Grounded Faith Formation

Christian spiritual formation can take on an other-worldly emphasis from time to time. The evangelical American subculture (true for Catholics as well) is filled with retreat centers and other places where participants are invited to come away from their day to day life and spend time with God. In and of itself these centers of rest and respite are really important aspects to a life of faith, unless they become the only way we can envision drawing closer to God.

The Christian life is filled with subtle but deadly if onlys. I would be generous if only I made more. I would be prayerful if only I had the time. I would be kinder if I wasn’t so frazzled.

We have stopped looking at what has become of us as more a revelation of our true nature. When we are busy, when we are moody, when we are hungry, when we are impatient. That’s a truer image of our life without God. That’s a better reflection of our sinful nature. That’s us. It’s not the exception, it’s what we are when the comforts of life are pealed back.

The good news, is that how we actually are is a great starting point for spiritual transformation for those of us who persevere. A vibrant life of faith can and should be built in to life as it is for us. Whether it’s subtle practices of prayer, or giving out of our substance instead of our abundance, faith gets cultivated in our day to day lives.

Are you in a season that is especially busy? Are you in midst of trials and temptations, than if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, God will use it to build in a full, vibrant, living faith, as you integrate your life as it is with the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Retreats and respites are important, but a faith that is built in around the hectic patterns and trials of life is more central. In other words what you do today in regards to faith is of more value than what you do when you are moved from your life as it is.

Making Time for God

How do you make time for God? Many Christians have a great desire to spend time with God, but it never seems to translate to action. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that we lack the time; other times we are simply unsure of where to start or even how to cultivate the desire for a devotional/prayer life.  We catch ourselves saying, “I wish I could start the day with an hour of prayer, but given my commitments that’s not very realistic,” or “I know I want to spend time with God but where do I start?”

Without guidance the whole issue of how to develop a prayer life can become bewildering.

So how does one go from barely reading scripture or praying; to spending a robust amount of time in prayer, reading, or reflection of some sort?

The simple, one word answer: repentance. A devotional life begins with needing to cultivate some desire for it. The surest way to cultivate an honest desire for God is repentance. You might ask, “Repent? For what?”

For everything, more specifically repent for our lack of desire for a devotional life. You may want to choose some phrases to help. Many Christians use the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But other phrases from scripture or like in spirit can be easily used. A few examples:

  • The wages of sin is death.
  • Give an account for your management of the household.
  • Remember from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first.

Cultivating a prayer and devotional life is a bit more akin to being serious about going to the gym or getting into physical shape. At first it’s going to be slow and hard work. You aren’t going to want to develop a prayer life. Instead you’ll find it comforting to go back to old patterns rather quickly. That’s why repentance is crucial. Repentance brings us back to our unwillingness to really cultivate our faith. The process of developing a prayer life will humble you and that sort of humbling is a key ingredient for living a life of faith.

After repentance you need to choose some set course of study or rule (set form for study). This is probably the hardest thing to do, especially in an age that values spontaneity and experience, at some point all of that feeling has to give way to a decision. The good news is that there are a lot of things one could do. There’s the Book of Common Prayer (here‘s an easy to use online version)  which has very set prayers for morning and evening. There’s also a whole host of audio prayer devotions, and scripture readings. Here is an audio devotional from the Jesuit tradition and here is a long listing of options from

Some elements that are worth looking for as you decide where to start. Look for something that has some scripture to work through or think about. Look for something that you will do in repetition. This is a key point. In the beginning your prayer/devotional life can’t really survive off of spontaneity. If you have to start with five minutes a day, twice a day, than that’s what you do. Like weight lifting start at something you can repeat and explore from there. A prayer life is something you cultivate and develop; it doesn’t just happen because you want it to.

You aren’t going to go from nothing to a robust devotional life in a short period of time. Realize that patience will be a key ingredient to cultivating a life of faith. So you are looking for something to build on.

Practice. Not just doing the devotion, but implementing the ideas and truths in scripture in your daily life.  Faith without works is dead. Devotion without practice won’t build up a life of faith. The scriptures have to be infused in your day to day life to strengthen your faith. It’s not enough to think about theology and about prayer and about scripture, integrate them with specific people and specific circumstances and you will find that your understanding of scripture and desire for a devotional life grows.

Faith comes by hearing and doing. A devotional life comes with cultivating a desire for it by living out what we learn.

On Friendships

On Friendships

There is too much being written about how hard it is for men to relate to other men. Given that we live in a more socially mobile age, you get the impression that it must be almost impossible to have good, stable male friendships.

That’s really not the case.

Jesus tells us that we are his  friends if we do what he says. In the words of the book of James we are to become doers of the word, not simply listeners.  So what is a doer when it comes to friendship?

One that loves his neighbor as himself, one that forgives his neighbor, one that helps his neighbor in need whether physical or otherwise, one that exemplifies peace, patience, and self-control. One that does not avoid conflict or avoid their neighbor when they are hurt or disappointed, but one who is steadfast with his neighbor to the end.

Now just by putting the words of scripture into practice doesn’t mean that we’ll advance far along the way of robust, healthy, and long lasting friendships, but it does mean that we can be consistent in our character as far as it depends on us. We could consider holding in our slights and hurts and be more consistent in bearing with each other. We will find plenty of people who will come in and out of our lives, who won’t be there for us, who won’t match our ideas of friendships, who won’t be honest. All of this is really beyond our control.

What we can control is our approach to others, having an ever better understanding of our inner life, being transparent with how God made us, seeking counsel and help as needed, acknowledging our many weaknesses, and growing in our willingness and ability to forgive and be engaged with others. This is no easy thing. We are all called brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have a familial relationship in our standing with each other whether we recognize it or not. In other words we are a dysfunctional family in the church that needs to work on our ability to be reconciled to each other.

One way that happens it through friendships. A friendship may or may not met your expectations and you might not be able to share yourself fully or even be yourself fully, but by being consistent and by operating within your abilities and personality, you can over time have a solid and consistent friendship with other people.

The ultimate goal of Christian friendship isn’t simply vulnerability (though that may happen) or overcoming obstacles and challenges together (that may happen too), it’s growing into the fullness of Christ’s character. That means consistency, compassion, firmness of inner character, and a radical commitment to forgive and be reconciled. In other words to live at peace and grow in our ability to be graceful to each other as we are and as we will be in the age to come. Amen.

Self Deception, The Book of Common Prayer, and Coming to Terms

Self Deception, The Book of Common Prayer, and Coming to Terms

The Book of Common Prayer during their morning and evening prayers has a prayer of confession. It reads:

“Holy Scripture calls us, in various places, to acknowledge and confess our many sins and wickedness”

Two words: acknowledge and confess. How many times do we live in denial of the various sins that so easily entangle us. Let alone confess those sins honestly and openly to God, let alone to one another. As another prayer puts it there is no spiritual soundness in us. Yet how readily do we lean on our own ways and our own understandings. Is it not the pride that lurks within that functionaly says to the Lord, no thank you I have this covered. I know how to get out. Yes I may be down and out with my emotions, but I’ll manage. I’ll just keep on, keeping on.

Understanding our interior life is a major challenge. We are often deceived on the true state of our inner life. The Orthodox say that a man is a universe inside himself. Yet rare is the man or woman who knows even a portion of that inner universe. After all the heart is desperately wicked. Yet rare is the one who says, “My heart is wicked.”

And so we trudge along, but it’s not hard for people to tell that we are trudging. We can even see that kind of trudging if we want to. Are our emotions going up and done? Do we lack consistency in commitment? Are we blaming others? Spending hours on social media or some other form of distraction?

This is not the spiritual feast we are called to.

We are called, in the words of St. Paul, to the spiritual race, to diligence and consistency in the life of faith.

When we trudge along, one of the harder things is to be reconciled to the true Life of the world. In the prayers for the sick in the Book of Common Prayer we find prayers for health, body, soul, and mind. We need a full refreshing when we are ill and the spiritual state of trudging is a similar state to a physical ailment. The spiritual and physical life interlock, so we can at least say that such prayers may be as appropriate when we are not doing well internally.

So we have to turn and confess or acknowledge and confess. Acknowledgement is very difficult, just ask anyone who has every argued. Acknowledging your role in anything is hard, how much harder when asked to do so before God. Some people feel that if one acknowledges sin one must immediately punish themselves and will themselves to wholeness of life. If you are trudging no amount of forcing yourself to pray and read the bible is really going to turn the life of the heart without acknowledgement and confession of what is really going on.

Only with some direct internal honesty and turning can a process begin which will bring healing and life to the inner man or woman.

Letting the Lord have access to those details is an act of surrender and very uncomfortable. Like Adam and Eve we hide ourselves from the Lord and one another. We often carry wounds and scars from the past even the recent past. Life teaches us to hide and contemporary culture teaches us to try harder. Yet scripture teaches us to turn and acknowledge that we are not the lord and masters of our lives, but that we know someone, someone who is the Life of the world, someone who is able to bathe us in mercy and love if we would acknowledge how wretched we are and how in need we are for the life of the Trinity to enter in.

Repentance, humility, prayer, and fasting. These are key elements of the Life of faith. In some way we need God’s help to come to terms with ourselves. This is especially true when we are set in our ways and set along a way that does not produce life.

Lord in your mercy, hear the prayers of your people and make straight our paths.

Why Pro-Life Christians Are Addressing Climate Change

Why Pro-Life Christians Are Addressing Climate Change

by Rev. Mitch Hescox and Alexei Laushkin

From the formation of a child’s first tiny cell to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value because each and every one of us is made in the image of God. And that is why when we talk about being “pro-life,” it’s not just about a political issue. It’s a world view…it’s a life-view. It’s a way of looking at each human life that transcends culture, class, race, age and opinion.

— The Dignity of Life by Focus on The Family

We believe that creation-care is a matter of life because we see a clear scriptural ethic to protect human life at all stages; from conception to natural death. This view is anchored in historic Christian teaching on the subject and it is the same ethic that motivated early Christians to take up adoption and what motivates Christians in this age to protect the unborn from abortion.  As the recent video, The Dignity of Life, by Focus on the Family puts it: “From the formation of a child’s first tiny cell to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value because each and every one of us is made in the image of God.”

For us, being pro-life includes not only defending our unborn children, but also the biblical mandate to care for all life. While the threats may be different, the injunction to protect life is the same. We are called to protect this seamless garment of life.

Toxins and other pollutants foul our water, air, and soil, impacting the purity of life God intends. Children are especially vulnerable to many of these pollutants because their small bodies are still developing. A few years ago pro-life evangelicals spoke out on the impact of mercury on the unborn. 1 in 6 children in the U.S. were born with too high levels of mercury in their blood; here’s an audio briefing on why mercury is so dangerous for the unborn.  Because of the efforts of pro-life evangelicals the United States is taking a leadership role in reducing the impact of mercury on the unborn.  Another important issue is water.  As a recent USA Today op-ed put it if you care about life pay attention to what’s happening with water.

We believe climate change to be a profound pro-life issue, and Florida is ground zero when it comes to climate change. Cities across the state are already spending millions in taxpayer dollars to install new sea level pumps, bolster sea walls, and protect from salt water intrusion. While it is good to respond to current challenges, it is even more cost effective to spend funds ahead of time to prepare for present changes in the climate, including extreme weather events. Let’s upgrade Florida’s water pumps and building codes today before we have to clean up a bigger mess tomorrow. Given the dollars already being spent and scale of the cost, if you care about taxpayer money and limited government you should care about climate change. We are also concerned about worsening air pollution under climate change. Duval County alone has almost 18,000 cases of pediatric asthma. That number would be dramatically lower if we were better stewards of God’s world.

When we see the present impacts our pro-life ethic kicks in. Let’s empower individuals to take the lead when it comes to entrepreneurial business solutions that create a cleaner environment. We need to see climate not as an issue about politics or partisanship, but as a moral concern. God has given us all the tools to be good stewards of God’s creation. It’s time for Florida to come together to come up with a plan to address climate change. The church in Florida is already starting to take the lead through the Joseph Pledge. As the church starts to take on climate change more directly, it’s also time for clean businesses to take the lead. The cost of solar has plummeted, yet Florida is still well behind where it could be when it comes to clean energy. We need to do what we can to transition away from expensive fossil fuels and toward cheaper and healthier technologies. These actions should include putting together a plan for Florida to play a part in achieving the Clean Power Plan and finding conservative solutions to addressing carbon pollution.

Every concern mentioned in the video by Focus on the Family is impacted by our poor stewardship of God’s creation, whose consequences are borne by our children in their bodies and the future we bequeath to them. If creation isn’t stewarded well how do we expect the poor to have access to fresh food and to live free of toxins in their neighborhood? Our poor stewardship of God’s world is a reflection of how seriously we take God’s teaching. That’s why creation-care remains integral to being pro-life. As the Focus video states, being pro-life is “not just about a political issue. It’s a world view – it’s a life view.”

Rev. Mitch Hescox is the President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Repentance, Repentance, and Ferguson, MO

Repentance, Repentance, and Ferguson, MO

Slumber, slumber; My Church is the great sleeper
Why, o Why, do you ask for help to spend on yourselves
You have forgotten to bind the hearts of the brokenhearted
You have neglected your fellow brothers and sisters
You have forgotten Ferguson, MO
These things you should not have done
Turn, Repent, Cry Out and you will be Healed
Seek first the kingdom of God
Humble Yourself
We Confess
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

As a conservative evangelical I have a confession to make. I am not as naturally burdened by the events in Ferguson, MO as I ought to be. That is until this morning. This morning reading the news of more violence and confrontations with police, I was deeply burdened. This is our nation in turmoil. These are our people in suffering. These are our leaders in paralysis.

I have followed the events in Ferguson since they have happened, but I have not been as driven to pray and fast until now.

photo by velo_city used through flickr creative commons.

photo by velo_city used through flickr creative commons.

I have to ask myself. Where is the conservative anglo church? I know many are as burdened as I am, but why is what Ann Coulter says about Ebola and missionaries more burdensome than the violence and strife within our own cities. Why, are we not driven to repentance. Why do we not say and confess that we just aren’t as interested  or burdened to pursue relationships with fellow leaders of color.

I know many leaders would be happy if they had such relationships and some actually do, but why don’t we prioritize unity in the body?

Will we just let our understanding of politics and culture blind us to what God desires out of the church?

During the height of tensions in Ukraine you saw the Orthodox church do something incredible. They stood in the middle of the protesters and government forces and pleaded for peace. They reminded people, violence is not the way of the one who suffered the cross. In the end you may choose violence, but don’t confuse your will with the holiness of God.

As the body of Christ can we not see that the Lord wishes something similar from the American church? By that I don’t mean the anglo church or churches of color, I mean the way the Lord will look at us and does look at us, as one church. If we fail to humble ourselves and recognize our unity before God that’s on us not the Lord.

God longs for a holy and righteous American church. One that seeks first the kingdom. One that humbles itself through repentance and confession of sins. One that is not prideful, one that does not say I have nothing to repent of.

If we humble ourselves in unity and seek first the kingdom, the Lord will come and bring great healing and vibrancy back on the church. Let us live and fast for such a day. Let us live and keep the fast for Ferguson, MO. Amen.