Jul 282016
 

tshirt_design_our_fatherIntroducing The Lord’s Prayer: What Is Prayer?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)

In a fast-paced world filled with busyness and distractions, it can be tempting, outside of formal church services, to treat prayer as an optional spiritual practice. A Christian might be under the impression that other Christians – for example, pastors, devout friends or prayer groups (i.e., those supposedly with the “gift” for prayer) – can handle the praying for the needs of the church, community and other individuals. This temptation might coincide with other reasons a Christian might not pray regularly, often having to do with some basic question: Why should I pray? What is prayer? How should I pray? What should I pray for? Will God listen to me?

The concern is that if a Christian is not praying regularly outside of formal church services, then there is a spiritual problem that needs attention. The issue may be as simple (and correctable) as poor or incomplete teaching about prayer. Or the issue could be far more serious, as when an individual does not believe that God requires, hears or answers our prayers. God clearly enjoins intercessory prayer (see e.g., James 5:16), but never as a substitute or alternative to individual prayer. All Christians personally have the Holy Spirit, so all Christians personally are expected to worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1), they wanted to know – now as disciples of Jesus – “what is prayer?” The disciples knew from watching Jesus that He was a man of prayer. They probably shared many of the same questions that Christians today have concerning prayer. Therefore, if we have questions regarding prayer, we are in good company. And when we turn to The Lord’s Prayer, we too will have the Lord as our Teacher.

“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’” (Ps 27:7-8)

Prayer is a conversation with God. Prayer originates in the heart. Our conversations with God consist generally of thanksgiving and supplication. In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us about the things for which we are to praise and petition the Father. Conversing with God is intrinsic to the relationship between a Christian and God. Prayer is not a spiritual gift (see 1 Cor 12) or a vocation (see Eph 4:11), in the sense of being given only to some but not all Christians. Prayer is analogous to a heartbeat: Where there is physical life, there is a heartbeat; where there is a Christian, there is prayer.

When used in the context of prayer, the word “heart” symbolizes the seat of a Christian’s spiritual life: the will; the intellect; one’s feelings and affections; the conscience. The Holy Spirit dwells in the heart filling it with faith in Christ. Knowing that the heart is the source of prayer helps us to distinguish true prayer from false prayer. When we later examine Jesus’ warnings about the false prayers of the hypocrites (Matt 6:5) and the Gentiles (Matt 6:7), it will become apparent in both cases that the root of the problem was in the heart.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Rom 12:12)

Prayer may take any of the following three forms:

Non-Verbal Prayer. Prayer can be non-verbal conversation with God, as when our heart longs for or has a great need of God, but we are unable to express our longing or need in words. In the Psalms, David wrote of his non-verbal prayers: “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Ps 38.9). In such a case, the Father nonetheless hears our prayer, because the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the Christian’s heart, intercedes for us (Rom 8:26-27), and Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, also intercedes for us.

Verbal Prayer. Prayer is most commonly thought of as verbal conversation with God, either silent or audible. Corporate or communal prayer usually is audible. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, they were overheard praying out loud together: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Verbal prayer may be spoken or sung, silently or aloud, privately or communally.

Arrow Prayer. Prayer which combines non-verbal and verbal conversation with God in a very short verbal prayer is known as an “arrow” prayer. One such arrow prayer, well known among Eastern Orthodox Christians, is the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The actual words of an arrow prayer can vary, for example: “Lord have mercy;” “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want;” “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”; etc. Arrow prayers have two important advantages: (1) they open our hearts to communion with God at moments when we are at a loss (or have no need) for additional words; and (2) they help us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

 The Lord’s Prayer probably is too long to be considered an arrow prayer. However, I often find myself praying bits of it during the day (e.g., “Lord, Hallowed be your name” or “Lord, Your will be done”). In any case, I heartily commend the use of arrow prayers, especially those which include a short text of Scripture.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” (Ps 145:18-19)

Although prayer may take the different forms described above, they all result in the same thing: conversation with God originating from the heart. Prayer does not depend on the words themselves, because God knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt 6:8). The only requisite for true prayer is Christian faith and a sincere thanksgiving or petition to God.

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

And perform your vows to the Most High,

and call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Ps 50:14-15) Amen.

Next week, we will review the question: Why do Christians pray?

 

Copyright © 2016 Jean Dragon – All rights reserved.

Jul 272016
 

mental-health1-300x187I’m a Christian but I don’t go to church.

I know some here will not understand, and I don’t expect anyone to. I have suffered mental illness virtually all my adult life. According to the doctors I have two different disorders, a depressive disorder and an anxiety disorder. It is extremely difficult to live life under these circumstances.

However, this article is not about me and I seek no sympathy. I seek only to foster understanding in Christ’s church about the multitudes of people who are battered and bruised like me. People who’ve been wounded at the hands of those who were supposed to care for their soul. Some of them feel they are not worth anything, so why go to church? They feel they have nothing to offer anyone. And in many cases, that’s true. They have been so depleted of spiritual hope that they just fade into nothingness.

They already feel worthless, so why go to a place where they’re going to be told they’re not doing enough, that God is mad at them, they’re not praying or reading their bible enough and various other things that can take a depressed person into a very dark and dangerous place?

I used to think it was just mentally ill people the church had difficulty with. But what I realized is that this same condition applies to others who do not suffer from mental illness as well. You don’t have to mentally ill to be emotionally and spiritually depleted. Because of things that have happened to them in the church, some no longer feel safe there. We have all been wounded by sin. It’s the human condition. But not all who wander are lost…

How sad it is that many followers of the One who says, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest,” find it so hard to come to Him because of their experiences in church. More than sad, it’s an indictment of the corporate model most of the Western church has become.

Those with mental illness often have special difficulties.

Mentally ill people are actually harmed by church when church is done in this way. For me, the constant reiterating of God’s desire to punish and judge drives me further into despair. Then the anxiety takes over and I am scared of God. This isn’t the good “fear of the Lord” I’m talking about but literal terror imagining my own death and destruction that might come to me or my family.

I remember a fellow who went to our church back when we were still attending. This man was an extreme depressive. I remember people literally trying to get away from this poor soul, when what he really needed was folks to come around him and just be with him. Yes, it’s hard to listen to a depressed person’s view of things because it’s skewed negatively due to the depression. But it’s our calling to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 ESV

I don’t really have any answers, except to say that God’s grace must be enough. In my weakness, He is made strong. I don’t understand this, but it’s true.

I will end by proclaiming God’s grace. His grace is so wonderful it would almost seem to be ridiculous, were it not so holy. It is by that grace that I stand, wounded and bleeding, but still standing. Some might say if I’m not going to church, I’m not standing. “But which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” 2 Timothy 2:12 ESV

I am working toward the day when I can return to church and both find and give solace there.

I urge any of you who are weary and heavy laden to stand in God’s grace.

Realize He’s not mad at you. Your wounds are great and painful, and He understands your pain. But His grace is able to make you stand as well. Don’t allow despair to take away the only comfort you have.

Trust in His grace.

Jul 262016
 

timthumb.phpGrowing in grace…

Tim Lahaye dies…

The role of the Trinity in prayer: The Son…

Lucado on evangelicals and Trump…

Is porn worse than alcoholism?

Obsessed with Pokemon Go? No problem…

Benefits of marriage…

Neo-Calvinists redefine love…

The Whore of Babylon: Pimping the Body of Christ to the highest political bidder…

TV pastor praises open marriage…

Myths about church history…

Resources to help your church discuss race…

Wendell Berry on the commerce of war…

Authority is truth (over status)…

Open or closed communion?

Restoring dignity…

20 truths from the Church as Movement book…

Six Trends In Modern Evangelicalism | John S Dickerson from The 6:4 Fellowship on Vimeo.

Perry Noble checks into rehab…

Lahaye’s legacy…

Fifty reasons why I don’t drink...I obviously didn’t write this one…

Carl Trueman on changing the culture…

Do we really need a Christian president?

Big thanks to EricL as usual for the link help…support him at top right.

Jul 262016
 

TKR+Header+3For the sake of clarity…the director of the mission mentioned here is Tom Randall, the administrator on trial is Toto Luchavez. We’ve also hyperlinked this story with other articles we’ve written about this sordid story that the mainstream and “Christian” press continues to ignore.

July 2016 Review of 2013 Reported Sexual Abuse Case at Children’s Home

Rev. Joseph C. Mauk

We have come to an assessment point of the abuse case we were involved in reporting at the end of 2013.  I will review concisely from the beginning so as to provide, for those not yet aware, a flow of events up to the present time.

In late October, 2013, my youngest daughter received a verbal report from one of the teachers at the children’s home that she had been told by two of the girls at the home of being forcibly kissed by the administrator of the home.  It should be noted that at this point, the children at the home were young men and women (32 total) ranging in age from 17-23 with one 11-year old boy as well.

I asked if they could get me something in writing so that I could send the report to the director of the mission sponsoring the home who was also my good friend, a ministry partner for many years and the chairman of the board of my company. My company is involved in managing the operations and assisting in the development of Christian conference centers in the Philippines.  The two girls, because of close monitoring of all activities by the administrator and his staff, smuggled letters out to the teacher so she could provide them to us.  This was at considerable personal risk because all of the young people had been required to sign contracts agreeing to not share anything negative about the children’s home to anyone outside or inside of the operation of the home.

Having received these letters, I immediately scanned them and emailed them to my friend, the director of the mission sponsoring the home.  His response was for me to let him handle it. He said he had received such reports before and that he would be arriving in the Philippines in five weeks to handle the situation.  I had worked with this friend many times in the past in handling administrative problems so I assumed this would be handled properly as well.

While waiting for his arrival we received word from the girls at the home that the two letter-writers were brought by two female staff to a private room and badgered by the staff until compelled to write a retraction of their letters.  We also received word that a man was being allowed into the girls’ dorm at night.  My company was providing security for the home as a service to my friend’s mission so I immediately arranged to change the security guards assigned at the home and to include lady guards to provide specific security for the girls’ dormitory.  This attempted replacement was fiercely fought by the administrator, who called the mission director in the US who, surprisingly, also opposed a change of the security guards.  We made our case quite strongly and the change was allowed but three days later the mission director authorized the administrator to change security agencies and most of the prior guards were re-hired by the new agency and assigned to the home.  We discovered that over the years these guards had been selected by the administrator and were either relatives of his or personal friends from the area.  (Also the official board of the home by this time, although previously independent of administration, had devolved into consisting of the administrator, his wife, his son, and two employees paid by the administrator.)

When the mission director arrived in the Philippines he did not engage in a normal investigation of such matters nor did he call me in, as usual, to assist him in the problem.  He met with those involved and gave warnings not to spread rumors and bad information about the home or its administration. When he met with the teacher who had received the first reports, my daughter went with her and they met at a restaurant in a public mall.  The mission director would not allow my daughter to sit with the teacher as he talked with her. (Incidentally, the mission director had performed the wedding of this same daughter just six months before in California.)  He took out a yellow legal pad and informed the teacher that he was taking notes of their discussion. She said okay and placed her cell phone on the table in recording mode.  For 90 minutes he lectured her on not going to extremes about such issues, how bad I and my family was for making an issue of this and, at the end, offered her “an unrecorded cash advance” if she would just come back quietly to work.  This she refused.  About this time my daughter and her husband came back to the discussion as things were wrapping up.  As they were concluding and saying good-byes the director moved to give my daughter a hug.  When he noted refusal of such he went into a rant as to how she needed to stay out of this or she and her whole family (meaning me) would be deported from the Philippines and did she want this to happen?  My daughter’s husband also had his cell phone on record mode at this time.  Although the mission director subsequently and up till now denies any wrongdoing on the part of the administrator of the home, in his conversation with the teacher he not only said he believed that the administrator had done what the girls claimed, he also said he had “fired” the administrator, which actually never did happen.

After meeting with the teacher, the director called me on a Saturday to arrange a meeting with me some distance from my residence.  Unfortunately, I was ill with diarrhea that day and said I couldn’t travel but could meet him the next week.  He asked if I was open to email correspondence.  I said yes.  On the following Monday I received an email from him resigning from my board and cutting off any association or further communication with him.

At this point it became quite obvious that no serious investigation or proper treatment of the abuse complaints would happen.  At the same time additional reports began to be received by us that much more severe abuse was happening to the young men at the home.  This was being perpetrated in the past and up to the present by up to three male pedophiles who were former and present employees of the home and one of whom was the adult son of the children’s home administrator.  We then understood why, when we attempted to replace the security guards, the staff ran and blocked the entrances to the boys’ dorm and let no one in and out at that time although the girls’ dorm was left unblocked and my daughter and the teacher were able to talk freely with the girls about the guard transition taking place.  All of my five daughters have been professionally trained in spotting and reporting sexual abuse through their career training.  Four of the five are here in the Philippines and they sought a way to report this ongoing cover up of abuse to authorities.  This culminated in a raid by the NBI (Philippine National Bureau of Investigation, equivalent to the American FBI) in January of 2014.  The American mission director was still present at the time and was taken into custody along with the home administrator and his son.

The rescued young people were all interviewed by the NBI and nine made sworn statements before a judge.  These sworn statements then formed the basis for charges.  The mission director inaugurated an intense defense by means of a rather extensive support network including social media and political connections.  He was released without charges after 22 days. One NBI source said that, under Philippine law, he could have only been charged with negligence as the main funder of the operation, with a penalty of 20 days, so they were basically happy with the time of detention for him.  For the administrator and his son, the statements made were more serious.  Against the son, charges of rape were filed which are normally unbailable.  For the administrator himself the charges were lasciviousness and thus less serious.  However, the court set bail for the administrator at 540,00 pesos and the son at 380,000 pesos ($13,000 and $9,000 respectively) indicating the court looked at the administrator as a more dangerous threat than the son, even though the formal charges were less.  The NBI and the court fully expected the accused to be jailed from time of arrest and throughout the entire trial process.  The salary for a worker making minimum wage in the Philippines is about $3,000/year.  But the entire bail was paid immediately in cash by the wife of the administrator.  This payment of bail changed the whole dynamic of normal process.  This was typical of someone from a wealthy family or some high-level figure working for a crime syndicate.  The case was immediately passed from the Manila court to the regional court in Lucena City for it to play out there.

So, in the Philippines, once money comes into the picture, the advantage goes to the perpetrators.  If no one shows up in court to testify, the case is dismissed.  That can often be arranged.  Or if they show up, there are ways to perpetually delay so that it is a tremendous hassle to keep showing up.  If the witnesses don’t show up, even one time, the case is dismissed.

In our case, the first hearing was a set-up.  None of the witnesses were given notice and the hearing was taking place with the administrator grinning from ear to ear knowing the case was about to be dismissed.  But a lady missionary who works with other abuse cases happened to be in court that day, heard this case being called and the names of the witnesses not present.  She had just met with some of them the day before and immediately called the attention of the prosecutor and judge that no notice had been given to the witnesses.  Another legal point, technically the judge is unable to dismiss a case without formal evidence by registered mail that the notices had been received, though it is often just assumed and not confirmed.  So the judge re-scheduled for three weeks later, the missionary let us know, we let the witnesses know and 11 victims and supporters were there three weeks later.  The defense had filed a motion to quash the case on the basis of illegal arrest, improper jurisdiction, etc.  The hearing proceeded with the NBI agent who did the arrests testifying to the legal basis.  The judge, seeing the witnesses stand up when their names were read, ruled for the attorneys to submit their final arguments in writing within 90 days for his decision to be made.  Interestingly, at the same time the judge was announcing his decision to require written final arguments, the mission director in the US and the pastor of his megachurch were announcing all the charges had been dropped and the entire raid ruled unjustified.  Somehow that made us think there were some prior arrangements made (before the judge saw the real live victims!).  Consequently, the motion to quash was denied when the judge gave his ruling four or five months later.  The defense filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals but so far the trial has been allowed to proceed. After the first near fiasco, I hired private legal representation by request of the victims so that nothing should proceed without notification.  It has been two and a half years since the arrests and the actual trial was due to start last June 15, 2016.  Again, no notices were sent, not even to the private law firm registered with the court to represent the victims, the defense attorneys pled for dismissal, but I had obtained a tentative schedule personally from the clerk of the court in March and was there with another advocate just in case it was proceeding.  We were able to inform the court, once again, no notices had been given.  Three more dates have been set for trial continuation in August, October and November.

To bring us up to date.  Last week the remaining victims willing yet to testify met with their attorney to see what the future of the case looks like.  It is good to remember, although the children’s home was often called an “orphanage”, that the children were not truly orphans, very poor and disadvantaged, even abused, but they had family.  After the release of the young people (minors remained in social services custody but almost all were of age to be released) there was a great effort by the mission director and the former staff (with continued influence of the former administrator) to re-gather all the young people under their umbrella.  They were promised college education (most were already enrolled in college but were told it would not continue to be paid for without their cooperation). They were promised vehicles, jobs, health care for parents etc., in return for staying part of the “family” and not saying any bad things.  A few refused and have established independent lifestyles and a great deal of personal success. So far they are still willing to testify in court.  But even on them the pressure is great.  They are promised jobs and lifetime security, “just don’t testify in court, it’s the Christian thing to let it go”.  The sponsors have provided tickets to visit family in distant locations, “coincidentally” over the exact dates trial testimony is scheduled, etc.

Now to present reality.  If at any time from this point on, the notified witnesses do not appear, the case will be dismissed.  At the same time the defense can use many legally valid delaying tactics to stretch the trial over two years or more. (If the accused were in jail, they would not favor delaying the verdict!) The attorney of the victims feels, even with all of the delays and subterfuge a conviction would be quite possible.  However, following a conviction, the defense (assuming the money keeps flowing) can file an appeal with the Court of Appeals.  It takes at least five years for the Court of Appeals to review a case.  So the attorney estimates 10-15 years before anyone would see jail time.  This is a lot to ask of the witnesses!  It explains why the wealthy and connected in the Philippines rarely see jail time.  BTW, the former vice-president of the Philippines was just last week charged with corruption in court.  His bail was set at about the same as the bail set for the son of the administrator of the children’s home but less than the bail set for the administrator of the home!  Obviously the court thought the administrator of the children’s home was a serious and dangerous perpetrator when they set the bail.  But, money talks, perpetrators walk.

The few victims remaining willing to testify are playing it by ear. The moment the case is dismissed the bail money immediately goes into the hands of the administrator.  The victims don’t want that to happen.  So it looks like the waiting game will go on a while longer.  We may never see a conviction but what has happened due to the courage of the few victims willing to speak out, against great opposition, is as follows:

1. The children’s home was shut down.  It was already operating without a license for the age group they had but was being tolerated. No longer.

2. The administrator and his son will never be able to have any institutional authority over children.

3. The young people, even the ones still under the mission support umbrella, testify to a much better life now than what they had before the raid.

4. As long as the case continues, there can be no police clearances for the accused so they cannot travel abroad.

5. The ones really free are flourishing in a way they could never imagine before.

Jul 252016
 

6a01053629a711970c014e605c90f2970c-800wiA Journey Through the Past

I will stay with you, if you’ll stay with me,

Said the fiddler to the drum, 

And we’ll keep good time on a journey thru the past.

Neil Young

In the year 337, a sixty-five year old man in ill health was making his way back to his home.  His had been a turbulent life, filled with intrigues, wars, assassinations (including ordering the juridical deaths of his wife and an eldest son) and betrayals. Realizing that the end was near and hoping for forgiveness for all that he had done in his life, he changed into the white robes of a Christian catechumen and requested baptism.  Shortly afterwards, in a small suburb of the city he had built, Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus, died.  Soon to be known as Constantine the Great and hailed as the first Christian emperor, his body was interred in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Constantinople.  

Opinions vary as to the depth of Constantine’s Christian faith.  What is certain, is that the promulgation of the Edict of Milan in 313 allowed Christians to openly practice their faith without fear of persecution and ordered the return of confiscated Church property.  It is also allowed that Constantine supported numerous Christian endeavors, especially the building of churches while he personally retained many of the symbols and stylings of the older imperial cults and deities.  Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, he also involved himself in the doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of church life.  As such, he attracted numerous Christian leaders who had visions of “Christ’s kingdom on earth” rising out of the Roman empire, despite Christ’s own assertion – before Pontius Pilate no less – that his kingdom was not of this world.

In his wake Constantine left a troubled legacy of an empire ruled by intrigue and, perhaps of more importance to us in 2016, of a Church increasingly dependent upon the state, both for material well being and the expectation of specifically Christian ideals being promulgated in civil society.  

Now, while intrigue has always been a part of political life (both in the civil and religious spheres) the involvement of the Church with the State was something new and it has left a mark on the life of the Church that extends from the time of Constantine to the present day.   Throughout the centuries since Constantine, a quasi-theocratic idea of civil society (drawing heavily on Old Testament examples) has made it’s way in and out of Christian thought.  Some, such as Augustine, sought a clear differentiation between the “City of God” and the “City of Man”, but even he thought the power of the State could be used against heretics and schismatics and that the Church could and/or should enjoy special privileges.  The general idea of the amalgamation of Church and State, however, ranged throughout the Middle Ages and, despite Luther’s concept of “the Two Kingdoms”, into the Reformation period when, with the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) the ruler of any state could establish it’s religious practice – cuius regio, eius religio (“Whose realm, his religion”). 

In the United States, formed in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, the truly revolutionary idea of a nation without a national established religion was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, namely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Making use of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as it’s basis, the intent was clear.  In Jefferson’s own words, it was meant to erect “a wall of separation between Church and State.”  (James Madison, the author of the First Amendment also cited Luther as providing the proper distinction between civil and ecclesiastical spheres.) This, however, applied only to the nation as a whole.  Several colonies, now states, had established churches well into the first half of the nineteenth century (Massachusetts being the last to disestablish in 1834).  Moreover, as white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants made up the vast majority of the population, almost through to the present time, the intermingling of state policies and religious concerns remained the norm rather than the exception.  Even as new waves of immigrants made their way to America, they often almost measured their progress by how they made their way into politics carrying their faith tradition with them.  While the idea of a Roman Catholic president seemed novel and unusual in 1960, within a very short time most Judeo-Christian faith traditions were accepted – although the idea of an occupant of the White House stating that he was “born again”, did raise some eyebrows in the 1970s.

If you grew up in the fifties and sixties, you were used to seeing Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on television.  Your parents might be reading Norman Vincent Peale. Billy Graham was a regular visitor at the White House.  Clergy were respected members of the community. Presidents went to church, the Congress had chaplains, tax exemptions were made for houses of worship and prayers might be said before the local high school football game. In 1954, even the Pledge of Allegiance was altered to include the phrase “under God”. For the most part, we were comfortable.  The laws and mores of civil society seemed, at least to most, to mirror our faith traditions – and we were mostly, if not always, at ease with the status quo.  The road we were on had stretched all the way from fourth century Constantinople to twentieth century Washington… and we liked it.

Those days, however, are gone, and they will not return.

We have to face the fact that not only has the world changed, so has the United States.  

Europe, for decades, has been made up of nations that may only be described as “post-Christian” in terms of culture, belief and church attendance.  At the present time, even in England, with an established Church and bishops seated in the upper chamber of Parliament, only 1.4% of the population will attend an Anglican service on any given weekend.  On any Friday, more Muslims will attend mosque than Methodists will attend a church or chapel on the following Sunday. In the Netherlands, two-thirds of the remaining Roman Catholic churches and over 700 Protestant churches will close within the next 4-10 years.  The outlook throughout the rest of the continent is similar.  Next stop… the United States. 

In the United States the numbers may not say it all, but they say enough.  Mainline churches across the board are in decline and even evangelicals are caught in the slide downwards.  Whether in the Gallup Poll of December 2015, or the extensive Pew Religious Landscape study of 2014, or the recent book, The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones, the numbers generally tell the same story, and the story is this: Members of mainline denominations, as well as self-identified evangelicals are aging and dying, with fewer and fewer young people taking their place.  Even former adherents, now in middle age, are leaving. The percentage of those with no religious affiliation whatsoever is growing across most age ranges (among young millennials, ages 18-24, 36% self identify as having no religious affiliation at all).  I could go on.  There is very little good news. The numbers are exhaustive and exhausting.

The influence of religious groups has also waned.  Perhaps a good anecdotal example of this might be seen in the lead up to recent wars.  In 1990, prior to the Gulf War, real attention was given by President George H.W. Bush to the pronouncements of religious leaders, some even being invited to the White House to discuss their concerns.  Vigils and prayers for peace were held across the country and were covered by national media.  Eleven years later, prior to the invasion of Iraq, concerns of religious leaders were essentially ignored, with little attention being given by the media apart from secular  protest marches in major cities.  Things had clearly changed.

We are blinded, however, by what we think we are seeing and hearing.  There seems to be so much activity, so many blogs, so many websites for local churches.  If you have the money, you can even take a cruise with your favorite Bible teacher or Christian artist. The list of possible activities seems almost endless, as though a brave new Christian world is emerging.  Then those pesky statistics come back to haunt us.  For the year 2014 (the last year reported) the average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal Church was 90.  For the year 2015, the average Sunday attendance in the United Methodist Church was 88. Now remember, this is the mean number – about half of the churches have more, but half have less.  Also, these are national figures and there are conferences (Methodists) and dioceses (Episcopal) where the average Sunday attendance is 35 or even lower.  Obviously, many of these churches cannot be sustained. They struggle to pay their bills, rely on denominational subsidies and hope against hope that things will get better, but it seldom happens.

So, as I look at the mega-churches, worship events in arenas, and the panoply of television preachers and ministries, what am I to think?  I believe that they are the last vestiges of a Christian triumphalism that is “past its sell-by date” and do not reflect the reality faced by many, if not most, churches in the United States.  Aligning ourselves with society, current norms and partisan politics may have “worked” at one time.  Now, in my opinion, it is the most certain way for the Church to be consigned to irrelevancy, or to further divide the Church into smaller and smaller factions and subgroups.  As someone once said, “when you wed yourself to the present, you will be a widow in the future.”  

If Robert Webber was correct that the “path to the future runs through the past”, it is to the past, I believe, we must go, bypassing the Constantinian settlement, the supposed glories of medieval Christendom and embrace the life of a different kind of Church:  A Church that managed it’s own affairs.  A Church that did not look to the State to give it a position of advantage (financial or otherwise) and, indeed, did not look to the State to assist in propagating the Church’s ideals, mores or faith.  The treasure of that Church consisted of the poor, whom they cared for and fed. It was a Church that faced occasional persecution, but, in spite of the persecution, grew. 

Clearly, there has never really been a “golden age” for the Church.  As individuals and as worshipping communities we have always had to struggle with the dichotomy of “being in the world, but not of the world”.  Nevertheless the example is there, even in the New Testament canon. We can see such a Church in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Clement and in the Didache.  It was a Church that counted humility as a virtue.  The certainty of that Church was confined to the saving work of Christ, not national pride or partisan political allegiances.  Moreover we can see echoes of that Church in the lives and works of so many throughout the centuries – Francis of Assisi, the young Luther, John Wesley and so many more down to our own day.

Such a Church, especially if modeled on that of the ante-Nicene period, would be an adjustment for most American Christians.  It would probably involve even more than can be stated in this small essay – the loss of tax exempt status, for instance; or involvement in civil disobedience if the State requires conformity contrary to conscience or belief.  So be it. Such a Church, however, might also foster a renaissance in Biblical studies, theology, music and the arts. Who knows, it might even create disciples.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Martyrs Project

Jul 242016
 


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Jul 232016
 

God of Adam and Eve, you have formed us from the earth,
carefully shaping our bodies from the clay.
We are miracles with skin, clay that smiles.
But miracles are not always complete.
Your fishes and loaves got far, but didn’t last forever.
Your water into wine was consumed.
Our bodies, though imbued with your eternal and life-giving Spirit,
are subject to the groaning of creation.
Though in our finitude your healing is still present and active.
For those who are sick, groaning,
for the body laden with pain,
we ask for healing, wholeness, and miracle.
We ask for a holistic blessing in their body, their day’s, their web of friendships,
and all of their life’s details into a smooth pattern of peace.
Grant them the strength to work with their pain
and live in the gift you have given them.
We ask this through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jul 232016
 

Word of GodMatthew 6:9-18

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name

  • Do you need help with your prayer life? Go to the Christian bookstore and look at the volumes produced just to help you pray.
  • But Jesus said, “pray like this” – why do we not do it the Jesus way?
  • This prayer is not a special formula
  • He could have said “Oh Great God, Creator of All – Oh Lord Almighty and Holder of All Power in your hands and who smote those in Sodom & Gomorra ….”
  • It would have all been true – But he said “our Father…”
  • Since he said “Our Father” – then who are we?
  • Potential sons?? – one day to be to be children? No, we are present tense His Children – Present tense His Heirs.
  • “Our” Father – is this prayer a group prayer and not an individual prayer?
  • Do we do enough in community?
  • Note the plurality of the prayer – the “our” the “us” – this is meant to be prayed in community – when the church gathers – how many refuse?

10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

  • His Kingdom comes with or without us
  • He wants his kingdom to come to us – that he will come to you in your life.
  • Actually, the Kingdom is here already, consummated with his Good Friday sacrifice – resurrection and ascension
  • How do we say “your will be done.”??
  • Is it just an easy tagline of humble subservience or…
  • Is it a cry against Satan? It should be.
  • Is it “your will be done Lord” or “My will”? God, get in the backseat.
  • When God keeps us faithful to his promise – his will is being done.
  • When he gives us heaven– his will is being done.
  • When Christ forgives sinners – his will is being done.
  • When the old Adam is put to death by the law – his will is being done.
  • Your will be done is a confession of who I am – I am at odds with God
  • God’s will is being done in the 10 commandments
  • God’s will is being done when we protect life
  • God’s will is being done when we protect marriage
  • God’s will is being done when we treat and protect our neighbor and his property rightly
  • God’s will is being done when we use his name properly
  • God’s will is being done when we don’t have any other Gods

11 Give us this day our daily bread,

  • All of the “give us” – a little pushy? Or a claim to a promise?
  • Daily bread = everything I need for daily existence
  • God help me.
  • I need help, support, guidance, food, clothes – good weather for good crops.
  • And I trust you will provide.
  • And this is not just about our need, but where everything comes from.
  • This is like a confession of faith to God.
  • The “give us” does not need to be for us – but for others
  • Give to the Iraqi Christians …

12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

  • “…as we also…” this is the 1st stumbling block in the prayer
  • Sin is likened to debt because you now carry a debt towards God or the other person.
  • We as a nation should understand what it means to be in debt
  • This would be like China forgiving our national debt but we turn around and say “hey, Puerto Rico – pay up!” (The Unforgiving Servant of Matt 18)
  • Think about forgiving others
  • Our debt is forgiven through no deed of our own – but we always feel like our neighbor needs to work off his debt to us or at least be worthy of our forgiveness.
  • How does a Christian act? We are to be generous and reckless with our forgiveness to others.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

  • God does not tempt anyone
  • There is this unholy trinity – the world – the devil and our sinful flesh.
  • It looks like God but it is not. Who did Adam blame? “God, you made me do it through this woman.
  • Who tempted Adam & Eve? Who tempted Jesus?

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,

15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

  • Matthew 18:21-35 – the parable of the unmerciful servant.
  • 14 is a YIKES
  • 15 is a double YIKES
  • You might take note – there is no sugar coating with this one.
  • What are you going to do with forgiveness?

Fasting – So Jesus is still on the mountain, still talking in Red Letters – teaching with authority – continuing that ‘rabbis said – but I say.’

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

  • When you fast – fasting was expected. Was fasting a Jewish thing?
  • Do we ever see fasting taught to the Gentiles?
  • Fasting is all about self denial – how important is eating to you?
  • A friend of mine went to Cuba a couple of months ago and told me how poor they were.
  • He said “they would rather eat than get paid.”
  • I thought who would put food over money? Then I thought, Me! I eat several times a day but get paid only a couple of times a month.

17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,

  • Do what it takes to look healthy and alert.
  • When you do something, anything for God, look good doing it!

18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

  • What do you hope to get out of fasting?
  • Who do you fast to?
Jul 222016
 

IMG_1057He would cry when I went outside and called for Miss Kitty.

I wouldn’t always see him as he cowered in the bushes, but I couldn’t help but hear him.

His was not a weak or meek whimper, but the cry of an animal in real distress.

He was terrified and starving and was hoping someone would care about both.

Those of his kind who had already found sanctuary here cared about neither.

They knew of his presence and his plight, but preferred that he stay hidden from sight and silent.

They also know somehow that I would have mercy on him if I knew about him…and they believed that mercy was for them only.

I started by putting dish of food near the bushes he hid in…his hunger soon overcame his fear and he devoured it if I stood a safe distance away.

Soon, every morning and every evening, he would call for me and I would feed him…inching closer every time I put the dish out.

My objective wasn’t just to feed him, though that was of primary importance.

The objective was to bring him fully into the family, to feed him, love him, care for him, and give him a home where all those things are a given.

Real mercy is full mercy.

Soon, he would let me sit with him while he ate, but would run if I tried to touch him.

Then, he allowed me to scratch his head while he ate.

Finally he let me pet him..he trusted me.

His joy was almost amusing in it’s intensity…food and loving attention at the same place, probably for the first time in his life.

He thought he had found a home,a place where he belonged.

The other cats who had found mercy here soon convinced him otherwise.

They let him know that even if I felt he belonged ,that he really didn’t belong here at all.

When he finally felt the courage to walk in the house, Miss Kitty beat him…she drew blood and ran him away.

She spat at me for allowing such in our home.

My new friend had crossed the path of the gatekeeper to full acceptance.

The gate was closed…slammed in his face.

I can do as I will, but they will not allow him to be one of them…even though they found sanctuary in the same place, in the same way.

He still comes and gets fed, he loves being petted and spoken to…but he knows he’s not accepted by anyone but me.

I will always go out to him if he can’t come to me because of the gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers.

I’ve seen more than a few humans who function the same way.

They want the strays, the battered, the homeless, to stay over there, out of sight.

They will only extend mercy if it keeps them clean from the defilement of the lost.

They don’t want them in the house.

They were once what they despise now.

The owner of the house is not pleased with them.

Make your own application…

 

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