Welcome to the Internet Monk Archives

For twenty years, Internet Monk has provided an oasis in the wilderness of American Evangelicalism where people can come, read, and talk about the journey of faith in pursuit of a Jesus-shaped spirituality.

Michael Spencer was the founder and main writer of the blog for ten years, until his untimely death in April, 2010. Since then, Chaplain Mike and other friends have tried to carry on his legacy. Over the years, some of the emphases have changed, but Internet Monk remains a place for people to gather in the “Great Hall” of discussion to talk about matters of faith and life.

We decided to discontinue the active blog in 2020, but wanted to make sure Michael’s writings and the contributions of others over the years are not lost but remain available for the encouragement of those who continue the journey.

Comments will not be taken for these posts. However, you are always welcome to write me at chaplainmike333@gmail.com or use the “Contact” button on the menu above.

CM: Lenten Brunch Lite 2: March 7, 2020

Photo from WELSTech Podcast at Flicker. Submitted by Bethany Kempfert (Creative Commons License)

Lenten Brunch Lite 2: March 7, 2020

During the Lenten season, we will offer a “lite” version of our Saturday Brunch. Each week, I will set forth one question (or set of questions) related to keeping Lent and ask us to focus our discussion on it.

Last week we asked about your faith community and its traditions regarding Lent. Today we focus more on the personal side of this season.

Do you take up any particular personal practices in Lent?

Do you do anything special or different with your family or friends during this season?

Is there anything this year that you have felt led to take up (or give up)?

If you have marked Lent for many years, what has been your experience about how your personal experience of the season has changed from year to year and over time?

CM: Lent with Mary Chapin Carpenter (2)

Lent with Mary Chapin Carpenter (2)

Each year, on Ash Wednesday and during Lent, I focus attention on a singer-songwriter or album from the popular culture of my lifetime in which I find echoes of the Lenten journey.

This year, we devote ourselves to listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s superb intensely personal album from 2012, Ashes And Roses, which describes her own journey “from night into day,” as she processed a life-threatening illness, a divorce, and the death of her father.

Today, we hear a song from the record called “Chasing What’s Already Gone.” The title for Ashes and Roses comes from a line in this song.

This perceptive piece describes the all-too-human quality of looking back on our lives in such a way that we find ourselves bound by the past. It urges looking back with wisdom, but not chasing that which we can no longer capture.

Like the line that spells the far horizon
Moving with you as fast as you can run
Half your life you pay it no attention
The rest you can’t stop wondering
What you should have done
Instead of chasing what’s already gone

What allows me to do what I do is when people hear these songs and say, ‘That’s how I feel, too.’ It makes you realize how much we are all alike, how connected we are, and how universal our experiences are. As I’ve gotten more distance from the events of the last few years, I realize that these feelings aren’t anything to be ashamed of. More than anything, that’s what has always allowed me to make music and, certainly, make this record. As terrifying as it is to be so honest about something, at the same time, it’s even more terrifying to imagine keeping it all hidden. It’s a necessary step towards wholeness to see where we have come from.

Mary Chapin Carpenter

CM: Robert Herrick: To Keep a True Lent

Lenten Candles (2020)

To Keep a True Lent

Is this a fast, to keep
The larder lean?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No ;  ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent ;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Robert Herrick 1648

CM – Sermon for Lent IA: Jesus goes to Boot Camp

Follow me, Satan (Temptation of Jesus Christ). Ilya Repin

Sermon for Lent IA: Jesus goes to Boot Camp

The Lord be with you.

I’ll begin with a quote: “You don’t want the first time that they have to dig deep [to be] when they have to face one of our enemies.” Those are the words of Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, the commander of the army base at Fort Jackson, SC. He is talking about Boot Camp — Basic Training — specifically, a new program of instruction the Center for Initial Military Training unveiled in 2018 to give soldiers a more “mission-oriented” experience that will make them ready to fight the kinds of wars they anticipate we may face in the years to come.

Major Johnson is emphasizing the fundamental purpose of Basic Training, which is realistic preparation for the challenges soldiers will face. The philosophy is that everything a soldier learns in training, they will have to perform under pressure and be graded on to graduate. To use Major Johnson’s words, they challenge people to “dig deep” now so that they can “dig deep” in the moment of crisis.

Today’s Gospel is the story of when Jesus went to Boot Camp. Like a soldier in Basic Training, Jesus was led by the Spirit, immediately after his baptism, into the wilderness to endure stress testing before he embarked upon his active ministry. Deprived of sustenance, struggling in a hostile environment, his physical, emotional, and spiritual faculties stretched to their limits, he then had to face the enemy and pass the test.

Now, this wasn’t something that Jesus did and then his testing was over. These were the kinds of tests he was going to face throughout the rest of his ministry. Just like Boot Camp. It was preparation for all the tests to come. These forty days in the wilderness equipped him for the ongoing battle ahead, which culminated on the Cross.

The devil first tempted Jesus to trust his own strength and provide for himself rather than trust in God’s care. He had just been baptized, where God had affirmed Jesus as his own beloved Son. But like the Israelites who passed through the waters of the Red Sea, he soon found himself in a barren place, without resources to sustain him. The Hebrew people failed the test. They complained, grumbled, and rebelled against God and Moses. They ended up wandering the wilderness, not for forty days, but for forty years, losing an entire generation in the process. In his test Jesus, however, quoting a scripture reflecting upon that experience, answered the devil by putting his trust in God and his word of promise.

The devil then tempted Jesus to put God to the test by demanding a sign. Once again, we see the Hebrew people and the tests they faced as the newly formed family of God. Having been rescued from Egypt by incredible signs and wonders, when they got into the wilderness they continually pestered Moses for additional signs to prove that God was with them and that God would take care of them. And when Moses went up the mountain and they thought he abandoned them, they fashioned a god for themselves like the gods of Egypt, hoping their new deity would come through for them.

Jesus had seen great signs from God too. God had parted the heavens and sent the Spirit down upon him at his baptism. God spoke to him. Now the devil was challenging him: did God really do those things for you? Where is God now, out here in the wilderness? Come on, demand a sign, make God prove he’s there for you. Jesus once again rejected the temptation and put his trust in the God who is there even when we cannot see him.

There was one more test. The devil offered Jesus the easy way to the top — abandon the mission, give allegiance to me, and I’ll give you the throne. Once again we see echoes of the First Testament story. The Israelites were called to stay separate from the nations, and for this reason — they were called to be God’s priests to all of them, to bring God’s light to them, to show them that the way to life was through trusting and worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Nevertheless, the Israelites kept seeking their own security and position by making alliances with stronger nations. They forsook their trust in God and abandoned their vocation to be a light to the nations in order to achieve power, wealth, and success in connection with the powerful and elite of the world.

Jesus refused this Faustian bargain. His vocation was to be the light of the world by being the servant of all, not by lording it over those he came to save. Even in his physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, he stayed the course.

And so the devil left him. For a time. Luke’s Gospel says that the devil departed until another opportune time. This wasn’t the end of Jesus’ testing. Jesus would face these pressures over and over and over again in his life and ministry. Even as he hung on the Cross, he heard the mocking words: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’”

Jesus passed Basic Training. When he faced those initial tests in the wilderness, he dug deep so that he would be equipped to face them in the days and years to come. This is how Jesus became our Savior. Facing and passing the same tests Israel failed, Jesus was confirmed as the True Israel who would become the True Light of the World.

Let me end with a word of application for us from Bible scholar Tom Wright:

The temptations we all face, day by day, and at critical moments of decision and vocation in our lives, may be very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point. They are not simply trying to entice us into committing this or that sin. They are trying to distract us, to turn us aside, from the path of servanthood to which our baptism has commissioned us. God has a costly but wonderfully glorious vocation for each one of us. The enemy will do everything possible to distract us and thwart God’s purpose.

But…keep your eyes on God, and trust him for everything. Remember your calling, to bring God’s light into the world. And say a firm “no” to the voices that lure you back into the darkness.

Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, p. 26f

May the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.

CM – Lenten Brunch Lite 1: February 29, 2020

Photo by Alan Creech

Lenten Brunch Lite 1: February 29, 2020

During the Lenten season, we will offer a “lite” version of our Saturday Brunch. Each week, I will set forth one question (or set of questions) related to keeping Lent and ask us to focus our discussion on it.

Today’s set of questions is simple:

How does your tradition/denomination/church mark Lent?

What do you appreciate about these practices?

How do they help you in your spiritual formation?

Do you question any of them or any of the emphases set forth?

If you are part of a group that does not mark Lent, do you know why they don’t?

CM – Another Look: Lent and the Gospel Story

Stations of the Cross Path, Gethsemani Abbey (2011)

We have begun our journey into the Lenten season. It may be a good time for a refresher on the relationship of this season to the Gospel story.

In a January 7, 2011 post, “Epiphany and the Days to Come,” I pointed out that the Epiphany season is representative of the first half of the story we read in the Synoptic Gospels. These are the days when Jesus reveals God’s glory. The Light of the world has dawned in our darkness.

  • The Child is recognized as the King whose star lit up the heavens.
  • The divine voice affirms his identity as he rises from the waters of baptism.
  • Jesus travels throughout the land and the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the dead are raised, multitudes hear the Good News, disciples are called, trained, and sent forth, and Satan falls from heaven like lightning.
  • At the climax of this revelation, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ.
  • Then Jesus takes three disciples to the mountaintop and is transfigured before them in divine glory.

From that point on, Jesus’ teaching was dominated by predictions of his impending death and the disciples proved how “slow of heart” they were time and time again as their Master pulled back from the crowds and focused more specifically on the Twelve and the dynamics of discipleship.

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.

• Matthew 16:21

“From that time…” This is the journey we travel in Lent, a journey to Jesus’ cross, and a journey of learning what it means to take up our cross and follow him.

Let’s briefly survey part two of the Gospel of Mark to see this emphasis on the struggles of the disciples as they make this journey with Jesus.

  • After Peter confesses Christ and Jesus begins to teach about the cross, the Lord must rebuke Peter for his rejection of the message. Then Jesus teaches them about taking up the cross and following. (8:31-38)
  • After the Transfiguration, they descend the mountain, and the disciples are incapable of casting out an unclean spirit from an afflicted boy. (9:14-29)
  • Jesus again foretells his death, but the disciples fail to understand. (9:30-32)
  • Along the road, they argue with one another about who is the greatest. (9:33-37)
  • They try to stop another exorcist, casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but Jesus forbids them, and then teaches them about causing others to stumble and being at peace with one another. (9:38-49)
  • The disciples struggle to understand Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce. (10:1-12)
  • The disciples rebuke children when they try to come to Jesus. (10:13-16)
  • They find it hard to understand Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. (10:17-31)
  • After a third Passion prediction, James and John ask for seats next to Jesus’ throne in glory. (10:35-43)
  • The disciples join the crowd in rebuking blind Bartimaeus for crying out to Jesus for mercy. (10:46-52)

That is the journey from Peter’s confession to the entrance to Jerusalem. The next story is that of the Triumphal Entry — Holy Week arrives. But the road that gets us there is marked by failure, misunderstanding, missing the point repeatedly, conflict and arguing — a general inability to grasp what Jesus is saying and doing. Every story emphasizes how the disciples fell short.

I call this “Jesus’ Discipleship Training Program.” It consists of two parts:

  • Teaching his followers things they do not understand.
  • Putting them in situations where they fail time and time again.

This is how Jesus turns us into disciples!

Remember, this is a journey to the cross. On our way we need to learn why we must go there. It is not because of our great wisdom and ability to be good disciples. It’s because of our weakness and sinfulness, our lack of faith and spiritual insight, our failure to love and be generous toward others, our discomfort with God and his ways. It is because we need forgiveness, cleansing, and renewal.

Lent is not so much about giving up something as a spiritual discipline, though there is a place for that. It’s more about giving up. It’s about learning to die. Daily.

The second part of the Gospel story is not pretty. Or easy. You can’t program discipleship like this and put it between the covers of a three-ring binder. It’s about stumbling and falling, ripping holes in the knees of my jeans and getting covered with mud. It’s a demanding hike along a difficult path.

To a cross.

CM: Ash Wednesday with Mary Chapin Carpenter

Ash Wednesday with Mary Chapin Carpenter

Each year, on Ash Wednesday and during Lent, I focus attention on a singer-songwriter or album from the popular culture of my lifetime in which I find echoes of the Lenten journey.

In past years we’ve considered the music of Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and singer-songwriters Neil Young, Nick Drake, and John Prine.

This year I’d like to consider one of my most beloved albums from the 2000’s, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Ashes And Roses. The background to this remarkable song set was described in a 2012 NPR piece:

Over the last few years, singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter’s life has been drastically transformed. In 2007, she suffered a life-threatening pulmonary embolism, her marriage ended soon after and, in the fall of 2011, her father died.

After those experiences, she tells NPR’s Neal Conan, grief became a companion — but also a guide, a presence that dictated her outlook on life. The Grammy-winning artist channeled those emotions into her latest album, Ashes and Roses.

Back then, as MCC herself talked about her life experience and how it shaped this record, she talked about the value of “hard-won wisdom.”

What would we be if we didn’t learn from where we’ve been? And I think the more effort you spend pushing things away so that you don’t have to feel them, see them, experience them, the more exhausted you become. And it’s just inevitable that your arms go down and you have to go through them. And so that’s what I think of as what’s happened here with this record.

And this is what Lent is about — facing and going through life’s realities rather than avoiding them.

She also described the fact that the album has a “narrative arc,” moving from profound grief through all the things we do to process and deal with it, moving into new territories and relationships that reveal breaks in the relentless clouds and hopelessness. Like spring itself in the northern hemisphere, there is movement from cold and chaos, from gray, frozen, and fallow to burgeoning warmth, color, fertility, life.

But today is Ash Wednesday — earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. So the song from Ashes and Roses we share on this day is from early on the album. After the opening piece, Transcendental Reunion, which emphasizes our common humanity journeying together through life’s uncertainties, Mary Chapin Carpenter exquisitely describes the experience of early grief: facing the tasks of releasing the past before we can move forward again. This is the song, “What to Keep and What to Throw Away.”

These are your instructions
When you become reclusive
When old friends say they miss you
When sleep becomes elusive
Fill up every journal
Empty every shoebox
Burn the lists and letters
Sweep out all the old thoughts
Shake off all the covers
Throw every window open
Stand here in your bare feet
Welcome in the morning
These are your instructions
When grace has left you stranded
When you are lost and wounded
Bleeding and abandoned

CM – Mardi Gras: One way we learn to reverence God

Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together. As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.

• Deuteronomy 14:22-27

In all my years in the church, I don’t think I’ve ever heard heard a pastor or teacher talk about one of the purposes the Law gives for people bringing tithes to the Lord and the sanctuary. Supporting the sanctuary and the Levites, who had no other means of earning a living, is a primary reason given for tithes in Leviticus and Numbers. But Deuteronomy 14 sets forth a different purpose.

According to this text, the Hebrew people were to tithe from their harvests annually, take the animals and crops (or the money they exchanged it for if they lived at a far distance), and there prepare a great feast that they themselves would enjoy. They were to share it with those who had no harvest stuffs to tithe.

The purpose was pure enjoyment. There were no bounds prescribed — “…spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire.” This was to be a religious feast, enjoyed in the Lord’s presence, with one’s family and community. But no concerns are expressed about the possibility of over-indulgence. Indeed, it is encouraged: “Whatever you desire.”

I find it interesting that the ultimate reason for this tithing and feasting is “so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always” (v.23). Learning to let go and enjoy unbounded partying before the Lord is one way we learn to reverence God!

And so we’ve come to Mardi Gras 2020.

Have a blast.