Who Sent Whom? | Acts 13.2-4


While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Acts 13.2-4

Nice. I love that.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

What is the Proclamation of the Word?


pulpit-church-hdr-bibleFor a class recently, I had to read a bunch of items on the part of a worship service in which the Bible is front and center. This “section” of the service is called “The Proclamation of the Word”, or more generally, the “sermon” or homily”. I ran across this great quote:

The very act of preaching, in fact, sets up questions and problems.  Most people no longer understand the difference between preaching and other types of public speaking…. Many people think of a sermon as an occasion for being entertained, instructed, or inspired in matters of religion — hence the customary comment at the church door, “I enjoyed your sermon.”  Nowadays, it is only congregations who have been engaged in a new way of thinking for a long time who are going to sit expectantly waiting for the Word of God to be spoken — for preaching, properly understood, is the good news that God preaches through human beings.  Astonishingly enough, this is the method of communicating that God has chosen.  This is an offensive idea; there are a hundred complaints to be brought against it.  Most common is the objection, “How can anyone presume to speak the Word of God?”  Or to put it another way, “How can any human being be so arrogant as to think he is a mouthpiece of God?”  How indeed?  It is a very good question.  The validity or invalidity of preaching rests on such issues as these. (Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel)

I think Rutledge is right (and not just because she is an incredible preacher–all you complementarians could learn a thing or two from her!): people don’t seem to really see preaching as fundamentally different than any other lecture or other public speaking. Preaching is often (subtly and unspokenly) seen (or at least treated) as “mere” personal edification–similar to a book discussion or philosophical lecture or self-help conference.
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Prayer: Doubt’s Doorway (on the Philippine typhoon)


de-Goya-The-Giant“So, like I said, we’re trying something different by spending some time each week praying for something in the world or the city, and not just for our own issues. Does anyone have anything?”

“One of my best friends is in the Philippines and–you know–the huge typhoon is heading their way. I’d like us to pray for my friend and everyone there in danger.”

“Oh yeah, that’s supposed to be the biggest storm ever in history or something.”

I was embarrassed. Anyone that knows me knows that I stay glued (too much) to various news sites throughout the given day. And yet, I hadn’t heard of this storm. While someone in the home group prayed for those in the path of this storm, I snuck a peak at my New York Times app. Yep, the top story was still about the FDA all but banning trans fats.

Why hadn’t I heard about this?
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Discernment: Making Decisions Christianly & Why It Matters


paul-city-bwMore so than other practices, Discernment is not something we try to do to enrich our lives or draw closer to God. Rather, it is a basic function of our storied existence, driven by our own internal narratives. Because of this, we necessarily find ourselves in positions where decisions great and small need to be made.

Unlike most other practices of the Christian faith, the question here is not whether or not we will practice Discernment, but rather how well we will do it, and how intentionally we will cultivate it. The challenge is not so much to articulate a vision for Discernment so much as to find out what truly Christian Discernment looks like.

series intro

That is why I chose Discernment for a research paper I wrote for my seminary program this semester. It’s essential to human life and being. This is also why I want to share many of the lessons I learned along the way of writing this paper and putting into practice. And so today I’m starting a new blog series exploring this Christian practice of decision-making, also called Discernment.
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On Not Following the Christian Blogosphere (a plea)


paul-blog-coffee

I pride myself on thinking that a large percentage of the readers of this blog have no idea of this odd subculture/alternate universe that is the “Christian blogosphere”. So for those that don’t know: there is a very large labyrinth of (largely evangelical) blogs and conferences and podcasts and websites that are dedicated to talking about “the” “Christian view” on any manner of things that (1) really don’t affect much of people’s real lives or (2) seem kind of weird to have a “Christian view” of.

It’s not simply talking about things from a Christian perspective (like this blog), but rather doing so with a particular reactive, evangelical, tribal “flavor”. I’m sure I fall into that at times here, but I’m not proud of it and I try to act against it.

the dangers of the Christian blogosphere

There are two primary things about the nature of these sites that more easily lend themselves to human weakness, I feel.
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Charismatic Confessions, pt. 3: Praying in Tongues for Everyone!


flickr-sculpture-worship-kiss

{abstract: “Praying in tongues” is not really a “gift”, but rather a way in which God makes Himself known, and we commune with Him. Therefore, I believe it’s open to all of us, not just those with a “gift”. It is a sacramental, physical participation in the “real presence” of God praying within you. It may very well be random and not a “real heavenly language”, but nevertheless, God is sacramentally mediated to us in it. I conclude by offering some brief practical encouragements.}

Last week, I started writing some posts in response to a New York Times piece about research concerning the practice of talking in tongues. I wrote about how this piece reminded me of my own charismatic side and how I’ve been neglecting it. I then talked about my views concerning the use of tongues in a corporate Sunday church context. Today, I want to give people a realistic and (hopefully) sensible framework for understanding the private use of praying in tongues.

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Confessions of a Lapsed Charismatic, pt. 1


Grace-words-mouth-poetry-psalms

{summary: Though rooted in a Reformed tradition that usually spurns this, I am very much a theological charismatic. I believe in the full, contemporary exercise of the Holy Spirit through his Church, including all of the manifestations this has had throughout Church History. And yet, though I “believe” these things, over the past few years, they’ve played a smaller and smaller part in my life. In this piece, I reflect on that.}

UPDATES: Part 2 is up, where I go through a brief history of tongues in a corporate church context. I’ve also posted Part 3, where I focus in on the why and how of individual praying in tongues.

Several days ago, the New York Times had a wonderful Op-Ed piece called “Why We Talk in Tongues“, by a researcher who is exploring this phenomenon. (It was also appropriate, as it is still sort-of, but not really, still Pentecost.) The piece seems to have been pretty popular. Playing around with Google Trends a bit, it seems that this article made the topic of talking in tongues more popular than it has been since “Speaking in Tongues” by Justin Bieber popped up on YouTube a few years ago. This article made the topic more popular than even Megan Fox’s revelation that she speaks in tongues (and is still a practicing Pentecostal).

It got some play all over my Facebook feed, and a couple of friends asked for some of my thoughts. That they asked for my opinion was both flattering and dismaying; it reminded me of how little I talk about this part of my spirituality among my church community.

I remember years ago, when I first found my church in Richmond, Virginia, right at the end of my first semester in college. I walked into this special evening service and I immediately knew this was where God wanted me. I joined the church and was exposed to a beautiful display of charismatic theology.

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My Walk to Church: One Shot, Two Ways (a photo sermon)


rittenhouse-alley-church-hor

For those new to  the blog: each week, I try and write a “photo sermon” based on the themes of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “One Shot, Two Ways“, which is a silly title to describe taking two shots, from the same place, at the same time, but trying to make them very different.

* * * * *

Whenever I walk to my church, it’s one of the strangest experiences for me. I grew up in the South, when Sunday morning was a time of slow traffic, long lines at Donut shops, and lots of people milling around as they meander their way to their respective churches.

Not so, in Philadelphia.

As I walk down the few neighborhood blocks that stand between my house and the city center, I’m quite often by myself. I occasionally have my heart sink when I see a woman making the “walk of shame”, where she’s walking home in the same dress and heels from the night before, trying to fix tussled hair and making sure all of her personals are still in her purse as she walks. It could just be the time of morning and a potential hangover, but she never looks happy.

I usually see runners. They enjoy being able to run on the city streets in the cool of the morning with no annoying pedestrians to dodge. I also see a fair share of dog owners, still in pajamas, annoyed that their pet couldn’t hold it for a few more hours and give them more sleep.

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My problem with “quiet times” (some rest for the journey?)


prayer-hands-bible

If you’ve spent any real time in the Church, you probably are well-aware that there are some practical things that “mature Christians” end up doing (or so we hear) to “pursue Christ” and intimacy with God on days other than Sunday. Usually, this is some set of practices, disciplines, and rituals that surround two key things: the Bible and Prayer.

In the Bible Belt, where I’m from, the common term to describe this is the “quiet time”. This can be a devotional that includes a snippet of Bible verses with some meditations and prayers. It could be reading a passage and then journaling about it. It can even be going through an established liturgy of prayer with rotations of Scripture found throughout (here’s my favorite).

Whatever form it takes, it’s usually a subjective engagement (prayer) with the “objective” revealing of God (the Bible). It is usually rooted in the Bible, and even the prayer or journaling is seen as a response to how God reveals Himself in the Scripture. “Quiet times” are, fundamentally speaking, time spent with God in the Bible.

I’m sure the experience is very different in other branches of the Christian family tree, but at least in Evangelicalism (my bread-and-butter), “quiet times” become the go-to litmus test for one’s own spiritual health. If people are going through difficult times, we nudge them towards the Bible more. If we are to feel spiritually vital, healthy and mature, we gain the impression, over time, that it must flow from regular, disciplined quiet times.

But as I have lived through my own pursuit of the elusive “consistent quiet time”, dealt with decades of feelings of spiritual inadequacy, and seemingly had every time of requesting prayer on my behalf be about trying to get the grace to have these quiet times, I have slowly realized there are problems with how we have conceived of the “quiet time”. Come walk with me a little bit.

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How We Prove God (a prayer by Karl Barth)


hands-pray-sepia“Dear heavenly Father, we ask you to give us all your Holy Spirit, and to give it continually, that it may awaken, enlighten, encourage, and enable us to dare to take the small and large steps of moving out of comfort with which we can comfort each other and into hope in you. Turn us away toward you! Do not allow us to hide from you! Do not let us do anything without you! Show us how glorious you are and how glorious it is to trust and obey you!

We would ask the same for all people, that the nations and governments may bow to your Word, and that they will be willing to work for justice and peace on earth, that your Word may be understood and taken to heart by all those who are poor, sick, imprisoned, troubled, oppressed, and unbelieving; that through word and deed it may be made known to them; and that it may be perceived by them as the answer to their sighs and cries; that all Christian churches and confessions may learn to recognize it anew and serve it with renewed faithfulness; that its truth may be and remain bright here and now in all of humanity’s error and confusion, until such a time as it shall ultimately enlighten all people and all things.

You are glorified, you who make us free in Jesus Christ, your Son, by confessing and standing on this: that our hope is in you. Amen.”

— from Karl Barth, “Pentecost” in Fifty Prayers

(Note: This was posted as part of a series of back-and-forths between an Atheist friend and myself. These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

The Suffering of The Holy Spirit


Anselm Kiefer-Landscape with a WingIf you’re like me, and were raised in the most previous generation of the American Church, the more painful parts of human existence didn’t really make an appearance in the course of religious conversations. There was talk about doctrine, and piety, and all “those people” that were sinners, but the only real insight that could be given to those that were hurting was that they needed to read their Bible more, trust Jesus more, sin less, so on and so forth.

Suffering was unconsciously assumed to be something outside of the everyday experience of the “victorious” and “justified and sanctified” Christian. People responded to the suffering of others with a cautious distance, thinking something had gone horribly wrong with their life, God’s providence, or their souls.

And then I had the privilege of sitting under amazing teaching in college that really brought suffering to the fore. I was encouraged that suffering was not “supposed” to be an aberration in life, but rather the expectation of how things are. We didn’t pursue it, but we certainly didn’t need to, because it would find us.

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The Lord is Fleeting [photo sermon]


train-knitting-fleeting

For those new to  the blog: each week, I try and write a “photo sermon” based on the themes of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “Fleeting“.

* * * * *

A garden cool. A God at leisure. Lovers conspire. Nectar tasted.

The God is gone.

He appears in visitors and shapes and shadows, and as a voice to an ancient Babylonian:

“I will make you…”

The Babylonian’s faith is counted as righteousness, and deservedly so, for this man doesn’t hear the voice of God in any way for decades. (And I get mad when his voice leaves me for months.)

This God lets his people sit in slavery for hundreds of years. When his Chosen asks to see his Glory, He offers only the briefest glimpse of his back. When His People stray at Sinai, He still offers to give them every benefit that He promised–the land, the victory, and their identity. The only difference: He would send his angels with them and withdraw his own Presence.

They freak out.
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Ordinary Time: It’s still Pentecost….but not really (but sort of)


angie-iver-woman-hands-watercolorThe wisdom and beauty of the Church Calendar never ceases to amaze me.

After the Holy Day of Pentecost happened a few Sundays ago, I turned to my favorite daily prayer site, MorningPrayer.isThis site always has a banner along the top displaying the current church calendar season. I was surprised to see, days after Pentecost, the words “Ordinary Time” splayed across the site.

Isn’t it the season of Pentecost?

So, I googled it, and I found out that there’s no such thing as Pentecost Season.

Pentecost is just a single, holy day in the Christian Church Calendar. It’s when we celebrate the falling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon Christian believers, 50 days after the Resurrection (Easter). Kind of a big deal, right? Might it deserve a season?

And though it’s not a season, it’s actually far more beautiful than that.
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Pentecost: spirituality vs. Spirituality


crazy-clouds

I don’t know about you, but too often I divorce spirituality from the Holy Spirit.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that “spirituality” is a matter between my spirit and the Holy Spirit. But I too often define spirituality as fundamentally being about my spirit–stirring it up and syncing it up to God. Too often, when contemplating my own spirituality, my thoughts first turn to how I can ” feel the Spirit more”.

If I’m honest, I too often think that a healthy and vibrant spirituality is ultimately defined by intense spiritual experience (emotions, gifts, fruits, and such). And yes, these are definitely products of a vibrant Spirituality, but don’t we too often pursue the product, and ultimately miss the point? Most of the time, I think that if I simply achieve those “experiences”, I have been “successful.”

True “Spirit-uality” is not first and foremost about the state of my spirit. Instead, it is about developing a dynamic vitality with the Holy Spirit. It’s about being swept up in a force greater than myself–a person greater than myself.
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{Easter friday} | prayer & readings for Easter Week (2013)


For Easter Week: reading schedule/reflections.

prayer.

Almighty Father, who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give us grace so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(from the liberti Lent & Easter 2012 prayerbook & the Book of Common Prayer)

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