Saturday Links for September 4, 2010

Looking for something good to read this Saturday? You might want to check out these links!

Do you remember the old-saying turned bumper-sticker, “The Family that Prays Together Stays Together”? Well, seems like there is some substance to the old cliche. The Economist recently published a psychology piece that might interest you. Faith and Faithfulness:  Praying for your partner stops you straying discusses the impact of prayer on staying faithful in marriage.

There has been no shortage of media response to Kenda Creasy Dean’s (minister and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary)  book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our  Teenagers is Telling the American Church. While there’s a bunch of stuff out there, I especially enjoyed reading a CNN report, Author: More teens becoming “fake” Christians by John Blake.

Searching for Words

reflections on Luke 1:5-25

The story has been handed down faithfully, investigated in detail, and written carefully. The story of God sending Jesus to walk among people. The story of  God partnering with people and gifting people that there might again be oneness between God and humankind, and oneness between human beings. And the story begins with some strange unexpected twists.

Zechariah has been trained to fulfill his priestly duties. He served in the priestly order of Abijah. He married a woman who was from the priestly line of  Aaron. Finally Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of God and burn the incense. He had dreamed of this day, after all, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was a sense of holy anticipation of the moment when he would burn the incense before God.

Zechariah was chosen by lot that day, but there were plenty of days when he didn’t feel very “chosen. ” While Zechariah and Elizabeth were an honorable couple with a clear conscience who were careful to obey God, they had no children. They dreamed of having children. They prayed for God to give them children. But the dream was dying, the prayers unanswered, and they found themselves living in a desert of barrenness.

Maybe the years of disappointed waiting explain what happened that chosen day in the temple. Maybe hearing the judgmental whispers of people around town had taken their toll. As the incense burned and the crowd outside prayed, Zechariah was startled by an angel who appeared just to the right of the incense altar.

This angel, who seems to be well-acquainted with his life situation,  assures him his prayers have been heard. The angel knows them by name and actually says “Zechariah” and “Elizabeth.” The angel introduces himself by name. Gabriel brings a message from God, a joyful message about Elizabeth giving birth to a son who will be great in the sight of God. Gabriel reveals the son’s name is to be “John.” Gabriel reveals the son’s mission is to turn the hearts of the people back to God and to soften the hearts of parents to children. God wants to be one with people. God wants people to be one with each other. God is going to work in, through, and with Zechariah’s son to bring about this oneness. John will prepare people for God. Even skeptics will be transformed.

Zechariah’s response was not what I was expecting. “You really expect me to believe this stuff about a son? We have been trying for years. Elizabeth and I are just too old for this.”

Here is an honorable person with a clear conscience who has carefully obeyed God. Here is a priest in service to God who has a supernatural encounter in the one time and place you would most expect him to have one. Here is a man who has, with his wife, experienced disappointment and disgrace for years. And here is a man who when encountered by God’s messenger in God’s temple with God’s message of good news responds with unbelief. And so Gabriel tells Zechariah he will not be able to speak until after the baby is born.

Zechariah was in the sanctuary longer than most priests. In fact, the people gathered to pray outside the temple were beginning to wonder what was taking so long. When he emerged people saw his inability to speak and his gestures and concluded he must have seen a vision.

It wan’t long before Elizabeth was celebrating her pregnancy, “God is kind! God has done this! God has taken away my disgrace!” While Elizabeth was giving voice to her praise, Zechariah was still searching for words.

Almighty God,

You are worthy to be praised–
Your desire to be one with people is pure love.
Your desire for people to be one is heaven on earth.

Thank You for listening to me–
When I do not understand.
When I cry out to You in pain and disgrace.

Thank You for loving me–
When I lose heart.
When I am surprised by Your presence.
Even when I don’t believe.

Thank You for Jesus–
For the good news of Your love.
For the death, burial, and resurrection.
For the body of Christ who lives today.

I find myself startled.
I find myself searching for words.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN

A Life with God

The following quote captures what life with God; that is, living out a real relationship with God, is like.

“Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair — believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”
–Madeleine L’Engle

Fully Surrendered

Fully surrendered, Lord, I would be,
Fully surrendered, dear Lord, to Thee.
All on the altar laid,
Surrender fully made,
Thou hast my ransom paid;
I yield to Thee.

Fully surrendered–life, time, and all,
All Thou hast given me held at Thy call.
Speak but the word to me,
Gladly I’ll follow Thee,
Now and eternally
Obey my Lord.

Fully surrendered–silver and gold,
His, who hath given me riches untold.
All, all belong to Thee,
For thou didst purchase me,
Thine evermore to be,
Jesus, my Lord.

— A. C. Snead

A Difficult Teaching

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” John 6:60

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
John 6:66

Some teachings are difficult to accept.

Some teachings are difficult to obey.

Some are both.

The hardest teachings are the ones that call us to do something we don’t want to do. Maybe we don’t want to do it because it is unpleasant. Maybe we don’t want to do it because it doesn’t make sense to us. Maybe we don’t want to do it because we think it unfair. Maybe we don’t want to do it because it directly challenges what we have decided we want to do for our personal pride or pleasure.

When those difficult teachings present themselves, they provide us with an opportunity to express our trust in God and grow our faith. Or they provide us with an opportunity to demonstrate that we are more concerned about our will, our pleasure than we are about our relationship with God.

When those difficult teachings present themselves, they provide us with an opportunity to say, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” They also give us an opportunity to say, “Not your will, but Mine be done.” The way we respond reveals who is our god. God or self. The way we respond reveals who is our lord. Jesus or ego. The way we respond reveals who is controlling our life. Spirit or flesh.

So we see these people in John’s gospel turn away from Jesus. They were people who had been following Jesus. But they stopped. They turned back. They no longer followed Jesus. Why? The teaching was difficult. They were being challenged. They were being given opportunity to express their faith by demonstrating their trust. They chose another path.

How sad when we choose our will over God’s. How sad when we run up against a difficult teaching and choose to turn back and stop following. I actually had someone say to me, “I know what God says, but I care more about me. I’m going to do what makes me happy.”

What makes it even sadder is when we don’t own up to our self-deification; when we try to justify our own behavior by recreating God in our own image. “Well, I know what the Bible says, but I know God wants me to be happy. So I’m sure it’s God’s will for me to have sex with this woman who is married to another man.”

Have you run into a difficult teaching?

Don’t turn back.

Keep following.

Trust God.

Praying for Faith

Last night I enjoyed praying for faith with a group of men in a Wednesday night gathering.

This morning I ran across this prayer from A. W. Tozer (The Pursuit of God) that provided for me a wonderful reminder of how I need to continue praying for eyes to see the unseen.

O God and Father, I repent of my preoccupation with visible things. The world has been too much with me. Thou hast been here and I knew it not. I have been blind to Thy presence. Open my eyes that I may behold Thee in and around me. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

A Word on Faith

“When all around us the air is full of vague rumors of a newfound faith which is free of effort and tolerant of everything save toil and pain, it is time to speak out boldly and to say that true Christianity is the most costly possession in the world, that it still knows but one road, which leads over Calvary, and still has but one symbol, which is a cross.”
R. Somerset Ward
quoted in The Beautiful Fight by Gary Thomas, page 196.

Ned Flanders’ Faith


Several of my friends are huge fans of The Simpson’s. While I have never gotten into the show like they have, I have always enjoyed reading about how this animated show reflects the our culture.

Ned Flanders, the next-door neighbor of Homer Simpson in the series, has been described as “one of the best-known evangelicals on the small screen.” During a service at Springfield Community Church, Homer once said of Ned, “If everyone here were like Ned Flanders, there’d be no need for heaven. We’d already be there.” (After including that quotation, I am tempted to stop blogging and just sit here reflecting on its implications. But that is not the reason for this entry, so I will press on.)

When watching televisions programs I am often struck with how most series are void of any mention of religion. Life is portrayed as a “religion-free existence;” no, even worse, a “God-free existence.”

The Simpsons stands in stark contrast to those shows, thanks in part to Ned Flanders. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Mark Pinsky, author of The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World’s Most Animated Family concludes with these words of tribute to Flanders’ faith:

In the early decades of commercial television, networks shunned prime-time portrayals of religion as part of Americans’ everyday life, largely for fear of offending viewers. The most important contribution of “The Simpsons” to the national conversation may be that it made religion safe for television — thanks to a lovable evangelical named Ned Flanders.

Religion being portrayed as a normal part of everyday life. Imagine that?!

You can read the entire article here.

The Amazed Jesus

Jesus often amazed others. In fact, there are 29 passages in the gospels that mention people being amazed by Jesus.

But did you realize that only twice in the gospels are we told that Jesus was amazed?

So what kind of things amazed Jesus?

“And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village” (Mark 6:6).

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel'” (Luke 7:9).

Only two passages record Jesus being amazed. What amazed him? He was amazed at the lack of faith he found in Israel. He was amazed at the great faith he found outside Israel.

I don’t know about you, but I find that amazing.

Alive and Moving

By now there is a good chance you have heard the recent article in Time magazine about Mother Teresa entitled “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith.” When I first saw the title I laughed, thinking that some editor or headline writer had come up with a clever title to sell magazines. Doubt, just like sex, sells.

As I began reading I was surprised at the statements attributed to Mother Teresa. It gets your attention when she says, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” There are other references to how she described her heart with words like “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture.”

The piece in Time was based on a new book about Mother Teresa entitled, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk. The book consists primarily of correspondence between Mother Teresa and her spiritual advisors over a period of more than 60 years. She had asked that the letters be destroyed, a request that was refused by the church.

So now the whole world knows that for the last fifty years this respected woman “felt no presence of God whatsoever.”

None?

“Neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”

My first reaction to all of this was, as I suggested, surprise. Anger quickly followed. Why were Mother Teresa’s expressed wishes that the letters be destroyed overruled? Why would anyone to whom she has poured out her heart even once, let alone over a period of 60 years, betray her confidence and reveal her innermost secrets? A cynical response might be to suggest that greed led to this publication that is no doubt making someone some money. Even more cynical is the suggestion that someone wanted to destroy Mother Teresa posthumously.

But hope follows surprise and anger. Think of how the publication of this correspondence and the revelation of Mother Teresa’s doubts could touch tender hearts. How many people had come to believe in a super-human Mother Teresa? Now we are reminded she was one of us. And that removes any excuse we may have invented to justify our lack of doing something to bring about justice and relieve suffering. No more excuses – she was one of us. And how many people have hearts that are torn by guilt produced from their own doubt? Resultant feelings of unworthiness are often paralyzing. But Mother Teresa’s life provides us with hope in the midst of doubt.

So what do you do when you are plagued by doubts? If you are one who has wrestled with doubts, may I suggest a couple of things. First, my friend and mentor Lynn Anderson has written a book that may encourage you: If I Really Believe, Why Do I Have These Doubts.

Second, I want to share with you one of my all-time favorite quotes, from Frederick Buechner’s book Wishful Thinking A Theological ABC: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have doubts you are either kidding yourself or you are asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”

Could it be, that doubt was what kept her “alive and moving” as she ministered in Calcutta?