Ember Days

“…For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore, take up the whole armor of God…”  Ephesians 6:12-13

I think that one of the greatest failures of true religion is the lack of discernment regarding that which is evil.  Christians confine their spiritual vision to the earth, and too often miss the spiritual struggle that is even now working itself out in the heavenly places around us.  We tend to discount the new pagans, attributing far too little power to their rites and beliefs.  But Paul makes it clear in our opening scripture that there is a vast host of dark spiritual forces arrayed against the people of God, and it is to the heavens, as well as on the earth, that we must press the battle under the Lordship of Jesus Christ:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds…”  II Corinthians 10:3-5.

Throughout the ages the Church has sought to place such mighty weapons in the hands of her saints that they might strive mightily against the gates of hell and prevail.  One such weapon was the seasons of fasting  known to the Church as the Ember days.

The Origins of the Ember Days

One tradition holds that the name “ember” comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means the completing of a circuit, the coming round of a recurring time or season.  In modern terms we might liken it to the keeping of an anniversary date in which something of significance is remembered and celebrated each year.  The scripture tells us that all of creation speaks to us of the nature of God, that His word and order is proclaimed throughout the heavens, that the recurring passage of time reveals knowledge of His ways to us (read Psalm 19:1-6 for instance).  It’s unfortunate that the Christian Church has forgotten such lessons in which the heavenly plan and will of God are made manifest in time and place.  It is a lesson that the pagans have not forgotten, for in their “earth religion” they seek to tap into the cycle of creation which is by heritage the rightful property of the Christian Church.

Consider, for example, the great significance attached by the new age pagans to the keeping of the Vernal Equinox (March 21), the Summer Solstice (June 21), the Autumnal Equinox (September 23) and the Winter Solstice (December 22).   Equinox comes from the Latin meaning days on which daylight and night are equal, and Solstice comes from a word meaning when the “sun stands” at its greatest extreme.  The summer solstice is the longest daylight period, the winter solstice the shortest daylight period.   Such celebrations were historically tied to the three great harvests of wheat, grapes and olives by the ancient Romans.  But the Church was quick to note that these times were also periods in which demonic evil and wickedness seemed to flourish and peak in a cyclical regularity.  This is not surprising; for if, in the times of abundance,  man’s heart does not rise to his Creator in thanksgiving, it falls to prideful sins of ingratitude and idolatry.  Said another way, where grace is not at work in restoration, sin is at work in degradation.  Because heathen practices and rituals were so active in these times, the Church instituted its own seasons which were intended to stir up the saints to spiritual activity.   Such spiritual legislation is not forbidden by the scriptures and is part of the spiritual liberty which we possess as heirs with Christ.

Thus were born the so-called Ember days of Christianity.  Another tradition holds the origin of their name to have been derived from a corruption of the Latin “Quatuor Tempora”, the quarter tense or the four times.  Regardless of the origin of their names, the Ember Days were established from the start as days of fasting, abstinence, prayer, and increased almsgiving that by the weapons of righteousness the deeds of darkness might be exposed and overcome.   The Church also saw the added benefit in the observance of cyclic fasting in all the seasons of the year.  It continued to remind the saints of their need for repeated purification under the hand of God.  Then too it reminded each man that earthly life was not the fullness of the Kingdom of God, and the balancing of the days of feasting and celebration against the days of fasting and penitence brought a Godly harmony to daily life.  As Paul states in Philippians 4:11-13:

“…in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

The lessons which the ember days sought to teach were that men ought to thank God for the gifts of nature in each of its seasons; that men were to make right and moderate use of the abundance of God’s bounty; and that from this use they were to remember and assist those in true need of Christian charity.

Seasonal Disciplines Like Fasting Are Ancient

The practice of seasonal Church fasting is ancient.  The Roman Archbishop Callistus in A.D. 222 wrote in his first epistle:

“Fasting, which you have learned to hold three times in the year among us, we decree now to take place as more suitable in four seasons; so that even as the year revolves through four seasons, we too may keep a solemn fast quarterly in the four seasons of the year.  And as we are replenished with corn, and wine and oil for the nourishment of our bodies, so let us be replenished with fasting for the nourishment of our souls…”

Leo the Great in his Sermon 19 delivered around A.D. 450 declared:

“This profitable observance [i.e. self restraint and abstinence] is especially laid down for the fasts of the Church, which, in accordance with the Holy Spirit’s teaching, are so distributed over the whole year that the law of abstinence may be kept before us at all times.  Accordingly we keep the spring fast in Lent, the summer fast at Whitsuntide, the autumn fast in the seventh month, and the winter fast in this which is the tenth month, knowing that there is nothing unconnected with the Divine commands, and that all the elements serve the Word of God to our instruction.  For when the prophet says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork; day unto day utters speech and night unto night shows knowledge..’ what is there then by which the Truth does not speak to us?”

He continues later on to infer an apostolic origin for this practice.

“Let us therefore fast on Wednesday, and Friday, and on Saturday keep vigil with the most blessed apostle Peter….[performing] our supplications and fastings and alms which the Lord Jesus Christ presents…”

The observance of Ember Days is therefore fixed and at the same time variable.  They are fixed in the sense of occurring always on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and variable since they occur in the week after Ash Wednesday, Whitsunday (Pentecost), September 14 (historically the exaltation of the cross), and December 13 (the remembrance day of St. Lucia).  Thus the Latin verse was phrased to help the faithful remember their timing “Post crux, post lux, post ignes, post cineres”, or in a rough translation, “after the cross, after the light, after the fire, after the ashes.”

The seasons of God’s creation are ours by inheritance.  Let us reclaim them from the pagans so that their line may go out through all the earth for the glory of God; and let us not despise the Godly disciplines whereby the saints in ages past have wrestled to keep themselves undefiled in the world and persevering in the promises of God’s covenant.

Fruit of Following God #13: Sacrificial Living for Christ

Frans Floris painting, The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ Son of God Gathering and Protecting Mankind

Eventually a growing disciple realizes that not only does Christ call His followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), but he also calls them to live sacrificially. The self-life must die and Christ must live. Christ Himself was a sacrifice for us. Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

In daily living, believers are to sacrifice themselves as an act of worship. Paul lived out this admonition in his own life and ministry. Writing to the believers at Philippi he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17). The author of the book of Hebrews also states, “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16).  Giving up ourselves, our possessions, our time, our personal rights and perceived privileges should be part of the Christian life. Each disciple must understand the will of the Lord in such personal matters and decisions but each disciple must also ask himself, “What am I giving up in order to serve Christ and/or help fulfill the Great Commission?” C.T. Studd, the missionary pioneer to Belgian Congo in the early 1900’s, once made this compelling statement, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him” (Grubb, 141). A growing disciple becomes sensitive to what he can give up for the Savior who gave Himself for His own.

The Three Questions

I have been a Christian long enough to know that none of my own ideas are very good. That is to say, if I know something really important, or if I say something that’s deep, I didn’t come up with it. My growth as a follower of Jesus Christ has been dependent on two things: listening very carefully to what the Holy Spirit says in Scripture, and listening very carefully to what he tells me through other people. In short, everything I have, I’ve received (1 Corinthians 4:7).

One thing I thank God for receiving more than most is a particular set of questions. It’s more of an idea, really. And this is the idea: we expose ourselves to a lot more goodness when we read the Bible with other people. Whatever we lack in understanding (and it’s always a lot) can be shored up by the people around us, especially those who, through their faith in Christ, have the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts to help us. Instead of trusting ourselves to know it all, believe it all, and obey it all on our own, why don’t we humble ourselves enough to let other people help us?

If you can admit that much at least is a good idea, you’ll wonder exactly what that looks like. It certainly happens when faithful and wise Christians teach the Bible to us, whether as part of our worship together on Sundays or otherwise. But knowing that the Holy Spirit is present and working in all who know Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14), and knowing that everyone who believes the gospel has knowledge of the truth (1 John 2:20), doesn’t it make sense that you don’t have to be a capital-T Teacher in order to be a good teacher? Don’t you have some insight, some wisdom, some example in your life that could really help me?

But where do you start? Enter: the Three Questions.

Technically, the Three Questions have a collective name: the Swedish Method. If you’d like to read much more about the Three Questions (including how they acquired such a weird name), this article will tell you all you need to know. (I really do recommend reading it—it’s fascinating.) But suffice it to say that, for a number of reasons, I prefer my own (highly boring and non-creative) phrase of “the Three Questions.”

What are the Three Questions? They’re three simple things to ask yourself and others whenever you read the Bible:

  1. What’s interesting about this?
  2. What’s confusing about this?
  3. What should I do with this?

Of course, you can use the Three Questions to guide your personal Bible reading to make sure that you’re doing more than running your eyes over the page. But I get much more mileage out of them when someone else asks me the questions as part of a normal conversation.

There’s no need to come up with anything impressive-sounding as a response to the question. In fact, I actively discourage people from trying to do so! Be honest. Be simple. Just answer the questions!

Here’s one example of how the Three Questions can spur good conversations that go beyond the words on the page. Today I read Ecclesiastes 1-2 with a friend at a coffee shop. In no particular order, here are some of the ways the two of us answered the first question (“What’s interesting about this?”):

  • The book doesn’t have a named author—just someone named “the Teacher.” That strikes me as interesting, even strange.
  • The first chapter has a lot of poetic, philosophical language. That’s different from the stories of Jesus’ life or the teachings of Paul. I bet it would appeal to people who aren’t naturally into those parts of the Bible.
  • In fact, the first couple chapters really seem to directly challenge what the rest of the Old Testament (especially Genesis) teaches. The Preacher really slams some biblical ideas—that life has a purpose, that God is working out a plan in the world, that wisdom has eternal value, etc.
  • In Ecclesiastes 2:8, the Teacher says that he availed himself to “a harem”—and calls the women “the delights of the heart of man”! That’s interesting, to say the least!

As you can see, the interesting things lead to lots of questions. In this passage, some of the more confusing things we saw led to questions like these:

  • How did this book even make it into the Bible?! Can a biblical book also be un-biblical?
  • Is the rest of the book going to answer that question?
  • Who is the Teacher? Is it Solomon? Could someone else fit the self-description in Ecclesiastes 1:1?
  • What does the Teacher mean by “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3 and elsewhere)?

Finally, we asked each other the final question: what should we do with these chapters?

  • We definitely need to read the rest of the book to see where the Teacher is going!
  • We need to examine our lives—are they really “meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)? We need to compare these chapters with the rest of the Bible to figure out what’s going on here.
  • The Teacher writes that chasing after wine, women, and song is a waste of time and totally pointless (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11). Am I chasing after pleasure like he did? Am I setting myself up for the same disappointment?

What answers would you add?

The questions are short and simple—there’s no rocket science that makes them so powerful. But ask yourself: how could you use them?

  1. What if you and your spouse picked a book of the Bible to read through together? You could meet up once a week—even nightly—to share your answers (and spur each other on to even better, more personal answers).
  2. What if you used the Three Questions to discuss a passage of Scripture with your kids or grandkids? That’s what I’ve been doing this year—using the questions to talk through the Gospel of Mark with my six- and five-year-old sons. Their answers are always surprising, frequently hilarious, and sometimes shocking. It is never boring or a waste of time.
  3. What if you used the Three Questions to invite a curious non-Christian to study the life and teachings of Jesus for herself? This is my favorite form of evangelism—instead of memorizing a script, get out of the way and let Jesus speak for himself!

At the end of the day, only the Spirit himself can help us grow and learn and experience more of the grace of Jesus. The Three Questions assume that, in prayer, you’re entrusting him to do the real work. But he uses tools to do that work, most especially the word of God—and other people.

Why not use a simple tool like the Three Questions to see what he would do for (and through) you?

My Friend Grant

Last week I reacquainted myself with an old friend. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years. But the time we spent together was the most important important time in my life. Without overselling it, this friend did more for me than anyone else I know. And now that we’ve reintroduced ourselves, I can’t wait to dive back in and pick up where we left off.

My friend isn’t an old work buddy or classmate. My friend isn’t even a person. It’s a set of bookmarks.

I call it “Grant.”

Let me back up.

I first heard of Grant in 2010. A blogger I follow recommended it as the best thing ever (that’s how it came across to me, anyway). In the article (you can read it here), he explains how he had come across a Bible reading plan that actually made him want to read the Bible. Every day. And he didn’t want to give up. I had to keep reading.

The beauty of the plan is its insanity. Here’s the gist: the Bible is divided into 10 sections, and you read a chapter from each section every day. Yes—you read 10 chapters of the Bible every day. And, as he explained, you actually like it.

This didn’t make any sense to me. I had become a Christian several years earlier but had never really read the Bible with any regularity outside of church services. I was on the up-and-down see-saw of guilt when it came to reading the Bible and learning more about the gospel. So it seemed insane to think that I would go from a starvation diet to a 7-course meal . . . every day.

The only thing more insane than this plan was how well it worked for me. If I read a chapter that didn’t jump out as particularly relevant or significant to me, no problem—there were plenty more opportunities that day. The time required to read everything meant that I couldn’t slow down and meditate too much on any passage. That turned out to be fine. Since I knew so little of the overall story of the Bible, my meditations often led me to thoughts and conclusions that sounded spiritual but (come to find out) were directly condemned in other parts of the Bible! By seeing the “big picture,” I became better and wiser at seeing how all of Scripture (even the “boring” parts) were essential to God’s plan to make me more like Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Why the name “Grant”? Because the plan was put together by Professor Grant Horner, an English professor and Christian who started using it in graduate school to keep himself connected to God’s word in all its beauty. (You can read his story as well as his explanation of the system here. There’s even a snazzy set of bookmarks to print out for yourself at the end.)

How does this work itself out in my day? When it’s time to sit down and read my Bible, I open up to the first section: Gospels. I read the chapter at a brisk pace, not pausing for too much reflection. When I finish, I try to summarize the chapter in my head with a sentence or two, aiming to use the passage to answer the questions “Who is God?”, “Who am I?”, and “What does God ask of me?” Then, without further ado, I turn straight to the second section (Pentateuch) with the help of bookmarks. (My wife printed out the ones above and laminated them for me. She’s the best.) And so it continues, until I read all 10 chapters or (as sometimes happens) I run out of time. In those cases, I pick up where I left off later in the day. (Note: I also spend time every day memorizing Scripture, since it’s the best way I know to meditate on truth and work it through my head into my heart. Read widely and deeply!)

Without fail, I read at least one thing every day that thrills me, intrigues me, jumps out to me, or obviously applies to me. It often happens in my favorite part of the Bible, the Old Testament’s wisdom literature (covered in sections 5, 6, and 7). But now that I’ve got more experience with the Bible’s overall story, it also happens when I’m reading Paul’s letters or the Old Testament prophets. I have even been moved to tears by Leviticus (really, no kidding), in part because reading the entire Bible helped me see how each of its parts connects to Jesus and to myself.

Take a peek at my friend Grant for yourself. Get to know it yourself. But more importantly, get to know the God and Savior he showcases.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 8: “Grows in Christ-likeness”

After I became a Christian, the first verse that I memorized was from the Navigator Topical Memory System (TMS) and for me it was absolutely true:

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new!” (KJV).

The believer in Christ is changed. He realizes that his motto in the Christian life could easily be patterned after the words of John the Baptist when he states, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The disciple of Christ wants to become more like Christ and less like self. Through the use of the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, worship and fellowship, etc.), he finds that his old life is no longer personally appealing and only a life that is conforming to Christ-likeness will satisfy. Of course, growth in the fruit of the Spirit and dying to the deeds of the flesh are true indicators of becoming more and more like Christ (Galatians 5:16-25).

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Often this growth in Christ-likeness occurs in more obvious fashion during the time just after one becomes a Christian; deeper Christ-likeness is shaped and formed over the long haul, as God uses events, circumstances, others and even suffering to purify the dross and make His children more like gold (Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:9-11).

Each disciple of Christ willingly asks the question of himself, “Am I becoming more and more like Jesus in my attitudes, actions, choices and lifestyle?”

Do I Need to Go to Church to Follow Jesus?: A Conversation

The following is a conversation between Pastor Joshua Moore of Red Door Church in South Royalton and Dan Isadore (M.Div.), a recent graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Associate Director of the Pittsburgh Experiment.  Josh and Dan hope to have regular discussions on various theological topics and important issues facing Christians today.


Dan: So here’s a loaded question for you Josh: do I need to go to church to follow Jesus?

Josh: This is a good question.  Probably the first thing that comes to mind is the need to define what we mean by the word church.  Is the church a building; just brick and mortar?  Or is the church just another 501c3 non-profit organization that specializes in helping facilitate and organize Christian spirituality?  Or is the church something else?

The Bible doesn’t give us dictionary like answers about these sorts of questions–it’s not a book of definitions–but what the Bible does tell us about the church is that it is a body of people who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul uses the imagery of the human body to describe the church in his first surviving letter to the Corinthian church.  He says that we are all members of the same body and each member serves a particular function, namely, to build up the body for the common good.

So this gets back to the way you phrased the question: if the church is mainly a collection of believers, then what do we mean when we say “go to church”?

The phrase “go to church” is couched in an understanding of what the church is that may be unbiblical. That’s not to say that there aren’t ways to use the phrase that are appropriate, of course, but for most folks (at least in my experience), the statement is a reflection of what they believe about following Jesus and is therefore problematic.  Because for so many today, following Christ is not really following a person but rather adhering to a list of rules one of which is attending this thing we call church on Sunday morning.

What this means is that they aren’t really following Jesus at all.  They are trapped in man-made religion which is always works oriented; do this and don’t do that and you’ll achieve salvation or enlightenment or you’ll have good Karma or whatever.  “Going to church” for these folks is just a part of the do-this-do-that system.  But this is the very antithesis to the teaching of Jesus.

However another important aspect to this question is context.  In New England where I am stationed at the moment, most people take it for granted that church is not a rule on the list that must be followed if one is to be saved. Up here what you find is that people struggle to see the purpose of church altogether.  Gathering together with other believers on Sunday morning or during the week for public worship, the reading of Scriptures, prayers, and the celebration of the sacraments, is in many cases seen as an unimportant footnote in the Christian life.  The hard part up here is convincing people of the importance of “going to church.”

Dan: Why is it like that in New England?

Josh: Well I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only been here a short time, but here’s my hunch: One of the most deeply rooted values in New England is independence.  People don’t want to believe or recognize that they have a need for others.

And as I understand the teaching of Jesus, I think a healthy realization of our need for other people is one of the core, proper motivations for weekly, or at least regular church attendance. Its not to believe that in gathering with other believers I’m somehow “saved” in a legal sense, but its the deeply rooted belief that without the help of other believers and the grace bestowed upon me in the exercise of the sacraments and the public proclamation of the good news week after week and the blessing of hearing others pray and so on, I simply will not persevere to the end.

To try and condense what I’m saying for you: When a person believes deep within their spirit that they need other believers and that having others believers involved in their lives intimately is one of God’s ordained means of working out our salvation and granting us the ability to persevere until the end, I think they will begin to find Church a very significant part of their lives.  In that sense I think that “going to church” is an indispensable part of following Jesus.

Dan: It sounds like you are saying that we need to be intimately connected to other people if we are to follow Christ; that the Christian life is not something that we are able to do on our own?

Josh: Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying in a nutshell.

Dan: So what if I’m not connected to others? Is that even possible in our own day when connectivity seems more readily available than ever?  Is there a “bare minimum” in this walking alongside of each other?  Or is the search for a bare minimum misdirected?

Josh: This is a legit question. In today’s world where real connectedness seems to evade us.  Despite the fact that more and more people are living in major cities and despite the preponderance of social media, intimate relationships are harder and harder to find.  So, good question.

When we look at the Bible what we see is a God that works in the context of human relationships.  From the very  beginning God made man in His image.  God is relational (Trinity), so we are relational.  The Trinity shows us that relationship is a very part of the being of God.

So relationships are not optional; they are indivisible from our design after the image of God our maker. This is true of all humans whether believers in Christ or not.  Believers, however, make it their life’s goal to conform to God’s design and not to contradict it.  So I would argue that a life of ongoing, intentional, reclusiveness and isolation is contrary to the design of God.

Dan: Believers, in other words, are those who embrace their design as relational persons and seek to live accordingly.

Josh: It’s no less than that anyway.  Speaking of the bare minimum question, that’s tough because each human is different and requires a different measure of real connectedness to thrive and to fulfill God’s calling upon their lives.

Dan: Could we say this then, that relationships are not optional for Christians, not because they get you a box checked off, but because they are more like a door?  In other words, relationships are the very stuff of Salvation, of living life with God.  To forsake relationships is to forsake Christianity, because Christianity is about embracing who God has made us to be: His image, which is persons in relationship sharing deeply in each other’s life in God.

So maybe the better question might be something like, “How do I connect with others and with God in my unique circumstances?”

Josh: Yes, because the God-man Jesus coming to earth reveals to us the intensity with which God desires relationship with his creation; relationships are fundamental to Christian faith.

Dan: That really is why he came: for relationship.

Josh: Amen.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 4: A Servant Life

Christian discipleship always results in the creation of servants. The Christian disciple’s motto should inevitably reflect the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Mark, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (10:45, ESV). Some scholars believe that this verse is the summary or key verse of the entire gospel of Mark as the author’s theme is to demonstrate that Christ came as a man in order to serve and die for humanity. In order for a disciple of Christ to live for the glory of God, he must learn to be a servant. This service is displayed in the local congregation (or the local church), in the surrounding community as well as among the broken and those needing mercy.

Servanthood flows out of one’s understanding of both God’s greatness and being, as well as His worthiness, and also out of the realization of Christ’s own condescension to earth in order to procure our salvation. The Apostle Paul clearly reinforces this concept from the example of Christ himself, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2. 5-8, ESV).  And according to the passage in Deuteronomy, this spirit of servanthood is not simply a dutiful, obligatory activity. Whenever and wherever we serve the Lord, it is to be with all of our hearts and souls.

The Fruit of Following God, Part 3: Walking With God and A Life of Love

Below, we continue our survey  describing what it means for a believer in Christ to follow Him.  What does a true follower of Christ look like?  We looked at the first major quality a couple of weeks ago, the fear of the Lordnow we take up qualities two and three (all stemming from Deuteronomy 10:11-12).

Quality Two: A Walk with God

The Christian life is so often pictured in the Scriptures as a walk. The word “live” (peripateo) in the New Testament is also the word for “walk.” The picture is one of step by step progress. Slow, methodical forward moving progress and that done by faith. This is indeed the portrayal of discipleship, whether as an Old Testament saint (did they ever understand walking!) or a New Testament believer who is trusting in the One who came and revealed the Father. The follower of Christ faces the day-to-day grind of daily life and prepares to face each new sunrise as a forward moving walk, holding the hand of the Savior and more importantly taking those baby steps of faith knowing that ultimately the Savior is holding his or her hand.

Quality Three: A Life of Love

The Christian life and indeed the life of the disciple of Christ is a life that resonates with love. First and foremost this love must be a deep love for the Lord and not simply being in love with an ill-defined concept of love. We love because He first loved us. The Apostle Paul recognized that the love he had for the Lord, particularly for the saints and extending even unto the many lost and needy souls in the world, was a love derived from God through Christ, “For the love of Christ controls us….” (2 Corinthians 5:12, ESV). Until we comprehend God’s love for us, a love that exists in spite of the fact that we were his enemies, ungodly and sinners and a love demonstrated through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we cannot exude the love of God from our hearts.

May each of us engage in a daily (even a moment by moment) walk with Christ, a walk of faith that is exhibited by a life of deep love, both for Him and for others!

The Role of Form in Our Worship: A Conversation

The following is a conversation between Pastor Joshua Moore of Red Door Church in South Royalton and Dan Isadore (M.Div.), a recent graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Associate Director of the Pittsburgh Experiment.  Josh and Dan hope to have regular discussions on various theological topics and important issues facing Christians today.


Josh: Dan, Bryan Chappell says in his book Christ-Centered Worship: 

“Liturgy tells a story.  We tell the gospel by the way we worship.”

My question would be, I guess, what is the role of form in our worship services and how it is different from content?  That is, the propositional content proclaimed throughout the service in preaching and teaching?

Dan: Funny you should ask that.  I’ve been reading and thinking about it lately.  I’m pretty convinced that form is the point of theology.  The goal of the Word in reference to creation is to become flesh.  Words aren’t ends in the themselves; they are acts meant to nudge us into certain forms or ways of being.  Corporate worship, I think, should be the place where we engage in disciplines that help form us or en-flesh the Word in life.

So liturgy is time to practice for life.  But liturgy is also living life in disciplined forms.  We gather to engage each other in these forms of life brought into being by the Word, and that also becomes practice for participating in these forms of life in our day-to-day existence.  That, I’m convinced, is how we need to engage in evangelism today.  By living into these forms in the world , we provide people an avenue to experience the Word before we attempt to explain Him.

So, where I’m at right now, to be Christian is to practice and live a “form of life” rather than to adhere to a body of doctrine of propositions.  I’m thinking of Matthew 7:24-27.

Josh: So what does the above imply about Christians or groups of Christians who would not articulate the faith in a way that lines up with historical Christian orthodoxy?  If we believe that right living flows from right thinking, can we have the proper forms of life without the proper belief for it to flow out of?  Or, would you argue that the forms can also influence thinking?  That the relationship between thinking and living works both ways; that the forms of worship and life can have as much impact on our thinking as our thinking can have on our form of life?

Dan: Bonhoeffer said,

“only the obedient believe.”

I think that’s right.  right belief only comes en route.  Obedience is the context of true knowledge.  Jesus says as much: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who love me.  And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).

It’s as we follow Him that we get to know Him.  We can hear of Him, but obedient interaction brings what is witnessed to by words into my experience.  1 John, I think, is an epistle that deals a lot with this area.  Knowledge is experiential.  It’s interactive.  It absolutely involves the mind, but not in an abstract, detached way.  I think of it in terms of a human-to-human relationship.  What is it to know another?  It’s to interact with them in an appropriate way.  You can know about someone from afar, but you wouldn’t say that you know them (pro athlete or a movie star, for instance).  You only truly know someone when you interact with them: talking, laughing, eating, traveling, giving and receiving, helping and being helped by.  Knowing involves embodiment.

And I often think that our minds are trying to catch up with our experience, rather than vice versa, Thought is reflection on the happening, or rather what is happening in the happening.  The truths are not the thoughts; the truths are the reality.  So within the Christian tradition, the Truth is not a confession or a creed; the Truth is a Person.  We don’t “have” the Truth; we follow Him, with heart, mind, and body.  And it’s only in the following that truths about the Truth come to us.  But first those truths hit us, and then we reflect.  And our reflection may be more or less faithful to the reality.

Josh: So how would you sum this up for us?

Dan:  To sum it up I think explanation and articulation follow the experience of being acted upon by Christ.  Confession and beliefs are downstream from our spiritual disciplines; our forms are ways of consciously opening ourselves to the transformative action of God.  This is also why I think that there are no prerequisites to following Jesus.  He must change you.  So you come and follow Him with me, and it’s from within that following that your beliefs and behaviors get shaped in ways and times unique to your person.  The main thing is to just jump into the forms.  Start loving your neighbor.  Start reading scripture in community.  Start praying.  Start confessing.  Start eating together.  That’s the main thing in my eyes.  Inside these ways God works on us, waking us up little by little.

Josh: Good stuff.  Thanks for taking a moment to share with us Dan.