On the Importance of Church Family

My church has a custom, on the second Sunday of every month, of calling everyone who has a birthday or anniversary during that month to come to the altar rail and receive a blessing. Birthdays go on one side of the altar, anniversaries on the other. Since my birthday falls in August, this past Sunday I went up and knelt with the other August birthday-ers – and, as it happened, on my left was a young girl of sixteen, and on my right, a mature woman in her sixties, both of whom I consider friends.

After we received our blessing, I went back to my pew, and watched as the priest blessed the anniversary couples. As usual, he asked how many years of marriage each couple was celebrating, and repeated the number for the congregation to hear: this month we had celebrations of 20, 55, and 65 years. (We applauded.

American Idolatry

The fact that we have a television show called American Idol is a bit of an indication that we don’t really know what an idol is – or what our attitude toward one ought to be.

I will confess, I am sufficiently behind the pop-culture curve that I have never actually watched American Idol, but because I do not live under a rock, I am familiar with what the show is about, and how it works. (Call it cultural osmosis.) As far as I can tell, it’s a harmless and entertaining show.

I do find the name interesting, however. American Idol. Who will be the next Idol? Lots of people want to be an idol – and millions more are eagerly waiting to find out whom they will idolize next.

But what really is an idol?

An idol is anything that we worship other than the one true and living God.

The Anglican Rosary as a Spiritual Discipline

Most Christians have heard of the rosary, but relatively few know that using beads as a tool to aid in prayer is an ancient practice that can be found in Anglicanism and Orthodoxy as well as Roman Catholicism. Since I’m Anglican, I’m going to focus on the Anglican rosary as a spiritual discipline.

 

The Anglican rosary (like the Roman Catholic rosary and the Eastern Orthodox prayer rope) is intended to be used as a tactile aid for contemplative prayer: the person praying repeats a short, traditional prayer while holding each bead of the rosary in turn. Far from being the mindless repetition that Jesus condemned, repeated prayers such as these are an attempt to take seriously Scripture’s call to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Over the past few years, I’ve been amazed at how the repetition of a simple prayer helps settle my distracted thoughts and center them on God.

Trusting and Taking Risks: A Reflection on the Spiritual Life

I recently had the chance to hear a lecture by renowned Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland. In this evening talk, Dr Morland chose to discuss “The Spiritual Life,” and in the course of his lecture, talked about the impact of the Fall on our lives. 

Dr Moreland explained that because of the Fall, we are in a state of separation (from God, from others, and from ourselves) and thus we experience a fundamental loneliness. We look for ways to overcome this loneliness, often with strategies that are sinful. Our corresponding fundamental need is attachment, and God’s deepest way of relating to us is through attachment. Dr Moreland then posed a question: “What are our attachment strategies that are not healthy, that don’t help us become more like Jesus?”

Ouch.

The Attraction of Atheism

If atheism is true, and there is no God, then everything really is all about me, and what I want, and what I can get. “My will be done, not Yours.”

Put your finger on the pulse of modern culture: it throbs with “me, me, me.” Advertisements tell me: “Indulge yourself! You deserve it!” I can buy my lunch and my coffee made “my way.” I flip open a magazine, or browse the best-sellers, to find ten easy tips on how I can have what I want, right here, right now.  

Put one way, this is selfishness. But it’s spun as empowerment, self-actualization. We are told to follow our hearts, seek our deepest desires, do what feels good. Indeed, if atheism is true, there is no ultimate purpose to life, so we might as well go for self-indulgence, whether through hedonism or through constructing one’s own “meaning” in life.

The Parable of the Sweater: or, Why Evangelism Can Drive People Crazy

How do you evangelize when people aren’t interested in the Gospel? They don’t feel a need for it, they think it’s silly and embarrassing, it interferes with their daily lives, and they just don’t want to hear about it. One approach is to try to work in appeals to the Gospel in conversation – to look for an opening and point out that Jesus really is the answer.

Many Christians don’t understand why this approach often backfires – sometimes spectacularly, as if the evangelist had just stepped on a verbal landmine, sometimes quietly, as if a glacial chill had settled on the room. Why doesn’t this approach work better? Why don’t people open up and take the opportunity to talk about the Gospel?

I’ve been there, on that side of the conversation. It’s hard to explain straight-up, so let me tell you a story.

Useful Restlessness

“Restless” literally means “lacking rest.” That doesn’t sound good – but in fact restlessness can be a good thing. St Augustine famously wrote in the Confessions that our hearts are restless until they rest in God; restlessness can be the spur that drives us to arise from our entrenched state of alienation and dissatisfaction to seek after what we really need.

On a more practical level, “restlessness” is an interesting word, because it covers two quite different states of mind. These two states could be described as “bad” and “good” restlessness, but actually it’s a little more complicated than that.  

The first kind is probably the one I know best – the restlessness of being tired and yet having work to do. While I’m trying to concentrate on grading papers, or paying bills, or doing the assigned reading for a class I’m taking, I’m distracted by a thousand and one things that seem more appealing than what I’m doing right now.

What Is Prayer? (3) Why Bother?

Christians pray. But why? What’s the point? What do you say to the One who knows you better than you know yourself?

After a lot of discussion with my Christian friends and mentors about their prayer lives, I finally understood that prayer can’t be seen in isolation as an action that we do in order to get something. Rather, prayer is about relationship with God. As we pray, we are drawn up into the deepest relationship there is: the most holy Trinity, the eternal loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In prayer, we don’t tell anything to God that He doesn’t already know. But that’s also how it is when we speak with our friends and family – when our relationships are at their best.

If I send a card to a friend saying “Happy birthday,” what purpose did that serve? She already knew it was her birthday! The message is that I care about her – but wait, she already knew that, too; we’ve been friends for years.

Why Naturalism Is False (And Why It Matters) Part 2

In this concluding lecture, Dr Ordway reviews the concepts of naturalism and theism, and provides more reasons why it is rational to believe that theism, rather than naturalism, is true. (A teaser: mystery novels point to the existence of God -- and not in the way you might expect!) She concludes by reflecting on some of the negative consequences of naturalism as a worldview. Bad consequences do not themselves disprove naturalism, but they give a compelling reason why we should ask tough questions about naturalism rather than just accepting it without question. The truth matters.


Skepticism as Snobbery

Skepticism about religious belief, and indeed about the existence of truth itself, is often dressed up as being highly “rational” and “intellectual.” Logic and reason drive the skeptic, not feelings and wishful thinking, right? Well, maybe sometimes. However, skepticism is often based quite firmly in emotional reactions. In fact, skepticism is often a form of snobbery.

Take an ordinary Christian, not a pastor or teacher, but just someone who goes to church on Sunday, and who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the Bible is God’s Word. Now ask that person to explain why those beliefs are true. There’s a good chance that this ordinary person can’t defend his or her belief, can’t provide a compelling argument for why it is so.

On this ground – on the basis that Average Joe and Average Jane can’t explain why they believe as they do - the skeptic rejects their belief.

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About
Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.


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