freedom and desire seems to be a great barrier, my intense desire for materiality, for what is real before me, what I can experience immediately and feel that desire fulfilled, that unlike the little children, my heart has become hardened against that experience of awe and wonder.

But as with the first Monday, am I not free? I have to ask is my freedom to choose, because of my radical individuality exercising my right to choose my level of piety – unlike the little children – the real barrier to living in that sense of awe and wonder? If I can’t sense Jesus with me, who fills that vacuum?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Outside and Inside


“Often our preoccupation with the three most basic human desires – security, pleasure and power – is the cloak that covers transparency.” Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish (check out Fridays for a discussion of the book). Ask yourself this question, when was the last time you felt that feeling of safety?

For me, more often than not, that place of safety and security has been church. There is something going on, being in a place of prayer, the Word and song, which gives off this sense of safety. My intuitive feeling is that it much more than just the prayers, the Word and the songs though, I sense that it is what was spoken about in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

Over at the Jesus Creed, there have been a series of posts on seeking to get a handle on what we mean when we say church. The book being reviewed is the new one by Jensen and Wilhite called Church: A Guide for the Perplexed. The text looks interesting and it will go on the reading list though that list just seems to get longer and longer and time is still pretty precious (though I am trying to work on that).

This whole general idea sort of grabbed me. There has been from time to time a rather big discussion about what is church. Is it the megachurch campus or just the little church on the corner, or is it meeting at Starbucks or whatever may be the favored gathering place. My question about all of this, thinking about the five elements suggested by Jensen and Wilhite (the church must be externally focused), why? The term currently in favor is missional. Maybe just maybe a gentle push back on this idea of intentional missional focus – that is always outward.

While I agree with this idea that the church is not about me and serving me and such things, I am not sure consistently and constantly pointing outward really captures the essence of what we call church. Of course there is a huge pull affecting what we commonly call church by the world that inserts this idea of radical individualism and the idea of being missional rightly steps up to deflect that pull. Not that the church goes overtly or intentionally by such an oddly shaped gospel if you will but we learn it every day in this age and in this place and we carry it with us when we go to church and make decisions about church and such things. But over the last decade or so there has been so much talk about being missional, being focused outward, being people of the community – rightly so.

But (isn’t there always a but) pointing outward exclusively seems sort of falling short – not the full Gospel message. For me the church also serves as sanctuary. Now I don’t mean sanctuary in the sense that it is the place where God resides or comes when there is worship or whatever and however you see sanctuary as a place. Rather, I see sanctuary as yes the place where God is at but also it is a place of safety and peace and healing.

If we are in fact being a church of the local – and I take that to mean our mission field is the community we find ourselves in, then it is likely we will encounter people in that community that are in need – physically, emotionally and spiritually. And even if we are able to bring them into church space, the need for healing isn’t over. We can join together and be shaped together as a community to listen to God, but going into this with an idea that we must be focused intentionally to always look outward creates a tension I think that may be working against that idea of being shaped. And an equally important concern – there are likely people standing next to you in that church who are hurting as well (A Story).

How we do that is a hard question. Surely this is not something that calls for creation of programs or a system – that strikes me as such a westernized ideal and may allow that radicalized individualism and corporate view overpower this church again. Rather maybe the response is to see that being missional people of God has both an outside and an inside view, that being people of grace is both an external and an internal call.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.