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Preparing for Sunday: Our Family’s Saturday Autobiography

Preparing for Sunday: Our Family’s Saturday Autobiography

It’s Saturday! In our household, that means a little more sleep in the morning and perhaps a nap in the afternoon. We treasure those 30 extra minutes. Remember college? In college, time was on our side. Naps were luxuries we took for granted. Now here we are: fifteen years have passed and five children later. Time matters a whole lot! The children are consistent early-risers. They are punctual little creatures. They love time. They love it so much that even without an alarm clock they detect that 6:30 is coming. They are not allowed to leave their rooms until 6:30. I am not fully awake then, but I can hear them coming. Sometimes they come silently. Sometimes they come like hungry warriors. But they come…consistently. My lovely wife makes the first move. She is more courageous than I am that early. She does it without flinching. “What a mom! and where does that magical strength come from?” I think to myself. Breakfast is ready. Children are fed. Sometimes the beach is a fine option. Soccer games. But the last few hours of Saturday are sacred. It’s our preparation for Sunday.

On late Saturday afternoon, we begin our preparation for worship. Sunday mornings with five little ones can be a challenge. We try to go to bed relatively early. We usually make no Saturday evening appointments. Saturday evening is sacred in that we prepare ourselves for the sacred gathering. It is almost a ritual for us. Ironing and showers are constant activities before dinner on Saturday. If we are hosting on Sunday it demands extra effort from our team on Saturday.  Preparation is key and we begin the preparation early so Sunday doesn’t become late.

Sunday arrives. The man of the house is also the pastor of the Church. He begins to prepare himself psychologically for the service. Sermon notes run through his mind; mental editing begins and really never stops until he begins preaching. He begins to hum through the psalms and hymns. Sunday mornings are created equal. It is always hard work but made infinitely easier by Saturday preparation.

When guests are coming over after church, we work even harder Sunday morning. “Is the beer in the fridge for the guests?” “Are the floors clean?” “Are the plates set?” “We need to leave in the next ten minutes!” The excitement builds. We love Church. We prepare for it. But with little children nothing is easy. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, but remember we have begun our preparation on Saturday. Mommy prepares herself. She makes sure that her war tools are ready: Diapers: check. Milk: check. Snacks: check. “I think we are ready!” She has her army under control. “Where are my clerical collars?” I ask. I have so many of them, but they never seem to be in the same place they were seven days ago. It’s naive of me to think they will be. But that is my liturgical pattern every Sunday.

 “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” -Tolkien

“Children, what day is today?” “The Lord’s Day!” “What do we do today?” “We worship God and sing His praises.” Yes, we do all these things, but it’s been a long journey until that moment. We died in one hundred different ways during the week, so we can be brought to life on the day of Resurrection. “Live the liturgy,” says the preacher. We are trying. It’s extremely challenging. It’s really very sanctifying. It’s holy work. Yes, it is.

Saturday Preparation

In an age when Sunday worship is treated with profound disrespect and viewed with triviality by the evangelical population, we need a return to its sacredness. I edited a book several years ago that developed this theme.  Yet, a missing part of the puzzle in my estimation is how to prepare for Sunday. I have been asked if there are some practical steps to preparing for Sunday. I offer here few thoughts which are not exhaustive and which can vary dramatically depending on family dynamics but may prove useful to starting this needful conversation in the home.

a) Ironing clothes on Saturday instead of Sunday morning has proved essential to our well-being on Sunday. Though we are not prone to sleeping in on Sunday, we discover that on the rare cases where ironing happens on Sunday morning, it adds almost 30 minutes to iron clothes for seven people.

b) Getting showers for the little ones on Saturday instead of Sunday morning.

c) Going over Bible texts and/or hymns will go a long way in making Sunday more understandable for the little ones. We have noticed that if a song has been practiced during the week, their Sunday participation is much more pleasant.

d) If hosting on Sundays, prepare tables or lay out the essential ingredients for the meal on Saturday. The children can be trained to get their rooms clean and living room area prepared for guests. This will take some practice, but when children participate in the preparation they benefit more from the event.

e) We rarely participate in events on Saturday night. It’s our family commitment to use that evening to calm our hearts and minds for Sunday.

It is my firm conviction that this seriousness in preparation will cause your children to see your commitment to the holiest of all days in the week.

Feeding on the Word

Feeding on the Word

C.S. Lewis observed in his Reflections on the Psalms that a Christian can’t always be defending the truth, sometimes he needs to feed on it. This is very appropriate for the people of God on this Lord’s Day. This is the day to receive the blessings of God in word and sacrament. This is a day to feed on the One who gave himself for us. This is a day to be renewed and encouraged to assume our roles in this world.

We cannot defend something unless we have been transformed and fed by it. The first step to being fed by the Word is to allow the Word to cut through us and exorcise our sinful habits and thoughts. We cannot be truly fed by the Word if our hearts do not desire the Word.

As we prepare to confess our sins, let us receive and respond to this pure Word spoken by our Creator and Redeemer, the Beloved of God, Jesus Christ.

 

My quick thoughts on Jair Bolsonaro’s candidacy for president of Brazil

My quick thoughts on Jair Bolsonaro’s candidacy for president of Brazil

I have been asked a few times my thoughts on the controversial Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s leading candidate for the presidency. Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally yesterday. The reports indicate that while he is in a stable condition, full recovery is still uncertain a. His fans will likely view his cause with a greater martyr-like passion and his opponents–populating the major networks in Brazil will outdo themselves in advertisements against him in these final 30 days.

Bolsonaro has been named as the Brazilian Donald Trump. He has received the kind of press Donald Trump has for speaking his mind. For example, he opines openly about sexuality issues condemning the public education system for their graphic school books on anal sex and other homosexual acts. He also wants to enact a policy that sexual abusers shall be chemically castrated which has been interpreted as homophobic by many and received strong opposition from human rights’ activists largely on the left of Brazil’s politics.

He has a general disposition towards de-bureaucratizing government policies. The man who will lead his economics department is a firm believer in more limited government and privatization. Bolsonaro also has a similar Trumpian view of trading with China. Bloomberg summarizes his position:
China is currently Brazil’s biggest trading partner but Bolsonaro has serious reservations about Chinese investment in Brazil. He says Brazil should trade with China, but says he’d like “trade with the United States to be much larger” than with the Asian nation. He prefers “great partnerships” with U.S. firms instead of “making concessions to the Chinese.”
Jair Bolsonaro has a military background which makes his central agenda the security of the Brazilian people which is one reason his numbers are so high at this stage in the election cycle. Brazil’s violence continues to soar under the current presidency. The New York Times observes:
With 62,517 violent deaths in 2016, Brazil reached a record-high homicide rate of more than 30 per 100,000 residents, according to the latest annual study that compiles law enforcement and health statistics. (In the United States that rate dropped to five homicides per 100,000 people from eight from 1996 to 2015.)
In my estimation, Bolsonaro will be a needed change from leftist politics that have dominated the country for almost two decades. Honestly, he needs to win. If the Brazilian political system is not shaken now, the country will become a glorified version of Venezuela.
  1. Thanks to Marcos Romano for the update  (back)
Post-Resurrection Prayer: A Brief Homily

Post-Resurrection Prayer: A Brief Homily

Text: John 16:23-33

When we face challenges, our temptation is to either accept some form of fatalism (“Lord, whatever happens, happens”) or some kind of desparationism (“I can’t believe this is happening! Why didn’t you choose to do this with someone else, God. Am I deserving of this trial?”)

In the Upper Room Discourse in John 16, Jesus says that there will come a time when he will no longer be with the disciples. How would they live in the absence of their Master? When your source of hope is gone what do you do? How do you maintain this life of communion when your Lord and Master is gone? And what our Lord teaches is that your present pain does not define who you will be. Pain is not the final period in your story it is only a comma. What is the turning point then in the prayer life of the disciples?

The disciples—as we have seen—have already asked Jesus many questions. Jesus, when is this going to happen, and when is this going to happen?” Does that sound like us at times? “Lord, just give me a sequence of events in my life?” It’s very instructive that in the four Gospels the disciples ask dozens of questions, but after the resurrection, in the Book of Acts, the apostles seldom asked any questions. Why do you think? Primarily because they were under the guidance of the Spirit of God. And they were living a life of communion with one another.

But before the resurrection, they were filled with uncertainty. Do you ever feel uncertain? Take heart. The disciples felt that way often. Jesus is saying that in the period of resurrection the night of darkness and doubt will become the morning of deliverance and hope. Before the resurrection, we asked in doubt, after the resurrection we ask with certainty.

Do you realize that before the resurrection no one prayed in Jesus’ name? “Jesus’ name is not a mantra or a magical formula, but a historical and theological reality! Have you ever wondered why we pray in the name of Jesus? It’s because His name is now above every name and His name is able to intercede and speak on our behalf. We can only pray in Jesus’ name because he is no longer dead.

Here’s our lesson: Ask boldly.

So, how do we pray? We all bring personalities into our prayer life: some are more passionate, some are more meditative, some are more introspective, some are more formal, some less formal. God hears them all. But here is the theme of post-resurrection prayer: It’s the kingdom of God. If you were to dissect the model prayer of Jesus, you would see that point: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” If we are to find delight in praying post-resurrectly, then our prayers are to correspond with the priorities of the Kingdom. In other words, our prayers are better grounded when they fall under the mission of God for the world. Sometimes what we are asking in Jesus’ name is really asking in our own name. God will still answer you, but are we missing on a richer answer to our prayer? I believe the answer is yes. God will always answer is, but the question is, “Will he answer us in richly or will he answer from the crumbs of heaven’s table? Now: Heaven’s table is rich and even the crumbs are delicious but are we missing better things from our prayer life because of our lack of boldness, lack of communion, lack of proper priorities? This is a question you and I need to consider today.

What we need is not a casual prayer life, but a fiery one that calls the kingdom of God to crush our enemies and answer our needs. What are we asking? And when we ask are we asking in a pre-resurrection manner? Fatalistically, desperately, weakly, cowardly, hopelessly? When the tomb was silent, we did not pray in Jesus’ name, but when the voice of victory rolled the stone away, we pray in the name of Jesus to whom the kingdom, and the power, and the glory belong.

New Creation from the Magician’s Nephew

New Creation from the Magician’s Nephew

The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees. Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying:

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

The beasts and birds, by contrasts, cry out a reply in harmonic unity. “Hail, Aslan. We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know.”

                                                                                                             

The Grass is Greener on the Instagram Side

The Grass is Greener on the Instagram Side

On social media you have the ability to add color effects to your pictures, thus making each picture fit a particular style of beauty. The grass looks greener on the other side of an Instagram picture. We generally see people and their backgrounds and assume things are well or that they have at least a healthy part of their lives figured out. Like cheap therapists, we determine someone’s life by their pictures on their profile.

We reinvent ourselves daily to make ourselves acceptable to the world. It’s easier to live by sight than by faith. But we should let faith set the scenery of our lives. And we ought not to live vicariously through someone else’s social media life. Further, we shouldn’t be fooled into assuming the other person’s life lacks their own set of problems and pain. This is deception fitting for our tech age.

Jesus’ exhortation to seek his kingdom and pursue righteousness is a needed reminder for our age. So, simply: be content with the house and yard God has given you. It may not have the fancy color effect as your neighbors’, but it’s what you need.

Order and the Table: A Communion Meditation

Order and the Table: A Communion Meditation

There was once a father who believed in boundaries. He clearly defined them for his family. Sometimes the children thought the boundaries were too much. Since the father was gracious and kind, the children would ask the father about the nature of these boundaries. The father would carefully explain why they were necessary. The children did not necessarily like the boundaries, but they trusted their father. As they grew, the boundaries became fewer and fewer. The children were becoming accustomed to the boundaries and the routine they produce. They liked the fact that they knew what to do and what not to do. So, they assembled and formed a committee called CCPB—children concerned for the permanence of boundaries.

They approached their father and said: “Father, we don’t like that you are giving us more freedoms. We don’t think we are ready to live without these boundaries. We are surely going to perish.” The father hugged that lovely committee and said: “My children, it is time for you to take my boundaries and apply it to your new communities. You need to embrace your new freedoms and create your boundaries based on what I have taught you.”

The committee quickly disbanded and went their way eager to apply order to their new-found freedoms.

Beloved, our freedoms are never devoid of boundaries. Order is always on the table; without it, the table comes crashing down. Our Lord gave us this orderly institution. We are not to follow it mechanically, but joyfully. The same God who gives us order is the God who gives us abundant joy.

Confession and Sacrifice: A Communion Meditation

Confession and Sacrifice: A Communion Meditation

The time was nearing the confession of sins in church. The young lady filled with pride said to herself: “I don’t need to confess anything, so I will just mumble through these words.” After the confession, the people arose, and the minister said: “Your sins are forgiven!” The young lady said to herself: “I don’t need any sins forgiven, I am just fine.” Then the Lord’s Supper came, and the minister repeating Christ’s words said: “This is my body which is given for you.” Again, the young lady said: “Given! I don’t need anything given. I take what I want.” Later that afternoon the young lady was going for a run with her wireless headset cherishing her favorite tune and undistracted enough to not see a car running through the stop sign and coming rapidly in her direction. Just then a good Samaritan grabbed her by the hand and drew her back just in time to avoid the certain tragedy. She took a second to recompose herself after realizing what happened. The good Samaritan looked at her and said: “You could have died.” “Yes,” she said. Thank you for saving my life.” At that moment the young lady realized that life is not about possessing, but receiving with a grateful heart the gift of a life-giver.

Indeed we come to this table having our sins forgiven and lives rescued in Jesus Christ. We now taste of his sacrifice. Let us come not proud, but with humble hearts for God has delivered us from sure death.

As we come to this supper, let us remember that we are a body of believers who belong to one another in a biblical sense. This belonging means we don’t assume the worst of one another but seek to esteem others better than ourselves.

“I do not want to be noticed”

“I do not want to be noticed”

One of the most interesting comments I have heard from visitors over the years came from a young man in his 20’s. After he attended our church for a couple of weeks, he came to me after church and said, “I am going to look for another church.” Sheepishly, I asked why. He said, “I am looking for a church that I can attend without being noticed.” My response, which may have shocked him a bit was: “Well, I hope you never find such a church.” Thankfully, we had the opportunity to talk about this at a later time. But when you think about that rationale, we are to be shocked about what it is communicating. The Church ought to be a place where you are noticed, not only that but where you are edified and challenged.

The Lord’s Supper invites you to be noticed this morning. It invites you to taste and touch the means of renewal in bread and wine. In fact, as you come to this table, be grateful that you are noticed and rejoice that God has set his eyes and affection upon you.

Nordic states and the Left

Nordic states and the Left

This piece from Kevin Williamson is a clear picture of how the left deceives itself in their interpretation of so-called socialist expressions:

The American Left doesn’t seem to follow very closely the Nordic states it claims to admire. Beginning in 1991, Sweden embarked on a decades-long campaign of privatization and reform that made the scholars at the Heritage Foundation envious. It sold off state-owned enterprises and interests in the liquor, pharmaceutical, and banking sectors, expanded private alternatives in health-care and retirement programs, eliminated state monopolies in pharmacies and vehicle inspections, and much more. This began under a center-right government and continued with a reduced scope under the Social Democrats, who stopped short of privatizing the Swedish postal service and state-run utilities. Denmark is a country with a long history of free trade, strong property rights, and liberal labor markets. Most of the Nordic states have no legislated minimum wage; as in the case of Switzerland, they generally rely on industry-by-industry labor agreements that vary greatly by sector. They are different in many important ways from the American model, but they are not socialist.