The gospel reading at my Monday mass was Luke 7:1-10, the story of the centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus without setting foot in his house. A line that the centurion says has become a key part of the weekly Eucharistic liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” There is something essential about that posture of humility for us to be able to encounter Christ authentically and receive the transformation that He wants to instill in us. I worry sometimes that Christians like me define ourselves so much against the overemphasis on human wickedness in fundamentalist Christianity that we end up having a blithe presumptuousness about Jesus’ grace in our lives which turns our prayer and worship life into a farce.
For the first 1500 years of Christianity, the high point of every worship gathering was Eucharist. The sermon served to prepare the hearts of the congregation to receive the body and blood of Christ. In today’s Protestantism, the sermon has replaced Eucharist as the focal point of our worship. And the individualistic altar call has replaced the communal table as the congregation’s standard response to the proclaimed word. I wonder if this change is the reason that the Protestant gospel became more about hell than the heavenly banquet that Eucharist proclaims. Continue reading
My reformed brother Derek Rishmawy and I have been having a stimulating discussion about the nature of God’s wrath. It’s a huge stumbling block for many Christians, and it doesn’t help that pastors are often very clumsy and barrel-chested in how they talk about it. So I want to offer the following experimental analogy with the hopes that it will help some people (like me) who hate the fact that the Bible includes the phrase οργή θεού (God’s wrath) in too many places for us to embrace a theology that doesn’t account for it. What if we think of God’s wrath as the spiritual immune system of the universe? Every time there is a violation of shalom (peace), torah (law/harmonic order), or mishpat (justice), God’s wrath is provoked like the body’s immune system in response to an infection.
Several Mondays ago, when I went to the basilica in Washington, DC, and sat in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, I read Psalm 19:9 which says, “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.” You cannot understand this verse unless you understand that there are two kinds of fear that are the opposite of one another even though both kinds use the word yore in Hebrew and phobos in Greek.What we are used to understanding as “fear” when it relates to God is the kind of fear that 1 John 4:18 describes: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” One of American Christianity’s basic problems is a widespread conflation of these two fears: the fear that is awed reverence and the fear that is cowardly fright. Continue reading
In contemporary Christian worship, a distinction is often made between worship that is “really worship” versus “just a performance.” For example, does the music invite authentic congregational participation or is it filled with guitar solos, pyrotechnics, and fog machines that make the service a concert that gives people goose bumps for cheap manufactured reasons? I want to look at a different contrast between worship and performance that I see at the heart of the gospel. I believe we were created to worship every moment of every day. The purpose of gathering to sing and pray and learn each weekend is merely to retune ourselves for a week of worship. The problem is that we misunderstand what worship means: we think it’s performing for God, putting on a show to prove to Him that we really believe in Him so that He won’t throw us in hell. But performance is actually the greatest obstacle to true worship, the definition of which is summarized in a single verse — Psalm 37:4: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s not hard to learn how to worship; my three year old son knows perfectly how. The impossible challenge that Jesus died on the cross to make possible is unlearning performance. Continue reading
I’ve often wondered if the same thing that makes violent video games appealing is why young evangelical guys are so infatuated with penal substitution theology. I figure a scary bad- !@#$%^&* God is cool for the same reason that the loud wet smack of a linebacker knocking the wind out of a quarterback is cool (I was that linebacker once).