February 2010

A Prayer – attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577.

” Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed to little, when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

” Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

” Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

What a beautiful prayer for our Lenten journey. It is quoted by John Armstrong in his new book, “Your Church is Too Small“. In fact John uses it as the title of the final chapter. He says, ” that the prayer of this remarkable explorer makes a fitting conclusion”,  for the adventure he has taken the reader on.

He confides in us that he has “always had an insatiable desire to learn new things and discover new places. Perhaps this is why the greatest explorer of the Elizabethan Age, Sir Francis Drake (1500-1596), holds such a particular fascination for me”.

Knowing John Armstrong, I believe that his own exploration of the theme of Christian unity in the mission of Christ for the third millennium is going to continue. In his words, “There is more to learn and much more to obey. I feel like I have only just begun”.

I hope, along with some 100 fellow bloggers, to post a review of John’s book in March. I can’t think of a more fitting time for Zondervan to release this particular book. Not only will it await us as we complete Lent and celebrate afresh the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but it converges on the 100 year anniversary of the first world-missions conference in Edinburgh, 1910, and the rising expectation that the Church has entered a new chapter of its existence.

For the e4Unity blog, you just can’t ask for much more than that.

Read a Catholic review (extensive).

More about John and his book.

An excursion into a universal experience.

I find myself following a train of thought into the Lenten season of discovering why churches have found this time before Easter ideal to talk openly about- Sin. And like the sacrament of confession, to do so together, as a spiritual family.

So, after we just had a very public “apology” for infidelity by one of our fallen sports heroes, and just before the first Sunday in Lent, I went looking for a serious, in-depth treatment of this thing we call Sin. I found much more than I was hoping for in Paul Tillich’s book, The Eternal Now” (Scribner’s Sons, 1963).

In Chapter 4, entitled “The Good that I will, I do not”, taken from the Apostle Paul’s statement in his Roman epistle :

” For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.”
Romans 7:19-20

I think Tillich just about hits the Biblical image of Sin and what Christians must understand if they in turn are to fully appreciate the “good news” of what God has gifted us with in the New Being. Here are some of the better thoughts. I hope you will take time to read them all and receive the intended blessing.

” In these and countless other cases, we experience a power that dwells in us and directs our will against itself.

The name of this power is sin. Nothing is more precarious today than the mention of this word among Christians, as well as among non-Christians, for in everyone there is a tremendous resistance to it. It is a word that has fallen into disrepute. To some of us it sounds almost ridiculous and is apt to provoke laughter rather than serious consideration. To others, who take it more seriously, it implies an attack on their human dignity. And again, to others — those who have suffered from it — it means the threatening countenance of the disciplinarian, who forbids them to do what they would like and demands of them what they hate. Therefore, even Christian teachers, including myself, shy away from the use of the word sin.”

” We know how many distorted images it can produce. We try to avoid it,or to substitute another word for it. But it has a strange quality. It always returns. We cannot escape it.It is as insistent as it is ugly. And so it would be more honest — and this I say to myself — to face it and ask what it really is.”

” It is certainly not what men of good will would have us believe — failure to act in the right way, a failure to do the good one should and could have done. If this were sin, a less aggressive and less ugly term, such as human weakness, could be applied. But that is just what sin is not. And those of us who have experienced demonic powers within and around ourselves find such a description ludicrous. So we turn to Paul, and perhaps to Dostoevski’s Ivan Karamazov, or to the conversation between the devil and the hero in Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. From them we learn what sin is. And perhaps we may learn it through Picasso’s picture of that small Basque village, Guernica, which was destroyed in an unimaginably horrible way by the demonic powers of Fascism and Nazism. And perhaps we learn it through the disrupting sounds in music that does not bring us restful emotions, but the feeling of being torn and split. Perhaps we learn the meaning of sin from the images of evil and guilt that fill our theaters, or through the revelations of unconscious motives so abundant in our novels.”

” It is noteworthy that today, in order to know the meaning of sin, we have to look outside our churches and their average preaching to the artists and writers and ask them. But perhaps there is still another place where we canlearn what sin is, and that is in our own heart.”

Paul seldom speaks of sins, but he often speaks of Sin — Sin in the singular with a capital “S,” Sin as a power that controls world and mind, persons and nations.”

” Have you ever thought of Sin in this image? It is the Biblical image. But how many Christians or non-Christians have seen it? Most of us remember that at home, in school and at church, we were taught that there were many things that one would like to do that one should not. And if one did them, one committed a sin. We also remember that we were told of things we should do, although we disliked doing them. And if we did not do them, we committed a sin. We had lists of prohibitions and catalogues of commands; if we did not follow them, we committed sins. Naturally, we did commit one or more sins every day, although we tried to diminish their number seriously and with good will. This was, and perhaps still is, our image of sin — a poor, petty, distorted image, and the reason for the disrepute into which the word has fallen.

The first step to an understanding of the Christian message that is called “good news” is to dispel the image of sin that implies a catalogue of sins. Those who are bound to this image are also those who find it most difficult to receive the message of acceptance of the unacceptable, the good news of Christianity. Their half-sinfulness and half-righteousness makes them insensitive to a message that states the presence of total sinfulness and total righteousness in the same man at the same moment. They never find the courage to make a total judgment against themselves, and therefore, they can never find the courage to believe in a total acceptance of themselves.”

‘It is dangerous to preach about sin, because it may induce us to brood over our sinfulness. Perhaps one should not preach about it at all. I myself have hesitated for many years. But sometimes it must be risked in order to remove the distortions which increase sin, if, by the persistence of wrong thoughts, wrong ways of living are inevitable.”

“I believe it possible to conquer the dangers implied in the concentration on sin, if we look at it indirectly, in the light of that which enables us to resist it — reunion overcoming estrangement.

” Sin is our act of turning away from participation in the divine Ground from which we come and to which we go. Sin is the turning towards ourselves, and making ourselves the center of our world and of ourselves, Sin is the drive in everyone, even those who exercise the most self-restraint, to draw as much as possible of the world into oneself. But we can be fully aware of this only if we have found a certain level of life above ourselves. Whoever has found himself after he has lost himself knows how deep his loss of self was. If we look at our estrangement from the point of reunion, we are no longer in danger of brooding over our estrangement. We can speak of Sin, because its power over us is broken.”

Perhaps Tillich’s words may sound a little strange, his vocabulary isn’t exactly what evangelicals, for example, are used to hearing. But when he talks of “reunion overcoming estrangement”, he is speaking of the Christian Gospel, of what the New Testament writers all witness to. That God was ” in Christ, reconciling (re-connecting) the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them… For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.

This is the direction that I am taking in these 40 days of Lent and I will try to blog about what I discover.

(Read more of Tillich’s essay)

see also Francis Schaeffer’s TRUE SPIRITUALITY-“Law of Love”

A related excursion, Richard Sibbes on “The Conflict of the Soul

What did Christ accomplish on that hill outside Jerusalem called Golgotha?

Forgiveness of sins. The Reign of God on earth. The Community of the New Covenant. The lifting of the ancient curse on the old creation and the bestowing of blessing on the New humanity in union with Christ.

My friend John Armstrong has had a growing vision that transcends our often limited and traditional understandings that we grow up with. It has to do with nothing less than the One, Holy, Apostolic Church; the new temple that God is even now constructing stone by living stone in this present evil age.

John shares his story and his journey which he has been on in his new book, “Your Church is too small“, to be released by Zondervan in April. Here is an audio sample that will give you an idea of what he is hoping to share with all of us.

Listen to “Your Church is too small”.

Let’s expand our vision this Lenten season of the grace of God bestowed as His very own provision for our lostness.

John Armstrong’s new book (Zondervan- March 2010)

Today’s Scripture Lesson: Psalm 37

Staying focused in the Lenten season is always difficult for me. There is so much to think about in a concentrated way this time of year in the Church calendar. It has helped me to basically reduce everything to two poles which my Christian life must always revolve around:

  • The one that really stands out during Lent is the practical one, the life I live in society with everyone else; the battleground of the life of faith, the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  • The other one is the rock of my salvation, the anchor of my soul, the Father’s provision of grace in the Son of His love- the Lord Jesus Christ.

So as we go through Lent emphasizing introspection and soul searching regarding the reality of our walk in this world, we must be careful to maintain the focus especially now, not on ourselves but upon the Captain of our salvation; the author and perfecter of every Christian life.

“Jesus Christ is the only food by which our souls are nourished; but as it is distributed to us by the word of the Lord, which he has appointed an instrument for that purpose, that word is also called bread and water. Now what is said of the word applies as well to the sacrament of the Supper, by means of which the Lord leads us to communion with Jesus Christ. For seeing we are so weak that we cannot receive him with true heartfelt trust, when he is presented to us by simple doctrine and preaching, the Father of mercy, disdaining not to condescend in this matter to our infirmity, has been pleased to add to his word a visible sign, by which he might represent the substance of his promises, to confirm and fortify us by delivering us from all doubt and uncertainty.”      – John Calvin


The Gift of God’s Love.

Regardless of whether your faith tradition participates in the Lenten season, the fact that so many Christians world-wide find this an excellent time to prepare for Passion week, should catch our attention. For those of you who do participate, whether or not you actually view this as a Sacrament, great spiritual advantage awaits those who enter into the intended purpose: exposing one’s inner self to the light of God’s searching Spirit which leads to Godly sorrow for sin and true repentance before our heavenly Father. (see 2 Corinthians 7:8-11)

Nothing will give us the courage and motivation to do this which is against our deepest human nature, than to be confident of the Love of God which has been proven at the very event that awaits us beyond lent: the Cross of His only begotten Son.

Look inside for 3 poems

Thank you Christian Books for this look inside for us to enjoy! (3 poems-especially ‘The Power of Love’)

The Love of God hymn

Think Beyond the Labels!

I don’t usually plug commercials on my blog though I was sorely tempted by a couple of this year’s Superbowl ads. But this one I simply could not resist the temptation. It goes to the heart of my advocacy for unity and peace- we must learn to resist labeling and the evils that it can produce in how we approach our fellow beings.

Related post on PsychologyToday (Addiction in society)

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along?

I got caught up in two celebrations on Sunday. The first one was at my church where the congregation finally got to hear a report from a church-growth consultant team which has been study our situation, both inside and outside the church for several months.

The good news: we are in the right place at the right time with a very talented congregation to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to grow the Body of Christ in Richmond for the next 10-15 years. But in order to do this and move forward from where we find ourselves at the beginning of 2010, there are some barriers to overcome. The one most obvious and the one the team focused on the most is the present size of the new facilities that we moved into in 2005. They presented a workable plan to the congregation and now it is up to us to see if we can in fact come together and dedicate ourselves to the task.

But this challenge also throws into the spotlight the number one requirement ( in my humble opinion) to be able to do this successfully as a fellowship of Christians bent on following the Head of the Church-the Commander-in-chief. Churches don’t operate the same as corporations- we don’t have ceo’s. If we do, we deny the essence of who we are as God’s new creation- God’s new humanity. No, we have a CIC, and the only hope of success is to follow His strategy by faith and by His Spirit.

Thankfully, I am a part of a congregation which says they understand that: our mission statement is centered in “Alive in the Power of God!” That is before us every Sunday as we gather to worship- on the front cover of our worship bulletin. So the challenge to grow (and I believe our people have embraced that it is God’s desire for His Church to grow) begins with growing deeper spiritually. In this way, I believe we will know if we are “up to the challenge”. Thank you Doug and Dan of the Lifeway Consultant team for your excellent work.

Alive in the Unity of The Spirit







Alive  in the Light- a message from the CIC in I John 1.



5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

See Also the Apostle’s statement in the Gospel of John regarding this key element of LIGHT: John 3:16-21


Getting a week’s jump on Mardi Gras.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the best time of the year to bring up the whole problem the Christian faces in living in the world (old creation) while possessing eternal life in Christ which is the life of the new creation: The conflict between living in the spirit and living in the flesh and the never ending battle in this present evil age.

Saint Paul constantly wrote about this conflict of the Christian in all of his epistles and he referred to this old Adamic nature (life-style) in various ways. From just two chapters in the Roman letter come these terms: Old man,Old self, Body of sin, Slaves of sin, wretched man, and Body of death.

The spotlight on the Superbowl this year has become a spotlight on this central theme of the Christian life. First and foremost because of the convergence of two major factors: the New Orleans Saints are playing there for the first time in their franchise history, and the fact that they are doing so only one week before the Mardi Gras week-end. So its only natural (to the men of flesh) for the Saints to taste victory and think about stepping up the celebration by one week. I find all kind of ironies in this whole scene-not the least of which is the franchise name, “The Saints”.

Let me suggest that this is indeed the perfect time for American Christians to rediscover their basic identity in Christ in the light of the American culture. All of this has a great deal to do with the theme of unity which is advocated on this blog. It has a great deal to do with what has been called “the Great Christian Tradition” and it has a lot to do with the controversy raised this year about  those certain Superbowl ads. The latest issue of Touchstone Magazine  suggests just how serious these things are in America and have taken a stand on what they perceive are the critical issues they have with their STATE.

Has the State gone too far?

“On November 20, 2009, Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical leaders released the Manhattan Declaration at a press conference in Washington, D.C. Among the 148 original signatories are fourteen Roman Catholic bishops, two Eastern Orthodox bishops, and Evangelical leaders from various ministries, churches, seminaries, and colleges, many quite well known, including J. I. Packer, Charles Colson, and James Dobson. The coalition of signatories is the strongest expression yet seen in this country of the new ecumenism of Christians dedicated to the Great Tradition.”

(Touchstone Magazine- “The Audacity of the State“.

I do not agree with all said in this issue-in fact I would want to contend that “the strongest expression…of the new ecumenism of Christians dedicated to the Great Tradition” is not in fact these issues involving the so called culture-wars, but rather what myself and others are calling the Missional-ecumenism. But the two agendas are in fact related and the Christians in America cannot get on with their God-given mission in the world without dealing with the question of unity and life in the Spirit, not in the flesh.

Read the Manhattan Declaration

Related post: A Script to Live by