Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Simply Christian

There isn't a better Christian scholar in our time than N. T. Wright. He has a way of eloquently articulating theological thoughts and powerful biblical images in our current linguistic forms. He brings the biblical world to bear on our world. When these worlds collide, a sense of Kingdom mission begins to emerge in the heart and life of genuine Christian communities. To me, this effect is a result of his deep rooting in the text itself, for it is the Word that gives us life and empowers us for mission.

Wright has so many great books to read and though I've only read a handful, I would encourage anyone to pick up any of his books and get to reading. Simply Christian is a great book that follows in the spirit of C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which was influential in my early Christian formation. I've wanted to use Simply Christian in a small group study for some time. It is the kind of apologetics in which I think we should be engaged. In a lecture last year at Calvin College he summarized this work. If you haven't the time to read this short can go to this link and at least listen to the lecture. There is also a lecture presented at the Washington Cathedral on the same topic, which you can watch here. I hope that it influences you in transformative ways. Enjoy!

His new book Surprised by Hope is now on my reading list. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


"Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Words recorded in the Gospel according to John. We have entered an important season in the life of Christ-followers, a season often referred to as Easter, which began on Sunday and continues until Pentecost Sunday. I'm not sure why we adopted the language of Germanic pagan worship of the goddess Eostre. Now my ancestry is mostly German (Deutsch) so I take no offense at the linguistic origin, and I also recognize the attempts to infuse ancient cultic practice with Christian content - yet, I often wonder how successful those attempts have been. In many cases it seems that this practice causes more confusion than anything. I suppose that it does little good to criticize methods adopted hundreds of years ago - I simply hate to see us repeat past mistakes.

That is all tangential to my reflections this morning anyway. As I've been reading back through the Old Testament it is quite apparent that God does condescend to reveal himself through our human cultural practices. Take Solomon's vision at Gibeon, for instance. He participated in the detestable practice of offering sacrifices and burning incense on the high places. There at Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream allowing him to ask for whatever he wanted from the Lord. And we all know that Solomon's request for a discerning heart to lead the people was pleasing to God - so the Lord not only promised him wisdom to administer justice, but also riches and honor, and if he walked in faithfulness, long life as well. God met him in this strange place.

Life is so sterile in the modern West. Even if we consider Solomon's practice of sacrificing on the high places misguided, it seems to me that there was something real in this ubiquitous ancient human practice. The smell of blood and the sounds of death reek of reality. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis' novel Till We Have Faces, which is a modern rendition of the ancient Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. The older sister Orual can't stand what she calls the smell of holiness every time she enters the house of the goddess, where there is continuous sacrifice taking place. Something deep within us resonates with this brokenness...we understand the smell of holiness.

"Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" Our sterile Western theology has difficulty with sacrifice. We can't get our collective minds around the concept because it is not a part of our shared experience. We've tried to ignore our own brokenness by hiding from blood and death. We turn away from reality...we pinch our nose at the smell of holiness...we cover our ears at the cries of brokenness. Even in our version of Christianity it is all clean and positive and nice - a journey without sacrifice, a holiness without the spilling of blood. The wisdom of the Apostles says this cannot be...we've lost touch with that wisdom. We are confronted by the Paschal Lamb.

What strikes me most in the resurrection scenes are the wounds of His crucifixion. Jesus carries with Him the scars of sacrifice. He is the slain Lamb who sits on the throne and the Lion of Judah. He is worthy to open the scroll. He has the smell of holiness all over. He has opened the way of life for us by the tearing of His flesh. Our only hope for genuine peace...our only hope to become an authentic reflection of the Kingdom is to understand the depth of brokenness and chaos. Then we might open our hearts to actually eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb, following the way that He made for us to experience real life.

Until next time - Blessing in Christ ~ RLS

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

~ An adaptation of the famous prayer known as St. Patrick's Breastplate

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Princess is 1!

As we prepare our hearts for Holy Week the idea of sacrifice has been on my mind. I don't like the word sacrifice, which may sound strange coming from an evangelical pastor. Of course our focus in these days is on the sacrifice of the one John called the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world. Those of us who follow this Lamb are called to participate in His experience the kind of brokenness that brings about reconciliation and renewal.

Of course, my life doesn't compare to the sacramental self-giving of Jesus. I don't sacrifice much...but as one in this journey of pastoral ministry I've found that the most difficult "sacrifice" (if we can call what we do a sacrifice at all) isn't taking a lower salary or working lots of hours or receiving little gratitude for our service (at times); no, the most difficult "sacrifice" is being separated from family.

This isn't always a necessary "sacrifice", but it is often the case...that following Christ in this pastoral journey will lead us away from our close family. The sense of this separation is not always acute...and with the many modes of communication these days it is a little easier to swallow. But there is a sense of loss, when you miss out on your brother's graduation or, as was the case for us this past week, your niece's first birthday. Getting the pictures is nice...but there is still a sense of loss that I'm not able to be much a part of my niece and nephew's life - nor will my brother and sisters be as big a part of our son's life as I'd like.

The word sacrifice actually comes from a Middle English word that literally means "to make sacred" or "to make holy". That is why I hesitate to use the word in this case...I'm not sure this separation makes anything more sacred or holy. Then again, I suppose it at least shows our willingness to follow the rebel Jesus wherever He would have us go - even if it means experiencing this separation and brokenness. I suppose it reveals, just a small glimpse (and I do mean very small) of the Kingdom that prioritizes our relationship with Him above everything else.

I don't feel any more holy...but maybe holiness isn't a feeling. Lord we will follow wherever you lead us. And, Kelsey...I'm sorry we missed your 1st birthday - I'm sure you won't hold it against us...but if we happen to miss other important days in your life...I hope you come to understand why, and can forgive us. We're committed to an all consuming call. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Tears of an Inflatable Clown

I grew up in Western Oklahoma about 15 minutes from the Texas panhandle. Oklahoma comes from a Choctaw phrase that literally means red people. I suppose that could have more than one implication these days.

This is a land of real folk...tough people. The Anglo settlers of this territory lived in dung huts. They worked hard to scratch out a living. These people have endured hardships and loss, dust bowls and droughts. All of which, I believe contribute to a unique character and outlook - an earthiness that's as red and hard as the iron soil.

It is my own red desert. My roots. I'm only saying this to give you some indication of why I like King of the Hill so many funny ways, it reminds me of home.

I came across this wonderful episode that I just had to share. In it Bobby is attempting to organize a carnival to break some of the monotony and boredom of daily life. In the process, though, someone comes from the district to try and teach the children about diversity, especially emphasizing horrific acts of prejudice and oppression throughout history. His goal is to help the children understand their participation in this history. Now there is something to be said for understanding our role in systemic brokenness and violence, but these school children have difficulty processing it all - as I think most of us do.

Well, I guess I should just let you watch it for yourself. Though - I have to say that I already have a favorite line. There is a part where they want the entire town to feel the guilt and self-loathing of their ancestors acts of oppression and Joseph says, "Yeah, I wish that I could tape their eyes open and shove their faces into the truth." What a great line...think about it...better yet, watch the episode.