This is a blog about the Church of Jesus Christ, and about my work in the Church this summer. For more information on my summer internship, see the first post.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Some Thoughts On Anne Rice...

It seems that as the summer wears on, my posts keep becoming sparser! As you've gathered from the past two posts with links, though, I've certainly had my work cut out for me. The womens' bible study has proved immensely rewarding, both to me personally, and (from what I can tell) to others who have found in the Apostle's words the very joy and encouragement that he intended to create by writing the letter (how the Word of God still speaks!). The recording of the third session should be posted fairly soon, once I receive it. Also, I'm going to attempt to compress the other two files a bit so that they don't take forever to download (they'll be mp3s once I make the change).

An update on work in general would make sense, though the last couple weeks have been taken up mostly with sermon & teaching preparations (as you've probably gathered). I've been burying myself in Philippians, which will also prepare me to lead a bible study in the fall, back at school. I attended the two-day Global Leadership Summit (hosted by Willow Creek Church in Chicago) at one of the nearby satellite locations (Crossroads Church in Costa Mesa). I also helped out a bit with Vacation Bible School, mostly with setup and a bit with slides and audio. From what I could tell, God did some amazing things this year in the lives of kids (including using them to heal one of the leaders!). Let's all pray for the good work God has begun in a lot of young lives this past week, a work that we know he'll complete until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)! I've also been doing a good bit of reading (on my beloved Kindle) - just in the past few weeks, I've read
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, The Cost of Discipleship by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and (re-read) The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. I'm just about to finish Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon Fee and to start God Crucified by Richard Bauckham. Read all of them - I highly recommend them!

Someone in Church yesterday asked me if I'd blogged about the recent statements made by Anne Rice (the popular vampire novelist and Roman Catholic) declaring her departure from the Church and organized religion. Though I'm not very familiar with Anne Rice's background or books, I was interested by what Pastor Richard discussed in his sermon, and looked up the pastoral response Mark Driscoll wrote for the Washington Post (found here). I'd recommend reading it - Driscoll makes some good observations (the best, I think, being that the decision of Anne Rice and others to quit the organized church because of their distaste for the people they've found there actually constitutes, in many cases, just another brand of self-righteousness and judgmentalism). At any rate, the following are my thoughts on what has happened.

It is first of all worth pointing out that the phenomenon of Christian hypocrisy within the Church is by no means new – in fact, it is as old as Christianity itself. One need only read the letters of the Apostle Paul to see the kind of state the early church was in: in Corinth you had believers in lawsuits with one another, one believer committing incest, others getting drunk on communion wine and neglecting the poor in the congregation. In Galatia and Philippi you’ve got some believers compelling others to get circumcised in order to ‘complete the deal’ of their Christian religious résumé (and looking down on them if they didn’t). In Colossae there were people holding to a strict asceticism and judging others if they ate certain foods or enjoyed certain kinds of drink. The parallels with modern Christian churches, I think, recommend themselves.

Nevertheless, these problems did
not stop Paul from insisting throughout his writings that salvation is a reality experienced within the context of the (Church) community established by the Holy Spirit. His argument against marriage with people of another religious persuasion is made on the basis of the fact that “we are the temple of the living God”, the community among whom God dwells (2 Cor. 6:16-18). His emphasis on the fact that salvation is “in Christ” necessarily leads him to make such statements as “we are members, one of another” (Eph.4:25), and that walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” means “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vv.1-3), all so that “through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10). To the Philippians Paul urges that discipleship in Christ means “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27), and doing so with the mindset of Jesus who didn’t cling to right or privilege but became a servant for the sake of all (2:3-10). The effect of this proper mindset in the Church is that Christians can “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (v.15), and do so much more effectively than if they remain apart, broken and isolated individuals without peers to build them up in their faith. Of course many within the church consistently fail to live up to this calling. But Pastor Mark makes a great point that Anne Rice is in effect “stereotyping” the Church – she is claiming by her actions (whether she intends to or not) that all Christians are like this, and this is simply not the case. I've spent the summer working in a Church that has consistently demonstrated that it's not.

Anne Rice would do better simply to
keep searching, to find a community in which she feels she is welcome, God is honored, and the work of the kingdom is actually being pursued. Whether that search should continue outside the catholic church is a matter she will need to consider for herself. But wherever it takes her, she would do well to realize that God’s purpose in Christ was not merely to save a bunch of island-like individuals by giving each a personal hope for eternal blessedness; rather, it is to create in him a new people of God, one through whom his saving promises to Abraham will be carried forward and the kingdom of God will break into this world forever. Until then, there will always be hypocrites within that company – as Jesus himself said, many people will come to him at the end and yet be rejected because their ‘religion’ was but a cheap veneer to an otherwise unredeemed lifestyle (Matt. 7:21-23!). Meanwhile our task is not to ‘walk out’ on the Church, but to stick it out, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience [because being with other Christians demands it!], bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). Maybe for Anne that could mean gathering Christian friends with whom she is close and enjoying fellowship, prayer, worship, study, and service in the context of a small group. But I would encourage her (and anyone else feeling justifiably annoyed with the Church) at least to consider something like this rather than a total rejection of communal life with believers. The best kinds of spiritual formation can occur in the presence of a deeply beloved brother or sister in Christ.

Finally, I think Driscoll gets it right: "Christians should not be offended by her rejection of Christianity. We should use it as an opportunity to search our own lives to see how we have been vicious, cruel, mean, unloving, and difficult to others, and repent of our own sin without fixating on what we think are her sins. We should also pray for her...and wait for Jesus to keep working on her as he is on us, thanking him that at least our struggles are not as publicly scrutinized as hers."

And while we're doing that, here's a book highly relevant and well-worth reading:
Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Speaking of books (yet again), I haven't forgotten about that second part of my book review on Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. That might come a few days after I depart Newport Beach (August 22nd), but God willing, it will come! That's all for now!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Confidence in God's Glorious Future" - 8/3/10

Scriptures: Philippians 2:5-11 ; 3:8 & vv.10-11 ; 3:20-21
(From Tuesday women's bible study)


Christ is risen, Alleluia!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Confidence in God's Energizing Presence" - 7/27/10

Scriptures: Philippians 1:3-6 & 2:12-13
(From Tuesday women's bible study)


And for the record, I'm aware that I mistakenly quoted Colossians 3:4 as though it were in Philippians :-)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

One Month Left?!

I can hardly believe that July is almost over - and I have just under a month left here at St. James! The time has certainly flown by, not least of all because of how busy I've been and how very much I've been enjoying my time here. It seems as though my blog entries are becoming fewer and farther between... a couple things have contributed to this: first off, I've done more public speaking in the past few weeks than I've ever done before in my life, and I seem to be the sort of person who needs to practice and rehearse a talk a good bit before I feel it's ready.

Last Tuesday I shared a bit about my past and my experiences growing up for the 'Friends & Fellowship Luncheon'; I talked about growing up in the public schools and my faith journey up to this point (and realized on the spot that it hasn't quite been 8 years since I would say I was born again... and yet it's hard to recall what life was like before that!). In talking about my high school experiences I discussed the ministry opportunities I had been given (through Operation Snowball, which was a secular program) and how those affected me and equipped me for the work I'm beginning to do now. About three quarters of the way through the talk, once I'd gotten into talking about college life, I realized I had stopped talking about myself and had started preaching - the description of witnessing my Grandmother's death led to a fairly lengthy bit on how understanding the message of Easter subsequently changed my life and my entire outlook (and ought to change yours as well :-). People were very kind and responded with a great deal of enthusiasm, which I appreciated... almost as much as I appreciated James' (Pastor Richard's son's) little joke after I'd finished giving this talk
about myself: "You were very passionate about the subject."

On Wednesday I preached another noon eucharist sermon, which concluded the series Andy (the other intern) and I were sharing on the life of King David. The texts were 2 Samuel 11:1-12:15 (David & Bathsheba), Psalm 51, and John 7:53-8:11, all with profound insights into the nature of sin and how we must respond to it in our lives with God. That evening I also led the second session of the group study in 'Godly Singleness', which focused on 1 Corinthians 7 (in which Paul encourages his listeners to be like him - in other words, to be single).

On Tuesday I taught/led the first of a couple studies in Paul's letter to the Philippians for the women's bible study at St. James (I was assured that I didn't need to find a girly topic to talk about...). A link to the audio of that talk should be up soon, once I figure out the best way of hosting the file.

More updates (hopefully) soon to follow (and hopefully better than just summaries of what I've been doing)!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lesslie Newbigin - "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" (Part 1)

Well, here at last is the long awaited discussion of Lesslie Newbigin's book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, which will be in two parts; the first, about the insights Newbigin offers into the pluralistic world the gospel faces today, and the second, about his vision for how the Church ought to be ministering in that sort of world. In comparison with my other posts, this one may prove a bit abstract (part 1 in particular). Nevertheless, join me for the ride and we'll see what insights surface.

For some time now, particularly in evangelical Christian circles, the term 'pluralism' has been thrown around a great deal, and has been recognized as one of the greatest philosophical challenges to the gospel in the modern world. Newbigin offers us critical insights into the origins of the reigning 'pluralistic' outlook, and provides much-needed clarity on the matter of how the Gospel may appropriately adapt itself to the needs of its immediate context without compromising its deepest foundations.

Newbigin begins by pointing out a crucial nuance in pluralism itself, one that is often missed by its detractors and critics. He diagnoses what I would call a 'dualistic postmodernity', which he describes thus: "The principle of pluralism is not universally accepted in our culture. It is one of the key features of our culture, and one that we shall have to examine in some depth, that we make a sharp distinction between a world of what we call 'values' and a world of what we call 'facts.' In the former world we are pluralists; values are a matter of personal choice. In the latter we are not; facts are facts, whether you like them or not. It follows that, in this culture, the Church and its preaching belong to the world of values."

This is significant - to me it seems that the mistake is commonly made of saying 'the modern era is over, everything has changed... now we are living in the postmodern world. There's no such thing as truth anymore in people's minds.' I've heard a number of Christian apologists try to do this as they ponder how to address the gospel to our society in a way that makes sense. But if we open our eyes and look at the academy, at the world of science and technology, of medicine, or even politics, we see that this is simply not the case. People in our society (at least, this is my impression) rate
very highly the claims of science, viewing it as a neutral, 'value-free' source of cold, hard facts (then they make value judgments that they suppose to be neutral as well, based on those claims). It is in the realm of religious, philisophical, or spiritual matters that we become pluralists, postmoderns. Science is seen to be valueless, and wherever values are brought in, fact goes out. Newbigin brilliantly demolishes this dichotomization of facts and values, and encourages Christians to challenge it wherever it is made.

He applies an example from the history of education in England: for centuries, it was taught in many schools to be a simple matter of public fact that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever." This was taught right alongside other facts such as the laws of gravity and geometry. Now, of course, this is no longer done.

Why? Is it because the former topic is value-based, not 'objective' like the laws of gravity or geometry? Not scientifically provable (and therefore uncertain, for what science proves must therefore be certain)? Many at this point would simply nod their heads and say 'of course', but emphatically the answer we must give is
no. What's going on here is not that a value-based system has been supplanted by a fact-based system that is truthful and objective. What has really happened is that one value-based system (Christianity) has simply been pushed out by another value-based system (scientific rationalism). Society in general has determined that things demonstrable only by the scientific method may be considered 'fact', and that everything else must be suspect and relegated to the world of 'values'. Why has society determined this? Because society believes this to be the way the world works... because societal values have established that the scientific method is the only reliable guide to reality. Pluralism is simply the inevitable outworking of this way of thinking. We can't be sure about what is true unless we have science to prove the matter for us, and so where we can't be sure, we democratize truth and make it 'true' at the individual level.

This is deeply problematic when one realizes that science itself rests on a system of values that are not scientifically demonstrable. Newbigin writes, "The whole work of modern science rests on faith-commitments which cannot themselves be demonstrated by the methods of science. This has been frequently pointed out and it is only necessary to refer briefly to it. The development of science as we know it would have been impossible without two
beliefs: that the universe is rational and that it is contingent" (neither of these things, of course, is scientifically demonstrable). Further assumptions get added to these among many scientists; one of the most destructive is this: the scientific method is the only viable means of gaining knowledge about reality (to which I simply will say, 'prove it...scientifically'). This analysis rests upon basic principles of epistemology that have been understood for quite a long time, but are typically ignored in mainstream society - that is, that all knowing proceeds from some basis in believing. This is every bit as true of science as it is of philosophy or religion. Presuppositions that cannot be proven undergird every single thing a human being will say, do, or think.

All of this is not to denigrate science or argue that it is useless to us - quite the contrary! The scientific method has proven its usefulness, but we shouldn't act as though science is not also based on an intuitive leap from what we believe about the world to how we go about understanding the world. Newbigin's purpose is not to reject science, but is simply to point out that this dichotomy we've engineered between what is
factual and what is value-based is itself based on a set of beliefs and values that cannot be proven - our confidence in the scientific method can never be proven, for in order to prove it we would be using the very (scientific) principles that we are seeking to prove. We simply take it for granted that the only 'knowable' things are those which science can demonstrate. The Christian response here is not to say, 'Well of course we can only know what science can prove, but that's okay, because what we believe is scientifically demonstrable!' Rather, our response is, 'No... we can know more about the universe than just what science reveals to us. We can also know what God reveals to us.' It can't be proven, of course... but as we see with the scientific method, that shouldn't be a problem.

Newbigin provides further insights as he traces out the nuances of postmodern pluralism. If everything we say or think is based on dogma - certain basic assumptions about the world around us - it follows that the pluralist is being every bit as absolute as the Christian or the scientist. Whenever a pluralist tries to say, 'All truth is relative; what's true for you is true for you, as anyone's truth is true for himself; but that doensn't mean it's true for me,' what he is in effect doing is making a truth claim, one that is every bit as dogmatic as the claims of those (particularly Christians) whom he wishes to contradict.

Our task as Christian apologists living in a pluralistic age, then, is to expose the hypocrisy inherent in pluralism, to unmask its dogmatism by putting our finger on pluralism's fundamental likeness to all that it seeks to criticize. To those who say 'Everyone's truth is true for himself,' we must reply, 'Do you really think that's true?' To those who say 'There are no absolutes,' we must reply, 'Absolutely none?' To those who say 'We can't really know anything,' we must reply, 'How do you know that?' By asking them their own questions we not only show the claim of pluralism (that it transcends all truth claims) to be simply laughable, but also expose the fact that the only difference between Christianity and pluralism is that pluralism denies the fact that it is dogmatic about the way the world works (for to do so would overthrow everything it is trying to accomplish).

The simple reality is that we cannot escape truth, meaning, and values, no matter how far we withdraw or retreat; nor can we continue indefinitely to hold them apart from 'fact'. The dichotomy we have created in our society between what is factual and what is 'true' is nothing more or less than a pestilential cultural laziness, too squeamish to believe that anyone in the world might be wrong, and therefore driven to the silly conclusion that everyone must therefore be right, no matter how absurd this may seem. Perhaps that is the truth, and I'm just wrong. But if that is the truth, let's not be so foolish as to try and deny that, like I said, it is the truth.

This concludes the first part of our look at Newbigin's ideas, which will be followed (hopefully soon) with a discussion of how these insights ought to translate into the practice and mission of the church in our culture. Until then, I would leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Lesslie's book:

"The curiosity which is always seeking to discover more seems to be one of the necessary conditions of life. But seeking is only serious if the seeker is following some clue, has some intuition of what it is that he seeks, and is willing to commit himself or herself to following that clue, that intuition. Merely wandering around in a clueless twilight is not seeking. The relativism which is not willing to speak about truth but only about 'what is true for me' is an evasion of the serious business of living. It is a mark of a tragic loss of nerve in our contemporary culture. It is a preliminary symptom of death."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Weeks 3 & 4

Time is flying! I find it hard to believe that in just one more week the internship will be half over. A lot has happened since my last post, much of it continuing along the lines of what I had been doing before - more counseling, another sermon, things of that nature. I also had the opportunity to help lead services at two nursing homes these past two weeks, the first with a group of people who are at the lowest level of coherency in comparison with the other nursing homes we visit. A few days ago we went to another that was easier in terms of interaction and getting to know the people.

I learned quite a lot in both cases. It seems that there is a tendency to view pastoral care for the elderly and infirm as something done out of politeness, almost as a 'Hey, thanks for going to church all your life, now I'll come pray for you for a minute or two' that becomes an afterthought. But meeting the people at these nursing homes, I felt powerfully reminded of the fact that these people's lives are every bit as valuable as anyone else's (contrary to the despicable insistence of some in society, who view them as a burden), and they need the continual, renewing presence of the gospel in their lives too. I was especially astonished at the first nursing home to see someone who had left the church when he was young make a faith commitment and accept Jesus once again (this fellow was more lucid than the others we met at the nursing home). I just wonder how many people in the pastoral ministry actually view nursing and retirement home ministry as an
evangelistic effort - I suspect most don't, which is unfortunate, because this is precisely the point in people's lives at which the future - particularly the eternal future - seems much more palpable, at which the recognition comes that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind, and questions of a person's hope in death become increasingly urgent. Beyond this, these people need so badly to have someone encourage and support them, to pray for them and speak words of comfort, because life for many of them has become a constant source of pain and struggle. The look of joy, peace, and relief I saw on the faces of some of them simply to have someone pray for their particular needs and ask God's blessing for them, was unforgettable.

In other news, we celebrated the fourth of July, Newport Beach-style, which was pretty memorable. There was a party at the home of one of the parishioners with a great view of the bay and the city, and we could see at least four separate fireworks shows all going on at the same time. Last week Wednesday was also the conclusion of the church's Alpha Course, and I was happy to see a lot of phone numbers and email addresses being exchanged, people promising to keep meeting and spending time together, and to start going to church! Two of my new friends from my table have been coming as well, and it's been a great joy to see what God is doing in their lives.

There will be a few more posts very soon on a few more of the things I've been doing - specifically, a recent talk I gave on 5-point Calvinism to a bible study small group and my thoughts on an excellent book by Lesslie Newbigin,
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. That's all for now!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Week Two

I can't believe two and a half weeks have already gone by! A lot is happening, and much more is on the way - I just discovered today that the other intern (Andy) and I will be teaching a 3-week series/leading a small group on 'Godly Singleness,' a topic in which the two of us have a good deal of experience at the moment :-D though I must confess, I feel as though I have a lot more to learn than to teach.

The tasks that are proliferating all seem to be of the public speaking sort - Andy and I will be alternating as the preachers at the Wednesday noon Eucharist every week, and will also both be speaking at a large group fellowship meeting on July 29th for some of the older members of the church (who are affectionately referred to as the 'veterans of the cross,' not to be confused with 'cross veterans'). We'll also have some opportunities to speak to some groups at local retirement and nursing homes. Next Thursday I'll be doing some teaching at a fellowship group on 5-point Calvinism (T.U.L.I.P., though I'll probably have to destroy the acronym by changing the 'L' to a 'D' or 'P'... more on that in the future). And I'll be preaching a few sermons on a Sunday (which means you'll be able to hear them), though that will probably come in August.

Like I said, it was an eventful past week and a half. I participated in an ordination service as a candle-bearer and table waiter for the sacrament. The service was quite memorable - everyone in bright red, marvelous singing and chanting. In fact, the music was perhaps what made things most memorable: the songs were for the most part contemporary worship songs ('The Days of Elijah,' 'How Great is Our God,' etc.) and the clergy and choir (among whom I stood) were belting out the lyrics and swaying and clapping, all quite powerful... I described it to Rev. Cathie as a real liturgical rowdy-dow... It was the first ordination I'd ever seen, so those in the future will have a lot to live up to. It certainly showed me that ancient liturgical forms of worship don't have to be outdated or dry if they are used properly.

I also went with a bunch of the staff at St. James to a program over in Los Alamos called 'Teen Challenge,' which combines evangelism and instruction in the word of God with rehabilitation programs for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. All of the support these people receive in their fight against drugs and alcohol is powerfully Christ-centered and bible-centered, with something in mind along the lines of the Psalmist's words, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Ps. 119:11). They equip these young people not only with all the support and help needed for people trying to overcome addiction, but also with the strength to endure that process that a relationship with Jesus and a deep knowledge of scripture can provide. Their success rate in enabling people to fight off addiction and preventing relapse is quite high for such an organization - over 70%, and many of the graduates of the program become pastors. At the meeting, we sang some worship songs and then Rev. Cathie gave a message based on the disciples' walk to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35), about what it means to walk with Jesus in one's daily life. There were a lot of us leaders there, so we divided into pairs and went around praying for the people in the program based on their individual needs, asking for the Spirit's presence to give them saving faith and to equip them in their struggle with addiction.

On Sunday night, Andy and I went with some friends to Rock Harbor Church, a non-denominational mega church - Pastor Richard suggested that we experience some of the other options for church in the area and think about the different approaches to 'doing church' that we find. All told, Rock Harbor was more or less what I expected from a modern mega church comprised mainly of teens to thirties, though there were a few surprises. The preaching was very good (I don't mean to imply that this was a surprise... unfortunately, though, it was their preaching pastor's last Sunday there). The way we shared communion that night quite interested me: the wafers and little communion cups (with grape juice) were passed out and we were encouraged to sit for a while, holding them in our hands and examining ourselves inwardly. Then, after praying for us in a way that explained what it means to receive each of the elements, the pastor would then say, "Rock Harbor - the body of Christ, broken for you" and "Rock Harbor - the blood of Christ, shed for you," and at precisely the same moment, hundreds of people received the body and blood of Jesus together.

That got me thinking. Does our way of doing communion in most churches (coming up to a rail, kneeling in a straight line, and receiving the elements from a priest or pastor; or, lining up in front of a priest or pastor and doing the same thing) really convey all that the Lord's Supper intended? There are several things that I think we ought to be holding together in our minds as we go to the Lord's Supper, and I feel as though the replacement of the table with an altar in many churches (particularly Anglican and Catholic ones) perhaps obscures some of them. First, and most fundamentally, I remember at communion that Christ died for me - that he gave up his body to be broken and allowed his blood to be poured out in order to forgive my sins. Through receiving this body and blood in the holy mystery of communion, I receive Christ in my soul in a profound way, uniting myself to him so that his body and blood nourish me spiritually, causing me to recall my sinfulness and look with gratitude to God, who pardons me on the basis of what Christ alone has accomplished.

That's the core, I think, of what goes on when we receive communion. But I think that at the Lord's table we're invited to behold the wonder of this deliverance from sin and death in the context of a communal reality. The fact that communion is a deeply personal act need not make it an individualistic one. Holy communion not only displays my partaking of grace, but that of the whole church - it is truly the very thing that constitutes the body of Christ. We remember not only that through communion we are members of Christ, but also of one another (Eph. 4:25); we are fellow heirs and members of the household of God, and the same Lord who died for me died also for everyone else I see around me at that table. It seems to me that churches ought to do everything in their power to make communion something the church does together, so that we recognize the fact that God's purpose is not only to redeem me from my sins and to grant me eternal life, but also to create a
people who are to be stewards of his redemptive purposes, a spiritual nation through whom his promises for the whole world are to be carried forward. That is why communion isn't only a memorial of our redemption, but also a 'feast of the kingdom,' a point at which we look not only back but also forward, to the day when we will join with all God's people in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).

This is one of the reasons I love the way my church in Grand Rapids does communion. First of all, the altar is not an altar - it is a table. Thus we aren't mislead into thinking that Christ is being sacrificed again (as in Catholic theology). Second, we approach the table and stand in a circle around it, and the communion is not distributed until everyone is there (1 Cor. 11:21a comes to mind). And last of all, the pastor simply gives the elements to various people around the circle, and then they pass them along; so everyone in the circle has the chance to say to the brother or sister in Christ next in the circle: 'the body of Christ, broken for you' and 'the blood of Christ, shed for you.' Communion is done in such a way that it is simply impossible not to take communion together, or to think about one's own redemption without thinking also of others'. I don't know what kind of problems a model like this would encounter in an Anglican church, but how I wish something like this could be done in lots more churches! It runs powerfully against the grain of our culture's individualistic consumerism, which I think in some ways has infiltrated even the way we do communion...

Those are my thoughts at the moment, and soon I'll be putting up something about a great book by Lesslie Newbigin that I just read. Have a blessed day!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Sermon

I gave my first sermon today, which might be a misleading thing to say, because I've shared short messages before in Young Life and Wyld Life with kids. But this was the first time I've had the chance to give a sermon in a church; so the nature of the talk was quite different (I don't really think discussing the Ebenezer erected by Samuel between Mizpah and Shen would profit my junior high guys back at school all that much). The sermon was part of the noon Eucharist held in the chapel of the church's building. Here I owe a great deal of thanks to the Holy Spirit, who brought an unprecedented number of people there - 29! For a chapel that size, we were quite packed in, and were forced (happily) to bring in chairs so everyone could find a seat. I consider myself to have been blessed to be able to speak to a much larger group than normal.

My sermon used two of the texts in the year one daily office lectionary for today: 1 Samuel 7:2-17 and Luke 22:14-23. I focused on the thing that stood out the most to me about these two passages, that seemed to really tie them together:
remembering. In the reading from 1 Samuel, we see that Israel has failed to do what Moses asked of them in Deuteronomy 4:9 - "Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart form your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons." But Israel has forgotten, and has fallen into the worship of idols, of the Baals and Ashtaroth. Gathering at Mizpah with Samuel, they repent before God, at which point the Philistines decide to attack. God gives the Israelites victory through the intercession of Samuel on their behalf, and then Samuel sets up a memorial, a stone between Mizpah and Shen that remembers the Lord's help to Israel on that day (so, an eben-ezer, a 'stone of help').

The reading from Luke 22 was the institution of the Lord's Supper, which is really the Christian's most profound and important 'Ebenezer'. It is a memorial that calls to our mind God's greatest victory - his victory over sin and death at the cross of Jesus Christ. And it is through remembering in the act of receiving the Lord's Supper how we were redeemed from slavery to sin that we find ourselves, mysteriously, to be partakers of the body and blood of Jesus Christ through the elements of bread and wine (that we feed on him in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving, as the
Book of Common Prayer puts it).

I observed in the sermon that as Christians, we don't know our God in a purely subjective way (though we do indeed know him personally in our lives of prayer and experience), but primarily through his great saving actions in this world - in the world of time and space - on our behalf. Through remembering all that God has done for us we are enabled to worship him more sincerely and gratefully - as I pointed out in the sermon, how would we praise God as a ruler, judge, and savior if he had never ruled, upheld justice, or saved? For most Christian traditions (the Anglican tradition among them), the whole year is oriented around the saving actions of God in the person of Jesus Christ, beginning with his incarnation (Advent) proceeding through the events of his life to his suffering and death (Lent), resurrection (Easter), ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit (Ascension Sunday and Pentecost). In all of this we remember not only that things are a certain way (which is to make Christianity into just another philosophy) but that they are so because something has happened, something profoundly important that the world needs to know about. There's good news, and that good news is that God has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to confront and destroy the forces of sin and death in creation, and to inaugurate - with his death and resurrection - the new creation in which all things will be united in Christ (literally 'headed up' in him, Eph. 1:10).

This business of understanding God's saving actions in the world around us is something that people at St. James seem to be learning well (another thing I mentioned in the sermon) through their ongoing court battles with the Episcopal Church. There seems to be a sense that God has acted in response to their prayers, an act embodied in the recent (unanimous) decision of the California Supreme Court to hear the church's case. Though the future is still uncertain, there is a definite sense that God has used this time of difficulty to teach the people of St. James to trust in him, and to know that wherever they are led by God (even if that may be away from the place they've built, owned, inhabited, and loved for over fifty years), they are his people, the one to whom he never fails to show his faithfulness and love. God's faithfulness to his promises is one of the golden threads that ties together the huge variety of books and topics to be found in scripture; indeed, I think it is the golden thread of scriptural truth that binds the Christian life together and prevents it from falling apart in despair and resignation. God's faithfulness, his steadfast love, is the cornerstone of our faith, and through the remembrance of God's saving acts on our behalf throughout history, we remember that the cornerstone is sure - nothing can move it, which means that nothing can move us if we simply stand on it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Week One

Well, my first week has come and gone, and I managed to do far more than just 'get my feet wet.' I'm starting to get a feel for what the work week is like here, and it has already been a great pleasure. The people I work with are all very loving and welcoming, so that I've felt right at home on the staff here since day one.

Despite the great sense of getting 'settled in,' however, I've been exposed to a lot of new things even in this first week. One of the greatest pleasures I've had so far is getting involved in the church's Alpha course, which meets every Wednesday night at a local tennis club. I've had the chance to meet a homeless couple who seem to be learning to trust God amid the difficulties and decisions they are facing about the future. Alpha had a special meeting on Saturday at the church building that lasted for about six hours, and was focused on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to the main thing that has been new for me this week. As I might have mentioned in a previous post, St. James is a church that has, for some time, been interested in charismatic renewal, meaning that they seek to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in a special way through the expression of spiritual gifts (especially in worship), such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing. This is an area in which I haven't had the slightest experience until now; it has, to be completely honest, been
both eye-opening and a test of my faith and theology (all in a good way). There are many theologians whom I've held in high regard who would say that spiritual gifts (though not necessarily any dramatic outpouring of the Spirit per se) ceased with the end of the apostolic era, and I've always held this in my mind as I've heard others talk about more charismatic and pentecostal forms of Christianity. Yet I'm forced to confess that I've seen things I simply cannot explain - to name one, the healing of a woman who came to Alpha on Saturday with a scratched cornea, who had to hold a hand over one eye because it was so painful to look out of it. She was healed at the meeting and able to see as she had before. People were also speaking in tongues during some of our worship - I would have felt more comfortable about it, I suppose, if there were people also interpreting them for all of us (which was, after all, Paul's desired approach).

In all of this I so desperately want to avoid undue skepticism, especially as I know that most of my apprehensions in the matter are merely the result of a post-Enlightenment, naturalistic account of all phenomena that occur within our world. That view, from a Christian standpoint, is simply unsustainable. But I also know from reading Jonathan Edwards and the like that renewal and revival within the church always contains a strange mixture of both the good and the bad, the divine and the human, the spiritual and the earthly. One of the problems I have with the charismatic movement in general was well-put by Rev. Cathie (who led the Saturday service for Alpha), namely that these kinds of charismatic renewal movements will die in the church, if they
remain there. The use of spiritual gifts in the past century in North American churches has failed to fulfill one of its most central roles in the New Testament; that is, to evangelize. The great outpourings of the Holy Spirit seen in the NT primarily serve to bear witness to the mighty power of God for the unbelieving, leading them to the question, 'What should I do about all of this?' to which we respond, "Repent, and be baptized" (Acts 2:38). I admire the way in which baptism in the Holy Spirit and the expression of spiritual gifts was put to use by St. James church as a part of evangelistic outreach (in an Alpha course, which I'm willing to bet is highly unusual).

On Thursday night I had the opportunity to go over to Azusa Pacific University and see an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls (some hitherto unseen fragments from the university's special collection). Along with the fragments (most of them illegible and only readable thanks to infrared technology) there were many other manuscripts, some centuries-old Torah scrolls, a page from the first run of Gutenberg bibles, and various medieval bibles and office books. On Saturday I had the experience of serving as an acolyte at a wedding for the first time (as crucifer), and probably looked quite amusing in my robes, which fit me well enough in every area save for my arms, which were far too long for the sleeves (the sleeves were perhaps a third of the way up my forearm - for a crucifer this is probably the worst problem to have).

Monday was my day off, though that might move to Friday depending on my schedule. I went to the beach for a while, though not as long as I would have gone if it hadn't taken me an hour to find parking! The Pacific Ocean was beautiful, and I lay down on a towel and read for a while, occasionally watching surfers catch the waves and kids chasing seagulls. Yep, it sure is pretty tough having an internship down here...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Some Thoughts On Communion

In preparation for a brief homily I'm going to give on Wednesday at the Noon Chapel Eucharist, I just listened to a really great sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller (of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan) about the meaning and importance of the Lord's Supper. Here's the link.

I think Dr. Keller offers a well-articulated, theologically accurate, and practical explanation of the Lord's Supper, and does so in a way that provokes some interesting questions. Some are more logistical in nature: what is the best way of receiving communion? In line at an altar rail, or gathered in a circle? Must one receive the elements from a Eucharistic minister, or is there benefit in receiving the elements and then passing them along to the believer next in line? Then of course there are the theological dilemmas: if the best context for the sharing of the Lord's Supper is that of the small group, as Dr. Keller suggests, how should the issue of presidency at communion be resolved. (Of course, as Anglicans we can avoid the dispute by letting L.E.M.s orchestrate this kind of thing for their small group, though as far as I am aware, this would be an unusual form of Lay Eucharistic ministry...)

Perhaps you would find it beneficial to think about Dr. Keller's points on the purpose of the Lord's Supper before you receive it this weekend (or whenever you'll do so next). To put it like Jonathan Edwards, the door to the affections is through the understanding; and so what we know about our Lord's Supper ought to deepen our gratitude toward the One who is present with us in a truly unique way every time we receive it (sorry for putting it that way to any Zwinglians or Papists who might be reading...you know I love you :-D )

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The First Few Days

The first few days have certainly been eventful! Shortly after arriving at the church on Saturday afternoon I was moving into my new apartment accommodations on Lido Island, right across the river from St. James. The church was kind enough to provide me with food, a mini fridge, microwave, bed sheets, dishes, and much more to make me comfortable while I work here this summer. Just after moving in, I drove down Pacific Coast Highway to a church altar guild potluck dinner at the home of one of our parishioners, who insisted on my taking home leftovers. The house looked out over the harbor filled with yacht clubs toward the Balboa peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean right behind it- the sun was setting, and we sat out on the back porch enjoying the food and conversation. After this, a few people who were about my age from the church (the pastor's son one of them) took me to the beach (they corrected me when I, the Chicagoan, called it "the shore"), where we went to a donut shop and walked along the ocean for a few hours. Out on one of the piers we saw someone catch some kind of a ray (not a stingray, I'm guessing - he was holding it by the tail).

Then on Sunday I went to church for about five hours (!) so that I could be introduced at all three of the Sunday services. St. James has an interesting diversity in worship styles that I greatly appreciated: at 7:30, the Rite I Eucharist is celebrated, mostly with the older parishioners, and at 9:00 is Rite II. This seems to be the largest service, with a good range of ages. At 11:00 is the 'charismatic' service; by charismatic they do not mean simply 'contemporary' or 'praise & worship,' as some have come to use the term. At St. James there is a an interest in charismatic renewal, involving the expression of spiritual gifts (such as speaking in tongues with interpretation, prophecy, and healing). This doesn't take place every week (it didn't this past Sunday), but I'm looking forward to seeing it for myself (with discerning but hopefully not unduly skeptical eyes - I must be honest that it is a matter in which I don't have a decided opinion. I want to be open to what the Holy Spirit can do among his people, but I also want to be wise and careful with what I embrace as God's work, not jumping to any conclusions).

What fascinated me about the three services was the rich diversity so obvious in the differing worship styles, and yet the profound unity between the three services - the variations between them in prayer and music styles contained nevertheless a golden thread running through all of them and binding them all together, and that thread was the liturgy. I never thought I would see charismatic worship and the Book of Common Prayer put together so seamlessly! The effect on me, I think, was a vision of how the diversity of gifts and interests among the people of God need not compromise the unity which we are to enjoy in Christ. We can be like-minded, we can be orthodox and steadfast in the gospel, without requiring that every Christian in our midst be the carbon copy of his brothers and sisters. (The failure of many at this point, particularly many in the Episcopal Church USA, is to say that the prayer book itself provides that unity, whereas I think scripture provides it, a fact that everyone at St. James church is happy to embrace. The prayer book simply fosters our celebration of that unity through an orderly, scripture-based approach to worship.)

After church, Pastor Richard (the rector) and his family took me to the Cannery, a seafood restaurant right across from the church parking lot. I found myself, unexpectedly, in a very 'holy' place, for the table I saw over in a nearby corner turned out to be "John Wayne's Table," the place where the Duke himself always sat. (The Cannery one of his favorite restaurants.) Later that evening, I went over to the home of one of the families in the church and watched the Lakers lose to the Celtics (I guess I'm a Lakers fan now that I'm living in L.A....and since everyone mispronounces the Celtic civilization's name because of the basketball team. The civilization is pronounced '
Kelts' people, not the way the basketball team is...got it? Excellent.).

My arrival here, as I discovered during the Sunday announcements, has come immediately following some good news - the California Supreme Court decided on Wednesday that it would hear St. James' case with the Episcopal Church. The parish is struggling (along with several others sued by the Diocese of L.A.) to keep their church premises (that are titled to them and that they they have spent decades building and improving upon). For more information on the legal situation faced by St. James (currently being sued by the Episcopal church), see this website. This is good news because St. James has a very strong case and the CA Supreme Court made their decision unanimously. But it by no means resolves the matter, and continued prayer will be needed.

That's all for now- I'm just starting to learn my responsibilities at the church, and updates are soon to follow!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Trip

Well, I’m here! There’s much to talk about already, but for now I’ll focus on the drive out (since I need to get up and be at the church by 7 AM tomorrow…). The drive was, simply put, fantastic. At least, it was once I got out of the Midwest. There is certainly a beauty to Iowa’s rolling hills of corn, as well as Nebraska’s flat expanses of pastureland, but growing up in the Midwest makes this all a bit too familiar. This familiarity ended almost the second I crossed over into Colorado. As if someone had flipped a switch, the scenery was converted to an empty, treeless hill country, quite beautiful in its own unusual way. Colorado is known, of course, for its Rockies and national forests and parks, enough so that one may be surprised to discover that the interstate route all the way from the Nebraska border to Denver includes none of these things—just empty, far-reaching, brownish colored hills.

Once you get to Denver, though, the mountains begin very abruptly, and before you know it you’re on winding highways overlooking deep valleys with snow-capped peaks looming up in the distance. The third day of the trip, from Denver to Cedar City UT, was by far the most memorable for this reason. White River National Park was a highlight, driving through rocky ravines close to the river with ‘Falling Rock’ signs everywhere and wire netting stretching up some of the cliff faces to keep everything where it belonged.

Best by far, I must say, was Utah. The denser Colorado Rockies (at least they were along I-70) gave way to these vast, stretching valleys with rocky peaks in the distance in every direction. Here I stopped a number of times at scenic overlooks, and I’ll be posting some of those pictures in the near future. Gradually the terrain became rockier, and the rock became redder and beautifully wind-formed and smooth. Then as I gained some elevation it became more like Colorado again (though it retained its wide-open spaces), and went from rock and scrub brush to coniferous forests growing at the feet of some truly impressive mountains (though not quite as tall as in Colorado). After turning south on I-15 in the middle of the state, I found myself driving through valley after valley dotted with towns and rich farmlands in the shadow of long mountain ranges hemming all of it in.

The fourth day contained some highlights as well, especially the brief part of the trip through the northwest corner of Arizona, through whose jagged mountains the route was carved, until I found myself in Nevada where the scenery became more desolate. The desert was quite beautiful, and (excepting the regrettable necessity of driving through Las Vegas) extremely enjoyable. (One side note- the most memorable thing about Vegas was driving past countless advertisements offering every kind of worldly pleasure imaginable, then after leaving the city seeing an advertisement board among the last of them that said, “After you die, you will meet God – Revelation 1:7” I’d like to shake the hands of whoever put that up…) Then into southern California, where I became acquainted with the true horror that is Los Angeles driving. After a few traffic jams, some mistakes in the route due to bad signage, and a few close calls with lane-changing demoniacs, I found myself in Newport Beach, at one of the most beautiful Anglican churches I’ve ever laid eyes on. But that’s for a future post.

While I was driving, I not only was listening to music on my ipod much of the way, but also enjoyed a sixteen-sermon series by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson on Colossians. There is something so fitting about adding the following scripture to the seeming infinitude of mountains and valleys and rivers and plains that I drove through:

“is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:15-20)

To hear while driving through the Utah Rockies that “in him all things hold together” and that “all things were created through him and for him” is an experience to which mere words cannot do complete justice (nor to the experience of sitting down before such glorious vistas and reading Psalm 104, Job 38 &39, and especially Psalm 8). How vast, the world, and yet to consider that the entire universe of which this world is but an indescribably small part, is itself infinitely tiny in comparison with God. And it is even more staggering to think that the same Voice which causes the mountains to melt like wax and which breaks the cedars of Lebanon, the same voice which animates the spinning galaxies and upholds countless light years of celestial wonders, is the very same word that is at work within us, to call us into being as God’s people. Think on that for a while— as Spurgeon says, nothing will so enlarge the mind as thoughts of God.

Monday, June 7, 2010


This is a blog that I've set up in order to keep something of a 'journal' on my internship experience this summer. To everyone who reads this blog (especially my brothers and sisters at All Souls Anglican Church in Wheaton) I want to extend a warm welcome and also to thank you for your prayers. I'll be spending ten weeks (starting June 12th) in Newport Beach, CA, where I will be interning at St. James Anglican Church. This is part of a program at Calvin College in which I've been participating called Jubilee Fellows (hence the blog title). Through this experience, I hope to gain more insight into the nature of the pastoral ministry, and to further discern my calling to be a minister of reconciliation in God's kingdom.

The website of the church in which I will be working may be found here, and a fairly detailed wikipedia article about the church may also be found here. St. James is a parish deeply committed to the gospel of Christ and to historic Christian orthodoxy (a commitment for which they felt compelled to leave the Episcopal Church USA in 2004), and embraces a wide variety of ages, gifts, and worship styles. Though I have been in touch only with some of the clergy at the church, I can tell that becoming a part of the community for the summer will be a great experience, filled with wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

I will be driving (yep) to Newport beach, setting out on Wednesday and arriving (Lord willing) on Saturday - the longest road trip I've ever taken alone. But, as I've told some friends at church, I'll have music and caffeine, which, together with the amazing scenery I'll enjoy along the way, are all I really need :-) When I arrive, I'll be living in an apartment on an island across from the Church; at some point in the near future, another intern will be arriving (from England!) and we'll be rooming together.

Here's the route I'll take to get out there (on the way back, I'll probably go a different way):

View Larger Map

Well, that's all for now, and I'm very excited to get started on Wednesday. Your prayers are much appreciated!