St. Augustine: The Pear Thief

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We’ve all done it. From the least to the greatest, the dumbest to the smartest, the most vile to the most honorable – we have all taken that which did not belong to us. 

St. Augustine, (354-430 A.D) the Bishop of Hippo (North Africa, Algeria) was no exception. Prior to his conversion to Christ, he lived a wild life, indulging the flesh in every way. Writing book two of his legendary “Confessions”  his mid-40s, he reflects on his teenage years back when he ran with a few friends that consistently found themselves getting into trouble. Can anyone relate? I know I can. The boys moved in together and called themselves something to the effect of “The Destructors.”*

One evening, The Destructors we’re up to no good. Across the way from Augustine’s parents home was an orchard belonging to someone else. The boys decided to help themselves to some pears. These boys weren't Robin Hoods - stealing to give to the poor. They didn't steal out of hunger. They stole but simply because it was wrong. There was a law to break and they broke it. They simply threw them away to some nearby hogs. 

Augustine writes:

We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart–which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself.

Stealing pears to give to hogs may not seem like a major sin compared to countless horrendous acts through world history. However, this "small" sin gave an excellent read on his (and our) heart. I'm under the impression that the Holy Spirit coupled with midlife reflection tends to put things in perspective. As he thought about his friends, the laughing, the pears, the thought of getting away with something, and the hogs laid up against the grace of God, he saw his heart for what shape it really was in when Jesus saved him. 

It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error–not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.

It was a love of sin.

We've all been there. Even those we refer to as "Saints." 

How'd he go from sinner to saint? The same way you and I do. Through the truth that where sin abounded grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20).

____________________

Justo González, The Mestizo Augustine: A Theologian Between Two Cultures, 34.

Silence in Seattle

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Silence in Liturgy

Nearly every week in our corporate worship gatherings at Redemption Church we intentionally place a time of silence into our liturgy. Yes, a moment of to be completely silent, with no agenda before Almighty God. Why on earth would we do this? Isn't church already the most awkward hour of our lives? We read from a book a few thousand years old, sit on wooden pews, gaze up at stained glass, in reverence of our God, who we cannot physically see! What does sitting in silence actually accomplish? What's the purpose? How is it pragmatic?

The answer is very simple. 

Practicing silence in Seattle flips our busy routine on it's head. Here in our ever-growing, fast-paced, ever-changing city, most people never stop for a full 60 seconds to just be still. As Seattleites, we wake up looking at our phones. We talk all day in conversations, are on our phones as we head to another meeting, another lunch, another meal, and then make it home, turn on Netflix, and stare out our phones until it's time for bed. Then it starts over.

It is as though we are unwilling and unable to sit completely still with our souls before Almighty God. The implications affect not only our understanding of who God is but we also end up not really knowing ourselves. You and I are very complex and complicated beings. The only way we can really know ourselves; what makes us tick, what makes us happy or sad, or what gives us meaning, purpose, and direction is the discipline of sitting still long enough and to pay attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit, calling us deeper still as he forms childlike faith in us as the children of God.

We are silent in our liturgy not because we don't know what to do with 60 seconds of time. We are silent because we think we always think we do know what to do with 60 seconds of time. It is in the silence that things, people, events, and desires, all come to mind that otherwise remain buried in the busyness of life. As they come to our minds, we give them to our God. 

In short, silence is a gift.

Silence at Home

When was the last time you tried sitting in total silence on your own? That is, without a Bible, a phone, a pen and journal, but simply just you and your awareness of the God who is present? I've noticed that in those moments of taking slow deep breaths and becoming aware of my Abba who loves me, likes me, and is quite fond of me, that my priorities shift, confession flows freely, and that self hatred, doubt, and skepticism float off. The result is worship of God, acceptance of self, and heartfelt tenderness towards others in born. God accomplishes and teaches more in 60 seconds of silence than what anyone could gain in 60 hours of theological research. 

Perhaps you could try just 5 minutes today? For some, 5 minutes will fly by. But for many of us, those 5 minutes require training the mind to stay present, the heart to stay engaged, and the body to stay completely still. 

Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
    He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
Bans war from pole to pole,
    breaks all the weapons across his knee.
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything.”

– Psalm 46:8-10, The Message

 

 

Reading Slowly is Good For Me

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If you're like me, you're already thinking about all the things you're hoping to read in 2018. Perhaps you missed something this year that you're planning on covering in the first quarter of next year or maybe you've already got your preorders in to Amazon for those books coming out some time over the next 12 months. 

In 2017, I did something different. (Aside from reading for my doctorate), I read about as slow as I ever have. For me, slowing down has been a challenge but has turned out to be so rewarding in very practical ways.

A few years ago, I was working as a church planter and college professor. Both of these responsibilities required a lot of reading. I pushed myself to read a few books a week and sometimes a book a day before heading into work. While that discipline was fruitful in ways regarding covering more content; there were other ways that I wasn't growing. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant. I was soaking wet but still thirsty. Something needed to change. I needed a different approach. I needed to slow down with reading, ministry, and life in general. This post is on reading so I'll stay on topic.

I've realized that nothing about my real life can be microwaved – especially my own maturity as a child of God. Simply consuming more content will not produce the character that God requires. That is the work of the Spirit, applying the message of the gospel, in the context of the local church.

Anyways, this year, I've consumed far less and have grown far more than I thought I would. In my aim for far more thoughtful reading and reflection, I could sense roots growing deeper. Besides, what's the point if I know what so-and-so said about a subject when I don't even know my own self?

Here's a few things that I noticed about myself when it comes to reading more reflectively rather than for the sake of covering more literary ground:

1) The pressure was off. Historically, I had felt the unnecessary pressure to soak it all up and with all the new books that come out everyday I felt overwhelmed. I was like a soggy dish towel with a whole stack of dishes to still work through. Not ideal. Embracing a more reflective approach to reading afforded me the opportunity to view stopping to pause, think, jot notes down, and pray as water and sunlight on the seeds of good content. 

2) I retained more of what I read. The fact that I'd read less left more room in my already busy mind (I'm a husband, daddy, pastor, author, and full-time party animal) for things to actually stick. 

3) Real change happened. I found myself hungry to go back throughout the day and mull over what I'd read earlier. I noticed several times that I could recall with better accuracy what I'd been reading. When information goes to application, that's a win. 

Anywho... here's 11 books that I thoroughly enjoyed. Half of these were rereads! :)  I haven't finished Barnes', yet. Drew and I are reading that one together. It is so very good. 

A Theology of the Ordinary by Julie Canlis

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson

The Pastor: Memoir by Eugene Peterson

Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate by Brian MacDonald 

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami

Secrets in the a Dark: A Life in Sermons by Frederick Buechner

The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting and Ancient Vision by Gerald Heistand and Todd Wilson

The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan

The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life by Craig Barnes

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Flemming Rutledge  

CHRISTMAS IS FOR WHO?

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Every year the two holidays that mark the shattering of time arrive accompanied by an unholy, consumeristic, commercialization that confuses anyone willing to ask questions like, “What is this season actually about?" The birth of the Son of God and his resurrection from the dead is presented in contexts that include a fat man delivering presents via reindeer and a rabbit dropping off processed sugary treats. Dylan was right. ‘The times are a changin.’

 

I’m not anti-Santa (though his whole coal-in-the-stocking thing is a bit absurd. How about just a passive aggressive note? Sorry. That’s Seattle talking). I don’t necessarily hate the rabbit either. Yes, I read both Old and New Testaments and neither seems to have problem with the man from the North Pole or with rabbits. Jana and I play along every year. Someone asked me this week why we participate with Christmas being that we're Christians. Here’s my simple response: if there’s anything our children need these days it is for moms and dads to foster imagination and creative thinking in those who still have a spark of wonder to them. And yet, living in our city of Seattle with so many ideas, religions, world views, and so on… It can be challenging to remember what is the Christ-mass all about?

Who is invited to behold the King of glory?

Is it for priests, pastors, and seminary graduates?

Is Christmas for humanitarians, philanthropists, and social workers?

Is it for mail-carriers, bartenders, and recycling collectors?

Is it for Amazon execs, baristas, and a stay-at-home dads?

Is Christmas for the well-dressed, perfect-smile, non smokers?

Heck, does your Christmas liturgy even count if it isn’t accompanied by vestments and spoken in Latin?

What if Christmas service is the only other time you darken the door of a church (Easter being the other one) baring a tragedy or wedding?

 

Why is the Son of God laying in a borrowed stable, held by his teenage mother, surrounded by buzzing flies and puffing beasts?

 

Exactly who is He here for?

 

Christmas is for the busy executive who cannot peel herself away from the desk or phone to get home to the husband and children that love her so much. 

Christmas is for the man who swore in God's name in the shed last Saturday he tripped over his son’s bike. 

Christmas is for the one who just can’t seem to quit.

Christmas is for the one who wants to quit on life and check out a bit early.

Christmas is for those who cheat on their income taxes in April in order to stuff one more thing under the tree in December.

Christmas is for those who lie to their spouses about where they’ve been.

Christmas is for those who take an extra five minutes on their smoke break.

Christmas is for those who make excuses and somehow always have someone to blame.

Christmas is for the day-laborers standing outside the Marathon gas station on HWY 16. 

Christmas is for the fireball seminary student, who is worried more about Greek syntax than the state of his own soul. 

Christmas is for those whose life did not take the shape that they hoped or thought that it would.

Christmas is for the one whose dreams were crumpled by a stinging word from a grown up.

Christmas is for those who had their childhood robbed and has landed them in therapy in their late thirties.

Christmas is for the one who falls asleep in church because that’s the only time his soul actually feels at rest - among God and his children.

Christmas is for the one who is brokenhearted and can’t see through the fog of his own thoughts. 

Christmas is for the guy caught in traffic for the 5th time this week.

Christmas is for the mom who can’t seem to lose the baby weight and it drives her crazy.

Christmas is for those whose lives appear to have amounted to nothing more than a lump of coal. 

Christmas is for the couple whose marriage is shipwrecked.

Christmas is for the one who left his zipper down and paid the price for it in 5th grade.

Christmas is for the one who prefers not to show his crooked teeth... ever.

Christmas is for the one who tracked dog sh*t into the living room twice in one day.

Christmas is for the person who is more concerned over the words “dog sh*t” than “Syrian refugee”, “homeless child”, “sex addict", or "white supremacist." 

Christmas is for the tired cook riding the 5 bus up Aurora tonight.

Christmas is for the one who’s daddy told him he is “a big pile of mistakes.”

Christmas is for the person who gets nervous in a crowded room. 

Christmas is also for the person who can’t stand the thought of being alone in a room.

Christmas is for the parent who lays awake at night wondering whether not she is doing “good enough” at raising a child.

Christmas is for those who give up on New Year’s resolutions by the end of the first week.

Christmas is for the one who belly-flopped off the low dive in July at summer camp and is still blushing in embarrassment in December.

Christmas is for grumps, grinches, and greedies. 

Christmas is for the one who needs good Friday Grace and Easter Sunday hope. 

Christmas is about a Father who cannot stand the thought of being apart from his children one more moment.

Christmas is for me.

Christmas is for you.

"No One Has to Pretend"

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"One Saturday morning as I was running on a trail that wound through a neighborhood park, a group of boys from two college cross-country teams flew past me. Their bodies were sleek and strong. They wore uniforms that made them all look like Olympians. They were so fast that I began to feel like a lumbering truck that wasn't going to make it up the hill. About the time I had recovered from this indignity, the girls' team raced past me with all of the grace and speed of gazelles. When I finally got to the end of the trail, all of the real runners for long done and were talking with their coaches. And there I was, doubled over, sucking wind, and telling myself there's no such thing as a good run.

As I slunk away from the crowd toward my car, I noticed another group of runners starting to reach the end of the trail. This group had no fancy uniforms. They wore baggy gym shorts and T-shirts with something hastily scrawled cross them. A few were running hard, but most had a clumsy pace. the cross-country teams immediately moved back tot he finish line and began cheering wildly as each of these last runners stumbled to the end. Curious, I went over to get a closer look and noticed that this last group of runners were all developmentally disabled. Some of them had very obvious handicaps, but they still ran. They had not interest in the coaches' clipboards and stopwatches, and they seemed oblivious to the fact that this was a race. They were running with abandon for the sheer delight of it. A few were being pushed in wheelchairs. Then two girls who had Down syndrome appeared at the end, walking, holding hands, smiling and waving to those of us who clapped and kept on clapping. No one cheered more loudly than I. And when I got back to my car, I couldn't stop crying. 

Why were we all cheering so enthusiastically for these kids with handicaps? Maybe it was because we were proud of their resolve not to be limited. Maybe. But a poet would wonder if there is something in all of us, something essentially human, that envies those who are graced with the opportunity to live without veneer. They certainly knew more than I did about the joy of running in a park on a crisp fall morning. 

Joy cannot be analyzed, strategized, or explained. It can only be entered, and the portal into joy is confessing the truth: We are not whole. No one has to pretend, and the truth feels so good that we just want to cheer whenever someone exhibits it."

–M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life, pp. 37-38

 

Going On and On About the Love of God

Rembrant's "The Return of the Prodigal Son"

Rembrant's "The Return of the Prodigal Son"

Over the past couple of years I've often been asked whether or not I believe in repentance or the pursuit of holiness because I talk so frequently about the love, grace, and compassion of almighty God. Questions about whether or not I’m being faithful to the entire witness of Scripture pop up, and I find myself giving the same answers again and again. I thought it might be helpful to put a few thoughts down here.

 

Burned Believers

First, I’m unapologetic about being so brazen with my commitment to be “that guy” who goes on and on and on and on about the love of God. In my 37 years in the church, I’ve never heard too much about the love of God. In fact, I’ve never met a single Christian from Lima to London who has been overly saturated in the love of God. Instead, I’ve met countless believers who’ve been burned in all kinds of fires. Some have been burned badly by horrible church leadership, and they’re at home on Sunday mornings missing Jesus and his people. Others are burned out through religious performance, serving God and others, frantic Marthas who can’t just sit still for a moment and let God be God. Still others have been burned by particular sermons on the dreadful wrath of God, the incomprehensible nature of God, or the overwhelming lip-searing holiness of God, leaving so many outside in the front yard as a stranger, rather than snuggled up in the living room as a child with their Abba.

 

Snuggled

Yes, snuggled. I used the word snuggled in reference to the God of the universe, maker of heaven and earth, the one to return to judge the living and the dead. Snuggled is a personal word, an intimate word, a sacred word, because it communicates vulnerability, childlike trust, and unwavering confidence that God can be who he says he is and not what the religious cops of the day portray him as. Being hell-bent on rule keeping and tedious nitpicking reveals that it is possible to read all about someone (i.e. God) but never actually know them or be changed by them.

 

Hallmark Christianity

When Jesus says “come to me and rest” (Matt. 11:28), or “make your home within me” (John 15:4), or “as my father loved me, so I have loved you” (John 15:9), he is not establishing a hallmark card Christianity, filled with trite sayings, something to give a little pick-me-up on a gloomy Monday Seattle morning. He’s offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for rebels on the outside to pull up a seat at the table on the inside, receiving what was theirs from eternity past—a glowing, vibrant, unshakable identity as Abba’s child.

 

This does not for one moment downplay the holiness of God (1 Sam. 2:2).

This in no way diminishes Jesus commands to walk in holiness (Matt. 5:30).

 

Kindness that Leads to Repentance

Embracing our identity as the beloved children of God in no way pushes us away from repentance. In fact, the first stop on the journey of God’s kindness is repentance! For it is the kindness of God that is intended to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4)! What I’m committed to preaching to myself, my wife, my children, and anyone who will give me the time of day is this—God is love, and God welcomes us on the grounds of the Good Friday cross in which he suffered the wrath of God in our place for our sins, and to dine, eating fish on the beach with his grinning Easter-face by, in, and through the Comforter, the gracious Holy Spirit who draws us even now to sit still, feel his hand on our shoulders, and hear the words spoken to St. John on the Isle of Patmos, spoken now, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev. 1:17-18).

The grace of God is in no way in opposition to holiness, God's grace, applied by the Holy Spirit leads us deeper into Christlikeness which is another way of saying "holiness."

St. Patrick's Breastplate

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment Day.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

–St. Patrick, 5th Century 


 

On Being Salt and Light: Excerpt from the Epistle to Diognetus

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"They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.  They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.  They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers."

– The Epistle of Diognetus, V, (Circa 130)

MLK on the Good Samaritan

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“On the parable of the Good Samaritan: I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' The Good Samaritan engaged in dangerous altruism.... The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life."

― Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 26-27.

N.T. Wright on September 11, 2001

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"September 11, 2001, serves as a reminder of what happens when you try to organize a world on the assumption that religion and spirituality are merely private matters, and that what really matters is economics and politics instead. It wasn't just concrete floors, it was massive towers, that were smashed to pieces that day, by people driven by "religious" beliefs so powerful that the believers were ready to die for them. What should we say? That this merely shows how dangerous "religion" and "spirituality" really are? Or that we should have taken them into account all along?"

N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, p. 20.

And Summer Was Over

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And just like like that... summer was over. 

Second grade and Kindergarten are knocking on the door and Mom and Dad are as desperate as ever. We are whispering the same prayers that I suppose every God-fearing Mommy and Daddy pray at the brith of their children and then again and again throughout life. 

"God protect her." "God be near." "Please help us."

These are the real prayers. The true prayers. The kinds of prayers that filled the Temple on Passover or in the hushed silence of a Good Friday Apostle hidden in a room upstairs. We mean these prayers in big ways.

Coloring, after all, is serious business in Kindergarten.

I sometimes wonder if Joseph and Mary enjoyed summertime with the boy Jesus....

Staying up until way after the sun went down. 

Campfires on Thursdays and Monday morning snuggles.

Perfecting cannonballs in the lake, special treats for no reason other than the fact that it is summer, and sleepy stories in a hammock.

The Evangelists don't tell us much about the boy Jesus other than that he showed up in the temple one day and taught everyone a thing or two about the Divine because, you know, he was about his Abba's business. I don't know why they don't tell us much about his boyhood but I do imagine the laugh of Jesus' 6 year old voice would shake you and me back into childhood if we could hear it right now. 

 

Walter Brueggemann on Generosity

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On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
by us

all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.” 

– Walter Brueggmann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann  p. 3-4.

Eugene Peterson on the Congregation

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“Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them. A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged. It must never be a place where a person is labeled. It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated. Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’s name. A place where dignity is conferred.” 

– Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, 40.

Frederick Buechner on Grace

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“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

– Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith, 139.

"....But This King..."

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“I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.” 

– Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God

Pray Like Children

*Here's an excerpt from tonight's Foundations Class at Redemption Church on Spending Time with God in Prayer.

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"I find your lack of faith disturbing." –  Darth Vader

Jesus said

"Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).  

Not theologians. Not missionaries. Not rabbis. Not church planters. Not millionaires. Not geniuses. Not famous. Not scholars. Not busy bodies. Not know-it-alls. Not power-hungry authorities. Not grumpy nit-picky religious folks.

Children. Let that sink in. “Become like Children.” Isn’t that what you always wanted anyway? To be a child. Isn’t that what you want today as a busy urban-dwelling resident of Seattle? 

Childhood that includes finger paint, Superman ice cream, grubby sneakers, light sabers, bath time, and the joy of asking billions of questions. 

When it comes to prayer, I’ve found that moving towards a place and posture of claiming my identity as Abba’s beloved child is when I say my most honest and perhaps my most effective prayers. As a child, I am needy. As a child, I am vulnerable. As a child, I am dependent. As a child, I sometimes throw a fit. As a child, I get really excited. As a child, I am trusting. As a child, I don't know it all. As I child, I can be taught. As a child, I can say that "I'm sorry" from my heart. As a child, I can say what I'm really thinking. As a child, I know where I belong and to Whom I belong.

When I embrace my childhood that I receive through the Spirit by the Lord Jesus, crying out to my "Abba!" (Gal. 4:6), I find that I’m not worried so much about getting my technical theological language just right. Sure, theology counts big time. But in those moments I just want my Abba. As Abba’s child, I really don't find myself doing all the talking, telling God what I want him to do for me.

As a child, I am there because I am at peace. I am there because I want a relationship. I am there because I know I'm genuinely liked. Yes, my Abba is quite fond of me and has moved heaven and earth to be with me. In this space and understanding, bland monochrome monologue fades out and creative, colorful dialogue, conversation, intentional presence and loving stillness happens. I think this is closer to the heart of what the Lord Jesus had in mind as he reconciled the world to God. 

 

 

A Meditation by St. Melito (Circa 190 A.D.)

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For he was born a son,

and led as a lamb,

slaughtered as a sheep,

and buried as a man,

and rose from the dead as God,

being God by his nature and a man. 

 

He is all things.

He is law, in that he judges.

He is word, in that he teaches.

He is grace, in that he saves.

He is father, in that he begets.

He is son, in that he is begotten.

He is sheep, in that he suffers.

He is human, in that he is buried. 

He is God, in that he is raised up.

 

This is Jesus the Christ,

to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.