Saturday, June 30, 2007

Does Prayer Change God?

This is the title of a chapter in Philip Yancey's book "Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference" and a question I have fretted over for a long time.

Here's the basic problem, as stated by Origen, one of the early fathers of the Christian church.
"First, if God foreknows what will come to be and if it must happen, then prayer is in vain. Second, if everything happens according to God's will and if what He wills is fixed and none of the things He wills can be changed, then prayer is in vain."
Origen is focusing on the changeless nature of God, His complete knowledge of everything, and His complete power over creation. God knows everything, can do anything, and never changes. What possible place is there for prayer?

Yancey spends a whole chapter (and more) on this conundrum, putting forward a number of ideas. My favorite by far is a quote from C.S.Lewis responding to the question, "If God knows what is best and always does good, then won't He do it whether we pray or not?" Lewis responds,
"Why wash your hands? If God intends them to be clean, they'll come clean without you washing them... Why ask for the salt? Why put on your boots? Why do anything?"
Why indeed. I suppose it's an obvious line of thinking, but one I have never really thought about. The question is not so much, "Why does God want me to pray?" as "Why did God arrange creation so that I can manipulate reality at all?"

God doesn't need me to do anything. He is able to do what ever he chooses without my help, and in fact that seems to me to be a more efficient way to get things done. Yet, God consistently chooses to involve me in his world. C.S. Lewis writes, "For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures."

Monday, June 25, 2007

What's Church for Anyway?

Our church has recently chartered a "5-Year Vision" task force to look at what we need to be doing over the next five years and where the church should be focusing it's efforts. It's got me thinking about the reason for the existence of the church, and what a church needs to be in this rapid-paced, partly-virtual, totally-connected world of ours.

It seems to me that the traditional answers of fellowship, worship, and instruction are lacking something in the time of the Internet. People used to find community by physical association with other people...going to the same place and interacting face-to-face. Even the telephone was considered somewhat impersonal. In my experience, that is becoming less and less common. More people interact by email, chat, or IM. The telephone has become an intimate communication medium. We still write letters, but only for "social formula" reasons like thank you notes and wedding invitations. Everyone is too busy to actually spend the time to travel to a common physical location and interact. It seems so wasteful and inefficient.

So, what does the church look like in this society? If we persist in seeing the church as a place we all meet to do spiritual things, then I fear the institution is doomed to decline. How do we take the gospel message and Paul's admonition in Hebrews 10:25 -
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We clearly must continue to "meet," but how and why and where? Is this the church?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Living a Choreographed Life

This week we're starting a new series called "Life is a Highway," which seems to call up the tune from the Disney movie Cars. I confess to having not made the connection myself, perhaps because I haven't felt compelled to see the movie.

In any case, we're starting out talking about 2 Peter 1:1-11. Peter uses a fascinating Greek word twice in this passage. Without knowing Greek, I don't know how you would ever find this, but it's an interesting idea. The word is "epichoregeo," which means to supply or to furnish. The word comes from the word for leading and furnishing a band of dancers and singers.

The fascinating bit (I know you're dying to know) is that this is where we get our word "choreograph." Peter uses the word in verse 5:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;
and again in verse 11:
and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(italics are translated from epichoregeo)

When we apply our usage of the word "choreograph" to the passage it yields an interesting insight. If we arrange our lives so as to follow the pattern of the dance Jesus has shown us, then we will also dance into the eternal kingdom!