Category Archives: Discipleship

Loving God

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God (see Deuteronomy 6 and Luke 11). Assuming we’re straight on the whole “who is God?” issue, I think it could be helpful to consider what love is and how we can actually direct this toward the God of the universe. I also can’t help but wonder if love is something that we are capable of doing in degrees (think: dimmer switch) or if it’s more binary (conventional light switch)…? You see, when it comes to loving God, maybe the issue is not a matter of loving him “better” (dimmer switch all the way up), but rather, a matter of loving him more consistently and pervasively.

I think we’re all aware of the fact that the New Testament was originally written in Greek and the Greek language has more than one word for love. The one Greek word used most commonly to refer to our love for God and neighbor is agapaō and it has a host of meanings. For instance, Thayer’s lexicon says that when used in reference to a master (I’m guessing we’re all OK with the idea of God as our master…), agapaō “involves the idea of affectionate reverence, prompt obedience, grateful recognition of benefits received.” I’d like to suggest that these three phrases are on some level, interconnected.

“affectionate reverence” is not the same as plain old “reverence.” It suggests a personal dimension, that there’s been some sort of interaction that makes this reverence more than simply the acknowledgement of superiority. This is more than an imposed reverence, but an emotional desire to honor someone. Curious stuff. Emotional affection isn’t something I typically associate with the notion of revering someone.

“prompt obedience” is not what we 21st century Americans normally associate with love, at least not consciously. The “affectionate” idea mentioned above is very much linked to common understandings of love – maybe it is the understanding of “love.” But suggesting that love is defined by our willingness to obey is almost certainly not what we think of when we think of “love.” Oh, and toss in the idea that this obedience is “prompt” and it feels more like military school than love.

“grateful recognition of benefits received” is the most easily recognizable notion, as much of our love is grounded in the sense that our lives are better because of the object of our love. Heck, this is even how we’ve come to say we love pizza – our lives are better because pizza is in it. On the more serious side, this reminds me of the famous text in 1 John 4.19, “We love because he first loved us.” There is a reciprocal dimension to love.

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What is the “Daily Office”?

In February 2003, our church hosted a guest speaker named Mar Enoch, and as he took the pulpit he prayed these words: Father we honor you and we adore and bless your name. For this is the chief end of man – that we may glorify you and enjoy you all the days of our lives. And so we join our voices with the unending hymn of praise sung by angels and archangels, principalities, powers, thrones, dominions; the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim who, covering their faces and feet flying to one another, singing and declaring that you are holy. The heavens and the earth are filled with your glory, and so we cry “Hosanna in the highest!”

And he went on…

This exceptional preacher also went by the name Veron Ashe, and at the time, he was an archbishop in the Mar Thoma Syriac Orthodox Church. He delivered the words of this prayer with deep feeling and emotion, but that wasn’t what arrested me – it was the words! The beauty and depth and theological substance were overwhelming. The sense that these words had been prayed in ancient times by men who were forerunners in faith and were now part of the great cloud of witnesses was also quite real.

My tradition frowned upon written prayers. They were never really considered as an option for several reasons. They were for people who didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, who didn’t know how to talk with him like a friend speaks with a friend. Written prayers were for folks who weren’t filled with the Spirit. Written prayers were also an “us vs. them” line of demarcation: the liberals and Catholics read their “prayers” but we prayed ‘em! Our prayers were sincere and personal and “anointed.” And the honest fact is, often times they were. But our prayers were often other things as well: rambling, awkward, theologically errant and emotionally indulgent. Hey – you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have…the facts of life (R.I.P. Alan Thicke).

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Collar Questions

This past weekend was filled with the sorts of moments that leave a life-long mark on one’s soul. My ordination as a priest into the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches and the Order of St. Anthony was the culmination of more that 15 years of journeying deeper into the life of God and his Church. I felt a unique and deep sensitivity to that mysterious “cloud of witnesses” as I was welcomed into apostolic succession…the faces of Bishop Veron Ashe, Reverend Paul Mathiesen, and Jack O’Rourke came to mind. My ordination on Saturday was followed-up with an “installation” as an “ambassador priest” here at Salem Tabernacle, and it was in that Sunday night service that my Bishop, Ed Gungor, placed a collar on my neck. The value of that collar as a sign and symbol to me and our church was explained. My calling to expose people to the riches of the broader, historic Church and to work for the unity of that very Church (John 17) was also made quite clear.

I understand that these events in particular, and this journey in general, is bound to raise meaningful questions, and I’d like to engage some of them in this format (despite its limitations). Over the course of this year, I’ve come to embrace the value of questions as opportunities to not only come to a better understanding of truth, but to grow closer to the people asking those questions. So…here’s one question that has come up: “What do I tell my (Pentecostal, evangelical, “low-church”) family members when they hear about your ordination or come to a service and see you wearing a collar?”

I want to provide a “lowest common denominator” sort of answer to this, all the while acknowledging that it is more complex than what I’m about to say. Continue reading

Hearing, humility, and the complexity of submission

(note: I wrote this to assist Salem Tabernacle’s Life Transformation Group discussions)

The issue of submission is complex and nuanced, yet at the same time, frustratingly simple. A helpful starting point is, do we trust God to take care of us, even if evil authorities are in place over us?

Does “taking care of us” always mean protecting us from harm?

Is there something of greater value than our physical or psychological safety?

Are we trying to save our lives?

Is it helpful to think in generalizations? Yes! Generally speaking, God gave us life because he thinks living is a good thing. He doesn’t want us to merely survive – Jesus came so that we could have a thriving life! But note: that abundant life of John 10.10 is presented over and against the “thief’s” effort to steal, kill, and destroy [us]. So I don’t think that generally speaking, Jesus wants us to be victims of theft, violence or destruction. He will use those realities to transform us and at the same time, reveal the Age to Come through us. He will use death and destruction to reveal true love: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4.10) The early church blossomed in the midst of great suffering and pain. Abundant life was never meant to be fully realized in this first phase of it! Continue reading