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Since a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds (thanks, Emerson), I am always on the lookout for habits that can be shaken off.  So breakfast this morning was in the front foyer, door wide open.  Nothing wrong with my comfy wingback chair & table near the kitchen, but when the front yard is putting on a show like this, why not eat where there’s a view?

Spring’s here early this year — several weeks early — and I’m not quite keeping up with the pruning and mulching to maximize the blooms.  But the front beds are always a priority in March, because, well, look at them!  We planted very few of these ourselves; they were the one nice landscaping gift the former owners left us.

I read this week in Exodus an interesting detail about Israel’s time in the desert.  When Moses would go out to the tent of meeting to meet with God, the people would watch and wonder:

    Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. (Exodus 33:8-10 ESV)

I didn’t see a pillar of cloud, but when we notice the divinely orchestrated symphony of nature as season moves to season, we just have to come to the door of our tents to watch and worship.

Soup Swap!

Click for all the pictures.

Last Saturday I hosted a soup swap at my house, along with a bunch of women from church and some of our guests (neighbors and friends).  I forgot to count, but I think we had at least 18 women here.  This kind of gathering is easy to organize, and results in several meals in the freezer for each person, plus a chance to sample each other’s favorites and collect some recipes.

Instructions for the party were simply to make a large batch of some kind of soup (preferably one that freezes well), and bring it (hot) to the swap.  We had lunch together, sampling everyone’s soups, along with sides of veggies & fruit & cheese, etc.  Then everyone went around and dished up portions of their favorites into freezer containers to take home.  You could dish a couple servings of a lot of different soups (for people who feed just themselves or self+hubby), or larger portions of just a few soups (for people feeding families).  Each person took home at least as much soup as she brought (some of us hosts brought extra soup, to make sure we would have plenty of soup for eating and taking home).  We also asked people to bring a can of soup to donate to the Soup Kitchen, so we’re helping to feed more than just ourselves.

Below are links to the recipes people brought.  I didn’t get a copy of each recipe, but here’s a good sampling –

Evyn – Tomato Bisque

Emily – Hearty Italian Soup with Parmesan-Pepper Cornbread Biscotti (with cornbread biscotti)

Heather -Asian Vegetable Soup

Cathy – Broccoli Cheese Soup

Tonya and Cathy both brought Santa Fe Soup, and this recipe (link) calls for hamburger but you could also use ground turkey

Wendy S. – chipotle black bean soup, and pumpkin curry soup

Nicole – Chunky Tomato, Celery & Bean Soup

Lisa Marie – Easy Creamy Tomato Soup

Trisha – Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

Wendy M. – Spicy White Bean, Tomato and Spinach Soup _vegan_

Ashley – Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

Ginny – Baked potato soup

Rebecca – Tofu Vegetable Hot Pot

I am a dinosaur.

Yep.  Internet Monk was right: the end of evangelicalism as we know it.  It’s happening — at least the beginnings of an implosion.  According to Frank Viola, “the center of evangelicalism is collapsing.”  Collapsing.  Gone the way of civil discourse and the American attention span.

Apparently, evangelicals are so last century.

So what happened?  Apparently it was our factions and our total lack of a balanced approach to how to do church.

Viola’s solution is his blog title, “Beyond Evangelical.”

I would love some discussion on this.  What really is happening here?  Are these diagnoses and labels real?  Semantics?  Or are they a skewed product of writers and bloggers who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in convention centers signing books and talking to other movement starters??

Read his propositions, first here and then here; tell us what you think.  I was intrigued and somewhat encouraged by the first post, which offers hope for those who object to either being forced toward an increasingly isolationist, neo-fundy stance, or else be labeled a flaming liberal.  (And unfortunately I do see that very polarization and labeling happening even in my own denomination).  Yes, it would be great to have another option.

But wait…is he right?  Are these becoming our only two options within evangelicalism, or does it just seem that way because unless a writer or blogger is throwing rocks at the people across the great collapsed center, he won’t get much audience?

If the only option is bugging out, casting off, re-inventing (and I’m not completely convinced that it is), then okay, let me hear what you’ve got.  Here Viola presents, in the second installment, his “beyond evangelical” alternative as it contrasts with the three trickling and poisoned streams that evangelicalism has devolved into.  The shining light of the “Beyonds” is presented in what I thought was rather elitist, self-promoting language, essentially saying “well, you have your all-doctriners, your social-gospelers, and your holy rollers, and then you have the really balanced, devoted people like us who have finally figured out how to do this church thing right!”  (I am paraphrasing and caricaturing… a little.)  His first three categories make me say “it was ever thus,” and his fourth category has me looking around for the free koozies.

I’m also wondering why he protests so much that he is NOT non-evangelical or post-evangelical, just beyond-evangelical…oh but he doesn’t mean to sound superior-to, just “beyond and above.”  Huh?

I think what’s up with me and my reaction is, while I really, really like and agree with much of what Viola has to say, I get a little uneasy when someone seems to be claiming that a new concept or model or wave is coming that will solve or transform what’s wrong with the church, avoid the historic pitfalls, and finally do things correctly.  After these couple thousand years, finally our generation gets it?  And this without a noticeably deep repentance for our own share in the divisiveness that we are all guilty of, or a deep gratitude to the saints who’ve (imperfectly) gone before?  (In fact, I’ve noticed that many of the followers of this fourth stream talk about the evangelical church they left as if it’s a trauma they have escaped…though I think Viola himself is a bit more respectful, at least most of the time.)

I, too, am casting about for solutions, hoping for a celebrating, gospel-centered community (“gospel” including not just the atoning part–which is core, and huge–but also the redemptive, restorative part),  where head and will and heart all knit together under the rule of God’s love and God’s word.  But as I look at that description, I truly don’t see much that’s different from the mid-century self-descriptions of classic evangelicalism.  So, I don’t think it’s the manifesto that’s broken.  We need soul-searching and radical re-commitment, for sure, and much repentance all around for the way we treat one another when we disagree.  But to say we are “beyond” the former way sounds as if modern Christians have finally evolved, and now will be doing what evangelicals missed doing:  “discovering and displaying Jesus Christ in authentic, deep, and profound ways” (this quote a descriptor of what the “Beyonds” are after).

Credit where credit is due:  I was led to this writer by way of Rachel Held Evans’ blog, which I monitor by RSS feed but don’t read a whole lot for fear of the toll it can sometimes take on my blood pressure.  She has some good things to say, and keeps me abreast of what’s kicking around the blogosphere, but I definitely have some areas of major disagreement.  It’s good practice in learning to disagree with grace.  But it’s also very time-consuming because of the rabbit holes (more like WORM holes) that blogs inevitably lead me down.  Oh, blogosphere, thou whirlpool of time-suck rivaled only by my DVR’d episodes of Downton Abbey.  But I digress.

If you have the time to read this writer’s propositions, let me know what you think!

By the way, I’m eagerly waiting for my son to get done with his Post-modern Christianity class so I can get my hands on his copy of Deep Church, which he says is a book of a similar topic and definitely a good ‘un.  I’ll try to post on it when I finish it.

Meanwhile, what do you think of / know of Viola?  And more importantly, now that the Mesozoic Age is doomed, is there really no future for non-fringe Evangelicasauruses? -saurusses? -sauri?

Some early Christmas joy!

In case you’re looking for ways to “de-commercialize” a sacred holiday, here’s a great idea from our nephews in Sarasota, Florida: use the tradition of season’s greetings to highlight the needs of others, and also to help alleviate their suffering.  Tyler and Ryan designed holiday cards to sell to friends and family, and they’re donating all the profits to World Vision and MCC.  I loved this idea so much I asked their mom if I could share it on my blog, and could she give me the story how this came about.  Here are her words:

I can’t quite remember how it all started.  I know I often feel frustrated just praying for things to get better for this or that situation.  And one night Ryan even said, “Mom! We have to do something!”  I’ve looked into lots of volunteer opportunities for us/the boys, but we keep hearing that they are too young.  So, one afternoon we were talking about how God gives us gifts and we can choose to use them to serve ourselves and bring glory to ourselves or to serve others and bring glory to God.  Ryan has been really into drawing lately, so we came up with the idea of using his gift to make cards to sell.  Tyler is always up for anything, and also enjoys drawing, and they each went off and drew their own pictures…no prodding or pleading was needed.  Later on, we decided it might be nice to have a couple of other cards to choose from, so I gave them each an assortment of paint swatches and asked them to cut them up and make a picture out of them. Tyler made snowflakes and Ryan made a Christmas tree.  We receive publications from World Vision and sometimes read about the different struggles people are facing around the world.  Ryan said he thought we should do something that helped people get clean water because people can live without food longer than they can without water.  (Then, this past week they learned about the crisis in Africa during a chapel presentation at school and wanted to help MCC as well).
    Anyhow, all of this happened at the beginning of October.  Since then, it has been one frustrating journey to figure out how to get them reproduced.  I have literally spent hours (that I don’t really have to spend) at various copy centers and was feeling so discouraged, even up to this week, as the copies just didn’t look very nice.  I could write a whole story about all of the different places I went and the different ways folks tried to get them to look like the originals.  And not being very tech-savvy, I was at their mercy.  I was in tears one night this week, ready to just give up on the whole process.  I was just so tired of it!  At the same time, I felt convicted and so lame for being so frustrated over such a trivial thing, especially when I compared my frustration to what my sisters in other countries must feel having to spend their days walking to find clean water for their families.  My dear husband also reminded me that giving up was exactly what the enemy wanted me to do and asked what lesson were we teaching the boys by giving up?  So, I offered up my feeble prayer and asked God to please help me know what to do.  The next day I took the originals to one more place and was met with the nicest old gentleman who said they do this kind of thing all the time and that lots of people come in to get their art copied.  He assured me they could do it, but I’d heard it before.  I went in the next day, expecting more of the same sub-par copies, but was presented with PERFECT reproductions!  I felt like I wanted to cry and hug the dear man!  …There was definitely a lesson in this for me, too.  Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!
I can see why she was so thrilled with the reproductions:  I got mine in the mail Saturday and they are great: vivid and sharp, on nice card stock.  It will be fun using these this season for gift baskets, hostess gifts, and thank you notes.  Thanks Ryan and Tyler for helping me  think a little more about CHRIST this Christmas!  He definitely loves seeing us take care of our brothers and sisters all over the world.
     Christmas was materialistic, even when I was a kid.  But at least back then it wasn’t considered culturally insensitive to say “Merry Christmas” instead of a more generic “happy holidays.”  I’m wondering what other ways you have found to turn the season back toward the gospel that it is:  God with us.  Share below!  (Make sure to check the box to receive notification when others post their ideas.)

Uncle John

One of the benefits of having a son in seminary (who lives with you, and maybe I should blog about THAT soon…) is that really delicious looking books are lying around your house, and the stock rotates regularly.  Now for a bibliophile like me, this is sensory overload, and it is amazing I am getting anything done around here, but I am.  Kind of.

This particular title, Basic Christian (The Inside Story of John Stott), by Roger Steer, pulled me in with just one glance.  I flat out love the cover.  Uncle John looks so ready to engage you, as he always was.

I first encountered John Stott in 1982, the spring of my sophomore year, when I was doing a semester abroad in London.  All Souls was a few blocks from our student lodgings, and as there was not another church-goer in our group of 19, I walked those blocks alone every Sunday morning and evening, plus sometimes during the week if there was a lecture midweek.  John was then Rector Emeritus; Michael Baughen was rector (shortly to be moving to his new post as Bishop of Chester later that spring).  John preached maybe every fourth sermon or so, but when he did he packed the house.

What I most remember about his preaching was a wonderfully British, reasonable, gracious & winsome presentation of gospel truth that always made me think “how could anyone argue against that?  He’s just right.”  Professors could pooh-pooh my antiquated, ignorant religion; John Stott reminded me that yes, a thinking man can be a Christian.

What I most remember about John Stott the person is a wonderful, welcoming warmth.  I was an unknown (mostly) face in a big crowd at All Souls, but when exiting a Stott sermon, I always made a point of going through the line to greet Uncle John, because he would look me in the eyes, take my hand in both of his, and really see me and greet me.  He made me feel truly welcome.  Decades later during a visit to All Souls I encountered John at the church door again, and I told him how important his preaching and All Souls had been to me in the earliest days of my faith when I was so far from home.  He seemed to love hearing this, even humbled by it.  So not only can a thinking man be a Christian, he can be warm and wecoming too (even if British).

I have so many notes on this book that this entry would be way too long to post them all, but overall my impression of the book as a book was that it is almost encyclopedic in its coverage of John’s life from childhood to old age (it was published in 2009, just two years before he died) and a great way to learn about not only John Stott but also the development of the whole evangelical movement of the last century (lots of inside info here about Billy Graham as well).  Because the book includes memories from so many scores of people, the style of the telling is a bit episodic and thus jumpy at times.  But themes do emerge which I find priceless, so the style of telling is small potatoes.  The themes and realizations I treasure most from the book are these:  John’s role as a clarifier and unifier in the evangelical movement through much of the twentieth century; his truly gospel-centered, humble, generous heart; his extremely regular devotional disciplines; his ability to read and synthesize a vast array of material and write a cohesive summary statement (his work at Lausanne as a prime example); his deep concern and care for the church in developing nations; and his ability to hear and even to invite criticism as a way of checking himself for blind spots and effectiveness in his preaching.

The trait that most stands out to me at the moment is John’s ability to respond with grace to those within the church who disagreed with him, even when their criticism was unkind and came with personal loss for him.  The book chronicles a number of very sticky conflicts that arose during his lifetime, some of which I’m sure saddened him deeply, but he had a wonderful way of leaning in to listen and a willingness to find himself to be wrong on an issue and make that known, all of which led him to reflect and truly study and pray about an issue rather than give a canned response.  He wanted to know the truth, and when he had sought and felt satisfied with an answer, he stood on it and could tell you why, though he still acknowledged that it can scarcely be possible that one has all the correct answers on every issue that comes along.  He was amazingly comfortable with gray areas in the non-essentials, and this made him a lifelong listener and learner, as well as a remarkable teacher.

However, one area in which he did not budge once he found his footing was in the Christian’s approach to scriptural authority and interpretation.  Hermeneutics was a new-ish (or rediscovered) concern for evangelicals in the mid 20th century, and for John it became a central focus as debates with more left-leaning Christians on contemporary issues often exposed a very different view of scripture itself and often devolved into a debate on hermeneutics rather than a debate on the stated issue (how familiar does that sound?).

Stott’s insistence on approaching scripture with great care, submission, and scholarship served him well when, on issue after issue, evangelicals (and non-)  looked to John Stott to voice the evangelical view, and his speaking and teaching calendar and travels were non-stop, even in his older age.  (A New York Times columnist once wrote that “if evangelicals chose a pope, they would likely select John Stott.” – p. 267).  One such appearance late in life was a debate with Bishop Spong on Christian sexual ethics.  Toward the end, Spong stated, “A Bible that reflects tribal, racial, nationalistic, and sexual prejudices needs to be confronted.  I do not hesitate to say of part of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, ‘This is not the word of the Lord.  These are the words of a first century man locked inside the cultural definitions of his day, and trying to support his prejudices by an appeal to God…’ ” (p. 240).  Stott countered, “if we want to be submissive to our Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot treat his teaching in the cavalier way in which I fear that Bishop Spong has done,” and used much of his final five minutes communicating his anxiety about “what the audience had heard…of the treatment of scripture.”  He later urged that should there be another debate, it needed to be “on the authority and interpretation of Scripture.”  He saw little hope for progress toward any form of agreement without this “crux of the matter” being addressed.  (p. 241)

On the other hand, Stott was not one to say that even those who agree on their hermeneutic method and on the authority of scripture would necessarily see all issues the same, and he worried about factions in the evangelical church which were excessively dogmatic.  He worried that the divisiveness of such dismissive black-and-white thinking on some of the less explicit issues in scripture (the specific application of the role of women in the church, for example) would tend to divide and “weaken the evangelical cause” (p. 242).  He knew that this kind of mindset tended to push people to the opposite extreme of one’s own views, to polarize them, in other words.  “He believed that we should always beware of caricaturing our opponents’ positions–of building a straw man and then demolishing it.  We should always engage and answer their best arguments, not their worst ones” (p. 243).

I find John’s wisdom on this refreshing, and have spent so many words here because it was instructive to me as I was reading this book in the midst of engaging in some online debating on a liberal Christian blog that I visit from time to time (to widen my world just a bit).  Straw men everywhere, and such vitriol, not just in the comments area but from the blog writer herself, who is something of a champion among young Christians online.  And much to my dismay, the readers’ comments about her and her followers which appeared on a conservative blog (TGC) were every bit as nonsensical and mean-spirited–probably more so.  I doubt seriously that John would have dipped a toe in this shark tank we call online Christian debate (he developed personal principles about dealing with controversy that I’m sure would have kept him out of the comments area of blogs, had they been part of his world in the 20th century), but if he had, I would love to have read how he would respond, this master of returning a blessing for an insult, of overcoming evil with good, of speaking edifying words, of warning the brethren yet correcting gently.

For this and many other kinds of grace and wisdom, I would give my eye teeth to have been one of his study assistants (lucky dogs!) or just an office assistant or even the kitchen help.  The book teems with testimonials not only of John’s important ecclesiastical contributions, but also, and more strikingly, of John’s humility, grace, integrity, compassion and humor.  If heaven is a place where we will go looking for people we never got to spend time with on earth, Uncle John will be one of the first people I look up.

Below are some of my favorite quotes and discoveries from Basic Christian:

On language and precision:  “The greatest help in learning to use words with care and accuracy was writing essays in French and German.  There is a precise word which fits every situation, and the sort of education I had has been a great help to me in my preaching and writing ministry.” – p. 51

On compassion for the poor:  Early in his ministry, John spent several nights posing as a homeless beggar, sleeping under newspapers under Charing Cross Bridge and in a hostel for the homeless, in order to get a feel for their lives.  There were many nights when John slept on a cot in his study so that a homeless man could sleep in his bed.

In response to Martin Lloyd Jones‘ (and others’) urging in 1966 that “theologically orthodox Anglicans” should leave their denomination:  “I believe that Scripture is against him in that the remnant was within the Church and not outside it. … Some evangelicals, like myself, believe it is the will of God to remain in a church that is sometimes called a ‘mixed denomination.’  At least until it becomes apostate and ceases to be a church, we believe it is our duty to remain in it and bear witness to the truth as we have been given to understand it.”

An example of John’s ability to support those he disagreed with:  Desmond Tutu, at the 1975 World Council of Churches, spoke and included the following about the Apostle Paul: ” ‘[he] was confused’ and ‘a prisoner of his own culture’ who ‘sometimes didn’t know what he was talking about.’   John’s newly found diplomacy deserted him.  ‘If I had to choose between the blessed apostle and the Dean of Johannesburg,’ he said, ‘I would have no difficulty in deciding who to follow!’  Desmond Tutu didn’t seem to mind John’s outburst, and the two men became good friends.  John was an ardent supporter of Tutu’s struggle against apartheid.”

A telling episode about John’s personality:  At a study group which was considering John Fowles’ novel, The Magus, one member “expressed surprise that he had been asked to read the book.  ‘I found the book very unhelpful to me as a Christian,’ he said. ‘There’s far too much sex in it.  I am going to leave the meeting as I have nothing to contribute.’

With that, he got up and left the room.  John just sat there, let him leave, and then looked up over his glasses.

‘Oh I think that was most unfortunate,’ he said.  ‘I thought the book was erotic, not pornographic!’ ”

From the plaque on the new pulpit at All Souls in 1976 given in honor of John’s 25 years as All Souls Rector:  “He taught us to make God’s Word our rule, God’s Spirit our teacher and God’s Glory our supreme concern.”

From Frances Whitehead, his secretary for half a century: “He is thoroughly consistent.  He is what he professes.  He wants to please God and that’s all he cares about–doing God’s will, living for his glory, being faithful.”

New wonderful recipe site for me,  Skinny Crock Pot, furnished this recipe.  She took an Epicurious recipe and changed it to make it healthy and still delicious (which is what she does), with a gajillion fewer calories.  You can find the recipe here.  Basically it’s a little pile of cubed whole grain bread (mine was homemade sourdough), and then you blend pumpkin and 1 egg plus four whites, almond milk (I used 2% dairy milk), honey and spices, and pour that all over the top.  Set crock pot on low, then start smelling the amazing spicy pumpkin goodness. 

What's in the CSA box this week?

And my CSA is organic, which is more the point. I can get farmstand produce everywhere, but this farm (Poplar Ridge) grows interesting varieties, without any pesticides or other (synthetic) chemical additives. (Yes, I know, everything is a chemical. You know what I mean.)
Today’s bounty was just so handsome, I thought I’d share a photo. Planning on a veggie pizza tonight, with about half this stuff on it, and the other half in a salad!

First let me say, I read this FAST (book club night was upon me!) so my reading didn’t come with a lot of time to ruminate along the way.  That means I got a full overall impression quickly, and then BAM it was off to the book club discussion.  (Unfortunately, this timing led to my making some observations at the book club meeting that were probably much muddier than I had hoped they would be, expressing vague uneasiness but unsure quite why.  But then I’m known for thinking out loud and regretting it later.)  Even now, though, having had some time to process the full message, the word I would still give to the flavor of this rumination is “unsettling.”

A great deal of that unsettled feeling is probably exactly what Platt fully intends this book to accomplish, for which I am grateful.  We all need a kick in the pants from time to time, and I have to say, mission accomplished.

Platt’s premise is a big “what if”:  what if Christians stopped crafting their religion to fit neatly inside our materialistic, self-actualizing, self-centered American-Dream culture, and really lived with complete abandon, as Christ called people to do (“he who hates his life…”, “no one who has left home or brothers or…”, “go and sell everything you have…”).  In other words, following Christ surely means that in many ways our lives should look very, very different from a typical American life, and this difference involves way more than just what we do on Sunday, or what we don’t handle don’t taste don’t touch on other days.  And I thoroughly agree, of course.  I also agree that the majority of the American church (and, really, churches in most places where following Christ does not come with a threat of persecution, even death) is perfectly content equating “following Christ” to a plan of self-improvement with religious jargon, good-doing (when convenient), and basically huddling up with other like-minded P.L.U.s (People Like Us) to pursue our little kingdoms:

In our Christian version of the American Dream, our plan ends up disinfecting Christians…isolating followers of Christ in a spiritual safe-deposit box called the church building and teaching them to be good.

If this state of things doesn’t give me pause, I’m in trouble.  I should hope the book makes me uneasy!

So I recommend the book for the reasons above if you suspect your complacency needs a kick to the curb, but let me add just a few hesitations that also had me unsettled, and not in such a good way:

  • Sometimes Platt will throw out a proposition, acknowledge that the proposition is problematic in some ways and could be misconstrued or misapplied, and end up with a posture of something like “but still…”.  For example, he calls into question the building of multi-million-dollar church buildings, but admits he pastors a mega-church with just such facilities.  What to do?  It gives one pause, yes.  Yes.  Surely we ought to be disturbed by the disparity of wealth here.  What to do?  Not sure, but we’re disturbed by it, so that’s good.  So let’s think about.  Now let’s move on.  (I exaggerate, of course, but if you’re going to throw the Big Questions out there, ya gotta give me a little more than “I’m still wrestling with this.”  The elephant is still in the room, and you’re writing a book about it.  Are you saying it’s wrong to build a big, comfortable church, or not?)
  • Platt repeatedly assures us that he’s not saying that having material things is wrong, just that wealth is treacherous.  But often his illustrations seem to point to zeroing out our bank accounts as long as there is someone in need.  For example, he tells the story of a time when John Wesley suddenly regretted the pictures he had bought for his walls because when a shivering chambermaid came by and he noticed she had no coat, the money left in his pocket after purchasing the pictures was not as much as he would have liked to give her.  Wesley is left wondering what God will have to say about that tradeoff (adornment for his walls vs. a coat for the poor shivering woman).  Platt says, “Were the pictures that Wesley had hanging in his room wrong in and of themselves? Absolutely not.  But it was wrong—very wrong—to buy unnecessary decoration for himself when a woman was freezing outside without a coat.”  My problem with this is, define a “necessary decoration,” and tell me when there is ever NOT a woman freezing outside without a coat.  I don’t mean to sound callous, and those moments when God convicts an individual to sacrifice something are certainly that crystal clear and very important, but the problem of disparity of wealth, while it does sometimes come down to specific moments of choice like these, is not as simple as his comments often make it sound.
  • Platt comes awfully close to calling into question the salvation of people whose response to grace is not “abandon everything else to experience him”  (p. 37-39).   Should/must we lay everything on the line for him?  Yes.  Do all truly saved Christians do that?  No, not all the time.  They do it increasingly consistently, if there is the seed of new life in there, but it typically grows and matures in fits and starts.  I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone whose initial fervor did not waver from time to time as babies came and bills came and life happened.  Were they not saved, then?  Oh please, please be careful how and when you challenge people’s confidence in their salvation.

To be fair, Platt’s book is purposefully short and he acknowledges that he’s not setting out to write a treatise on how to solve world poverty.  His critics have mostly faulted him, with some reason, I think, for having a simplistic approach to the world’s problems, even a “White Messiah neo-paternalism” (Bradley).  But Platt’s intention is simply to sound an alarm to a sleepy church, much as Keith Green was doing when I was a young believer, and to get us to open our ears to what God might call us to sacrifice now, in this stage of our lives, in this stage of the world’s needs.  We have to do that over and over as throughout our lives our own little privileged world will inevitably lull us to a complacent (and self-indulgent) status quo.  Many have called us to this woodshed over the years; Platt is but the latest.

At the end of the book, Platt makes some specific suggestions on what to do to re-engage, if re-engaging is called for:  word, giving, prayer, community, serving the world.  No surprises here.  He’s more specific in his challenges than the way I’ve worded them, but their essence is the ancient disciplines that true believers have practiced for centuries.  These will of course jump-start any walk of faith if we have been neglecting them.  NOW I’m with you, Mr. Platt.  And by the way, this is why my favorite chapter in the whole book is the one on the gospel, the raison d’etre of mercy and evangelism in the first place.  So those disciplines you propose, if we practice them faithfully (there’s the rub) and let them do their work of deepening our love of Christ and our appreciation of this gospel, will change everything, including transforming our begrudging “what must I do?” to an eager “what is needed?”

Continuing in the Disciplines/Foster series – Chapter 3, Prayer

Overall, Foster’s chapter seems to be promoting prayer not as an isolated activity, but as a way of life, or perhaps as life itself. The “heroes of prayer” he describes would probably all find it unthinkable to pass a day without talking with the Lord, and really I think we would feel very much the same way if we lived in constant, conscious communion with the Father, the way Jesus did. Now true, Jesus had seen the Father — had come from the father — so it seems like it would have been quite natural for him to be thinking about his Father all day long, drawing all his direction and strength from him. But whether or not that kind of constant praying-like-breathing (as Foster describes it) comes easy to us or not, we can be sure that if Jesus made a point of devoting himself to much prayer, rising early to do it, sometimes spontaneously breaking out into prayer as he observed what God was doing among people (Matt. 11:25 ff), then certainly this way of going through life is to be cultivated by his followers! Paul directly tells us, “be constant in prayer” and “pray without ceasing“).

Foster limits most of the chapter to “learning to pray for other people with spiritual success” (1978, p. 32) — in other words, intercession. Remember that intercession is only one part of prayer, though, and I think not even necessarily the most important part. To me, the Psalms that are prayers excel most in praising and magnifying God; recounting to him (and to the pray-er himself) what God has done; confirming to God that the pray-er will choose faith, will choose to obey, will choose to look to God and to his word for direction; and bidding his own soul to trust God in all things, because He is trustworthy. Many of them also ask God for vindication, rescue, mercy, and so on… and a few of them are intercessory prayers for all the people of God. But the prayers of the psalmists are examples of the very thing Foster says on the first page of the chapter: “to pray is to change.” As we taught all year in Anchor last year, prayer re-orients our hearts: toward what God says is true about himself, what He says is true about us, and what He is accomplishing in the earth.

Given the importance, then, of the worship and testimony and submission functions of prayer, it puzzles me a bit that Foster would just hone in on intercession, but there it is.

Feel free to add comments with your current experience with prayer, thoughts on prayer, or if you’re familiar with Foster’s chapter in Celebration of Discpline – any reactions?

Foster emphasizes — and most of the other sources I’ve been reading keep repeating — that the whole point of meditation is greater obedience.  If meditation does not lead to more profound devotion to Christ and his work, more love for others, more service and humility, then it is an empty pursuit, or, even worse, a selfish, alienating one.

Though some of Foster’s comments can seem just a little bit “out there,” Reformed tradition does include meditation (sometimes called other things, but of similar intent and focus).  There is no reason to shy away from it, and every reason to learn to practice it, provided we keep Christ at the center of it in every way:  Christ as its motivation, its destination, its focus.  Check out these reputable seconds to Foster’s motion:

  • Ken Boa (whom I cited in the very first posting) explains meditation as step two in a four-step process of a devotional practice called lectio divina (reading scripture – meditating on it – praying through it – contemplating over it).  He separates meditation from contemplation (Foster uses these more interchangeably), and has this to say about meditation:  “As you move from reading to meditation, you are seeking to saturate  and  immerse yourself in the Word, to luxuriate in its living waters, and to  receive  the words as an intimate and personal message from God. The  purpose of meditation  is to penetrate the Scriptures and to let them  penetrate us through the loving  gaze of the heart.” So, for Boa, meditation is an extension of reading the scriptures, much like Foster’s suggestion of reading a text and then reading again, slowly, engaging the imagination and the senses to really read attentively, putting yourself in the scene to absorb what’s going on.  “Meditation,” Boa says,  “is a spiritual work of holy desire and an interior invitation for the Spirit to pray and speak within us (Romans 8:26-27) in such a  way that  our whole being is transformed into greater conformity with  Jesus Christ. It is  an intentional process of building our passion for  Christ by meeting with Him  and spending time with Him to know Him more  clearly, to love Him more dearly,  and to follow Him more nearly. By  meditating on God’s truth, we are inviting Christ  to be formed in us  (Galatians 4:19) by a deliberate dwelling on His words.” (Read more from Boa on lectio divina here – scroll down to the part on devotional spirituality.)
  • “If we willingly banish holy meditations in our solitary hours, Satan will soon occupy our minds with sinful imaginations. … God’s words must be laid up in our hearts, that our thoughts may be daily employed about them” Matthew Henry
  • “Memorization is the first step to meditation.” Jerry Bridges
  • “The hearer of God’s word ought to be like those animals that chew the cud; he ought not only to feed upon it, but to ruminate upon it.”Augustine
  • “In meditation, the whole man is engaged in deep and prayerful thought on the true meaning and bearing of a particular biblical passage.  … Sustained imaginative reflection is, if I am not mistaken, so rare today that few of us understand its power to motivate.”J.I. Packer
  • “Meditate upon what you read:  stop not at the surface: dive into the depths.  Be not as the swallow which toucheth the brook with her wing, but as the fish which penetrates the lowest wave.  Abide with your Lord: let him not be to you as a wayfaring man, that tarrieth for a night, but constrain him, saying, ‘Abide with us, for the day is far spent.’  Hold him, and do not let him go.   … It is instructive to find meditation so constantly connected with fervent prayer:  It is the fuel which sustains the flame; why are many of us so exceeding slack in it?”C.H. Spurgeon (a Spurgeon sermon on meditation or “musing” can be found here.)  Ah, Spurgeon.  Your words expose my shallowness, every time.
  • The Dutch Reformed writer Wilhelmus a Brakel (1635-1711) actually eased my mind a bit about the idea of “rising up” that Foster describes on p. 27 (1978).  Brakel says, “This is a spiritual exercise in which a godly person–having a heart which is separated from the earth and lifted up toward heaven–reflects upon and engages his thoughts toward God and divine things with which he was already previously acquainted.  He does so in order to be led further into divine mysteries, to be kindled with love, to be comforted, and to be stirred up to lively exercises.” LOTS of good information and history about the disciplines from a reformed perspective can be found here (the section on meditation starts on page 30.)
  • Puritan pastor Jonathon Edwards describes an episode in which meditation led him to overwhelming, deep worship.  It is recounted in a chapter on Edwards by Donald Whitney (“Pursuing a Passion for God through Spriritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathon Edwards”) in a book called A God Entranced Vision of All Things (edited by John Piper).  You can actually download and read the entire book for free here.  The episode I’m referring to is on page 113.  Pretty stunning, given how I had pictured the Puritans (particularly Edwards)!

So… slow down.  Chew your bread.

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