Tag Archives: christianity

advent reflection & resources

Adventcom

Advent is here!!  I cannot express just how much I love this season; not because of the consumeristic Christmas that America celebrates, but because it’s the beginning of a new church year, and it’s the anticipation of the Savior’s birth. It’s my delight to share some Advent resources to assist you as you meditate upon this season.

(If you didn’t read my thoughts on using disciplines of season, go here.  For a introductory explanation of the church calendar, and an insight as to why I love following the liturgical calendar, Glenn Packiam has some thoughts here.)

Note: this list is rather ecumenical, but that’s not a bad thing!  I encourage you to see what other resources you can use beside your usual stand-bys.  You might be surprised at the treasures you find.

Let me share with you a couple of links directly related to Advent that I wish I could’ve written, myself.  Glenn Packiam has written here about taking the time and space to make Advent about more than just Christmas, and has some Advent resources here to assist you in reflecting upon this season.

Word of Life Church has constructed an Advent reading guide, which you can find here.

John Piper is giving away a free eBook called Good News of Great Joy here.

Ann Voskamp is giving away a Jesse Tree Advent Devotional here.

For more of a somber perspective of Christmas, see Dr. Varner’s post here, giving an overview of A Not So Silent Night.  Dr. V will be sharing about Christmas devotionals throughout the season, so make you sure you re-visit his blog.

Christine Sine has a wonderful list of Advent resources on her blog, and created a Facebook event page for Advent resources that she updates weekly: Join Us for Advent. 

The Jesuit Post has a short, but rich and eclectic list of Advent resources on their blog.

My friend G. recommends these devotional/prayer books for the Advent season: Watch for the Light, Preparing for Christmas (Rohr), Christmastide (Tickle), and Be Vigilant: Daily Meditations for Advent (Duburiel; only 99 cents on Kindle right now!)

What other Advent resources have you found helpful?  How do you make the most of the Advent season?  Please share in the comments section!  I will continue to expand this post to include a collection of Advent resources (or even helpful anecdotes) as you share them.

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the discipline of seasons

Seasons

I think part of me is just rebelling against the multi-tasking, fast paced, materialistic Western culture. We focus on quantity rather than quality. Maybe another part of me is just annoyed at premature pictures of Christmas trees. Maybe my natural inclination towards liturgy is offended by the former. Regardless, it has me thinking…

The conflation of the seasons troubles me (and here I am referring mostly to seasons on the liturgical calendar, followed loosely by most in my circles). And no, it’s not that I’m just a humbug (though sometimes I can be). There’s a certain sacredness to every season that is meant to be savored alone: Lent, Easter, Thanksgiving, Advent, etc. To dive into the Christmas season before Advent seems sacrilegious, because Advent has been specifically set aside to dwell on the coming of Christ in human flesh. It is full of anticipation, beauty, hope, and awe. We sense a longing for the Messiah, at the same time knowing he came to earth as a human infant, and rejoicing in the peace that he brings to earth with the advent of salvation.

I’m not trying to imply that we should never look forward to Jesus’ coming outside of the Advent season, or to only acknowledge Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, but some things tend to lose their significance as we multi-task and multi-observe. It takes discipline to focus only on one thing, and to keep focus on it. There is a sense of wonder, awe, and gratitude that is restored as we reflect on one season, and realize, through focusing singularly on that one season, what we might have missed all the other times we just skimmed over it, or tried to do too many things at once. It’s time for many of us to slow down, and reflect.

p.s. I have nothing against multi-tasking, personally; I just fail to see its usefulness in every area of life. If you thrive on multi-tasking, kudos to you, but I sure hope you find time to slow down a little, and ruminate. It just might make a difference.

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sabrina’s quest, part 2

Today was my third week at Church of the Good Shepherd (a part of the ACNA), and I enjoyed it immensely.  I am finally getting used to the flow of the liturgy, although I don’t hope to have much else memorized soon.  In this post I’ll touch on some of the things I really appreciate about the Anglican way.  There are heavier, theological issues at hand, but I am not well equipped to discuss those issues yet, as I have just recently begun studying the Anglican tradition.  The following are some aspects that relate to me, according to my spiritual personality.

What resonates with me the most can be boiled down to one broad category, which I will unpack as we go along:

Anglican liturgy.

I realize that all churches have their own sort of liturgy.  The churches with which I am most familiar all have unwritten, informal liturgies.  There is singing, perhaps scripture reading, prayer, more singing, maybe a “greeting” time sermon, an offertory somewhere in there, announcements somewhere in there too,  and more singing, and then dismissal. Communion is mostly likely a monthly occasion.  All good and well, but there is a vast contrast between this liturgy and Anglican liturgy.

In the informal liturgical setting, the congregation participates little.  We sing, we greet others.  But we mostly just take things in through hearing (singing, preaching), and perhaps through observing words on a screen or bulletin, or reading scripture.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, nothing at all.  I do wonder, however, what kind of picture we are painting of community, as a crowd that just sits and listens, and this is where Anglican liturgy comes in.

Anglican liturgy is formal, and written, currently taken from the Book of Common Prayer.  There are songs and hymns, of course. There are four scripture readings in which the church participates by thanking God together after the scripture is read.  There are antiphonal prayers.  There are congregational prayers of petition and confession.  The Nicene Creed is recited together.  There is sitting, there is standing (and shifting to face the Gospel book [or cross] when the Gospel scripture for that Sunday is read), and there is kneeling for the petition and confession, with an opportunity for both individual (space for silent prayer) and corporate petition and confession.  In a word, Anglican liturgy is interactive.  To me, this speaks more of community, more of action.

There are also perks in a written liturgy for a visual learner like me.  I can read the prayers as they are written, as I listen to them being prayed.  What’s more (and I am not implying that unwritten prayers are inferior), some of the most beautiful prayers I’ve heard were written down first.  As an avid reader and amateur writer, I always look for beauty in words.

Within the Anglican liturgy, there is a crescendo that sounds differently than it does in informal liturgical settings.  In the latter, the preacher and sermon are the focal point of the service.  In Anglican liturgy, the entire service builds up to the crescendo that is communion (or, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, etc.).  The sermon is not neglected, but this shift of emphasis is intriguing to me.  I wonder about all the weight that is put on preachers to make them into a type of celebrity, while communion is only celebrated once a month.

This leads to the question…why do you go to church?  Is it for the preacher’s sermon?  Or something else?

That is for another blog, another day, friend.

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I’m Sorry cards

Working a retail job one Saturday afternoon, I helped a woman move her walker from her car to inside the store.

After I pointed her to the greeting cards, and set the walker down so she could sit in it while perusing the cards, she asked me if there were any “I’m sorry cards.”

“Uhm, I don’t think so, but I’ll look.”  I knew I had never seen any inside this store.

Bible bookstore.  Wouldn’t this place carry I’m Sorry cards?  (You’d think.)

After my search come up dry, the woman began to tell me that she had come looking specifically for an I’m Sorry card, and proceeded to tell me why.  As she opted for the Thank You cards and enlisted my help in finding just the right one, she got further into her story, and began to weep tears of regret (2 Corinthians 7 came to mind, particularly verse 10).  Unsure of what to do or say, I ran (well, not literally, but almost) to a tissue box, took it, returned to the woman and offered her the box.  She took quite a few tissues, as is to be expected.

An older woman, just out of surgery from the VA hospital, in search of an I’m Sorry card. Coming up dry.  Crying her eyes out.  She was really sorry, and didn’t have the right card.  I was beginning to feel sorry, myself.

Pondering this situation much later, I wondered if the lack of I’m Sorry cards  pointed to a much larger problem in Christendom. (At this point, this is where you may want to stop reading if you do not wish to unravel different thoughts and attempt tying them together.  I am quite capable of making my own head hurt, along with yours.) Perhaps we have lost the art of saying “I’m sorry” and truly meaning it.  Maybe we have treated “repentance” too flippantly for the sake of keeping on a serene holy mask that would fool anyone, letting pride sit on our hearts, slowly eating away, just like a lazy worm.

After doing a preliminary search for Apology cards, I discovered that they are quite difficult to locate and obtain, although they do exist.  Then a random piece of trivia came to me, a piece that I had probably read in one of hundreds (thousands?) of books I’ve flipped through (the problem with working with books year after year is that one can arbitrarily come up with little pieces of information, and have little recollection of how that information got into one’s brain).  The piece of information in my brain said something like:  constantly saying “I’m sorry”  reflects a low image of oneself.  Call it “low self-esteem” (self-esteem would be a whole ‘nother blog post, so I’ll avoid becoming side-tracked).

Hm.  If this is how people think, no WONDER Apology cards are hard to find.

Although, that piece of information is quite legitimate in some aspects.  I could see situations in which that would be very applicable, to which I will leave to your imagination.  But flip the coin.  Wouldn’t that also be indicative of pride?  Apologizing more than necessary to avoid punishment?   Saying three little words to sweep it all under the rug and say, All gone now.  Done.  No worries.

“I am sorry.”  Those three words have certainly depreciated.

As people in general, it would be nice if more could truly say, “I’m sorry.”

But take it back to the Bible bookstore.  How many books would you find on, say,  conflict resolution, community life, repentance, reconciliation?  Not many.  How many books would you find on Becoming a Better Version of oneself?  Too many.  As followers of Christ, we have to learn to live with each other, not just one person (myself, yourself).  That means having to say, “I’m sorry” and not just saying it.  None of us is better than the other, and none of us are above screwing up.  We need to show others what “I’m sorry” means.  (Check out 2 Corinthians and Philippians, just to name a couple of resources on living as family in the kingdom.)

P.S. Just so we’re clear, I am far from having this whole thing down.

P.P.S. I think apology cards are only the beginning, but they need to be more easily found.

P.P.P.S I am not surprised that apology cards were nowhere to be found in that store, and difficult to be found anywhere else.  After all, [insert dry tone here] according to Joel Osteen, aren’t you supposed to be Activating Your Faith and Achieving Your Dreams?  Come, now.  Who has time for I’m Sorry cards?  Think positive.

P.P.P.P.S.  Forgiveness deserves a separate blog post, too.

Fin.

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just do it

Friend, if you are waiting for God to tell you what to do with your life, chances are you’ll be waiting for a long time.  If you’re idle and waiting for God to break the silence, well…all I can say is, the book of Proverbs will convict you about that, and you are probably (obviously) missing out on many present opportunities.

I am not saying that God will never tell you what to do.  God is more creative than every single human being’s imagination put together.  He just might.  I am just saying it is not the normal thing.

If you tell me that God “called you” to this profession/occupation, I am going to ask you what you mean by that.  If you say God placed a burden on your heart, okay, fine.  God places a “burden on your heart” for many things.  But many believe in the notion that everyone has a calling, and God will tell them what it is, and how to fulfill it. (By the way, I wrote a little book review dealing with the subject of calling and vocation here, so I will try not to repeat what I wrote already.)

Um, here’s something from my closet of secrets: God hasn’t told me what to do with my life.   Am I a weirdo because I haven’t (supposedly) found my calling?  Is something wrong with me, or, dare I ask, should I even call myself a Christian?

Answers: no, no, and yes.

No doubt, there are many scriptural accounts of people being “called” by God to do great things.  What I mean by that is, God actually spoke to them with a real live voice, be it in a dream, or in a vision, or, just in a conversation.  What I then ask is, what about all the people who were contemporaries of those aforementioned, but not mentioned in the Bible?  They seem to be greater in number than those to whom God gave special revelation/s.  Surely there are many godly people not mentioned, and we will never know if God spoke to them in a dramatic way, or even in a not-so-dramatic way.  The tendency is to zero in on those portrayed in scripture and say, “Oh, look!  God told Abraham where to go.  He totally floored Paul when He spoke to him on the road to Damascus, and also guided him through dreams and visions!  And look at Jeremiah; God told him his occupation [not a very glamorous one, I dare say]!  That means God will speak to me through rainbows and tell me what to do, because it’s normal!”

Newsflash:  that is not the norm.  Chances are very good that you’ll never be an Abraham, Paul, Jeremiah, or [throw in someone to whom God spoke in the Bible].

So, my advice to you if you are trying to decide which way to go and what to do: carefully weigh your options with prayer and wise counsel, read Proverbs, and DO IT if wisdom says “yes.”  God may or may not speak to you, but He is sure to place you where He sees fit, for your good, and for His glory.  Just don’t sit around.


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God…

…is God, and I am not.

I think that’s a phrase from a popular Christian song (Steven Curtis Chapman, if I’m not mistaken, but you’ll have to forgive me if I’m wrong, because I don’t really listen to whole lot of “Christian” music), and people say it all the time.  But do they really know what they mean when they say that?  God is God.  You are not.  I am not.  God does what he pleases, how he pleases, when he pleases and it never fails.  It’s all over the Bible, friends (Psalm 115, Isaiah 64 are some OT examples) .  It’s something I cannot do, and it’s something no one can do.

It’s really easy to say that God is in control, right?  It’s another thing to take it heart and live as though it were really true (which it is), but even I still behave and sometimes think as though I am the goddess of my own little world, and then my soul cries and throws a temper tantrum at God (sometimes this shows up on the surface, and when that happens, I just go and lock myself in my room, because no one wants to see me throw a tantrum) when things do not go as I planned them. (I am the queen of plans.  I plan things perfectly, of course.  Correct?  Bzzzzt.  Wrong.)  Because, deep down, God’s sovereignty hasn’t really sunk in.

And then I ask the question,

What if our souls actually soaked up the fact of God’s sovereignty and lived it out?  What would it look like from day to day?

I have a feeling there would not be so many angry and anxious people.  I think we would spend more time praying (because, honestly people, sometimes praying does not feel productive, and we always have to be doing something to feel like we are controlling our situations), and I think some of us would even take more risks.  I will be thinking about this for awhile, but I want to know what you think, too.  I can’t be the only around here who thinks about this.

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culture is not evil

Last night I read a very thoughtful summary of the need for contextualization, and think it would behoove you to read it, as well.

Here’s the blog link: Soli Deo Gloria

If you could comment on Andrew’s blog, that would be swell, but you could also share your thoughts here, too, if you’d rather.  🙂

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in other news…

…I’m applying for re-admission to NBS for the continuation of the Master of Divinity program there.  Hopefully I’ll be able to make my way back up to Washington State before the year is up, but I have a feeling I’ll end up there one way or another.  An omen?  Maybe.  Not going to say one way or another.

Speaking of omens, you should read The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) for an interesting tale of destiny, fate, and omens.  It’s short, and if you like a good philosophical novel, you will not be disappointed.  There are some things to ponder, and some other things that are simply not true, but, hey, it’s a novel.  Whaddya expect?  It’s an enjoyable read, so go read it.

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people, please…

I usually don’t make strong political statements, because I dislike stirring up debate.   Even so, this is not considered a “strong political statement”, but I needed to get some stuff off my chest.  And this is not directed at anyone in particular, so please do not feel that I am targeting you.

People, please…

Are right-wing, conservative, Republican politics really the gospel?  I’ve yet to see someone effectively evangelized or converted by the forcing of right-wing politics down their throat, especially when the arguments are primarily ad hominem.

Change begins on the inside, and works its way out.  The reverse is not true.

Also, please do not think that just because I am a “Christian”, it means I am a Republican, or should be a Republican.  I do not wish to adopt political parties mindlessly, simply because it is the trend amongst those with beliefs similar to mine.  I do not think that the GOP is the elect political party.

Okay, the end (I hope).

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emerging…emergent…what?

(Some words that come to mind…

hip.  artsy.  social justice/gospel.  organic.  indie music.  missional.  grassroots.  relationship.  velvet elvis. community.  tony jones.  hippie.  candles.  theology.  dialogical sermons.  art.  food & good wine.  shaping of things to come.  lots of meals together. mars hill.    intentional community.  context.  yuppie.  tradition.  non-traditional.  questions, lots of them.  alan hirsch.  exploration. emergent village.  brian mclaren.  culture.  blue like jazz.  experience.  green.  intellectual.  creative.  sensory.  dialogue.  rob bell.  mark driscoll.   generous orthodoxy.

…when I think “emerging”  or “emergent” church)

Many people simply classify the emerging (or emergent) church as those who were unhappy with their previous traditional churches, gathering around to complain about the state of the more fundamental church.  It sure seems that way many times, and many times that is true, but sometimes it is not.  Some genuinely want to contextualize (speaking the language of the immediate context/culture)  the gospel to reach those otherwise not reached by the good news, while still upholding scriptural truths (this would be more descriptive of the emerging church), while some want to go beyond that and become more inclusive of the different denominations/sects of Christianity (including Orthodoxy and Catholicism – this would be more descriptive of the “emergent” church).  From now on in this post, I will use “emerging” and “emergent” differently, in accordance with those descriptions.

What first drew me into the emerging church was the whole “missional” aspect.  I liked the idea that the church body spent intentionally spent time within the community to reach the people of the community, and were constantly donating their time, effort, finances, and talent to reach the needy (spiritually, physically, emotionally needy), essentially “doing missions” locally, as well as internationally.  This was in contrast to a church I had attended for most of my life (at the time), which was constantly seeking to draw people into the church, instead of being the hands and feet of Christ to those outside the church.

Another thing that drew me in was the appreciation for the arts.  I had grown tired of people in the church settling for mediocre sound and visuals, just because it had a “Christian” label.  And not only that, but this emerging church had its own artists and musicians who shared their work with everyone else in the body.

Of course, I liked the candles and the ambiance on Sunday mornings, the emphasis on sharing meals together and all that.  Always a plus in my book.  Plus, I enjoyed hanging around people who asked questions, were not afraid of drinking a bit of wine or beer, and generally looked cool.  Perhaps not the best of motives, but let’s call it icing on the cake, shall we?

Emerging churches are basically known for the above, whilst, for the most part, remaining pretty orthodox in doctrine (Reformed, Baptist).  Mars Hill Church, founded by Mark Driscoll, is doctrinally sound while still remaining culturally relevant in its immediate context (to a point…see my thoughts toward the end).  There are even churches that fall in the “in between” category of emerging/emergent.  Pastor Mark has a nifty little video to help explain it better than I can.

The emergent churches are similar, but their doctrine is more liberal, they are more “post-modern” in feel, have a loathing for anything systematic, and they tend to be more pluralistic and extremely integrative.  Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy would help you understand that a little better (you may come away from that book more confused…ha!).  The long subtitle reads: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentliast/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian. Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).

Just for the record, I see nothing wrong with diminishing the number of labels people tend to use, and I think that’s one of McLaren’s main goals.  He probably wouldn’t advocate the usage of the emergent/emerging labels.  But once you get to the nitty gritty of essential doctrinal differences, it’s simply impossible to combine them all and have a happy, universal church faithful to scripture.  It’s dangerous to think that Baptists can be Catholics, too.  Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).

So, some closing thoughts.  I don’t thing anything is wrong with contextualization in general.  I’m all for the missional and contextual and the community aspects of the emerging church, but it’s often too easy overemphasize contextualization and use it as an excuse to participate in cultural activities that would be contrary to scripture, or as an excuse not to pursue holiness.  Discernment is always in order, yes?  It’s also interesting that the word “missional” has just recently (within the past ten years or so) become a buzzword among the Christian circle.  Shouldn’t all Christians strive to be “missional”?  And what about the community thing?  Shouldn’t all believers seek community?  We are family, after all.

There you go, curious friends.  That’s my take on the ol’ trend.  I’m by no means an expert, so feel free to add your thoughts if you think mine incomplete, and please watch Pastor Mark’s video on the different streams of the emerging church – it’s quite helpful and concise.

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