Monthly Archives: September 2016

Of Mutts and Methodists and Mennonites

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morgans-best-friend-gingerOf Mutts. My families, by both birth and marriage, have owned a number of dogs, mostly mixed-breeds. Caesar joined our family when I was in second grade, we affectionately referred to him as a cross between a cocker spaniel, a dachshund, and a mutt. The dog we now own, Graceyn, is a Westie-Poo, a mix between a West Highland terrier and a poodle. Only Ginger, a golden retriever we had for a few years, was a purebred.

My wife’s family has owned a number English bulldogs. It’s a tenacious and tough-looking dog originally bred to take down thousand-pound bulls. But they’re very loving and loyal to their owners, with the endearing wrinkles of a fuzzy teddy bear. It’s also a breed in trouble, as this recent CBS News article reports.

That’s the thing about purebreds: the inbreeding leaves animals without enough genetic diversity to overcome inherited health problems. The very thing that keeps the breed pure also risks its extinction.


Of Methodists and Mennonites. When I was a kid my family moved around a lot, so I’ve been part of many different churches. Though our roots were in one of the 31 flavors of Baptists, those roots did not define us as we sought out a new church home with each move. I first made a faith commitment to Jesus in the Sunday School of our “community church” in Minnesota. In Texas we joined a “Bible Church.” In British Columbia, I was baptized in an Evangelical Mennonite Brethren church.

During high school in Germany, we joined the American Protestant Church, whose pastors were primarily Methodists and Lutherans. I went to a Free Methodist university for a year before joining the Air Force, where I sat under chaplains from the United Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist, and Seventh Day Adventist denominations. Later I would attend both Presbyterian and Assembly of God churches. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a spiritual mutt.


Inbreeding is as harmful in churches as it is in dogs.

In some church worlds, it’s all about doctrine: we are united by what we agree on, and because we agree. Of course, we are also therefore divided by what we believe. But Jesus sought and prayed for unity within His body, the Church. He rarely talked about believing the right things—unless it was about who He was or what He could do.

Shortly before He was crucified, Jesus prayed “that they [His followers] may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). In other words, the greatest strategy for growing the Kingdom of God is unity within the Church.

For too long, though, Christians have sought a false unity, focused not on who Jesus is, but on how we should behave: who can and should lead, how much water to use in baptism, and which sins are acceptable and which will keep you from heaven. We argue about fine points of doctrine: what “is” really means in the Lord’s Supper, and when Jesus will return. (Hint: even He didn’t know!)

Our arguments divide rather than unite, and they keep bewildered onlookers out of our churches and out of His Church.

Doctrine—right believing—is important. Right doctrine leads to right conduct. Seeking right doctrine is what led to numerous councils over the past two millennia, beginning with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15, Galatians 2). Seeking right doctrine gave us the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and more.

Over the past several years, I’ve looked at hundreds of church websites and doctrinal positions from a dozen or more denominations. Ironically, for all the distinctions in these groups, the doctrinal statements are so similar you’d think they could be from just one or two churches, not dozens. And one of the most common introductory statements is this: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

The problem is, we cannot agree on what are the essentials but seek—in vain—for unity in the non-essentials; and we show precious little charity in most things.

As a result, our differences are centered around things on the periphery, and what unity we have has led to the same type of inbreeding that is endangering the English Bulldog.

We need some doctrinal cross-breeding. We need tables for conversation, not fences down the middle of God’s Kingdom.

We need to breed more spiritual mutts.

 

 

The Problem of Intercession (Lord, Teach Us to Pray)

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coffee-prayerPrayer is hard work. Maybe that’s why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). Or maybe Jesus just knew their models weren’t great (Matthew 6:5), so he showed them another way.

A dozen books on my bookshelves have titles about prayer; certainly as many others include sections about how to pray. It’s hard work, and we need help.

Years ago a man who was training me in how to follow Jesus (a process we call “discipling” or “discipleship”) showed me a way to organize what I would pray for. Back then—in the dark ages!—he was using a file box with 3×5 cards: he had dividers for each day of the week, Sunday through Saturday; other dividers for each day of the month, 1-31; and a section in the front for daily prayers. Each prayer request was written on a card and put in the appropriate section depending on whether he would pray daily, weekly, or monthly. When he prayed, he would go through all the cards in the daily section, then those in the section for “today” (Tuesday), and finally in the monthly section behind today’s date (6).

It’s a good, organized system and for the past few weeks I’ve gone back to that method using a tool in my Bible study program. Being computerized now is an advantage because I can easily add different frequencies like twice a week or every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Here’s the challenge, though: if this becomes the primary way I pray, then it’s easy for me to slide away from relationship and begin treating God more like a vending machine.

Think of it this way: What if the bulk of what your kids said to you was centered around making requests? “Dad, can you help me study? Can you do something to make my day better? Can you give me some medicine to make me feel better?” None of those are bad requests; as a parent, we love to help our kids. And if they were asking for good things for their friends, we’d be okay with that, too.

But if this was all our kids said when they talked with us—or even mostly what they said—we’d get weary of it. We want to hear about their day, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows. We want to know them, and be known by them. Frankly, we’d love it if they’d ask about us, too. We’d love to be listened to by our kids – for them to hear our hearts and minds.

And it’s not just kids and parents. We want to have heart-and-mind relationships with our friends, too.

The ten-dollar word for “prayer requests” is intercession; it means “going between” – when you pray, you are going between a person and God. It is good and right and necessary. Jesus taught, encouraged, and praised people who intercede for others. In fact, the Bible says that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are presently interceding for us. (See Romans 8:26-39, I Timothy 2:1, and Hebrews 7:25.)

But intercession is only one part of prayer, and maybe not even the most important part. We need to love God; and love is born and grown in relationship, talking to and with God, listening to Him, reading His Word. Have a cup of coffee with God.

So intercede for your friends and family. Pray for them, their needs, their hopes, their hurts. But when you find yourself just slipping prayer coins into the prayer vending machine, stop! Take a break from the prayer requests and just spend time with God. Talk to Him about Him. Praise Him for who He is. This is different, by the way, than thanking Him for what He’s done – try to focus on who God is; it’s harder than it sounds! (More helps on this kind of praying in another post at another time.)