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Archive for August, 2013

Entries from Forward Day by Day, Part II:
Faith and Pilgrimage,
Life and Growth

“And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.”
—Isaiah 35:8 NIV

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.”
—Psalm 92:12 NIV

In the previous post I quoted and commented on two of four entries for the month of June taken from Forward Day by Day, the Episcopal daily devotional. As I noted in the introduction to that first post, each of these four brief entries spoke to me specifically for one reason or another. All of them relate to events or situations either in my own personal or spiritual life or in my work as a religious copyeditor over the past thirty-plus years.

As in that first post, I have given each of these entries titles summarizing what are to me the two primary themes in each. After each of these double titles I have inserted one or two quotations (mine or others’) that came to mind as I read and copied the entries.

In addition to the italicized scriptures quoted in each entry I have inserted my own comments in parenthesis and set italics in the copy to highlight the points I want most to emphasize. Finally, I have also inserted some explanatory copy in brackets and/or links to other sources or previous related posts on my personal blog.

Each of the entries is endnoted as to source, copyright, and permission to quote from the Forward Movement.

Faith and Pilgrimage

“The Bible is filled with stories of people who had to take journeys they didn’t want to take.”
—Adam Hamilton, Journeys

“No true prophet ever made a profit.”
—Jimmy Peacock 

I can relate to the above quote from Adam Hamilton. I’ve been on one of those undesired journeys for the past thirty-six years. I call that “wilderness wandering” in biblical terms “My Oklahomian Exile.”

That journey and exile, and the labor that has been the necessity and the cause of both, have also been the core of the writings. These writings, which I have titled in biblical terms “My Oklahomian Exile Literature,” have been the only tangible evidence or “profit” I can show from those thirty-six years.

They are also the core of this blog, which took me three decades to compose, compile, and publish for “mass consumption”—for free. I say they are free, but not to me since these writings and the experiences I relate in them have cost me “the best years of my life” (i.e., my youth, my health, and my home) in service to “foreign missions” as “the prophet from Arkansas.”

Thus they and the “undesired journey” they describe are the reason for my self-quote above about no true prophet ever making a profit—meaning that Christian missions are by definition a “nonprofit business” and often a costly and even hazardous endeavor.

FRIDAY, June 28

Luke 22:31-38. And Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

Doubting Thomas. Denying Peter. The faults or calamities of biblical characters sometimes figure large into their stories. [As in mine!] Jonah ran away and was swallowed by a fish. The prophet Jeremiah got thrown into a well. Jesus was crucified. [I have spent thirty-six years in exile and labor, both of which have contributed to my advancing age and declining health!]

But of course, especially with that last example, the calamity is actually the crucial piece of the story, never praiseworthy on its own, but in the larger picture of what God is doing in the world it becomes a lens and a hinge. God breaks the chains of death forever through the cross. Peter becomes the Rock of the church through his never-dull coming to faith. [I hope something good comes from my exile and labor—even if they have been involuntary, which is why I identify with Jeremiah, known as the “reluctant prophet”!]

Throughout most of the Bible, pilgrimage is an enduring image of faithfully lived human life. It is a journey that is seldom a straight path, with events and detours that seem like Plan B—or C, or D. Our road will likely look like a lot of the saints’—like Peter’s or Jesus’, complete with betrayal and abandonment.

We are in good company, and the story is not over yet. [I sincerely hope not—not until it ends with me back home and back whole!]

Copyright 2013 Forward Movement. (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Life and Growth 

“North America is the only continent in the world where the Church is not growing.”
—Eric Ramsey, North American Mission Board,
Southern Baptist Convention,
quoted in The Future of the Church,
Christianity Today Study Series

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. . . . And I, when I am lifted up . . . , will draw all people to myself.”
—Jesus, as quoted in John 12:32 and Mark 16:14 NIV

In regard to Christian missions and church life and growth, it is worth noting that in Jesus’ words quoted in John 12:32 NIV above, according to BibleGateway.com from which it was taken, “The Greek for lifted up also means exalted.”

Thus, combined together, these two quotes seem to suggest the real key to spiritual life and growth both individually and collectively: lifting up and exalting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord by showing forth His life and love in our own lives.

I was once part of a church board whose purpose and goal was officially stated as finding ways to “grow the church.” As part of the overall strategy of that board, it commissioned a secular business organization whose multi-paged, multi-phased program was based on applying “proven principles of public relations,” including such tactics as identifying, locating, and “courting” the business, financial, commercial, industrial, and political leaders in the city who could hopefully be influenced and persuaded to contribute to the growth of the church.

As a professional religious copyeditor and writer who had at one time earned an MBA in marketing and economics, I quickly recognized and realized that this carefully designed and craftily devised plan had absolutely no biblical or spiritual foundation. So I felt compelled to call the board’s attention to that fact by making up and submitting a detailed presentation quoting many scriptures on the subject of true spiritual life and growth. In that report I reminded the board that “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Although that incident occurred many years ago, it has stayed in my mind and was recalled when I read the following entry on the subjects of true spiritual life and growth: through love of others and service to them, and through worship of God and reliance on Him to “grow the church.”

FRIDAY, June 21

Acts 2:37-47. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, . . . they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Gandhi said, “It’s not that I don’t like your Christ. I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians; they are so unlike your Christ.” [Gandhi has also been quoted as saying, “I might have become a Christian had I not met one first.”] I also remember a clergy friend’s quip about her experience as one of the first women bishops in the Anglican Communion. “No one knows how to hate like Christians.”

That’s why this passage has always gripped me. Whether it is hagiography [a biography of saints, or saints’ lives] or an accurate description of the early Christian community, there is a quality to it that is at least aspirational. It’s not about a style of government [either religious or political], it’s about manifesting a spiritual transformation. It’s not the only way the church will grow, but it’s the only way the church will follow Jesus. “Glad and generous hearts.”

I would suggest that this is the only gospel way to live, and that when we live this way, the church will grow—more like Jesus.

Copyright 2013 Forward Movement. (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Entries from Forward Day by Day, Part I
Spiritual Vision and Renewal,
Identity and Mission

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they . . . examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
— Acts 17:11 NIV

In the next two posts I present four entries for the month of June taken from Forward Day by Day, the Episcopal daily devotional. Each of these four brief entries spoke to me specifically for one reason or another. All of them relate to events or situations either in my own personal or spiritual life or in my work as a religious copyeditor over the past thirty-plus years.

I have given each of these entries titles summarizing what are to me the two primary themes in each. After each of these double titles I have inserted one or two quotations (mine or others’) that came to mind as I read and copied the entries. In addition to the italicized scriptures quoted in each entry I have inserted my own comments in parenthesis and set italics in the copy to highlight the points I want most to emphasize. Finally, I have also inserted some explanatory copy in brackets and/or links to other sources or previous related posts on my personal blog.

Each of the entries is endnoted as to source, copyright, and permission to quote from the Forward Movement.

Vision and Renewal

 “You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”
—“Happy Talk,” sung by Bloody Mary,
in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific

 “Most of us spend the first half of our lives living it up and the second half trying to live it down.”
—Jimmy Peacock

The following entry spoke to me because it describes so well my own visions, dreams, and goals (perhaps more accurately stated as my imaginations, daydreams, and fantasies) that have never come true, primarily because I never made a realistic plan and then worked to put that plan into action. On this subject, I often quote Elvis Presley, who died on this day, August 16, in 1977, thirty-six years ago. Before his premature death at age forty-two, Elvis said in essence, “Every dream I ever had has come true”—to which I have added wryly for myself at age seventy-four—“for someone else.”

I think you will see why this entry spoke to me on that subject of my shattered dreams that now, given my advancing age and declining health, seem to be forever “Gone With the Wind.” This sad situation was illustrated so well in a Bizarro cartoon that appeared in the Tulsa World on April 4, 2012, in which a psychiatrist counseled a patient: “I’m not saying you should give up your dreams. Just the ones that involve success.”

The final italicized paragraph in this entry about Christians’ “meandering” paths—painfully true in my own life—will be revisited in one of the Forward Day by Day entries in the next post:

SUNDAY, June 9

1 Kings 17:17-24: What have you against me, O man of God . . . to cause the death of my son?

Somewhere years back I heard a firebrand preacher give a sermon that has stayed with me. Titled “The Death of a Vision,” its thesis was that for a vision to come to its fullness, it had at some point to effectively collapse as a possibility, so that whatever was then reborn could be truly God’s work and not our own.

Years later I read [Carl] Jung [a Swiss psychotherapist and psychiatrist] saying the same thing with other words: that we spend the first half of our life climbing up a ladder of ego that we then discover is propped up against the wrong wall. A spiritual director gave it to me another way: the golden boy needs to shatter for the mature man to emerge.

The story of Elijah and the widow and her son offers a great window for reflection: what visions of my life have I held and lost? How have they been remade? How have they remade me?

For most of us, life does not move in a straight line, but more like a meandering river. Visions are dreamt, lost, recovered, lived out in new ways—but in every moment we move toward the sea. 

Copyright 2013 Forward Movement. (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Identity and Mission

“We’re living with a generation that’s been living without God, with no rational need for God. They’re highly spiritual, but they’re not religious. . . . The problem is exacerbated by people who share their faith in negative ways. I’m often embarrassed by it. Particularly when you see people tie their religion to politics.”
—Craig Van Gelder, Luther Seminary professor,
quoted by Bill Sherman,
“Professor urges sharing faith in positive ways,”
Tulsa World, January 21, 2012

“I don’t know which makes me more uncomfortable: when preachers mix politics with religion or when politicians mix religion with politics—both are bad news!”
—Jimmy Peacock

 As stated in the quotes above, I am concerned when Christians confuse preaching the kingdom of God with trying to establish (or preserve) that kingdom by political means. For many quotes on this subject from me—but especially from many other more qualified and authoritative sources, even noted religious and political evangelicals and conservatives—see my earlier post titled “The Danger of Mixing Religion and Politics.” It is mirrored much more clearly and concisely in the following entry from Forward Day by Day:

THURSDAY, June 27

Acts 6:15-7:16. And God spoke in these terms, that Abraham’s descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others.

This line from Stephen’s speech to the elders before he is stoned to death is one that has resonated deeply for the people of Abraham’s faith. Stephen is describing the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt, but later, during Israel’s captivity in Assyria, the prophets declare a radical religious shift: God’s house is not the temple or the holy city [or the “holy political nation”]; God’s house is the people of God, and wherever the people are, God is present, whether in Jerusalem or Babylon [or whether in the United States or any other nation on earth].

This changed the face of Judaism forever—and the faiths built on it afterwards. As theologian Stanley Hauerwas states in his book Resident Aliens, the church most truly exists as a colony—a community and culture within the culture around it—clear in its identity and mission, which will often make it countercultural.

He writes: “Our world recognizes the subversive nature of the Christian faith and subverts us either by ignoring us or by giving us the freedom to be religious—as long as we keep religion a matter of personal choice.”

Walking in that strange land of being publicly prophetic while not being politically entrenched is one of the church’s great challenges today. Try practicing it as a point of discipleship, and let’s see where it leads!

Copyright 2013 Forward Movement. (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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