Saturday, November 29, 2008

Te Deum or not Te Deum...

Well, yesterday was "Black Friday," which tells us we've now entered the official Christmas shopping season. Retailers across our land are hoping consumers will thumb their noses at the economy and drive themselves deeper into debt. Children are busy compiling voluminous tomes they simply refer to as their "Christmas wish lists." The lists usually consist of "just-have-to-haves" that will become outdated, boring and "old-school" before the rubbish man has picked up its packaging and wrapping paper from the trash.

If we are not careful, our prayers can sometimes resemble a wish list or shopping list. "God, I want this. God, I want that. God, give me, give me, give me............ And, oh, yeah, in-Jesus'-name-amen!" I think you know what I mean. Although there is a place for bringing our needs (not our selfish desires) and holy petitions before God, the greatest focus of prayer should be worship, with the object of prayer being God, Himself. After all, it is all about Him, not all about us.

Below is a fourth century prayer or hymn known as the Te Deum laudamus, which simply means, We Praise You, O God. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest non-biblical hymns of the Christian church. By the way, non-biblical doesn't always mean unscriptural. (I thought I'd throw that in for free) Though you will notice certain requests are made of God toward the end of the prayer, the requests are made on the basis of God's greatness and mercy and not on the basis of our need (or whim.) What follows is my paraphrase of the version found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. I tried to remain true to the text while smoothing out some of the awkwardness of the archaic spellings and wordings.

Prayers like this are never outdated, boring or "old-school." They are continually fresh and rich because their goal is simply to worship Him who alone is worthy.

Te Deum laudamus
We praise You, O God; we acknowledge You to be the Lord.
All the earth worships You, the Father Everlasting.
To You all angels, the powers of heavens, cry aloud with the
cherubim and seraphim who continually cry,
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and
earth are full of the majesty of Your glory."
The glorious company of the apostles praise You.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise You.
The noble army of martyrs praise You.
The holy church throughout all the world acknowledges You:
the Father of infinite majesty;
Your honorable, true and only Son;
and the Holy Ghost, who is also our Comforter.
You are the King of Glory, O Christ
You are the everlasting Son of the Father.
When You took upon Yourself to deliver mankind, You did not despise the Virgin's womb.
When You overcame the sting of death, You opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
You sit at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that You will come to be our Judge.
Therefore, we pray that You would help Your servants, whom You have redeemed with Your precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with Your saints, in everlasting glory.
O Lord, save Your people and bless Your heritage.
Govern them and lift them up forever.
Every day we will be mindful to magnify You.
And we will worship Your name forever in a world without end.
In Your gracious favor, keep us from sin today.
O Lord, have mercy on us; have mercy on us.
O Lord, let Your mercy rest upon us, because our trust is in You.
O Lord, I have trusted in You. Let me never be confounded.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yeah, but he still said some good things...

In the "Time for an exam" post below I listed the twenty-two questions the members of the Holy Club would ask themselves each evening. If that seems a bit much to you, perhaps St. Ignatius Loyola's ( 1491-1556) General Examination of Conscience would serve you better. With only five questions you could consider it simply "a quiz."

St. Ignatius' General Examination of Conscience
1. Give thanks to God our Lord for the favors received
2. Ask for the grace to know your sins
3. Examine how you have lived this day
4. Ask forgiveness for any faults
5. Resolve to amend with the grace of God

Ignatius said some really great things, some beautiful things. For example, prayerfully read the two following prayers which are attributed to him. We would do well to pray these kinds of prayer.

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,save that of knowing that I do your will.

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me:
I surrender itall to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

Not everything Ignatius said should received with such enthusiasm. He also believed in self-flagellation as a suitable form of penance. He said, “The safest and most suitable form of penance seems to be that which causes pain in the flesh but does not penetrate to the bones, that is, which causes suffering but not sickness. So the best way seems to be to scourge oneself with thin cords which hurt superficially, rather than to use some other means which might produce serious internal injury.”

Please note that the biblical call that goes forth is to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The call is not to do penance.

Ignatius also said, "We should always be disposed to believe that that which appears white is really black, if the hierarchy of the Church so decides."

No! Brother Ignatius. If it is is white, no matter who declares it to be otherwise. Here's one for you Ignatius, "The truth is the truth even when spoken by devils; and a lie is a lie even when spoken by the hierarchy of the Church or even the pope himself."

So, dear readers, when reading someone like Ignatius (or, anyone for that matter...yes! even me) do like one of my college professors said, "Eat the meat and spit out the bones."

Remember, the Apostle Paul commended the Bereans (Acts 17:10,11) and called the more noble than the Thessalonians because they "received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."

The Bereans were wise to appraise even Paul's words in the light of Scripture. Let us use the same wisdom when reading or listening to the words of others.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We should all be committed!

Okay, I know this post is a bit lengthy, but you don't have to read it in one sitting. It is good stuff though.

The following is a prayer of personal commitment of his life to the Lord that Benjamin Ingham prayed on April 12, 1734. It is taken from his diary (Diary of an Oxford Methodist: Benjamin Ingham, 1733-1734, Edited by Richard P. Heitzenrater, Duke University Press, 1985). Benjamin Ingham was a close friend of John and Charles Wesley and is of personal interest to me because he shows up in my family tree. He had a group of followers known as Inghamites and had a number of churches named after him. From the information I have gathered there may be only a couple of Inghamite churches still in existence.
This prayer, actually a solemn vow, is based heavily on and, in places, follows word for word the suggestions laid down in the book, "The Country Parson's Advice to His Parishioners." "Country Parson" was a book that Ingham, the Wesley brothers and others in the Holy Club at Oxford prayerfully read and studied. This book helped to shaped their lives of faith. This obscure book was originally written anonymously in 1680 and republished (with edits) for the first time in 1998 by George Koch, an Episcopal priest. I highly recommend this book to you. It is a real gem and an uncovered treasure. If you don't want to purchase it may actually be read on-line at George Koch's website.
One other interesting note. The "Country Parson'' suggests that after you write out and make this solemn vow to the Lord that you sign it and date it. Benjamin Ingham took it a step farther - he signed his resignation (an act of surrender) in his own blood.

In the name of God, Amen.

Being, I trust, assisted by God's Holy Spirit to consider the shortness and uncertainty of life, the emptiness and vanity of the world, and all the things of the world; the worth of my soul, and the important concern that lies upon me to provide for its eternal welfare: I see it's absolutely necessary to live a holy and religious life. I cannot be happy forever if I do not do so, and therefore I'm resolved I will [do] so, and nothing shall divert or hinder me forever; the Lord hear me, help me, and be merciful unto me.

This resolution is neither unreasonable or unnecessary; the business indeed which I undertake is difficult, but God is sufficient to enable me to march through all difficulties and to overcome all temptations; and surely the reward annexed to the performance thereof is enough to encourage any man to run through fire and water and to master impossibilities; eternal life, everlasting glory cast down all obstacles; therefore I say again, I do resolve upon a holy and religious life.
Witness Almighty God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, heaven and earth. angels and archangels, the Church militant and triumphant, Amen.

At my baptism I entered into a solemn covenant with Almighty God. This covenant I do solemnly now renew and take upon myself; and if I do not use my uttermost endeavors to perform it, may I never reap the least advantage from it. I know I shall fall into many sins and diverse temptations, and without God's assistance I shall not be able to do any thing that is good, yet 'tis, if I fall seven times a day, with God's assistance I'll rise again, repent, and amend.
I renounce the devil and all his works, pride, love of greatness and fame, all thoughts of glory, honour, preferment, character, reputation, esteem, even amongst my acquaintances, friends, and relations, when inconsistent with my duty; also anger, malice, revenge, and all other sinful affections of the perverse and corrupt nature, the instruments of the devil to draw us to everlasting damnation.

I renounce the pomps and vanities of the world, with all covetous desires of the same; I'll endeavour to seem little in my own eyes, and be content to be thought so by the whole world; I'll not seek the praise of men, neither will I be pleased with it; whatever condition God places me in, shall content me.

I utterly renounce all proud and vain thoughts of my own worth; I'll not imagine myself to be any other man, or think how I could act in such a state of life, but I'll labour to perform my own part well.

I renounce all the sinful ways of the flesh; lust, adultery, fornication, unchasteness of all kinds; gluttony, drunkenness; sloth; I'll labour against all unchaste thoughts; I'll be temperate in all things, not using the c[reation] for pleasure, but preservation. A little drink makes me merry, therefore I'll watch against all temptation that way. My bed shall be left winter so soon as my body is refreshed with sufficient sleep. I'm subject to intemperance in eating, therefore I must and will guard well against it. I'll be diligent in business, always doing, watchful against temptations, avoiding idleness.

I steadfastly believe all the Articles of the Christian faith and whatever is revealed in Holy Scripture. God's Holy Word and will shall be my study and delight; whatever he forbids, I'll absolutely avoid; whatever he commands, I'll labour to perform and fulfill. I'll strive to shun even the appearance of all evil, and to do all the good that lies in my power. All my thoughts, words, and will shall be directed to God's glory.

Supposing now I should be sure of gaining the greatest preferment by complying with the customs of the world, and yielding to the humours of great men, I absolutely refuse them. Whatever condition God is pleased to place me in, shall fully content me.

Supposing my friend should desire me, and my mother should importune me, to omit my duty in some respect for the sake of pleasing some great person, or gaining some considerable advantage, I would altogether refuse; and though they should all be set against me, hate me, and persecute me, I'll forsake all to follow my Master and do his Service.

Should I be invited on a Stationary day to breakfast with some great man, my answer should be, I'm engaged. Because I'm delighted with the applause of friends, I'll take care to conceal my charity and other good actions not necessary to be known by them, least I should lose the virtue of such good actions by being pleased with the praise of them.
I utterly renounce all pleasures and diversions which are obstructive of the love of God, especially shooting, etc.

I'll give up whatever hereafter I shall find to be obstructive of my duty, whether it be diversion or any kind of meat. I give up baked pudding with fruit, etc.
I'll not suffer myself to eat one bite at table before I've first fixed the quantity; nor to pick, or eat between meals, unless in case of necessity; every breach of this resolution shall be sconced one pence or the next meal. I'll not allow myself butter or cheese after sufficient meat. I'll not eat flesh on fasting days, but in cases of necessity. I'll always give at the Sacrament if I have anything, but never make the want of money an excuse for not receiving.

(Set apart some time every day for doing good. Set apart a full hour morning and evening and a quarter-hour at noon for devotion; cases of necessity must be excepted.)

After some considerable time spent in making and weighing the resolutions and renewal of my baptismal covenant with fasting and prayer, I did on Good Friday, April 12, a.d, 1734, betwixt 1 and 2 in the afternoon in my study at Queen's College, Oxon, on my knees on the floor, take upon myself the said resolutions and renewal of my baptismal covenant; and then and there I did, with all the devotion of my heart and soul, make an entire surrender and resignation of myself and all things belonging to me to Almighty God, protesting and vowing in the following words, that he should have the full guiding and governing and disposing of me and mine forever.
See, O my heart, what thou hast done, observe the bond which thou hast laid upon thyself; it is thy own act and deed, there is no disowning it, or excepting against it; as sure as I now see it with my eyes, it is recorded before God in heaven, and it shall one day be brought forth against me to my everlasting condemnation if I do not discharge and satisfy it.

Go on, O my heart, go on, as thou hast begun, to keep thy resolutions firm, and to pay thy vows unto the most high and be confident that the Lord will prosper thy good desires and endeavours, and reward thee according to his gracious covenant and promise, with everlasting glory and felicity. April 12, a.d. 1734.

To God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, I do give myself soul and body, and all that belongs unto me, to be guided, governed, and disposed of according to his holy will, and to his honour and glory, and may he be a witness to this my act, which I promise never to revoke, and may I never obtain the least favour from him if I do it not with an upright heart and an unfeigned purpose to make it good to my life's end. Thou art my witness, O my God, be thou also my helper with thy continued grace, and so shall I be faithful to thee according to my heart's desire.

B. Ingham. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Time for an exam

John and Charles Wesley met with a group of others from Oxford University to devote themselves to a rigorous search for holiness and service to others. This was a kind of a no nonsense "life group” or " accountability group" in which members fasted until 3 PM on Wednesdays and Fridays (these were called "stationary days"), received Holy Communion once each week, studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and the Classics each evening in a member’s room, visited prisoners and the sick, and systematically brought all their lives under strict review. The name “Holy Club” was given in mockery to the group by fellow Oxford students. The group never exceeded 25 members. Another well known figure who was a member of the Holy Club was George Whitefield. One other notable member was Benjamin Ingham. You'll hear more about him in future blogs. He actually shows up in my family tree!

In order to hold each other accountable and keep one's life in check, each member of the Holy Club would ask themselves daily (yes, daily!) the following 22 questions.

22 questions each member asked themselves every day

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
4. Can I be trusted?
5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
7. Did the Bible live in me today?
8. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
9. Am I enjoying prayer?
10. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
13. Do I disobey God in anything?
14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
17. How do I spend my spare time?
18. Am I proud?
19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or Disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
22. Is Christ real to me?
Perhaps you would consider printing this list, putting it in your Bible, and slowly and meditatively read through it regularly. Oh, come on... repentance is good for you! (Oh, yeah, and for me too!)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reading lists

In the column to the left you will see some lists of books that I have been reading over the past couple of years. This is probably more reading than I did in the first fifty years of my life combined, including my college years and the years I pastored. I wasn't really big on reading. Perhaps you will find the list interesting, or perhaps you won't.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One degree of separation

When we think of a "monk" we usually think of someone who has isolated himself from the world, so as not to be tainted by it. In his place of separation he is free to devote himself to God in prayer, fasting, meditation and Scripture reading and memorization. The monk is responding to the Apostle Paul's call to "pray without ceasing."

It is interesting to note, however, that the earliest Christian monastics (known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers) sought to separate themselves not so much from the world, but from the Church they saw as becoming secularized and too worldly. They saw a conflict between the teachings of Christ and the practices of the Church. They took what they felt were necessary steps to "come out from among them and be ye separate." They wanted nothing to come between them and their Lord - even if it was the Church! This "extreme practice" began as early as the third century. I'm sure John the Baptist would have applauded them!

Imagine that, the Church appearing too worldly..... surely not in our day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monk humor

The following link is to a video of a medieval monk needing technical help for operating his new book. The upgrade from his familiar scroll had him frustrated and confused. You'll need to read the subtitles, but it is easy to follow what is happening. I probably had similar feelings trying to get my blog site set up.

Oh, yeah, this blog will not always be serious, but will always be sincere. Remember, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." Proverbs 17:22

My new blog

Well, I went and started a blog. This is quite a step for me, not being very computer savvy. In this blog I will be sharing my various thoughts and insights on: faith, prayer, Scripture, the Christian life and a variety of other topics. At first, there may be no rhyme or reason to what I write. Perhaps at some point my thoughts and writings will be more organized.

At times I feel like somewhat of an oddball. I am unapologetically Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal, yet I am drawn to the idea of monasticism and liturgy. I see great beauty and value in these practices that have been either overlooked or cast aside by much of what we call "the Church."

In this blog I will share gleanings from my reading and observations. Many of my readers may not agree with these thoughts of mine, but the thoughts will reflect where I am presently at in my walk with the Lord. We are all on a spiritual journey, yes, even those who don't believe there is a spiritual aspect of human life. Here I will share the things I see from my path of life.