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Posts Tagged ‘worship’

A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

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“Have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness.”

I’m a discernment person.  Heresies are a big deal to me.  I tend to notice when teachers or authors or pastors are preaching a different gospel.  But there are other issues, too.  Focusing on tolerance and friendliness with the world – the “seeker-sensitive” movement, for example – is dangerous.  Christians are a light set on a hill, not light camouflaged to look like darkness.  Or another popular… what should I call it?  Not a heresy in the traditional sense, but a dangerous and unchristian worldview or spiritual practice?  Anyway, another one is the borderline gnosticism.  This encompasses mysticism and individualism, focusing on poetic ideas of light versus darkness, denial (or even mistreatment) of the physical, and meditation.  I see connections between seeker-sensitivity and the postmodern mysticism.  Primary in these connections are the exaltation of human effort and experience.  They are ancient perversions of the Christian life, not new, but addressed in the New Testament.

Lately it has become popular to cite “church fathers” in theological debates.  This even if the quote or position contradicts the New Testament.  Though I’m not persuaded of the “sola scriptura” of the Reformation, it did rescue us from centuries of heretical tradition enforced as the authority of the fathers.  (Jesus rebuked the same sin in the Pharisees.)  Many of those historical theologians flirted with or embraced the para-Christian spirituality mentioned above, emphasizing either their personal wisdom or their own mystical experiences as sources of truth superior to the revelation of Scripture.  They practiced this outside of the protective peer-regulation of a Spirit-led Church.  Somehow the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit got exchanged for a belief in inner divinity belonging to an individual.  All of which was much more compatible with the pagan religions encountered as the ancient “Christianity” spread.

And isn’t that something to be concerned about?  Rather than being excited that the enemies of God, the spiritually dead men of planet earth, have portions of truth preserved in their religions, shouldn’t we be devastated at the subtlety of the deceits of the Evil One that has kept men captive to their sin?  (“What fellowship has light with darkness?”)  Instead of finding commonality in spiritual practices of meditation and monasticism and sacrificing to appease the gods – shouldn’t we question those practices?  If the pagans do those things, and if those things are not prescribed by our Lord in the early letters to the churches affirmed by the apostles, why not rather fear a resurgence of paganism within our faith – that the spiritual forces of wickedness have been also distracting us and leading us astray?

In our modern times we tend to disdain the primitive superstitions of pre-Christian peoples.  We think they should have been able to see through the cheap tricks of the medicine men, to rise up against the oppressive shaman and assert reason, the intelligence and ability of individuals.  But a Christian worldview suggests a different interpretation.  It teaches that the devil and demons are real, powerful, able to produce counterfeit signs and wonders to deceive men.  Demon possession is real.  And maybe those pitiable people, observing that reality, live with rituals and talismans approved by their devils – for a time – as a tax on the slaves of the Devil before they are consumed.

For us who have known only the relatively Christian Western world, it is difficult to remember the spiritual battle that is engaged even here.  We are not trained to recognize the spiritual activities of our enemy.  This may be because we have adopted it,  or excused and tolerated it…  False teaching, we believe, has been perpetrated by confused but well-meaning people.  Cultists are mostly nice people whose theology is just a little different from ours.  We wouldn’t want our children converting, but no big deal if our neighbors and coworkers believe in Jesus and good works for their salvation, God and their own divinity.  Many who identify themselves as evangelical Christians see no cause for concern when their church services begin to incorporate incense, or a ladies’ conference suggests repetitive chanting of a spiritual word or phrase as a means of getting closer to God.  Millions of us read and identify with a book that includes a manifestation of Sophia, the Gnostic “goddess” as the incarnation of wisdom.  These ideas and practices are more attractive to the unsaved world, after all (and to many inside the church).  And why shouldn’t they be; they’re familiar whispers, that we are like God, that we come to God on our own terms.

The word profanity is known as a synonym for cussing.  But who knows the word profane?  Who believes that there is a way God wants to be worshiped, a way He has set for people to come to Him – and any other way is so offensive to Him as to bring His righteous wrath?  What is fallen man to tell God why He should accept him?  Who is the liar and deceived to believe he has a hold of truth and wisdom apart from the deliverance and revelation of God?  How dare we think our filthy rags – our own righteousnesses – are acceptable sacrifices to pay for our trespasses against the ways of God?

But it is hard to reject these things, hard to point at those profanities and warn that they are part of the wide path to hell.  I don’t want to believe that my church leader is a false teacher.  I like to believe that my friends are going to heaven.  But how does that honor God?  Is my allegiance to Him or to men?  And how is that compassionate, to ignore the condition of my friends?  Making excuses is easy.  If a man says he believes in Jesus, is it such a big deal if he tolerates sin, if he keeps company with the world?  Also far too simple is reassuring myself that even though a person has not trusted in Jesus, he still seems to be a good influence, telling people to pray and read their Bibles and love their families and be wary of governments and religions out to destroy us.

Yet more and more I believe that those excuses and those subversive people are the biggest threats.  By them people are led from the power and truth of God, or worse – away from the gospel of the grace of God.  People are soothed into ignoring their spiritual neediness.  Those people, those false prophets, are the enemies of God.  And if they are enemies of God, they are enemies of His people.  They are not in your fellowship to encourage you or point you to God.  Though they may feign friendship, it is for diabolical purposes, and they can turn on you at any moment.

So what can we do?  Monasticism and individualism belong to the false religions.  We cannot run away from these dangerous people.  Tolerance and acceptance also correspond to the faith that exalts man over God.  So we cannot be silent or friendly.  Truth and God’s glory invite us to discern the lies and cast them down.  Holiness insists that we take our cues from God, supported by those men and women who exhibit the fruits of being His.  Love demands that we warn people of destruction.  Faith in God teaches us to hope for revival and redemption.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s been over a year now since I began my experiment.  I began it without telling anyone, and only a few people have even asked about it.  (That may be because I am generally so independent in dress and practice that my friends think nothing of an additional quirk.)

Years ago when asked about wearing jewelry in church, I suggested to a group of ladies that we ought to follow the Bible and see what happens, even if we don’t understand it.  To be honest, I have never yet given up braids or gold or other jewelry in church.  And if the spirit of the rule is to avoid displays of wealth, in our American society to have a strand of plastic pearls is not wealthy.  If the rule was to uphold modesty, eschewing distracting appearances even in church, then it might be argued that wearing skirts and hats draws more attention than a braid or bracelet.  But I don’t know.  Maybe my next experiment will be to avoid jewelry and fancy hairstyles.

I’ve known for years that when men take off their hats out of respect: for the Pledge of Allegiance or for a prayer, girls are exempt.  This is a fact I learned from a friend when we were both fourth graders, and her family attended a church that practiced head-coverings.  What has baffled me since is the militant way in which church members of the older generation will go after men and boys wearing their hats in the church building.  They are indignant at the disrespect.  All the while women walk right by without hats or scarves or even those ritualized doilies some denominations employ.  Their own wives sit through church and prayer uncovered.  Women speak in church and teach in church, present special music in church – all without head coverings.

Now I can understand confusion about head coverings.  The passage in 1 Corinthians that goes into the subject is about as unclear as any Scripture you can find.  Hats and hair.  Glory and order of creation.  Nature and angels.  You can do this but we have no such (or other?) practice…  What is strange is the modern hypocrisy.  The same passage that instructs women to cover their heads teaches men to uncover theirs.  And we enforce the distinction for men but completely overlook the women?

This is a relatively new practice, this lack of head coverings.  Even a half-century ago women wore hats to church.  In some parts of the country and in some denominations you can still find the women in proper Sunday attire, where hats are absolutely required.  The “Easter bonnet” is not a unique holiday accessory, but like the rest of traditional Easter dress, it is a fancier edition of the weekly affair.  (We can debate whether Easter ought to be celebrated in this way, or whether Sundays should be distinguished with a unique set of clothes, but not in this article.)

Once upon a time I began to wonder what it meant to be a grown woman.  Or a good woman.  I made myself a list, in theory to refer to it frequently to hold myself accountable.  The list referenced numerous passages of Scripture specifically addressed to women.  It categorized specific instructions under general virtues.  Rather than ignoring the verses about head coverings, I said that a woman ought to respect men and to wear a head covering in church (or some other symbol of her submission).  Then I never tried to practice it, in general excusing myself by reason of having long hair (paralleled with head coverings in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians).

And one day just over a year ago some friends and I were talking about head coverings, how confusing the passage is and how so few Christians we know keep the ordinance.  It was then I remembered that obscure item on my list of godly femininity.  I felt hypocritical to have acknowledged the instruction and never tried to apply it, especially as I debated the subject.  In addition, I became curious.  If I couldn’t deduct from the biblical text the reasons and implications of head coverings, maybe I should try submitting to the custom and see what happened.

First a few superficial observations:  My hat and scarf collection is much larger than it used to be, but I rarely wear the larger hats because I feel so self-conscious in them.  Deciding what to wear to church (or Bible study or prayer meeting) is much more difficult since I must coordinate my outfit to an available head covering.  And when I do other things with my day, my hair and hats must fit with a multi-purpose outfit.  I try to keep at least one hat or scarf in my car in case I spontaneously decide to attend a Bible study.

Some questions that arose:  I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m wearing a head covering, especially since it is more an experiment than a conviction; but isn’t it the point, that there is an outward and observable sign of submission?  Since the instruction is, to be specific, given to women praying or prophesying, if I am listening to prayer at a gathering or not saying anything, should I be covered?  Is the head covering supposed to be only for prayer time and church gatherings, or is it ok for me to have worn the hat all day?  If I’m praying silently to myself, as in spontaneously throughout my days, should I have my head covered?  And if I don’t happen to be wearing a hat when someone asks me to bless the food, should I decline?

In the months since I began my experiment, there have been a few times when I forgot or neglected to wear a hat.  It bothered me.  Partially because perhaps I am developing a conviction on the matter.  The other part is that I feel different.  On occasion I have been at a party when friends started discussing spiritual truth and I felt the lack of something on my head.  I wanted it there.  If you have grown up like me, invited to close your eyes when you pray, you may be able to relate.  Have you ever tried keeping your eyes open during a public prayer?  It’s hard to focus, and you feel a self-conscious.  Or I could compare the feeling to the one I get when I want to lift my hands in worship – or fall to the ground as I pray.

I like to sit on the floor while I’m being taught about spiritual things.  (Which isn’t the same as sitting on the floor during a sermon.)  If I start to realize I’m being taught – or if I crave a Bible lesson from someone who understands something I’m wondering about – I get a mental image of myself getting out of my chair, and going to the floor, back against a desk or a wall or something.  I also get this feeling on my head as though a book has just been lifted off of it.  And I want it back.

Even though Paul says that head coverings are a sign, for other people, I can testify to its effect on me.  I am reminded to be submissive.  To speak for the purpose of edification.  To be mindful of the Holy God I serve.  It helps me to rejoice that men were created first, and women for men – though we certainly benefit from them in their leadership and teaching.

I had been curious whether people would treat me differently if I wore hats and scarves all the time to church.  But it has been hard to determine.  The small reason is that I know that I behave differently wearing them, so that might have something to do with different reactions.  A larger reason is that I have nothing to compare it to.  I started this experiment at the same time that I left my old church, and I have been attending other churches only occasionally.  My regular Bible study is comprised of dear friends who know me so well that nothing like a hat will change how they treat me.

One friend noticed the first time I ever went to church with her that I had my head covered.  She asked whether I always did.  It was early in the experiment and I haltingly said something about trying it out.  Another friend also mentioned it, but not as a question.  Like so many things, she had just taken this aspect of my behavior in stride, made note of it, and accepted it as a reality not requiring discussion.  My parents and siblings and other friends have never brought it up.  I don’t know if they’re afraid to, don’t need to, or haven’t noticed.

For me, I like wearing head coverings when I pray and study the Bible with other people.  I haven’t gained any great insight to the topic.  But it isn’t too hard to keep doing it, so I suppose I will.  With the promise of updates if I ever learn anything else.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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II Corinthians 1:20

“For all the promises of God

in Him are YES,

and in Him AMEN,

to the glory of God through us.”

You don’t hear it as much as you’d expect in Christian circles.  Should it stand out so much to me when I hear a friend say, “Praise God”?  The praise and worship music movement has swept the Church up.  Some of us even mean what we sing.  But outside of the songs, do we magnify His name?  Do we let our light shine that men may glorify our Father in Heaven when they see our good works?  Can we say with the Psalmists that it is good for God to have us alive because we praise Him more than if we were dead?

Grant that our friends practice gratitude.  We’re praying people and watch for answers.  When we see good gifts, we know they are from God.  And so it is more common to say aloud, “Praise God.  He answered my prayer.”

But we only tend to say that when He answers with a “yes.”  If God gives us what we want, we praise Him.  If not…

There are any number of reactions I have observed in myself.  I may become discouraged.  I might complain.  Even a good Christian is tempted to “help themselves” when God doesn’t take the initiative we want Him to.

This year, I resolved to praise my good God.  When He says “yes” to my requests, and when He says “no.”  He is acting with wisdom and love either way.

So even when I am hurt or sad or tired because of God’s “no”, I will praise Him.  Praise Him for knowing better than I do.  For denying my making of mudpies (to refer to CS Lewis) that He may bring me to the sea.

And in acknowledging God’s worthiness, may I know Him more.  May I anticipate and accept suffering, not cheating it of its purpose nor denying its redemption.  May I see with His eyes and expect the unfathomable ocean of blessings He has prepared.  He is a God of completion, faithful to make perfect that which He begins.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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There is something blissful about finishing a good book.  It makes me want to stand by an open upstairs window in spring, or find a well-cushioned corner of a cozy room, or to make cookies.  Many good books leave one wishing the story continued.  But a really great book finishes with a satisfying sense of closure and promise, as though the story did go on, exactly as you would wish it would, only I don’t need to know the details.  And then I am lonely, but not for another book; for people – and not to share thoughts or to retell the plot in a silly, useless way, but just to be unalone.

That Hideous Strength is a love story.  And it is a story of the beloved very much in danger.  CS Lewis writes of the lovers meeting difference – things other than self – and either fighting them, dominating them, hiding from them, or giving them a sort of worship.  That’s what the whole story is about, whether you’re talking about Mark or Jane or Ransom or Mother Dimble or Wither or Frost or Merlin or mankind or God.

The tale of the N.I.C.E. and Logres’ simple war against it describes what you get when you reject reality.  In reality, even a person’s own identity is rather different from how one perceives it.  He is meant not for what he wishes himself to be, but for what the world needs him to be.  There is humility and obedience and purpose and harmony set up against pride and selfishness and destruction and nonsense.  People who reject truth find that they are lied to.  And in the end, the lie is stripped bare, and each person makes the choice of loyalty, not really dependent on which side is winning at all.  Every man and woman decides whether to sink with the ship that stands for the elimination of mankind or to risk fighting on the side of the good guys even when the bad guys look terribly strong.

Is it such a little thing, to be a self-important College Fellow arranging the affairs of colleagues as one wishes?  What epics of the world stand or fall on whether a woman loves her husband?  Is weather good (delightful) no matter what its form?  How is it so fitting to keep a garden, to marry, and to beget children?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Unveiled Hope: Eternal Encouragement from the Book of Revelation by Scotty Smith and Michael Card

Written primarily by Pastor Scotty Smith with interludes by Michael Card essaying the inspiration behind each song in his album, Unveiled Hope is a different approach to Revelation.  Although it deals with controversial interpretation points (in controversial ways), the focus is on encouraging Christians through the hope offered by the unveiling of our Savior as Creator, Redeemer, Warrior, King, and God.  The Church, as Christ’s waiting Bride, is strengthened throughout the centuries by God’s work in the past, present, and future.  We are warned to worship God alone, who is revealed as all-worthy of our praise.  Praise and singing are themes of Revelation, along with suffering, sovereignty, and holiness.  All of these are addressed both directly through the instructions commissioned to the seven churches and in the imaginative (but true!) narratives that follow.  While I am disappointed in the everyday-will-be-like-today interpretations of the judgments in Revelation, which seem to leave off the supernatural nature of the things described.  One thing for which I appreciate Unveiled Hope is the way it demonstrated the relevance of what is taught in Revelation, as well as what is believed about it.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I once heard a refutation of the idea that music isn’t important; only lyrics are.  A pianist sat on his bench and told us to close our eyes, picturing Cinderella in her ball gown.  He played a gentle waltz while he kept describing her meeting the prince, taking his hand, and beginning to dance.  But while he talked, the music changed into the eerie, dark whine of a scary movie soundtrack.  Then all of a sudden, the music went choppy and light, high little notes running like ballerina steps across my imagination, erasing all attempts to keep Cinderella there in my mind’s eye.  Like a dream where rationality leaves you to the whim of memory’s slideshow on random, shaped into a story, the music carried me beyond any intention of feeling or thought. 

When discussing the pro’s and con’s of speaking in tongues, Paul offered this interesting illustration:  “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?  For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”  Sounds matter.  We interpret sounds.  For the music to have any purpose, it has to do something to us. 

And music does affect us.  There is soothing music, rousing music, happy music, sad music, romantic music, even angry music.  The music and its effects are amoral.  There is nothing good or evil about a certain tune.  However, there are several ways to affect the morality of a song.  Most obvious is adding lyrics with a moral content.  If a tune is associated with a certain immoral practice or belief, its impact on people familiar with it cannot be edifying.  Also, if the volume or other special effects cause physical pain (headaches, heart palpitations, or difficulty breathing), that music is immoral.  Finally, when a style of music is brought into an inappropriate circumstance, it can be wrong.  Take Cinderella.  To play the full moon music while she is dancing is not helpful.  Or the situation could be worse.  Times exist for everything under heaven, including anger, but when one has no right to be angry, listening to angry music encourages a mood of violence rather than forgiveness or peace. 

To believe that music is powerless, that a song is ok as long as its lyrics are not wicked, is dangerous.  I have known unsuspecting young people who begin to listen to a style of music that is heavy and dark, depressed and angry.  They do not expect to be affected by the music, but gradually they settle into a mood that mirrors their music, until the music is the creator and true expression of their identity.  I invite you to imagine what happens when a teenager becomes constantly depressed and angry.  Relationships are ruined.  Schoolwork fails.  They are tempted into further association with the dark and the violent. 

Why the obsession with loud music?  I don’t necessarily mean the music so loud and disorderly that the cacophony directs the listener to insanity.  I’m talking about simple volume.  God calls us to be sober, to do everything heartily.  Passive entertainment, I contend, is not godly.  I believe we should interact with our music, not have it attack us.  If ears are in pain, why not turn it down?  And whether there is pain at individual notes, if the over all tension of the music gives headaches, why endure such torment?  When the bass is so strong that it seems to have gotten way beyond modesty and penetrated your skin, pounding against your organs, why pursue that style of music?  Is it that we have become numb, our relational experience leaving us unable to feel without stimulation – even painful stimulation? 

Music can be employed to direct moods.  David played his harp for Saul and cured his fits of temper.  A romantic dinner is that much more romantic if the violins play sweetly in the background.  Carnivals play fast, fun music to heighten the sense of wonder.  Who doesn’t appreciate a good movie soundtrack? 

One common use of music is in “worship,” the part of a traditional church service in which praises, testimonials, or encouragements are offered in the form of songs.  Worship is in vogue right now, the subject of dozens of books, conferences, and contemporary Christian music CD’s.  Churches are trying hard to create worship experiences.  Bands practice during the week and present their “worship” concerts complete with strobe lights, smoke, bass guitars, drums, and exciting videos with the words scrolling across for the audience to sing along.    Some churches light candles.  All this to get people in the mood to worship.  A more energetic band will get the audience to jump up and down and to clap its praise.  The contemplative environment with little altars for worshiping through pottery-making or painting or eating crackers and drinking juice, lit by soft scented candles is more likely to evoke tears.  Either way the people walk away with an experience, feeling that they have been through something important that touched their heart. 

Is that what worship should look like?  Is that even worship?  What is the purpose of worship, and what styles of music and other arts are aligned with those objectives?  What about worship together?  Isn’t the point to be with each other, rather than isolated by volume and darkness?  When creating an “environment conducive to worship,” should churches manipulate people into energies and emotions not already inspired by meeting, knowing, and walking with Almighty God?  If we as people are not willing to lift up our voices in thanksgiving and praise, lament and victory to our God – without being drowned out by the drums and the pervading bass – are we not merely flattering God? 

How dangerous is it to do worship our way, in a way we enjoy and in which we are gifted?  What if those ways detract from the purposes on which worship is built?  Is the focus on God or on the band or on the audience?  I have heard worship described as therapy.  Should we participate for healing and comfort, for strengthening?  What sorts?  We know that offering worship their own way caused the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the priest.  Did God give any sort of specific instruction, example, or definition which we might be profaning through our creative expressions?  Should we sing in church?  Are those melodies to be directed as praises, or as encouragement to those around us? 

I am concerned at how many gifted musicians use the gathering of Christians to springboard into a musical career.  If the band is supposed to be leading worship – an endeavor doubtful in its biblical foundations already – what are they doing with microphones and amps that power over the congregation’s voices?  Why sell CD’s and t-shirts boasting the band’s name?  Is this about people bringing the sacrifice of praise, or about people having a good time and enjoying a concert?  Can bad or inappropriate music prevent an atmosphere conducive to worship? 

The Psalms direct the whole earth to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  How can we reject anyone’s joyful offering?  Is everything we “enjoy” joyful?  Perhaps the screaming and growling sometimes passed off as singing is fun for those doing it.  So might be roller coaster rides or even the thrill of stealing candy at the grocery store register, but those things are not considered to be worship. 

Music is powerful.  God is mighty.  Worship is meaningful.  God is worthy. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A God you know about, but don’t trust, that’s useless.  A God whose love you affirm but reject experiencing, that’s miserable. 

 

But He really is my God, by His smashing grace.  Knowing who God is (theology) increases the value of His love for me.  Because He is perfect, yet suffered shame, I praise His love more.  Because He loved his own Son so much, but sent Jesus to suffer in my place, I am humbled by His grace.  Because He is able to create and maintain the whole universe, yet chooses to interact with me on a daily basis, I crumble with joy!  Because He is infinitely good, I have peace passing understanding. 

 

I live in a sphere of truth as I know it.  Truth is something I crave and cling to because it enables me to love my God.  When a part of that sphere is bombarded with doubt (from within or without), I get defensive.  I whirl around in my little world, reexamining associations, texts, and experiences.  Whether I had been wrong about the truth or the doubt had been unfounded, I go through that experience every time.  Some questions are smaller.  Others challenge me to re-read my whole Bible with the tension of interpretation presented by a different view.  Contradictions can even turn out to be paradoxes when I go deep enough into them. 

 

To entertain questions, engage discussions, and comprehend a sense of truth (even as presented in creeds or “institutes”) is not, I conclude, wrong.  Here let me clarify.  If the motive for acquiring truth is to better experience God’s love and return it – if the pursuit is in the context of your relationship with God – and if the odyssey is not harming other people, then it is not wrong. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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One of my good friends smiled when I told her I was reading a book about aliens.  “You read such varied subjects,” she laughed.  And I do, but I definitely see them as connected.  In the same way that there are so many points in which I am disappointed with traditional (as opposed to biblical) church because they are all connected to a basic definitional idea of church, these varied subjects (Iceland, aliens, church, relationships, history, biography, philosophy) are part of a worldview.  You may call it the homeschool culture.  Or maybe it is the Christian bookstore (I doubt it).  A lot of my connections come from being a Creationist.  I’m a fan of logic and words (logos), two indivisible concepts.  The history of God, the world, science, cultures, languages, laws, and on and on all fascinate me. 

 

In this case I can trace my reasons for reading this book (Alien Intrusion by Gary Bates) to several things.  First of all, when I was in grade school my dad got Chuck Missler’s newsletter from Koinonia House.  These newsletters promoted edgy concepts of apologetics and Bible interpretation/prophecy such as the Bible code, Edenics, a variable light speed (he’s big of physics, and smart enough to handle it), and aliens.  Chuck Missler has tapes on the Martian Monuments, the Nephilim, and the alien phenomenon in general.  Though I haven’t read or heard much from him on the subject, the impression I get is that Alien Intrusion is in majority agreement with Missler’s position. 

 

Secondly, who is not fascinated by accounts of alien encounters and UFOs?  I’ve seen the TV specials, watched Star Wars and Star Trek.  I read CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy in which he invents a population on Mars and another on Venus in order to delve into the idea of free will.  Stars and astronomy and theoretical physics all hold that appeal for me, too.  And I cheer for the underdog.  All these ordinary people have experiences that the official authorities deny or deride.  HOWEVER, whenever I watch a TV special about aliens or read an account purported to be true, I get the chills.  I am assaulted by fear and nightmares, and a sense of spiritual attack – doubt. 

 

Answers in Genesis advertised Alien Intrusion on its website, a Creationist, Christian investigation into the phenomenon.  I knew what to expect from the book just from things I’d heard suggested as explanations for the alien phenomenon in Christian circles.  Intrigued to get one well-researched, relatively safe treatment of the subject, when I saw the book at our Christian bookstore several years ago, I picked it up.  The cover is a pretty, typically alien teal with the curvy shapes and stark glaring brightness contrasted with shadow (covers – I’ll admit – are big sellers to me).  And initially I took some casual Sunday afternoon time (commercials during a Bronco game) to flip through the contents.  What I read so disturbed me that I once again got chills and fear, and had to set the book aside. 

 

In the intervening years, I have picked the book up a few more times, re-read the back cover, and scanned the contents page.  Finally this month I had the guts to sit down and start reading Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection from the beginning.  Some friends were discussing aliens and Nephilim; Dad and I attended a Steeling the Mind Conference at which the book was being sold again.  And my walk with God is in a good spot, well-supported by regular Bible study (alone and with groups) and frequent prayer.  I would not recommend that a Christian read this book outside of such precautions. 

 

The content of this book is definitely for mature audiences as well, since it describes (with proper restraint, but also with enough detail to establish patterns in sightings and encounters) disturbing physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual occurrences. 

 

There are several benefits of reading the book straight through.  The first is perspective.  Gary Bates starts slow and gradually builds, almost imperceptibly delivering the clues that led him to his conclusions.  Another advantage is the tone.  Rather than moving from intense moment to new revelation to intense moment, the book breaks up the information with summaries, inserts about sci-fi books and movies, and gradually more Bible verses.  A final plus from reading the text is that the book is an apologetic for more than just an explanation of UFOs.  Through descriptions from witnesses, historical comparison/research, and logic, the book defends belief in the supernatural, absolute truth, creation versus evolution; and the Bible as the reliable and honest account of history, supernatural beings and intentions, and even the future. 

 

Alien Intrusion isn’t some wild call to a UFO cult or to buy gear from Roswell.  It isn’t a conspiracy theory pamphlet (at 340 pages with so many footnotes, that would be a stretch of a definition anyway).  Nor is Mr. Bates an indiscriminate believer in every UFO and alien claim made by anyone all over the world.  He is interested in evidence, in logic, in corroborating witnesses – and he is out to find the truth. 

 

One of the most interesting discoveries uncovered by this book (not that the author made the discovery, but he is surely one of the biggest providers of the information to the public) is in the field of alien abductions.  The abduction responds to an abductee claiming Jesus’ name.  In fact, researchers have collected descriptions of interrupted abductions, all of which ended when Jesus was spoken.  Some abductees who experienced this said that the presence abducting them seemed pained by the name, and the abduction did not resume.  Several claimed to be Christians, while others came upon the name by chance. 

 

Abductions and alien encounters are universally acknowledged to be much more frequent among those who have at any point in their lives dabbled in the occult: in New Age, in psychics, witchcraft, or even Satanism.  The after-effects of an encounter are typically deeper and more devoted involvement in New Age beliefs and practices.  Even the crop circles hoaxes were, when infused by willing visitors, sites of unusual paranormal feelings, sightings, and events. 

 

This book considers the possibility and probabilities of aliens and UFOs having an extraterrestrial “natural”/evolutionary origin.  Are they really space-creatures who journeyed from other planets to meet us?  The frequency of sightings, the distances from which they must come and resultant time involved, along with the lack of any evidence of these beings communicating with us through radio waves or other indirect methods – or even signs of entrance into our atmosphere, make such an explanation virtually impossible.  The UFOs and beings act in a way more consistent with an inter-dimensional being (yes, in the scientific, physics sense).  They appear and disappear, change shape, and move at velocities that defy the laws of motion. 

 

Are the aliens good?  Are they our space brothers sent to help us reach the next stage of our evolution?  No, they are known liars (until we discovered there was no life on the moon, they said they were from the moon, the Mars, then Venus, then every other planet in our galaxy until they said they were from the Pleiades and Sirius and far away stars systems; their foretelling of future events has also proven false) whose impact on lives is in the negative.  They create pain, confusion, withdrawal from friends and family, and fear in their contactees.  Certainly some people become willing to endure these encounters, and enjoy the profit and attention generated by their experiences.  Many people have ended up harming themselves and others, submitting themselves to abuse or even death, as a result of encounters with these beings. 

 

Are aliens new?  No.  The history of the world is filled with accounts that, names and stories apart, tell of the same phenomenon of supernatural visitors with the same message, the same techniques, and the same affects as aliens today.  These include elves, fairies, pagan gods and goddesses, and even demons.  The world’s most reliable history book and document on spiritual realities, the Bible, also describes these phenomenon, giving the origin of these beings and their purpose.  According to the Bible, men have worshiped these beings in conjunction with the starry hosts, sorcery, channeling, and witchcraft throughout history.  These beings consistently reject a literal understanding of an authoritative and infallible Bible, though willing to plagiarize the Bible and to claim to be characters from it. 

 

The Bible also warns against interaction with these beings, predicting the harmful results to individuals who do.  It warns against behavior and worship often connected with these encounters, the same behavior on which the New Age philosophy is built.  Historically, every extra-biblical religion has incorporated some or all of these things, and many religions and cults have founding stories similar to abduction or channeling accounts (including Islam, Mormonism, New Age, and Scientology). 

 

Why now?  Why in this century is there a massive increase in the number of sightings?  The Bible describes a time of deception and world unity under this deception.  Given other biblical prophecies compared to the times in which we live, many Christians would agree that end times events are advancing towards the climax of the spiritual battle being waged for millennia over the souls of men.  Another reason for the flood of alien sightings and paranormal encounters is the cultural openness created by people and by the church.  The world has embraced relativism.  It has reacted against two world wars and nuclear weaponry.  Men and women have embraced lewd sexuality like never before in this country.  Evolution is the common theory of origins (universally taught by any alien visitor or proponent).  And the Church, those who have been saved by Jesus’ blood shed as he substituted Himself to take our punishment for rebellion against God, has been silent and wishy-washy on truth.  We have compromised the Bible, leaving truth up for grabs or a popularity contest.  A world desperately seeking answers, craving authority, and coping with the inherent longing for purpose and connection with their loving Creator God has been left in the dark because the Church will not be salt and light. 

 

Get informed.  Accept the biblical description of a supernatural (spiritual) reality.  Proclaim the truth.  Live by it. 

 

For my part, this book challenged me in my willingness to believe in a supernatural world.  It’s all safe and comfortable to believe in a supernatural God if He doesn’t do anything supernatural.  If He just sort of works circumstances out for the best, I’m ok with that.  But what about miracles?  What about angels and demons?  What about supernatural judgment?  Reminded of the spiritual war being waged, and of the power of the beings deceiving men who have no accepted the truth (found in the Bible, enabled by an “encounter” with Jesus that is utterly unlike the alien encounters), I am challenged toward compassion on the foolish people I see wandering my world.  How can they believe abortion is ok?  How can they give themselves over to extramarital sex?  How can they not see that an economy built on debt is destructive?  Why are cults and false religions so popular?  The answer is that they are deceived.  A battle is being fought in the “inter-dimensional” realm of the angels and demons.  To these people, their senses are out of their control.  Reality really does feel like it is relative or changeable or insignificant. 

 

Like all of the Masterbooks I have read, Alien Intrusion includes a strong defense of biblical inerrancy and a frequent, well-explained and relevant description of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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