Catching up

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The GIGO Principle

I was first introduced to the GIGO principle by one of my oldest friends when we were kids. He was considerably smarter than I was and exceptionally gifted when it came to working with computers. He explained to me that the GIGO principle was ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ What he meant was that if you put in bad coding instructions, the computer will give you nonsense or garbage output. I tried for a while to learn about programming when I was younger and realized I was creating more garbage than program but the phrase never left me. It popped up again later in life as I began to work in graphic design. People would ask us to design things but not really give us an idea of what they really wanted. They got whatever we could dream up with limited instruction, usually something they didn’t like. Again, garbage in, garbage out.

Discipleship can be a bit like this or have certain similarities to the GIGO principle. If you listen to teaching from questionable sources, hear sermons with faulty theology, practice things that originate from ideas that are not in line with the Way of Jesus, you may be practicing GIGO Christianity. It looks good until you really try to run the program, that is, until you get outside the confines of your personal group and start practicing in the real world. God doesn’t bless, the program doesn’t work, things fall apart.

You might wonder how a person can check the programming. For Methodists, we consider our method for checking the program the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. The firs three of these things, Wesley borrowed from his Anglican tradition and the final was his own addition. These four things are the starting place for checking the programming to avoid practicing GIGO Christianity.

The way you do it is to take an idea and ask yourself these questions:

(1) Is the idea found and explained clearly in Scripture?

(2) Is the idea discussed and explained by church throughout its history? How much and mow long?

(3) Is the idea one that makes sense?

(4) Is the idea one that resonates with your personal experience and the experience of others who are practicing non-GIGO Christianity?

(5) and I’ll add a fifth one to this, is the Holy Spirit teaching this to you through these other means?

This little exercise is a starting place, a way of dipping your toes in the water and learning to examine the ideas that are thrown at us day in, day out by a world that seems to be speaking constantly. It is also a way to avoid the echo chambers (places where everyone is saying the same thing without thought or question) that are so prevalent in our world today. May we all seek to clean up our systems and check our programming so it aligns with the Way of Jesus.

The Pain of Change

I recently read a quote from Richard Rohr who said, “Hurt people, hurt people.” When you first look at this it looks kind of strange. It almost seems like he’s saying we should hurt people. But if you pay close attention, I think you’ll realize that he’s saying people who are hurt will hurt other people because they’re hurting. The pain they feel—a lot of which is horrific and unbearable—becomes the driving force for why some people cause the harm they do to others and why some cause harm to themselves. Alcoholism, physical abuse, addictions, I see all these things coming out from the pain of the things people experience. I am in no way excusing negative behavior. I believe we must be responsible for our actions and try to act accordingly but I think we can have a better perspective on why people hurt others if we see past what they are doing to see why they do it.

But pain is not the only reason people hurt each other. I think the other big reason is fear. When people are afraid, they try to protect themselves by going into fight or flight mode. People who chose the fight response lash out at those around them, quite often causing damage in their relationships and sometimes to others without meaning to. People who chose the flight option when afraid run away from or avoid those things that cause them pain or make them uncomfortable. I think recognizing what we are afraid of and moving beyond fight or flight to a place of seeing the situation as it is without letting our emotions get the better of us is the better option. It’s harder to do but in the long run, I see it as a more Jesus like perspective.

Why am I talking about what seems to be a lesson in pop psychology? Right now, the world is changing. People are speaking out about injustice. People are dividing up along political lines. People are protesting, counter protesting, meeting violence with violence whether in the body or the spirit. People are not only at war with one another but with themselves. People are hurt, scared, and acting out accordingly. They are turning to escapisms (alcohol, drugs, social media, binge watching TV, etc.) to avoid the troubles of the world. People are withdrawing into their homes and away from their friends and families to avoid confrontation. People are running out or running to their smartphones and computers to protest and counter protest, attack and counterattack. In the process, no one is hearing the pain and fear behind the voices being raised. We are just fighting what we think is the good fight for our side, whatever side that is.

But what if we stopped? What if we turned off the news, put away social media? What if we listened to those we disagree with—actively and without a spirit of defensiveness? What if we quit thinking about what we might win or lose an argument, or get hurt? What if we stopped looking at who was on whose side and assumed for the sake of argument that were all on the same side, that the goal was to create a world where everyone had what they needed no one went without what they needed for their mind, soul, or spirit? What if we lived for each other instead of against each other’s ideas? Sound a little too utopian, a little too pie in the sky? Already thinking of exceptions for why it won’t work? Consider this:

  • Paul says where the gospel is concerned there is no Jew or Greek only those who believe in the Way of Jesus (Romans 10).
  • Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount illustrated the kingdom of God as a place that was socially and economically topsy turvy to the Roman world (and the modern Western world). (Matthew 5-7)
  • The Prophet Micah says that true worshipers do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6)

What am I saying? I’m saying that we are doing life wrong. We are doing faith wrong. We are acting out of our hurt and our fear and we are hurting people and creating a fearful world around us. It is time to stop. For the follower of Jesus, there is no political party, there is the Kingdom; there is no them, there is all of us; there is no way forward unless we choose to go together. How do we start? Start by learning to let go of hate, fear, division, and pain and embrace love, courage, unity, and healing.

Easy to do? No.

The right thing to do? I believe so.

Worth it? For the sake of the kingdom, absolutely.

The Ancient Ways – Part 3

An unintentional fast
There have been a few times in my life I have considered the idea of fasting with some seriousness. I first read about it in a serious sense in college and again sometime later in seminary. In seminary, I tried a few times to fast just to get an idea of what it might be like while taking classes on spiritual formation and the like. I usually lasted for about eight or ten hours before I was ready to ransack the kitchen and eat everything I could find up to and including things I had no taste for at all like artichokes or rutabagas.


Back in February however, when Covid-19 was just beginning to make its presence felt here, I started to notice a weird tickle in my throat and an occasional cough. It was not the Sars-Cov2 virus, but without a doubt, something was bothering me. I tried to ignore it and largely succeeded until I was eating dinner at a restaurant for our anniversary. Dinner was great. The restaurant was annoyingly loud, but the food was excellent. The only problem was I couldn’t enjoy it. It was like every bite was causing its own acid volcano, stopping in my throat to soak my voice box. By the time dinner was over, I felt hoarse, like I had been coughing all evening. After an appointment at the doctor’s office, I found out what the problem was or at least what they thought it was: laryngopharyngeal or silent reflux. It’s a form of acid reflux that doesn’t seem to show any effects on your throat until it gets to your voice box. When it acts up, it causes you to have a dry cough and leaves you feeling like someone scratched your throat with a nail file. So, its uncomfortable. But it is treatable.


I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “The treatment is worse than the cure.” Since I’m reluctant to take medication and my wife happens to be a dietitian, I decided to try a dietary method of treating silent reflux. It’s called the FODMAP diet and it takes everything fun out of your diet. Fat? Gone. Bread? Out the door. Dairy? Nope. Caffeine? Only if you can take it and I couldn’t at the time. I could chew gum and that helps a lot but it’s not filling. Even some of the vegetables I enjoy eating were off-limits. For the better part of two months, I tried to treat reflux with diet and exercise only. For part of that time, I was successful. I lost some weight that needed to go, was more energetic and felt overall healthier. I hated it. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but do you have any idea how much I really like mint chocolate chip ice cream and egg salad sandwiches? Okay so I did hate it some, but it was good for me overall. After getting used to it, I managed to develop a little more discipline when it came to my eating and some discipline with some other things in my life too. It seems this kind of discipline rubs off on other areas of your life.


What is fasting and why do we do it?
Fasting is in its simplest expression, a spiritual discipline. It is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function—usually eating food—for the sake of intense spiritual activity. In other words, it is replacing something you do day in, day out with a spiritual practice. The biblical concept of fasting usually referred to the act of abstaining from food and/or fluids except for water, though there are examples, such as Daniel 10:3, where people fast from something more specific. Though there are no laws or commands about fasting in the bible , it was a common practice throughout biblical literature—Jacob, Moses, Daniel, Elijah, and of course Jesus and his disciples all fasted at various times. Their fasting was centered on God, initiated by God, and ordained by God.


Fasting as a discipline, also shows us how the things of our lives control us when they surface during our times of disciplining our bodies and spirits to abstain from certain things. Think about Lent and how hard it is to avoid chocolate if you’ve given it up. You’re thinking about it right now; a Reese’s peanut cup; broken up in a Blizzard and—no wait that’s me. But you get my point. When we deny ourselves certain things, we have to face the level of control they have over our lives and how entrenched they have become in our being.

Our Judeo-Christian heritage is filled with commentary on the art and practice of fasting. But the how of it has varied and continues to vary. In the Psalms, David saw the fast as a whole-body activity, where we mixed prayer and mourning together with an act of self-denial. According to Isaiah, the fast was for the benefit of others, “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isa. 58:6–7). And of course, Jesus sets the example of fasting while in the desert and qualifies the proper attitude for fasting in The Sermon on the Mount. For many of the early church fathers and mothers, fasting was an act of sacred rhythm and discipline. Athanasius said, “Sometimes the call is made to fasting, and sometimes to a feast,” and Augustine saw it as a means of overcoming temptation. Many others in ancient times saw it as a Lenten observance or an act of penance—something that led to extravagant expressions of false contrition and abuse—which was seen later in a negative light. Church reformers like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Wesley made regular practice of it and modern writers like Dallas Willard and John Piper extol its virtues. Yet, even with all this encouragement from such a long and storied history of writers, theologians, and practitioners of the faith, fasting is one of the most misunderstood and loathed practices of the church. We simply do not like denying ourselves anything, seemingly more so today than any other time.

Through the history of the Jewish-Christian faith, there have been a number of reasons people have fasted, but according to Scot McKnight, “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.” He sees fasting as a response to something happening, (A) that leads us to respond (B) and this leads to a result (C). In this case, it has the potential to become an abuse of grace, if you intend to move from A to B in order to get to C. An example is you have sinned (A) and you fast (B) to get forgiveness (C). McKnight sees the appropriate response as you have sinned (A) so you fast as an act of contrition (B) not to get forgiveness but because it reveals their being attuned to God. McKnight says, “…when the grievous sacred moment is neglected and instead, we focus on the results, fasting becomes a manipulative device instead of a genuine, Christian spiritual discipline.”

These are all great historical expressions of fasting, what it is, and why we do it, but on a personal level, I see it a little differently. To me, fasting is the chance to overcome the things that keep us from the presence of God. We all have those things that we indulge in which are detrimental to our relationship with God. Fasting is a way to recognize the damage these things do to our relationship with God. Each person has a unique reason, a specific set of things that might lead them to fast. Sometimes a food fast will lead you to develop the discipline necessary to fast from or give up certain things. Sometimes it is simply a discipline to help you into the presence of God. Sometimes it is specific. If you have issues with certain foods—things that cause you harm or things you eat uncontrollably—fast or abstain from them. If watching the news or being on your phone is an issue, turn it off and put it away. In all these cases, the idea is that we are slowly but steadily putting away the things that hurt us and our relationship with God.


And while you are fasting from these things, embrace the time spent on those things for other spiritual practices: prayer, scripture reading, reading religious books and biographies, times of worship, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and imprisoned. We do not give up for the sake of emptiness but use the space vacated as space to be filled with the things of God that deepen our relationship with God and others.

How do we fast safely?
Fasting safely looks differently depending on what you are fasting from. If you are strictly speaking of a food fast, do a little at a time. Start with preparing to fast by eating smaller amounts for a few days and then on the day you decide to fast, go from lunch one day to lunch the next. This will mean skipping dinner one night and breakfast the next morning before eating lunch. And then doing that once a week and then after a while perhaps an entire day without food. Always be careful to drink plenty of water while you do this to keep from dehydrating. When it comes to other kinds of fasts, the same is true. We give up things for short periods of time (hours) and work our way to longer periods (weeks or months) and if necessary, give them up completely.


Fasting is, in short, denying ourselves for the sake of God’s presence. We give up something we don’t really need for something much greater and worth much more. Ask yourself, what is between me and God? What could I give up that would bring me closer to God? What spiritual joys might I find if I embraced new practices or old practices forgotten?

References
Bradshaw, Paul F. Reconstructing Early Christian Worship. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2009.
Foster, Richard J. A Celebration of Discipline. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
—. Spiritual Classics. Edited by Richard J. Foster, & Emilie Griffin. New York: HarperOne, 2000.
Hall, Christopher A. Worshiping with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Hippo, Augustine of. “The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.” In The Spiritual Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster, & Emilie Griffin, 67-69. New York: HarperOne, 2000.
Marshall, Catherine. “A Closer Walk.” In Spiritual Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster, & Emilie Griffin, 57-59. New York: HarperOne, 2000.
McKnight, Scot. Fasting: The Ancient Practices Series. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
McLaren, Brian. Finding Our Way Again. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

The Ancient Ways – Part 2

Analysis of a prayer

This week, we will be engaging with the first of our ancient practices, fixed-hour prayer. But I want to start by giving us a prayer to consider and see what we can learn. The prayer was prayed in a Krystal Restaurant some years ago. It has stuck in my head and remained an example of what honest prayer looks like. It goes something like this,

Dear Lord, we thank you these here gut buster hamburgers. We know they’re not good for us, but we thank you for providing them anyway. Bless them so maybe we don’t feel too bad after we eat. Amen.

If you have had the privilege—and some may see the use of that word as an exaggeration—of eating Krystal hamburgers, you understand the reality of this prayer. I have rarely eaten at Krystal that I did not enjoy it going down and regretted a few hours later, though I would probably eat there frequently if I lived near one. Apparently, as I have gotten older, God is trying to safeguard my health by having me live in places that are two to three hours away from the nearest Krystal.

All that aside, there is something to be said for the prayer above. It recognizes the situation for what it is, speaks to God directly and with reverence. It is honest, especially about the intent of the one praying and the circumstances they are about to put themselves in. It also speaks with the familiarity of a close friend, a loved one, someone for whom this kind of language is appropriate. But let’s look a little deeper into this idea of prayer and see how we can not only engage in prayer, specifically the idea of fixed-hour prayers.

What is prayer?

Here is a comforting quote from Christopher Hall on prayer,

What a strange way God has designed and ordained for us to communicate and commune with him. I speak to God, yet I don’t see God. I’ve never heard God respond audibly to my prayers. On my worst days I wonder, is God really there? Is God listening? Can God make any sense of my babblings? Am I talking too much? Does the Lord wish I would just quiet down a bit? Isn’t prayer supposed to be a two-way conversation? If it is a dialogue, how do I know when God is speaking to me? How can I discern God’s voice and distinguish it from the lingering effects of last night’s pizza? And my goodness am I distracted. The moment I sit down to pray I feel as though 10,000 bumblebees are flying through the atmosphere of my brain. So much interference. So much static. Things I haven’t thought about in years suddenly bubbled to the surface of my consciousness. The to do list for today that I’ve been ignoring for hours suddenly becomes a high priority. What is one to do?

I say this is comforting because I know that I have felt that way and I have talked to others who felt that way as well. Prayer is not always an easy thing to nail down when it comes to practice or definition. Through the centuries—there have been various ideas and definitions of what prayer is or should be. Some of these things involve very technical terms like supplication or intercession. Some of these things are much simpler like gratitude or presence. The early church father, Clement of Alexandria, said prayer is a conversation, a definition that I use most often when describing prayer. It is a time to speak to God about the things that are on our minds and a time to listen to God in response.

You might wonder, “If God already knows what I’m going to say, why say it?” Clement and Augustine and others considered this question light of the idea of an all-knowing God. The answer: because love likes to be asked. God, like a loving parent, already knows what is in our hearts—our hurts, our desires, our thoughts on anything—and likes for us to share it with him. It does two things when we do. It strengthens our relationship and the bonds of love between ourselves and God and it acts—when we are honest—as a sort of self-confessional, a way to admit to ourselves as we admit to God what we are actually feeling. Prayer is in short, a way to be open and honest with God.

What do we mean by fixed hour prayer?

Fixed hour prayers are prayer times—four each day at morning, noon, evening, and night—that are made up of psalms, scriptures, and prayers, known also as an office. The idea of fixed hour prayer was born with our Jewish forebearers. It is rooted in the Psalms, specifically Psalm 119:164 which says, “I praise you seven times a day for your righteous rules.” While the Christian community has adopted a slightly different version of this, it is nonetheless, rooted in the practice of praying throughout the day. “For thousands of years, the daily office has been a primary way to hold ourselves in closer communion with the one who made us. It is a way to sanctify our days and our hours, our work and our love, our very life itself.”[1]

Fixed-hour prayer starts at the time that you wake up in the morning. You would simply take a few moments to begin your day with the office or prayer vigil—reading Psalms and scriptures and praying either ‘off the cuff’ or using written prayers that others have written. Some people shy away from the idea of written prayers as inauthentic or not personal enough. But consider this, every week, we pray together with millions of the faithful over the world, the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:5-13, one of the oldest written prayers in Christendom and comfort to many in times of trouble and crisis.

After you pray first thing in the morning, you take time to pray again around noon. For most people, if they get up around 6:00am, this means praying at six in the morning, noon, six in the evening, and before bed. At first, this may look like a Herculean task and may seem like a chore. But like all things in life, it is a matter of perspective, not a have to, but a get to; not a chore to be done and checked off, but an ongoing conversation with a friend throughout the day.

Putting things into practice

When it comes to starting out with the process, I think a good way is to use a some of the tools that we already have. For instance, there is an order for the daily office in the UM Book of Worship and the website umcdiscipleship.org has a version of the daily office you can download and print. The Upper Room is a version of the hours, though most people only use it once it once a day. You can even put together your own version. Perhaps when you start your practice of praying the hours, pick a section from a Psalm, a section from the rest of scripture (maybe something you really like), a few of your favorite songs, and a few prayers that you are comfortable with either reading or memorizing. Some of my favorites to use are prayers I have used on our morning prayer time online from people like St. Francis, St. Augustine, the Book of Worship, the Book of Common Prayer, methodistprayer.org, and many others that people have found to be comforting, challenging, and Spirit filled. Alternate prayers and scriptures with songs and you have a basic order for a prayer time.

“When our churches are schools of practice, they make—and change—history. Otherwise, they simply write history and argue about it, and of course, in so doing they tend to repeat it.”[2] “The purpose of the ancient way and the ancient practices is not to make us more religious. It is to make us more alive.”[3] I plan on reading these quotes several times during this series as reminders of what we are hoping to accomplish with this series. When it comes to the practice of fixed-hour prayer, it is a matter of doing it until it becomes part of who we are. Praying several times daily is an act of illumination where God speaks through the Holy Spirit to reorient us to the Way of Jesus. This is a way of making recognizing the working of the Spirit in our lives in every moment of every day, not just on Sunday and not just at a gathering.

And it is a practice, you must do it day in, day out to get the benefit of it. It is in the doing that you find yourself drawn deeper and deeper into the presence of God until at last, you simply want nothing more than to get from one prayer time to another.

References

Benson, Robert. In Constant Prayer. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Hall, Christopher A. Worshiping with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

McLaren, Brian. Finding Our Way Again. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.


[1] (Benson 2008, 9)

[2] (McLaren 2008, 145)

[3] (McLaren 2008, 182)

The Ancient Ways – Part 1

Introduction

There are often, two schools of thought on old ways and new ways of doing things. Some people, drawn to tradition and routine, are often quite happy with the old ways, those comfortable things, for the simple reason that they are just that, comfortable; it’s what we have always done, how we’ve always seen it, and it works fine. There is no reason to change it. Some people drawn to new ways are looking for change, the novelty and excitement of doing something different, something that shakes things up a bit. We need to do and think new things to learn and grow.

Not that either of these is inherently right or wrong, good or bad—in truth, they’re both preferences about the way of doing things—but both are opposite sides of a similar fallacy. The first is the appeal to tradition and the second is the appeal to novelty. Tradition says, “We’ve always done it this way and that makes it right. Otherwise, why would we have been doing it this way?” Novelty says, “We need to do something new because we’re being left behind by the rest of the world if we don’t.” The truth is neither is right under those circumstances; they both appeal to something that has basis in truth. In this case, they are only opinions and preferences.

Christianity though, has a long relationship with traditions and traditional ideas. Most of our theological beliefs come from writers and theologians in the first four centuries of the church that have been refined and rethought over the generations. Our liturgies and elements of worship have long histories though sometimes, longer than or maybe not as long as we think. Even the newest methods of modern worship are based on liturgy that is between 100-200 years old. Our practices, like our worship and beliefs, have evolved over the centuries sometimes in healthy, affirming ways, sometimes not so much. In that time, new ideas, methods, liturgies, and practices have come along. Some of these have been little more than fads, losing momentum and dying away with very little time. Sometimes, these ideas have stuck and became what would eventually be traditions. Change, like tradition, hasn’t always been bad or good, it has simply depended on the element of change.

But what if there was a way to express tradition honestly and embrace change that had real meaning? What if we could bring back the practices of the ancient church, the practices that changed the very course of human history, and set them in a modern context with modern tools? I think we can. This way of Christian practice is called Ancient-Modern and it seeks to find ways of practicing faith in the way of Jesus and the early disciples in the modern world and in a modern context.

What practices?

Now, you might say, “Isn’t that what we’re already doing?” And I might say, “Is it?” Do you pray the hours? Do you fast certain days of the week? How do you fit in a true Sabbath—which is not, by the way, Sunday worship? Do you consider, not only the Eucharist but meals with others as a sacred time and the table as a sacred place? Do you about pilgrimages or have you taken one? Do you recognize the various seasons of the church and the rhythms of life they represent in the church? How do you approach giving? These are just some of ancient practices that were part of the Jesus Way taught by him to the apostles and practiced in the early church, and these practices have their roots in both Jewish and Greco-Roman ideas and practices that resonated within the fledgling movement during its baby steps.

Studying the ancient way of the church gives us insight and guidance into blending belief and practice together as one. If we only have a set of beliefs, we have little more than a philosophy to think about and quite often, argue about. If we have only a set of practices, we are left with little more than actions that have no meaning behind them. As the writer of James says,

You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do. – James 1:22-25

Consider the words of Jesus that were read a moment ago. These words were meant to comfort a people under an oppressive foreign rule. Why are they comforting? Because these words were a way changing the way you looked at the world. They were a way of thinking about the world around them and seeing it from a more divine perspective, one that values different things than the Roman world valued. It was a way of saying the greater things in this life are the things that we are and how those things change not only how we see the world but how the world sees, too. It was a way of creating new life practices for people to live into.  

Spiritual practices may be better understood as life practices. The reason being, they help us practice being alive and in a way that lives into truly loving our neighbor. They are not just things we do to develop character or feel good about ourselves, but they are gateways to aliveness, alertness, wakefulness, and humanity. In his book Finding Our Way Again, Brian McLaren writes,

…spiritual practices are about life, about training ourselves to become the kinds of people who have eyes and actually see, and who have ears and actually hear, and so, experience—with increasing consistency and resiliency—…not just survival but Life, capitalized and modified by sufficient adjectives such as real, abundant, examined, conscious, worth living, and good…spiritual practices are also and truly about the Spirit…[they] are ways of becoming awake and staying awake to God…[1]

We will look at seven major practices were a part of life in the early church. Although there were more than seven, these are the ones most prominently practiced. These practices were a part of the lives of Jesus and his followers as a matter of course. They were: daily, fixed hour prayer; weekly days of fasting; the Sabbath rest; sharing in the sacred meal; holy pilgrimages; observance of the sacred seasons; and giving to care for others and support the mission and work of the church. Each of these has origins in the life Jesus and his disciples lived, the place and time they inhabited.

How to live the Way

Some of you may wonder, “Why this? Why now?”

Honestly, I think this is the perfect time to engage in these practices. With the unrest caused by social issues and the Covid-19 pandemic, we stand on the edge of something unknown. In the face of the unknown, we have the opportunity, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to re-embrace the way that changed the direction of the world and use modern means and technologies to encourage and share this way of life with a world hungry for something deep and meaningful. Consider a life:

  • where you had a time of prayer six times a day
  • two days a week where you embraced emptying and cleansing yourself spiritually
  • a day devoted to nothing but rest and recovery from the work of your week
  • a celebration of the Eucharist that was a combination of holy celebration and communal meal as well as intentional fellowship meals with people from your church and neighborhood
  • traveling with sacred purpose
  • observing the seasons of the year with an eye toward the rhythms of God in those seasons
  • giving so that the mission of Kingdom continued as well as giving to alleviate suffering in our community

In many ways, these seem to be familiar practices but make no mistake, there is a greater call to commitment and lifestyle behind them than many would imagine. Yet in these practices lies a way of life and living that has the potential to change our personal lives as well as the lives of those around us. This way of life is powered by the relationship we have with the Holy Spirit and defined by the leadership of the Spirit so that we, as Paul said, are truly the temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

          Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, The Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men, and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so the soul will have a chance after it is changed. The Ancient Way seeks to do exactly that, to change us within that we may change the world without.        


[1] McLaren, Brian. Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, © 2008, p.17

Musings – The masks we wear (or don’t)

Going to the store is a normal occurrence for me, mostly because even when I make a list, I inevitably forget something on the list or just forget to put it on the list. So, it was no surprise to get home from the store a few days ago and find that I had forgotten to get dishwasher tabs. Back to the store I went, for the proverbial missing item.

I decided to go to a smaller store since what I needed was nothing special and it might be easier to get in and out of a smaller place. I found what I needed and headed to the checkout, waiting behind another customer. I’m usually an oblivious person when it comes to conversation going on around me in public places, but I guess the general quiet of the place made it easier to hear; that and the fact that the cashier and customer were actually talking about me and seemed to want me to hear it. The subject in question was my mask. The conversation: Why are these stupid people still wearing masks? Don’t they know it doesn’t do anything? Why are they trying to force this stuff on people anyway? We don’t have to wear a mask; it’s just stupid. The customer left and I went through the line. The cashier did not bother with a greeting, barely said anything other than the price of the item and turned away from the cash register when she finished. I don’t expect a medal or a parade for wearing a mask (for that matter I don’t expect anything), but I certainly didn’t expect the response I got at that store.

When I got home, I started thinking about the ignorance—meaning simply lack of knowledge—on display at the store and I wondered how many more people miss the point of the mask. I don’t wear it for my health, I wear it for the people around me. The goal of wearing masks is to not inadvertently spread the virus from yourself to someone else, especially if you are an asymptomatic carrier. The mask won’t protect you, but it might protect the people around you.

That made me think of our faith. While we practice certain acts of faith as private (acts of compassion and devotion), there are others that must be public (acts of justice and worship). The private acts are intended to be internal evidences to us that deepen and nurture our love of God. The public acts are intended to be external evidences to others that express our love and care of neighbor and show them the hand and work of God in the world. People see the love you show them or others and through that, see the evidence of Jesus in this world. We become the Jesus that those around us see because we are, in that moment, wearing the Jesus mask, or rather are showing the person of Jesus to those around us.

So, the mask you wear in public during this outbreak can also be the visage of Jesus you show to others. You are subconsciously telling them that you care enough about them to be concerned for their health. The same is true of bearing the image of Jesus in your lifestyle—and it is a lifestyle, a 24/7 way of living. The question to be asked is what kind of image are you portraying to the world? Is it your way of life or the Jesus Way?

Where do we go from here? – Part 4

Where Do We Go From Here? – Part 4 (sermon and service):

Daily prayer:

Monday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/182953696375908/?vh=e&d=n

Tuesday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/604861693720446/?vh=e&d=n

Wednesday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/294373841725650/?vh=e&d=n

Thursday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/1045526225841867/?vh=e&d=n

Friday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/posts/10159987287319498/?vh=e&d=n

Lunch & Learn:

Where do we go from here? – Part 3

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

May 31, 2020 Worship Service (sermon included)
https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/841331113042831/

Morning Prayers (week of May 25-29)
Monday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/260016055342375/
Tuesday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/564300801158858/
Wednesday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/2898595326896624/
Thursday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/573220733331936/
Friday – https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/819292195262719/

Lunch & Learn (May 28)
https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/245320546734136/

Where do we go from here? – Part 2

Click here for the video version of this sermon.

Job Opening
When we last left the disciples, they had been gawping at the empty sky and then wandering back to wait on the Holy Spirit, pray, and seek guidance from God. There were more than just the eleven, something along the lines of 120 men and women including members of Jesus’ family. Somewhere amid their praying and seeking God, Peter stands up to address an issue that apparently needed to be dealt with. He tells them that certain scriptures needed to be fulfilled regarding Judas which meant that someone would have to take his place as one of the twelve. It would have to be someone who had been with the group from the time of Jesus’ baptism all the way to the ascension. This person was to be an apostle, sent to be a witness to everything Jesus taught as well as the resurrection.

Replacing Judas was an emotional and symbolic need. It was emotional in that someone trusted by Jesus himself to be among the leaders of their movement had betrayed both Jesus and the others. “This [Judas’ betrayal] happened even though he was one of us and received a share of this ministry,” says Peter in Acts 1:17. Scholars have debated Judas’ reasons and cited everything from greed to desire to see Jesus go nuclear in a moment of pressure to Satanic possession to a God inspired/directed plan. Peter, in verses 17-20, reasons that it was a divine plan. The truth is, neither we, nor they, knew for certain. Judas decided for his own reasons and that decision caused great pain and distrust within the movement. They needed to restore trust in their leadership and begin healing the hurts it caused.

It was symbolic in that the early followers of Jesus were Jews following a Jewish rabbi and their worldview and orientation toward who Jesus was and why they should follow him was decidedly Jewish. That symbol is found in Luke 22:28-30,

You are the ones who have continued with me in my trials. And I confer royal power on you just as my Father granted royal power to me. Thus, you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel.

The symbol here is the connection of the twelve apostles with the twelve tribes of Israel. Each of the apostles is set aside as a judge over a tribe in the Kingdom of God after the return of Jesus. With Judas gone, they were missing a judge for one of those tribes.
Jesus has ascended to heaven, and the apostles and disciples now inherit the leadership and responsibility of carrying on with the ministry Jesus started. They are tasked with teaching what Jesus taught, living as Jesus lived, making disciples, and doing it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the promised teacher. They do this to bring the hope of Jesus’ message to those who, oppressed, hold no hope for themselves.

With all that in mind, the disciples gathered had two candidates (same party in this case) named Justus and Matthias. Both men were capable and had proven themselves to be men worthy of the leadership position that was being filled. The process of choosing the new apostle was a combination of prayer and casting lots. In this sense, leadership is based on qualifications and divine choice. I imagine the prayer part was what led them to the two candidates and from there, with either man able to do the job, the lots came in. Casting lots is an interesting practice and one that goes back to ancient Israel. In this case, the name of the two candidates was written on a small piece of wood and added along with other blank pieces to a container. The container is shaken and the name that falls out, Matthias, becomes God ordained choice.

Sounds like a fun way to do committee nominations for next year. Maybe I’ll just put the name of every church member on a small piece of paper, put them in a Mason jar, and shake them out one at a time, going down the list of positions that need to be filled. The committee can take the year off and we’ll let God decide by lot. Somehow, I don’t think the church will go along with this.

The man sittin’ next to the man
When we look at where we might go from here, one thing we will need is good leadership. I’m not just talking about from the pulpit, although that is certainly part of it, I mean from and for the entire congregation. As United Methodists, our greater church body sends pastors to local churches for a season and then sends them on to other places. So, the leadership of the local church is critically important, maybe more so in some ways than the pastor. We need to have godly, Spirit-led leaders to keep the mission of the local body going pastor or not. How do we find them? The same way the early church did, they let the Holy Spirit point them out. For us, we have a bit more to go on than they did in Acts 1. I see three things we can use for identifying leaders: the right Spirit, the right gifts, the right calling.

The right spirit
The first thing that comes to mind is that we need to have the right spirit to connect to the right Spirit. What I mean by that is that we need to have the right mindset and right viewpoint on life and living to connect with the Spirit of God so that we can hear the voice of the Spirit speaking. I think there are two good places to look to get started with this: The Great Commandment and the fruit of the Spirit. If we are people who can truly love with everything we have and love neighbor as self and if we learn to do that by being people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, I would say we are well on our way to having the right spirit. In fact, I would say the practice of these things, even if we have not or never completely master them, is good starting place.

The right gifts
All of us are gifted in some way or another. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12-13 and especially in verses 4-11. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, powerful acts, speaking truth, discerning spiritual things, and speaking in other languages and their interpretation, although I have a feeling that we need to brush up on what those things meant in their time and place to really understand them. I think the issue is to recognize that we all have something, some gift to contribute to the work of the church. Not only that, but as we said previously, that work has to be done in the right spirit. Though the next chapter is often used in weddings, it actually was meant to say that if we use the gifts we have in the wrong spirit – any spirit other than love – we are wasting our time. The right gift is the gift given by the Spirit of God and used in the spirit of love.

The right calling
The final thing I would say is that each of us has a particular gift to go along with our spirit and gifts. We can get an idea of this by looking at the lives of the apostles and especially Matthew. In the call story of Matthew, Jesus asks Matthew to be one of his disciples and Matthew throws a party to celebrate and show his friends the new rabbi he is giving up everything to follow. Though the bible does not say it for certain, I imagine Matthew would be able to reach quite a few Jewish tax collectors. He would understand their pain at being ostracized from their community and people while being looked down on by the Roman empire they worked for. He would be able to connect with them in a way that others might not even begin to know how to. We too have those around us that we know who ‘get’ us and whom we ‘get.’ This is our mission field, our people to invite to the party.

What do we do with that?
From all this, we see that we need good leadership in the church, not just in times of crisis but all the time. We need to be able to trust in God and allow the Holy Spirit of God to guide to those who have the spirit, the right gifts, and the right calling for the circumstances. This begs some questions for each of us. What kind of spirit do I have? What are my gifts that god has given to be used in the service of Kingdom? What have we been called to do?