Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Matthew Henry, who lived from 1662 to 1714, was an English pastor. He is best known today for his commentaries, but I’ve found his smaller work called “A Method for Prayer” to be a very helpful resource in focusing on the attributes of God and in giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done. In the book, Henry lists the character and attributes of God, followed by corresponding prayers from Scripture. Here’s an example…
"Let us now lift up our hearts, with our eyes and hands unto God in the heavens. Let us stir up ourselves to take hold on God, his face, and to give him the glory due unto his name. Let us now attend upon the Lord without distraction, and let not our hearts be far from him, when we draw nigh unto him with our mouths, and honour him with our lips. Let us now worship God; who is a SPIRIT, in spirit and in truth...
1. We must solemnly address ourselves to that INFINITELY GREAT and GLORIOUS Being with whom we have to do, as those that are possessed with a full belief of his PRESENCE and a holy awe and reverence of his MAJESTY which we may do in such expressions as these:
- HOLY, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, which art, and Wast, and art to come.
- O thou whose name alone is JEHOVAH, and who art the most HIGH over all the earth
- O God, thou art our God, early will we seek thee; our God and we will praise thee ; our father's God and we will exalt thee.
- O thou who art the true God, the living God, the only living and true God, and the everlasting King ! The Lord our God, who is one Lord.
The book is available online for free at Google Books, here.
A version with modern text is also available from Christian Heritage Publishers.
I hope you find it a helpful resource in giving thanks.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
For my work, I’ve spent nearly the entire Fall doing software training in a number of hospitals -- spending a lot of time in ERs and Intensive Care Units, helping doctors look at radiology images of people suffering from congestive heart failure, brain injuries, breast cancer and a whole host of other problems.
Remembering St. Elizabeth and my work, I've had a chance to think a lot recently about sickness, difficulty, and death.
Not unique to myself, these topics have also been significant issues in the life of the Church. And many, including myself, have asked the question: “If God is good, how can there be suffering in the world?” C.S. Lewis called this “The Problem of Pain”.
As I've sought to have a better understanding to this question, I've come to a few conclusions...
First, it's clear to me that Scripture indicates that the cause of our difficulty is due to our sinful condition (something theologians call "Original Sin"). It’s not that a sick person is more sinful than a healthy person, but rather we learn in Scripture that sin entered into the world with the sin of Adam and Eve, our “First Parents” (as the theologians would call them), resulting in a separation from God which ushered in pain, toil and difficulty into the world.
In understanding this issue of sin and sickness, I've found much insight from writers and teachers in the Reformed Tradition who have looked at this issue of sin from a very different perspective than many moderns. Instead of asking (as moderns might), “How can there be a good God with pain and suffering in the world?” They have said instead, “Isn’t it amazing how good God is -- even though we have sinned. We deserve so much worse. We have been disobedient, we have broken God’s law, we are under God’s wrath. We deserve death. Isn’t it amazing that God the Father sent His Son to mend our relationship with Him and make us His children. Isn't it amazing that God has extended grace to us."
These scholars have also emphasized the sovereignty of God. What this means in a nutshell is that God is God and I am not. I can’t manipulate God to get Him to do what I want. I can't pray a special prayer for healing that He will always answer. If He desires to heal someone who is sick, He will. If He chooses not to heal, He won't. There are no magic formulas that we should rely on…it’s up to Him. I can pray to God for healing, as we see Jesus and the disciples doing in the Bible and I can leave the results to Him, trusting that whatever the outcome, "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28).
Another source that I've found helpful is the teaching of George Eldon Ladd. Through the writing of Dr. Ladd, I've been able to see sickness and healing in the context of the Kingdom of God. In his book called "The Presence of the Future" Dr. Ladd explains that "God is the Lord of history; but there are hostile elements, opposing forces that seek to frustrate God's rule." He notes that "Evil is so radical that it can be overcome only by the mighty intervention of God."
Dr. Ladd adds, "History will witness a continuing conflict between God's Kingdom and the realm of evil; and in this conflict, men in general and the disciples of the Kingdom in particular will be called upon to suffer. In fact, they may expect opposition and suffering to be their normal experience."
There are no easy answers when people face difficulty, illness and pain. I'm encouraged though that in Scripture we can see Christ's heart for the hurting. He showed mercy to those who came to him in need. Here's a few examples:
-"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed the sick." (Matthew 14:14)
-"Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." (Matthew 15:32)
-"Jesus had compassion on them and touched them their eyes. Immediately they recieved their sight and followed him." (Matthew 20:34)
-"When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said 'Do not weep.'" (Luke 7:13)
May we be reminded this week of Christ's mercy...to us and to the world.
Grace & Peace,
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Simeon was born in England in 1759 and became a Christian when he was in college.
John Piper, in a sermon he preached in 1989, noted several interesting things in Simeon's life. The sermon can be found here.
Piper noted that Simeon's conversion was remarkable in that it was prompted by his college's compulsory annual partaking of the Lord's Supper. After reading a book on the Lord's Supper, Simeon became convinced of his own sinfulness. He later wrote:
"Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday morning, Easter-day, April 4, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, 'Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!' From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord's Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour."
Simeon faced several trials in ministry.
One significant trial was with his congregation, who, unable to fire him, refused to have him preach any time other than Sunday morning. For a time they locked the doors to their individual pews, refusing to come to church and refusing to allow others to sit in their seats.
With great wisdom, at the age of 71, Simeon wrote to a friend, "My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake."
Having a passion for sharing the good news of Christ with others, Charles Simeon had great influence on a number of younger ministry leaders including Henry Martyn, David Brown and William Wilberforce.
Piper contends that the secret to Simeon's perseverance in ministry was his knowledge of his own limitations and sinfulness. He believed that he was made right with God, not by his own work, but by God's mercy in the forgiveness of Christ. Simeon wrote:
"I love simplicity; I love contrition. . . . I love the religion of heaven; to fall on our faces while we adore the Lamb is the kind of religion which my soul affects."
May Charles Simeon serve as an example to us as we seek God in the midst of difficulty, as we work with younger leaders and share the good news of Christ with others.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
After spending about 15 minutes singing worship songs, we'll pray the Evening Prayer from the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer". Following the liturgical calendar we'll remember the life of Charles Simeon, an Anglican pastor and teacher.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
We met at Grace Anglican Church in Circleville, Ohio, a town south of Columbus. At our meeting Fr. Dale Minor and Dcn. Jack Snyder led us in a training on Liturgics...here's how Webster's defines the word:
Li*tur"gics\, n. The science of worship; history, doctrine, and interpretation of liturgies.
The training began with Fr. Dale and Deacon Jack leading us through the Morning Prayer service in the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer". After we prayed, they shared with us some of their practices around praying the "Daily Office" of Morning Prayer. We learned too that an online version of Morning Prayer can be found at: http://www.missionstclare.com/
After our discussion on prayer, Fr. Dale and Deacon Jack discussed the liturgy of their Sunday worship service. Liturgy, they reminded us, is a word that has its roots in the Greek word "laos" (which means people) and "ergon" (which means work)...thus liturgy is the "work of the people" in public worship. Fr. Dale reminded us that all who join us in worship are participants, not members of an audience. In our worship we have an audience of one...the Lord.
They also shared with us their use of vestments, incense and bells as well as how they conduct eucharist (communion). They also reviewed a document with us about "the drama of worship" which they also have posted on their website here.
I appreciated their helpful teaching.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The discussion was between Ken Myers (of Mars Hill Audio) and Stephen J. Nichols (research Professor at Lancaster Bible College). In the interview, Nichols discussed the history of Biblical interpretation and the use of creeds, noting that in the 19th Century there was a move to focus on "Jesus of the Bible" instead of a "Jesus of the Creeds".
He explained that this move initially sounds like a good thing. The problem, he notes is that in taking this approach, we may focus on narrow, particular texts of Scripture (those that we like) while omitting others. He gives the example of only focusing on passages about the love of God, and omitting those that describe Him as a Judge.
When we just look at one passage at a time, he explained, we end up "getting awash in a sea of texts" until landing on the particular text that we like.
Confessions and creeds he said, "help us see the whole picture of Scripture".
We need to be careful too, Nichols noted, of the contemporary Church's focus on personal experience. "It's not that personal experience is bad," Nichols says, but it becomes dangerous when it is all that there is. "When it is loosed from its moorings of a Confessional commitment", Christianity becomes reduced to "my experience", creating our "own personal Jesus" (in the words of Depeche Mode).
Nichols explained that it is easy for us to ignore parts of who Christ is. Not seeing the whole picture, however, gives us "a distorted view of Jesus, a distorted theology and a distorted view of discipleship". As well as a distorted view of the "nature of our salvation" Myers added.
"These creeds," Nichols noted, "were the lifeblood of the Early Church and for much of the history of the Church."
As Americans, we value innovation, things that are new, edgy and unique...the Creeds were written seventeen hundred years ago.
The question for us is, "What role do these traditional, historic Creeds play in our life?"
Here's a link to the Apostle's Creed, one of the important creeds of the Church. The site also contains two articles by James Orr that explains the Apostle's Creed in detail.
Mars Hill Audio's website is: http://www.marshillaudio.org/ They have a number of helpful resources that address Christianity in contemporary culture.
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This week we'll spent about 25 minutes singing worship and praise songs, then pray the Evening Prayer from the "Book of Common Prayer".
I hope you find it a helpful resource in your devotional life,
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
"I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen."
I mentioned in the audio recording that I find the creed helpful because of its succinct summary of the Christian faith. It speaks of the Trinity...God our Father (an almighty, creator), His Son Jesus Christ (his only Son and our Lord) and the Holy Spirit.
It also speaks to the "Grand Miracle" as C.S. Lewis called it, the incarnation...that Christ came to earth, is completely divine and also completely human...enabling Him to live the life we should have lived and died the death we deserve.
I like too how it not only speaks to past events in the history of the world and the Church, but also points to future events...Christ will "come again to judge the living and the dead" as well as the promise of "life everlasting" to those who have trusted in Him for the forgiveness of sins.
I hope you'll find the Apostle's Creed a helpful reminder of our Christian faith.