Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo vs. Reformation

Happy Halloween.  Happy Reformation Day.  So much to celebrate!

Is that an invitation?
As I sit here waiting for the first trick-or-treaters to scare up the sidewalk, I have a few moments to ponder the occasion.  We celebrate All Hallows' Eve with scary mischief.  The tradition comes from the notion that all the saints would pray
for people on Nov. 1, All Saints Day.  Why waste all those prayers?  Give those saints something to pray about.  Get crazy!

OK, so I have lots of problems with the theology here.  First, saints are all those who trust in Christ, not just those who got lots of attention for being holy.  Second, I don't believe that I need the prayers of dead people.  Jesus is interceding for me.  Third, sinning for the purpose of being forgiven is really twisted.  Finally, good fun, real fun, doesn't need forgiveness.  Well, unless someone can't take a joke...

But this year I have noticed some Christians playing up the Reformation history of October 31.  In the year 1517 Martin Luther nailed a notice on the Wittenburg church door.  His notice contained 95 questions about standard Roman Catholic Church practice.  As Luther was himself a priest, his questions about church practice got a lot of attention.  His questions resonated with many other Christians, and a movement began to reform the Church.  We call that movement the Reformation.

I wonder if Martin Luther knew that he was causing trouble on Halloween? 

Oh yes, here come the trick-or-treaters!

Monday, October 28, 2013


The word Sabbath means "cease."  Or maybe the Hebrew word for cease came from "Sabbath."  Margaret Feinberg offers these insights in Wonderstruck. 

Many Christians today have little sense of Sabbath.  We believe that a different kind of activity qualifies as rest.  So we return from vacation exhausted.  Our days off are whirlwinds of birthday parties, soccer games, errands and dinners out.  Every weekend offers a multitude of festivals, craft shows, parades, yard sales, 5ks and fundraisers.  Save the date, five months out.

When do we stop?

There comes a time when we are forced to stop.  Heart attacks make us stop.  Injuries and illnesses make us stop.

But God commanded a stop day every week.  Stop working, stop cooking, stop exerting, stop gathering firewood.  Let your animals rest.  Let your servants rest.  Just stop.

It takes a lot of faith to stop.  We have to believe that God will be able to handle everything while we don't.  We don't really know (by experience) if he can or not.  We don't let him.  Our situation is different.  Of course we can't stop.  Work will pile up.  We have to stay caught up. 

But we never get caught up.  We just reach the point -- preferably sooner, not later -- when we realize that some things just aren't that important.  We can let them go.  Maybe we can't control them anyway.

Old people don't get worked up over every detail.  It's just because they are retired, right?  Maybe it's because they are wiser.  They take time to be still.  They can think about what really matters.  They've run the rat race and realized that it's an endless exercise wheel.

What if we learned to stop before old age?  We could stop every week.  For a whole day.  That might be wise.  If only God had told us about this...


Monday, October 14, 2013

Government You Can Trust

The spectacle of Washington politics has been crazier than usual for a couple of weeks now.  The government is "shut down," causing headaches for some people in the real estate industry, and keeping some federal employees at home.  The debt ceiling is looming on the horizon, as politicians debate how much more we can borrow.

The debt will never be repaid, so all the efforts are aimed at continuing the illusion that this government is responsible.  See my blog post about the size of the national debt.  The U.S. government has been irresponsible for generations, building a financial house of cards which will eventually come crashing down.  Every politician works to put off the day of reckoning, so that the crash will not happen on his or her watch.

Our leaders have not followed the U.S. Constitution, and that has caused a lot of problems.  The Founders understood that power corrupts, and so they crafted a system by which government is split into three branches.  Those branches would watch over one another, to make sure that power would not be abused.  The system only works if the leaders obey the rules of the system.  Gradually they have ignored the rules and led our nation away from limited government.  The voters have allowed it to happen.

In Jesus' day, ordinary people knew that they could not trust the government.  The Romans were despised, as they militarily occupied the land of Israel.  The Jewish political leaders were also the religious leaders.  They had their own agenda of retaining whatever power the Romans would allow. 

As far as I know, there has never been a government free of corruption.  The U.S. government is following the historic pattern.

But Jesus will one day rule on earth.  "And the government shall be upon his shoulders.  And his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).  That is government we can trust. 

In the meantime we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tools for Developing Discipleship

What is a spiritual discipline?  There is no list of the disciplines in the Bible.  But tradition is rich with spiritual practices that help us develop as disciples.

Spiritual disciplines are habits or practices that allow us to dive deeper into our relationship with Jesus.  They provide a context for our lives in which we can hear God speak and see his hand at work.  They help us get ready to obey.  They help us know him personally and intimately.

Adam and Eve spoke directly with God, beginning the practice of prayer.  Their children Cain and Able may have begun the practice of giving to God through sacrifice.  Abraham continues the tradition of giving to God as he offers a tenth (tithe) of his spoils of war to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God.   

Later we find followers of God fasting, worshipping, meditating, fellowshipping, remembering, confessing, resting, reflecting, serving, studying.  Today we have the Old and New Testaments, a rich collection of documents about God’s interaction with man.

In Acts 2 we find the early church beginning a new kind of community.  They devoted themselves to:
  • The apostles’ teaching
  • The fellowship
  • The breaking of the bread
  • Prayer

In these four elements, we find the foundation for Christian spiritual disciplines.  The apostles’ teaching is captured in the New Testament, with the Old Testament as its foundation.  So many spiritual disciplines are founded on the scriptures including reading, memorizing, and meditating.

The fellowship is the collection of believers, the church.  Disciplines with the fellowship include service, giving and evangelism.

The breaking of the bread is a reference to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  By extension, then, we find the spiritual discipline of corporate worship, including celebration, confession, baptism, and remembering.

Prayer is the oldest spiritual discipline, and the early Christians were devoted to it.  Their prayer included fasting, confession, simplicity and solitude.

These habits are a means for us to know God and love God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God.  Paul said that compared to knowing God, everything else is just garbage.