Monthly Archives: May 2013

Law and Prayer, a meditation on Psalm 119

Most prayer books include regular readings of Jesus’ Greatest Commandment to love God and love neighbor. This command has been a regular part of personal and corporate prayer and worship for centuries throughout the history of the Church. But, modern concepts of prayer ask us – why include this command (or any “law”) in a prayer book? What does meditation on the Law, the commands of God, have to do with prayer?

To answer that question I turned to Psalm 119, one of the most robust passages on the goodness of the Law in the Bible. Since Psalm 119 is also a prayer, in that it is addressed to God, I thought it would be an ideal spot to find the answer.

From Psalm 119, we learn that meditating on the commands of God in prayer…

  • Leads us to plead for personal holiness (5-6, 10-11, 18, 29, 133)
  • ….especially, perseverance in holiness (33-37, 112)
  • Leads us to ask for mercy (8, 132, 176)
  • Causes us to rejoice and delight in God (12-16, 171-172) and His law (23)
  • Leads us to ask for understanding (27, 66, 169) in order to deepen our meditation
  • Causes us to be bold and confident in our obedience, especially in the face of evil men (30-32, 84-88, 109)
  • Causes us to look longingly for salvation (41, 81, 174)
  • Leads us to rejoice in God’s freedom (45)
  • Helps us receive comfort (52)
  • Causes us to thank God that He Himself is our portion (57)
  • Reminds us of the goodness of God (68, 137)
  • Puts our suffering in context (71, 75)
  • Reminds us of what is truly valuable (72)
  • Reminds us of God’s faithfulness to all generations (89-91, 152)
  • Makes us wise beyond our years (98-100, 104)
  • Increases our zeal and love (113, 119, 126-128, 139)
  • Helps us put our hope in the right spot (114)
  • Builds within us a fear of the Lord (12)
  • Helps us as we call for justice (153-154)

It can be tempting to view commands and relationship in opposition. Since we value (rightly) a “relationship with God” so highly we can sometimes downplay the importance of meditating on God’s commands, especially in prayer. For the Psalmist, however, it is clear that his love for the law and his love for God were nearly inseparable. I am thankful both to the Psalmist, and to the historical tradition of the Church, for balancing my own understanding in this regard.

Advertisements

ENCORE! ENCORE!

I’m working on a new blog series and have a few posts in the queue, but I’m a little worried I’ll start something I can’t finish so I’m going to wait a bit before I let the cat out of the bag. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy a few more excellent remarks from quotable Chesterton:

First, the rather standard way of viewing the world:

“All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon once assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing hoes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance.”

Now, Chesterton’s surprising, refreshing, even childlike perspective:

“[I]t might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seem for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they especially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.”

Anyone who has a young child, or has spent any time with them, knows where he’s going with this.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because that are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grow-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.

“The repetition in Nature may not be mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.”

Book Review: Insourcing by Randy Pope

Insourcing by Randy Pope

Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church (Leadership Network Innovation Series) by Randy Pope gave me both less and more than I expected. I expected a more general systematic or Biblical explanation of discipleship along with a call to general church discipleship. Instead, I got a very practical and specific model for discipleship called Life-On-Life Missional Discipleship (LOLMD). This is not just a general description of discipleship, it’s an actual program at Perimeter Church where Pope pastors. At first, I was disappointed with this but, by the end, I was grateful I got something other than what I expected.

Solidness: Plus+ While this book is about a specific program, it is based on a solid theological framework. Pope’s “Journey Groups” center around five components of discipleship: Truth, Equipping, Accountability, Mission, and Supplication. These groups, (which are not the same as traditional small groups), are focused on leadership development. They are “not a factor for cranking out healthy Christians, [they are] a laboratory for reproducing leaders” (p. 150). What Pope has in mind are groups that have a greater degree of intentionality, commitment, and mission than traditional church small groups. In outlining this process, I think Pope has rightly identified a hole in most church ministries and proposed a reasonable (and apparently well-tested) solution.

Freshness: Plus+ It took a while to be convinced that this book was any different from other “small group” books I’ve read. By the end I was convinced that it really is different but the quality of the ideas – and their applicability – is something for which the jury is still out. This is true for one simple reason: This is a practical book and I haven’t put it into practice (yet). This is a book meant to be done, not just read.

Recommendation: There is a rather niche audience who will be interested in this book: Pastors, or other ministry leaders. If that’s you, I recommend you give it a read and spend some time thinking about its content and applicability for your ministry. Other lay leaders may also find this book helpful, especially those engaged in small group or discipleship ministries.

This is the kind of book for which an immediate review is probably inadequate. In one years time, I could say this book is a perfect 10, or a mediocre 5 that just didn’t work in my context. I’ll say this, though, there’s potential here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

The Great Might-Not-Have-Been

I love how G.K. Chesterton views the world and his fellow-man. Consider the passage below, from Orthodoxy:

“It is a good exercise, in empty or ugly hours of the day, to look at everything, the coal-scuttle or the book-case, and think how happy one could be to have brought it out of the sinking ship on to the solitary island. But it is a better exercise still to remember how all things have had this hair-breadth escape: everything has been saved from a wreck. Every man has had one horrible adventure: as a hidden untimely birth he had not been, as infants that never see the light. Men spoke much in my boyhood of restricted or ruined men of genius: and it was common to say that many a man was a Great Might-Have-Been. To me it is a more solid and startling fact that any man in the street is a Great Might-Not-Have-Been.”

Baptisms, Business Meetings, and Busted Knees

“You’re just not that well put together,” the doctor said as he examined my ankle. That was five years ago, a few days after I sprained my ankle. I had been playing volleyball on the grass, came down from an epic spike (that’s how I remember it anyway) and landed on some soft ground. My ankle swelled up, which earned me a trip to the E.R. and got me some new crutches. A few days later, in Petoskey, I went to a specialist who described my joints as “loose” and “sloshy” and expressed surprise that I wasn’t injured more often. Apparently, I’m just not put together well.

I’ve been injury free since… until last Thursday. I was playing Capture the Flag with a bunch of teenagers from my church, planted my foot hard as I attempted a spectacular Madden-worthy juke, at which point my knee just buckled out from under me. For a couple days I couldn’t put weight on it but, now, thankfully, I am on the road to recovery. No permanent damage, I hope.

This past Sunday was quite exciting at our church. During the worship service we had three baptisms, all adult women who wanted to express their faith in a public way before the church. After the worship service, when we normally have a time for discussion, we had our congregation wide business meeting. As per our tradition, every head of every ministry gave a report on his or her ministry. We’re not a big church but we have a lot of involvement from a lot of people so the annual business meeting is always looong, but in the best possible way. Everything we heard was pure gold.

Before the business meeting Pastor John read the following passage from Ephesians 4:

“11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

On Thursday and Friday I wasn’t able to put any weight on my knee because my supporting ligaments weren’t working. I am prone to injury because my joints are sloshy – because I’m just not that well put together.

But what I saw in our church on Sunday was strength and unity. As each person does his or her work the whole body becomes effective, strong, and mature. On occasions where there has been injury (and we are not immune from injury) it hurts the whole body. But, when we work together with unity of purpose and diversity of function, when we are united by those things we need to be united by (“one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father”) the whole body rejoices. And, even at 12:30, when we are all late for our lunches and our kids were cranky, we were still rejoicing at the goodness and wisdom of God.

QOTD: I just want to be _____________.

I deviated from the Question of the Day Plan. I had two more questions to ask out of Soul Searching but some conversations throughout the week made me decide to go in a different direction. So, as the kids streamed in to Attic After School I asked each to complete the sentence “I just want to be _____” on a little slip of paper. I got a total of 35 responses.

There were several ways of answering the question (though I was fishing for a particular one). A lot of the kids answered the question “I want to be a _____ when I grow up.” There were a few who wanted to be dancers, a couple singers, three soldiers, an anthropologist, etc. No small number just completely goofy: “I just want to be peanut butter.” One kid wanted to be a basketball player. One wanted to be a basketball. Go figure.

There were a few that said, “I just want to be me.” I’m still not quite sure what this means (a topic for another day, I suppose) though I think they meant, “I just want to be the best I can be,” another one of the responses.

Several went with religious answers. “I just want to be godly,” “I just want to be pure,” and perhaps most telling, “I just want to be innocent again.”

All were excellent answers, even the goofy ones, which made Talk Time more fun.

What I was fishing for, however, was the handful of people who responded, “I just want to be happy,” and it was to this that I turned my attention in my conversations with the kids. The goal was to point them to four simple truths.

(1) It’s not wrong to want to be happy. God created us that way. The problem is that (2) many of the ways we look for happiness lead to despair. Much of what the world offers is at best temporary, and at worst destructive. We lack the knowledge of ourselves and the world to know what will make bring us joy and so we go looking in all the wrong places. The good news is that (3) God, our Creator, knows just what we need to find lasting joy – and, in fact, He is just what we need. So, as Jesus says, instead of seeking happiness, (4) seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, rejoice in God first, and allow Him to fulfill the desires of your heart.

As C.S. Lewis says (because you can never go wrong adding a C.S. Lewis quote to your blog post):

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The new legalism? (Why we use that word too much)

Late last week I re-tweeted an Eric Mason tweet below that said “Stop calling obedience to Jesus legalism!”

Untitled

I don’t know what the context of Eric’s tweet was. As for me, I was fresh off a reading of Anthony Bradley’s article, “The New Legalism.” In the article, Bradley suggests that the new missional/radical movement is becoming a new form of legalism by making Christians feel bad for not dropping out of their middle class lifestyle and engaging in inner city or third-world missionary work. I think the article makes some good points but I take a few issues with it as well.

First, I think it mischaracterizes much of the missional/radical movement. I can’t really classify myself as a part of either of these movements – I don’t really know what either are, and I’m not a big fan of labels, especially new ones – but most of what Bradley argues against is an abuse of their positions, not their actual positions.

Second, I take issue with the use of his term “legalism.” This isn’t unique to him and, in fact, since reading the article I have found myself and others using this term loosely on a regular basis. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to stop, and I think you should too.

Here’s why.

There are three meanings for legalism in use today, one narrow, one broad, and one wrong.

The more narrow meaning is this: The idea that we are saved, or retain our salvation, by following a set of rules. Since Christianity maintains that salvation is by God’s grace alone this form of legalism stands in opposition to Christianity.

The broad meaning is this: Over-emphasizing a rule OR doctrine, especially in comparison to God’s grace or the free choice of the individual. So, someone might say that a school having a strict dancing policy is “legalistic” because he might believe that the policy over-emphasizes what he might consider to be a made-made rule that unduly restricts the free choice of the students.

The wrong usage is this: I don’t think holiness or obedience is really all that important, so I’ll name any call to obedience ‘legalism’ to sound pious.

I think Bradley’s article falls under the second/broad meaning of the term.

In his article he argues that “missional” thinkers over-emphasize the call to inner-city work and therefore restricts the “choice” of the individual to live in the suburbs by adding undue guilt onto their consciences. In other words, he this ‘new legalism’ over-emphasizes a particular rule (which he might call man-made) and therefore de-emphasizes grace.

I don’t blame Bradley for his use of this term in this way. It’s common.

So, why does it bother me? Good question. Perhaps I am overreacting a bit but I’ll make my case anyway and let you, dear reader, can decide for yourself.

When you use ‘legalism’ broadly you mischaracterize your opponents: Because ‘legalism’ has a narrow and a broad meaning you run the risk of charging your opponent with hold a position which stands in opposition to Christianity when, in fact, you may only wish to say they are too restrictive in their rule enforcement. You characterize them with being Pharisees – no small charge among followers of Jesus.

The two forms of ‘legalism’ have different causes and different cures: Real legalism is a theological error. It makes works a requirement for salvation. You solve it by showing how we are saved by Christ alone. However, when most people use legalism, they are saying that someone is restrictive, or judgmental, or narrow-minded, or overly zealous. All of these may or may not be real issues but they are not the same issue. You might solve these issues by talking about Christian liberty, or an appeal to conscience, or a more balanced perspective, or by pointing to the heart of the matter instead of the outward appearance, etc. In other words, the charge of legalism, in many cases, misdiagnoses the problem.

When you bring the charge of ‘legalism’ you shut yourself, and others, from learning from their perspective: Because legalism is such a bogeyman it’s easy to shut off a conversation by just saying the other side are a bunch of gospel hating legalists when, in fact, there might be much you can learn from their position. For instance, perhaps those missional/radical Christians have something important to teach us about what it means to live out the Great Commission or lose your life for the sake of Christ. Or, perhaps that school with restrictions on dances has something important to teach us about modesty, propriety, and sexual purity. Perhaps what we thought was a restrictive rule designed to simply modify behavior actually teaches us something important about obedience and holiness. We’ll never really know if we can’t get past the ‘legalistic’ label we’ve applied to them. It shuts down the conversation.

Solution?

I’m not sure if there is one or, if there is, I don’t know what it is. For now, I’m trying to stop use the label of legalism unless I really mean it. I’m hoping this will open me up to more nuanced and serious discussions with those who emphasize some component of holiness and obedience I had previously neglected.

What do you think? Do you agree we use legalism too broadly or am I overreacting?