Monday, April 28, 2008

Asking

I had a rather absurd epiphany last week. I was praying, asking God for something mundane, when a spiritual reality broke on me like a rash: God wants to give.

I had known this, but for some reason--in this particular moment--the notion made me itch. My desire for prayer had always been high, but hamstrung by inconsistency. In groups I was not too shy to pray aloud. In solitude I was not too distracted to say nice words. Even my theology of prayer was sound.

But something about a particular request last week, left its mark. The request was something simple: Lord, give my wife a good day. Or: Lord, let my daughters sleep well. They are prayers I have muttered before, prior to working or sleeping. They were part of a script. Nice words. Best wishes. Hallmark God-greetings.

It was the simplicity of the request that sent me scratching. Could God possibly care about the sleep patterns of my ten-month old? Was He partial to how smoothly my wife's day might unfold? Currently, God was busy: fighting cancer in a neighbor's chest and adulterous leanings in a friend's heart; sustaining the persecuted church abroad and dispatching angelic hosts to wage war against demonic insurgents. Did He really have time to stamp goodness on a day and serenity on a night?

But those are the wrong questions. Prayer is not about time. God need not consult His dispensation chart to answer. Rather, He answers as a Father, wanting to give good gifts to His children (Mt 7: 9-11).

If they ask.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blisters

I've started running again. I can say this with confidence because for two days straight I've donned my imitation Adidas pants and set my feet to the pavement. The revival has more to do with weather and weight than my 29th birthday. However, there's an adage that states: "Habits set before 30 are made in wet concrete, middle-aged patterns are set in stone..." (and its ending has something to do with granite, but I've not quite finished making it up.)

Quite frankly, I'm not sure wet shoes are helping my pace, but at least I have an excuse for the blisters. A blister gives proof of one's effort--credibility that the runner is, in fact, running. There are other causes, of course. Perhaps her shoe is too loose. Perhaps his sock is too new. But a new sock and a loose shoe on a lazy man will produce a stench sooner than a blister.

Blisters are the result of work, friction, output. They come most readily when your hands and feet are repeating motions, but not all motions are worth repeating: A woman blistered her thumb when shoveling a six-foot hole. A man blistered his foot when marching at a day-long hate protest. Young Christian blistered his soul and lips when he fed his hormones one more fantasy.

But I would be foolish to judge every sign of chaffing and serum as a mark of sin. Some people blister because they run: life depends on it.

(1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Timothy 2:22)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Books and Beliefs

I charged the publishers' tables. There were books, books, and more books. Mass market and price reductions might be the greatest contribution to the annual (regional) meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). That and papers which discuss the "Socratic murmurings of socio-economic collectivism in the sixth chapter of Saint Luke." Who can pass on that?

My visit to Moody's campus came on the invitation of a former professor. We hadn't caught up recently, and he was attending the Midwest meeting to present a paper. Flattered, I quickly secured my associate membership in the Society and packed a bag.

The conference theme was "The Church Divergent, Convergent, and Emergent: a 21st Century Ecclesiology." One speaker argued that God is a Pluralist, citing the Trinity as his proof. Another argued that the doctrine of Justification must be recaptured in preaching and practice. The final speaker acknowledged the brokenness of the church and encouraged the bookends of evangelical thinking to stop pointing fingers.

The conclusion sounds simple enough: be more forgiving. The following day, I preached through Mark 9:38-41, where Jesus rebuffs John for stopping an "in-Your-name" exorcist from casting out demons. Jesus says, "If he's not against Me, he's for me." The attitude Jesus is trying to cultivate in his disciples, I phrased as "Gracious Inclusion." (I purposely avoided the term generous, so as not to make an allusions to Brian McLaren's protracted Generous Orthodoxy.)

Of course, the concept of Grace inevitably raises the question: "Does Anything Go?" The question is as old as Cole Porter and Paul (Romans 6:1ff), but it was never the first question Grace led us to ask. The first questions Grace ever elicited were: "Who can save me? What should I do? Why me?" (Acts 9:3-6; Romans 7:24; 1 Tim 1:12-17)

I fear that too many of us forget the primary question and run emboldened to the secondary question of limits. In fact, if convergence, divergence, and emergence characterize our churches, I have a hard-time believing otherwise. We've become experts of the limits, neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness (viz. Matthew 23).

Only one group of people at the conference had this last part right: the publishers. Justice, mercy, and faithfulness are embodied in the phrase 50% off.