The Prayer of Independence

The 4th of July in America is a time of barbecues, fireworks, watermelons, swimming, and the red, white, and blue.

Most Americans know that this summer celebration marks the anniversary of the signing of The Declaration of Independence, but is there anything more to this 240-year-old document than the freedom of “Merica”?

The Founding Fathers did not necessarily expect the King of Great Britain to read the Declaration of Independence and immediately grant America her freedom. In fact, the Declaration guaranteed that the Revolutionary War would continue. But it did not matter that the King of England was not listening to the Declaration of Independence because the King of Heaven was.

The most famous lines of the Declaration begin by recognizing God as the giver of human rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

A sentence earlier Jefferson writes of the, “separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle [people].” Without doubt, the Declaration bases the foundation of human rights in God.

By the end of the document, this preparatory acknowledgement of God turns to a prayer for God’s blessing and support upon the new nation: “…appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, [we], in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…”

The Founding Fathers’ closing sentence again appeals to God: “…for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

More than an announcement to Great Britain of America’s independence, the Declaration is also a prayer of petition to God. One of the first and most important documents in American history is a prayer of independence.

To read the entirety of the Declaration of Independence or even download high-resolution images, visit www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.

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Lost and Found in Liturgy

What might we learn about God by worshipping him in new ways?

With this in mind, a group of friends and I have decided to spend the next several Sundays joining churches that worship in ways different from those we are comfortable with.

If you want to read more about why, click here: From Scripture to Dancing.

Our first visit was to St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church.

Going in, my friends and I had no idea how little we knew about the Episcopalian church; I thought my time on St. John Chrysostom’s website and visiting Anglican churches in England would prepare me. It did not.

Even though we had no idea when to sit or stand, where to find the hymns, how to read the liturgy book, or even when the service had ended, St. John Chrysostom welcomed us with open arms.

Christian tradition and community  were the two aspects of worship that stood out the most to me at St. John’s.

Near the beginning of the service, we recited the Nicene creed together. Proclaiming the traditional Nicene Creed with 50 fellow believers reminded me of the legacy of Christians who have clung to its words for millennia.

“We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all that is, seen and unseen.

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from heaven: 
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered died and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

“We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the
Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one
baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.”

– The First Council of Constantinople, 381 AD

After the liturgical recitations and hymns, the friar gave the sermon. He spoke on the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, but his humility and encouragement of communal participation were the things that struck me the most. He offered words of wisdom, but only as a fellow follower of Jesus walking the path of life with his parish.

During the greeting time after the sermon, (which, incidentally, is when we thought the service was over) every worshipper greeted their brothers and sisters, saying, “The peace of God be with you.” To which the customary reply is: “And also with you.” Such a practical manifestation of loving others with the Words of God filled me with joy.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

The service continued with a portion of scripture reading, and then the friar offered the church communion as we knelt on the altar at the front of the sanctuary. This was my first time observing communion with real wine. When the wine touched my lips, it’s sharp taste reminded me of the bitterness of Christ’s sacrifice.

After we had received the eucharist, the service ended with a final prayer. Nearly every member of St. John’s greeted my friends and I on our way out and encouraged us to come back again.

St. John’s community made me feel valued, seen, and cared for. That kind of love is not something I have experienced in all of the familiar churches I have been too. In addition, I never felt that St. John’s traditions were performed in blind ritual. Instead, their traditions were grounded in the Word of God and honored the foundation and beliefs of Christians who have worshipped for centuries.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12:4-5

The stained glass window below depicts the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD where the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity were proclaimed over the Christian Church. Several church fathers are pictured at the bottom, and St. John Chrysostom, the saint for whom St. John’s is named, is shown in red, the third from the left.

From Scripture to Dancing

The variety of ways Christians worship God is staggering!

If you’re like me, you probably haven’t thought about this fact much beyond deciding what other Christians do that you don’t think lines up with the Word of God. We decide, “Those Christians over there *insert denomination* aren’t worshipping right!”

What if we paused for a moment before deciding other types of Christian worship were wrong? There is a time for discussions over doctrine, and there are legitimate issues in worship when Christians need to be careful to follow the Word of God.

But what about the times when Christians are free to express their worship of God in innumerable ways, none of which are wrong? 

Here are a few examples of various Christian worship practices: singing, praying, playing instruments, observing communion, baptizing, evangelizing, dancing, painting, dressing formally, reading scripture, reading liturgies, reading poetry, performing dramas, discipling, and working.

What might those of us who have been used to a consistent type of Christian worship be able to learn by experiencing diverse types of worship? What might we learn about God by worshipping him in new ways? 

With this in mind, a group of friends and I have decided to spend the next several Sundays joining churches that worship in ways different from those we are comfortable with.

For our first Sunday, my friends and I visited St. John Chrysostom Episcopalian Church in Golden, Colorado. Look for the story of our experience there in the next few weeks!

Other Christian churches on our list include Episcopalian, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Pentecostal. I know there will be times when I disagree with several of these denominations theologically, but more than the disagreements, I am excited to look for our similarities and ways that other churches worship well.

The fact that Christian worship can look so drastically different from what we are used to and still be Christian worship is fantastic. Praise Jesus for the worship we are familiar with, and praise Jesus for the worship we have never before experienced!

“My mouth is filled with your praise, O Lord, 
    and with your glory all the day.” Psalm 71:8

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Goodbye’s Secret Past

Awe, goodbye. Such a short, little compound word can hold so much meaning. It can hold pain and longing. It can hold excitement and triumph. Sometimes, it doesn’t hold any meaning except a flippant desire to extricate yourself from a conversation.

But this two-syllable interjection has more to it than meets the eye. 

This semester, I am taking the capstone class for the English major at Colorado Christian University. It is called History and Structure of the English Language. Besides grammar bootcamp, this class is all about the development of English from its roots in  Indo-European, the lost mother language of all European languages.

It turns out that there are fascinating reasons why we speak the way we do and have the words we use. “Goodbye” is a case in point.

Here’s your history lesson for the day!

In the year 597, Pope Gregory I sent Augustine of Kent (as opposed to St. Augustine of Hippo) to England as a missionary. This Roman missionary activity brought the Latin alphabet to Old English, which was written in runes until scribes adopted the Latin letters from the missionaries.

By the late 14th-century, the Latin alphabet and Roman Catholicism had been established in England for hundreds of years. This caused the religious English people to exchange salutations using the phrase: “God be with ye.” 

However, the English were also fond of phrases like “Good day” and “Good night.” These “good” phrases began to influence “God be with ye” sometime in the 16th-century. Over the course of the 1500s, “God be with ye” morphed through stages such as: “God be wy you,” “God b’uy,” and “God buoye.”

By the 1570s, “God be with ye” had become “Goodbwye,” and during the 1590s it settled into its familiar spelling of “Goodbye.”

History lesson over!

So now you know, no matter what our intention behind saying goodbye, we are abbreviating “God be with ye!” 

“Rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  2 Corinthians 13:11

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Photo by Autumn Ruland

This Will Change Your Life in 2016

Everyone is busy arguing about New Year’s resolutions – whether you should set goals or whether goals are not the answer and other things are more important.

I’m not going to tell you whether you should set New Year’s resolutions or not. But I do want to tell you about one thing you can do in 2016 that will invite God to work incredible changes in your life.

Over the summer, I had the privilege to meet and talk with an inspirational man of God – Cliff Barrows. Just in case you don’t know who Cliff Barrows is, let me fill you in.

Cliff Barrows met Billy Graham in 1945, and he and George Beverly Shea were music program directors for the crusade ministry. Their team did 417 crusades in all 50 states and 185 countries over 58 years. They shared the Gospel with 215 million people in live audiences. Mr. Barrows has also announced “The Hour of Decision,” a Billy Graham radio program that airs every week, for the last 65 years. He is 93 years old.

When I met Mr. Barrows, the Spirit of God just seemed to ooze out of him. Everything he said was filled with such wisdom, scripture, and poetry. I got to spend almost an hour and a half across the table from him, just listening. He told me that the key to life is hiding God’s Word in your heart.

“My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.” Proverbs 4:20-22

Mr. Barrows cannot see well anymore, now that he is in his 90s. He looked at his wife Ann as he told me that it is one of his greatest sorrows that he can no longer read the Word of God himself. Instead, he listens to endless audiobooks of the Bible, and Ann reads scripture to him for hours each day.

Seeing the love Mr. Barrows has for the Word of God inspired me. I decided sitting there with him that I wanted to start hiding God’s words in my heart with more intentionality. Mr. Barrows suggested the Navigator’s Topical Memory System. 

Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1LQKVZ7

The Navigator’s system comes with nifty little flash cards and memory tips that can help you memorize. However, being a college student, I didn’t want to spend $15 on some cards, so I pasted the list of verses and topics it includes into a note on my phone for easy access.

Each time I start a new verse, I type it into another note in my phone and try to reference that note as often as possible until I have it memorized. I am going pretty slowly. I’m about six months in and have only 18 verses memorized.

But since I have started intentionally memorizing God’s word, I have seen my life change. When I am working on a verse, I see my sensitivity to God’s spirit skyrocket. The Holy Spirit brings God’s words to mind right when I need them in my daily life.

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8

Don’t fall into the trap of memorizing verses to memorize verses. There is no benefit in that, and your motivation will soon wear thin. Memorize verses with the intention of learning, chewing, understanding, and applying what God says.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Memorize verses because you are in love with their writer and want to get to know Him. Memorize verses because they have meaning that is applicable to every moment of your life. Memorize verses because you want to see God work in your life.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

The memorization process is different for everyone, there are even several apps you might find helpful, but remember to keep it simple. God will use it to change your life.

2016

Has Your Christianity Forgotten God?

A few months ago, as I sat in a plush chair in the back offices of the Billy Graham Library, one of the mentors God has placed in my life offered me a profound truth.

I had just finished possibly the most helpful and exciting class of my college career, Intro to Theology. As much as I learned in that class, I lament the fact that I don’t currently have the opportunity to pursue continued, formal training in theology.

I shared these thoughts with my friend and mentor at the Library, who looked at me across the table and said, “God sends everyone to their own customized seminary throughout his or her life.”

I have been thinking about this statement ever since that day. Of course God sends us to His seminary! He teaches us every day, every moment, in perfect ways for us.

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”  2 Corinthians 4:6-7

There is a place for seminaries and theologians, but God has us in our own personal theology classes every day of our lives! All we have to do is be teachable and look into the light He has shined upon our hearts.

Why would we mourn the fact that we may not be able to learn theology from man, when we can always learn theology from God?

“…The anointing that you received from [Jesus] abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.  1 John 2:27

Part of Christianity is reading the Bible, learning Church history, studying with believers, and loving unbelievers. But an easily forgotten part of Christianity is God Himself. 

God wants us to know Him so well that we can trust Him for who He is, not what He does. He wants us to seek the works of His hands. But maybe even more than His hands, God wants us to seek His face.

“Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.”  1 Chronicles 16:11, NIV

God wants us to fill our gaze with the majesty of His countenance. No knowledge or work will ever transform us. Knowing God is what will transform us.

“Whenever we turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there we are—face-to-face! We suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when…there is nothing between us and God, our faces shine with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.  2 Corinthians 3:16-18, The Message

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So Death Might Live & Life Might Die

Only 5 days left till Christmas!

As we continue to prepare to celebrate the birth of God, we can glean great wisdom from those who have celebrated Jesus’ coming for thousands of years before us.

Approximately 1600 years ago, St. Augustine said:

“Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

“He was made man to suffer these and similar undeserved things for us, that He might free us who were undeserving.” – Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

The Ruler of the Stars, the Bread of Life, the Fountain of Living Water, the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth, the Teacher, the Foundation, the Strength, the Healer, and the Life – Jesus. 

Jesus, the Life, came to die so we who were already dead might live. Imagine the love required for the Savior, who could have freed Himself at any time, to die so that we could live. That puts Christmas in a new light!

We all deserved death, but Life died so we could live. 

Merry Christmas!!!

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