American Pastor, Scholar, Author, and Poet, Gold Medallion Book Award Winner
American Pastor, Scholar, Author, and Poet, Gold Medallion Book Award Winner
We live in an Â“age of sensation.Â” We think that if we donÂ’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.
Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.
In the call to worship we hear GodÂ’s first word to us; in the benediction we hear GodÂ’s last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our fathers; in the sermon we hear that word re-expressed to us; in the hymns, which are all to a greater or lesser extent paraphrases of Scripture, the Word of God makes our prayers articulate.
Neither prophets nor priests nor psalmists offer quick cures for the suffering: we donÂ’t find any of them telling us to take a vacation, use this drug, get a hobby. Nor do they ever engage in publicity cover-ups, the plastic-smile propaganda campaigns that hide trouble behind a billboard of positive thinking. None of that the suffering is held up and proclaimed Â– and prayed.
ThatÂ’s part of this life: You ask God questions and you go without a lot of answers . . . you learn to live with the mystery of a God who doesnÂ’t tell us all the details. Kids ask their parents a lot of questions. And sometimes parents say to their kids, Â“Just trust me. You donÂ’t know enough to understand the answer. So just live awhile.Â” Reading the Bible is not a way to get all your questions answered. There are few answers in the Bible. God is wanting to draw us into a relationship of faith, intimacy, and love. That doesnÂ’t come through information alone. It comes through trust, obedience, and the willingness to be present in the mystery of God. It comes through letting Him reveal himself to us as weÂ’re able to receive the revelation. If God just dumped all the answers on us at once, we probably couldnÂ’t handle it. WeÂ’d misuse it. WeÂ’d think we had control of it now.
The vocation of pastor(s) has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.
We must desire God for ourselves and not as a means of fulfillment of our own wishes. It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forgo the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us.
You are much more likely to find passionate prayer in a foxhole than in a church pew; and you will certainly find more otherworldly visions and supernatural voices in a mental hospital than you will in a church.
Individualism is the growth-stunting, maturity-inhibiting habit of understanding growth as an isolated self-project. Individualism is self-ism with swagger. The individualist is the person who is convinced that he or she can serve God without dealing with God. This is the person who is sure that he or she can love neighbors without knowing their names. This is the person who assumes that Â‘getting aheadÂ’ involves leaving other people behind. This is the person who having gained competence in knowing God or people or world, uses that knowledge to take charge of God or people or world.
One threat to our security comes from our feelings of depression and doubt.
That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it.
The work of liberation must therefore be accompanied by instruction in the use of liberty as children of God. Those who parade the rhetoric of liberation but scorn the wisdom of service do not lead people into the glorious liberty of the children of God but into a cramped and covetous squalor.
We must extend the boundaries of our lives beyond the dates enclosed by our birth and death and acquire an understanding of GodÂ’s way as something larger and more complete than the anecdotes in our private diaries. Otherwise, we will always be Â“mistaking a sore throat for a descent into hell.Â”
You can see now from my comments that my gut feeling is that the most mature and reliable Christian guidance and understanding comes out of the most immediate and local of settings. The ordinary way. We have to break this cultural habit of sending out for an expert every time we feel we need some assistance. Wisdom is not a matter of expertise.
Instead of asking, Â“Why does this happen Why do I feel left in the lurchÂ” we can ask Â“How does it happen that there are people who sing with such confidence, Â‘GodÂ’s strong name is our helpÂ’Â”
Our days are busy with little leisure for frills. We have work to do, interests to pursue, books to read, letters to write, the telephone to answer, errands to run, children to raise, investments to tend to, the lawn to mow, food to prepare and serve, the garbage to take out. We donÂ’t need GodÂ’s help or counsel in doing any of these things. God is necessary for the big things, most obviously creation and salvation. But for the rest we can, for the most part, take care of ourselves. That usually adds up to a workable life, at least when accompanied by a decent job and a good digestion. ButÂ—it is not the practice of resurrection; it is not growing up in Christ, it is not living in the company of the Trinity.
The Bible is not a script for a funeral service, but it is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death. Everywhere it is the story of resurrection.
Theology is about God, and God is Spirit Â… we have accumulated a lot of experience in the Christian community of persons treating theology as a subject in which God is studied in the ways we are taught to study in our schoolsÂ—acquiring information that we can use, or satisfying our curiosity, or obtaining qualifications for a job or profession. There are, in fact, a lot of people within and outside formal religious settings who talk and write a lot about spirituality, things of the spirit or the soul or higher things, but are not interested in God. There is a wonderful line in T. H. WhiteÂ’s novel of King Arthur (The Once and Future King), in which Guinevere in her old age becomes the abbess of a convent: Â‘she was a wonderful theologian but she wasnÂ’t interested in God.Â’ It happens.
We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God sticks with us.
You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true.
Instead, why don't you look over the congregation on Sundays and pick someone who appears to be mature and congenial. Ask her or him if you can meet together every month or so - you feel the need to talk about your life in the company of someone who believes that Jesus is present and active in everything you are doing. Reassure the person that he or she doesn't have to say anything wise. You only want them to be there for you to listen and be prayerful in the listening. After three or four such meetings, write to me what has transpired, and we'll discuss it further.
Our Lord gave us the image of a child, not because of the childÂ’s helplessness, but because of the childÂ’s willingness to be led, to be taught, to be blessed.
The Bible makes it clear that every time that there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God's creative genius is endless.
There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations called holiness.