Those who journey through life without succumbing to the vices that are so easy to cultivate, do so because they have paid at least some attention to the ways that Jesus stepped into a less-than-ideal situation and in so doing redeemed.
Here is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing on the spiritual disciplines in the Christian life. I’m exploring how we think of the Christian life–is it a pleasant stroll or an arduous journey? A cruise or a quest? I’d love your thoughts! Please share in the comments below.
Cruise Ship Christianity
I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but many friends swear by them. The beauty of a cruise ship—so I’m told—is that the journey and the destination become one. Not in some metaphysical motivational jingo. Rather, the ship will take you to several ports of call—you’ll see icebergs, whales, or tropical islands, depending on where you’re cruising. Other modes of transport—the bus or an airplane, for example—make a pretty stark difference between the destination and the journey, especially if you’re in coach.
In a prior ministry position I was required to travel regularly for work. There is no romance in contemporary airline travel. Gone are the days when people travelled in suits and dresses. Today, it’s sweatpants and hockey shirts. Once upon a time a normal person could feel his extremities while sitting in an airline seat. Today airline seats have managed to become so uncomfortable that they could plausibly be designated instruments of torture in the right context. At times, it’s difficult to comprehend that passengers pay hundreds of dollars to wedge themselves into an awkwardly angled seat—perhaps rack is more accurate—clearly designed as slightly constricting to the average 4’ 11” child. The only people who are actually comfortable in coach are children. I guarantee you that just about everyone on a commercial jet is counting the minutes until their circulation returns to normal and they extricate themselves.
Life is very different on a cruise ship. You could fly to just about anywhere a cruise ship goes. Alaska, Jamaica, the Mediterranean—all accessible by plane. People who take cruises do so because they want the journey they take to their destination to be a pleasant one. They want the journey to meet or exceed the joys of the destination.
Step aboard a cruise ship and you will immediately notice that it is designed to provide you with an entertainment experience. There are restaurants, swimming pools, bars, theatres, shops, you name it.
Cabins range from small to palatial. Each day your cabin is turned by the crew—who, I’m told, are quite adept at folding towels into animals—and a mint placed on your pillow for that delightful instance at which your sun-burned head alights on the down cushion and moments before your eyes close in peaceful slumber.
A cruise is a Las Vegas show, a Broadway extravaganza, a Madison Avenue shopping spree, a cordon bleu feast, that just happens to take place aboard a very large ship that is going somewhere. I’m pretty sure that some of the people on cruises ships neither know nor care where they are going—they’re there for the cruise itself, not the ports of call.
A quest is very different from a cruise. A quest is “a long and arduous search for something.” While some might consider seven days of over-indulgence “arduous,” what we’re talking about really is quite different.
A quest, by nature, is difficult. It is arduous. It requires sacrifice. Its outcome is not guaranteed. There is a price to be paid.
The journey will change the traveller in ways beyond simply providing a tan or, worse, a hangover.
At the end of the quest there is something so valuable that all of the sacrifices, the scars, the wrong turns—all are worth it. Their cost pales in comparison with the great value of the thing quested for.
Discipleship is innately awkward. It’s awkward because all of the things that matter most in the life of discipleship are things that our culture prompts us to classify as “personal and private.” Jesus stands inviting each of us into a fuller life than we can imagine–a life that is manifests the fruit of the spirit. A necessary part of entering into that life is the difficult work of dying to sin.
The believer stands before God deeply loved, perfectly and freely forgiven in Christ, and cherished. At the same time, the path of discipleship means movement toward holiness. So many of the things that make us unholy are things that we wish to keep hidden, secret, sequestered from conversation and reflection. Ironically, our impulse to do just that is what causes those sins to have such terrible power over us.
Full life in Christ requires being part of a community where these awkward things are able to come to light. Some of those conversations are ones each of us would rather die than have. Yet, in having them we find release and a fresh sense of God’s presence with us in the presence of another.
That’s why this blog talks about controversial issues and mundane ones. Jesus claims Lordship over our whole person. That means talking about sexual ethics, sexual identity, and many other topics are fair game–they’re each intimately related to our following Christ.
I hope I’m able to host these sorts of conversations with gentleness and respect. So, even if you find yourself disagreeing with me passionately, I hope you’ll find at least something of worth in what I write.
I wanted to let you know that I have accepted a position at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, PA. Effective April 1, 2014 I’ll serve as Director of Discipleship. I can’t tell you how excited both about the position and about the church.
One of the passions that animates my life is developing fully devoted disciples of Christ who love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength.A church is never stronger than its ability to make disciples.
As Director of Discipleship I’ll lead a team of dedicated and excellent staff who minister to children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and through the church’s weekday preschool. Each of these ministries is strategic and critical to the church’s fidelity to the Great Commission and I deeply believe that all of them is incredibly important. I’m eager to see these ministries continue to thrive, to grow, and to develop to be even more effective in forming students as Christians.
The ministry of formation doesn’t stop when a child goes to college or even when s/he graduates. Discipleship is central for the entirety of our lives. As Discipleship Director I will work to build on the effective ministry of small groups established by my predecessor. On top of that, I will work to develop a discipleship program that provides a meaningful context for growth as Christians. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to explore ways in which the resources of the reformed tradition can enrich our devotional lives, facilitate growth in the use of spiritual disciplines for growth in Christ-likeness, and many other ways to make adult disciples.
Would you pray for me as I turn this corner in my vocation life and enter into a new phase of ministry? Would you also pray for our whole family as we prepare to uproot from Winston-Salem–our home for the last seven years and where both of our kids were born–and transition to Bethlehem?
If you’re like me you have a love-hate relationship with the American “holiday season,” perhaps skewed slightly more to hate than love. On the one hand, it’s so much fun to see our kids get excited about wearing their new Christmas pajamas–snuggly little bundles of holiday-themed energy. On the other hand, there’s the traffic and decisions about budgets and gifts. I often experience a strange melancholy in realizing that some of the things I most want–more time, a sunny vacation with Anna, a PhD–aren’t going to be under the tree on December 25. Sometimes the holidays seem like a straightjacket more than a celebration–a period of crazy added to an already full life.
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us;
and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
Prayer for the Third Week of Advent, Book of Common Prayer
There is a growing body of literature demonstrating that human beings are innately inclined to benefit from ritual and habit. In a sense, contemporary research is demonstrating a long-forgotten theological truth that freedom is not the ability to choose between alternatives without coercion, but the ability to choose the good. We learn to choose the good by practice.
That’s why the church calendar is a pre-modern resource that can help combat what I call Christmas craziness. You may be new to the practice or it may be something you’ve experienced your whole life. I find that those who are new often benefit from a guide that can orient them to the church year. Those who’ve always practiced it often benefit from this sort of guide too. Liturgical practices may become so comfortable that they lose their theological moorings and become disconnected to their purpose.
A new book offers help to both types of Christian. Let Us Keep the Feastprovides an overview of the theological meaning of the seasons of the Christian Year and guidance in how to observe it.
For each season of the year the book provides:
An introduction to the season
The calendar days the season occupies
Traditions–old and new–that are associated with the season
Explanations of how the season is observed around the globe
Ways you can observe the season in your home and in your community
Resources you can use.
The publishers website makes the following observation:
Our days and our weeks are part of God’s created order; the sun setting and rising, the regular shift from work to rest: all of these form a rhythm for our lives, a rhythm that the church has historically observed through a set calendar of feasts and fasts.
Maybe you’ve used an Advent calendar to count down the days till Christmas. Or you might have recently tried giving up something for Lent. These practices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the riches of the Christian church year.
Why do we celebrate seasons in the church? How can we do it well? And what does it mean for you?
Thousands of Christians wrestle with these questions, and others like them, every year — even every season. In this series of books, these questions are answered!
The first installment focuses on Advent and Christmastide. I encourage you to pick up a copy and choose a new tradition to incorporate into your family life this advent and Christmas.
The publisher agreed to send one of my readers of free copy of the Advent and Christmas volume. If you’d like to get a copy please complete the form below. I will choose randomly someone to receive the book.