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, cialis 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, thumb when we looked at each other and said, try “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?

Christian Unity

This week is the Rally to Restore Unity Synchroblog hosted by Rachel Held Evans.

I will admit that as I reflected on Christian Unity and thought about what to contribute, cialis the cynic pessimist realist in me was convinced that Christian unity simply is not possible. I mean, shop how can we push for Christian unity when Christians have never been united? Look at the New Testament and all the bickering and in-fighting. Even the awesomely awesome Paul ended up parting ways with Barnabas over whether John Mark was a fit companion for the Gospel work they have to do. If Paul couldn’t even practice unity, how the heck are we supposed to?

And then I realized, that just because it may not be humanly possible to restore unity, it is humanly possible to pray for unity, to desire unity and to encourage unity. We cannot unite ourselves. Unity comes from the person and work of Christ and is made manifest by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christian unity will happen in a much more full way than we can ever imagine when we are all gathered around the throne of the Lamb singing His praises. It will happen. Unity will be our natural response to seeing and worshipping the King of Kings.

But, that is the future hope. What about now? In the now we need to pray and seek and strive for unity. It may not happen, but that does not mean we should ignore it, and it doesn’t give us license to continue to fight and bicker with our brothers and sisters.

So what does unity look like in the present?

Unity does not mean that we all think and act the same, like one giant Borg cube, with no individuality.

Unity does not mean that there is not correction or rebuke.

Unity does not mean that we put on shiny happy faces and pretend that everything is coming up roses.

Unity means that we humbly submit to one another, bowing down and washing each others’ feet.

Unity means that we love even when it is difficult to love.

Unity means that we encourage each other in our race to the finish line.

Unity means that we listen to each other.

Unity means we challenge each other to love harder and think deeper.

Unity means that we, as members of the body of Christ, are all recipients of God’s gracious gift of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Last year, I wrote that I know of no better way to ‘keep it simple silly’ than to point us back to the Apostles’ Creed.

Today, I would like to point us Scripture. In this case, a responsive liturgy as found in the Church of the Nazarene’s hymnal, that is a collection of verses that talk about Christian unity. May this be our hearts’ cry. The plain text is read by the leader, the bold is read by the congregation in unison:

Christian Unity #676

I appeal to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you.

And that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope…

One Lord,

One faith,

One baptism;

One God and Father of all,

Who is over all and through all and in all.

Jesus said, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, so that they may be one as we are one.

“May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches.

“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;

“Apart from me you can do nothing. If you remain in me and my words remain in you,

“Ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. My command is this: Love each other as I have love you.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.


Another Adventure with Anglicanism

I have been attending an Anglican church for nearly a year now. I don’t claim to know everything about it; nor do I immediately embrace the Anglican tradition. I am exploring. I am encountering. I am engaging in a form of Christian worship that at some level seems to resonate with part of my soul.

Do I have questions? Yes. Do I have concerns and reservations? Absolutely. While the local church that I am attending is pretty orthodox, cialis and has a sizable population of evangelical Christians, I worry about what is happening at the national and international level of this denomination. Agreed upon moratoriums on ‘hot button topics’ are being ignored and there is a huge sense of activism over unity. Have I figured it all out? No. But I am willing to listen and learn.

What I have found is this: The Anglican services have more Scripture read, preached and sung than any evangelical service I have ever attended. The entire liturgy, even though it is sometimes hampered by awkward wording in order to keep things gender-neutral, is built upon and references Scripture.

Even the ‘pomp’ of the service, from the vestments, to the altar, to the symbolic actions done throughout the service (e.g., having the Bible and a cross walked to the centre of the sanctuary for the Gospel reading, causing the congregation to turn and face another direction), is done in such a way as to visually invite people into the Gospel journey. I admit, I’m not much of a visual learner, and sometimes I have to fight the urge to say, “this is pointless”, knowing that for other people in the congregation, these images are powerful ways to help them enter the presence of God.

I have no doubt that there are God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians in attendance at this church. I also have no doubt that there are pew-warmers in attendance at this church. This is not unique to the Anglican church, and the same can be said for nearly every evangelical church in existence. So why is it that there is arrogant attitude among some who have never even set foot in an Anglican church, that they are quick to condemn all Anglicans as being unregenerate followers of a false gospel?

James MacDonald has a post up reflecting on the Royal Wedding.

He tries to be charitable, referencing his admiration for John Stott and J.I. Packer, men he calls “regenerate Anglicans.” But then he turns his aim at all the bad things that the Royal Wedding demonstrates about the lostness of the Anglican church.

For example:

I am grieved by the religious pomp, contrived ceremony and minimal passing gospel references in the service we and in the end, 2 billion others witnessed. The mumbling singing and distant glare of the couple themselves during the minister’s obligatory rambling grieved my heart deeply, knowing that this is the only church experience most watching will have this year.

I’ve seen a lot of mumbling singing and distant glaring in evangelical services, and don’t get me started on how many sermons have amounted to nothing more than a ‘minister’s obligatory rambling’.

The Anglican community, deeply divided around the world over the authority of God’s word and an orthodox gospel was on display in this wedding seen by as many as 2 billion people. The service was only marginally different than a catholic mass. Reminding us that Anglicanism traces its history not to the heart cries of the reformation: Soli Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, but to the convenience of an earthly King who wanted to remain religious while indulging himself in disobedience and unbelief.

How many evangelical churches that trace their roots back to the Reformation, are in existence because of their leaders wanted to do their own thing, being led by convenience and by the indulgence of sin?
Just because a church traces itself back to the Reformation does not make it a good church. Any church that can only see as far back as the Reformation is missing out on 1500 years of Church trying to live out the Gospel. Just because there were mistakes and problems doesn’t mean that all 1500 years should be thrown out. Heck if mistakes and problems mean that we can ignore and throw out entire centuries of Church history, should we not all the more ignore the entire 20th century?

Am I an Anglican? Nope. I’m probably too evangelical to ever fully embrace Anglicanism. But I have learned and am convinced that the evangelical tradition has a lot to learn from Anglicanism. Anglicanism may be having issues and struggles over doctrine and practice, but so too is evangelicalism. The question is, are we willing to humble our hearts and listen to each other as we attempt to listen to the Holy Spirit who points us not to ourselves and to our accomplishments, but to Jesus, the incarnate, crucified and resurrected Lord?

Another Adventure In Anglicanism

Next week is Holy Week. The Anglican church that I’m attending has announced the various services that will be going on throughout the week. I’m impressed with how many services there are.

Palm Sunday — Palm Sunday service.

Holy Tuesday — Taize service in the evening.

Holy Wednesday — Tenebrae service in the evening.

Maundy Thursday — Service with foot-washing in the evening.

Good Friday — Two services. Morning service will be the Stations of the Cross. Afternoon service is a more traditional service.

Holy Saturday — Morning service.

Easter Sunday — Early morning service with the Lighting of the New Fire. Resurrection service at regular morning church time.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church that has had this much planned for Easter. There is so much to experience! Unfortunately, thumb with Easter being so late this year, tadalafil Holy Week is also Grad week here at the college, nurse which means we won’t be able to do it all.

I would love to check out the Wednesday Tenebrae service, but it’s Grad banquet night.

We’re hoping to get to the Maundy Thursday service, but it depends when the Graduation ceremony finishes.

I think we’re aiming for the Good Friday ‘Stations of the Cross’ service in the morning. I have never done the Stations of the Cross, but have been following the Station reflections being posted over at Internet Monk.

And, of course, we will be attending the Resurrection service Sunday morning.

I had assumed that Holy days like this were big deals, which means more people in attendance. But I really don’t know what to expect with this week of services. I thought Ash Wednesday was going to be packed, and instead it was very intimate.

Some Days My Emotions Need Manipulating

In the last couple of weeks, capsule I’ve had more than one person say something to this effect:
Contemporary worship music is emotionally manipulative.

And it’s true. The question is whether or not manipulation is necessarily a bad thing.

As many of you know, stuff I’ve been attending an Anglican church in this last academic school year (see my posts on my Adventures in Anglicanism). Through this, I’ve come to reorient myself to speak of worship as the entire service, rather than just the music portion. So, in what follows, I’m going to try to be careful to say ‘worship music’ and not ‘worship.’

This particular church is fairly traditional in its choice of songs, though it has attempted on several occasions to bring in some more contemporary hymns.
I’m not anti-hymn. Hymns, when done well, are extremely powerful. But there has been more than one occasion in which I can’t help but wonder if they’re so concerned with being ‘reverent’ in how they play the songs that they lose the emotion and feel of the hymn. On several occasions, the solemnity with which they have played the processional hymn, for example, has managed to turn it into a funeral dirge.

But at least they’re not being emotionally manipulative.

I popped into seminary chapel last week. There, they were doing some fairly standard ‘evangelical’ praise music. It started with just the guitar and lead vocal. By the chorus, the keyboard and backup vocalists had joined in. At the end of the song, the instruments dropped off, and only the voices sang. There was movement in the music, and the team created a sense of awe of wonder and excitement. I was emotionally manipulated. My hands were raised. My eyes were closed. In that moment, my emotions were driving my worship.

And it was a good thing. I hadn’t realized how dry I was. I hadn’t realized how, in the last couple of months, my worship had become all about my head. There had been no heart in my worship.

25 years ago, Les Miserables opened in London, and was roundly panned by critics for being ’emotional drivel.’ The producers, upon hearing the reviews, were gearing up to pull the plug. They called the box office to find out how many refunds were being issued for tickets. They couldn’t get through. Finally, they got through. The entire run was sold out! The audiences had loved it. The ’emotional drivel’ was, for the audience, an ’emotional connection.’ In a short time, the production moved to the West End, and then around the world. 25 years later, a sold-out concert at the O2, broadcast on PBS and available on DVD, continues to evoke a strong emotional response from viewers. Fans know that, when that final round of “Do You Hear the People Sing” starts, their hearts swell, and they leave the theatre with a song on their lips and their toes tapping. It doesn’t matter that the play ends with most of the heroes dead, and the revolution squashed. For a brief time, the audience entered into a story, connected with characters, and were changed by the experience.

So it is with worship music. For a brief time, we enter into the story of redemption, and are transported into the throne room of God, joining the saints and angels in praising and proclaiming the awesomeness of the Lamb. The music lifts us out of our day to day busyness and compels us to be changed, even if only for a little while.

I left the seminary chapel with a song in my heart, and found myself spontaneously worshiping God throughout the rest of the day, singing snippets of different praise songs and hymns at the most random of times.

So did the contemporary worship music emotionally manipulate me? Yep. And that was a good thing.

Worship Music

Keith and Kristyn Getty are gearing up to lead the music at the TGC conference this spring. Collin Hansen has an interview with Keith, sovaldi and at the bottom is a link to Keith and Kristyn’s website, ed which currently has three mp3’s available for free download, capsule as well as the corresponding sheet music.

The songs are:

Behold the Lamb (Communion Song)

The Power of the Cross

Come People of the Risen King

Another Adventure with Anglicanism

Last night I attended my first Anglican Ash Wednesday service. I have previously attended evangelical Ash Wednesday knock-off services. These usually were more like “welcome to lent” services, purchase so there were no ashes and no liturgy of confession.

Chuck and I arrived and sat in our usual pew. I had assumed that this service would be full. I thought since it was a big day on the Church calendar, lapsed Anglicans would be coming out of the woodwork and coming to the church in droves. Instead, it was quite the opposite. We had less than half our regular Sunday attendance. It felt like the majority of the people were core Christians in the church.

The service was pretty low-key. There was only a little bit of music, taize-style refrains at a couple of points in the service. Like most Sundays, there were 4 Scripture readings (how many evangelical churches read that much Scripture in their services?) and then we just followed the liturgy in the Book of Alternative Services. The liturgy was thoughtful, serious, but not depressing. It included a corporate recitation of Psalm 51 (so now we’re up to 5 Scripture readings!).

When it was time to come forward to have the ashes put on our foreheads, the sanctuary was quiet. All you could hear was the shuffling of feet, and Rev. Allen saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” to each person. With no music to fill the sanctuary, hearing Rev. Allen saying the words over and over again became quite hypnotic.

What I appreciated is that after the ashes, the liturgy pointed us forward. It pointed us to salvation, and to the joy of the resurrection. There was hope in the liturgy, and a call to demonstrate God’s glory to the world.

After the ashes liturgy we celebrated communion together. I think this, above all else, is what I really enjoy about my adventures with Anglicanism. Every time we gather we celebrate communion. Usually on Sundays we gather around the communion table in a circle/semi-circle and two sets of servers administer communion. At this service, though, we were told to come up single file. It felt a little bit awkward, because the rhythm and movement that we are accustomed to was broken. I’m not sure if this change in how we did communion was a “just because” thing, or if there was theological significance to taking communion in a more individualistic fashion on Ash Wednesday.

Another observation I had was that there were only two children in attendance in this service, and they did not come forward to have ashes put on their head. Not sure if this was a decision of the parents or if there is something in the ritual that requires it to be done only to adults? Will have to find out about that.

After the service, some people immediately wiped the ashes off their foreheads, others did not. We weren’t sure what the correct procedure was, so we asked Rev. Allen. He said that old school tradition had that you keep the ashes on your forehead until bedtime. Today, there was flexibility. Some people go out for coffee afterward and don’t want to draw attention to themselves, so they wipe them off.

As I thought about it, one of our Scripture readings was from Matthew 6, the whole discussion about don’t show off your piety. So, since Chuck and I were going to go for a mini-date after the service (just sit and chat at a restaurant), I decided to wipe the ashes off in keeping with Jesus’ commands to do our piety in ‘secret’.

I’m looking forward to walking through the Lenten season in this church. I’m sure there are many more adventures in Anglicanism to come!

Another Adventure with Anglicanism

I’ve been attending an Anglican church for the last six months or so. (You can see previous posts on the adventures here and here).

There are many things I like about this particular Anglican church. It has a good mix of ages and a strong core of seniors. (I’ve really worried about churches that are missing an entire generation of Christians, viagra especially when it seems intentional). I love the liturgy, online and I love celebrating communion every week (I will admit I’m struggling with the real wine instead of grape juice, but that’s not a theological issue, it’s more a “my meds and wine don’t play nice with each other” issue).

My biggest learning curve, at the moment is the hymnal. There are so many hymns in Common Praise that are so new to me. And, when they do have “classic” hymns, in many cases the words are slightly different. Part of it is theological differences, and part of it is an attempt to be gender inclusive. For example, the other week we sang “To God be the Glory”, and the words were changed to take out the “He”s. I understand why they have done that, but it was just enough to trip me (and more than several people in congregation) up as we sang.

One song we sang a couple of weeks ago, has been bouncing around in my head because as we sang it, I began to question the theology of it. The song is Bring Many Names. Basically the song takes different images (in particular familial images) and puts them together to describe God.

So God is portrayed as strong mother, warm father, old God, young God, and great God.

My struggle is with the fifth verse:
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

I sing and I read it, and all I can think of is process theology. Does God grow? On the other hand, is the fourth verse any better, where it suggests the opposite that God is an old, aching God?
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!

And I can’t even stretch it and try to explain the fifth verse as being about Jesus, because the entire hymn is directed at God the Father and not at Jesus specifically.

The last verse tries to capture the mystery and infiniteness of God, but ends up calling him “joyful darkness”:
Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!

I have no problem with the idea that God is never fully known, indeed that is very Scriptural. But He is darkness far beyond our seeing? Maybe I am too predisposed to imagery of Light in the New Testament…