How Easter Makes Me Yearn for Church Unity


The Light of Christ

Thanks be to God

And with the lighting of the fire, my Easter had began as I attended my first Easter Vigil in an Episcopal church near my house. It was still dark outside as we processed to the sanctuary reciting the words above. We then held candles which was our only source of light for the first 40 minutes of the service. Passages were read, hymns sang and prayers offered until the light of the building was lit just as the first gleams of sunlight appeared outside.

I did not grow up in a liturgical tradition and it has been only in the past years that I have fully immersed into the Anglican/Episcopal tribe. This was a new experience that re-affirmed my connection to God through structured liturgy. Yet, I sensed something amiss.

Later in the morning, we went as family to our Anglican-Vineyard home church to celebrate the Easter service. The contemporary worship drew us into reflection on the great event of the day. The message was poignantly relevant connecting the text to our context. The Eucharist nourished our spirits so we could once again face the world with humble courage

Yet, something was missing.

Afterwards, when de-briefing with my wife who had also grown up in the same church environment I had, we were able to point out the missing piece.

As some of you know, my faith journey started in the Pentecostal/  Charismatic branch of Christianity. At its best, this tribe is known for its vibrant worship and a belief that nothing is impossible. While I cherished this part of my home tribe, with time I started sensing the call towards liturgical worship. That led me into mainline denominations and eventually into Canterbury. This was not an over-night shift but long process of searching, prayer and much conversation. I am confident I am where God wants me and my family to be at this point.  Yet, this Sunday I missed my Pentecostal/Charismatic roots.

The grandiosity of the Son of God’s resurrection can only aptly be celebrated with a loud exuberant party. In my liturgical Sunday, where order and reflection prevailed, my confined spirit wanted to jump out and break into dance. 

I missed some pandemonium, loud disorderly expressions of 

revivals past. I missed the out-of-sync tambourines, the sweaty movement of bodies, the loud cries of Hallelujahs and the persistent banging of African drums. I even missed the unashamed worshiper, the one who is so fearless in lavish worship that makes all the “proper” worshipers around them uncomfortable. I cannot see resurrection without these holy noises, and without them its reality seem to ring less true.

Obviously, this is not to say that I am now ready to return to my original tribe. Part of the reason why I have left was the lack of space for reflection and intellectual engagement that our loud service could not accommodate. My past years have taught me the wonderful rhythms of the church and I cherish them. It is not one being better than the other but about my longing for more integration.

To me this realization makes me yearn for church unity. We have diminished the glory of God by keeping ourselves apart from each other.

Why we need church unity? We are missing out when we stay in one place. The body of Christ is richer and fuller when we celebrate what each tradition does best. In this Easter season, I hope take a cue from Pentecostals and declare the kingdom here reality of God. This is the time to believe in miracles, to live like heaven was in earth again and declare that the coming kingdom is already here.

When Lent and Advent comes again, I’ll take a cue from mainliners, learn to suffer the path of the cross and sit in quiet. It is only when we fully enter into these two that we get a genuine taste of the body of Christ.

The good news is that the church calendar does not limit the reality of Easter to one Sunday. Instead, it extends it for 50 days so there is still time to worship God in exuberance, not just in our Sunday services but also with our lives. Our pastor encouraged us to take on new habits, sing a little louder, dance a little more unhindered and enjoy the fruits of the resurrection. It is time to live out now what we hope to come in the future.

I pray for the day when we can gather with our different tribes and learn to live these different seasons with each other. That is the beginning of living out the oneness we are called to be.

Oh, what beautiful sight would that day be! Yearning is the voice of heaven calling us to itself.


The Good Wall

Some wise words…

The Conciliar Anglican


“Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground,” wrote G.K. Chesterton in his 1908 book Orthodoxy. “Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism.” Countercultural as Chesterton’s observations often are, perhaps none would be so quickly and derisively dismissed by the modern western world as this one. Western people today know almost nothing about Christianity. This is especially true amongst the privileged classes who have spent time in the university and have been taught to believe that they are too smart to fall for anything as daft as the idea that a man rose from the dead. If we modern westerners know anything, we know for sure that Christianity is a killjoy. Christianity exists to stamp out pleasure wherever pleasure can be found, whether in the bedroom, the classroom, or the barroom.

My Way or the Highway

Behind this false understanding…

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Delightful Contentment

Sunset at Point Mugu, CA

This week marks the beginning of a new quarter at Fuller and for the first time in a year and a half, I don’t have to worry about homework. I am not done yet. This is just an enforced hiatus I decided to take before we move back to the East coast. At first it seemed like an odd idea to forego my last chance to take classes on campus for a break. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Honestly, I don’t think this idea came from myself but has whispers of divine revelation.

So, now as we are approaching the end of our stay here in California, I find myself in a place of delightful contentment. The ghosts of the past seem to be fading and the anxieties about an uncertain future are being replaced by an adventurous hope. Adventurous because not all details are lined up and defined leaving a sense of discovery. Hopeful because, by God’s grace, I find myself looking at the future with positive eyes. I am 70% done with my degree having about 6 classes which I will complete online in the next year or so.

As I reflect on this time, I start understanding the present contentment. As the past and future seem to be less of a concern, the present gains a new levity, a lightness that simplifies life. That is, since the past is accepted and the future is hoped for, now all is left is the task of living well in the present. In the present, then, I am able to see the gift of life and relationships. I can better see the gift of my wife and kids, how they enrich life and make everything worth it. I can be present in their day-to-day, seeing our little ones grow and learning to fall in love with my wife again. As I re-engage with the Daily Office, I find myself more connected with God and  God’s people through the ages.  All of this reminds me what should be obvious that is the joy is much more dependent on connection than achievement.  I then start moving from goal-achieving self to one that yearns to live well through connecting with others.

Honestly, connection is a poor word to represent the mysterious gift of relationships. It has more to do with technology and electricity than with the delight of communing with others. Maybe communion or fellowship are better words to start describing the richness of this reality.  As I move from putting books down and looking at human eyes, I am transferred from the I-it world into the I-thou world. This way I move from possessing to relating, from defining to listening, from controlling to negotiating.

Boy, I had no clue where this blog was going and I am not so sure how to end it. Suffice it to say, that I am finding that contentment is sweetness than happiness. It is a gift that surprises unexpectedly, not something achieve and more like something we arrive to. I am just glad to have found it for now. I don’t know how much it will last , neither I am worrying about it. I am just happy to be.

Alternative Approaches to the End Times

left behind

As I wrote last week, the “play-by-play” approach of end-times is not working for everybody. The speculative nature of dispensational theology is highly problematic even if its simplicity and relevance is very attractive. Attractiveness comes from the perception of connecting Scriptures with current events. The hearer is offered an interpretative paradigm from which he or she can make sense of the world around us. This is especially true, when the hearer already aligns with an Anglo-American conservative view of reality.  It is also attractive because, on the surface it appears to be the most literal reading of Scripture, and therefore the “safest” way to read Scripture.

The more I think about this, the more I realize that to challenge the dispensational view requires a wholesale challenge to one of the central tenets of evangelical theology, namely, its approach to Biblical interpretation.  I do not have the time or the intellectual energy to do at this point. Suffice it to say that popular evangelical approach to interpretation lacks a basic awareness of different literary genres in the Bible. This is well manifested in this end-times theology debate. Most of the passages used come from either the prophetic books of the OT and Revelation. Occasionally there is a use of some of Paul’s letters and the Gospels. The problem lies primarily in the use of the first group – the prophetic and apocalyptic books of the Bible. For these books, the plain sense or literal interpretation falls apart because they are filled with symbolic language. Instead, what is passed for literal reading tends to be highly speculative. Symbolic language is not meant to be read literal so we need to find other ways to approach it. What is missed is the fact that Revelation and the prophetic book was written in a time and meant to be understood about the hearers of that time, not a secret key to the future.  Therefore, these texts are best treated with caution and historical awareness rather than coordinates for wars to come. It does not mean we ignore them but we approach them with humility and avoid speculation.

A better alternative would be to approach end-times starting with the gospel and the letters of Paul and Peter. The Olivet discourses found in the synoptic gospels (Mat, Mark and Luke) provide a general view of the topic without trying to give details. It then becomes a thematic approach that can be summarized in a few points:

Jesus will return to Earth – It is hard to read the NT and not get the sense that this is a central belief of the Christian faith. It is also present in the early Creeds giving it a strong witness for its validity.

We should be ready to meet him – The parable of the virgins is instructive here. The point is not whether we know when he comes but that we are ready to meet him, being through death or through eschaton.

There will be judgment and wrongs will be put to rights – Here is a point that gets missed a lot. The whole point of Jesus return is to establish justice, to right the wrongs. This is where our eschatological thinking should run in parallel with kingdom of God thinking in the NT. We long for justice and we have the audacity to believe that our Lord will bring it to the Earth.

This is not a novel approach but one that continues to be espoused by mainline Christian denominations. Sure this is a lot less sensational and will not sell many books, yet it closer to mainstream Christian tradition than dispensational approach. Maybe it is time we in the neo-Pentecostal movement get off our prophetic hubris and start listening to our brothers and sisters from these denominations.

I add below a link of NT Wright speaking on the rapture providing a through explanation of the imagery there. This is worth considering when examining eschatological interpretations. To be fair, dispensational theology does not have to necessarily lead to political inaction as Wright is saying here. Unfortunately that is often the case well exemplified in how Anglo-American evangelicals refuse to deal with climate change.

End Times Paranoia

Graphic images of Christians being martyred in Libya are harrowing reminders that this world is constantly threatened by evil. With the power of social media, these acts gain a wide audience which was not possible in the past. Confronted with such realities, our tendency is to despair clinging to fear and paranoia. That is when we must be reminded of our Christian hope.

It is fitting that at this time I am taking a class on eschatology (the fancy word that means study of the last things). Honestly, this was not a topic I looked forward to. Growing up in an environment saturated by dispensational theology (Left Behind series – you get the picture), I have grown increasingly skeptical. There was a time I literally wished that Revelation was not in the Bible so I would NOT have to deal with the wacko stuff that gets passed as legitimate interpretations of the book. In the last weeks, I came to learn that this was not just a theological debate but deeply personal and something that evoked a number of emotions from passion, mistrust to anger (It was interesting to learn that I was not alone but the Luther himself had questions about Revelation’s place in the cannon).  However, I have now gained a renewed appreciation for this topic and maybe formed some opinions that may be helpful to this discussion.

First of all, I continue to deplore the dominant dispensational approach this topic gets in evangelical circles. By this I mean the approach that tries to read Revelation literally as a “play-by-play” description of the events leading to the end times.  I’ll spend the rest of this blog laying out my case:

1) It mostly leads to paranoia, fear and inaction – As I have seen this pattern a lot in the past, when you tend to emphasize this play-by-play view, a topic that should bring hope ends up bringing fear. I know that the intended message was to say: “these signs are pointing Jesus return.” This should bring us hope yet because the focus was so much on impending doom, that left little place for thinking of hope.  It is also disheartening because it feels like there is nothing one can do about it. Some might say that this should be an incentive to evangelize and by doing so we are hastening the Lord’s coming. That is possible, yet when so much energy is focused on painting a picture of destruction, the evangelism part gets downplayed.  We already have Fox News, CNN and radio talk implanting fear and paranoia in our society. Do we need the church to join the bandwagon?

2) It lacks historical reflection on the topic– How many times have I heard statements like: “this could be THE generation that sees the Lord’s coming” ? It is like we throw 2,000 years of church history and claim that the NT was all about 21st century world all along. It certainly sounds pretentious and self-serving. Even if the statement is correct, a bit of humility and historical reflection would do us a lot of good. We are NOT the first generation to think that. In fact, one could argue that even the apostles’ generation  (and they had much more reasons than we do) thought they were it. Then you had a number of movements in Christian history that made the same assumption, all of them to be proven wrong. Is it really wise to walk in this line of thinking without at least entertaining the possibility that we are wrong?

3) It portrays itself as the only “biblical” approach– I suspect that some of you may even wonder about my eternal fate given my questioning of this topic. This is especially true in Neo-Pentecostal circles where the prophetic is overemphasized and end-times thinking is a regular staple of their preaching. Churches like IHOP  and Morning Star tend to be big on the topic. Given their influence, and the prowess of the left-behind industrial complex (yes, the whole thing: books, DVDs, video games, etc.), one would think that is the only “biblical” approach to the topic. Well, I am glad to inform you that there are other ways of interpreting Revelation that are not “play-by-play” oriented. Certainly, the weight of church history is not on the side of dispensationalism but more on thematic approach (one that I will explore in a future blog).

4) It claims to provide a framework to understand news while it merely reflects a reactive Anglo-American right-wing political perspective of the world –This is probably one of my biggest realizations in recent years, namely how closely tied end-times thinking is with right wing (and even conspiration theory) thinking.  They tend to share the same enemies. What is even more intriguing is how these “play-by-play” systems never quite know what to do with the United States. That is a bit ironic that the most powerful nation on the Earth would not have a role to play in Armageddon. If it does role a play, it is usually a positive, and one in which it stands for the truth of the Bible. Hmm, that sounds like civic religion to me. Sometimes I wonder whether end-times fixation is less about the end of the world and more about the end of the North American empire. Just some food for thought….

5) It is a questionable evangelism tool (in fact it may lead people away from the faith) – That people have come to Christ because of it, I have no doubt. The God of the Bible have spoken through a donkey, assassins, heathens, terrorist, liars and the list goes on. Also bad theology has saved many throughout the history of the church. That is not to the approach’s credit but to the ever-loving God who will use whatever means possible to reach the lost. Now, let us now take a “means-justify-the-ends” approach here and justify this approach in its effectiveness of bringing people to Christ. It should stand on its own.  For every case of people that have come to Christ I can also tell of many who left the church because of it. I almost did. I suspect that to continue to emphasize this approach will most certainly lose the ear of the millennial generation.

Quarterly Rules of Life vs New Year Resolutions

I once saw an illustration at youth group that stayed with me. The pastor wanted to show the importance of getting your priorities right. He had a bottle that he first filled with sand. Then he tried to fit about 6 balls inside but because of the sand they could not all fit in. He then tried fitting the balls first and then filling the bottle with sand. Now everything fit perfectly, showing that if we put our priorities first everything else in life should fall in place.

After a grueling quarter (hence my blogging hiatus), I now face two decisive quarters ahead with a job that keeps on demanding more of me. This will not be easy. Last quarter I reached my limits, verging on the brink of exhaustion and depression. This is why I am being very intentional about this coming time. This should be slightly easier quarter but still very challenging. I just want to ensure I add my priorities first in my time container so the sand of “other stuff” can fill the remaining space.

So, I decided to calibrate my rule of life this quarter to add additional things. Probably the name “rule of life” can be a misnomer as it implies rigidity and strict adherence. A better definition would be “an intentional plan to simplify our spiritual practices and expectations for a period of time.” Traditionally, the rule of life was primarily aimed at religious practices such as prayer or reading Scripture. I have expanded to include things like physical exercise, a commitment to seek counseling, dates with my wife and taking a family day.

Honestly, writing about this rule of life is making me look a lot better than the way I normally am on a day-to-day basis. In reality, it is a plan of the things I aim for doing while also adding a lot of grace for when I fail. When I look at my rule of life for last quarter I was able to follow most of it except for the last two weeks when finals and work just consumed me to the bone. Yet, I must say, even having a rule of life felt liberating rather than an additional burden. The reason for that is that it helped me focus on a few things rather than allowing me to wonder about ALL the things I was NOT doing in the quarter. So in a way, it became an exercise in expectations management rather than an accountability tool. And by the way, writing a blog is not included in it. That is just a bonus in this season.

January is here, and we fall into this illusion of making resolutions for the new year. It is good to set goals but I would contend that the problem is the time period. I learned that planning works best in the short 3-6 month window. Anything longer than that is bound to become stale or forgotten. Now that I am studying I have the advantage of having set schedule of classes that help me also align my life to these time periods. Yet, a quarter turns out to be a great time-chunk to do goals. It forces you to go back to it soon enough and make changes as needed. No wonder, large corporations set their financial goals in quarterly periods. It helps manage investor expectations when the situation changes.

So, before I get off my soap box, I encourage replacing resolutions with simple rules of life. Focus not on what you want to ACHIEVE but on what you are going to DO. Share it with people close to you and allow yourself much grace for when you fail. They do not define who you are but are a statement of intention for a simplified life.