Why are you here?

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Michael Phelps new commercial unlocks the secret of overcoming uncertainty.

 I watched Michael Phelps new Under Armour commercial today. A powerful testimony to the value of sacrifice, commitment, and repetition, it shows the most decorated Olympian in history preparing for his final Olympiad this summer in Rio. The tag line: “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.”

I have many meetings with people I refer to as “the uncertain.” Often the person will look up from their coffee or craft beer and say, “I guess the real reason I wanted to meet with you is that I don’t know what I should be doing with my life.” I listen and then politely ask them to back up and ask themselves a prior question, “Why are you here?” My question is generally met with a blank stare. So I gently push the issue, “Really. Why are you here? What were you made to do?” Confusion usually turns to frustration and the stammering of some version of, “I’ve got enough problems without you starting an existential crisis.”

The irony is that they already have the existential crisis. But the willingness to dig deeply enough to get at the root, like my desire to quick-weed my yard in Spring, prevents a true solution to that crisis.

Ultimate questions lurk beneath the question.

“What should I do” can only be answered in light of knowing why we are here, what we were made for.

In another bit of irony, we get at why we are here and what we are for backwards, by starting with what we do. Not our paying job, of course, but we we actually spend our private energy on. (To be clear, in the Christian worldview people are not valued based on human performance, but in the mercy of God based in the performance of Jesus, as seen in his life, death and resurrection for wandering humanity.) But what we spend our time doing points to why we are here and what we are to do.

That thing we do…

What is it we do? Answer: Worship. Uhmm, yes, our secular culture still spends most of its’ time and energy in worship. Worship is a contraction of the old English words “Worth-ship” – that which we value, that which we love, that which we long for. Isn’t most of what you spend your energy on love? We desire. We want. We long. We are worshipping creatures.

In the Old Testament the word that is translated “worship” means to “bow before.” Don’t we all bow before something? The question is, “Are we bowing before the right things?” Young people in American “achiever” culture face tremendous pressure to “bow” – to fit in…look “right,” get to the “right” school, have the “right” friends…act the part. Even among individualistic “meta-narrative rejecting” post-modern males, our “individualism” tends to look pretty uniform. I see a lot of plaid flannel, skinny jeans and untrimmed beards – a grown-up version of the eight junior high girls I once saw in a mall wearing matching “Dare to be different” t-shirts. Sure, we are individuals, as long as you hold to the correct politics and sensitivities of our age. But if what we “value,” what we “worship,” is indistinguishable from our culture, surely we will end up as nothing more than this generation’s shallow sellouts to the outward trappings of our culture’s vision of success.

So we are worshipping creatures, made to worship. And we need to worship beyond ourselves. Redirecting our worship outside of ourselves, at the one who made and redeemed us, gives one a center and a grounding that our culture alone cannot. This is because it is worship rightly directed that fulfills your design, fulfills God’s plan for you. Worshipping God is the first step in identifying what one should do with their life.

Wait a moment: You are telling me that going to church is going to help me figure out a career? Are you daft? But better than questioning my sanity would be the question, “How does one best worship beyond themselves?”

Worship in the Christian worldview has been grounded in a vision of God’s two-fold nature revealed in the Old and New Testaments. God has many more characteristics, but the two foundational ones in historic Christianity have been that God is both perfectly holy and perfectly loving.

Holy yet loving. …Transcendent yet immanent. Awesome and out there, yet intimate and desiring to indwell us by the Holy Spirit. Out of God’s nature comes our need to worship. (Col 1:16, Eph 1:11, 1 Pet 2:9, Is 43:6-7)

God’s holiness reveals God as the grandest being in the universe. A being who spoke the universe into existence. God is a worthy of worship in the glory of God’s being. A being we should bow before.

God’s love: The Greek Orthodox have the idea of “perichoresis” Greek for “rotation.” The idea is that in the Trinity we have the One God in a divine Three-Person dance. God in love and unity, created humanity to invite us into the dance of eternity. “For God so loved the world” that he breathed it into existence. Then, when we had wandered away into sin and death, he “he gave his only begotten son” as “an offering and a sacrifice unto God.” (Eph 5:2)

These two foundations to God’s nature are revealed time and again in Scripture. Yet, much to our shame, the church has had a difficult time holding these two truths in tension.

Up Next: Part 2: How Reshaping Our Desires Redirects Our Destiny

Smudgy Foreheads

 

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Wednesday you will notice people with smudgy foreheads. When you see this, resist your inner-parent urging you to dab at them with a moist napkin. They are not the victims of poor grooming habits, nor have they lost a dare. It is merely Ash Wednesday, the day in which Christians of the ancient traditions commemorate the beginning of the season of Lent by attending religious services in which they were charged to, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  (Genesis 3:19)

What is Lent?

Lent, is the archaic word for “Spring.” It has come to refer to the 40 days of spiritual preparation preceding Easter. Christians traditionally spend the season before Easter in repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial in an effort to remember our need for God and God’s great saving acts in the passion and resurrection of Jesus. (40 is symbolic of Jesus’ 40 days fasting and temptation in the wilderness)

Where did it come from?

The tradition of ashes has its roots in the ancient Jewish prophets who urged “repent in sackcloth and ashes.” Among Christians, the imposition of ashes and the 40 day fast began in Europe in the 4th century.

What’s the point?

Ash Wednesday and Lent are not about spiritual brownie points, impressing God, nor making belated New Year’s resolutions, like dropping that last five pounds by cutting chocolate.  Rather, Lent is about mindfulness – Thinking more about God and others, and less of ourselves. Christians are penitent during Lent because we are grateful for God’s provision for humanity through Jesus.

We go to church on Ash Wednesday to be marked outwardly with ashes as we remind ourselves inwardly of our need for the unquenchable, fierce love of God to enliven us.

Christians of the ancient tradition spend 40 days in Lenten practices, either giving up something we enjoy and/or taking on a new spiritual activity. The mindfulness generated by self-denial and self-discipline prepare our hearts to be more fully present for the remembrance of the saving acts of Jesus during Holy Week.

What happens at an Ash Wednesday service?

They are usually brief. You will hear biblical passages calling people to repentance and have ashes imposed on your forehead with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) Holy Communion is then celebrated.

Checking out a service…

You do not need to be a member to attend. EVERYONE is welcome at an Ash Wednesday service. EVERYONE is invited to receive ashes. Although different churches have different rules for receiving communion, in the Episcopal church our canons ask you to be a baptized Christian to receive communion. (If you are not baptized you may simply stay in your seat or come forward with the congregation, arms crossed, to receive a blessing).

Tired of the noise?

In the midst of debates and news cycles and narcissism, when even America’s pastor urges us to be our own “I Am”, engaging in self-examination and the contemplating our own mortality is refreshingly against-the-grain. Ash Wednesday and Lent create space to become more aware of our need for reconciliation with God and others. Ash Wednesday is an active way to do that with the support of other seekers. This Wednesday, find a service and attend!

Smudgy foreheads

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Wednesday you will notice people with smudgy foreheads. When you see this, resist your inner-parent urging you to dab at them with a moist napkin. They are not the victims of poor grooming habits, nor have they lost a dare. It is merely Ash Wednesday, the day in which Christians of the ancient traditions commemorate the beginning of the season of Lent by attending religious services in which they were charged to, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  (Genesis 3:19)

What is Lent?

Lent, is the archaic word for “Spring.” It has come to refer to the 40 days of spiritual preparation preceding Easter. Christians traditionally spend the season before Easter in repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial in an effort to remember our need for God and God’s great saving acts in the passion and resurrection of Jesus. (40 is symbolic of Jesus’ 40 days fasting and temptation in the wilderness)

Where did it come from?

The tradition of ashes has its roots in the ancient Jewish prophets who urged “repent in sackcloth and ashes.” Among Christians, the imposition of ashes and the 40 day fast began in Europe in the 4th century.

What’s the point?

Ash Wednesday and Lent are not about spiritual brownie points, impressing God, nor making belated New Year’s resolutions, like dropping that last five pounds by cutting chocolate.  Rather, Lent is about mindfulness – Thinking more about God and others, and less of ourselves. Christians are penitent during Lent because we are grateful for God’s provision for humanity through Jesus.

We go to church on Ash Wednesday to be marked outwardly with ashes as we remind ourselves inwardly of our need for the unquenchable, fierce love of God to enliven us.

Christians of the ancient tradition spend 40 days in Lenten practices, either giving up something we enjoy and/or taking on a new spiritual activity. The mindfulness generated by self-denial and self-discipline prepare our hearts to be more fully present for the remembrance of the saving acts of Jesus during Holy Week.

What happens at an Ash Wednesday service?

They are usually brief. You will hear biblical passages calling people to repentance and have ashes imposed on your forehead with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) Holy Communion is then celebrated.

Checking out a service.

You do not need to be a member to attend. EVERYONE is welcome at an Ash Wednesday service. EVERYONE is invited to receive ashes. Although different churches have different rules for receiving communion, in the Episcopal church our canons ask you to be a baptized Christian to receive communion. (If you are not baptized you may simply stay in your seat or come forward with the congregation, arms crossed, to receive a blessing).

Tired of the noise?

In the midst of debates and news cycles and narcissism, when even America’s pastor urges us to be our own “I Am”, engaging in self-examination and the contemplating our own mortality is refreshingly against-the-grain. Ash Wednesday and Lent create space to become more aware of our need for reconciliation with God and others. Ash Wednesday is an active way to do that with the support of other seekers. I encourage you this Wednesday, find a service and attend!

2016 Christmas Wish for Evangelicals: Drop the War on the War on Christmas

Courtesy StarbucksCourtesy Starbucks

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In your Christmas clearance shopping I suggest stocking up on a gift we evangelicals could give the world next Christmas: Drop the war on “the war on Christmas.” Lets stop trying to out-Grinch the Grinches.

In the children’s Christmas classic, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” the Grinch was a grouchy, cave-dwelling monster with a heart “two sizes too small.” From his lair on icy Mount Crumpit, the Grinch could hear the merry Who’s preparing for their Christmas festivities in Whoville below. Annoyed, the Grinch decides to stop Christmas from coming. He crudely disguises himself as Santa, and forces Max, his loyal but unloved dog, to drag his sleigh to Whoville, where he steals all of the Who’s Christmas presents, trees, and, as he disappears up the chimneys, even the log for their fires.

Yes, American culture does seem to be taking a hard turn from our Christian Christmas cultural assumptions

With the “Starbucks war on Christmas” hoax, you might have missed the less spectacular but actual cultural squeeze:

-Brunei mandated jail time for Muslims celebrating Christmas but generously deciding that Christians could celebrate, as long as the decorations were not visible from the street.

–Australian schools outlawed carols. So did VA hospitals in the U.S.

–New Hampshire was added to the list of states whose public schools do not allow the word “Christmas” on printed material or in classrooms.

–A Brooklyn principal outlawed all references to Christmas, stars, and Santa because they might “represent a religious system.”  (Santa is religious?)

And how have Christians responded? Grumpiness, lawsuits, and economic boycotts.

Imagine how different the Grinch that Stole Christmas might have been if Whoville had been populated by American evangelicals…

The people of Whoville were in quite a tizzy.

Nativities and carols gone awol, we’d better get busy.

Boycotting and arguing on the news shows,

expressing our outrage until our face glows.

Organizing alternate candidates to run.

And filing our lawsuits, crowdsourcing its’ fund.

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The negativity and desperation are not very attractive. But, if we cannot remember the Bible’s encouragement to return good for evil, perhaps we can remember how the inhabitants of Whoville actually responded…

As dawn breaks on Mt. Crumpit, the Grinch is preparing to dump the town’s presents into the abyss. Listening for the Who’s bitter and sorrowful cries, the Grinch is puzzled to hear them, not lamenting, but singing joyful Christmas melodies. It dawns on him that, “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting. The Grinch’s shrunken heart suddenly grows three sizes larger, and the converted Grinch returns the Who’s presents and is warmly invited to the Who-feast, where he has the honor of carving the Roast Beast.

If only that were the strategy we would adopt!

We cannot fix internal spiritual issues with external political solutions.

Broken systems are the result of broken people. Our political and educational systems are merely windows into who we are as a people. In Phoenix we lived on a corner. And because of how our house was angled, our front window was a magnet that drew the eyes of everyone who drove down Northview Ave. One Advent season, after our impressive Christmas tree had been up several days, I was outside and noticed that I hadn’t put any ornaments on the back side of said tree. How embarrassing – our beautiful tree was grotesquely bare to the street. Now I could’ve painted the window to fake a well-decorated tree or I could pull the decoration boxes back out of the attic and stretch around and fix the tree. Friends, attempts at political solutions to the passing of Christmas from the public sphere is nothing more than painting a phony picture on the front window. The problem isn’t the window. It’s what’s inside. Americans are not celebrating Jesus on the inside. Looking “Christmas” on the outside does not fix that.

People fear the baby because they don’t know the baby.

Church attendance tells us that most Americans simply don’t know the baby as the king of the universe. That he existed before all things. That he was both God and human. That he is the one “by whose stripes we were healed.” That he would die in our stead, to forgive not just our grinchiness but all of our other sins. That Christ alone has the power to bring us peace with God. They don’t know that he left us His Spirit to live within us, his church to support us, and promised us eternity in his grace-filled presence. You need to know that story. You need to let it soak deep so deeply into your bones, to marinade in it so deeply, that God’s love leaks out of you every time you open your mouth…to become a walking song from Whoville wafting into the ears of the Grinches.

It is only the Gospel that makes the bitter joyful, that heals burned over hearts. That reminds us that from God’s forgiveness we offer others forgiveness. Our neighbors will never really see love in the crèche at city hall. They can only see it in you and I. It is God’s forgiveness that gets inside the windows. And the last thing anyone needs, especially today, is a painted on faith.

I had an old youth group kid once who was a pk. And as preacher’s kids go, he was a pretty good one. But he had a bizarre desire to “look more Christian.” He was obsessed with his external “testimony.” I told him, “Quit worrying about looking like a Christian. Just draw close to Jesus and others will see him.” Jesus always shines through the windows.

My encouragement for next Christmas: Return being grouchy and seeking political “wins” today. In your day after Christmas bargain hunting, stock up on the joy of introducing people to Jesus   the great miracle of God with us. Christmas is for giving because, after all, “God so loved the world that he gave…”

 

What is truth?

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Our cultural “believies” and the war against fundamentalism.

Unless you have spent the last two weeks living under a rock you have been stunned by the violence in the name of religion. This is not the first time the news has been bad. And not the first time religion was involved.

In the Christian calendar last Sunday was Christ the King – the one modern day in our liturgical year. Christ the King Sunday was given to us by pope Pius XI at the end of WWI. As hard as it is to imagine, the carnage then was far worse: 18 million died as machine guns, planes, tanks, chemical warfare brought our ability to kill into the modern era.  And an ugly truth: the leaders on both sides claimed to follow Christ.

Pius XI called it, “a failure to remember God.” He thought, “the people need to remember that this world does indeed have a king, but that king is not us. The pope set aside the last Sunday of the Christian year as an acknowledgement of the gracious rule of the King of Peace…and to grieve and groan our failure to walk in the way of peace. It is a day to remember and return – sort of a societal Ash Wednesday.

Christ the King is a powerful idea. But there was another response to the Great War: Rather than deepen religious commitment, some philosophers and politicians sought to eliminate it. The results of the attempt to eliminate religion were staggering. The next 70 years saw the atheistic states of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Amin and the Kmer Rouge kill more people than every religious war in history. Somewhere between 110 and 260 million people died at the hands of those seeking to eradicate religion.

Religion proved far more resilient than they imagined, though. 20% of America was still in church last Sunday. China and Africa are in the midst of the fastest extension of Christianity in history. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are also growing. Social science has acquiesced to a persistent truth: Humans are religious.  Maybe you have noticed that the narrative has changed from “God is dead” to “there are too darn many gods.” But a question remains: What do we do when people behave badly and use religion to justify that behavior? Since eradicating religion didn’t work, today another solution is being tried: To relativize and privatize religion.

You may not know it, but this isn’t the first relevatizing’s first rodeo. Pontius Pilate attempted the same strategy 2000 years ago. (John 18:33-38) Hours before being crucified Jesus was delivered to Pilate’s doorstep by religious leaders begging for his execution. Pilate, of the Roman knight class, was governor – the ancient version of being on a military “remote.” Do well and he would retire to a cushy life. Blow it and he would return home in disgrace. The last thing Pilate wanted was a religious squabble getting out of hand. Going inside he asked Jesus,  “Are you the king of the Jews?” (v.33) Jesus replied,  “My kingdom is not of this world, that’s why my soldiers aren’t fighting.” (v.36) In other words, Jesus wasn’t breaking Roman laws.

Pilate pressed him, “So you are a king?” (v.37) Pilate wants to worm his way out of the sticky political mess outside. Jesus wants to get into the mess that is Pilate’s interior: “I have come to bear witness to the truth.” “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Even on trial, Jesus is inviting Pilate to himself. Pilate shrugs,  and utters the expression forever linked to his name, “What is truth?” (v.38) Then, knowing he is going to condemn an innocent man, Pilate walks out without waiting for an answer.

We all have times when we, like Pilate. don’t want to hear it…times when we want what we want and don’t want others intruding on those wants. Quite the opposite of Christ the King, this is me the king. Comedian Charles CK calls these, “my little believies.” He says, “I have things I believe. I don’t follow them. They just make me feel good about who I am. They are my believies.” “Believies” aren’t new, they’ve been with us since Adam and Eve did what they wanted in the garden. It’s always easier to walk away from truth than to confront where our beliefs lead.

In his book The Reason for God Tim Keller looks at our cultural “believies.” The first “believie”: “There can’t be one true religion.” The claim to exclusivity, we are told, is wrongheaded and dangerous. “After all,” this line of thought goes, “religion is nothing more than a cultural construct – Syrians are Muslim and Americans are Christian because of the culture in which we were raised. The arrogance that arises from the conviction that one has the absolute truth is responsible for the evil in our world.” So, we are told, religion should be condemned and relegated to the purely private sphere of life.

Tim Keller points out, though, that condemning religion is only possible if one holds to some other, some alternate, belief system – and all belief systems require both a “leap of faith” and a perspective of superiority. For the secularist both of these are inherently inconsistent. Keller also argues that privatization is never possible as everyone, no matter what faith or creed, brings a value system into the public discussion.

Now we are hearing a new “believie”: “Religion isn’t the problem. Fundamentalism is.” But be honest, we all have fundamental beliefs. In a pluralistic world the issue isn’t how deeply we hold our beliefs, but where those beliefs lead. Rather than pretending differences do not exist between religions, what if we were honest about them and instead evaluated which set of beliefs lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive toward those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs lead to humble, peace-loving behavior? Using those criteria, I believe Christianity has much to offer a world in crisis…much more than the secularists solution of relative, culture bound, privatized religion.

How could you possibly trust someone holding the philosophy that truth is relative not to cheat you?

After all how could you possibly trust someone holding the philosophy that truth is relative not to cheat you in business? Not to cheat in your marriage? To finish the job of parenting your children? Oh, a relativist might do all of those things. But there is nothing in their belief system to encourage their dependability. Heck, you can’t even count on the relativist not to crucify the innocent son of God.

The problem with our culture’s believies, is that they leave us with bigger problems than they solve. In contrast to our culture’s “spiritual but not religious” view, the Christian world view teaches:

  1. Truth is Objective (Truth is what is.)

Atheist Bertrand Russell talked about proving a teapot orbiting between earth and Mars.” But my ability to argue the point is irrelevant to that object’s actual existence. Either a teapot is spinning out there or it isn’t. Contrary to the oft repeated myth that truth is relative, Truth is what is, regardless of what I would like it to be. 

  1. Truth is Revealed: Truth is difficult to discern. Luckily we were not left on our own at this point. Truth was revealed generally in nature, but specifically in Jesus Christ and God’s word, the scriptures. Truth is what God says it is…not what I or my culture would like it to be.
  2. Truth is Narrow: The only area in which we struggle with the idea that truth is “narrow” is religion. Think about it…

Do you want a chemist with a broad definition of chemistry? Imagine a “broad” chemist bringing you a glass of H2O2: “What is one little extra atom of oxygen among friends?” Unfortunately H2O2 isn’t water. It’s peroxide. Truth is narrow.

Do you want an accountant who has a broad definition of addition? “Who says 2+2 must = 4? Why can’t it equal 3 or 311?” I’m guessing the IRS auditor will not be sympathetic. Why? Because Truth is narrow.

Do you want a pilot with a broad definition of what constitutes a runway?  “That airport is really busy today, but the freeway is long and straight. How about we set this 737 down on the Interstate?” Truth is narrow.

Do you want a spouse with a broad definition of love? “This is great Janice. Our love is awesome. Why don’t we share it…You have four sisters. Let’s all get married!” The answer to all of these is, No way! Truth is narrow. And finally…

  1. Truth is not private, it’s Personal. For a Christian, truth is not a what, truth is a who. Christian faith is based in the who of Jesus Christ. God loved humanity so completely and so relentlessly, that having seen our rebellion from before creation, God had a plan in place to redeem our fallen world. It involved his son Jesus Christ personally coming to earth, demonstrating a life of peace and self-sacrifice…A life of love and intimacy with his Father. And a life in which our rebellion and God’s wrath would be satisfied by Jesus’ self-emptying love – his personal replacement for you and I on the cross. And we know it worked because three days later Jesus walked from the tomb, seen by scads of people, and was bodily assumed into the clouds before his stunned follower’s eyes. People, truth is personal – bound irretrievably and irrevocably to God’s love for you, personally, through his son, Jesus Christ.

What is truth?

Jesus told Pilate, “I came to bear witness to the truth.” Jesus Christ said, “The truth will set you free.” And Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Looking at Jesus, his friend John wrote, “To all who receive him. Even to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.” For Jesus, this is personal. It is about you and I becoming family with God.

What do we do with Truth?

The great need for truth in our day is not to win the argument for absolute truth’s existence, but to walk in humility as children of the True One. What part of the truth of Christ’s kingship over your life bugs you? What do you not want to wait around and hear? Where are you passing the buck or fearing another’s agenda in your life? When you see the news do you fear? Or do you see God’s opportunity to share the love and light of Christ? The world cannot afford for you and I to privatize our faith. If you are the follower of a King whose kingdom is not of this world, despair not – light shines brightest in the darkness. The world most needs light when it is dark outside.

(An adaptation of a sermon. To watch that sermon click the graphic. Sermon starts 17 minutes in.)

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Larry Bird and the power of repetition (pt. 2)

Part 2 of a series on the Daily Office

How is one “remolded” from within? How are people “transformed”? It helps to know a bit about the word we translate “remold” or “transformed.” The original Greek word is “metamorpho.” We get “metamorphosis” from it. “Morphing” entered the public consciousness in the 1990’s in the children’s show, “The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” in which teenagers had the power to transform, accessing super powers to save the world from alien invasion. There is also a DC Comics superhero by the named Metamorpho who is so transformed that, unlike most superheroes, he cannot return to his pre-changed state.

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The problem with “morphin’” as a pop-culture phenomenon is that the Power Rangers gave us the silly idea that morphing is something that we could do ourselves and do in an instant…and a change that could be undone just as easily. Scripture paints a different picture. In the New Testament “Metamorpho” is only used three times: Once of Jesus who is “morphed” at the transfiguration. The second is in Romans 12:2. The third is in 2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.


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In both places Paul uses “metamorpho” to refer to followers of Jesus the word is in the passive voice – the action of transformation does not happen by us rather it happens to us. In both places it is in the second person plural, “y’all” – In other words the “transformation” is for the whole church as a community, rather than merely for the rare super-hero or super-saint. In both places being “remolded” presumes a life-time of faithfulness rather than the instantaneous appearance of transformation, such as Jesus’ transfiguration or the Power Rangers. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, “metamorpho” is the process of becoming like Jesus: “being transformed(by the Holy Spirit) “into the same image (Jesus), from one degree of glory to another” (we become progressively more like Him). These two usages of “morphing” leave us with three principles: 1) Transformation is a work of God’s grace that happen to us rather than by us, 2) it is for the whole community, 3) it occurs over a lifetime…in other words, through repetition.

Interestingly enough, the power of repetition to change us is exactly the idea the Anglicanism was founded on. The concern driving Archbishop Cranmer, assembler of the first Book of Common Prayer, was how to make disciples of Jesus in a nation in which the king had just dissolved the monasteries and their communal life of prayer. Archbishop Cranmer, in the Preface to his first edition of the Book of Common Prayer (1549) set forth the following goals to course-adjust the worship of the English church, freeing it from medieval papal innovations:

  1. Combine the seven books necessary for communion, daily prayer services, and scripture readings into one book for use by all Christians (rather than just the clergy). That way the church would “need no other books for their public service, but this book and the Bible.” Worship, thereby, would be “by the book” – a book of shared prayers. That book would be…
  2. Understandable – rather than the “holy language” of Latin, the bible and the prayer book would be read in the language of the people so that “…they might understand and have profit by hearing.”
  3. Common: Everyone in the community would be united by this set of scripturally constructed prayers prayed together that “…the whole realm shall have but one use.”
  4. Scriptural: “The whole Bible (or the greatest pare thereof) should be read over once in the year.

Thomas Cranmer also articulated the idea that scripturally-immersive “common prayer” is the ancient and original method God had used to form the people of God and was “…agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers”  

To the surprise of many Episcopalians, Archbishop Cranmer’s vision for the church and Christian life was not the weekly Eucharist, but the Daily Office: The services of Morning and Evening Prayer. Cranmer, imagined a life in which Christians would meet daily to read and pray the Word of God together as a community in order to live as God’s Word in the community. In the services of Morning and Evening Prayer we read the Bible every day, each year, for the rest of our lives with the result that we would live story-formed lives. As old record albums had grooves cut in them for the needle to follow, Christians lives deeply cut in the scriptures have grooves in our souls that make our lives sing Jesus to the world. The scriptures and the ancient prayers based upon those scriptures form a daily routine grooving the patterns of Jesus into our lives, transforming us into the image of Christ through a pattern that we surrender ourselves to – an immersion in the scriptures deeply permeates our souls s0 that when tough times come we go into layup mode-automatically channeling the stories, cadences, and rhythms of the presence of God.

What might we be like if Christians were so formed and immersed in the scriptures that we had the time in the scriptures that Larry Bird had in shooting jump shots? I have a feeling that we might be like Metamorpho-the super hero so transformed he could never return to his former state.

We are, each of us, being shaped by something…always being conformed into the image of something. What is it you are being formed into? What if we were shaped by daily immersion in the Bible? What if we read it, prayed it, and did it together, as a group? My guess is that we would be, as Paul described,transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” A daily ritual such as the Daily Office is a chance to have a “warmup routine,” a familiar pattern that conforms us to Christ by immersing us in the scriptures. When embraced over time it gives us the ability to, like Larry Bird with a basketball, get to places spiritually we could never get another way.

Larry Bird and the Power of Repetition

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How the Daily Office will change your life (Part 1)

Like most American Christians I have spent significant time looking for “fresh” Jesus experiences. Several years ago I decided that looking for “new” things was an unhelpful exercise in missing the point. That conviction struck me as I reflected on an experience I had years ago with Larry Bird…

My part-time job teenage job was Phoenix Suns ball-boy. While my friends worked the usual food service and retail gigs, I worked the visitor’s team bench and locker room. I wasn’t just paid better than my friends, I watched games from the floor and had the opportunity to rub shoulders with NBA Hall of Fame greats like Kareem, Dr. J, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. Well, maybe “rub shoulders” is overstating it. I tossed them towels and put their jerseys on their shoulders when they came out of the game. During those years I noticed something: The very best players, the really great ones, all had a consistent warm-up routine they followed identically, even superstitiously, before each game.

Game nights for me involved arriving three and a half hours before tipoff to set up the visitor’s locker room with towels and soda before the team bus pulled up an hour later. One afternoon in February of 1980 I entered the bowels of Veterans Memorial Coliseum to hear the echo of a basketball being dribbled. I craned my head toward the court and saw the arena lights already on through the tunnel.  The security guard, seeing my confused look informed, “Some Celtics rookie showed up early.” I set up the locker room and walked into to the court to see this curiosity for myself. Larry Bird had finished his layup cycle and was shooting his way “around the world.” I guess Larry had paid for a cab to arrive early and go through his routine. Seeing my ball boy jersey, he asked if I would shag balls as he shot his way farther and farther away from the basket. Fans of professional basketball may know that 1979-80 was not only Bird’s rookie season, it was also the first year of the three-point line, which at 23’9’’ is quite a distance to hurl a basketball with either form or accuracy. Larry continued to shoot his way further from the basket until he was at the 3-point line. Larry Bird was a forward. I had not seen a forward shoot from the still new and rarely used three-point line. What Larry did next I had never seen any player do: He continued to move beyond the arc until he was shooting a full 10’ behind it. I grew impatient chasing balls shot from a distance one could not possibly use in a game. I asked him why he was wasting his time. Larry responded in his Indiana drawl, “You never know,” he said winding up a shot from 12’ past the line on the right side of the arc near the scorer’s table sideline, “when I might need this shot to win a game.” I almost laughed out loud – an NBA coach was not going to give a game-winning shot to a rookie.

Five hours later, with time running out and the Suns holding a two-point lead, the Celtics broke their huddle and inbounded the ball to Larry Bird. The rookie dribbled into the front court where he launched a 30’ shot from within three feet of the spot he had told me he might need to shoot from in warmups. His shot caromed off the backboard and dropped through the net giving the Celtics a one-point lead over the Suns with half a minute left. How did Larry make impossible shots look easy? The answer: repetition – the thousands of shots Larry had launched in his practice routine.

By the time a basketball player reaches the NBA they have practiced tens of thousands of shots, but they still start their warmups with layups. Why do men who can dunk still practice layups? They know how to do a layup. Layups are boring. The truth is that greatness in both sports and the Christian walk is not about information, it is about formation. There is a difference. Information is knowledge. A good Jr. high player knows the mechanics of a proper jump shot. But it was the two decades of repetitive discipline, honed on an outdoor court in Indiana winters, shooting until his hands bled, that gave Larry Bird the freedom to do things others could not on a basketball court. The principle Larry Bird knew is that Repetition leads to transformation. We see this at work in scripture: Romans 12 opens with, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God….” Then Paul explains how to present our bodies to God, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The Phillips translation phrases it like this, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into it’s mold, but let God remold you from within.”

(Next Up: Part 2 How does God “remold us” spiritually, and the basis of Anglican spirituality.)