Baltimore, church, Holy Spirit, worship

When We Gather: Prayer

If I am to follow Jesus, then the simple fact of the matter is I must seek to pray like Jesus prayed. And this is no small thing. Perhaps I am alone on this, but it seems that the conversation on prayer too rarely goes back to the model that Jesus set (with the exclusion of the “Lord’s Prayer”). I love how Jesus offered that example when asked how one should pray. But I am also intrigued as to how Jesus modeled prayer throughout his life

He was a good Jew. He most likely went through the daily prayers like the others during his time. We, as a Gallery family, have started doing something called “Daily Windows” (taken from Daniel 6) where we enter into this pattern of stopping to recognize God’s presence to be reminded of our dependence on Him. And I know through my conversations with others, that this has been incredible for us. I am excited for this coming week as we step into more times to pray and fast together as a family.

However, Jesus prayed outside of those times as well. He would spend much time in solitude to pray. He begged his followers to pray with him before he was to be crucified. He prayed before choosing his disciples. He sent up random prayers of gratefulness to the Father. He talked to God as a son to his father; with respect and intimacy.

To put it in one hyphenated word, Jesus life was prayer-soaked. And mine isn’t. And if you were to be honest, yours probably isn’t either. It is one of the areas that we can never get to the point of complete satisfaction. I don’t think I can ever say with complete honesty that I pray enough because my prayer life is directly proportionate to how much I think I have to depend on God.

Raymond Brown puts it this way, “To be prayerless is to be guilty of the worst form of practical atheism. We are saying that we believe in God but we can do without him. It makes us careless about our former sins and heedless of our immediate needs.”

I would add to this by saying even if we are content in the state of our prayer life (and not seeking to grow in it), we may be guilty of the same form of atheism.

I want to pray for the things that Jesus prayed about. And I want to be serious about those same things. I have struggled lately with getting caught up in some secondary issues in Scripture as I have been studying the past few weeks (hence the gap since my last post). Not that these things are bad, but I have been convicted of the fact that I am not concerning myself with one of the big things that Jesus prayed for: unity. This is another topic for another day/post, but consider the following things and ask, “When is the last time I prayed for this?” It has been revealing for me.
-protection for all believers
-unity for all believers (likened to the unity between Jesus and the Father)
-believers having the full measure of joy
-sanctify them in the truth
-that the world may believe in Jesus because of our unity
-that the world will see our love and, thus, see God’s love
-Your will be done
-daily bread for everyone
-forgive all our sins
-the power to forgive others in the same way

The list could go on. How do you pray? How should we pray? Is this a struggle for you?

church, worship

When We Gather: The Scriptures

Some of you may have been waiting for this one to come around. Don’t worry, I’m not leaving it out. I mean, if I didn’t include it, I would be considered some sort of heretic or something. However, I will not go down the all-too-predictable road of throwing out words like “inerrancy”, “authoritative”, or “verbal-plenary inspiration” (that last one was just for kicks!). I am coming from a somewhat conservative viewpoint on the Scriptures, the details of which can be discussed later if you would like.
Instead, what I would like to discuss is the place of the Scriptures in corporate worship and the church at large. That is, its use. Perhaps we can begin with how we should not use the Scriptures (again, me being aware of the dangers of creating an opinion based on the negative side of an issue…I am open to being challenged here as always!).

We should not use the Scriptures…

As a trump card- Ever heard of the term “proof-texting”? This is what happens when someone (I’ve been guilty!) takes a passage or verse out of its context to support his or her own beliefs. Anyone could do this to justify a thousand different behaviors. So, instead of this, we will consult the Bible as a whole and try to let it be what it is.

As a sword to wield (hold on hear me out!)- Ok, yes…the Word is called a sword. I know. But, consider this thought: If it is sharper than any double-edged sword, do we really need to stab people with all of our might? Our motivation is to love always. When the Sword cuts people (notice, the Word does the cutting, not us!) we should grieve along with them in the pain and be prepared to apply the healing balm of mercy and grace.
I had a conversation with a former classmate once and as we were talking about the use of Scripture in sharing our faith, he insisted that we use the Bible to “poke holes” in the arguments of others and then “sweep in” with the truth of the Bible. While I understand that his statement was made with a heart that desires to see people come to trust Jesus, does it not sound combative? May I suggest that the “holes” that he was referring to need not be poked but merely exposed. A doctor does not show his patient that he needs care by exacerbating his symptoms. He gives proofs. He shows x-rays. He runs diagnostics. The Bible is not some sort of spiritual drill and wood putty combo. It is a tool used by the Holy Spirit to grip us at our deepest level. Consider the famous passage with maybe a fresh perspective: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (emphasis mine)

As an instruction manual- Bible=Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Anyone heard this before? Again, I understand the heart behind such a statement, but, to me, it is more indicative of this weird Christian culture desire to be cute rather than accurate. If it is truly an instruction manual, it is quite possibly the most poorly written one in the world (although there are some handy maps at the back if you are interested in knowing how to be a missionary and get shipwrecked and thrown in prison.) However, there is a mindset that states that if the Bible is not explicit in any given area, such a thing is not permissible. Much of the New Testament is descriptive and not prescriptive. While there is value in the descriptions, they are not necessarily binding in how we should conduct ourselves, nor are they complete. While this must be navigated carefully, we are seeking to be a community of faith influenced by these great stories, submissive to the commands of Jesus, but not restricted by what is not mentioned. (more on this later)

As an inspired translation- Oh my, the translation battle. We, at the Gallery, use the NIV. It’s a decent translation. I personally try to use as many translations as possible when I study the Scriptures. It is important to remember that a translation is just that…a translation (although, you could also argue that a translation is also an interpretation). We are grateful that the Scriptures have been preserved and we can hear them in our language. No translation is inspired or more holy. We are more concerned with trying to live out the ideas presented and not in the minutia. Please, no comments about translations or arguing about which one is best (assuming anyone is reading this).
So how will we use the Bible? The same way many others have before us. We will read it together. We will sing it together. We will examine it together. We will question it together. We will study it together. We will seek to obey it together. We will let it read us rather than just the other way around. (there is a theme, here!)
We will always understand that the Bible has borrowed authority. God is the one with the authority.

These words may be challenging to your thoughts of Scripture. They have been for me. What do you think? I would love your feedback, friends.

church, worship

When We Gather: Authenticity

Authenticity is a word that is thrown around a lot. It seems to be a buzz word for many these days when talking about church (or anything for that matter). I suppose it is rooted in a reaction to the thought that the American church experience was once or is currently inauthentic. An African American friend of mine even told me authentic is a word white guys use way too much! “Just be you, man. Don’t explain to me you’re trying to be you, like that’s such a big accomplishment!”

As a result of its frequent use, being authentic could convey different meaning or connotations. The definition we can work with, (which is adapted from Webster’s), is:

authenticity is the possessing of conformity to fact and origin to the extent that it produces trust, reliance, and/or belief.

This is somewhat of a mouthful so let’s break it down. Authenticity begins with lining up with what is both true and historic (fact and origin). The Christian faith lends itself to this, does it not? We have a rich history that we can stand upon and examine. The history is not always a bright one, but it is also not always dark. We have a very great heritage as we stand on the shoulders of giants. Now, whether or not they are good giants can be another issue, but we must admit that those giants shape the way we view history and the present.

Nevertheless, being authentic is not merely concerned with being rooted in truth. Something can be rooted and truth but then branch off into error and falsehood. Authenticity is more than having truth. This bears repeating. To be authentic goes beyond having all the answers, having a corner on truth, or having a perfect list of irrefutable propositions. Actually, I would begin to say that this can become antithetical to the very spirit of authenticity. Authenticity is conformity to truth to the extent that it produces trust and belief.

And perhaps this is where we can begin to lose our grip on authenticity. There is truth. There is history. And then there is the way in which we conform to/interact with these “propositions”. It is one thing to say, “We Christians believe in loving our neighbors and our enemies. It is a historic doctrine.” It is quite another to see how said Christian forgives and chooses not to seek vengeance (or fails). And then, it is even another issue to see how this person views his/her behavior.

This is the stuff of authenticity. I am formed by something. I oftentimes don’t act like I am formed by it. I usually fall short of the very things I espouse to be true.

So, if we consistently fail to live up to the things we claim to value, how can this produce trust in others? This idea is bound up in one term: love.

Love must be authentic. It is rooted in truth (God) and produces trust. How could you do anything but trust me if I would lay down my life for you. Would you rely on my if I loved you enough to bear your burdens? Wouldn’t you be more apt to believe that Jesus is real if I loved you like He loved me? This is how the Church can be and is the most beautiful thing in the world.

What keeps us from authenticity? What do we try to pass off as authenticity that is really something else? Any thoughts?

church, Music, worship

When We Gather: Relationships

I am starting a new series of posts called “When We Gather” in an attempt to work through some of the main ideas/values/guiding principles that (in)form our gathered times of worship. I would love you thoughts in the comments section, as much of this is a work in progress!

Being that this is the first post in this series, there can be an implicit statement of priority that follows: i.e. the first topic or value is the most important. There is a sense in which this is true here. Though important is not necessarily the best term. Think of it more like the idea of an irreducible minimum. Since the focus will be on “gathered” worship, you cannot gather unless you are more than, well, just you! This brings in the concept of relationship.

In fact, I would argue relationship is so foundational, it must be addressed even before the Scriptures, because the Scriptures were written the context of the relationship between God and his people, compiled in community, read to gathered people, and recount songs that were sung by the people of God. This can be a serious oversight that we have when reading our nicely bound Bibles today: most of the “yous” are plural; addressed to a community, or multiple communities.

But “relationship” can still be a sort of abstract term. So I will prefer a different term: family.

I know “family” brings out many different feelings and thoughts. Family can be a filling place and a draining place. It is made up  of people who show love, care, and concern. It is also a place where trust has been broken, where people hurt each other, and where sometimes family members are just flat-out selfish. It is made up of those with different personalities, different goals, different beliefs, and different opinions. It’s a place  of benevolence and and a place of indifference.

But it is all bound by one thing: a family belongs to itself. Sometimes, that is the only thing that keeps you together.

Sounds like church to me.

So now, get this group of people together, along with those who don’t yet belong to the family (guests), and try to get them to sing together, pray together…worship…together.

That sounds like a crazy idea. Even a naive idea.

Or maybe…it is God’s idea.

Paul’s letter to the church family in Ephesus is replete with the idea of different people belonging to the same family:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Eph 2:14-18 NIV, emphasis mine)

So this new, blended, diverse family is bound by one thing: we have the same Father because of Jesus.

When we gather as this family, what should/could our worship look like? (not rhetorical! let me know what you think!)

Advent, awakening, worship

Catching Up on Advent

“I am so, very behind.”

For many of us, this can become as constant of a mantra as, “I’m so busy,” or “I can’t believe it’s already Christmastime,” or “I have so much to do.”

When we say things over and over again, they tend to become true, even if they don’t start out that way.

Regardless, I feel behind. And this, in fact, is true as it relates to the Advent season. The second Sunday of Advent has come and gone, and I have yet to really enter into this time intentionally. Well, that is, until today. And I believe there is some purpose behind it.

Fr. Richard Rohr has written a wonderful little book called “Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent”. I highly recommend you get it on Amazon here. I decided to pick it up for the first time this morning and try to catch up on the readings. And I am glad I did, because it brought together my entire Sunday experience: all bound up in the word “Hope”.

It was this passage that got me.

‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ the Advent mantra, means that all of Christian history has to live out of a kind of deliberate emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment. Perfect fullness is always to come, and we do not need to demand it now…When we demand satisfaction of one another, when we demand any completion to history on our terms, when we demand that our anxiety or any dissatisfaction be taken away, saying as it were, “Why weren’t you this for me? Why didn’t life do that for me?” we are refusing to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are refusing to hold out for the full picture that is always given by God. “Come, Lord Jesus” is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope. The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves…’Come, Lord Jesus’ is not a cry of desperation but an assured shout of cosmic hope.” (emphasis mine)

So, here’s to learning contentment in the midst our unresolved, fragmented, and often confusing lives.

What does it look like for you to hold to hope?

I encourage you to also read Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 1:5-25.

Baltimore, church, Movement, Music, worship

Why We Sing-Three Movements

During our worship conversation last night (which I will be posting thoughts from in the coming weeks), I mentioned a talk I did with our church back in 2010 (wow….has it been that long?) about the WHY behind singing in the church. Using the analogy of a piece of music with movements, I said that there are 3 movements (possibly more) than make up/inform the whole of church singing:
-Story (History)

Download the audio here.


What do you think? Why do we sing? What informs/guides your singing?

Doubt, Music, worship

Doubt and Liturgy

“To believe is human, to doubt, divine.”

This is the tagline of one of my latest reads that a few of my friends are in the process of discussing. It is a work written by theologian, philosopher, and provocateur, Peter Rollins entitled Insurrection.

There is much to discuss within the pages, and I would be happy to buy a cup of coffee for anyone who would care to read and discuss it with me (not an empty offer, by the way!) But I will have to leave much of that discussion to such venues, or to my current “Breaking Bad Theology” night which is exactly what its double-entendred name describes (discussing a deconstructionist book [Rollins] and then watching Breaking Bad).

All that being said, I feel as though one of the places that Rollins seemed to intrigue me the most were his statements concerning the place of doubt in Christian worship or liturgy.

He uses Jesus’ statement on the cross as a starting point, as recorded in both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

For Rollins, this is a witness of Jesus expressing what he describes as an existential or experiential atheism, calling it “the deepest, most radical form of divine loss” (p. 21).

There is much to unpack here (and he does), but in essence, he argues that for us to fully participate in the death of Jesus, we also must go through Crucifixion; a process of having all comfort and structure stripped away until there is nothing left.

And to much of this, I would agree. Now here is where it can get a little scary for us. Many of us would say “yes and amen” to the fact that doubt is real and suffering is real and that many of us have felt that God isn’t there.

We would say “yes and amen” to this fact. But would we so regularly agree with actually experiencing it? That is, would we eagerly desire to engage in such a deep sense of loss or participate in an experience of disillusionment?

This is the part that has given me pause for reflection. As one who seeks to craft an environment where the realities of our faith can be experienced and shape us, the large absence of doubt in our current liturgies concerns me (and I say “our” in the sense of my church, not in universal sense, as I am in no place to speak for others).
Am I offering a sort of holy security blanket in order to shield people from the stark realities that they need to experience, as Christ did? Do we not have opportunities to fully feel the loss because we are so eager to get to the phrase “but God” or speak of resurrection?

What if we were to sing songs that express doubt, that recount anger toward God, or that question his very existence or presence? How would that be received? And better yet, how could it be truly good for us? We do identify with break-up songs a lot, after all…and even sing them! And this can be a sort of catharsis. It is one thing to say that loss happens, and it quite another to declare, in the loudest voice, that loss has happened to me.

But we rarely refuse to sing such things because we say we “know better” than what we are singing. We are quick to say “Yes it feels this way, but Jesus is alive.” “All things work together for good.” “Consider it joy when you face trials” (this last one being one of my least favorite, poorly-quoted phrases that others say to suffering people–one I heard way too often while I was enduring some great losses of my own).

Jesus knew he would be alive again, didn’t he? He said many times that he would be raised. But that fact did not seem to prevent him from being grieved and overwhelmed with sorrow “even to the point of death” (Mark 14) and then proclaiming his felt absence of God. This is not to mention that he still had (has?) scars to prove it. Jesus even directs Doubting Thomas to touch (experience) Jesus’ scars as proof of the fact of his resurrection. Could it be that we need to become more acquainted with the “scars” of Jesus?

What do you think? Should there be room for doubt in corporate worship times? If so, how?