God as Author and Actor

A story is:

“an account of characters and events in a plot moving over time and space through conflict toward resolution.”

The Bible obviously has characters and events, which takes place over time and space. It moves through conflict to resolution. To me, the bigger question is whether there is a plot. A plot to me suggests a couple of things.

First, it suggests intentionality. A recording of stuff happening does not make a plot. A plot, for fiction, involves crafting of events in a coherent fashion so that the early events link, and mean something, within the timeline of the story. In non-fiction, history, events are chosen and displayed in (again) a coherent fashion to give the events meaning within a timeline. Because the Bible has God, working within history, as the main character, the protagonist, the story of the Bible has aspects of both fiction and non-fiction. The story of the Bible is non-fiction in that it claims, on the whole, to describe what happened, is happening, and will happen. The story of the Bible is like fiction because God is more than a character in the Bible, and more even than a historian, but the author of history. Thus, the story is more than simply the collecting of events, but the crafting/creating of events for the plot. The dual qualities of fiction and non-fiction are difficult for some. Some focus on the human element of the story where God becomes more of a character and less of the author. On the other hand, some focus on God as sovereign author to the extent that people become nothing more than characters in a play— props–, plot devices. It seems to me that the Bible works in “creative tension” between God as author and God as character.

Quote from Chapter One of “Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.”

CHALLENGES IN CHURCH-INITIATED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES

Long ago I wrote up paper on Christian Community Development based on my personal experiences, and interviews with acquaintances of mine who were involved in CCD in the Philippines. I wrote it because I was hoping to expand into a full dissertation for my Doctor of Theology. In the end, I went in a different direction for my dissertation.

I did not forget about the paper, but I certainly ignored it. However, I recently noted that an awful lot of people have been reading it. It is the most popular paper I have written (in the last couple of months) on Academia.edu. It also has had thousands of views and quite a few downloads. I do have to note I wrote this before I knew how to do Thematic Analysis. Still, I think the paper has some value… and certainly may be worth reading, so I am attaching a link.

ARTICLE IN ACADEMIA.EDU

The short version is a powerpoint based on the article:

Reflections on a Visitor

We are in the US right now, staying in an extended stay inn. It has been a fairly good place for us— decidedly unfancy, but we are decidedly unfancy people. Last night at 3am we had a visitor. We had a knock on the door… followed by more knocks. I ended up getting up and looking out of the peephole. I saw a man there who did not appear to be drunk but did appear to be a bit angry. He said he is back. He gave his name and said that he had stopped by earlier in the day (we did not recognize the name and had no visitors earlier). We I told him this he was thoroughly unconvinced and wanted to see my face to verify I was not the one he spoke to in the afternoon. I wasn’t going to open the door to anyone at 3am. I told him he had the wrong place. He seemed sure it was the right place and shared something rude that I had apparently told him. I don’t use that language and had never talked to him before.

I started mulling whether to call 911. I don’t want to be one of those people who escalates all unwelcome encounters into an emergency. This is especially true if my calling 911 reinforces in his mind that he has the right suite. I waited about 1 minute and then looked out the peephole again. He was still there but now using his telephone. Since he said that he had talked to “me” before by phone, I think he was trying to call to prove it was me. Whatever that call did, it immediately redirected him. He left hurriedly away to parts unknown.

Reflecting on this. I don’t know what his intentions were. I don’t know if he was a real danger or not. It is foolish not to see a situation like this as potentially dangerous. Again, however, it can also be foolish to assume danger so much that one escalates an interaction unnecessarily. “Stand Your Ground” rules, while meaning to protect families, have been used to protect people who doe exactly that sort of escalation. Clearly there is a healthy balance between “Stand Your Ground” and “A Stranger is Simply a Friend I Have Not Met Yet.”

The encounter did make me think anew about the safety of where I am. It feels pretty safe. However, this place has no on-sight management at night. The property can be freely accessed at night (an unimaginable idea if it was in the Philippines), and all of the suites open up to the open air. That means that there are definitely potential risks. The risks are not higher after our visitor, but those risks inherent in the set-up are more obvious and visceral now.

However, it is also quite possible to focus now so much on the risks that one forgets the aspects of safety. First, the main door is quite solid with multiple locks. It would be very difficult to gain access to the room without my assistance. Second, our suite is actually safer than most of the other suites at the facility because Neither of our windows are accessible. All windows there are designed to prevent access, but ours have the additional safety of only being accessible with an extension ladder. Most other rooms, the windows are much easier to access. Third, it is easy to dial 911 from our place. Fourth, we have neighbors here in such close proximity, that if a stranger escalates on his own, it is likely to wake up our neighbors, and they may be able to act on our behalf… at least contacting 911 if we could not.

We don’t think about safety usually, unless one is hyper-vigilant due to a traumatizing past, unless that view of safety is challenged. Some may think that because we live most of our lives in a developing country (Philippines) that we have dealt with much more problems with safety. In fact we haven’t. Perhaps this is because the Philippines normalizes many things associated with maintaining safety. Unless one is VERY poor, one has a courtyard with fence and gate. Commonly the fence has metal work on top to prevent climbing over (I remember in Brazil, there being shards of glass cemented on top of walls, something I have seen in the Philippines as well, but only rarely.) 24 hour security guards is normal for places that can afford them… and noisy guard dogs.

Only twice in all of my years in the Philippines have I felt being in any sort of danger. One time was back in 2005 when I was on a medical mission in a far corner of the Philippines. A guy who was quite drunk became very interested in me (as a foreigner) and kept trying to get me to leave the medical mission to go drinking with him. I (wisely I think) chose not to, and the other members of the medical team as well as our hosts appeared to agree. They told him to go home. The guy went home and beat his wife (a bad thing) and then our medical team tended to the care of the wife. The only other time was one time was I was in a bit of a back corner of the public market in Baguio, and there were four teenagers who “kept not looking at me.” It is a subtle thing, but one does start to get a feel for pickpockets who watch and follow you by appearing not to be watching and following you. I could be wrong about their intentions but I felt it best to move to a more public part of the public market quick.

But that is it. I am quite thankful that I haven’t had more reasons to be distrusting. Reality does not change but our perception of that reality does change. Finding the right balance between naivety and paranoia may mean the difference between being effective in missions and not.

The Missionary Journeys of Peter (Part 2)

In Part One, I talked about how much of the history of the early church was structured around the Acts 1 version of the Great Commission, with the missionary journeys of Paul providing much of the narrative. In Part One, I suggested that we may have enough information on the Mission Journeys of Peter to use these as the running narrative. Or perhaps it would be better to say that it had the potential to have been used that way.

First Missionary Journey of Peter (circa 35AD)— The Samarian Mission. Acts 8. Left Jerusalem to go to “a city in Samaria.” Second Missionary Journey of Peter— experiences the revival there and then returns to Jerusalem slowly, preaching in various Samarian villages along the way.

Second Missionary Journey of Peter (circa 35AD)— The Judean Mission. Acts 9. Heals and preaches in Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea. First Gentiles recognized as part of the church.

Third Missionary Journey of Peter (circa 50AD)— The Hellenistic Mission. Galatians 2. Paul speaks of a contentious meeting between himself and Peter when Peter visits the church of Antioch. It is also quite likely that he visited parts of what is modern-day Turkey. In support of this is that the epistle of First Peter was written to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Some have also theorized that he also visited Corinth. In I Corinthians, Paul speaks factions in the Corinthian Church— those who identify with Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ. Since both Paul and Apollos had a clear role in the founding or growth of that church, it is possible that Peter also had been there. On the other hand, some have suggested that Paul’s faction identified with Peter as a fellow “apostle” and the Apollos faction identified with Christ (not directly drawing from the apostolic line). Alternatively, perhaps there was a separate group following Peter, who identified with a traditional Hebraic rather than Hellenistic Christianity. So we don’t know if Peter went to Corinth. However, he did visit Samaria to see what God was doing there, and then went to Antioch to see how the Jerusalem Council affected things there.

Fourth Missionary Journey of Peter (circa late 50s or early 60s)— The Babylonian Mission. In his first epistle, Peter says that he was writing from Babylon. It is has been common to assume that Peter was writing from Rome since John appears to use Babylon figuratively to represent Rome, or the world system. However, that was decades later. The largest diaspora Jewish population was in Mesopotamia which is where Babylon was located. In fact, Jews called Mesopotamia ‘Babel.” Since Peter was often known as the Apostle to the Jews, it is quite reasonable that Peter did indeed spend time in Mesopotamia ministering there. Much of the most successful church growth actually happened along the boundary between the Roman and Parthian Empires. This is not that obvious from reading the New Testament, so it is understandable if people would take an Eastern location and assume that it is figuratively representing a Western location. Of course, we don’t know for sure. However, early church tradition identifies several apostles ministering Eastward, rather than Westward.

Fifth Missionary Journey of Peter (circa mid-late 60s)— The Roman Mission. The Roman Catholic Church has long identified Peter as its patron saint, seeing him as their founder. While it is pretty clear from the New Testament that Peter did not found the church in Rome, it is certainly quite reasonable to think he died there. There is excellent documentation supporting that he was martyred, and decent support that his death happened in Rome. It is hard to see whether he came to Rome through mission work or in chains. Either way, the story of Peter appears to end as does Paul.

Looking at these Five Missionary Journeys we see the progress of the church from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Judea, the the Hellenized World, to Parthia and finally to Rome.

It is a great way of showing the growth of the church. This, of course, does not undermine the structure of the book of Acts. It, however, is a reminder that history is the connection of moments— and one has the ability to connect many different moments. There is not a history of the early church— there are many many HISTORIES OF THE EARLY CHURCH.

The Mission Journeys of Peter would be ONE good way of doing this.

My Strength is My Temptation– Part 1

I guess it struck me when I was talking about Love Languages (Gary Chapman) with my Pastoral Care Students (or maybe my wife’s CPE trainees… I can’t remember for sure). As I was talking about the five love languages <Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service>, I noted that each person responds positively to words or actions of another that lines up with one’s own affinity (love language). So, if my love language is “Acts of Service,” I am likely to respond positively to someone doing acts of service for me, and see such action as loving.

And that is good to know. To appear loving to someone else, I am most likely to be successful if I act in a way that aligns with their own love language, rather than my own personal love language. For me, I am a “Words of Affirmation” type. Although “Acts of Service” are nice, I don’t typically see them as acts of love. But if I want to show my love for a person whose love language is acts of service I must step out of my own affinities and adjust to that of the other. While Love Language is pretty simple, it can be pretty powerful in talking about relationships.

But there is a dark side to Love Languages. It also tells us how to manipulate others. If I know that someone’s love language is receiving gifts, I can use gifts to manipulate that person. The person is likely to see gifts given as a positive expression of lovingness– NOT as a selfish ploy to get my own way.

Of course, Strengths are subjective things. What one calls one’s strength, another might call one’s:

  • Need. This one is pretty obvious. Love language explicitly identifies itself neutrally— If one’s love language is “Quality Time,” it is a strength in that one is likely to be much better to demonstrate love through quality time over those of a different love language. However, since that is the love language one operates under, it is the demonstration of love that one desires/needs. A lot of other tests like this can be said to be similar. 9 Spiritual pathways expresses a strength in worship… but in so doing also expresses what one’s craves/needs. Murray’s Psychogenic Needs can also be described as personal strengths (or weaknesses… more on that later).
  • Treasure/Idol. Jesus stated that where our treasure is, there are heart is also. Strengths, needs, treasures, and idols then tend to be overlapping items. Christopher Wright speaks of idols as things we worship— that which inspires awe in us, that which we desire, that which we fear, and that which overcomes our fear.
  • Weakness. Strengths are our weaknesses? Well that is for Part 2.

In Part 2 is seeking to redefine strength and show how this relates to missions.

Internationalization and Localization of Theology. Part 3

Localization is the process of taking a video game whose file structure and user interface has already been “internationalized” (as mentioned in the previous post) and adapting it to be understandable, immersive, and entertaining in a new cultural setting (market). Doing so should not make it feel like two players in two different markets are playing two different games.

An obvious part of the process is Translation into the language of the new setting. Of course, it is far more than just translating the words… it involves making the translation sound natural… local. This also may require local jargon or turns of phrase. This should also show itself in accent (for audio). Of course, it is not wrong to have stilted language or foreign sounding accent when appropriate. When two nations battle in a game it is reasonable that they would speak and sound different. This is even more true of extraterrestrial beings. However, these decisions should match up the expectations of the player.

This is not always easy. In Chinese lore, there are Jiangshi. These are “jumping vampires” or “jumping zombies.” These can look quite humorous to Western viewers, who have no experience with them. However, it is possible, I suspect, to bring the feeling across the cultural gap… but it takes both knowledge and wisdom. Here in the Philippines, there are many legendary creatures— including Aswang, Manananggal, Duwende, Capre, Tiyanak, and many more. I remember watching an episode of the TV show Grimm. In that episode they were dealing with an Aswang that was living in Oregon in the United States. The Aswang was clearly identified as foreign— of Filipino origin, and tied to a Filipino family living in Oregon. Yet, it felt quite fell localized to Oregon and the United States, because it felt quite natural as a foreign creature in a local setting. Also they did a good job of portraying the Aswang in a way that is horrible and terrifying, just as it would be understood in the Philippines. Of course, part of making this work was the upfront worldbuilding. In Grimm, there is a blending of the natural and supernatural, the mundane and the fantastical. Much of the supernatural and the fantastical in Grimm came from Western sources (like werewolves and European fairytales). The Aswang is an Asian character, but the show was set up to make room for it… and it worked.

Some can be more difficult, of course. I love the Japanese animated movie, Spirited Away. It is beautiful. However, many of the creatures and imagery in it did not make sense to me. My children, who are much more aware of Japanese folk beliefs than I, were able to explain quite a bit of it to me. Still, I remain an outsider. Wonderful movie, but on some level, I am well aware of its foreignness to me (or my foreignness to it) despite the admirable job of translation and dubbing.

Frankly, however, when you think about it, it is not so much true that the game is localized to the new market culture. The world of the game does not change necessarily to fit the “foreign” player. Rather the world of the game changes so that the “foreign” player can feel like a local in the foreign world of the game. For example, my daughters love playing Genshin Impact. It is a game set in a world that does not exist on earth. However, the world it creates FEELS quite Eastern Asia. In the English-friendly versions of the game, the map does not change (except in making sure it is readable). Many of the characters maintain names that sound foreign. The localization doesn’t make the world of Genshin Impact feel more American. Rather, it makes the American feel more like a local while playing the game in the world there created.

Now let’s bring this to theology. I suggested that in the process of Internationalization, the goal is to identify the core factors of Christian theology and those features that are more cultural. It can be hard to identify which is which. However, I suggested that, in line with video games, the core features are more in the objectives, characters, and narrative. So for example, when portraying Jesus to a new culture, that part should not change. Jesus is who Jesus is. Making Him a Marxist Revolutionary for one culture, a dispassionate contemplative in another, and a Neo-conservative Capitalist in another will be flawed. Three different images of Jesus tend to make the different contextualizations of Christianity fail to resemble each other. One should hold onto the narrative, the characters, and the objections… much like in internationalizaiton in a game.

In localization, the goal is not make Christianity mirror the recipient culture. That will lead to syncretism and essentially a “state religion” or “culture religion.” The same thing happens when Christianity mirrors the missionary’s culture. The story of the Bible will always be a little foreign to all of us because its narrative is founded in cultures that no longer exist today. To remove the cultural elements removes the worldbuilding. The art of localizing is in making it feel natural for a person in the recipient culture to enter the narrative of the Christian faith as a local. The story interacts with the person in ways that may be unique to him, but natural.

Salvation in recent years has often devolved into a short statement of belief and a prayer. And it is usually built around guilt. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. Guilt is very much a valid problem that Christianity speaks to. However, it is far from the only one. The Bible describes the blessing that God seeks to bless His people with in many different ways. Some will resonate with certain one more than others.

For those who feel guilty, God gives innocence

For those who feel shame, God gives honor

For those for feel conflict, God gives harmony

For those who feel trapped, God gives liberty

For those who feel lost, God gives meaning and direction

… and the list can keep going.

When we lock into the propositional side of Christianity, we are commonly taking the story and then limiting it to a single culture’s values. I used the example of substitutionary atonement in the last post. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is open for a wide variety of perspectives… and the gospels and epistles give written support to many of these. However, when a core issue is that the death of Christ is for atonement for our sins… there is often the unspoken, “and that is all His death was for.” Focusing on the narrative opens up broader points for attachment to local cultures.

Does this solve all of our problems? Will we be able to localize successfully now? Not necessarily. In fact, problems are pretty much guaranteed. But this is where the next step comes in (along with roles). That is in the next post.

IRD, Culture, and “Just Making Sense”

I am teaching a class on Asian Faiths with focus on Interreligious Dialogue (IRD). I gave this scenario. The story is real, with only trivial changes.

Baha’i is a rather uniquely challenging religion in a number of ways. Years ago I had an acquaintance who was Baha’i. I found one challenge was its pluralism. Brian would say that Baha’i and Christianity agree in theology— and would say that other major religions also agree with Baha’i. When I would bring up some fairly obvious differences, Brian would say, “No, we are in agreement.” I felt like he was being deceptive or perhaps illogical.

Right or wrong in this, my error in talking to him was probably in trying to focus on the differences between Christianity and Baha’i. When I am focused on pointing out differences between the two faiths, and Brian is focused on pointing out similarities between the two faiths… the conversation definitely struggles.

Question:  What should I have done to make the conversation go better, and ultimately (prayerfully) be able to express my faith in a way that would understood and appreciated by Brian?

1.  Should I have stuck with my plan of argument based on differences?

2.  Should I have adjusted to Tim’s aim, in focusing on similarities?

3.  Some third option  (State what that would be)

Explain your answer.

From the answers I got, I had a couple of thoughts.

A. I got some interesting answers from my students. Probably the most interesting was one student who suggested that the best answer was to neither focus on differences or similarities. Rather, he suggested to focus on personal testimony. In other words, spend less time on issues of religion as it is believed, and more on religion as it is experienced. This is actually a recommendation I have heard given for talking to people who are more post-modern in worldview. (I believe that Brian McLaren suggested this in his book “Finding Faith.”) Pre-modern tends to look to ancient authority (focus on the past). Modern tends to look at issues of expertise— looking to experts and (perhaps) an empirically-centered form of rationality. But in Post-modernism, there is doubt of both ancient authorities and present-day “experts.” As such personal experience is more… compelling. The issue in all three cases is not what is true but what is more likely to be accepted as good evidence— what is more compelling.

B. I also noticed a trend. Most of my students come from places where Christians are a minority sub-culture within a majority culture of a different faith. In the case of my students, it was either Islam or Buddhism. However, there were a few who come from places where Christianity is either the majority faith, or a strong sizable sub-culture within the larger society. I noticed that those who come from a more Christian-dominant society tended to prefer Option #1— argument… focusing on differences. Those from a place where Christianity was a much smaller and weaker sub-culture, they tended to prefer Option #2. They prefer to focus on finding similarities.

Why is that? One reason may be that those who come from cultures where Christians are a small minority, know not to “make waves.” Don’t rile up or upset the majority group. And YES, that can be a genuine concern. But there are other possibilities as well. Cultures are an amorphous changing set of values and ideas that people share and transmit to each other. One of the products of culture are the “Just Makes Sense” perspectives. One could call it a “worldview.”

Within a culture, it is the dominant group that tends to define what “just makes sense.” I am from the United States where there is a strong tendency towards Religious Relativism/Pluralism, as well as a more secularist view that we are ultimately the result of a near infinite series of happy (or unhappy) accidents. From a strictly outsider perspective, it is no more reasonable to think that all religions (except for small little unpopular ones) are essentially correct, than it is to think that one is correct, or that all are wrong. It really is no more reasonable to think that happy accidents with no defined purpose resulted in our Universe, than that it was designed with intellect and forethought. But, depending on the culture or sub-cultures, one will tend to “just make sense” while the others seem dubious or foolish.

So… when a Christian lives in a small sub-culture in a society dominated by another belief system, the Christian faith is on the losing side (culturally-speaking) of the “just makes sense” battle. Thus, the reasonable way to sound compelling is to show how one’s faith fits with the “just makes sense” beliefs in the society. On the other hand, if one lives in a place in which Christian beliefs and values are predominant, the more compelling argument is to show how other faiths fail in the “just makes sense” test.

Let’s take a simple, but obvious example. In Islam it is humiliating, even blasphemous, for God to be born physically (incarnated). In cultures dominated by an Islamic worldview to argue against their point just sounds really foolish. On the other hand, the opposite occurs in a place where a Christian worldview dominates. That is because both Christianity and Islam claim an all-powerful and loving God. In the Christian worldview, God is loving because He identified with us, and sacrificed for us, and rescued us when we cannot rescue ourselves. In a Christian culture, to believe in a loving God but then undermine the primary evidences of that love is… well, again, foolish. Because of this, the strategy is quite likely to be at least a little different depending on the dominant faith.

Of course, there are other factors to consider… I am being oversimplifying here. But I do think the general trend holds true. We want to sound compelling to others in our society. We don’t want to sound stupid (although I have met Christians who are exceptions in this). As such, the strategy we use to sound compelling will differ somewhat depending on the role that Christianity has in the broader dominant worldview.

Choosing Between the Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

I was listening to a podcast of N.T. Wright. He was talking about Evangelism. In it he spoke somewhat negatively about “The Sinner’s Prayer.” He suggested that when a person decides to follow Christ, that saying the Lord’s Prayer may be a better choice than the Sinner’s Prayer.

We probably need to step backwards and say something that SHOULD be obvious, but sadly isn’t—-

NO ONE IS SAVED BY SAYING THE SINNER’S PRAYER.

We are saved by faith. That faith may be expressed in a shorthand way with the Sinner’s Prayer, but if a person had saving faith in Christ but did not say the Sinner’s Prayer, that person would still be saved. And a person who said the Sinner’s Prayer but did not have faith would not be saved. In other words, the Sinner’s Prayer has no power to make effective salvation.

Some go further and argue that the Sinner’s Prayer is un-Biblical. I think that is taking it too far. The Bible does tell us to choose who to follow and the path to take. The Bible does tell us to “call on the Lord” and to “confess Jesus as Lord.” All of these are consistent with the Sinner’s Prayer, even if the prayer is not specifically mentioned in the Bible.

The problem is when the Sinner’s Prayer is treated like an incantation. An incantation is a word or phrase that is believed to have power of itself to create change either on its own, or by compelling a spiritual being to act. In other words, it is magic. I get that. I have thought that way. When I was 7 years old, I said the Sinner’s Prayer in my room at home with no one else around. For the next few months I wondered whether I was saved or not. “What if I said it wrong?” At least twice more I said the Sinner’s Prayer as best I could remember, hoping that I “got it right.” Eventually I figured out that my salvation was in my faith and determination to follow Jesus, NOT in saying some words the right way.

But I have met people who have struggled with the meaning of the Sinner’s Prayer. One person I knew was told that she must not be saved because she doesn’t remember whether she said the Sinner’s Prayer— despite the fact that she had many times expressed her faith in Christ and actively sought to serve Him faithfully. I have known other people who assure a person over and over again that they are saved and secure because that repeated some words in the past, not considering whether the person meant the words he said or whether he has faith now. Rather than saying that the Sinner’s Prayer is un-Biblical, I would rather say that it is theologically dubious.

The Sinner’s Prayer has different forms but it generally has some common elements.

  • Admitting to being a sinner
  • Seeking forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ
  • Asking to be saved by Christ

Some would add other things like saying that they were saved through the ‘blood of Christ’ embracing the metaphor of penal substitutionary atonement. Some statements expressly say that Jesus is Lord of the person’s life. Others seem to embrace a lower standard, more akin to intellectual assent.

Instead of looking at the merits or lack of merits of the Sinner’s Prayer directly as something to do when one becomes saved, let’s instead compare it to saying the Lord’s Prayer.

#1. Both the Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer share the common elements. Both describe admitting to being a sinner. Both express the wish to be forgiven by God. both express desire to be saved by God (delivered from Evil).

#2. The Lord’s Prayer also expresses the broader Sinner’s Prayer that vocalizes the desire for God to be Lord in the pray-er’s life (“Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”)

#3. The Lord’s Prayer is more than an entreaty. It is also an act of worship— expressing that God’s name is to hallowed. And the longer version has more worship language (“For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever).

#4. The Lord’s Prayer is less self-focused than the Sinner’s Prayer. While it does entreat of God for self— it also entreats for others and for all creation.

And these are all good things. Since the Lord’s Prayer covers the elements of the Sinner’s Prayer… and more, it does seem a bit unclear why the Sinner’s Prayer was artificially created for a person to say at salvation. It seems pretty unnecessary. Nothing wrong with it I guess. It is true that the Lord’s Prayer does get overused in church, I can imagine it being looked down on by Evangelists fearing it to be “vain repetition.” However, I see little reason to think it is likely to be more meaningless than the Sinner’s Prayer at times.

I do have three more reasons that I definitely think push the Lord’s Prayer across the finish line as the better choice.

#5. The Lord’s Prayer is given by Jesus to His disciples. Even though we may call it “The Lord’s Prayer,” it is probably better understood as “The Disciple’s Prayer.” So when one decides to submit to Christ as Savior and Lord, one is choosing to be a disciple of Christ. What is more natural than to express that decision by saying “The Disciple’s Prayer”?

#6. The Lord’s Prayer has throughout Church history been seen as a prayer of community. Even in my own faith tradition, that tends to be highly skeptical of set prayers, the Lord’s Prayer is still respected as a recitation to be done by the faith community. (I have, however, met a few who are legalistically opposed to any prayer or recitation that is not extemporaneous. A bit strange.) When a person follows Christ, she is not just “getting saved.” She is becoming a part of the community. What is more natural than for the evangelizer to say the Lord’s Prayer with the new believer as an act of Christian Community. When the evangelizer tells that new converst to “repeat after me” the Sinner’s Prayer, the evangerlizer is not really praying because he is presumably already saved. But with the Lord’s Prayer, both can pray it with relevance. They both can say it with meaning, much like a young alcoholic and the seasoned sponsor can both state the Serenity Prayer with equal conviction in AA.

#7. The Lord’s Prayer, if done this way, as a symbol of salvation would add meaning in the liturgical use of the prayer. Now it is not only a reminder of being a disciple of Christ and part of the community of Christ. It is also a commemoration of the salvation experienced by each member of the body.

Find us Faithful

I don’t put sermons here very often, but I thought I would share one I did today at my church.

Find Us Faithful

Matthew 24:42-51

Chapter 24 of the Gospel According to St. Matthew is a message that Jesus gave His followers about the future. Jesus’s time on earth was coming to a close. He wanted His disciples to be ready for the challenges that will be coming after He is gone. He speaks of many things:

  • Deceivers coming– False prophets, Messiahs, teachers, Miracle workers.
  • Violence, evil, and natural disasters will increase
  • Persecution and Death will come to the Followers of Christ
  • Despite this, The Gospel will be preached throughout the whole Earth
  • Although there will be signs, we will not know when the end will be

BUT HOW THEN SHOULD WE LIVE? Thankfully, Jesus gave us a clear picture of what a person would look like if he or she follows Jesus’s advice.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus gives guidance in what to do so that one is ready for the end.

Be watchful and ready. But there are two different ways that one can be watchful and ready.

  • Others have come up with dates more recently. People like Harold Camping on Christian radio and Jack van Impe on Christian television kept coming up with new dates of Christ’s return. Here in Baguio I saw a truck driving around with a big sign telling everyting that Jesus was returning on May 22, 2011. I did not see that truck on May 23rd. I also did not see that truck going around in October 2011 when Harold Camping’s next prediction for Christ’s return was, nor in 2012 which was Jack van Impe’s prediction.
  • There are a few dates being shared as to when Jesus is returning. A couple of predictions for 2020 just passed by, but there is one in 2021, another in 2024, and yet a third in 2028. I suspect if one looks deep enough one can find someone some where who has predicted Christ’s return every year in this decade.

It is not just Christians who do this. Many other groups. Muslims also believe that Jesus will return and have come up with all sorts of dates when this will happen.

  • So we need a different type of watchfulness and readiness. We need to be faithful.

Jesus explains this type of watchfulness and readiness in the Parable of the Faithful Servant.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:45-51)

This story, this parable shows two types of readiness.

Let’s look at the Ready, Watchful, Faithful servant.

-Always doing what he is supposed to be doing.

-Always setting a good example for those he has responsibility over.

-Always faithful, he is always ready.

Now let’s look at the Ready, Watchful, Unfaithful servant.

-He figures that the master will be late in returning

-He mistreats the servants and misuses the master’s home, setting a bad example for them.

-He thinks that he can figure out when the master will return and have everything ready.

A Faithful servant is always ready, while an Unfaithful servant thinks he can become ready.

A Faithful servant is watchful because he wants to Welcome the master, while an Unfaithful servant is watchful because he is Worried.

A Faithful servant is a good example for those he works with, an Unfaithful servant is a bad example, and inspires bad behavior in others.

Many preachers as the question, “What if Jesus returned today?” It’s a good question. Am I watchful and ready to welcome Jesus? “Are you ready if Jesus returned today?” I cannot answer this for you. No one else can answer this for you. Have you chosen to have Jesus as your master— Lord and God of your life? If you have not… I think it is safe to say that you are not ready. If that is the case, I strongly recommend that you speak to one of the church leaders. Ask “How can I be ready for Jesus?” Being ready is not about giving away everything you own, dressing up in a white robe and standing on the roof so you don’t bump your head when Jesus draws you up to Him. It is living a life of faithfulness with Jesus as your Savior, and as Your Lord.

But here is another question, “What if Jesus returns 500 years from now?” It’s just as good of a question. Suppose you know (somehow) that Jesus will not return for 500 years? Does that mean that we can be like the unfaithful servant. Can we misuse and abuse all that God has given us here on earth, because you have lots of time to make things right later?

Of course not. First of all, if Jesus returns 500 years from now, then we all will die and go to God before Christ comes at the end of the world. I am 55 years old, so it is likely that I will die sometime in the next 10, or 20, or 30 years. But I really don’t know when. And neither do you. Either in death or in Christ’s return we need to always be watchful, ready, and faithful.

In fact, if Jesus returns in 500 years from now instead of today, there is even more reason that we need to be faithful everyday. If Jesus returns in 500 years, we need to be an example for future generations. The closing song that we will sing speaks of this:

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.

We need to live ready, watchful, faithful lives to set the example for our children, for the next generation in church and in our community. If I am not faithful, ready, and watchful, and Christ returns today, I hurt myself. But If I am not faithful, ready, and watchful, and Christ returns 500 years from now… I not only hurt myself, but I set a bad example that hurts my children… the next generation in my church and community. My bad example can result in a cascading effect… of people not ready for Christ years and years after my death.

So I believe this passage asks us two important questions?

Am I faithful to Jesus so that I am ready if Jesus returns today?

Am I faithful to Jesus so that I am readying generations after me if Jesus returns in 500 years?