Sunday, August 30, 2009

Brother Lawrence

I'm re-reading Brother Lawrence's "The Practice of the Presence of God". I'm reminded of a Bible class I once attended that required you to be able to testify about your "salvation experience". The suggestion was made that if you could not recount the point in time that you were saved, said salvation might be in doubt. This was always problematic for me, as I have no recollection of my days prior to belief in Christ, such reality being inculcated in me from the earliest age. I "walked the aisle" as a boy, as did most of my acquaintances, but could not really identify this as a starting point with God.

Brother Lawrence's testimony is even less categorical, but far more profound:

"The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was on the 3rd of August, 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favor in his conversion at the age of eighteen. During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that, within a little time, the leaves would be renewed and, after that, the flowers and fruit appear; Brother Lawrence received a high view of the providence and power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul. This view had perfectly set him free from the world and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased in the forty years that he had lived since."

Would that I were "perfectly set free from the world", and to the place where over forty years of life marked no change in the constancy of my own love for God.

Lawrence, a Carmelite monk, lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century and his words are remain inspiring and challenging over four hundred years later. I wonder how many writings of that century have continued to be regularly published and remain as important and relevant as this little collection of thoughts?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Worried or concerned?

A friend was looking for an illustration of differentiating "concern" and "worry". Best I can tell, "concern" is about what God has told you to handle, and "worry" is about what God has said He will handle. The wandering Israelite would concern himself with gathering up the morning's harvest of manna for his household, as this is a task God assigned to him. But he would be foolish to worry about the next day's manna delivery, as this is something God said He would take care of.

Other ideas?

Monday, August 17, 2009

From freedom to hostility

According to a story on CNN today, two school administrators are going on trial soon for offering a prayer over a meal at the dedication of a new field house in Pace, Florida. Both face six months in jail after the ACLU got a judge to sign a consent decree banning any such prayers at Pace High School. Saying grace over a meal at Pace High has thus been criminalized. And the criminals are two men who defied American jurisprudence by offering a simple thanks for a plate of food.

This is not a screed about anybody's "rights". I'll leave that to others. I just post this to remind us that our form of government is not only no longer friendly to religious expression, but has become actively hostile to Christianity. I am not suggesting that we try to get the government to change this, because they will not. While I respect those who fight these things in the courts, the long-term prognosis is entirely negative. This case is no great watershed moment. The current actions are a mere logical continuation of a direction begun over forty years ago in the U.S.

We have the opportunity to pull our heads out of the sand now, say goodbye to the antiquated fiction of a so-called "Christian nation", and prepare ourselves for ongoing conflict with the government. Or we can continue in our ill-considered and outdated view of "God and Country" until the day when we will publicly say about God only what Country tells us we can say. In that day, we will have embraced a new "Lord".

Those of us who continue to think our modern Caesar is a Christian will most certainly find out differently. The reality is already clear. The choice is only whether to recognize it sooner and later.

We face a challenge to our citizenship, to our allegiance. The time is rapidly approaching when acknowledgment of a heavenly King will place us in jeopardy of the earthly kings. In Pace, Florida, that day has evidently arrived.

It is well that we have a greater citizenship than an American one...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Members-Only (Straight)jacket

"...for we are all members of one body..." --Paul, to the Ephesians

If we as believers are indeed all members of one body, what is that Brother Doe joins when he departs First Great Big Church and "places membership" at First Church On The Corner? It is not "the church" he joins, for whether Joe is part of FCOTC or not, he is a member of the body of Christ, the church. No, this is a membership in a local religion club. And unfortunately, one with a very bad habit.

Now, one can join the Gideons and still be a member of First Baptist. One can be join Campus Crusade and still be a member of Second Street Church of Christ. One can join the Navigators and still be a member in good standing of Third Avenue Presbyterian. But hardly any of the local brick-and-mortar religion clubs will encourage... or even countenance... simultaneous membership in one of the other local clubs. That is, each local club claims, by virtue of your placing membership, your exclusive identity with their club.

So, since First Church gets exclusive claim to your "membership", what does that mean? It's something of a contract, a commitment. Some groups even have you sign a "covenant" with them. In this contract, the club can expect your regular attendance at its meetings, your regular monetary contributions to its treasury, and your participation in its activities. And believe me, they expect it. For your part, you are allowed to identify yourself with the club, and at some time in the future, perhaps even be part of club leadership. All the other things you get with your membership --public teaching, worship, fellowship--are generally open to non-members as well.

As contracts go, this one is quite one-sided. "Agree to support us and we will agree to let you!"

But the truly objectionable part of this is the "branding" of the new member. The new member of First Church is no longer just "a Christian" and no longer belongs just "to Jesus". He now wears a new label, and when asked, is expected to say, "I'm a Baptist," or "I'm a Pentecostal," instead. This new brand tells the fellow with a different club brand, "I'm not one of you. I'm one of US!" And the divine idea of us all being members one of another becomes a theological expression with only a faint echo of reality.

I wear only one Man's brand. I'll fellowship my brothers and sisters in whatever club they want to join. But they'll have to pardon me if I don't "place membership". I'm already a member of the only group that will ever have exclusive claim to my identity. To use a very old-fashioned phrase, I'm "spoken for".

Friday, August 7, 2009

Another quote

When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. --Mark Twain

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Quote of the day

He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice. -Albert Einstein

Ultimate vanity: Quoting onesself

I found this sentence in a letter I once wrote to a friend and consulting client. In contrast to my usual verbosity, this one is short and to the point:

"It is better to follow God than to follow good."