What is a Collect???

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You may have noticed that we pray something every Sunday called “The Collect.” What is a collect? Are we collecting something? And what are we collecting anyway?

Well, first off, let’s get the pronunciation right. It’s pronounced 'kä-likt or 'kä-lekt. Think baby colic but with a “t” at the end. This type of prayer “collects” the prayers of the people together and offers them to God. It has a unique format that has been used by the Western church for hundreds of years.

You can break a collect down into five component parts. Sometimes a collect may be missing one or two of the parts. I call these parts the five A’s of a collect: Address, Acknowledge, Ask, Application, Amen.

Address - Who are we praying to? Like sending an email, our prayer needs an address. If you send it to the wrong address, don't expect the right answer.

Acknowledge - What is true about God? Prayer is an act of worship and God is exalted when we declare what is true about him. God's character is the whole reason we are praying to him in the first place.

Ask - What do we want? You are praying, right? Prayer is verbal faith because prayer puts words to what we trust God to provide for us. As long as you have breath you need air. And as long as you have needs, you have reasons to pray.

Application - What are we going to do with what God gives us? This part traditionally begins with the words "in order that." God gives to us and that gift changes us, causing us to act differently. We are blessed to be a blessing. What are we going to do with God's answer to this prayer?

Amen - Why should God listen? It is only through the work of Jesus on the cross that we can come before God with such boldness. That's why collects traditionally end with "through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen" Amen comes from Latin, which got it from Greek, which got it from Aramaic, which got it from Hebrew. It means "so be it" or "this is true."

Here’s the collect we prayed at Pentecost, with each part labeled:

(1) Almighty God, (2) on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: (3) Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, (4) that it may reach to the ends of the earth; (5) through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I have taken to writing down some of my deepest and most frequent prayers in the format of a collect. I would suggest you give it a try. Start with your prayer need and work backward. What about God is true that makes you want to ask him for this need? What are you going to do when God answers this prayer? I think you will find that writing down your prayer will bring a clarity and beauty to your prayer life that you may not have experienced before. 

Peace,

Father Kurt Hein

What's So Economic About the Trinity?

Have you heard of the Economic Trinity? What is the Economic Trinity? No, it’s not some version of the Trinity that’s half-priced. “Economic Trinity” is theological speak for describing how the three persons of the Trinity work together in the world. When we attempt to describe who God is, we are talking about what’s called the “Ontological Trinity.” When we talk about how God works in the world, we are discussing the Economic Trinity.

We all struggle to understand the Trinity. In fact, the more we talk about the Trinity the more likely we will say something heretical! However, as hard as the Trinity is to understand as a concept, it is incredibly easy to understand as the daily living reality of the Christian. Every Christian can understand the Economic Trinity.

Perhaps we can find an analogy in the nature of light. Physicists have been perplexed ever since they observed that light exists as both a wave and a particle. This depends on how you observe light. If you look at it one way, it’s a particle. If you look at it another, it’s a wave. These two seemingly contradictory things are both true. As difficult and counterintuitive as this is to understand intellectually, the simple observation of how light works in the world is not difficult. Light is both a particle and a wave. We find ourselves in a similar situation with the Trinity. God is three in the sense we call “person” and one in another sense called “being”. This is difficult to understand intellectually but easy to understand through experience.

Like light, the Christian experiences the Holy Trinity everyday. When you hear, read, or remember God’s Word and it convicts you of your sin, that’s God the Holy Spirit. When you turn to Christ to receive forgiveness and strength to live differently, that’s also God the Holy Spirit. When we look at Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we see the perfect manifestation of God’s presence and character. That is God the Son. And trusting Christ, he brings us into a living relationship with God, such that we have the right to call him Father. That is God the Father.

That’s how the Trinity works in our lives. This is how C.S. Lewis describes it in Mere Christianity:
 
You may ask, "If we cannot imagine a three-personal Being, what is the good of talking about Him?" Well, there isn't any good talking about Him. The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time —tonight, if you like. What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God—that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kind of life...he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.

As God's family, let us increasingly grow in the awareness of how the Trinity is working in our lives. Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Peace,

Father Kurt Hein

 

Where is the Invisible Gardener?

Have you ever heard the parable of the Invisible Gardener? 

As two friends walk through the woods, they come upon a clearing free of weeds and containing several unusually healthy tulips. The one friend comments, “There must be a gardener that comes and tends to these beautiful tulips.” The other more skeptical friend disagrees. They argue but finally decide to camp next to the clearing and wait. They wait in silence but no gardener is seen. The friend theorizes that the gardener must be invisible. So they set bloodhounds around the clearing. Still no gardener is detected. So, according to the one friend, the gardener must also be scentless. They put up a giant fence around the clearing, but still no gardener. Perhaps the gardener can walk through walls? The skeptical friend disagrees, “This invisible, scentless, intangible gardener is really no gardener at all!”

This idea of God is often called the “god of the gaps.” The criticism levied against our faith is that we simply believe in God as a way to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. The need for God as an explanation continues to dwindle as the gaps are being increasingly filled by modern scientific discoveries. The argument goes that God is just an excuse for mental laziness or a superstitious alternative to saying “I don’t know.”

While this might be the conception of many Christians, the Scriptures represent a much different picture of God. He is no “invisible gardener.” For example, in the Gospel lesson on Sunday Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9b).” Throughout the Bible God constantly reveals himself to humankind. Furthermore Jesus makes the positive claim that he is the most perfect revelation of God himself.

It’s more than a bit ironic that in the context of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the Bible refers to Jesus as a gardener (John 20:15). Jesus came to repair and redeem the world wrecked by the disobedience of the first gardener, Adam. God the Son, the not-so-invisible gardener, entered physical history and proved through his words and works that God is real and that God is love.

We don’t worship an Invisible Gardener. As Christians we worship a God who has revealed himself to us in space and time. Our claim is a positive claim. We believe that in history, in Jesus of Nazareth, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, and next to a cave owned by Joseph of Arimathea, the Gardener has shown up in the flesh to work in his garden. He has shown up to clear our hearts of the weeds of sin and tend to his people, making them beautiful again.

So when someone asks you to show them the invisible God, point them to Jesus.

Peace,

Father Kurt 

The Vision Vacuum

How does a straw work? The mouth creates a vacuum on one end which pulls liquid out of the cup into and up the straw. Without the vacuum there is no movement.

All living things move: if your body stops moving completely you're probably dead. Many churches have already died and are in the long slow process of decay because they have ceased to move. They have ceased to flow and have become stagnant, being centered on themselves without any outward movement.

I believe life has left them because they are no longer driven by God's vision. God's vision is to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them... and teaching them to obey (Matt 28:19)." It is this vision that, like in the straw analogy, creates a vacuum, drawing God's people into further spiritual maturity and energizing them to bring new people into God's family. When we embrace God's vision for his people we flow and truly live.

Our congregation, Light of Christ Church, has embraced God's vision in slightly different wording. Our vision is, "Central Texas the world filled with the family of Christ." This vision can remain simply words or it can truly become our vision... But, if it does become our vision, it will cause us to sacrifice. 

Stop. Close your eyes and envision this for a moment. Imagine Central Texas filled with the family of Christ. Imagine Light of Christ growing in number and health in Georgetown, people coming to faith and the faithful growing in maturity. Imagine another part of the family meeting in Round Rock, in San Marcos, in Leander, maybe even further? Imagine us supporting a church starting in another country in another part of the world!

This won't happen without financial sacrifice. This won't happen without us also being willing to give up some of our best and brightest leaders to step out in faith to start churches. Won't this hurt us? Won't this set us back? Initially yes. But this sacrifice will create a vacuum and that vacuum will cause movement. Believers will grow in maturity filling the spaces of the leaders who were sent out. Those new leaders will be used by God to bring new people into God's kingdom. We will be moving. We will be truly alive.

Now all this isn't going to happen tomorrow. We are still a baby church. Just like it's not healthy or advisable for a young teenager to have a child, we are in no place to be birthing another church right now; we have a lot of growing and maturing to do. But we can start the process of learning how to be a mother. We can come along side other mothers, learn how to hold and burp babies, change diapers, and give baths, so that when the time is right, we are prepared.

So even now it is important for us to be involved in the growing of Christ's family throughout the world. It is important for us to embrace God's vision. It is important for us now as a church to learn how to sacrifice, to create vacuum and movement toward God's vision. We can do this by assisting other church plants in the 35for35 network. And we can begin even now to save money for the day when we will be mature enough to plant a church and begin to see Central Texas and the world filled with the family of Christ.

Peace,

Father Kurt Hein

Jesus' Evangelism Program

Winston Churchill’s last words were, “I’m bored with it all.” Immediately before his death, the comedian Bob Hope responded to his wife’s question of where he wanted to be buried with, “Suprise me.”

We recognize that last words have a certain special import not afforded to normal “every day” words. Well, if last words are so important, what about last prayers? In John 17, we get a peek into the last prayers of our Savior Jesus Christ. As Jesus was taking his final steps in his three year journey toward the cross, what was on his mind? What did he value so much that he was driven to plead for it before his heavenly Father?

In our Gospel reading on Sunday, Jesus pleads for his disciples and those that will believe in their message. Jesus prays for us to be unified! This should make us stop and pay attention.

Jesus knew what the future held for his church. His message would propagate throughout the entire world. People of every culture, color, income bracket, employment, political party, and baseball team would be brought into fellowship with one another through his body and blood. But this is a major problem, because we all naturally tend to congregate around those that are most like us. It’s difficult to befriend those that are different and we generally don’t like doing difficult things.

Yet Christ prays for us to be one. He says that it’s important because he and the Father are one. God is one. He says it is important because it is through Christian unity and love that people will know the truth of Jesus’ message, that God is love and Jesus is the only way.

I must confess that this makes me incredibly sad. I look around at Christ’s church and words like “unity”, and “love” are not the first words that come to mind. Tragically, they aren’t even the second, third, or fourth words. In fact, some of the first words I think of are “disunity” and “contention.” We have a problem! Suddenly it becomes clear why an increasing number of Americans are turning their back on Christ. We must remember, as the saying goes, that the finger pointing out at “them” has four fingers pointing backwards at us. 

But in all this darkness we have a solid, immovable hope. Christ didn’t leave the success of his church up to us. Despite us, his promise remains true, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).” If you remember, Peter wasn’t so great at the Christian unity thing either (see Gal 2:11-14). Yet God still built his church. The gates of Hell never had a chance and they still don’t. Jesus built his church through his Holy Spirit bringing repentance, faith, and love to the messed up churches in Galatia, in Corinth, and in Jerusalem. He worked in them, not some faux unity that denies truth, but a unity of love around the Truth himself, Jesus. 

Jesus prayed, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:23). Remember, Jesus perpetually prayed perfect prayers. He always prayed according to God’s will and when one prays according to God’s will, God always hears and acts (1 John 5:14). It is Christ’s work on the cross, his perpetual intercession before God’s throne, and his Holy Spirit in us that will fulfill his desire for our unity. We are no worse or better than the ancient churches with their unity problems. And we worship the same God who has promised to work through us as he did through them. Let each one of us turn from our comfortable, divisive, unforgiving ways and embrace the love and forgiveness of God. Then we through the Holy Spirit can love and forgive our fellow believer in Jesus, no matter how different they are or how difficult it may be.

Then this nation will know that God is love and Jesus is the only way.

Peace,

Father Kurt Hein