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Thoughts for Easter

I’ve been reading a few books lately that have seemed to collide with this Easter morning.  The first book is one that I picked up from the library entitled, “A Concise History of Christian Thought” by Tony Lane, and the second is a book that I bought while Lauren and I were on our honeymoon a year ago, “Simply Christian” by N. T. Wright.  “A Concise History…” is written in textbook fashion, filled with dates and quotes.  It is somewhat laborious to read, but it is serving the purpose I expected it to have– The book is giving me an understanding of Christian thinkers and the things that they taught since the beginning of the Christian church.  The books offers insight to the writings and teachings of an individual along with enough context to understand why they might have said what they did.  It is a concise history, though, so there are some obvious gaps.  “Simply Christian” is an apologetic work which has an obvious thread connecting it with C. S. Lewis’s, “Mere Christianity.”  “Simply Christian” sets itself apart because Wright is a scholar and Lewis often reminds his readers that he is not.

The beginning of “A Concise History…” is a section entitled “the Church of the Fathers to AD 500.” I have learned quite a bit in the 50 or so pages that I’ve read so far, but what has struck me the most is the defense of who Jesus was and is.  It seems that the Christian Fathers wrote extensively to make sure that Christians understood who Jesus is.  Many of the early Fathers wrote apologetic works to defend the faith against sects that were preaching things against what was originally understood to be true.  For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity was not called “the doctrine of the Trinity” until around AD 381.  In AD 381 the Council of Constantinople met and developed the Nicene Creed (which was not developed at the Council of Nicea, so that’s confusing).  The Council of Constantinople developed the Nicene Creed as an effort to establish a ecumenical creed that the Christian churches could point to and say, “this is what Christians believe.”  Trinitarian language was being defined at this council, but not developed.  The doctrine of the Trinity was bing defined to help people understand how God the Father, Jesus Christ our LORD, and the Holy Spirit could be the same God, without being three separate gods or having them all be the same God with different levels of “godness.”

The thing that has stood out to me most out of the things that I have read so far is from a man named Ephrem the Syrian.  He wrote these words in “Homily on our Lord 4.”  Does it remind you of anything you might have heard in Sunday School?

[Jesus],  the son of a carpenter, cleverly made his cross a bridge over Sheol [the abode of the dead], that swallows everyone, and brought mankind over it into the dwelling of life.  because it was through the tree [in the Garden of Eden] that mankind had fallen into Sheol, so it was on teh tree [the cross] that they passed over into the dwelling of life.  Thus the tree brought not only bitterness but also sweetness – that we might learn that none of God’s creatures can resist him.  Glory be to you who laid your cross as a bridge over death, that souls might pass over it from the dwelling of the dead to the dwelling of life!

As I read this, I was struck with the similarity of this passage to the “bridge illustration” that is used so often today.  The short version of the bridge illustration goes like this:  Sin has separated man from God with a impassable cavern.  Nothing that we can do, on our own, will get us to God.  Because of this cavern, we will die apart from God.  But, in God’s great mercy, Jesus gave up his life on the cross, took upon himself the punishment for our sins, and gave us a way to be joined with God again.  The Cross is the bridge that allows us access to God.
I have often thought about how the bridge illustration was something thought up in the past 100 years, but after reading Ephrem’s words I have realize how timeless it is.  After I read his words I was struck with the thought that this illustration could have been showing people the path to God for some 2000 years.

On to “Simply Christian.” I haven’t taken many notes throughout this book, not because there hasn’t been much of note, but rather because the writing has been rather fluid.  As I have reached the ends of each of the sections I have found myself exhaling as if I read the whole section in one breath.  Many of my reflections come from the last paragraph or two.  Here’s one that I have dwelt on today.

Jesus exploded into the life of ancient Israel–the life of the whole world, in fact– not as a teacher of timeless truths, nor as a great moral example, but as the one through whose life, death, and resurrection God’s rescue operation was put into effect, and the cosmos turned its great corner at last.  All world views are challenged to the core by this claim.

This reminded me much of a paragraph in Mere Christianity where Lewis writes:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher; but I don’t accept his claim to be God.”  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg– or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  you can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.

All of these things point to the very important question that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  Today, as the Christian church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, we are still confronted with that question.

Who do you say that He is?

This morning I’ve spent some time thinking and praying about what will and can happen at church tonight.  Over the past few weeks I’ve talked with a few people from church who have felt a strong feeling of disconnectedness with the church.  This seems to be feelings that they feel as well as perceiving these feelings in others.  I’ve noticed this for a while, and have felt it a bit myself, so tonight I want to talk about it.  It would be easier to not talk about it and wait it out, but I don’t think that that is the best thing for us.  This morning I’ve been trying to think of specific things that could have led us to the place we are at.  My hope is that our conversation tonight will allow people to feel the freedom to openly share their opinions without the need to pull back and deny any feelings that might be going on.  I thought that I might put a few thoughts down as to what has brought this disconnect into our church, and then maybe offer some thoughts as to what it might take to change.

My first inclination is to say that people, in general, don’t have the sense of ownership that they once had.  I wonder if people have lost the feeling that they can make a difference, or that they are an active, vital, important part of church life?  The sense of ownership (I would not limit “sense” to mean simply a feeling but the understanding of ownership.)  is hugely important to the life of a house church.  Without communal involvement we can easily become the type of church that we do not want to be– the church where people come and sit and sponge off of what’s around them.  I think that this loss of sense of ownership has come from two particular things.

First, and maybe most significant, is that with a small group of people any shift in numbers is felt in a significant way.  Over the past few months we have had substantial changes in the number of people who have been with us.  In December a few people, who were very involved, moved on from our church.  Their leaving has left a vacancy with us because of their emotional, honest personalities.  In the past few months that have followed a few other people have been a bit hit or miss on Sunday nights.  It has felt as if we are a different group of people each week, and I believe that this make a big difference in our approach to what we once called community.

Second, I wonder if the function of the church is no longer meeting the primary need of the peope who are a part of it– community.  Community was a vital part of why people joined us on Sunday nights, as the change in people has happened people have pulled back and the sense of community is now held up by a very fragile foundation.  It feels as though our meetings on Sunday nights have been, for some, the mandatory “I have to go to church this week, so here I am.”  This, of course, is not what we set our to become a year ago.  We never wanted to become something that people felt the obligation to “attend.”  We never wanted to have the gatherings on Sunday nights to be something to check off of a list.  But I wonder if this is what it has become to some people.  I can admit that there have been weeks where I have gone begrudgingly, and I expect that we all can say that that’s been the case a time or two.  But obligation alone does not create community.   Community needs intentionality.

The “now what?” question lurks overhead, and I feel the need to address it.  The easy answer is to ignore it and hope that all of this goes away.  In reality, it wont work like that.  This question is not one that I can answer alone.  The answer cannot be made by a few for everyone, either.  Each person needs to answer it for themselves. As for me, I have been thinking about the question “Who do I want to become?” rather than “What do I want to do?”  This seems to be a significant question for me right now.  What are the characteristics of the man I want to be, not how do I want to live day to day.  I this question has particular importance for where we currently are as a church.  Asking the question about what we want to do will lead us to answer the question with program type answers: Study this particular book of the Bible, spend this night of the month praying together, or eating together, or singing together.  However, asking the question about who we want to become will lead to answers like: generous, caring, holy, sacrificial.  These characteristic will shape what we do.  We will visit the sick because we are caring, not because it is the week to do that.  We will share with others what we have because we are generous, not because we’ve organized to do it.  We will confess our sins and turn from unholy things because we know that that is God’s desire for us, not simply because we are talking about on a particular evening.  The question of who we want to become moves us away from becoming religious and closer to becoming the church who recognizes God’s leading, yields to God’s voice, and pursues godliness.  And that is the type of church I want to be a part of.

I’ll let you know how tonight goes.  I’m looking forward to it.
peace

Thoughts and links:

Last night I sat down to talk with the guys over at Pipes and Pints.  They invited me to join them to record their latest podcast.  Good times were had by all.  Before we started recording we sat outside to smoke our pipes and talk through the progression for the podcast.  We spent a little bit of time talking about the past two weeks at church.  The past two weeks at The Experiment we’ve been talking about “who we are.”  If you want to know a bit more about the past two weeks, check out the post right before this one. 

Anyways, at some point in our conversation, I was thinking about two different podcasts that I’ve been enjoying.  I thought that I would post the links here because I think that there are some of you who would enjoy listening to them.  Likewise, if you have something, like a podcast or article or book, that you think The Experiment and others would benefit from, let me know and I’ll be happy to post them here as well.

 For some time now, I’ve been listening to Theology Unplugged.  It’s a podcast that’s usually around 30 min each episode, which, in my opinion is the perfect time length for a podcast like this.  On this podcast there are three men who talk about different theological issues.  Sometimes the material can be a bit heady, but their conversation is geared toward people with common knowledge rather than the people who are well studied in theology.  They spend many episodes on each topic, which I really like because the topics don’t seemed rushed.  They’ve covered topics such as:  What is Theology, Salvation Essential and Orthodoxy, Denominations and Evangelicalism, Biblical Inerrancy, Trinitarian Doctrines, and a bunch of others.  Right now their in a series on the topic of hermeneutics which is how to interpret the Bible.  Check it out.  If you didn’t click the link above, here you go: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/tup/home

 The second link is Emergent Village.  There’s a lot going on at the site.  There’s a podcast and a blog and a lot of information about the emerging church.  The podcasts that I want to direct you to are from a conference (although I’m sure it has a more postmodern title) called the TheologicalPhilosophical Conversation.  There are several episodes from the conversation.  I don’t think that I will be able to do any justice to the material covered in these podcasts, so let me offer this:  If philosophy in any regards is interesting to you, and you wonder what role it has played in the shaping of the church the only disappointment you will have is not listening to these.  They aren’t for everyone, but they will hit home with a certain few.  Here’s the link to the first episode: http://www.emergentvillage.com/podcast/2007-theological-philosophical-conversation-session-1-part-1

Ok, I think that will do it.
Cheers.

Two initial thoughts.

I was looking back through the notes that Kim took from Sunday, and I wanted to spend some time thinking through what all was said, what was heard, what was implied, and what was missed. Let me offer a few initial thoughts before getting a little more in depth. First, I’m very grateful for all of the thoughts and comments that everyone was willing to offer. I think that one of the strengths that we have is that we can communicate well with each other. I know that even in a small, familiar setting it can be difficult to feel safe enough to share, so thanks to everyone who stepped out on uneasy territory. Secondly, I know that we were missing a few of the usual suspects, but it was really great to have everyone there to be apart of the conversation. Having that type of discussion really needed everyone there.

As I look back on Kim’s notes, two phrases from the first page really stand out to me. Kyle mentioned about how he really likes that his attendance sheet has some sort of permanence in our apartment. Kim wrote down that, “Touches of us remain here.” I really like that thought. I have trouble moving past the first page of notes because of that line. I think that that speaks a lot about the type of community that we are striving to be. I think we should continue to be a type of community where part of you is left with the rest of us. This is community in the sense that you are needed and wanted and noticed when you aren’t there. This is community in the sense that you are encouraged to be a participant and not just an observer. I love that line, “Touches of us remain here.” I know that much of his thoughts had to do with the physical location that we meet in, but does this statement extend into the emotional and spiritual aspects of our church, too? What do you think? Are their touches of you that remain with us? Are you connected? If not, what’s holding you back?

 


The second thought that has stuck with me is something that Kim wrote down while I was talking about “our story.” She wrote, “Don’t forget who we are.” This phrase has been a strong reminder to me this past week. It’s easy for me to spend my time thinking in how things could be, and miss seeing things as they are. This is something that I have to be conscious about, because if I’m not careful I’ll live in the thoughts of the future and neglect the present. This phrase, “don’t forget who we are,” has been reminding me to think and dream about who we are, right now, and set aside the future until it gets here. This is not an easy thing for me to do. Even my last topic of discussion was evident of this. I ask what we should do about growth. I’m grateful for those of you how were quick to say that we shouldn’t worry about that right now, we should just let it happen. I really needed the reminder that we could just let it happen. And perhaps the better reminder was to think about who we are and not who we could be or who we should be or who we wish we were. It was encouraging to talk about finding our identity in being an experiment. But what does that really mean? What does being an experiment really look like? What elements of what we are, are experimental? Are we actively experimenting, or are we just “going with the flow?”

 


It would be great if you would take some time to respond to these things. Also, I realize that there will likely be more people reading this who are not a part of our particular “experiment,” but I would love to hear your thoughts, too. Perhaps you’ll be able to offer thoughts based on your church experiments. Outsideinsight can be a wonderful catalyst.

 

Cheers.

A good friend asked me to define what it means to be a pastor.  He asked me to email him my thoughts.  I thought that this would be a good place for those thoughts, too.  So here you go.  I asked him the question at the end about what he thinks; the same goes for you all too.

That’s a great question bro.  I find myself asking that question a bunch these days.  I think that question is really a huge question because of how many types of pastors are out there.  There are pators of mega churchs who opperate more like CEOs.  There are pastors of small, rural churches who act as the town “father.”  Then there are TV pastors who preach to an unknown audience, and traveling preachers whose message is the same message to each church on the circuit.  I suppose there are some common denominators that can be found throughout all of these kinds of preachers.  But I guess I should answer this from my perspective since that’s the only one I really know for sure.

For a while I would avoid the word pastor, in fact when people would introduce me as “their pastor” I would cringe a little.  What’s strange about that is that for a long time that’s what I knew that I was supposed to do, but in my mind a pastor was a person standing in front of a congregation each week.  I certainly don’t fall into that direct mold.  I felt like I should qualify that statement by saying, “well, it’s a small church.” or something like that.  As if my ability as a pastor was a direct reflection of the size of the congregation.  I think that other things that made me feel awkward is that I would become self-conscious about my pastoral personality.  I’m certainly not the stereotypical pastor.  I don’t fit that mold too well.  I think that is one of Lauren’s favorite thing about me because when she meets new people she always seems to mention that I used to have a mohawk and that I have a beard.  I wonder if people hear that I’m a pastor that they’ll question what type of church I pastor.  I realize that all of these things are just ways for me to critique myself as a pastor based on personal bias and often have little to do with my actual ability.  I realize that you asked about what it means to be a pastor.

I’ve actually been thinking about this question a lot lately.  Here’s some thoughts that I’ve been working on.  I think the greatest model of a pastor that the Bible shows us is Jesus.  This might seem obvious because we should all be striving to live like him, however I think it’s more helpful to look at his life more than Paul, who is obviously seen as a “pastor.”  The biggest reason is because Paul traveled from church to church.  I’m not against this type of pastoral care, but it’s just not that similar to how my role as a pastor really is.  I find myself more like Jesus because I’m walking through life with a small group of people.  In the same way I’ve started to look at the “Good Shepherd” passages to find out the characteristics of the Father that I should be imitating.  Look through John 10 as a start to understanding the shepherd/pastor role.  A shepherd/pastor is a leader.  He leads because of a close relationship.  The sheep listen to his voice because they know his voice.  I’m learning that for me to be a good pastor I have to know what’s going on in the individual lives of the church.  I need to be involved in their lives.  It hard to offer counsel to someone who I don’t really know.  I can tell them generic things, but it’s hard to be really specific when I don’t really know what’s going on.  The other part of this is that hey need to know me, too.  I need to be around them and with them.  That’s a huge part of the trust.  Walking side-by-side with them through difficult and joyous times will show them that you care about them.

The next part in John is a little tough to translate into my role as a pastor.  Maybe I just need to think about it more.  I suppose we could understand it to remind us that we are called to act in a way that takes people to the Father.  They wont find salvation through our works directly, but we should be living in a way that lines up with the gospel.  We should be living our the message of the gospel clear enough for our congregations to see the way to Life.  After that, Jesus tells us that pastors will fight for their sheep.  In fact, they will lay down their lives for their sheep.  This is pretty important.  This ties in with the trust aspect on knowing the shepherds voice.  Pastors should be willing to make sacrifices for their congregation.  They should place their flocks life above their own.  This part can get a bit tricky because I don’t think that it means that we become slaves to the church.  This doesn’t mean that we need to answer every phone call, or email someone back ASAP, or even stop whatever we are doing to meet with someone.  As we get to know our flock we start to understand whether or not it’s a sheep crying wolf, again, or if it is someone in serious need.  This is something that I need to be reminded of.  I am to care for the flock, not be slaves to them.  We are protectors of our flock.  We protect them against the enemy.  We fight for them.

This last part in John 10 might be the most exciting part.  We will have a flock that knows us and we know them, but their will be others outside of our flock that we will shepherd, too.  I think that we can get so focused on our congregations that we can miss opportunities to care for people outside of our congregations.  This could be someone who doesn’t want to step into church, but has questions.  I might be someone from another church.  How ever it is that we come in contact with these people, we need to care for them as if they were part of our own flock–but that doesn’t mean that they need to be a part of our flock.  “They too will listen to my voice…”  This should be seen as a challenge to pastors to be involved with the community around them.  Be seen by more than just the church.

Wow.  I didn’t intend to head off in this direction.  I thought about just copying and pasting something from dictionary.com and making some comment about how easy it is.  Instead I started preaching.  Sorry.  Tell me about what your working through. It’s your turn.  What do you think a pastor is?

peace

During the two weeks that we spent talking about fasting I felt as though I ended up in the same place as I began.  I came into my time of study believing that fasting wasn’t something that we are required to do, but that if we do fast we will have find ourselves closer to God’s heart.  This was my thesis that I worked from, and after spending three weeks studying fasting I believe that this is still true.  I suppose that this could be see as a good thing.  I suppose that it’s encouraging to feel like I am in line with what God’s Word says about fasting.  The thing is, I still feel a bit empty.

With the other topics that we’ve worked through, I have come to moments of clarity.  God spoke and gave me direction and insight.  But with fasting I felt as if I went through some sort of motion.  I studied and prepared.  I sought God’s desires and will for us.  But in the end I’m left with what I started with.  Does anyone else feel this way?

In my gut I know that fasting has a significance that I should not ignore, but I don’t think I know what that is.  I feel like the logical conclusion is to not spend any more time thinking about fasting, but to actually fast.  Maybe this is like all of the other disciplines that make much more sense when you actually do it.  This can be hard for me sometime because my personality is such that I love to sit around and discuss things; I’m a verbal processor.  Eventually, the talk needs to come to an end, and I need to act. 

I feel the need to say this, too.  These words and thought are not meant to draw attention to my thoughts about me fasting.  Remember, during our discussion, when I said, “I’m not impressed if you fast, and I don’t think that God is either.” (how do I do the punctuation for this?  it should end in a question mark, but the quote wasn’t  a question.  A little help here?)  The point of fasting is obedience.  If anything I’m hoping that these words are similar to your own, and are in some way encouraging because you’re not alone.

May the Lord walk before you to guide you,
behind you to protect you,
and beside you to comfort you.
Amen

Many of you who know me personally know that I am spending a lot of time thinking about food. I’ve been looking into self-sustainable farming and local eating. I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet. I’ve been spending a lot (read: probably too much) searching the unending supply of websites and articles about growing food in Colorado. I’ve been cooking and baking and canning food in a effort to eat out less and purchase less food at a grocery store. Today I came across a website called Sustainable Table, and from there I went to the Eat Well Guide. After doing some initial browsing I went to the About page and found the FAQ section hoping to find out a little bit more of their philosophy and theory for what and why they do what they do. This question and answer caught my eye:

Q: While searching the guide, I noticed some retail outlets that definitely offer factory farmed food. How can such establishments be included in the Eat Well Guide?

A: The Eat Well Guide is an inclusive resource. It’s a resource for everyone, especially the non-converted (those who know very little or nothing about sustainable food). So, we include any store that sells sustainable food, even if only a few products. Our hope is that these conventional stores will start selling more sustainable food as demand increases.

What caught my eye was their use of the phrase “non-converted,” and their explanation of it.  As I read this I thought about church, specifically, our church.  How do we come across to those who are “non-converted?”  I suppose that the label “non-converted” could apply to a few categories of people: Those who haven’t “converted” to Christianity (that phraseology makes me cringe) or those who haven’t “converted” to a house/simple/organic/naked church.  I think that the people in either category have two options.  They can sit and watch, or they can participate.  I think that we can make the mistake of assuming that the non-converted would be much more comfortable sitting and observing our services.  I have thought, in the past, that this is the best way to “ease someone into the community.”  I welcome them to sit back and relax and enjoy the show.  Our services can be filled with Christianese and familiar rhythms that might seem foreign to the outsider, and I don’t want to overwhelm them with the details of everything.  If they have a question, I assume they’ll ask it, either to me or the person who brought them.

The other approach is the participatory approach.  This one is a bit harder.  You know those things that are familiar and expected, we have to explain them.  And that takes time.   Time that takes away from the usual, familiar rhythm.  We explain why we take a moment to quite ourselves before we begin, and invite the new person to quiet them self too.  We explain why we sing, or don’t sing.  It can be awkward.

My thoughts went back to the questions I have about food, and I asked myself, “which of these approaches would lead me to a place of better understanding the food I eat, sitting and watching, or participating.”  I would learn so much more from going shopping with someone if I was standing next to them as they look at produce, pick up a squash and ask question about what to look for in a good squash, rather then if I was following them and just looking at what they were picking up and putting into their basket.

So a question or two for you:
Are we welcoming to the “non-converted?” How?
What are ways that the “non-converted” can participate with us?

Marks of a Generous Community

I’ve been wanting to write a post of reflection on each of the expressions of our faith that we are working through.  For two weeks now, I’ve wanted to write something down about being a generous community.  I envision myself penning words that would mimic Paul’s words to his churches.  Words that would encourage and praise.  After sitting on this thought for a while, I realize how unrealistic that is.  I’m not Paul, and you are not his church.  Rather God has entrusted me to shepherd you, and the words I choose should sound like me.  Forgive me for taking so long to write this.  It has been in my heart and head for almost a month now.

Your generosity is often the first thing I brag about!  I am asked often how the “house church thing” is going, and most often my reply is, “I can’t believe I’ve never experienced a generous community like this before.”  I’m amazed at how God is guiding our hearts in regards to the way we respond to the needs around us.  I’m quick to share about the financial support for Toni and Kim’s trip to Thailand because it doesn’t make sense, really.  We are a small group of people who have average jobs, but choose to trust that God will provide for us if we are obedient to him.  The money part of it doesn’t add up.  That makes a lot more sense the more I look at it.  Because if I’m trying to the math I usually forget the largest factor-God.  The only reason that we are able to be generous people is because God is stirring in our hearts to follow him and serve others.  It’s beautiful.

I offer this as an encouragement as you give.  I find that in the moments when I am being obedient through generosity I am reminded of the words of Jesus that we studied from his sermon on the mount.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

When I am  thinking about how my obedience can be a part of the Kingdom of God it is easy to give.  I trust that if I am working towards the Kingdom God will provide for me when I am in need.  The catch- the moment that I start to think that I am not be taken care of is the moment that I am participating in the kingdom of Steve, because I am only looking out for my own needs.  For it is my Heavenly Father who know what I truly need and in his Kingdom I will be cared for, even if it isn’t in the ways that I would prefer..oh me of little faith.

Meditation from Day 31

I often pray when things come to mind to pray about.  I think it works this way for most people.  I’ll go throughout my day and if someone or something comes to mind I’ll pray about that.  But there are times when I want to pray, and don’t know what I should pray for- my soul may be restless and my body physically fatigued and my mind wont stay on a single thought.  It’s because of these reasons, and a few others, that I bought the Celtic Daily Prayer book.  The book has several sections that are all meant to be used in conjunction with each other.  There are morning prayers and complines (evening prayers), meditations for each day of the month, prayers for “rites of passage” like birth, dedications, marriage, and a few others, prayers for times and seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Pentecost, Harvest, prayers of blessings and graces, and then it has two years worth of daily readings (devotionals).

I find myself using this book during the restless times of my life.  When I feel restless it is very hard to pray, but having something to read and focus my mind on helps immensely.  Often times as I’m reading and trying to mediate on the words in the book my mind still wanders, but that doesn’t discourage me too much because I figure that I was distracted trying to pray in my own words.  I’ve also heard the argument that praying writen prayers or liturgy is not the same as praying what is in your heart.  And that praying what someone else has prayed can lead your prayer life to become trite and ritualistic.  I’m sure it can, but that hasn’t been my experience with it.  I see it as a way to join in the Church and pray together.  I see beauty in praying the words that other Christians have prayed for hundreds if not thousands of years.  I do understand that argument though, but I think that people who use this type of praying as a method and not the way to pray experience great joy in it.

So this brings us up to Friday.  I read the meditation for Day 31 and immediately thought of  our experiment.  I want to share it with you.  Does this remind you at all of what we are doing?  Does this inspire you?  Do you desire to be a part of this type of community?

L’ABRI
But in addition to these conversations and discussions, something else was hapening.  People were finding it hard to “shake off” what they were living through.
They were there while we were praying for things that they later found had been given…
They were being given (not by us, but by God’s answers to prayers) a demonstration that God exists…
It was a combination which could never be “planned” or “put on” as an exhibit…it had to be real. …a completely new work … would never have been possible if we had not been uprooted completely in ever way, and if in that uprooting we had not decided to pray for God’s solution and leading every step of the path as it wound through unknown territory.
We also prayed that if it grew, God would send us the workers of His choice, rather than our trying to advertise or get people to help us … So not to advertise, but simply to pray that God will send those of His choice, and keep others away, is a different way of doing things.
We don’t say everyone ought to work this way, we simply say we feel we were led by God to do this as a demonstration that He is able to bring the people to this place- even a tiny out-of-the-way place … and only to bring the ones He wants to have there for His purpose.

Edith Schaeffer

Thoughts on Prayer at 2AM

Our experiment in ecclesia is truly an experiment.  It’s a process in which we must learn, test the things we are learning, and test again if we hope to gain deeper understanding.  As a church, we have been using this process to gain an deeper understanding of prayer.  We sometimes talk about prayer as a ideology; we discuss concepts of prayer, ways to pray, and reasons to pray.  But as we test prayer as an ideology we often run into problems.  We can dissect words in hopes to find something we haven’t noticed before or question methodological approaches.  We can discuss the benefits of different types of prayer;  discuss finding the rhythm of fixed hour prayer, or growing in compassion with “flash prayers.”  But in the end we find ourselves doing a lot of talking about prayer, but not actually praying. Prayer is not meant to be an ideology alone, it is meant to be a practice.  In other, fancy words: Finding the orthodoxy (right way of thinking) of prayer is useless without putting into practice the orthopraxy (right way of acting) of prayer.

I believe we learn more about prayer when we pray then when we talk about prayer.  Two Sundays ago was proof of this.  I taught on the topic of prayer and the challenge of lining up the things that we believe about pray with the way we actually pray.  I felt as if the time talking about prayer was beneficial, but it wasn’t until we spent two hours in prayer together that we started to understand it.  We tested the things we had just finished talking about.  We tested prayer by praying confidently and honestly before God.  We tested prayer by laying hands on each other while crying out to God for healing.  We tested prayer through interceding for answers to unknown questions. 
When I reflect on my life growing up in church I am reminded more of the moments of orthopraxy than I am of the moments of orthodoxy.  I’m not saying that orthodoxy is not needed (really, I would argue that our orthodoxy and orthopraxy will always be connected.  We cannot experience one without the other, but that’s a topic for another day.), but truth experienced is stronger than truth known.  For me, that Sunday night was evidence of this.  I have trouble remembering what I taught on that night, but I know the prayers we prayed together.  As I reflect on moments like those I am greatful that God has brought me to this place;  I am proud to be a part of this church.  

May the Lord, who is abundant in compassion, guide us through all the steps we take.