An Exercise in Ecclesiastical Incrementalism

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A historical warning for conservatives: If you keep making study groups, you’ll surrender eventually.

I think this is because the very creation of a study group suggests that God has not spoken clearly on the issue in question.  I’ve not yet heard of a denomination forming a study group to examine and report on whether murder is compatible with Christian discipleship.  But if you have an issue on which there is a more conservative and a more liberal view, authorizing a study group implies from the start that there are (at least) two faithful and legitimate positions on the matter.  And if both positions are legitimate options, what grounds do you have for restricting it to the more conservative position?

From the Jacula Prudentum of George Herbert: “Valour that parleys, is near yielding.”

In Christ

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Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, be my guide and strength today. You who evaded the wiles of the Pharisees, who turned back the temptations of Satan himself, be my wisdom in every question and my shield against sin. You who bore the cross for me, be my strength in every challenge and my fortitude in every sacrifice. You who came from Bethlehem to Golgotha, be my love for a lost and dying world. You who rose and reign forever, be my King and my glory today—Amen.

Strength for the Night

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Gracious and Eternal Spirit, thank you for your watchful care today. Breathe forth your peace and strength into me tonight, so that I may continue to serve you diligently, and to protect me from the temptations of darkness. Sustain me by your love and strengthen me by your power; waking and sleeping, be my light into truth and my shield of protection. Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer in the fellowship of your love—Amen.

Spirit of Life

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Spirit of Life, thank you for another day of life, and for breathing strength and joy into my life once again. Be light to my eyes and strength to my limbs, and guide my steps and words and deeds in this your day. Spirit of truth, fill my mind with understanding and my heart with the love of righteousness, so that I will please you. Spirit of hope, keep me in the good hope of the gospel, and unite me ever nearer with my Lord and Savior—Amen.

The Yearning of the Soul

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G.K. Chesterton has been frequently quoted as having said something like, “The first effect of not believing in God is that you believe in anything.”  Apparently Chesterton did not write that phrase, though the idea is true enough to what he elsewhere communicated.

In any case, it is a startling idea, and one that helps explain the resurgence of paganism, witchcraft, and astrology in the (post)modern era.

For astrology is all too alive and well in America today.  Our civilization, that prides itself on its technology and scientific advancement, has, to a startling degree, returned to the most nonsensical spiritual practices.  But the reason for this is obvious–pagan spirituality tells us just what we want to hear.  Paganism is amorphous, obsequious, relativistic, and self-indulgent in all the ways that true Christianity is not.

Consider this telling interview at Vox.com, The existential lure of astrology (sic–we shall pass over their abhorrent lack of title capitalization with no more than the wagging of a disapproving finger).  Chani Nicholas, “head astrologer at O Magazine” (?!) makes the self-indulgent appeal of astrology quite transparent.

For the (post)modern gospel is that you’re great just the way you are, and accepting yourself in all your goodness is the first step towards building a better world.  Or:

As Nicholas sees it, the more we accept ourselves for who we are, the more we can show up and effect positive social change, both in our immediate relationships and our communities. Astrology is one tool, she argues, for getting to know ourselves, what drives us, and how we can be of use in the world.

For all its mushy sentimentality, that is much easier to deal with that the gospel of Jesus Christ, which tells us that we are corrupt, condemned, and need to be redeemed by faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us; that we need to repent and follow Him, being transformed by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, both to be useful for God’s redeeming mission in this world and to attain eternal life in the world to come–rather than suffering the wrath of God.

You see, mushy and sentimental self-acceptance is just easier and less offensive.

Astrology, Nicholas admits, appeals to our basic narcissism.  Having put it so bluntly, she tries to add a positive spin:

But also, there’s a deep need for self-actualization, and a deep need to know that we’re worthy of that.

Which is really just an embrace of our narcissism.  The sad news is, there’s no hope to be found in that direction.  Self-acceptance is only the determined satisfaction with what is obviously false and illusory–the idea that I’m alright just how I am, and don’t need God to fix me.

But Nicholas understands that there are deep matters at stake in the pursuit of spirituality, even if she misses the truth:

When we self-actualize, we’re much less interested in all the outer things and we’re much more interested in the quality of the moments of our life. That’s actually where the soul is yearning to go.

No, the soul is yearning for God, and will never be satisfied with the self.  She completely misses the solution, but she has something of a handle on the problem:

I think we’re really lonely. I think we are really afraid. I think that we live in a world that feels increasingly less stable and less known. And I think we need to know ourselves as a counter to being in this place. We need to deepen our relationship to knowing who we are, and astrology is one way to do that.

We are lonely, and afraid.   The world is unstable and filled with darkness.  But knowing ourselves can never bring joy, security, stability and light, because we’re part of the darkness of the world.  Sin has darkened the human heart.  We cannot find light in our own hearts, because the light of the world comes to us from outside ourselves.

Jesus is the light of the world.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NIV).

We have a yearning of the soul, a deep yearning, because we were made by God to be in a right and loving relationship with Him, to be holy and to love the God of holy-love.  But sin has plunged our hearts and our world into darkness.  So we yearn and grope for what our souls long after, but which we can no longer see.

But false hopes will never satisfy our souls.  The stars can’t guide us through the darkness of sin.  There is no inner light to be gained by self-acceptance.  These things only lead to death.

Jesus is the light of the world.  He has brought light into our darkness, and life to the dying.  He came to show us the way home, so that we could have fulfilled the great longing of our souls.

In His life He showed the light.  In His death He made atonement for our sins, satisfied the wrath of God, and bridged the gulf that separated us from our maker.  In His resurrection He offers us the hope of life, if we are united by Him with faith.  In Christ, we are made whole and brought home to God.

In Christ is fulfilled the yearning of the soul.

 

Cover Me

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Everlasting God, thank you for the blessings of this day, for your continued preservation and care, and for the strength to praise you in the evening. Cover me with your mercy, I ask. Give me strength for the tasks of the night as for the day, and joy to share with others. Make me a blessing to those you have blessed me with, and a messenger of your peace to all I meet. Give to me your peace, and cover all my thoughts with yourself—Amen.