"Jesus Christ himself proposed a still more frightening question…"

“Yet there is a sense in which a focus on today’s obedience makes a long view possible: it does not yield a map, but it does yield a confidence that he who has called us is faithful, and will conduct the whole Church to her journey’s end. About a dozen years ago, Pope John Paul II agreed to answer some questions posed to him by an Italian journalist named Vittorio Messori. (His answers ultimately became the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope.) One of those questions concerned demographic predictions that Muslims would outnumber Catholics by the year 2000: “How do you feel when faced with this reality, after twenty centuries of evangelization?” 

To this inquiry – with its freight of implicit worry – the pope replied placidly. After all, Jesus Christ himself proposed a still more frightening question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) – will there be any faithful believers at all?” 

Alan Jacobs. Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant, “Choose Life.

More Love to Thee

I discovered Elizabeth Prentiss a couple of years ago. I acquired a copy of Stepping Heavenward after my grandmother died. Grandma Maude said it was her favorite book.

Reading a fictional, girl’s diary was not something I was initially drawn to, but after picking up the book and reading it, I was struck by the sweetness of the story and the reality and honesty of the main character. I ended up reading it the day I started it. I’ve often thought of juxtaposing Stepping Heavenward with Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I was taken with Mrs. Prentiss’ and later discovered that she had wrote hymns. A couple of years ago, I retuned this one for the congregation I pastor. Here is a recording I did for some friends.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F30920296%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-0ZBI9&secret_url=true  More Love To Thee by Randamir

To Sea Like Lucy

Today is the feast day of Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia. Her feast day is celebrated by many denominations and traditions. Lucy’s martyrdom was most likely during the Diocletian persecution. Tradition tells us that she was blinded prior to her execution and so St. Lucy is the patron of the blind.

Of course, I think of a certain Lucy Pevensie who is a literary heroine of mine. No doubt C.S. Lewis knew her name was derived from the Latin lux (light). In the Narniad, Lucy is more often than not the one who sees things first. In fact, in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund while talking about Aslan with Eustace, has this to say:

“Well, don’t tell me about it, then,” said Eustace. “But who is Aslan? Do you know him?” “Well—he knows me,” said Edmund. “He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia. We’ve all seen him. Lucy sees him most often.
Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Chronicles of Narnia (pp. 117-118). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

“Lucy sees him most often.” I love that.

In honor of all the heroines who bear the name “Lucy”, here’s a children’s choir singing, “Santa Lucia”.

The sovereign Stick up Artist

A quote sent from a friend…

“The evangelical church, or at least a good slice of it, is nervous, twitchy, and touchy about consumer desire, ready to change in a nanosecond at the slightest hint that tastes and interests have changed. Why? Because consumer appetite reigns. And consumer appetite and consumer rights go hand in hand. These rights and appetites are very much alive in what used to be called the pew. Those who attend churches are now like any other customers you might meet in the mall. Displease them in any way and they will take their business elsewhere. That is the fear that lurks in many a church leader’s soul because they know that is how the marketplace works.
Like customers everywhere, those who show up in these churches are sovereign. Let us make no mistake about that. They rule. Accepting this fact has become the key to becoming cutting-edge in cultural terms. A mailer from a church in Mesa, Arizona, in 2006, for example, read: “Is your life everything you want it to be? You hear all kinds of offers of ways to improve your life, but do they work? God is offering you a way to make your life everything you truly want it to be.” So, there it is! The difference between this offer and the others is that this one works. Here the customer can match self-perceived need with a product. And bingo! Success!
With this kind of thinking in the air, we in the church today are leery of speaking of a Christian faith that is too demanding because of the prospect of offending our market(s). We take care not to cross these lines when speaking from our barstools, or from behind our Plexiglas stands if they have not yet been replaced.
This is a curious thing, is it not? It brings to mind the haplessness of parents in a home where the children have, amidst sullen moods and a creeping sense of the cruel injustice that has been inflicted on them, decided they will take it no longer. It begins with thoughts, the rebellious mists that shroud the mind and hold off the sun’s light and warmth. But soon the thoughts become seeds, and the seeds, finding fertile soil in the internal wounds suffered during the journey to adulthood, begin to germinate. The parents, sensing something is amiss, scour their minds to think of what they have done wrong and, understanding little of the labyrinthine coils of the adolescent psyche, decide to back off and take the path that inflicts the least pain. Poor things. They are only trying to do the best they can, but unfortunately they do not quite understand that they are staring down the gun barrel of a stickup artist. They are about to be robbed. Out of their good intentions, space is enlarged around the child, latitude is allowed, rules are rescinded, rebukes are stifled except in rare cases, and expectations are lifted. However, parents being parents, they are never entirely out of the woods with these children because, try as they might, they are never fully successful in setting their children free.
What is interesting about this painful tango of parent and child is that the more the demands and expectations of the parents are moderated, the more onerous and intolerable do the children find those that remain! In fact, the few that remain become more objectionable than the many, taken together, that once were there. Parental moderation only excites fresh cries of outrage and pain. Even more disaffection follows. Murderous glances, defiant behavior, black moods follow each other like clouds shifting across a stormy front. The parents, baffled at this unreasonable behavior, retreat even more. But the further they retreat, the more intense becomes the resentment! Nothing less than their total, abject surrender is acceptable. And when they do yield and hold aloft their white flag of surrender, they are despised even more deeply!

Am I being unreasonable in thinking that there are some parallels to the contemporary church here? Not, of course, that the pastors are the parents and the congregations are the children. That is a Catholic idea. The parallel, though, does seem to hold at the point of who has the psychological edge.

It would be quite wrong to suggest that pastors and other leaders in a local church have an authority that operates with near certain infallibility, or that what they think should be beyond question, or that their teaching, if they still offer such in church, cannot be questioned. All should be held to account before the same standard that is the Word of God.

By the same token, no congregation can take to itself this authority, and that is what is happening implicitly as consumer impulses take root in the evangelical psyche. All consumers, we need to remember, are sovereign, and the consuming impulse, once it enters a church, makes individual preferences the deciding factor, the driving factor in what that church becomes. These preferences become the standard by which the church is measured.

The moment disaffection with the church’s music, message, style, ethos, amenities, programs, or parking lot(s) begins to take root in a congregation, these new market-savvy pastors fear, they can anticipate dark glances directed toward the front of the church signaling consumer dissatisfaction. The glances will then mature into displeasure, the displeasure will become a seed, the seed will germinate in the internal soil that is ready to receive it, and the decision to walk away will be made. That is the (post)modern version of damnation, at least from a pastor’s point of view!

Market-savvy pastors, sensing this, back off. They lift demands and expectations, making Christianity light and easy. They hire new staff who specialize in knowing how to make worship fun, not to mention funny. Polls and soundings are taken each week, just as they are by the major retailers, to see if things are “on target:’ Poor things. If only they knew that their congregations, too, have become stickup artists! Or, to change the picture, what is happening here is that the individual has invested his or her desires with a kind of sovereign authority that runs roughshod over everything else, including the Word of God.

Never mind. Is it not better to have these people in the church on their own terms than not at all? Is it not possible that they will hear something there that might “click” with them? Why offend them, then, and guarantee that their weekends will be spent away from church? So, make it all as simple as an advertisement, as pleasing as an ice cream in the heat of summer. Make it as easy on the mind as a relaxing show on television. Only give something that works. Do not talk doctrine. Do not hold forth about anything that takes serious effort to follow. Do not sound churchy.”

David F. Wells. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Kindle Locations 528-535). Kindle Edition.

To Lady Kenmure on the Occasion of the death of her infant daughter

“You have lost a child: nay she is lost to you who is found in Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven. Build your nest upon no tree here; for ye see God hath sold the forest to death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end we may fly and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the holes of the Rock.”

Samuel Rutherford