Monday, November 22, 2010

Prayer of adoration

God of our Lord Jesus Christ and Father of glory, please give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation to make us know Christ. Enlighten the eyes of our hearts and make us know the hope to which you call us, the riches of your glorious inheritance for us and the immense greatness of your power toward us who believe, the power by which you raised Christ from the dead and seated him at your right hand in glory. You placed him far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. You put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

We bow before you Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. Please, from the riches of your glory, strengthen us in our inner being with power from your Holy Spirit. Make Christ live in our hearts through faith. Root and ground us in love and give us and all your children the strength to understand the breadth and length and height and depth; make us know the love of Christ that is bigger than knowledge. Fill us with your fullness.

Father, you can to do far more abundantly in us than all we ask or think. Please glorify yourself in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prayer of adoration

I have the honor of helping lead our church's worship occasionally. That entails writing the prayer of adoration. This is today's. It's a riff on Psalm 16.

Preserve us Father, for you are our refuge.

You are our Lord;

Apart from you we have nothing.

We delight in your people.

The sorrows of those who run after other gods will multiply

We do not join in their idolatry

You are our life.

You have made life pleasant and beautiful.

Thank you Father for your counsel

You make us wise

We follow you Father and while we are with you, nothing can shake us.

Therefore we are glad and our whole being rejoices;

You keep us safe in body and soul

You do not abandon us to evil

You make us know the way to life

In your presence there is fullness of joy

At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Father, please bless our worship with your presence. Fill us with your Spirit and make us know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Amen.

Friday, September 24, 2010

How I became a Christian

I grew up in a nominally Christian home and rebelled when I was a teenager. I rejected Christianity, materialism and white bread and read Kurt Vonnegut and Carlos Castaneda. I embraced marijuana and bits of Eastern mysticism and thought of Christianity as a crutch for weak or stupid people. God got me when I was twenty.

I was alone in my car one night, stopped at a stop sign, when I suddenly became aware that the way I was treating my girlfriend was wrong. I was using her, a fact that had not bothered me up to that point.  Rather, I was proud of it. I suddenly knew with perfect clarity that it was horrible.  I felt no particular emotion—no guilt or defensiveness; just clear, certain knowledge that what I was doing was bad.

What followed was like a near death experience crossed with a criminal trial. One by one I became aware of facts about my past and it would be shown, as if by an invisible prosecutor, to prove something bad about me. I was forced to admit each fact and each implication was true. It was not emotional.  I felt no guilt but simply knew that I was guilty. My whole life was examined. I remembered asserting my independence as fifteen year old: "I am the master of my fate; I am captain of my soul." I remembered deciding that I was much better equipped to tell what was good and right than my parents and that I would become a better person by taking responsibility for my beliefs and living according to them. I saw that instead I had made myself into the kind of person who exploits and abuses anyone who loves him.

I was forced to admit that my good intentions had led to disaster. As soon as I admitted that I was forced to admit that there was nothing I could do about it. The problem was too deep and nothing I could do would make any difference. Then I remembered something from my childhood, something in the Bible about "Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there" and "Whatever you ask for in my name, I will do." Then I knew that I had to find my girlfriend, tell her the truth and get her to pray with me.

So I did. She forgave me and checked to make sure I meant to pray to God and not some other deity and then we prayed. I prayed a lame plea that everything would work out all right and then she started praying. I didn’t hear anything she said because I was swept up in a vision.

I found myself lying face down in the dark. There was a judge at a bench nearby and I was being summoned to stand before him and give an account of myself. I groped around trying to comply and discovered that I was paralyzed from the waist down and that there was no way I could do more than push myself up a little. I was helpless and about to be condemned so I gave up and said "I throw myself on the mercy of the court." Immediately I was picked up as if by a giant hand and plunged into a river. Then I was brought up on the other side suspended in a shaft of light. Then I found I was on my feet, standing on a rock. And then the vision was over and I was sitting on my girlfriend's bed with her looking at me strangely. I said something stupid about it being better than drugs.

What I meant was that it was real. It took me years to understand and I'm still learning more but I knew then that what had happened was real. It was a vision—obviously not real in the ordinary sense. I was not physically removed to a courtroom or any other place. But it was not a hallucination. One reason I had liked marijuana was that it altered my perceptions and supported my belief that reality was deeper than it appeared. I had had mild hallucinations and believed that they, while not real in themselves, showed me something true about the nature of reality, or at least about the subjectivity of perception. But the vision was something else; it was real in itself, more real, if anything, than everyday life.  I understand that some drugs also produce similar impressions of profound but altered reality.  I never tried them.

What I now understand happened was this. God grabbed me for reasons having nothing to do with me, accused me of doing and being evil, proved his case, found me guilty and then gave me the faith to seek his mercy which he then immediately poured out on me. I later found out that he does this all the time and that it's what being saved and born again mean. Jesus told his disciples he would send the Holy Spirit to "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). My series of insights and admissions were exactly that—the Holy Spirit convicting me, that is, forcing me to know and admit the truth about God and myself. The scripture I remembered that night was an amalgam of two verses where Jesus promises:
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. (John 14:14)
He fulfilled both promises directly. The judge, river, light and rock of the vision are all biblical symbols for and functions of Christ. And my throwing myself on the mercy of the court was not my idea. I had no concept of doing anything like it. I didn't actually do anything but God did it for me:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Here's the best summary of the experience:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Jesus wasn’t kidding when he called it being born again. What you don’t often hear about is the death that precedes it. The old self-righteous self dies and it's not pleasant. It does not go quietly. But it is joyful. I pray now for everyone I know, friend or enemy: Please God, get him.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stage 6: In which Christian and Faithful encounter Vanity Fair and Faithful gets whacked

I allowed Matt the intern to talk me into taking the Sunday School lesson last week and this was my revenge. Our church has been reading Pilgrim's Progress this summer and each week one of the families takes ten or fifteen minutes to present the week's reading as a skit or game show or something. I've been mostly avoiding the class but Matt said he was desperate.

My family wasn't exactly thrilled. I started work on a script Friday and told them what their roles were and started a big fight, hurt feelings and tears aplenty. I wrote the recalcitrant children out and gave the starring roles to Matt and our other intern Jarrod. I put in jokes. The kids read it Saturday afternoon and started offering suggestions and finally asked to be in the skit. We had a great time pulling it together and presenting it and it was very well received. Here it is:


Vendor 1Corre
Vendor 2Alicia
Vendor 3Rob
Jury ForemanCorre
Juror 2Hannah
Juror 3Emma
News anchorCorre
News reporterEmma
Blogger 1Emma
Blogger 2Corre
Sports announcerCorre
BattersEmma, Hannah
AngelsCorre, Emma, Hannah

Christian and Faithful stand in one place till the end.

Props: Microphone (working), tea cart, baseball bats

The skit opens with a request for volunteers to play the starring roles. We force Matt and Jarrod to volunteer. This is the first joke.

Narrator: Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to our show. Tonight’s play is entitled “Stage 6” and follows Christian’s adventures through the perils of this world. Our story opens on the edge of a wilderness with Christian and Faithful enjoying some much needed rest.

Christian: (wiping brow) Whew!

Faithful: (nods vigorously) You said it man!

Christian: (pointing off stage) Hey! Look who’s coming!

Faithful: It’s Evangelist!

Evangelist: (coming up, waving) Hi!

Christian: I am so glad to see you! We’ve had such a hard time!

Faithful: Yeah! How have you been?

Evangelist: Well I’m glad to see both of you too. I’m delighted you’ve found each other and come so far together. I’m afraid you have got a hard road ahead. One of you is going to die in this chapter!

(Christian and Faithful look at each other surprised.)

Evangelist: I’m really sorry boys but which ever of you dies will have it easy. It’s the other one I’m concerned about. There’s a city over (pointing) there you’ve got to go through. There’s no way round it so through it you must go. Best get cracking. (shoos them off).

Christian: Won’t you come and help us?

Faithful: Yeah!

Evangelist: I wish I could but I can’t. (raises hand in blessing) Blessings on you!

Narrator: So our two travelers reach the great city Vanity and discover all that it has to offer.

Christian: (looking around) What is this place?

Narrator: Vanity

Faithful: Why is it called that?

Narrator: Wait and see.

Faithful: Oh, okay.

Narrator: They were remarkably patient, given the circumstances. They now enter the heart of the city and find a thriving marketplace with vendors accosting them on every side.

Christian: (looking around) What is this place?

Narrator: Vanity Fair.

Faithful: Does that mean there are rides?

Narrator: Yes.

Vendor 1: (flourishing imaginary currency, addressing congregation) Get yer money right here! Everybody loves it—made fresh this morning! (Addressing Christian) You sir! How about some nice currency? We also have the best gold, jewels and real estate. What’s your pleasure? How about some nice mutual funds?

Christian: Are you selling money?

Vendor 1: Yes sir! Wealth for the asking—it’s all here!

Christian: Well then, what do you sell it for? I mean, what do people give you in exchange for it?

Vendor 1: Why, your soul son, the same as always (sweeping gesture, departs)

(Christian and Faithful hide eyes and turn their backs)

Vendor 2: Hey boys! How about some fun? We’ve got lust that’ll make you crazy! We’ve got scintillation, titillation, agitation, no ramification delectation! We’ve got delights from every continent in every color, size, shape and gender. What’s your pleasure?

(Christian and Faithful shudder, hide their eyes and turn their backs)

Vendor 3: Yo yo yo! What up? Get yo self on over here and save the (gesture grandly) world!

Christian: What?

Vendor 3: That’s right! Get some political power and save the planet from deprivation, stagnation, depression, deforestation and war.

Faithful: What?

Vendor 3: That’s right! And we can do it all with other people’s money!

(Christian and Faithful shudder, hide their eyes and turn away)

Narrator: At this point, Christian and Faithful are interrupted by the police.

Policeman: Now now now, what’s all this?

Christian: I beg your pardon officer?

Policeman: I said: “Now now now, what’s all this?” Now, what’s all this?

Faithful: What’s all what?

Vendor 2: This man here disrespected my goods! He spoke ill of worldly pleasure!

Vendor 3: And mine too! He insulted my intelligence!

Policeman: Come along with me you two (collars C & F, flings them in jail.)

(Christian and Faithful recover somewhat and stand looking out from behind bars, which they hold)

Narrator: Christian and Faithful have fallen foul of the city authorities. They are hauled before a judge.

Judge: You stand accused of a grave offence: disrespecting the spirit of the age. How do you plead?

Christian: The spirit of what?

Judge: The age, the land, the marketplace. How do you plead?

Christian: Uh, do you mean the spirit of materialism, lust, lewdness, lawlessness and every wicked thing? The one animating the vendors in your market?

Judge: Yes, that one, Beelzebub (places hand over heart, looks up devoutly) How do you plead?

Christian: That’s the bad spirit and I’m obliged to disrespect him.

Faithful: Me too.

Judge: Aghhhh! (tears at hair) What does the jury say? Mr. Foreman?

Jury Foreman: Your honor, my name is Mr. Blindman and I see perfectly clearly that they have gone wrong! (turning to Juror 2) Mr. No-good, what do you say?
Juror 2: They’re bad.
Foreman: Mr. Malice, what do you say?
Juror 3: They’re hateful.
Foreman: Mr. Love-lust?
Juror 2: They’re repressed.
Foreman: Mr. Live-loose?
Juror 3: They’re judgmental.
Foreman: Mr. High-mind?
Juror 2: They’re philistines!
Foreman: Mr. Liar?
Juror 3: They don’t tell the truth!
Foreman: Mr. Cruelty?
Juror 2: Hanging’s too good for them.
Foreman: Your honor, we find the defendants guilty!

Judge: Thank you Mr. Foreman. Defendants at the bar, this court finds you guilty of treason and being a pain in the hinder parts. I sentence you to death. Take them away! (points)

(Christain and Faithful hang their heads dejectedly)

Narrator: Things look bad for our heroes. Is this the end? Was Evangelist right that one of them will die? The townspeople seem to want both of them to die. Stay tuned!

(Music: 1. Another One Bites the Dust intro.)

News anchor: (into microphone) We interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking news. Judge Mental just passed sentence of death on the notorious thought criminals Christian and Faithful. We go now to our man on the scene, Vain Gossip. Vain, are you there? (hands microphone to reporter)

Reporter: (into microphone): This is Vain Gossip on location in Vanity County Jail. With me are the newly convicted and condemned felons, Christian and Faithful. Mr. Christian, are you sorry you said all those nasty things about our city? (shoves microphone in C’s face)

Christian: What?

Reporter: (into microphone) Mr. Faithful, wouldn’t it have been better to go along to get along? (shoves microphone in F’s face)

Faithful: What? No!

Reporter: (into microphone) There you have it Dan, not only are these men bad, they are also stupid. Back to you. (hands microphone back to anchor).

News anchor: (into microphone) More after these messages. (place microphone in holder on podium)

Narrator: The media were against them. Both the left wing and right wing bloggers hated them. Rupert Muddauber of Weasel News:

Blogger 2: These people would undermine the fabric of our great city. Of course they must be killed.

Narrator: Turgid B. Esser of the Daily Splotch:

Blogger 1: They are like so totally, ugghhh! And inarticulate too!

Narrator: And so the fateful day arrived. Faithful was lead onto a scaffold in the middle of Vanity Stadium.

(Faithful holds his hands behind his back as if they’re bound)
(Narrator leads Faithful downstage a few steps)

Christian: (signing to get Narrator’s attention) Uhhh, excuse me?

Narrator: Christian had been condemned with Faithful but the plot requires him to be around later so we leave him in jail.

Christian: (nodding) Oh.

Narrator: Thousands and thousands of spectators pack the stadium. They yell and wave flags and banners and giant novelty middle fingers. Schools let out early to watch. The networks all carried it live.

(Music: 3: Another One Bites the Dust)

Sports Announcer: (at podium, into microphone) Good evening ladies and gentlemen! It’s a wonderful night for an execution. Now we see the condemned led to the scaffold. There’s the blindfold, the victim refuses. And they’re off! The whip team opens with the traditional thirtynine lashes.

(Faithful flinches)

Sports Announcer: Here comes the bat team.

(Batters approach menacingly.)

Sports Announcer: And they let fly!

(Batters hit Faithful hard!)
(Faithful groans)
(Batters retire)

Sports Announcer: Oh! Oh! Whistle on the play! Number 19 gets a red card for using a knife prematurely.

Narrator: Then they stoned him, poked with swords and, finally, they burned him at the stake.

(Faithful opens his eyes wide, says “Ah!” and drops his head down dead)

Narrator: And then, angels came and raised him up and took him aboard a chariot!

(Angels help Faithful onto tea cart.)

Narrator: The angels carried him off through the clouds!

(Music: 5. Chariots of Fire (angels))
(Angels push Faithful and tea cart down isle)
(Faithful raises eyes and hands to heaven, full of joy)

Narrator: Meanwhile, back in jail, Christian tries to get somone’s attention.

Christian: (raises hand apologetically) Uhh, excuse me?

Narrator: Not finding anyone, he decides he might as well escape.

Christian: (Shrugs, walks off set.)

Narrator: The end.

(Music: 7. Chariots of Fire, end)
(Cast lines up facing congregation, bows together)