Prayer: The Great Equalizer?

As many of you know by now, I am hoping to start graduate school in the fall, in educational psychology.

After several weeks of waiting, I have heard from the school that I applied to.  I have been selected for an interview, and this will happen in a couple of days (Wednesday at 2:30 PM, to be exact).

Several of you know about this, and have offered prayers and well-wishes for this occasion.  For this I am extremely grateful.

Prayer is one of the great equalizers in the body of Christ.  No matter who we are, what our station in life, our level of spiritual maturity, our theological or political persuasion, or even our branch of the Christian tradition, we all face situations in life which are out of our control.  In such situations the only possible response is to trust God and to submit yourself to seek the prayers of your fellow brothers or sisters in Christ.

Some of these may be richer or poorer than you.  Some of these may be more or less spiritually mature than you.  Some of these may disagree with you theologically or politically.  Some may hail from a completely different stream of Christianity than yourself.  No matter.  Through prayer, we all affirm our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common vulnerability before God.

There is definitely something to be said for seeking out the prayers of those who may disagree with you theologically or politically, those with whom you may have significant differences of belief–but you share Christ, you share the same Holy Spirit, you share the same broken humanity.

Regardless of how things turn out this week, it is a blessing to know that so many of you are willing to pray for me during this time.  And even those of you who are unable to affirm what I believe with respect to God and Jesus Christ, but are nevertheless willing to offer me your well-wishes during this time.

Les Miserables 12: Petit-Gervais

Okay, last time I left you with another cliffhanger.  The bishop had awakened to discover that his silver was missing and that Jean Valjean had slipped away during the night, much to the chagrin of Madame Magliore.  And then there was a knock at the door.

Now you know what happens here.  The door opens and it is the police, with Jean Valjean and the bishop’s missing silverware in tow.  The bishop tells the police that this is all a huge mistake, that in fact he gave the silver to Jean Valjean.  And then he proceeds to fetch two silver candlesticks which Jean Valjean had neglected to take.  And the police leave.

Before we move on, let me hit upon the bishop’s parting words to Jean Valjean:

The bishop approached him and said, in a low voice, “Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.”

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded.  The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them.  He continued, solemnly, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.  It is your soul I am buying for you.  I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

This stunning act of mercy by the bishop has completely rocked Jean Valjean’s world.  As he leaves the city and heads out into the countryside, his spirit is in utter turmoil.  It is the old, evil part of him which had grown up during the course of his nineteen years in prison, struggling with something new which has been birthed inside of him by the bishop’s unexpected act of mercy.  And as he passes through the countryside, the old, evil part of him lashes out one last time in its dying throes. Continue reading “Les Miserables 12: Petit-Gervais”

Les Miserables 11: The Bishop at Work

In the previous posts we looked at Jean Valjean’s backstory, his growing up years, his time in prison, and how his inner state changed during his time in prison.  We saw him wake up in the middle of the night after only four hours of sleep, with nothing on his mind but that silver that was on the bishop’s table at dinner.  And now we are about to head into one of the most famous and well-known scenes in all of literature (Western literature, at any rate).

By inviting Jean Valjean into a formal dinner with him, the bishop spoke order over the chaotic state of Jean Valjean’s soul, and in so doing, initiated the work of healing at a surface level.  But in the subsequent chapters Victor Hugo showed us just how tormented and chaotic was the state of Jean Valjean’s soul, and by now it should be quite apparent that a much more drastic intervention would be required in order to bring about true healing.  The chain of events which is about to begin will lead up to that intervention. Continue reading “Les Miserables 11: The Bishop at Work”

All-Skate: What If Your Church Discontinued Its Singles Ministry?

This post is another all-skate, which means that I expect to see some good discussion on this one.  The last time I posted an all-skate, nobody skated.  I hope we can do better than that this time.

Okay, here is today’s topic for discussion:  It has just come across the wire here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion that The Village Church, a rather sizeable church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, recently discontinued its singles ministry.  Singles, don’t get too upset about this; you haven’t been singled out (yuk yuk yuk).  This church no longer has ministries for college students, men, or women.  They still have age-segmented ministries for children, middle schoolers, and high schoolers, but all post-high-school adults are now funneled through their groups department.  Their rationale for making this change is that having separate ministries for singles, men, women, and college students created self-contained regions of ministry which competed for the limited resources of time, money, and staffing, and also for the attention and affection of the people in the church.  They still seek to minister to singles, men, women, and college students, but they no longer believe it is necessary to have separate ministry environments geared specifically to these populations in order to do this.  You can read more about these changes and the rationale for these changes on this PDF file.

What are your thoughts about this?  Do you believe that it is possible for a church to attract and minister to singles, married adults, men, women, or college students without having segmented ministry environments which are explicitly geared toward those populations?  What would you think if your church decided to implement a similar change?

I have my own ideas about this, which are probably not what you would expect.  But I will not be sharing these until I see some discussion here!!!!!

All right peeps, the floor is open.  Discuss.

USA Today: Columbine 10 Years Later

Today we are just a few days away from celebrating (if that can be considered an appropriate word for it) the tenth anniversary of Columbine.  In honor of this occasion, USA Today has published a retrospective piece.  Much of this information is now available to the public in the form of books, interviews, and other resources which have come out in recent years; the USA Today piece brings it all together into one place.

Prepare yourselves to question everything you thought you knew about Columbine.

Columbine has functioned as a sort of national Rorscharch test, with everyone seeing what they want to see as far as the underlying causes and what it tells us is wrong with our schools and our world.  Depending on who you talk to, Columbine has functioned as a testament to the evils of lax gun control laws, lax parenting, progressive schooling, video games, goth culture, rock music, etc.  In the minds of many evangelicals, Columbine serves as Exhibit A of the need to bring back prayer in public school, have the Ten Commandments on the classroom walls, or else just abolish the public school system altogether.

Much of what we knew (or thought we knew) about Columbine is the result of the authorities giving information to reporters before they had all the facts straight.  As a matter of fact, the first headline to come across the wire read “Twenty-five dead in Colorado” (the actual death toll was 13, with 24 wounded).  Ever since then, authorities have been slowly but surely setting the record straight.  Some inaccuracies took hours to clear up; others, years. Continue reading “USA Today: Columbine 10 Years Later”

Les Miserables 10: Deep Waters, Dark Shadows

After giving a vivid description of Jean Valjean’s inner state during the course of his time in prison, Victor Hugo gives us a vivid description of what it is like for a man who falls off a ship and into the sea.

Man overboard!

Who cares?  The ship sails on.  The wind is up, the dark ship must keep to its destined course.  It passes on.

The man disappears, then reappears, he sinks and rises again to the surface, he hollers, stretches out his hands.  They do not hear him.  The ship, staggering under the gale, is straining every rope, the sailors and passengers no longer see the drowning man, his miserable head is only a point in the vastness of the billows.

He hurls cries of despair into the depths.  What a specter is that disappearing sail!  He watches it, follows it frantically.  It moves away, grows dim, diminishes.  He was just there, one of the crew, he walked up and down the deck with the rest, he had his share of air and sunlight, he was a living man.  Now, what has become of him?  He slipped, he fell, it’s all over.

I really would love to put the rest of this chapter up here; it’s that good.  But I can’t do that because if I did, then you would have no reason to read the book for yourself.  So if you want to read the rest of this, then you will have to get the book and read it yourself. Continue reading “Les Miserables 10: Deep Waters, Dark Shadows”

A Dead Jew Walking: What the Christian Faith Is All About

If you will think about it, there is one premise that the entire Christian faith can be boiled down to, and it is this:  A dead Jew came back from the dead, so we do whatever he says.

There is a lot of craziness in the Christian faith.  Love your enemies?  Do good to those who hate you?  Turn the other cheek?  Walk the extra mile?  What kind of sense does that make?  None at all.  But this dead Jew came back from the dead, so we just go with it.

Everyone else in the world says that if you wish to move up in the world, you must look out for yourself.  Don’t be afraid of a little self-promotion.  Make the most of every opportunity to impress others with your importance and worthiness.  Don’t be afraid to step over people who happen to be in your way when the situation calls for it.  But Christianity runs completely contrary to this; if you wish to become great you must humble yourself and seek to serve everyone.  This would not be worthy of even a moment’s consideration–except for that dead Jew who came back from the dead. Continue reading “A Dead Jew Walking: What the Christian Faith Is All About”

Father Cantalamessa’s Good Friday Sermon

Today I would like to direct your attention to the Good Friday sermon given by Father Raniero Cantalamessa at the Vatican.

He starts off by going through the writings of Paul and reviewing the things which he has to say about the cross.  It becomes quickly clear from looking at passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, 2 Corinthians 5:14, and Galatians 6:14 that the cross is the central element of the Christian faith and the glory and boast of every Christian, even if the Christians of his day didn’t exactly see it that way.

He goes on from there to reflect on the current challenges to the Christian faith, specifically the slogan now seen on buses in London and other European cities:  “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  From there he goes into the idea of suffering, how the cross redefines our notions of sacrifice and even our notions of suffering.  The cross was not the sacrifice of man attempting to appease an angry God, rather it was the sacrifice of God to destroy the power of sin.  Through the cross, suffering now becomes a means of redemption, a pathway to resurrection and new life.

He finishes it off by going back to the slogan that “God probably doesn’t exist”.  He takes us to Pascal’s wager:  If we who believe in the existence of God are wrong we have lost nothing, but if those who do not believe in the existence of God are wrong they have lost everything.  In so doing he notes that this slogan serves God’s cause better than many of our apologetic arguments.  God can turn even those who most persistently deny Him into His strongest advocates; this in fact was the case with Paul.

Don’t Blame Joel Osteen for Not Talking About the Cross: A Good Friday Diatribe

In a recent interview Joel Osteen said something to the effect of “We don’t talk about the Cross; that’s too negative”.  This statement drew a lot of criticism from a lot of people in evangelicalism, including yours truly, because the work of Jesus on the cross is central to the Christian message.

But if you think about it, I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on Joel Osteen for not talking about the Cross.  As a matter of fact he is in some good company; most of the Church Fathers did not talk about the Cross.  For about the first 300 years of Christianity very few people talked about the Cross.  While they talked about what Jesus’ death on the cross means for us as believers, they had very little to say about the death of Jesus.

Even the Gospel writers had precious little to say about the Cross.  All were minimalistic when it came to describing the crucifixion, with each devoting no more than a paragraph or two to it.  Even Mark, who saturated his account with apparently insignificant details for the purpose of showing the veracity of his account, went minimalist when he came to the crucifixion.  All he said about it was this:  “And they crucified him.  Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”  (Mark 15:24)

So why didn’t the early Christians say much about the Cross?  Because it’s too negative, right?  Well…actually that would be a huge understatement. Continue reading “Don’t Blame Joel Osteen for Not Talking About the Cross: A Good Friday Diatribe”

Les Miserables 9: Profoundest Despair

In the previous post we began to look at Jean Valjean’s backstory.  We learned about his growing up years, his arrest and time in prison–five years for breaking a pane of glass and stealing a loaf of bread, the fate of his sister and her children who simply vanished from the face of the earth in his absence, and his four unsuccessful escape attempts which pushed his sentence to a grand total of nineteen years.

Now Victor Hugo turns to the question of what was going on in Jean Valjean’s soul during the course of those nineteen years.  (Heads up:  There are going to be a lot of quotes in this post, with minimal commentary from yours truly.  Victor Hugo does such a masterful job of describing the inner state of Jean Valjean that I think it is best to just get out of the way and let his words speak for themselves.) Continue reading “Les Miserables 9: Profoundest Despair”