- I want to be a better shepherd to my people and empower our church leaders in soul-care.
- It's the last class offered this winter, so I have time to get the reading done!
- The paper required is only 5-7 pages (usually 15-20!)
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Book Review: The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, by Henri Nouwen
Overview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.
In the tradition of Thomas Merton and other contemplatives, Nouwen presents a way to bring monastic disciplines into our "everyday world". Nouwen, who is no stranger to communal monastic life, organizes his thoughts under the three headings of Solitude, Silence, and Prayer. He then explores what each discipline entails, and importantly, what each does not entail. His writings have a warm devotional tone, without descending into the maudlin sentimentalism of many devotional writings. He invites the reader, rather than instructs, to connect with God in a deeper way through these practices.
Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.
I have always enjoyed Nouwen's works. I found his book "The Prodigal Son" to be transformational. "The Way of the Heart" offers less biographical narrative, and more contemplative reflections. I enjoyed the stories and lessons drawn from the Desert Fathers, which Nouwen casts as considerably more approachable than, say, Athanasius in his "Life of Anthony" (where the anchorite monks just seem cranky!). And Nouwen also warns that solitude, silence, and prayer aren't simply places to go for a refreshing spiritual retreat (a kind of contemplative cappuccino break). No, they are places to do battle with the Devil as he exposes the darkness of our own hearts.
Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.
Because we live in an age when ministry means "doing" rather than "being", Nouwen is a voice that brings us back to personal soul-care. As I seek, not merely to "do" the right things, but to "be" the right person, I feel I will be able to better connect with people in their struggles to grow in Christ. I particularly enjoyed his section on "nurtured by short prayers". "The Way of the Heart" is more of an enticement than a guide book, but a welcome enticement nonetheless.
Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.
p. 25: " In solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, and envy are deeply anchored in our own heart. In solitude our heart of stone can be turned into a heart of flesh, a rebellious heart into a contrite heart, and a closed heart into a heart that can open itself to all suffering people in a gesture of solidarity."
"If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, 'Because it makes us die to our neighbour.' At first this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to then; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbours means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and them to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other…"
Monday, November 24, 2008
This week our church began a study of the Apostle's Creed. This creed has helped to shape and define the Christian community for centuries. But the creed has a very personal beginning; "I Believe". J.I. Packer has some great insights about this in his book "Affirming the Apostle's Creed":
In worship, the Creed is said in unison, but the opening words are "I believe"—not "we": each worshiper speaks for himself. Thus he proclaims his philosophy of life, and at the same time testifies to his happiness: he has come into the hands of the Christian God where he is glad to be, and when he says "I believe," it is an act of praise and thanksgiving on his part. It is in truth a great thing to be able to say the Creed.
Fresh and living faith is a great liberating and strengthening force! But what about the doubts that many (most?) Christians struggle with from time to time? What do you do when faith does not come easy? Again, let me lean on Dr. Packer's wisdom:
I write as if God's revelation in the Bible has self-evident truth and authority, and I think that in the last analysis it has; but I know, as you do, that uncriticized preconceptions and prejudices create problems for us all, and many have deep doubts and perplexities about elements of the biblical message. How do these doubts relate to faith?
Well, what is doubt? It is a state of divided mind—"doublemindedness" is James' concept (James 1:6-8)—and it is found both within faith and without it. In the former case, it is faith infected, sick, and out of sorts; in the latter, it belongs to a struggle either toward faith or away from a God felt to be invading and making claims one does not want to meet. In C. S. Lewis' spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, you can observe both these motivations successively.
In our doubts, we think we are honest, and certainly try to be; but perfect honesty is beyond us in this world, and an unacknowledged unwillingness to take God's word about things, whether from deference to supposed scholarship or fear of ridicule or of deep involvement or from some other motive, often underlies a person's doubt about this or that item of faith. Repeatedly this becomes clear in retrospect, though we could not see it at the time.
How can one help doubters? First, by explaining the problem area (for doubts often arise from misunderstanding); second, by exhibiting the reasonableness of Christian belief at that point, and the grounds for embracing it (for Christian beliefs, though above reason, are not against it); third, by exploring what prompts the doubts (for doubts are never rationally compelling, and hesitations about Christianity usually have more to do with likes and dislikes, hurt feelings, and social, intellectual, and cultural snobbery than the doubters are aware).
The well wisher of your soul's happiness,
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
You know – your heart, the core of your being, who you really are, the seat of your values, desires, and affections. Where do you hide your heart? How do you find your way to someone's heart? How do you find the true inclinations of the heart of another? Can you guide and direct your own heart?
Jesus answers all these questions on Matthew 6:19-21:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly!), Jesus tells us straight up: to find a person's heart, look to where he hides his treasures. To put it crassly: the heart follows money. As much as we'd like to romanticize the largesse of our souls, our credit card bills and checkbooks are a more accurate assessment of our affections than our warm-hearted sentiments.
And not only an assessment of our affections but also of our trust. Do we trust God with our future or our investments? What tale does our bank account tell? A wise man once laid out the options for us:
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe."
"A rich man's wealth is his strong city,
and like a high wall in his imagination." Proverbs 18:10-11
Today, everyone is looking for safe shelters for their finances. And there is nothing wrong with being wise. But beware the "wisdom" which would make wealth our "strong city" when in fact "the name of the Lord is a strong tower".
And yes, we can guide our hearts in new directions. Begin making kingdom investments. You will find your heart moving in a kingdom direction. And you will never be disappointed with the rate of return! As we invest with the eternal values of Christ's kingdom in mind ("treasures in heaven"), God promises to handle the "daily bread" stuff for us:
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33
The well wisher of your soul's happiness,
Monday, November 10, 2008
Question: How do we maintain our personal stability in unstable times?
Answer: Turbulent times call for a transcendent God.
We live in uncertain times. Some say the myth of security has masked the fact that we always live in uncertain times! We see major change in the political realm, fluctuation in the financial world, insecurity in foreign fields. Change leads to stress, stress leads to fear, and fear erodes faith. We turn inward, gathering what we have around us and clinging for security to our own resources. The only solution is to lift our eyes and remind ourselves of just who our God is. Consider the vision of God that David, a great king of Israel, had:
10 "Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: "Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name."
What do we see here?
- God is Lord of all.
- God is owner of all.
- Everything thing we have comes from God and belongs to God.
- We are merely managers of all He give us.
- Our proper response is thanks and praise!
We trust not the government, the markets, or any other source for security. We trust a sovereign God! And we live lives of humble faith, doing the most with what He provides. And He will provide. Confidence in such a great God frees us from miserly fear to live lives of gracious generosity!
The only question remains is, "What are you doing with God's stuff?"
The well wisher of your soul's happiness,
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
A Certain man placed a fountain by the wayside, and he hung up a cup near to it by a little chain. He was told some time after that a great art-critic had found much fault with its design. "But," said he, "do many thirsty persons drink at it?" Then they told him that thousands of poor people, men, women, and children, slaked their thirst at this fountain; and he smiled and said, that he was little troubled by the critic's observation, only he hoped that on some sultry summer's day the critic himself might fill the cup, and be refreshed, and praise the name of the Lord.
Here is my fountain, and here is my cup: find fault if you please; but do drink of the water of life. I only care for this. I had rather bless the soul of the poorest crossing- sweeper, or rag-gatherer, than please a prince of the blood, and fail to convert him to God.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Each and every week the people of our church entrust me with something very valuable – time. Each week you graciously and responsively listen s I share the message with you. That is a trust I take very seriously. Which is why I have no desire to fill up your time with anyone's views, opinions, or directives - but God's!
That is why the Bible is so prominent in our church.
Last Sunday we saw how the Bible is preeminent in its circulation, influence, and scope. The Bible is the most widely owned, read, influential book in human history. Within its pages you will find history, poetry, stories, drama, practical wisdom, fantastic images, and plain teaching.
We looked at the Bible's permanence. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Matthew 24:35). World leaders, idols, even heaven and earth will pass away. But God's word lasts forever.
But the foundation for all of the above is the Bible's source and origin (its "provenance"!). We are told that, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Since God is the author of scripture, the Bible is eternally relevant, popular, and powerful!
I realize I may be "preaching to the choir" here, but I want us all to remember why the Bible is so important to us. So we will read it, study it, apply it, memorize it, live it, and by God's grace, always preach it!
The well wisher of your soul's happiness,