fbpx
Wait… Are We a Catholic Church? Yes.

Wait… Are We a Catholic Church? Yes.

I believe in…  the holy catholic Church.  – The Apostles’ Creed

Without fail, just about every time we recite The Apostles’ Creed at our campus, someone finds me afterwards and asks, “We aren’t a Catholic church, are we? Then why do we say that ‘we believe in the holy catholic Church’?” 

This is a great question, and its answer has many implications for how we think about diversity, evangelism, and the global Church’s mission that most people don’t consider. 

Questioning why we would confess the Church as catholic is really understandable, especially considering the word “catholic” in our culture is so deeply connected to the Roman Catholic Church. This is not what we mean, or what the original Christians who recited the creed were intending, when the Church is affirmed as being catholic. While there is so much to appreciate and admire about the rich history and traditions of the Roman Catholic expression of the Christian faith, there are significant differing convictions between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, to which Christ Community as an Evangelical Free Church belongs.

 

What Catholic Means

The simplest way to understand what catholic means in the Apostles’ Creed (and many of the other early Christian creeds) is to substitute the word universal for catholic. Affirming the Church as catholic means recognizing the universal nature of Jesus’ Church that comprises all believers in all times and places. Cyril of Alexandria, an influential pastor and theologian in the early Church who lived from 313-386 AD, says in his Lenten Lectures explaining the creed that “The Church is called catholic (or universal) because it has spread throughout the entire world, from one end of the earth to the other.” Catholicity affirms that what God is doing in the world through his Church isn’t limited to one local church but includes what he is doing through all the various local churches throughout the world and history.

This historic, orthodox affirmation goes beyond just affirming this fact, and has much relevance for believers today. 

 

Catholicity and Diversity

A helpful way to understand what a particular theological belief affirms is also to think about what it denies. Confessing the Church as catholic denies that the Church is only for a certain kind or group of people. Again, Cyril says, “[the Church is also catholic] because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of [humankind], governors and governed, learned and unlearned.” For Cyril, part of denying catholicity would be to think that the Church is only for rich, influential people, or only for poor, marginalized people. 

One of the most beautiful things about Christianity in comparison to other religions is its capacity to translate and incarnate its message into new cultural settings. If you go to any mosque in the world, you will find the Imam leading the service in Arabic and then translating portions into a local language. While there is a richness to knowing the original Greek and Hebrew languages of Scripture, you would be hard pressed to find a single Christian congregation requiring those languages to be used in a service each Sunday. The tragedy of white segregationist churches in our country’s past, and the consequences of that we still experience today, is that it was a failure to live out the historic, orthodox belief in the Church’s catholicity in favor of the heresy of white supremacy. 

While the myth of Christianity being a white, Western religion persists, it remains a myth that isn’t supported by current statistics or expected trends into the future. Phillip Jenkins (no relation to me), in The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity, estimates that by 2050, less than one fifth of the world’s three billion Christians would be non-hispanic whites.

 

Catholicity and Evangelism

Affirming the catholicity of the Church goes beyond appreciation of diversity; it has a lot to say about the nature and necessity of evangelism. Both of these have been undermined in our day by religious pluralism, whether you subscribe to this view or are unconsciously influenced by it because of our surrounding society. Pluralism views each religion as each individual culture’s experience of the divine, and that God is too large to be contained by any one system of belief and practice. Pluralism holds that since each religion contributes a different culturally conditioned view, then all of them are more or less equally valid. Thus, Christianity is the experience of God in Western culture, Islam among Arabs, Buddhism in East Asian culture, Hinduism in South Asia, and other indigenous religions in their particular culture. The pluralist feels that sharing your belief in Jesus with another person with the goal of them also choosing to follow Jesus is forcing your culture onto another. 

This pluralistic view of religions does not take the claims of orthodox Christianity seriously, especially with regards to the catholicity of the church. Effectively, it is no longer “I believe in the catholic (universal) Church,” but rather “I believe in the white, Western Church” or “the Church for those who are already Christian.”  Beyond not taking orthodox theology seriously, this view also doesn’t respect and honor the experience of billions of Christians who have committed their lives to a faith that didn’t originate in their own culture. Against this, Cyril writes that,

Again, [the Church] is called catholic because it teaches fully and unfailingly all the doctrines which ought to be brought to [people’s] knowledge, whether concerned with visible or invisible things, with the realities of heaven or the things of earth…. Finally, it deserves the title catholic because it heals and cures unrestrictedly every type of sin that can be committed in soul or in body, and because it possesses within itself every kind of virtue that can be named, whether exercised in actions or in words or in some kind of spiritual gift.

For Cyril, the Church is catholic because it has the universal cure, that is, the gospel message about Jesus, to the universal problem of sin plaguing humanity, and every human being ought to believe the good news about Jesus to access this cure. This is what the earliest Christians believed and why they were motivated to take the gospel beyond Jews to Greeks, Romans, Ethiopians, Scythians, Barbarians, and all other kinds of people. 

 

Do You Believe in the Catholic Church?

It is one thing to say the creed along with others when you gather with other believers, but a totally different thing to demonstrate your belief in that affirmation through your actions. 

Does your attitude toward Christians of other backgrounds demonstrate that you believe in just the “Western Church”? Or, does your belief in the catholic Church lead you to recognize, celebrate, and learn from biblically faithful expressions of following Jesus in other cultures? 

Are you hesitant to share your faith with others, or even look down on Christians who do share because it reflects an “insensitive and outdated” cultural perspective?  Do you regularly pray about and look for natural ways to share about the hope you have in Jesus with others who have a different background?

May the God of all people in all places and at all times help us recognize and embody his love that does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance and belonging among his people, the Church (2 Peter 3:9).

 

 

More Resources:

  • Cyril, “Lenten Lectures (Catecheses)”. Translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310118.htm>
  • Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom : The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford University Press 2002.
 
But What About…?

But What About…?

Have you ever looked at the Christian faith and wondered, “But what about…”? We all wrestle with difficult life questions. How does Jesus respond to our “what abouts?”

In this podcast Bill Gorman is joined by Ben Beasley, interim campus pastor at the Leawood Campus. They explore the upcoming sermon series “But what about…?”, which addresses tough questions head-on. Bill and Ben discuss their own difficult questions, emphasizing the importance of patience, charity, and epistemological humility in working through doubts and questions. They also share their hopes for the series, which includes guiding listeners toward a humble confidence in their faith and a healthy model for addressing tensions.

Join us as we dive into this thought-provoking sermon series with an aim to know Jesus more and be his hands and feet in our community and world.

Why a Real Church Is Better Than Any Ideal

Why a Real Church Is Better Than Any Ideal

There are some books you should not just read twice. Some books need to become like good friends. Good friends get together not to “have” something new, but rather, you find their familiarity and wisdom a means of holy “being. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is that kind of friend. 

In a world where it’s more in vogue to dislike the church because of her failures to measure up to who she ought to be, Bonhoeffer keeps our eyes set firmly on the only place we can belong: a real church. As someone who died for his confession of faith and saw the community of Jesus to be vibrantly different from the powers of the day, we have a lot to learn from this theological giant. Nowhere has Bonhoeffer been more precise and timeless on genuine church community than in Life Together

Bonhoeffer’s Real Church

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes what a robust Christian community looks like as they grow together in Christlikeness. These insights were refined in 1935 when Bonhoeffer chose to live a “common life in emergency-built houses,” with twenty-five vicars. Out of this experience, Bonhoeffer invites us to “consider a number of directions and precepts that the Scriptures provide us for our life together under the Word.” In my own pastoral vocation, I needed to see afresh through Bonhoeffer’s unapologetic, poetic framing why the church is indeed different from any other institution, and how she is made different through the presence of the Word. 

Not Ideal, But Real

In his opening chapter entitled Community, Bonhoeffer first penetrates our expectations of what life together as Christians is like and what keeps us tethered together. While the Christian lot is to live in a world antagonistic to our faith, it’s one of God’s great graces that we get to live alongside other Christians. While this is indeed a grace, it has never been easy, and Bonhoeffer will not tolerate idealism of any sort. Idealistic visions of the real church community ultimately lead to accusations that the whole community, including God at the center of that community, is a failure. 

Bonhoeffer brilliantly notices the distinction between intent and impact when idealism guides a community. We can be so in love with a dream of a certain kind of community that even though we have all the best intentions in the world, the impact is that we can become “a destroyer” of the real church community in front of us.

I frequently wrestle with idealism in my pastoral vocation. When I read the biblical vision of what the church will be one day in the book of Revelation, I hunger and thirst for the full arrival of that kind of diverse and unified communion now. I know the problem is not in desire but in timing. The real people in front of me have not arrived, and neither have I. The real church today, due to the continuing presence of sin and brokenness which God himself will finally drive out, is less diverse, less healthy, less loving, and less mature than the completed versions of ourselves. This is how it appropriately is in the journey of salvation. To miss this is to misunderstand pastoral ministry, and yet, I confess I frequently fail to love the real in my pining for the ideal. 

Not Merely Human, But Divine

Bonhoeffer then moves to explain how a true Christian community lives and has its being by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by the mere natural desires of humans for community. While all humans desire to have community, when the Spirit creates community it is not merely for others’ sake. If it is merely to meet a need of having others in your life, then this is an idolatry, which will stifle the quality of life and resilience of that community. Whereas when the Spirit creates a community it is for Christ’s sake; this end, and only this end, is where integral, radically inclusive life resides. 

Throughout Life Together, Bonhoeffer expands our categories for the mediatorial role of Christ in how we are shaped as a community. In the pietistic circles in which I grew up and am grateful for, I often heard preaching on the astounding importance of Christ’s vertical mediatorial role between God and humanity, but the mystical avenue in which Christ mediates relationships now with other followers of Jesus challenged me to “speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ.” Until recently, I had not recognized the gift—yes, the gift—of how God limits immediate access to another human being. Bonhoeffer paints a picture of Jesus standing between us, shaping how we see, talk, relate, and love one another through him, and so Christ’s grace and patience holds us together. 

Where this appears to be especially potent is in the prominent conversation around spiritual abuse in pastoral circles. So many spiritual leaders are seeking immediate access to others and longing to control, coerce, and manipulate others through force. When I sense this urge in my own life, this has given me a better imaginative frame for submitting my desires for that person to Christ. When Christ stands between us, and we go to him more than to our sister or brother, we relinquish control. We trust the Spirit that called us together in Christ to work with each of us through Christ. 

Not Just Confessional, But Representative

Bonhoeffer does not merely highlight the mediatorial role of Christ between the members of a Christian community, he also highlights how the church community has an important representational role of Christ toward each other. This representational role is exemplified when Bonhoeffer points to the central role of confession in the church. 

Loneliness is a human problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Psychologists are continuing to notice alarming trends of depression due to the exclusion of the human community, but the loneliness experienced because of hidden sin is a kind of loneliness rarely mentioned in these studies. When the Spirit creates a community for Christ’s sake, we are called into lifegiving discomfort by confessing our sin to a sister or brother, and here the church represents Christ in a powerful way. 

Bonhoeffer provides ways to make confession concrete with steps for going to a particular person, with a particular sin, and so, we can experience clarity around our assurance and victory, but when we confess to a brother or sister, what I often overlook is how it combats our loneliness. If we confess when we’d rather not due to any number of reasons, we find that we are “never alone again, anywhere.” This is the power of the gospel.  

God Is Here

To be clear, Bonhoeffer is not promoting a mere human community. Rather it is Christ’s presence demonstrated by other followers of Jesus. Bonhoeffer says, “When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God.” Nothing can make us feel so “utterly alone” like hidden sin, which naturally causes us to hide our full selves from others or our motivations from ourselves, but it is our sisters and brothers who bear with us through Christ, listening to our confessions as Christ, who also declare forgiveness to us in the words of Christ. This is the real church founded and formed by Christ: a church fumbling along in the real world, bearing with one another and confessing to one another in Christ. This is the church we need. This is the church I need, because this is where Christ is.

Being with Bonhoeffer and the Real Church

And so, if you need a book to better understand a lost perspective of the church, if you yourself, have lost interest in the church, if you have been enticed by the ideal church such that you can no longer attend/stand/stomach/imagine a real church, Bonhoeffer’s theological vision and biblical wisdom may be a helpful mentor. Add him as a conversation partner as you enter the new year. You may find a love for the church, and so Christ, afresh. 

So You Went from Scientist to Pastor? Please Explain!

So You Went from Scientist to Pastor? Please Explain!

It was January 26, 2023, the end of my fourth week as a pastor at the Downtown Campus. That month had been filled with endless meetings, some delightful and others…I’ll let you fill in the ellipsis. My favorite meetings were those I had with congregants over coffee, dinner, or just about every meal! That cold January evening, as I walked to my car after having coffee with a congregant, I stumbled upon what looked like a lovely place to grab some dinner; soup to warm up my Puerto Rican bones. A little while after I was seated and cozy in my chair, with my head buried in something, (probably the menu or a book), someone approached my table. She waved at my face so that I would notice her presence. It was a young woman from the Downtown Campus. “Are you dining alone?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied with delight. “May I join you?” she continued. I was filled with joy and gladness on account of such a wonderful “coincidence” (or shall we say providence?). “Yes, absolutely!” I replied. After some small talk and giggling over God’s gift to both of us that evening, my new friend blurted out a question with puzzled sincerity, “So you went from scientist to pastor? Please explain!” I bursted out laughing because I often see this question in people’s faces when they meet me for the first time, but no one had ever asked it in such a creative, pointed, and hilarious manner. Hence, here I am, explaining.


From scientist to pastor: when God’s calling makes no sense

I moved to the mainland U.S.A. right out of college in 2006. I was armed with a newly acquired B.S. in Microbiology, two suitcases, a handful of professional dreams, and tenacious determination. I was excited about my internship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, M.D., about the things I would learn from the world class scientists that worked there and, of course, about working with human blood and Hepatitis viruses! What’s not to be excited about? My two-year internship flew by. I loved it! My laboratory skills had sharpened, my spoken and written English had improved dramatically, and I was ready for graduate school. So, I enrolled in the Immunology Graduate Program at the University of Pittsburgh, where my love for the immune system deepened and I started an affair with fungi. Upon graduation, I moved to Madison for postdoctoral training at the University of Wisconsin.

Throughout all this moving around and training in different universities and government institutions, I was also learning how to “do church” in English and figuring out my place amidst the predominantly white evangelical church, which is, perhaps, the most difficult experiment I have ever handled! Over time, I became acquainted with my English Bible and the worship style of the churches I attended, although I must confess that I keep dreaming of walking into church to the beat of salsa music, but I suspect that will never happen! I also began to serve at church, although never to the extent of involvement I had engaged in back home. I had leadership and public speaking gifts that were underutilized. Hindsight tells me that during those relatively quiet ministry days, God was maturing my character: teaching me to listen, sharpening my cultural awareness, and shaping me into the woman that one day would bear the responsibility of shepherding God’s people. Those quiet days ended during my time in Madison, Wisconsin, when my particular set of gifts became evident as I participated in prayer meetings, served in prayer teams, and started preaching again. Eventually, I became an elder at that church and I could not run from God’s calling anymore. 

When the time came for me to decide what to do after completing my postdoctoral fellowship, there was turmoil in my soul. I had planned on a long teaching career at a small college, but something in my soul would not find rest in that pathway. I was losing sleep and focus, I was waking up to pray at crazy hours of the night, and I sobbed and had tantrums in the presence of the Lord because I could not understand why God would ask me to leave a career I had studied long and hard for in order to spend the rest of my life preaching his word and caring for his people. But he gave me no choice. He provided what I needed to go to seminary and made his calling crystal clear. So, I packed my bags and moved to the greater Chicago area to complete the M.Div. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 

I must confess I still do not understand why God chose to do things in this manner in my life. So, I cannot fully respond to the “Please explain!” of my dinner buddy. I cannot fully explain how Dr. Hernández-Santos became Pastor Nydiaris. However, I can offer a few insights I’ve gained along the way.


What does a scientist turned pastor do with her lab coat?

First, when a scientist turns pastor, she brings her lab coat to church. When I greet the congregants and guests of the Downtown Campus on Sunday morning, they will not see me wearing my lab coat, but they will surely encounter part of the skill set I gained while working in the laboratory. This can be hard to imagine, perhaps because most people do not personally know a scientist and what they do on a daily basis. Let me briefly describe the task of doing science for you. 

The duties of a scientist vary depending on where they work and what their position is, but at the core of our profession is curiosity about the natural world. We observe the universe, living creatures, the environments in which they live and ask questions. Then we attempt to answer such questions in a systematic manner, guided by the scientific method. Practically, in the academic settings where I worked, I would spend most of my time designing and performing experiments, which was always my favorite part, working with my hands and cool machines. Some days, I would be writing papers and grants, preparing presentations for conferences, public speaking, teaching the occasional lecture, and collaborating with my colleagues.  

Do some of those tasks sound familiar? Does that sound like anything I could use on Sunday morning? I think so. Sure, I no longer intubate mice (yes, that is a thing and I was really good at it!), but many of my observation, communication, project management, and people skills are still incredibly useful! So, maybe Dr. Henández-Santos and Pastor Nydiaris are not so different after all! Perhaps I should don my Sunday best with my lab coat one of these days. 

 

Lab skills repurposed not wasted

This brings me to my second point, namely that my lab skills have been repurposed, not wasted. How so? My “observation powers” kick into gear on Sunday mornings when I greet people. My brain starts gathering data: Have I seen this person before? Where? What is their occupation? Do they look distressed? How can I help? Betsy, she’s limping, I wonder what happened. When I go to someone’s house or the hospital for a pastoral visit, I am observing and reading the room, wondering what’s the mood and what questions I should ask, figuring out if now is a good time for a hug and some prayer. Observe, observe, and observe again! Good for science and, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, it is a super power! 

When I am writing sermons, blogs, or curriculum for theFormed.life, a conglomerate of the skills I honed in the lab come to the forefront. As soon as I am assigned a passage or a topic I start reading and researching, looking at the original language, making observations, asking questions, digging deep trying to understand the culture of the biblical text. Then I gather all the information and start thinking about how to communicate it, my favorite part! Just like I did when I worked in the lab, I think about how to tell a coherent and compelling story about the things I observed. This is when my writing and public speaking skills shine through.

Finally, when I worked in the lab, I had the gift of working alongside people from all over the world. They taught me about their religion, their food (a favorite part of mine!), and their culture. They told me about their families and holidays, their upbringing and their academic journeys. Oh what a precious gift! Few things have done as much for my cultural awareness than working in the lab. Being aware of other cultures helps us empathize with our neighbors by gaining understanding of who they are, which is a deeply pastoral endeavor and something that the church in the U.S.A. is in desperate need of.

I will be forever grateful to the scientific community for providing me with such a safe space to grow and develop, a space to try things and fail, a space to be myself and find my voice, a school of storytelling, a place for growing patience and endurance, a place for training a pastor! 

So, have you ever thought of a particular season of your life as a waste? Have you ever asked the question, “What were those years about? Why did I spend so much time studying that?” Have you ever said, “I have all these skills that are useless to me now?” Think again! Your skills may be on the way to being repurposed, even if you cannot explain the journey.

The Beauty of the Church

The Beauty of the Church

I had the privilege of joining our high schoolers on the trip to the Dominican Republic this summer. What an incredible experience! I had so many takeaways from my time, but one thing I experienced so clearly is the beauty of the Church. The global church is something I haven’t had much opportunity to see in such a tangible way before. Situated right here in the middle of the country, it’s so easy to equate the-big-C-church with the American church and forget the diverse expression of the Body of Christ. I am so thankful for the chance to expand my understanding more fully, to glimpse the beauty of our worldwide church family. 

We began our week visiting a house church in Santo Domingo. Anna opened her home to us, and we more than doubled the size of their church that evening. The folding chairs multiplied like loaves and fishes as we all squeezed into her patio along with Napoleon and his family, Anna’s sister, Abuela, Gordy, and Bear. Anna led the majority of the service in English, and Nicole translated for us during discussion time so we could all understand one another. While the church service was so foreign in some ways, it was also so familiar. Communion bookended our time together; we took the bread at the beginning and closed the service with the wine. We sang familiar worship songs, and in between shared a meal. These “strangers” are our family. We have all been adopted by the same Father. These people we had not ever met are our brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmothers. We share the same spirit and we could feel it. What a beautiful foretaste of heaven! 

Every day our group headed to a university in Santo Domingo to attend English immersion classes and help the students work on their pronunciation and grammar. Every day we packed our lunches and got there an hour before class to have conversations with the students. Tons of students came to talk with us. It was such a joy to make new Dominican friends, hear some of their stories, share some of ours, and the reason for our hope in Christ. 

One particular conversation really stuck with me. A woman came and sat on a bench next to me and we started talking. It quickly became apparent that I knew more Spanish than she knew English, and I do not speak much Spanish! But somehow we were able to semi-understand each other. She said that her 18-year-old daughter was a student at the university and each day this mother would walk her daughter to school. Somehow our “conversation” turned to faith and she said something along the lines of “El Dios es primero.” Forgive me Spanish speakers for my limited vocabulary and faulty memory, but it roughly means “God is first.” I agreed with her and we spoke of our love for God. I don’t even know her name but I just teared up and said “hermanas,” sisters. This woman, who I had never met and will most likely never meet again on this side of heaven, is my sister. Our day to day lives are so different, we could barely understand each other, and she is my sister. Someday we will stand before the throne together and worship.

Later on in the week we went out to dinner and I was not feeling well. Anna from the house church and her family joined us. When Anna realized how I felt, she offered to take me back to her house and care for me until I felt better. And she meant it! She was willing to take  a basically total stranger home, a sick stranger at that, and care for me. Because while we are strangers, we are also family! I didn’t take her up on her kind offer, and was feeling better the next day.

This experience with the Church got me thinking about my local church family and what it means to be family to those I see Sunday after Sunday. Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective to see what is right in front of you or be reminded of what is right in front of you. The people sitting in the worship center with me on a Sunday morning are my sisters and my brothers. In a very real sense. 

The New Testament is full of references to believers as family, and when those words were penned, your survival depended on your extended family. Everyone had to pitch in and work for the family to survive. Which really made me think about how I am caring for the people in my church. What have I sacrificed for their good? Am I willing to take a sick sister into my home and care for them? 

And, how are we all using our gifts and talents for the benefit and building up of the church? How are we meeting physical needs, spiritual, emotional? Letting others know of our needs so that they can be met? God has created each one of us uniquely and together we are the body of Christ. 

The big C church and the little C church needs all of us. It’s not meant to be a place where we spend an hour on Sunday and then go about our business. It is a family and we need each other. 

Three Resources for Connecting with Jesus Daily 

Three Resources for Connecting with Jesus Daily 

At Christ Community, we want to be a local church that helps you connect Sunday to Monday — a church that helps you follow Jesus more faithfully where you live, work, and play every day. 

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve found that setting aside time each day to read the Bible, pray, and listen for God’s voice is the keystone habit that shapes my life more than any other. 

But it’s not easy. I find myself wondering what I should read in my Bible next or thinking I want to pray but feel stuck in a rut. 

Whether you’ve been connecting with Jesus for years or just getting to know him, I wonder if you’ve found yourself stuck in similar ways. 

Here are three resources (plus a bonus) that have helped add depth and new life to my times of connecting with Jesus each day.

 

theFormed.life

TheFormed.life website and the companion journals available at any Christ Community campus provide a daily framework for reading the Scriptures, prompts for prayer, and practices for connecting with God and serving others. TheFormed.Life is tied to the current sermon series, so you have the benefit of connecting with God individually and gathering and connecting with others on Sundays who are focusing their attention on the same texts and practices.  

 

Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship

Have you ever had the experience of needing to write an important email, paper, or proposal and found yourself paralyzed by the “blank page”? You stare at that empty word-processing screen with the cursor winking at you, not knowing how to start. Sometimes our moments of connecting with Jesus can feel the same way. 

A bit like a conversation starter at a gathering of friends or family, a resource like Be Thou My Vision can serve as a jumping-off place to get the “talk” going. It is arranged in a monthly cycle of Scripture, prayers, and historic creeds. It has been a regular companion for me since it was published. I don’t always have time to do every element included each day. But it is a gift to sit down with my coffee, open the book and start with prayers and Scripture right in front of me on the page.

 

Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year

This tool is similar to the previous resource but designed for families to use together. It has a two-page spread for all 365 days of the year that allows you to open the book with absolutely zero preparation and use it with your kids around the dinner table or at bedtime. 

It employs wonderful pedagogical techniques and is developmentally appropriate across a wide span of ages. My 4, 6, and 9-year-olds enjoy it but it is also interesting and encouraging for my wife and me.

 

Bonus: When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer

This last resource isn’t like the others. It isn’t a daily resource but provides a beautiful and compelling picture of the “why” behind connecting with God. I highly recommend this resource if you find yourself wanting to pray or not feeling drawn to God in prayer. Maybe there was a season in life where you “felt” God and connected with him easily but now feel he is distant or that you don’t desire him as you used to. 

Early in the book, the author, Jan Johnson, who worked closely with Dallas Willard, warns of the danger of conflating devotion to tools (like the three listed above) with devotion to God. She writes,

Eventually we develop a devotion to the tools. Persistent and regular use of certain activities becomes a guarantee for so-called success. For example, people say, “Read your Bible and pray. You’ll be fine.” So we push ourselves to finish today’s reading plan or at least get to the bottom of the page of a reading, instead of seeing the goal as to meet with God today and Bible reading as a means to that end. Essentially we are trusting tools and our human efforts to use them well, instead of trusting a loving, self-giving God who listens attentively to us and is eager to do whatever is needed to draw us deeper into a discipling relationship with the Trinity. Differentiating between devotion to God and devotion to spiritual tools may seem trivial, but this was a primary difference between Jesus and the Pharisees.

 

When I read that I immediately recognized myself. There have been many times in my life when completing the reading plan or working through each page of the devotional, liturgy, or journal became the functional goal. What’s the result then? When I succeed, I feel good about myself. When I’m failing, I feel bad about myself. In both cases, I end up focused on myself rather than enjoying Jesus enjoying and loving me. That’s the goal of all these tools. They are to be a means to the end of knowing and being known by the One who made you and gave his life to rescue you.

My hope is that these resources will help you find deeper joy in knowing and being known by the Triune God of the universe. He loves you and he is waiting for you. Go to him today.