KB Categories Archives: Miscellaneous

Will You Ask the Blessing? Blessing in Spirit and in Truth

Dr. Connie C. Bull:

A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal, and strengthen. –John O’Donohue, Irish poet & priest (1956-2008)

Will you offer the blessing?  We hear this phrase often at mealtime, even perhaps daily. If we pause to consider, though, we realize that blessing is not only connected to meals. Throughout the Bible, blessing is connected to belonging.[1] Our common speech patterns, however, do not imply belonging when we are quick to say “Bless his heart” or “Lord, bless her” when speaking of a personality flaw in someone. Instead, we are covertly lying to hide the disdain we feel under the surface.  Thus, we have twisted the biblical meanings what it is to bless; blessings are to be prayers for deliverance and a “made-new worldview” as we bless in Jesus’ name, our Deliverer.

The Old Testament uses nine different meanings of the term “bless” including greeting/leavetaking in peace, prevailing power over enemies, wisdom, prosperity, benediction, transfer of power, respect, praise, and thanksgiving.  In the New Testament, Christ embodies these, and blesses into belonging both young and old in His ministry. Jesus’ last earthly act was blessing (Luke 24:51)—a ministry for more than church staff, but rather for all Christ’s followers to continue.

[1] Claus Westermann, Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church, trans. Keith Crim (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 19.

Want to read the rest of Connie’s wonderful work? Please click the “Read More” link below.

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He’s in the Lord’s Army

Audio Resource: His long and distinguished career as a military chaplain helped prepare Brett Travis for a further call to church planting. In this conversation with Dr. Chris Alford, Brett describes a lifetime of service to his country and to the Lord. How did a country kid from the midwest end up being a proponent of Ancient-Future Faith called to pastoral ministry? Join us!

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Talking Ancient-Future Faith with Gary Rushing

Audio Content: Dr. Gary Rushing was the guest on this episode of Ancient-Future Faith. He talked with Host Chris Alford about a life of ministry and how he is using biblical, ancient-future principles in his capacity as a worship pastor in the Methodist Church. Gary has served in a variety of denominations and now has the unique challenge of working in a “high seasonal” church in Florida where the numbers fluctuate by a thousand depending on the time of the year. What a challenge! And what a wonderful pastor he is…. Join us!

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Art, Life, and the Church: Dr. Dianne Collard

Audio Resource: Dr. Dianne Collard was the guest on this edition of Ancient-Future Faith radio. Dianne is a member of the Ancient-Future Faith Network, an author, a sought-after speaker on issues related to the arts and the church, and a great blessing to the many artists she mentors and encourages. Join us for a conversation about her latest goings-on (which include a documentary film and a new arts organization in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

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Celtic Spirituality and Formation

Audio Resource: 

Tracy Balzer (right) was the guest for this edition of Ancient-Future Faith radio. She is the director of Christian Formation at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  She is the author of Thin Places (Leafwood 2007), A Listening Life (Pinyon, 2011), and Permission to Ponder:  Contemplative Wisdom for the Spiritually Distracted (Leafwood, 2015).  She holds a Master of Ministry degree, is a certified spiritual director and advocate of Celtic spirituality, and is an oblate at the beautiful Subiaco Abbey, also in Arkansas.  Tracy regularly leads pilgrimages and study trips to the British Isles, having a special interest and affection for the Isle of Iona, Scotland.

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Then Shall They See: Meditations for Advent

Long-time AFFN member and contributor Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond has written a remarkable set of devotionals for the Advent Season. May it be a great blessing and source of inspiration to you during these days of listening and waiting. 

Thank you, Don, for your ongoing (and precious) contributions to our Network.

Here’s the introduction to the series, and then find the link to the .pdf file for the entire set just below:

 

Then Shall They See: Meditations for Advent

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent, as found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, encourages us to “readmarklearn…and inwardly digest” holy Scripture. The purpose of these four admonitions, according to the Collect, is to empower the reader to embrace and emulate Christ’s teaching. Reading and reflecting upon Holy Writ, with an honest and open heart, helps us to do this. These simple meditations seek to honor the Collect’s concern.

As in the past, with my other seasonal reflections, there is a process that I encourage you to follow. First, and foremost, read and reflect upon the Lesson of the day. Do not rush the Reading. Do not try to interpret the Reading. Sit before the Reading and let it speak to you. Instead of interpreting it, let the text interpret you.

As well, read and reflect upon the brief commentary that I have written. Engage with what I have suggested by asking questions. Is this how you read the text? Do you interpret this biblical passage in the same way? What are the readings, found in both the biblical text and my commentary, communicating to you? What is God asking you to do, based upon the Scripture provided?

Finally, and importantly, pray the prayer. The prayer, Come Thou, long-expected Jesus, is written in red throughout the meditations and was originally composed as a hymn by Charles Wesley. Although I reference the same prayer each day, if done with devotion it will work its way into our hearts.

May the Christ-Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, incarnate himself ever more richly in our hearts and our lives.

 

Enjoy the entire set of Advent devotionals by clicking here.

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A Conversation with Dr. Rick Asche

Microphone (2)Rick Ache FamilyAudio Content: Dr. Rick Asche, a recent graduate of the Institute for Worship Studies and a long-time pastor, was the guest on this edition of “Ancient-Future Faith,” a radio program sponsored by Epiclesis: An Ancient-Future Faith Community. Rick has served in youth and men’s ministry, as well as a lead pastor, and more recently in junior high ministry in Lincoln, California. He recently accepted a calling to join the pastoral team at Epiclesis as Pastor of Intergenerational Discipleship. In this episode of the radio program, Rick talks generational ministry and its biblical mandates.

Click on the play button in the audio player below to hear the conversation with Rick Asche:

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The Christian Tradition of Suffering: An Exhortation to Contemporary Protestantism

D.H. Williams:

sufferingOne cannot read the New Testament and a great many patristic texts and not discover that a common denominator to all who followed Christ was the experience of suffering; whether in the forms of rejection, hatred, deprivation, or some sort of persecution.  Beginning with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-10), the imperatives for a blessed life offer us a self-portrait of Jesus, who is himself the Blessed One.  This portrait shows an identification with poverty, gentleness, grief, hunger, and thirst for uprightness, mercy, purity of heart, a desire to make peace, and the signs of persecution. At the same time, Jesus promises, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved (Matt 10:22).  What is the disciple’s response?  “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (or hurt you), so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

From the gospel accounts to Acts to the earliest records of Christian executions, the church was born into a tradition of persecution and martyrdom that formed its identity.  The faith of the “chosen people” was essentially a religion of suffering and martyrdom.  The twin aspects, suffering and bearing witness went hand in glove.

Thus far, surveys of retrieval theologies make no mention of this issue, which is a serious omission, since there is a superfluity of literary evidence to show that suffering for and with the Christ who suffered through persecution was a central part of the early church. This facet of Christian experience is just as much a part of the theological inheritance as any other theology.  In all the presentations and dialogues on theological retrieval taking place, westerners who rarely suffer on account of their faith, are in danger of forgetting this elementary feature of the church’s distinctiveness.  But what is meant by such a retrieval unless we are in the midst of a church enduring some form of persecution?

 

AFFN Members may continue reading the entirety of Dr. Williams’ work by logging in, or clicking the .PDF file, below. Not a member yet? Check out this page to learn more about membership in the Network.

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Bells

bellsDuane Arnold:

I’ve just returned from a brief business trip overseas that took me to Paris. It is a city that I have grown to love over the past 30 years and that I have visited, often for long periods of time, almost every year during those three decades.  While there, I often have the opportunity to write and reflect.  This year, those reflections were more focused as an old friend at the Sorbonne asked me to meet with his post-graduate seminar group to talk about the state of the American church and its politics in light of the recent election, a subject that has been extensively reported upon by European news outlets.  Thankfully, I had some materials near at hand, so a great deal of preparation was not involved.  As usually happens, however, sometimes the lecturer learns more than the student in the process of teaching.

France, while culturally Roman Catholic, is a secular state.  Churches and, indeed, church institutions receive few special privileges apart from a certain measure of tax exemption.  France is considered to be one of the most irreligious of all countries. According to a survey undertaken in 2010, a full 40% of the French population answered that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force,” with only 27% stating that they believe there is a God. The other 27% believe that there is “some sort of life force or spirit.”  The remaining 6% “do not know.” On any given weekend less than 5% of the country’s Roman Catholics will attend church. Protestants (mainly Reformed evangelicals) make up less than 2% of the population, just behind the 3% who are adherents of Islam. As an example of the secular nature of French society, getting married in France is a wholly civil function which takes place at a municipal office, while a subsequent religious service (or none) is wholly the decision of the couple and the tenants of their faith community. Since 2013, the same rules apply to same-sex marriage.

It is clearly a different landscape than that of the United States, which most French reporting portrays as “obsessed with religion.”

All this was on my mind as I prepared to meet with the seminar group. Although my French is less fluent than I could desire, the small group of twenty-somethings around the table were patient and understanding. I presented the latest figures from Pew Research on the state of the Church in the U.S., referencing the decline of mainline denominations, the apparent support of evangelicals for the current administration, and a range of other topics. Afterwards, a lively discussion ensued. There were, as always, a number of questions about the availability of teaching positions in the U.S., as there are fewer and fewer posts available in France. I then, sadly, had to inform them of the difficulties being encountered by American universities and seminaries.

As we were preparing to end the session, I took the opportunity to pose my own question to the seminar group. I asked, “What is the greatest challenge you are facing?” Now, after the previous discussion, I was expecting the participants to talk about tuition, teaching posts, etc. After a bit of silence, however, a young man in the group spoke up and said this:

french cathedral“Dr. Arnold, we are facing the death of historic Christianity in Western Europe. It is clear that this decline has spread to the United States and the Western Hemisphere at large. Like a pandemic, the decline morphs and changes as it spreads and then returns to its place of origin. The evangelicals in the United States are ‘ahistorical,’ dependent not on a reasoned or historic faith but on marketing models largely derived from totalitarian propaganda systems which value only experience. You cannot answer their claims, because the claims have no basis in either history or reason. This kind of evangelicalism is also in Latin America and has spread, returning to Europe in a virulent form. They will only allow the ‘history’ that bolsters not a reasoned or compelling argument, but only a marketing statement. It is the religious equivalent of ‘Make America Great Again.’ The worst part of this is that like all marketing and propaganda, it only lasts for a generation. At the end, we will be left with nothing that speaks of an historic, reasonable Christian faith. We are afraid, Dr. Arnold, that we might be the last generation to know this faith, talking only to each other.”

I carried that young man’s reflection with me through the remainder of my time in Paris and the flight home.

Earlier in the week, a thought had struck me, which I shared with a friend. Through the kindness of a colleague, I had stayed in a condo carved out of a portion of a seventeenth century Musketeer barracks in the midst of three churches and a religious-based hospital with a chapel and a carillon.  In that condo, I constantly heard the bells ringing out from the churches and the hospital chapel.  It struck me that for hundreds of years, people, ordinary people, would have known what the various bells meant– the call to Church, the Angelus, the Words of Institution, the end of church, etc.  Today, however, although the bells still ring, now no one knows what they signify (except for a few antiquarians like me and a limited number of the faithful).  It is sort of like us– we say words to the world around us, but society no longer knows what the words signify.  We know the words (and argue about them) but the world at large has no idea.  We’ve become the bells– sounding lovely and sacred, but devoid of meaning to a society at large which has abandoned faith– as we keep speaking only to each other.

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