March 2007

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Today, I had the privilege of offering the invocation to begin the day at the Maryland State Senate. When asked to participate several months ago, I was not sure how to respond. I knew that they want ecumenical prayers, by which they mean prayers that use generic names for God, and are crafted so as not to offend people of other faiths.

I share my experience because I know that many Christians struggle with what is appropriate in such situations.

One concern, of course, is the use of Jesus’ name in prayer. On the one hand, I realize that we are told to pray in Jesus’ name, not to say those exact words at the end of a prayer (no prayers in the New Testament end that way, yet I assume the apostles were praying in the name of Jesus). On the other hand, however you communicate it, prayer that is acceptable to God must be authorized by Jesus. As it turns out, the Senate assured me that their guidlines were only that, and I was free to pray as I wished, so I did, in fact, use Jesus’ name.

My greatest concern was leading a number of non-Christians in prayer. How could I lead in what would be idolatry for many? My solution was to inform the Senate that I would not lead in prayer, but would instead pray for the Senators. I would be especially mindful that there were many non-Christians present (a matter for my own conscience, not only the government’s sensitivities), but I would pray as I understood how to pray.

I think this distinction of praying for a mixed group instead of leading them in prayer may be a helpful avenue for Christians to explore. I would be offended if a Muslim tried to lead me in prayer to Allah. However, I would not be personally offended if a Muslim offered prayer for me. I do not recognize his god, but there would be no harm done to me, and I would appreciate any positive sentiments he expressed on my behalf. Similarly, it would be an offense to God for me to try to lead an atheist or idolater in prayer. But it would not offend God (and probably would offend no one) for me to offer Christian prayer invoking God’s common grace upon non-Christians.

I’ve included the prayer I actually prayed below. Others may come to different conclusions about what is appropriate; I share my journey in this matter to give food for thoght, and to encourage us to find good and helpful ways to serve Christ in a pluralistic society.

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Holy and compassionate Creator of all, I humbly bow before you this day, as these Senators and staff prepare to do the hard work of government. I lift them up to you. You have called them to this task; I ask you to help them accomplish much this day.
In every soul, stir up their best insight, courage and graciousness. Enable them to weigh each perspective appropriately, and make decisions that best conform to your common grace for mankind. For the sake of this State, guard them from the temptations that power brings. Grant them this day the mutual respect and good humor that can make sharp differences less abrasive. Help them to find wisdom from each other, and always heed the conscience you have given.
Lord God, I thank you for these men and women. I ask you to give them the health and strength they need to do their job. I ask you to mercifully lighten the personal burdens each one carries into this chamber, and be near to anyone who calls to you for help.
In all, enable them to do what is good, act justly and love mercy.
Almighty God, I know that each of us who prays does so the best we know how. For me, that means that I offer this prayer to you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I promised a pamphlet Christians could use to further discussion about Jesus’ resurrection as a follow-up to “Lost Tomb” interest. You can find a pdf file of “The Empty Tomb of Jesus” at our church web site. If you could use printed copies, contact the church office.

IÂ watched last Sunday night’s Discovery Channel presentation of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” with some trepidation. I was truly concerned that I might be at least facing a major headache in future evangelism, and at worst something that would set up a tremendous emotional strain in me pitting my faith and science against each other.

The bad news is that the film is slick enough to be persuasive to someone without the resources to do critical thinking and explore professional reactions. The good news is that it is a shoddy piece of pseudo-science. The UK blog Strata-Sphere  (not a natural friend of evangelicals, apparently) summarized it well, speaking of Cameron:  “The man has no concept of what science is all about and sees everything through the Hollywood intellectual model of “it’s close, why can’t it be true?”

This seems to be the general reaction – evangelical responses are drowned out by secular voices either embarassed or outraged at a piece of nonsense dressed up by Simcha Jacobovici as science.

If you are interested in sampling some reactions, check out the Huffington Post, or this piece from Scientific American, documenting the outrage of a scientist quoted in the film.

The key assertion of the film involves identifying one of the names on an ossuary as Mary Magdelene. A scholar who was referenced has done further work and explains in a clear, though technical, explanation why the name should not be identified as Mary Magdelene, cf. Richard Bauckham’s post.

The upshot of all this is that Cameron and Jacobovici have given Christians a wonderful opportunity to talk about the resurrection of Christ. To stimulate discussion, I am writing a small pamphlet summarizing the significance of the resurrection and inviting the reader to study the issues. I’ll post a link soon.

Just got back from officiating at a wedding. I always appreciate the kind remarks about a nice service. Today, I heard a number of comments about how nice it was to be at a Christian wedding, as if it had been ages since various folks had seen such a thing.

That got me to thinking about the uniqueness of a truly Christian wedding, not so much the format and music, but the concept of what is happening at a wedding. A Christian wedding is the creation, by God, of a new family. That is, God is authorizing a man and woman to help each other live well, bear children and build society. A Christian wedding does not center only on the Bride and Groom, but on two families who are being joined, the witnesses to the vows, and God himself. A Christian wedding is about private, social and religious obligations and privileges.

I think that what several people were telling me today was that the weddings they have experienced have been centered almost exclusively around the happy couple. Such weddings are usually a lot of fun, but they lack a great deal of substance, portraying life as something essentially all about us and our current desires.

I left, not angry at our society, but sad that it is becoming so shallow. And I am reminded how biblical religion can make great contributions to social stability through the shaping of fundamental institutions.