November 2009


Recently I tried another podcast source, Michael Spencer at InternetMonk.com. The episode I listened to was Internet Monk Radio Podcast #164 part of which addressed the Anglican Common Book of Prayer. Spencer praised the usefulness of using the common book of prayer because our prayers often become repetitious and that you might as well use a well crafted prayer as one that you evolve on your on.

Spencer commented that much of what you hear in public prayer in Christian assemblies become repetitious and often poorly conceived (my words in summary). This is true in much of my experience. Christian groups often expect a certain decorum, range of topics, and generality when people speak to God on behalf of the group. Growing up there was often a comment about Brother ______ who has used the same public prayer for the last 20 years, and how certain phrases like “guide, guard and direct us” were regular phrases amongst the less creative prayer leaders.

When Caitlin, Colton, Noah, and I sit down for the evening meal, we often have a period of silence when we join hands to pray for the meal waiting for someone to take the lead and speak the words of thanksgiving. Sometimes I just end the long silence by saying “Amen”. On a few occasions, I’ve said “What we said last time… Amen.” acknowledging the obvious fact that we typically say the same thing before the meal.

As I focus more on relationship with God and consider how our interaction with God is/can be compared to a relationship between a child and an earthly father, I doubt God is interested in repetitious, elongated monologues. I, as a father, do value regular comments of thanks from the kids, but not drawn out, tedious, and repetitious recitations. There are times that a well thought-out recount of past experiences and how it is significant to the son/daughter is heart warming. But, in the end, I like more personal reflection from the kids rather than a string of pattern phrases.

I think scripture and a common book of prayer can provide a good reminder of the goodness, the richness of our experience of being in God’s family, but I’m confident that God is looking for a more personal, earnest dialog with his kids. You get a sense of that reading through the Psalms. Quite a variety of topics and emotions, and very personal.

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“If you need a bible verse to show you that murder is wrong, there is something wrong with you.”  I busted out laughing when I heard that comment in a recent podcast,  http://thegodjourney.com, 11/6/2009 episode. The participants were talking about our attitude that everything we say about God, morality, etc.  needs to be backed up by scripture. They also were making the point that many/most believers believe that the scriptures are the primary way to have a relationship with God, and then ask the question about all the illiterate believers and those with a copy of the bible. They also rightly make the point that you can “prove” almost any point you want by “pulling a scripture here and pulling a scripture there.”

A watershed moment in my walk with God was when I realized that well-studied, well-intentioned believers come up with very different doctrinal views. These are people that exhibit good fruit in their lives, not out to pull the fleece over the eyes of poor, ignorant people. It was a watershed moment because I grew up in a tradition that believed that the scriptures would always lead people to the same belief/understanding of at least the core tenants of doctrine: baptism, salvation, sanctification, eternity, whatever. Now I realize that that is not true.

In a recent meeting with some believers where we were discussing where to draw the line on fellowship based on doctrinal beliefs/teaching, I said it was God’s “fault” that there is so much division amongst believers. If God wanted to, he could have produced a Bible that would lead all “well-studied, well-meaning” believers to the same conclusion on doctrine. At this point, I think God left it as vague as he did to test our love for one another. At least that is one of the reasons. I’m sure there are many other reasons.

Jeremiah 31:34 has been ringing in my ears over the last few years and months especially as this subject of Bible interpretation/application keeps coming up in conversation.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

How can we complain if people come to different conclusions about God and his will in their life? There is, of course, much to be said about teaching and admonishing one another, about false doctrine, etc. But when it comes to disagreements between “well-studied, well-meaning” believers, we must give each other space out of love.