Tag Archives: Worship

An Easter Catechism: Living in the light of the Resurrection

Raphael 1499-1502 via wikipedia.org

It’s been nearly four years since I last preached a sermon. That changed this month, when I was invited to preach at St. Aidan Anglican Church in Moose Jaw on May 4th, 2014. The audio of the sermon has now been posted. Feel free to check it out here.

 

 

 

Tips for Practicing Lectio Divina as a Student at a Christian College

It is a hazard that is inevitable for biblical studies/theology students: the more you study Scripture as part of your program, the more devotional reading of Scripture plummets. Sometimes it takes years after graduating for the practice of daily Scripture reading as a spiritual discipline to be reincorporated into a student’s life.

A few years ago, a friend recommended Lectio Divina as an exercise for me to try to reclaim devotional reading during my studies.

Lectio Divina is comprised of four components or stages:

Lectio – reading – What does the text say?

Meditatio – meditation – What is Jesus saying to me in and through this text?

Oratio – prayer – What do I want to say to Jesus about this text

Contemplatio – contemplation – How will this text shape/change me?

 

I tried it. Over and over, I tried it. And I failed horribly. I could never get past the “lectio” stage. I would read the text and begin mulling the exegetical issues. I’d think about parallel passages. I’d think about different scholars’ opinions on the interpretation of the text.

 

After a year of trying and failing to practice lectio, I realized that maybe I needed to tweak my approach. I didn’t change stages, but instead I worked on changing the environment of the stages.

 

  1. I chose a different translation than what I used for my studies. For class and papers, I use the NASB. For lectio divina I chose a different translation, usually a more contemporary one. This helped separate this exercise from the daily exercise of studying Scripture as a part of my program. For the most part I would use something like the NLT, but sometimes I would experiment with a paraphrase like The Message.
  2. I chose a different space to read. Instead of doing lectio divina in the same place where I studied and wrote papers, I would find a place where I could assume a less academic posture. Instead of sitting at a table or a desk, I would sit in an oversized chair. Sometimes I would find a closet or a corner away from busyness.
  3. I chose a different text. If my coursework was focused on the Old Testament, I would choose a NT text for my lectio reading. If my theological work was focused on Christology, I would choose a passage of Scripture that was about ecclesiology or pneumatology.
  4. I asked someone to pray for me. They didn’t need to be praying at the same time that I was doing lectio, but knowing I had someone interceding and praying that the Word would speak through the word helped especially if I found myself struggling in the oratio stage.
  5. I limited how often I practiced lectio divina. Sometimes it was only once a semester. Sometimes it was once a month. But in limiting how often I practiced it, it made the act and time of lectio divina sacred, focused and purposeful.

Sunday Worship is a Celebration

It’s not very often that a sermon stays with me for an entire week. But for some reason the sermon I heard last week keeps popping back into my thoughts. For the past two weeks our pastor has been explaining the “why” behind our service. The first week he talked about the first half of our service (liturgy of the Word), and last week he talked about the second half (liturgy of the Table). He made this observation: Everything we do on Sunday morning in the service is a celebration. It’s a party. It’s time to bring out the best linen and the best plates  because it is no ordinary day, but a celebration day.

Sunday worship is a celebration. So simple, yet so profound.

And yet, if this is the case, why do our church services feel more like funerals? I get that there is a goal of being reverent, but too often, the attempt to be reverent misses and it becomes depressing instead.

Hymns that are played a half a beat (or even more) too slow.

Songs that have no joy.

Songs that are not singable by the congregation.

Songs that are theologically correct but have no heart, no depth, and no emotion.

There’s been a lot of bashing of evangelicalism lately on the blogosphere, with lots of talk of how evangelical churches do things wrong, even how they do worship wrong by dumbing it down.

And yet, I’m finding myself more and more appreciative of evangelical worship. Good evangelical worship has heart.

There are songs that are happy-clappy.

There are songs that you can’t help but tap your toes to, and you leave church still humming.

Yes there are fluffy songs, but there are also songs that are theologically profound.

There are songs that cause me to throw my hands up in praise and surrender at the majesty of the Risen King.

There are songs that touch my heart and cause me to cry tears of joy.

There are songs where the only proper response afterwards is a sanctuary-filling “AMEN!”

And so I find myself trying to figure out how to marry the best of both worlds. How do I embrace the liturgy and tradition of the church that I’m attending and yet still nurture that need for joyful worship that is found in the evangelical tradition? As much as I can put Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Paul Baloche on my playlist and plug in my earphones, it’s not the same as corporate worship.

Maybe this is just evidence that I’m not as far down the Canterbury Trail as I had assumed.

 

A Waste of Time

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

We live in a world that has a hurried sense of time.

It’s always a rush to get out the door.

There are always looming deadlines.

There are always too few hours in the day to get everything done.

I think that is one of the reasons I find myself attracted the use of liturgy, the Christian calendar, and of structured prayer times as found in the Anglican Prayer book (BAS), for example. For just a brief time, I am transported away from a view of time that is pressed, hurried, and haggard. I enter into a space, where I am reminded that God’s time is so infinitely different from our sense of time.

In fact, liturgy wastes time on purpose. It is repetitive and reflective and does not just “cut to the chase.” It builds, slowly and patiently, to the goal of bringing us into the throne room of grace, even if only for 20 minutes, or an hour. It allows space for meditation and reflection. It pushes away the noisy calls for “relevance” and “pragmatism” and “purposefulness”.

Paul Griffiths says it this way:

Wasting time is, in ordinary English, a bad thing: want, we think, to make the best use possible of it. But in liturgical terms, time, considered as linear time that can be scheduled, divided into minutes and hours, filled up, deployed, and measured by chronometers, is exactly what should be laid waste, and effectively is….To enter into the repetitive patterns of the liturgy is to lay waste linear time with the radiance of eternity, and in that way to provide a foretaste of heaven.

And yet, even though I am being shaped by this “otherness” of time, it’s a constant battle to ignore the drum of our culture’s sense of “hurry up.” James K.A. Smith writes of his attempt to incorporate Christian practices into his pedagogy, and tells of his experience in his 200-level philosophy class. Because the class met twice a week during the lunch hour timeslot, he decided to start each class off with “Mid-day Prayer.”

A noble endeavour. I said to myself, thinking about how that would be such a powerful practice to include in a theology class one day. And then the pragmatist (given that I’m reading this book in order to think through educational pedagogy, pragmatic thinking is obviously going to occur) in me said, “but how much time does that take away from the allotted 75 minutes of lecture time?”

There it was: the pressure of our culture’s sense of time. That time devoted to mid-day prayer would take away precious time from lecturing on the actual course content.  It didn’t matter that the students reacted positively to this practice of starting the class with the Divine Hours. My brain automatically began calculating how much time was lost; how much time was wasted by starting the class with the liturgy of prayer.

I stepped back from the book, realizing the conflict I was having over the sense of time. I opened my prayer book, and spent some time praying through the Mid-day prayer. And then, in the quiet, in the stillness, I thought about a possible bridge. What if built into Christian educational institutions class time was 10-15 minutes added specifically for prayer? That way instructional time wasn’t “lost” and at the same time the formative Christian practice was kept.

Until the new heavens and new earth, there will probably always be a battle between our culture’s sense of time and the eternity of time.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

 That’s okay, White Rabbit, this time, you can run ahead without me.

What is Your Rule of Life?

We all have one. Even if we don’t call it a “rule” we all have an ethos and a pattern that shapes our day. Now of course there are formal “rules” like Benedict’s rule for his monastic order, which had specific rules and expectations for its members, and while these rules may seem legalistic and harsh (e.g., at least two references to the use and benefit of corporal punishment), they are not designed to be punitive, but are instead meant to be tools to assist the community to conform and be transformed to Christ’s image.

It’s our pattern or structure to how we live life. It is our boundaries for what we do and don’t do, and sometimes even includes measures for if we fail to do what we should. It can include practical things like, when do you read Scripture or do devotions? Do you do it in the morning or in the evening? Do you follow a specific “how to read the Bible in a year” program? Do you follow the Daily Office? When and how do you pray? Do you pray in the morning before you start your day? Do you go somewhere specific to pray or do you pray as you go about doing the dishes? What activities do you do in the life of the church? Do you attend a bible study or a small group? Do you gather with others to intercede for the people in your church? Do you regularly go to church? How do you participate in the corporate worship? How do you participate in the Great Commission of Christ? Do you engage in evangelism, support missionaries or go on mission trips? Do you regularly tithe? Do you practice fasting and how often?

The purpose in specifically thinking about our rule of life is to not only identify gaps but also to consider how what we do (or don’t do) shapes what our beliefs, our character and our identity as disciples of Jesus. It’s not about being legalistic, as if doing these works will save us or justify us before God. Instead, doing these patterns or rhythms are a way to respond to the saving work of Christ, to participate in the work and task He has called us to, and to testify to the power of the Holy Spirit who works in and through our lives.

Now saying all of that, I need to be honest. I wish I could say that I currently have a rule of life. But this semester is one in which I am operating in survival-mode only. My only rule at the moment is to survive until Christmas and to go to church every Sunday. But I know that this semester is only a season. In fact, up until this year I had a rule of life (even though it wasn’t called that), or a structure and rhythm to my spiritual growth. It will need to be tweaked as I enter the new year and a new season. It will not be survival-mode, because I know that I need and thrive under structure rather than chaos.

As I try to articulate my rule of life for the new year, the question that needs to be answered is, “how will I balance family, school, life, my family’s walk with God, and my own personal walk with God?”

Currently, at the dinner table, we adapt the BAS Evening Prayer to create a time of family devotion. The rhythm of that mirrors the rhythm of Sunday worship, and it has helped my three-year old to understand what happens at church. Every evening as we sing the Lord’s Prayer, the three-year old announces, “I sing that song at ‘talk to Jesus!” Come the new year, I would like to begin to incorporate the BAS morning prayer into my routine as a way to start my day. It will probably only be on days that I’m working in the library, and I hope to make it the first thing I do before I turn on my laptop and begin answering emails or working on schoolwork. One of the things that I am missing and need to find a way to better incorporate into a rule of life, is finding a way to carve out space to listen to and to sing worship music. Before moving to Saskatchewan I used to sit at the piano and play through worship songs for about half an hour every day (part of this was because I had been serving as a worship pastor). Since moving here I haven’t touched my piano except to dust it (and even that doesn’t happen as often as it should). That emotional-expressive component of my spiritual life has taken a back seat to the more cognitive, word/study based component of my spiritual life.

As for church life, I am and hope to continue to be active in the ministry role of “crucifer/server.” As well, I will continue to be on the list of “readers” who read the appointed Scripture passages as assigned. At the moment, those two activities keep me busy enough in the life of St. Aidan. One of the things that is profoundly shaping my spiritual development is the fact that we take communion weekly at St. Aidan. I still haven’t been able to find the words to articulate how exactly it is shaping me, but the rhythm of gathering with my family at the front and taking communion together has become important. So much so, that in the brief times when communion is not served (e.g., when we celebrate Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist), my soul feels hungry and even a little bit restless.

In my time at seminary, there have been three components that have been vital to my spiritual development. First, taking classes in a modular format is a great way for me to devote significant time in a focused way to learning about Jesus. There is something powerful about sitting in a classroom with others who are just as eager to learn. The bonds that develop in the intensity of a week-long class help to profoundly shape not only my “cognitive” knowledge of Christ, but also my “experiential” knowledge of Christ. Second, one of the first opportunities I had to plug into life in Caronport was joining the Karl Barth reading group. This group of students, pastors and laypeople meets Friday mornings to discuss short passages of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It is also a time for prayer and a brief reflection on Scripture. While I have had to step away from this group this semester, my plan is to resume participation in January when my schedule becomes a little more flexible. Third, the St. Aidan cohort at Briercrest has been an amazing blessing. The mini-community of Anglicans at Briercrest is in some ways almost a small group or cell group. The ability to meet for coffee with one or more St. Aidanite, or even just to encourage one another in passing has been a source of grace.

While not directly related to spiritual growth, one of the things that I have been working on this semester, and hopefully will continue through the year is carving out specific time for my husband and I to have “us” time. This may mean going on a date, or just hanging out, but it is regular, weekly time for us to spend time together without the distractions of the kids or work or school. Thankfully, college students are able to fulfill their service learning requirements by doing free babysitting, and we have begun to take advantage of that by having regular Tuesday night dates. It is a time not only for us to rest, but also for us to edify and encourage each other in our vocational calls, and to even sometimes dream together about our future hopes and plans. (Or, to not do any of that but instead to just focus on how to slaughter the other person in a cut-throat game of Settlers of Catan!)

Sunday Meditation

The life of worship, then, is itself a corporate form of virtue. It expresses and in turn reinforces the faith, hope, and love which are themselves the key Christian virtues. From this activity there flow all kinds of other things in terms of Christian life and witness. But worship is central, basic, and in the best sense habit-forming. Every serious Christian should work at having worship become second nature. Expressing the love of God in this way will then flow ‘naturally’ across from the first conjoined twin to the second, reinforcing the life of mission. The temple is there because God’s filling of the house with his presence is to be a means, as well as a sign, that God intends to fill the whole world with his glory. Worship must lead to mission.

~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, 225.

Sunday Meditation

“Worship is the ordering and reordering of our material being to the end for which it was meant. Implicit in the materiality of Christian worship is this sense that God meets us in materiality, and that the natural world is always more than just nature — it is charged with the presence and glory of God. Thus the very performance of Christian worship cuts against both dualistic gnosticism, which would construe matter and bodies as inherently evil, and reductionistic naturalism, which would construe the world as “merely” natural.

In short, the practice of Christian worship resists two sorts of reductionism: a dualistic, supernaturalistic gnosticism, on the one hand, and a materialistic, flattened naturalism, on the other other. Both evacuate the world of God’s presence, either by suggesting that a holy God would not traffic with the impurities of materiality, or by a “nothing-but” conception of the material as nothing more than material. The sacramental imagination runs counter to both of these reductionistic understandings of the world. The understanding of the world in Christian worship walks the tightrope of a “theological materialism” that both affirms the goodness of materiality but also that the material is only insofar as it participates in more than the material. Thus the sacramental imagination implicit in Christian worship eschews the dichotomies of both naturalism and supernaturalism.”

~James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, 143.

How Vast Beyond All Measure

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

In the darkness, while most normal people slept, we woke the family and went on an adventure. With coats thrown over our jammies, and blankets tucked around our knees, we drove out the grid-road until the lights of Caronport were far behind us.

There, at the crossroads of a dirt road and yet another dirt road, we parked the car, pulled out our lawn chairs, and sat out under the heavens.

We watched as the Perseid Shower sent meteors shooting across the sky.

We watched these “shooting stars” fall into the big dipper.

We watched little ones fade so quick we weren’t sure if our eyes were playing tricks on us.

We watched big bright ones, with large tales, streak slowly across the sky.

There is nothing like the prairie sky. It’s one of my favourite things about living out here. The horizon stretches for miles and miles, and you can’t help but feel very, very small. And that’s in the daytime.

And then at night, the stars hang so low you can almost touch them. The sky is not tainted by the lights of the big city. Even from our backyard, with the small lights of Caronport brightening the sky a little bit, the Big Dipper, Orion and other constellations can be seen throughout the year, bright as ever, constant and true against the blackness of the night.

If there is one word for this expansive sky, it is vast. It is vast beyond all measure. And as I sat out on the grid-road, my head leaning on the back of the lawnchair, I was reminded in that moment of the trueness and realness of God’s love.

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.

God’s love is vast like the prairie sky.

The stars that are too numerous to count, the blackness, and wideness and clearness of an August night out on a grid-road — how vast beyond all measure.

We are small in the vastness of the prairie sky. We are small in the vastness of God’s love.

The vastness can overwhelm, unsettle and cause us to tremble.

And yet, the vastness isn’t going anywhere. It isn’t going to change.

It will still be vast when we run inside to get away from it.

It will still be vast when we dance and rejoice under it.

It will still be vast when it makes us uncomfortable, and we cry out that it’s too much.

It will still be vast when clouds of pain and trial and confusion mar our vision.

It will still be vast when we stand in awe, drinking in as much of it as we can.

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure. That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure…

I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom. But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection…

Family Devotions

Chuck and I have been married for five and a half years. Over the years we have tried a variety of family devotions. We’ve tried devotionals that are labeled things like Moments Together for Couples, which end up being one proof-texted verse and then a page of random reflection on life rather than on Scripture. We’ve gone through “praying the Scriptures” type of books that end up feeling more like the Prayer of Jabez. We’ve had limited success choosing a non-devotional book and working through it. An example of this was The Jesus Creed by Scot Mcknight. That worked great. Until we got to the end of the book, when we looked at each other and said, “now what do we use?”

More often than not, we would end up using whatever class I was taking at the time as a springboard for devotions and conversation. So when I took my favourite class, a reading through 2nd Samuel, I would come home each night with all kinds of excitement for what I had just learned. But then, the class would end and we’d again look at each other and say, “now what do we use?”

In the last few months we’ve found something that is interesting, it lasts longer than a couple of weeks, and it has both depth and structure. We’ve adapted the ‘Evening Prayer’ service out of the Anglican Book of Alternative Services (click on the link and jump to page 66).

Here’s what we do:

Open with the chorus from song I learned several years ago: Listen, God is Calling. You can hear it here, we sing just the intro (up to the :43 second mark)

We read the Invitatory, either ‘O Gracious Light’ or Psalm 134.

We do the appointed Scripture readings.

We say the Affirmation of Faith, either The Apostles’ Creed or Hear O Israel.

We sing The Lord’s Prayer.

We say one of the dismissal benedictions.

The best time we’ve found to do this family devotion is right after dinner while we’re still gathered around the dining room table.

What I like about this is that there is both structure and flexibility. The structure is similar to what we do on Sunday mornings at church. The flexibility exists in that we can do all three of the assigned Scripture readings (OT, Gospel, NT), or one of them, or even just the appointed psalm for the day, depending on what kind of time we have.

Because we do the Scripture reading aloud, we’ve played with several translations. For the moment, we’re using the NLT as it seems to flow the best. (We have tried the NKJV, and NIV and the NASB).

We’ve been doing this for about three months now, and so far, so good.

What have you found works best for your family devotions, or your personal devotions? Does having a routine help? Or is it better for you to do them at different times depending on your day? What resources have you found helpful?