Experiencing Church in a House for the First Time

Here is a great post that a friend (well, I don't know him that well, but if we hung out more we would be friends) wrote about his first experience at a house church.

Watch out for potholes.

Understanding Wicca: God is revealed through nature

I really don't know where to begin. I guess I will begin with a disclaimer that if you don't want to know what Wiccans think and a Christian response to those thoughts, then please do not read on.

All of the quotes except for Scripture are from a book by Gus DiZerega entitled Pagans & Christians. The book is a treatise of sorts trying to reconcile Pagans & Christians.
Here I hope to make anargument many Christians will find thought provoking: that Paganism and Christianity are both legitimate approaches toward a closer relationship with the Divine. To make such an argument I had to criticze Fundamentalist claims that the Bible is uniquely objective and without error, and that Jesus' meaning was clear when he said no one could come to the Father except by him. I have also had to criticize the wider claim that Christianity, or perhaps Biblical and "revealed" religions generally, are the only genuine religions.
I guess he likes to call destruction thought provoking. In order to make the argument he wants to make, he has to take away essential factors that make Christianity what it is. When he writes that he doesn't believe that "the Bible is uniquely objective and without error," he approaches it more along the lines that the Bible isn't even infallible. Good Christians can discuss whether there are errors in the Bible or not. But when you start saying that the teachings of the Bible are in error and contradict one another, you are going much further than just saying the Bible has errors. He attacks the reliability of the Scriptures.

Jesus was clear when he said that he was the only way to the Father. Whether we want to accept that or not is our choice. The belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven is a central tenet that makes Christianity Christian. If you take that away, you take away Christianity. A more proper title for the book might be "Turning Christians Pagan" or "Pagan Apologetics: How to Resist Christianity." It is much more of an attacking book than I expected it to be.

The book argues that both Christianity and Paganism are both right and valid paths to the Divinity. However, in order to say that the writer has to turn Christianity into something that it isn't. His fictitious Christinaity, which is sadly practiced by many proclaiming Christians, could be compatible with Paganism. But the Christianity that the Bible teaches cannot be compatible.

There are a lot of great insights in the book. Sadly, the majority of his dislike about Christianity are based on actual errant beliefs and practices that Christians hold and practice. For instance:

We do not need to try and discover where Divinity is, for there is no place where Divinity is not. Needless to say, few Pagans are ever troubled by existential angst over the supposed meaninglessness of existence. For us existence is sacramental, the world is sacred, and whenever we fail to live up to these insights the failing is ours, and not the world's.

When one believes that God is completely separate from the world, as is indicated with the common God as potter metaphor, then spiritual truth cannot be found within the world. Like the shape and plan of a pot, knowledge of God's truth has to come from outside Creation. God must intrude upon the brute material world with a revelation. Transcendental religions derive their authority solely from sacred revelations in which God "injects" His truth into the world for the benefit of humankind. From this perspective, the Bible, Qur'an, Book of Mormon, and similar texts provide the only reliable source of information about God's wishes. Individual spiritual insight is validated only to the extent that agrees with established scripture. A great deal of effort is expended in interpreting these texts, for the validity of the faiths they sustain would be shattered if the core of their texts were shown to be wrong.

When we see the world as one dimension of Divinity, rather than radically seperate from It, we naturally look to different sources for legitimate spiritual knowledge and insight. While many Pagan spiritual paths do have traditional texts dealing with various aspects of their faiths, they are less concerned with interpreting scripture than are the world's monotheistic faiths. When Divinity is seen as manifesting within and throughout the world, it is absurd to argue that ultimate authority is within a text, especially one "revealed" in only one language to only one person, people, or tribe. Consequently, to a far greater extent than with transcenedtal religions, Pagan paths emphasize personal experience of the Divine and with Divinities through ritual, meditation, contemplation, trance, spirit incorporation, vision quests, and the like.
Sadly, his belief about Christians and God seem to be somewhat true among believers. Many Christians seem to believe that God can be encountered more in the confines of a building on Sunday morning or in quiet contemplation while reading the Scriptures in the morning. That does not seem to be what true Christianity teaches. God can be encountered while pulling weeds, sitting in a prison cell, walking one's dog, wrestling with one's children, surfing the internet, jumping out of an airplane, lying in a hospital bed, drinking in a bar, etc. God is everywhere and can be encountered at any time in any place. He is not confined to our buildings, religious gatherings, or spiritual practices. He is visible to any who seek him with one's whole being. He is as close to us on our drive to work as he is at the altar in our churches. He surrounds us and waits for us to open our spiritual eyes to see him.

The Lord will scatter you among the peoples; only a few of you will be left among the nations where the Lord will lead you. There you will serve other gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them (Deuteronomy 4:27-31).
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
I also think the writer has a misunderstanding of the Christian view of God, the potter reference in Scripture, and his closeness to humanity. The potter story shows a God who is active and working with civilization in order to transform it into the fulness he intended for it.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it (Jeremiah 18:1-10).
Throughout history Christians have struggled with keeping a proper balance between the immanence and transcendence of God. Right now, we are in the Buddy Christ period of Christianity. Jesus is our personal buddy. It wasn't too long ago that God was almost unapproachable and Christians described Him in deistic terms. Healthy Christianity has a balance of the two. God is holy, yet personal and loving.
The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made (Romans 1:19-20a).
Nature is not at odds with Christianity. Christians have a unique role with nature. We are to be its caretakers. Sadly, many people perceived to be Christians have spearheaded the exploitation of nature, but that was not God's design. He intended for us to take care of it, to subdue it, and to take care of it for future generations. Despite that sin has entered the picture, nature was, and always will be, good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind* in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:26-31)
The other last thing I would like to touch on is the difference between the view that we have created the Bible and the belief that Christians have that God pursues a relationship with mankind and gave us the Bible to better see Him. We don't just believe that God can be observed in nature, Christianity takes it one step further. God is pursuing us no matter where we are. If we in a place devoid of nature, God would still be pursuing us. God wants each of us to know and follow Him. That is why the Scriptures. The Scriptures shouldn't be viewed as a negative thing. They aren't just the ramblings of men from days of old, but they are inspired writings by people who were in touch with God. They show us how God has worked in history, and through those principles and teachings we can see how he will most likely work today.

The Lord has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations (Psalm 98:2).

There is so much more that I want to write. The book has tons of thought-inspiring comments. I'll tackle more later. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments concerning what he wrote or errors in what I wrote.

Watch out for potholes.

Why a Christian would study Wicca, Astrology, or other Belief Systems

I would like to start with an excerpt from my favorite book outside of the Bible, Celtic Way of Evangelism. This is just a small excerpt that doesn't do the book justice. If you have never read this book, it is the one book out of all books written today that I would recommend.

"Generally, a mission team would visit a Celtic settlement, befriend the people, and engage in conversation and some presentation to 'make known God's gift and the eternal comfort He provides.' In time they would invite the people to confess faith and form into a church, but there was no manipulation, coercion, or force; they believed Christ wanted people's free response. They affirmed and built on every indigenous feature they could. They affirmed the Celtic people's religious aspirations, their sense of divinity's closeness, their belief in an afterlife, their love for creation and, as we have seen, their fascination with the number three. Celtic missionaries seem to have believed that God's prevenient grace had preceded them and prepared the people for the gospel. They seem to have believed that, just as Jesus came to the Jews not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, so he comes to every people 'not to destroy, but to fulfill' their religous tradition.

We can see this policy visually in the evolution of the tall Celtic stone crosses. When Patrick returned to Ireland, the Irish Celts already worshiped around tall 'standing stones.' The pillars stood as a symbol of the people's desire to reach up to the heavens and the High God; they stood as a symbolic link between heaven and earth. Once, when the people were more nomadic, a tall tree might serve as such a symbol; when they gathered into settlements, the standing stone became the favored symbol. When a people turned to the Christian faith, the people often 'Christianized' their standing stone by carving or painting a cross, the sign of the fish, or the Chi-Rho symbol on the stone, and it became a place made sacred for Christian worship. In time, this practice led to the sculpting, from tall stones, of tall standing Celtic crosses with the circle intersecting the cross. In time, biblical scenes and/or nature scenes were carved onto some crosses.

The Celtic Christian movement often built chapels on or near the grove, or the well, or the hill that had served as a sacred site for the primal religion. The sacred site would often retain its former name or a reminiscent name. Celtic Christianity often retained, and 'Christianized,' some of the prior religions's holy days, festivals, and ceremonies, thereby 'grafting' the new onto the old. Christian priests and monks often wore a clothing or hairstyle reminiscent of the people's former priest. Celtic Chrsitianity preferred continuity rather than discontinuity, inclusion rather than exclusion. Celtic Christianity was a fairly 'religion-friendly' movement.

It is important to note that Celtic Christianity's 'religion friendly' policy would not have been very controversial in the early Middle Ages; indeed, the Roman wing's mission practice often followed a similar policy. This is most memorably noted in the letter, which Bede has preserved for posterity, that Pope Gregory once sent to his missionaries at Canterbury. 'I have decided after long deliberation about the English people, namely that the idol temples of that race should by no means be destroyed, but only the idols in them. Take holy water and sprinkle it in these shirnes, build altars and place relics in them. For if the shrines are well built, it is essential that they should be changed from the worship of devils to the service of the true God. When this people see that their shrirnes are not destroyed they will be able to banish error from their hearts and be more ready to come to the places they are familiar with, but now recognizing and worshipping the true God...'

Gregory also directed a missiological response to the Angle practice of slaughtering cattle as sacrifices to devils. 'Do not let them sacrifice animals to the devil, but let them slaughter animals for their own food to the praise of God, and let them give thanks to the Giver of all things for His bountiful provision.'

We read about a similar way of evangelism in the Bible in Acts 17.

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities." (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means." 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, "To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For "In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "For we too are his offspring.' 29 Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, "We will hear you again about this." 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Paul didn't avoid the pagan statues in the city of Athens. He went around and read them. Through reading them, he found a way to explain the Gospel to the Athenians. The Gospel never changes, but the way we go about telling it would change depending on our audience.

He also didn't avoid pagan literature. He actually quotes pagan writings to them to prove the Gospel rather than quoting Scripture.

We see this lived out in another story in the Celtic Way of Evangelism:

"(Another example) focuses upon a contextualized way to interpret the death of Jesus, developed by St. Aidan as he came to understand the history and values of the Anglo-Saxons of northern England. In A.D. 625, eight years befor Iona commisioned Aidan to Northumbria, Canterbury had commissioned Paulinus to the same region. Paulinus, in the traidion of Ninian, must have imported left-brained culturally Roman Christianity. Bede's account begins by asserting that 'the Northumbrian race...accepted the word of faith through the preaching of Paulinus.' Bede soon admits, however, that the 'heathen' were unresponsive to Paulinus's preaching and, indeed, Paulinus had to work 'to prevent those who had come with him from lapsing from the faith!' Paulinus did, however, make some progress with King Edwin and his associates, though the king did not immediately accept the faith.

One day a neighboring king sent a messenger to Edwin's court. Inside the scroll was a poisoned dagger. As the messenger charged to stab Edwin, one member of the court, Lilla, was close enough to step across and take the dagger in his own stomach. The dagger passed through Lilla's body and also wounded Edwin, though not fatally. That night Edwin's queen gave birth to a daughter. Following these two experiences, Edwin asked Paulinus to baptize his baby daughter and eleven other members of his household. In time, after more teaching and reflection (and in inviting letter from the pope), 'King Edwin, with all the nobles of his race and a vast number of the common people, recieved the faith and regeneration by holy baptism in...627'

In time, King Edwin was slain, and Paulinus moved on to serve the church at Rochester. One gets the impression reading Bede's sections on Aidan's ministry from Lindisfarne, that Aidan and his people found the number of common people who were converts, or even preevangelized, to be much less 'vast' than Bede's hype of Paulinus's earlier work suggested.

Nevertheless, Aidan built upon something important from that history. People told him the story of Lilla, King Edwin's associate, who had taken the poisoned dagger for the king. Aidan perceived that the courage, loyalty, and devotion that were embodied in Lilla's deed represented ultimate values in this people's culture. Indeed, the deed steeled their conviction that there would be no greater honor than to die for the king you serve.

David Adam reports that in Aidan's rhetorical response. Aidan told them that he and his people also served as the 'soldiers' of a King--for whom they were willing to risk wild animals, or hostile armies, or even death until this whole world becomes the Kingdom of their King.

Then Aidan added the punchline. He and other Christian soldiers represent the King who loved his soldiers and people so much that King laid down his life for them!

In dying, he won a kingdom for his followers. So Christians have a definite purpose for living, to serve Christ and to live for the glory of God in doing his will. They also have a definite reward. Soldiers on earth can only be rewarded if the king is the victor. Life is eternal, people are free, for Christ has won the victory."
When I started working in Farm Bureau's home office, my manager and a fellow co-worker were deeply involved in astrology. Their life seemed to be a roller coaster of crazed emotions, fatalism, and despair. I could've taken the approach that I would just tell them it was wrong because the Bible says so (which is probably a valid approach) and not communicate with them on their level. Instead, I went out and bought some books on astrology and read them. I was trying to find bridges in the astrological framework for the Gospel. I was trying to find places where believing in Christ would bring freedom. Then when we had religious conversations in the office, going out to eat, or at parties, I could highlight the areas where they wouldn't have to change - where I admired their devotion and faithfulness. There are things that astrology has right, just like (I assume) there are things that Wicca has right. But this didn't mean that I ignored the hard-hitting truths of the Bible. Not at all. But it allowed the hard-hitting truths of the Bible to be heard by affirming the other areas that are right.

In the process of teaching them where there faith is right and wrong, my faith is increased and sometimes improved. But then there are areas where they are way off and need to be lovingly corrected. The only way I can know where to correct them and where to affirm them is to know exactly what they believe. That is why I read books about astrology written by astrologists rather than by Christians who hate astrology. It's about dealing with them and their faith honestly. The whole reason for our discussion was redemption, not destruction.

I am happy to say that when I left Lansing, they had both became Christians and were going to church. I don't know where they are now, but I do know that our conversations were much more fruitful because I dealt with what they believed honestly. That is what I plan to do in studying Wicaa. The guy I know who follows Wicca is a great guy. He seems to have a good heart. I would assume that he has been burnt in the past by unhealthy church and unhealthy Christians. So far in reading Wicca there is a lot of common ground, but there are some serious gaps. I'll deal with these in future posts.

In all of it, I have to remember that it is about redemption and not destruction.

Watch out for the potholes.

Fresh Reminders, The beginning of a study on Wicca

Lately, I've been really going through a personal spiritual revival. It could be the new prayer system I am doing. I cannot recommend Celtic Daily Prayers enough. I have found it refreshing and reinvigorating to have a structured prayer life. It could be the effects of having a new pastor. Scott's a great guy with a genuine faith. It could be the gathering together of brothers on Friday morning (If you're in the Antwerp area and want to gather with brothers for encouragement and Christian thought, then this is a great group to be in. Our next book that we will be going through is Spilt Grape Juice. It's a reevaluation of what we consider worship.) It could be the weekly parties that we are going to with the people in the play Lindsay is in. It could be that I don't write a blog everyday. It could be the family prayer in the morning. Whatever it is, I am thankful.

But with growth always comes change.

I've been feeling a serious tugging to plant another church down here. I don't know how it would manifest itself, but I am going to seriously start praying about it. The weird thing is that Lindsay is all for it right now. I think that is the first time she has been for planting another church since we moved down here.

It all stems from conversations that I had with non-Christians at the party we were at last night. There main hang-ups with Christianity aren't the teachings of Christianity but the institutionalization of the church. I found it very interesting to actually hear from non and former Christians the very things that I have ranted about on this blog for almost a year now.

When you throw out the lines that I hear from other Christians - lines such as the church isn't perfect but that we are a collection of sinners - they ring back hollow. They are ineffective lines to people who really have a hang-up with Christianity because of the church. There needs to be a church that is noticeably trying to be like Christ. I could see these people responding well to a uninstitutionalized church much easier than all of the other churches that surround us down here. So now I am faced with whether and how to start that.

But I received a very firm reminder from God. Planting a uninstitutionalized church isn't just something to do for my sake. That is why I think I wanted to plant another one up to this point since we left Lansing. I miss the church in Lansing. I miss the fellowship, friendship, service, and encouragment. I miss the ability to talk about what we want to do and then doing it. I miss using the finances almost solely to meet people's needs. I wanted to plant another church for my sake so that I could experience those things again. God reminded me that planting this church is not for my sake but for the sake of those who are turned off to Him by the churches that are currently around here.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that people around here can't come to the Lord in the churches around here; however, I do think that most people who haven't come to the Lord as a result of the churches in this area won't be receptive to the Gospel presented in the same methods that these churches have presented it for years. They might respond to the Gospel if they see a different approach to living it out. I always said in planting the church in Lansing that we wanted to do church in such a way that those who were turned off by the present churches would be able to follow God in our church. Why plant another church that does things the same way as every other church around? We don't need more cookie cutter churches. We need groups of Christians who gather together and live out their lives as one in the unique way God has intended for them.

The weird thing about this prompting now is that the Antwerp Community Church, the church I currently attend, seems to be heading in the right direction under the new pastor. So I don't know what to do. I did back out of teaching the high school Sunday school class because I felt I was being pulled in a different direction. I don't know if planting a church is that direction or not. I'm not going to rush into anything. I would appreciate your prayers.


On the subject of conversations at the party. One person shared that they were a Wiccan. They are going to lend me a couple of books on the subject. I am reading through a book right now entitled History of Pagan Europe that I had previously bought but never touched. I will be sharing my findings and such here in the coming weeks.

Watch out for potholes.

Luther sitting in his favorite window. Posted by Hello

An Online Funeral For Our Cat

Yesterday a repugnant odor started wafting into our house through our open windows. It smelled like dead animal. Being lazy (and assuming my dog would take care of it), I ignored it at first. Then it struck me that it could be Luther, our largest and friendliest grey cat. Luther hasn't come around for about three days. We were getting worried about him. We've called and called and called his name from our back door trying to get him to come home. When the smell of dead animal intruded our home, I went out to look for him.

Behind some bushes and right next to the grounding wire from our electric meter laid Luther. It appears that he had been electrocuted. His face was severely burnt. It was a sad moment. (On a side and informational note, I did call the power company and they sent someone out to see if something around that area was live. They couldn't find anything. It must have been lightning that ran through the grounding wire.)

After digging a hole to put him in, we placed Luther into the ground. The weird thing about our little cat funeral is that all of the other cats and our dog came over to the place where he was buried. Nafai, our dog, was actually visibly disturbed. Maybe he was just feeding off our sadness. It was strange. It's like they knew we were burying Luther. I can't repeat how strange it was. Our one cat, Francis, didn't want to leave the place. He sat perched on a tree stump watching me dig the hole. When we went inside after burying Luther, Francis remained perched there staring at Luther's final resting place.

Anyway, this is our farewell to Luther. He was Lindsay's favorite cat. He was our friendliest. He got along well with our dog. He will be missed.

Luther was preceded in disappearance by his brother Augustine "August", 4 friends will miss him - Wesley, Calvin, Joanie, and Francis - and 3 sad and one unknowing owners - Regan, Lindsay, Isaac, and Eli.

Baby Eli being a cat post for Luther. Posted by Hello

Luther relaxing in the window right above where he died.  Posted by Hello

Very young toddler Isaac watching Baby Luther eat. Baby Calvin is in the background climbing. Posted by Hello

Baby Luther ready to pounce.  Posted by Hello

Baby Luther Peering from behind a table.  Posted by Hello

Scared of Rituals or The False Focus on the Heart

Lately I've been thinking about the spiritual disciplines and rituals in the church.

A brief disclaimer before I begin: Any of you who know me or have done any sort of gathering, whether large or small, with me know that I am not fond of keeping meaningless rituals, so I am not making the point that we should keep meaningless rituals. When I use the word ritual, I do not imply meaningless before it.


Above all physical actions is the heart. We can be loving, yet our acts of love can be meaningless for our spiritual life. We can be people of prayer, yet our prayers can be meaningless for our spiritual life. We can people of the Word, yet our studies can be meaningless for our spiritual life.

Before any action matters spiritually it has to grow from the heart. Whether it's a memorized prayer that we state every morning or a more spontaneous prayer, it doesn't matter spiritually unless it comes from the heart.

"Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water" (Luke 7:38)

So what do many people do? They stop participating in the disciplines, in the rituals, or in outward acts of love because those outward acts can be corrupted. We have seen so many people who just go through the rituals that it appears noble in some minds to not participate in those sometimes meaningless rituals. The Pharisees of Jesus' time practiced all the disciplines and rituals while ignoring the heart. They adhered to the letter of the law while ignoring the law's spirit. Because of people like the Pharisees, for some it has become noble to not pray, to not say a repetitive prayer, or to not love their neighbor. We've created the New Pharisee.

"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24)

The New Pharisee ignores action and declares that all spirituality is just a matter of the heart. Faith is all that matters. They say we are saved by faith alone. The disciplines, rituals, and loving actions become irrelevant, and the New Pharisee treks on a journey that focuses solely on the inward state of his being. Spirituality for the sake of spirituality. Personalized faith. Spiritual masturbation. The most dangerous thing facing the church in America today. We can sit around and talk about how corrupt the world is and how it is infiltrating the Church, but if the New or Old Pharisees weren't in control of the Church, then the Church would have nothing to fear. The people of God cannot be corrupted by what goes on around them only by that which happens within.

"Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile" (Mark 7:14-15)

The Church is like an inpenetrable outpost standing on a hill in the middle of a town. Nothing from outside can damage it. Though the lost world might try, the Church cannot be destroyed by the lost world. Like Rome (and perhaps the United States) the fall will happen as a result of continual decay within. The Church is too powerful to fall from attacks from outside of its walls. If we truly believed that, we would stop concerning ourselves with the immorality of the lost world around us. It is the lost world; it is expected to live in a way contrary to what we believe. Rather, we should turn our focus towards discipling those who are part of our body and reaching out in truth and love to those outside of the body. This is a much better alternative to sitting around and criticizing the lost world for being what the lost world is supposed to be and a much better alternative than waging war against the lost world by trying to prevent them from living the way the lost world is expected to live.

"For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge?" (1 Cor 5:12)

Earlier I wrote, "Whether it's a memorized prayer that we state every morning or a more spontaneous prayer, it doesn't matter spiritually unless it comes from the heart." It would also be true to say, "Whatever is in our heart, it doesn't matter spiritually unless it manifests itself in the physical world." The New Pharisee is just as dangerous to the Faith as the Pharisee of Jesus' day.

"The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil" (Luke 6:45)

The heart is the most important thing to change in our life; however, disciplines, rituals, and loving actions are not seperate from our heart. An inward/outward dicotomy does not exist in the life of a Christian. Our whole being has been given over to the cause of Christ. All disciplines, rituals, and loving actions should be spurs to our heart, and all exuberance of our heart should manifest itself through disciplines, actions that might become rituals, and love. When we don't feel our heart being in love with God, focus on our actions because they are the key to our heart. When we don't see oursevles doing the actions of the faith, focus on our heart. The two are joined together.

Watch out for the potholes.