Monday, July 23, 2012


The Bible says that God established Israel to obey him and to demonstrate to the world his nature, his heart and his desire for everyone to come into relationship with him.

Israel has always seemed to have a problem giving their hearts to God. In the time of the judges, if they obeyed God, they lived in peace and prospered. But they consistently chose to disobey, and they were oppressed by the nations around them. Then, they would turn their hearts to God, and cry out for deliverance. And God would rescue them.

There were definitely people among them who would lament the people’s unfaithfulness. And they sought with honest hearts to understand God’s ways and keep them. Usually that meant proscribing rules or practices. “God said we should do this. So, if we do this, we follow what God said.” It is hard to find fault with people trying to solve problems in this way.

There is a prayer type invented by Ignatius called the “examan.” The examen is a way of reflecting on the day and applying prayer to it. Imagine reviewing your decisions and actions at work. Imagine reviewing all your interactions with people throughout the day. Then, imagine asking god for his wisdom confirming each decision. You beseech God to bring his will to each action. You invite God’s Spirit and grace into the life of each person you met, to apply his live into the issues they face and to draw them to his presence, to embrace his family and a relationship with him.

It is really hard to argue against such a practice. If I encouraged everyone to carve out time each day, many would give it a try. And if many became excited with the concept, and received benefit from it, it could become an expectation that everyone practice this type of prayer. And given the power of agreement, maybe we should expect everyone to practice it at 10:00 PM every day. And given God’s desire for everyone to pray, and his desire for us to invite him into every situation, maybe we really should establish this as a rule for all followers of Jesus. And maybe we begin to get an inkling of how easy it is to create a system of religious practices.

No one can argue that being disciplined is not good. Followers of Jesus agree that spending time praying, reading and meditating on Scripture are profitable to us. (One could argue that these practices are not only good for us, but they are good to the world around us.) And one can certainly see the wisdom of beginning the day with such a discipline.

But is there a command in Scripture to begin the day with such a discipline? I haven’t found it. (I do agree with the fact that there is wisdom with having this type of discipline. I have not found a command for it.) But how many people are there who seek to follow God, who would regard someone not having an early morning quiet time as being apostate? In many ways, just like the Pharisees, Christians have created a system with practices that someone invented for good and profitable reasons that have gotten included in the “must” column.

The “call forward” was invented in the 1800’s as a way for people to express publicly their inner convictions and a change of heart allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is not a bad thing. Even Jesus instituted something for this purpose. It’s called “baptism.” But, whole revivals have occurred without one “call forward.” But in some churches this has become an essential practice. A meeting is deemed a failure if there is no “call forward” of some sort.

To some people, a church is not a church if it does not have a building, a seminary trained professional leading it, a certain number of people attending, and certain practices and programs. At one point in this country, Sunday School was an evangelistic tool. No self-respecting, God-fearing person would send their children to Sunday School, because it meant you were failing in your job as a parent. Now, you are almost a failure if your children don’t go.

There is nothing with Sunday School as a means of educating children in the ways of God. There is nothing wrong with a group of Christians corporately owning and using a special building. But neither is there anything wrong with three people meeting in a coffee shop or under a tree praying, worshiping and sharing together.

We have quite often interpreted our system, devised to help us obey God, as God’s system. And sometimes, that system, in time, can hinder our obedience.

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