Thursday, November 30, 2006

our fears

We had a good and helpful "chapel" today, good for Christian formation, I thought. Evan Morgan, who lives in Colorado, and is here in Grand Rapids, Michigan quite often, working with us- spoke from his journal. His cute (we saw his picture), young grandson's words prompted him to the subject he shared with us. He was about to fly here, and was telling his grandson that. His grandson thoughtfully -with long thought- replied. He asked Evan, with uncertainty in his face, whether Grandpa (he has his own special name for Grandpa) when he comes back, will come and find him. Evan made it clear to him that he always would do that. Then his grandson's (I can't remember his name) face changed, and he said, "Then, let's play."

Evan said that he is not a person who is known to be fearful. That fear, or being afraid, is not words that are in his mind. But looking at his life, and himself, he realized that throughout his life, he has had fears that he has had to negotiate. For example, as a young man, he had cancer. He had to battle all the fears that accompany that. And now, in his life, he could see he had fears of certain possible losses.

Evan said that he knows God's promises, that he will never leave nor forsake his children. Yet this just didn't move from his head to his heart.

One night, Evan, saying he was in a more or less grumpy mood, was looking out into the Colorado night sky. He seemed to have a sense that he should keep looking. He came upon Orion's belt. Three stars, perfectly lined up together. He thought, these could be millions of light years apart. This was remarkable in itself.

Later, he happened upon a photo from high powered telescopes of the middle star. It is actually a nebula, and is a world of stars and planets, and even universes, in itself. As you see from the picture, it looks like a mess. (Actually, I'm missing the dots and connections, as I can't verify what Evan said. Either I can't find the information Evan has, I misunderstood him, or he is mistaken, and the mess is actually just below Orion's belt. Can anyone help me here?)

Then God seemed to speak to Evan. Something like: That looks like a mess, and it is, but it all lines up to me. Evan was putting it together. God would always find him, in the midst of life, with all its uncertainty and messes, when all seems out of control. (Evan had mentioned that he is good at fixing problems. But when something is not manageable, that's where faith comes in. And Evan, uncomfortably for himself, no longer can fix it.) God's heart and hand is in everthing.

Evan said that we have God's presence and promises, and that is enough. So we can play, in doing the thing together- and with God, we were made to do.

What do you see in your life as out of control? What fears do we often carry with us throughout the day? Or that are ongoing? How can God help us, when the storms of life hit us? How can we be better open to that help, and live in anticipation of it?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

a new kind of Christian

Yesterday we had another good time of "devotions". We're in Genesis, and just completed the first 11 chapters in our little study and discussion.

As usual, I brought up things that did not always resonate with everyone else, I believe. Not because I want to be controversial, I hope. In some circles I might be labeled a conservative and even a "fundamentalist". Though in other circles I've already been labeled a liberal, at least in some views.

Leaving that half hour of "devotions" yesterday, I was scratching my head, so to speak, trying to figure out that all too familiar phenomena we and I experience in that time together. I told a good friend, who is part of that group and probably more where I'm at, that there are three words, that in many discussions are three of my favorite: "I don't know."

There are many things that by faith we know, that by faith we accept as true, even though we likely do not understand it all that well. For me the story found in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation is true. But I simply do not see that story in the same way as I used to. Years ago it had to do with propositions and truth from those propositions, more than anything else. Not that all those propositions were bad or untrue, but we didn't see, adequately, the story, and the flow of that story, nor the place of the story, within all of Scripture.

Within that story, I find some theological paradigms people hold break down. And so do many of our explanations. And things that we think we know. These especially break down when Jesus comes.

In Scot McKnight's new book- I think it will become a classic- The Real Mary, we find that Mary knew Scripture, and her faith was strong, as she responded in faith to the Lord's word to her, through the angel Gabriel. But we see along the way, that she really did not understand the meaning of all that she knew. Her journey of faith meant arriving to new understandings of what her son's fulfillment of being the son of David who would rule over all, in God's kingdom- would mean, especially for her day (and today).

A fundamental disposition we need when coming to Scripture is the attitude expressed in the words: "I don't know." This can help us be more teachable. To ponder things more in our hearts. And learn so much more. And so avoid any cut and dried Christianity, that has all the answers.

So I expressed to my friend yesterday, that I think, in the words of Brian McLaren, I have become "a new kind of Christian". One that doesn't want to leave our Christian heritage behind, expressed through the centuries by people, very diverse in their interpretations of Scripture. Yet united in their orthodoxy as part of the Church. Standing united with it, even in the midst of disagreement.

Being a new kind of Christian, means I am agnostic about a good number of things. Do I believe the Bible is true? Yes. Absolutely. But what does that always mean? In Genesis 1-3 this can be particularly difficult. But I don't care if that's mythic in recounting the history of humanity. For me, whatever the genre is, being used there, and however that was understood, even by the first recipients of it (including Moses), I believe it is true, and is from God. And is for our good. To lead us to Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God, come, in him.

Do you struggle with any of this yourself? And how does it play out in your life and thought?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

embracing grace 11: diminished by exclusion

Books could be written from each chapter of Scot McKnight's Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us. (I would strongly recommend purchasing A Companion Guide to Embracing Grace.) I was struck by the newness of my reading of this chapter yesterday. Unfortunately I was not able to type down thoughts at the time. I will give reflections I have from, again (again) reading this chapter.

We as humans are created as Eikons. To see a human is to see, in our case as fallen humans, a cracked picture or representation or view of God himself. In Jesus Christ one finds the perfect Eikon, in whom all other human beings can be restored into the fullness of their status and reality as Eikons. Of course this restoration, while real is also gradual. We are heading toward that goal, together in Jesus, as we each live out this life in him.

This chapter helps us see that humans abandon their Eikonicness, when they live lives of exclusion. This often comes from hurt in wounding from relationships. It's also one "natural" (really unnatural when viewed from creation) result of the human fall. When humans sinned (and sin) we now instinctively want to hide from God. This can manifest itself in denying God in one way or another. Maybe as "an atheist". Or into partying, etc.

We turn inwardly, embracing ourselves. But in this embrace, losing our very selves, our souls. Because we wither and die, being made for relationship with God and with other humans.

Only in Christ can this embrace be fully turned out toward God and toward others. Because of his work for us in the Cross, the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit- we can begin to truly embrace God and others. This does not usually, or most of the time, for most of us, come easy. It is a process of unlearning what we had found to be "safe" and "nourishing" in days past. I know this use to be true in my own life. Instead of wanting to be a part of "the Jesus community" even as a Christian, though I loved other Christians- of course, my ideal of the "spiritual life" was to be off somewhere alone, in the woods, reading, seeking to draw near to God. Good in its place. But not good if it really is a turning inward on one's self, away from others, and too often distanced from God, as well.

God made us for himself and for each other. We begin to experience the fullness of life in God only as we begin to embrace God and others. This means a turning away from exclusion and towards inclusion. For me it has meant a new and normally ongoing sense of nearness to God and to others. Though certainly growing in that, and at time finding myself wanting to withdraw into my old way of inclusion. But those can be good times of soul searching before God. And of finding sources of pain to bring before God for his forgiveness and healing.

Scot shares the examples of some people who have been diminished by this exclusion. What about you and I? Do we find it easy to turn inwardly? Is there legitimate times for being alone before God? And are there times when people need space for healing, during which they are not necessarily turned in on themselves? (As Scot points out from Ecclesiastes: "There is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.") But what can we do to break this exclusion that diminishes who we really are?

I was amazed yesterday morning. When reading this chapter, it was like reading it for the first time, striking me in its newness and truth. Yet as I begun my day, I found myself wanting to withdraw from most everyone in general (seems not normal for me, anymore) and one person in particular. I broke that, in the course of the day. But it shows how this embracing is not easy, but possible only in Christ, and by grace.

Monday, November 27, 2006

i can't believe i did dat!

i just erased all the links. i'll get to them as i can. wow.

continuity and discontinuity

As we begin a new week, we see a new day. Therefore discontinuity, since there can be new possibilities. God is at work in our lives, individually and then together (or vice-versa) to continue to make all things new. If at certain points in my life, people would've told me, such and such will be the case in your life and experience in the future, I would have hardly believed them. Though knowing in my mind, that in theory, with God all things are possible. I have seen this newness in my own life.

There is also continuity. Yes, this is a new week, and another new day that the Lord has made. But in that, God is at work to complete the good work he has begun in us. Therefore the continuity. God continues with us. With us in our problems, hangups and vices. God restores us, in his grace, again and again. But he is at work to change us. That is a work in which growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, plays a big part.

God is good. Therefore each day has new and exciting possibilities. God is good, so even through the sameness and humdrum of life, we can look for God's hand (and face) in helping us to live up, by and in his grace, to the level of life we've already attained in our Lord. And to see, over time, and over the same situations, growth and change in our lives. As well as his continued faithfulness when all seems lost.

What do you look forward to, in seeing a new day, and a new week? Where is your expectation from? Do you see God's goodness at work in your life? Do you believe God is for you? He is for us all, and has shown that, and provided for that in the Person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. And by the Spirit of God, brooding and moving over us.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

impact from us

The Jesus community is the Body of Christ in the world. This Body is certainly not just here for itself. It's on mission. I remember years back, a strong Christian voicing his opinion that church should be only about edification of each other. Then during the week, separate members of it evangelize. This was from, in my view, a stunted reading of Paul's letters.

It is certainly true that we need to take care of each other in the Jesus community. We see this done in the early church in Acts. And this care is taught throughout the letters of the New Testament. There will be much opportunity for good ministry here. It's a mistake to discount this.

Of course we must not stop there. But the point is our impact into the world begins with our impact to each other. And part of that impact to each other is to help us together be Christ's Body in the world.

How did Jesus minister to people? Sometimes in multitudes, to be sure. But more often, just one person at a time. In doing this, Jesus was simply responding to opportunities with people, who came his way. As a community of Jesus, we need to point out to each other, needs of people that we're aware of. Impact from us in Jesus to the world must begin with us blessing each other. And from there it is really to be done as a team. We care about each other, and we care about the contacts each other has.

How can this be done? Some call for house churches to do it. That can work well, of course. From more traditional settings we need to break into smaller groups. Called by various names, such as "homegroups" by our church, these can help us begin to really practice this care for each other, and for those we come into contact with, as well as those in need in our community. We need to be open to fresh ideas in this. From emergent, or missional groups and others. But this is something that should be ongoing, at the heart of what our life as church is about, year round.

These words are descriptive of what we've been experiencing in our homegroup. A great opportunity to grow together. As we sing, think from Scripture, pray and serve each other and those around us in the world. So that more and more, when we think of ourselves we think as community. That our identity is wrapped up in who we are together as a Jesus community. That would impact others for their blessing and good.

What kind of experience have others of you had in smaller groups? Did such activity spur you to love and good deeds for each other- and for others in need?

Friday, November 24, 2006

focused on living out what lasts

As I think about this day in our country, perhaps the biggest day of shopping of the year, I thought of my time at Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. I was blessed in every way possible, above all in finding my life partner there, Deb. And also in the many people I met.

Dr. Ted Rendall was second to none in his intellect and constant reading (his personal library was massive). And he also lived out his faith. His actions and life spoke as powerfully to us, as the great teaching we received from him. There were many others too. Everyone of the professors there I feel blessed to have gotten to know.

This was largely a self-sustaining community when I was there (1980-83). Therefore it was made up of people of all kinds of trades. And believe me, these people lived simple lifestyles. In those days, no television was on campus. Prairie was in the midst of change then (for the better, I think), though we didn't see the end result ourselves. But the point I'm making is that these people lived sacrificially. They were committed to the mission of training Christian leaders and workers, many of whom would serve all over the world.

I'm thinking of this little haven, nestled in a small town, far flung from anything but beautiful rolling prairie land. It was idyllic in helping students focus on what they were there for. (And we'd go to Calgary or other places, getting to share in serving others through preaching, teaching, witnessing, loving.) Perhaps this is a major part of the point. It's okay to go shopping, of course. But where is our focus? Where is our treasure? On things of this earth? Or the things of heaven?

And how can we best express that focus this holiday season? Good question for us to ask and pray about. Let's get caught up in what will last forever- in Jesus and as his community and mission partners in the world.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

being thankful

It's good to give thanks to the Lord, as we read in the Psalms. In light of his goodness to us expressed in his acts of love and salvation. We're told as those in Jesus, that God's will for us includes, in everything giving thanks. So it's to be a habit in our lives. And we're told to give thanks to God the Father always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing, I take it, that God is at work in everything, even the worst of things, and we need to trust him to bring good out of it all.

Thankfulness needs to begin in the heart, though, of course it begins with the Giver and gifts given to us humans. We ought to reflect on them. And I think it's good for us to have one special holiday, marked out for this very reason. This is tradition, and tradition can be good. What will we do today, to express our gratitude to God?

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Love takes into account, always, the truly best interest of the one loved. This is clear in 1 Corinthians 13:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love begins in the heart. But before that, it really begins with God. "We love, because he first loved us." (1 John 3) Love has much to do with grace. If we understand how much we have been forgiven of, then we'll love much, as Jesus said of the sinful woman who anointed his feet with her tears and expensive perfume.

Love means we put up with everything. Putting up here means, really loving those we may not like for certain reasons. And better than that, learning to like them. Or seeking to get to know such a person, so we can find common ground and fellowship together.

Love is inclusive. God's love embraces the entire world. If we have that love of God, our love should do the same. To everyone, period. No exceptions. Oh, by the way, in case we forget, that does include enemies, as Jesus plainly teaches us. We need to live that out among any who intensely dislike, or hate us. Hard, but this is the love God calls us to, in Christ Jesus.

I remember another Christian. He intensely disliked me. And he told others, when he left for another job, that I'm the only one he wouldn't miss. I'm sure he saw me as very disingenuous when I extended my hand to him, his last day, and told him that I'd miss him. I certainly wouldn't miss him continually interrupting me. And his obvious looking down on me. (This was for political reasons, and in this case is more complex. And to keep it anonymous, I won't go into details. But I did make one unfortunate statement early on, that I took back. But I guess the whole package of me was just unacceptable.) But I had reasons I would miss him. A good worker. And most importantly, I saw the grace of God at work in his life. He is a brother, and therefore my brother in Christ. Or even if someone is not, they are my sibling in the human race.

Love. Not easy. Not mere sentiment. Right where we live. With the goal to become friends. True friends together with our Lord Jesus Christ. And in the friendship of God. The goal. But let's start with those, anyone, whom the Lord would bring to his table- which I believe includes, potentially, everyone. To make known to them this special love. That they too may take part in it.

When is it difficult for you to love someone? What can you learn about this special love in the midst of the process to learn to love such a person? How is our faith fundamentally important to understanding this love?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I work with a friend who though a strong believer in Christ, has suffered clinical depression. He has been incapacitated by it at times, for months at a time. I myself once suffered from mild forms of it, though I was never diagnosed as depressed. I took meds, but found the after-effects not worth the affect those meds had. My friend struggles with meds, because the balance in his system is disrupted, and at times (like myself), the good effect of a med wears off.

Depression is often misunderstood. It does not occur necessarily, through lack of faith. Our Lord in the shadow of his coming crucifixion, and in the garden of Gethsemane, seems to have suffered acute depression. Other notable Bible characters seemed to have been afflicted with it- Paul, to some extent at times, and Jeremiah to a large extent most of the time.

To understand depression requires us to read about it, and listen to those who have suffered it. We need to pray for them and be friends who are present for them. And we must be careful not to judge them. Depression must be viewed as something someone is carrying, that is a part of who they are. It involves brain activity. And it's something people have to learn to live with. There is recovery, though supposedly each severe bout with depression, according to medical authorities, takes something away from the person that they'll never recover.

As for me, I've come a long way in terms of avoiding depression. In my case it has come in my mental and emotional anguish over what I was suffering in the troubles of life. The emotional quotient (EQ) has been labeled and called more important to a person's success in the world, than their intelligence quotient (IQ). I remember some older brother in Christ, who counseled me in my mid to later 20's, who called me an "emotional cripple". And I think I was. But God has helped me, over the years, to come a long way. And my experience helps me identify with, and empathize over those who do suffer depression.

Of course most all humans suffer depression in at least mild forms at times. This is where, again, Scripture is so helpful. For in it, we can find real people, who, though they came near to God, and received his help, lived in the same kind of experience that you and I live. It is important for us to stay in Scripture, so that we can be encouraged through the telling of the story there, and find hope to help us carry on.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Last evening we heard Gary and Sue Gilmore talk about their work in Chile as a kind of house parents of a girls' home to help them over (for the most part) abuse. They had found this work after retirement, and use their gifts to share God's love in deed and word to these girls. It is a blessing to hear them.

God is at work in the world. And he uses people in his work. But for us to be used means we must be willing to participate. In the case of the Gilmores, this surely started well before they retired. When we look at the Christians in the early church, reading in Acts, and in the letters, we find a church that was active in participating in God's work in the world.

What does this participation look like? It means, in faith stepping out and offering our contribution, meager as it may seem, to the whole. And it means drawing from and being blessed by the participation of others around us.

Partipation involves vision. Vision from God of his kingdom come in Jesus. And what that kingdom is all about. Then we are about God's work of the kingdom, helping others to enter into it, and seeking to share with all the blessings of the kingdom made available to all through Christ.

One of the biggest hurdles we must get over is the idea that what we have to give in participating is insignificant or inferior. Like the boy who shared his five loaves and two fishes to the Lord, we too need to share what we have and are. Knowing that the Lord can multiply it for a multitude. But our part is to hear and obey, not to be successful or look good in the world's eyes.

Participation. Together. With humility. And gratitude. It's underrated. But that's what the kingdom work of God is all about. Let's be a part of that, today.

What keeps us from participating in God's kingdom work in Jesus? What have you witnessed in your own participation in this work, as well as from the participation of others?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

things that really matter

I'm a normal Buckeye fan, though I hold myself back, most of the time (exception: that brief time once a year), because I know I get sucked up into the swirl of the hype and mania that come with that, too easily. Today is the biggest regular season game between (#2 ranked) Michigan and (#1 ranked) Ohio State in the history of this fabled rivalry.

And, as we all sadly know, Coach Bo Schembechler passed away yesterday. We grieve with others, and lament his loss to the football world. And we stop dead in our tracks, and realize that there is more to life than just this game. But I'm sure Michigan players, today, will want to go all out, all the more to honor Bo with a big victory. And both teams will want to live up to the hype of what this rivalry is all about, and both will, regardless of the outcome.

Things that really matter are right down to earth where we live. They include personal issues we're working on, such as attitudes we know do not measure up to Christ. Starting at home, and working out into all the places and people our lives touch daily.

I have to keep working on this. Seeking to see my struggles or deficiencies as opportunities to grow, in learning to make and keep first things first.

What I find frustrating, is the fact that I still struggle in some areas. Though as I seriously look at them, I can see real growth over the years. But I have to realize that our pressing on towards the goal of the prize of the high calling of God, in Christ Jesus, is ongoing. We're in it together, but each of us must be seriously engaged in it, and help one another to do the same.

Well, good luck to all in the big game, and all the games today. May we be an example, as those in the Jesus community, of what it means, in all things, to keep first things first, and hold on to the things that really matter.

What are your thoughts and/or experience in this, you'd like to share with us?

Friday, November 17, 2006


We're at the end of another week. Hopefully the weekend can be relaxing for us. Some of us will be biting our nails, so to speak over a football game (Go Bucks!). And we have the pressures of weekend tasks.

Relaxing is an art, that I think needs to be done right and well by us, of the Jesus community. We need to relax, not only on weekends, but throughout the week. Yes, working hard. But learning to do so in a relaxed spirit.

Relaxing means letting go, in a certain way. Letting one's hair down, so to speak. Being yourself, and not worrying whether or not, somehow, you're measuring up. For us of the Jesus community, relaxing is an act of faith. Knowing that all depends on God. It's not dependent on me, or us. But on God. Yet in this relaxed state, we know we're each called to play our part. But it is God who makes all things go, and all things good.

When I get uptight, opposite of being relaxed, I believe I'm getting in the way of what God is doing, and wants to accomplish. Instead, I need to step back, and let God be God, and do his work. It's like learning to be swept into another world, another reality at work in the world. And then remaining there. Relaxed in all our thinking and doing.

How do we do this? By faith. Just learn to sit back. Do nothing. In your heart. Having those seasons when we do not wish for anyone to come in. But when they do, to receive them, but only as those who remain relaxed. Relaxed in God.

What thoughts might you have on relaxing? And on relaxing in God?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

why is faith hard?

I was reading this morning the case of the Canaanite woman with the demonized daughter. She comes to Jesus in desperation. Jesus is silent to her plea. And his disciples urge him to send her away. Then she kneels before him, asking for help. This is when Jesus responds in line with what he had told his disciples. The bread is only for the children, really meaning here, I believe, the children of God especially as gathered from Israel, at that time. And not for the dogs. She then responds that even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that fall down. Jesus then commends her for her great faith. And tells her that her request is granted. And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Arguably, you might say that a majority of people never would have come to Jesus in the first place. But against that is the times when people did bring their sick to Jesus. Also desperation can result in a new openness to God in our lives. She comes.

But then she is put off with silence. She could have left, but instead she irritates the disciples by continuing to cry out to them. Then Jesus explains his mission, how it is focused on saving the lost sheep of Israel. Again this could have resulted in her giving up, and thinking that God's blessing and salvation is not for her daughter, or for her. But instead she persists, and we already know the end of the story.

Why is faith so hard? Just late last night and early this morning I was struggling over an issue which really has to do with my faith. I am reminded of passages in which Jesus teaches us that we must have the faith of a child, if we're to enter into the kingdom of God. Or other passages that teach us that it is often the poor who are rich in faith, and the rich who are poor before God.

One could argue theologically that Jesus knew this woman's heart, and knew what she would do. And was helping her through a necessary process of faith. Or that he knew what kind of faith she had, that it was robust, and would be an example to his disciples and to future generations. Or, if Jesus was not given this to know from God, if this was how he was living out his true humanity here, which I believe it was, that Jesus, if the Spirit did not reveal the woman's heart to him, was acting wisely to encourage a genuine faith, but discourage a spurious one. Probably none of all this, but it's okay to wonder.

Back to the question. I think it's because God wants something more out of our faith than to just give us answers to our prayers. He'll begin there. But he would never end there. God wants us. He wants all of us. And this means a faith relationship with him. That comes in line with the Jesus Creed. That doesn't stop at one answer, but is drawn in to the community of God.

I can think of at least another reason- related, and a big subject in itself. But what would you say on this from your experience, study and thinking? Why is faith (at least so often) hard?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

embracing grace 10: a five-foot gospel

In Scot McKnight's book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us, we run into a five-foot gospel by the name of Araminta, who later changed her name to Harriet Tubman. She was what Paul was talking about in the work of Christ breaking down the immoveable, impenetrable walls, put in place by sin. Walls that make it acceptable to downgrade another race to slave status. Walls that not only divide, but enforce and fortify that division.

I found this chapter very inspiring, and very much needed in much of what I see of our evangelical world today. This may seem unfair. But we as a group often seem rather oblivious to the systemic evil all around us and in the world. But this gospel and God's grace in and through it, will not allow us to live there.

What if Harriet Tubman- the "Moses" of "the Underground Railroad had had a gospel like so many of us have? I know this is hard. But I'm making a point. I'm speaking here of an individualistic gospel. That's all about me, my needs. My sin and forgiveness and reconciliation. What if Harriet Tubman believed and knew only that "gospel"?

But the experience of the slaves with Harriet, would not allow them to embrace a gospel that divides people so that some can be beaten and have their children sold as property to others. Harriet learned through her people that such is not the gospel, and she learned to say, "No!", and do something about this systemic evil through her mother's example.

Does our gospel have anything to do with the genocide in Darfur? The grieving Palestinian or Israeli mother? The bereft of Iraq? The poor among us? Or is it just about getting people's "souls" saved? The things in this world mattering not at all!

Well, if the latter is the case, then you don't have the gospel that Jesus brought. The gospel of the Bible. It is a gospel that has good news of a kingdom from God in Jesus, that begins now. And it's a gospel that cannot be silent and inactive when there is systemic evil and injustice in the world and in our neighborhood.

Read Jesus in the gospels. Read Acts and Paul, for example in Colossians. And the entire New Testament. And the rest of the Bible. This gospel is evident, and really "in your face" throughout. And be satisfied with nothing less.

Why is this gospel often missed by us, especially we evangelicals? How does this fit with "the Jesus Creed"?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


We live in life with many expectations. I suppose most of them we take for granted. But when they don't happen, such as our car getting us to work, then we can be quite unhappy. Other expectations are things that we anticipate in life. Such as finding a soul mate and getting married. Or landing the job we've been working towards in our education or training. Or expecting God to do certain things in our lives, based on our theological understanding of his Word, of him and his promises to us.

In Scot McKnight's book, The Real Mary, we find that Mary, as well as many of Jesus' followers during that time, had to work through unrealized expectations. In fact Jesus fulfilling God's promises as given to Mary by the angel Gabriel, as well as from her reading of Scripture as expressed in "the Magnificat", was not at all like Mary had envisioned. She tried to correct her son along the way. But instead had to learn to trust and follow him.

We too, as those in Jesus have "visions" and "dreams" of how things can, should and even will take place, especially when we're younger in our faith. But as we grow older, we begin to see some of these ideals and goals slip away. And what we encounter is not at all like what we had thought God would surely bring to pass.

But if we continue on, steadfast in our faith in God, in spite of, and even because of the unrealizations in life we encounter, we will begin to see God's hand and his grace on us. In ways we would not have predicted before. But we'll find that he and his promises are true. Even though this truth is different than what we had comprehended before, though the words are the same. We then seek and learn to line up our lives according to his working and revelation to us.

Is it good to have strong expectations, especially as one young in the faith (even as Mary did, as expressed in her song)? What is a part of our journey of faith in regard to those expectations? How has that played out in your own life?

Monday, November 13, 2006


12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13 (TNIV)

The mirrors of Paul's time were not the mirrors of today that give us an undistorted image. You caught only a distorted view of the real image, but would have been better off peering in a pond on a placid, sunny day. Paul's point is for us now. We need to learn to accept living with ambiguity.

Somewhere in Scot McKnight's new book, The Real Mary, Scot speaks of the ambiguity Mary had to live with, in her faith. She had received God's words, and accepted them, and taken them to heart. But as the life of her son unfolded, the promises from God were not being fulfilled in the way she supposed they would be. And though she stumbled over what her son was doing, she learned to become a follower of him, as her Lord. In that following, to the very end at the cross, she experienced ambiguity. Yes, she followed on. But, no, she really didn't always understand.

Paul, even post-resurrection and post-Pentecost, says that this side of the kingdom come in Jesus, we too must be willing to live with a true measure of ambiguity. We too must put our faith in God and in his promises. But we too must acknowledge that we really don't "get", oftentimes, what God is doing. We catch only glimpses of it here and there (as Scot points out).

This is surely a part of our walking/living by faith and not by sight. (Paul) This ambiguity helps us to hold on and cling to God as a person. Whom, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit we are getting to know and learning to live in dependence on.

Together we need to accept and own that we don't know it all. That we're always in need of our Lord. And of each other in this life of faith. That we will cling to God and his Word, in faith. And seek understanding from him through the Spirit and as part of our Lord's Bride. We learn, not only from the Lord, but from him through each other. As we remain true to his Word, and seek, in faith, to act on it.

Mary did so. Sometimes mistakenly (as in Mark 3:20-21,31-35). But like her, we need to stake our lives on this faith. Even though we live with uncertainty, not having all the answers about our own lives, much less the bigger picture. But confident that God's will in Jesus will be done in this world. And that we live to be a part of that. In fellowship with our Lord, and with each other.

How do you see ambiguity? How is this a challenge to your faith? In what ways does this experience of ambiguity help us grow in our faith? (a paradoxical question, to be sure)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

prayer for veterans

Let us remember our veterans. And pray for them regularly. As we also pray for peace on earth, good will towards all humankind.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

memories of a pastor

I know of a pastor who was dearly loved by his congregation. He was limited in theological education, and was not a dynamic speaker. He had sensed the call of God to be a pastor into his adult life, and had followed this inward urging and conviction.

He was known for spending his mornings walking through the church cemetary faithfully praying for the church, and I presume each person in it. The people loved him. He humbly served, and the Spirit was evident on this yielded, humble, faithful servant of God.

Later he sensed the call to go as a missionary to Africa. So he and his wife (I'm not sure if any of his children remained at home, yet) went. I heard his story through a dear lady whose faith was a light for me and others. I did have the privilege of hearing and I presume, meeting this pastor. May God raise up many more like him. And may we all so follow our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 10, 2006

love as activity

Love, if it is real, must express itself in action. If I really love God, than I will do something about it. If I love another, somehow I will want to express that love. To say I love someone, yet to not help them in their need, the apostle John tells us, is to neither love them, or the God we profess to love.

In the community of Jesus, love must be expressed in a good number of ways. We are already on our way to conformity to the Lord. But we haven't arrived. There will always be the need to forgive each other. And to reach out, in love, in some kind of imaginative way, at times, to break down walls. And to really be in the same room, so to speak, in spite of our remaining differences.

To express our love for each other may often require remaining silent. "There is a time to be still and a time to be speak" (Ecclesiastes). When we do speak, we'll do so in love. Seeking truth. But in a posture of wanting to do so together.

This subject is keen on my mind, because I work at a Christian ministry and on a team in factory work there, among some who have a very strong political opinion that I do not share. We all want God's righteousness to prevail. But our theologies and understanding of Scripture differ. What to do?

Reach out in love. Seek to grow together. Learn to be able to discuss differences. And in doing so, really hear the other person out. Be open to change. In these kind of discussions there should be growth on both sides. Both intellectually, and in regard to wisdom. And especially in the dynamic of our life together in Christ. That we are being lifted up by grace into conformity to him, and in this same process, being brought to increasing fellowship with each other.

One other thing I must add. Love will forgive. Whatever grievances one has towards another in the community of Jesus. We're to forgive, just as God in Christ forgave us. And to put over that, and everything else, this love, we're talking about here. (Paul) This is so necessary. I've found that no matter what I do, there may be that certain someone who doesn't like you, and is more than willing to express that. We have to consider where they're coming from, what they believe, and where they're going. When we see the grace of God in their lives, we know it's just a matter of time before there will be complete reconciliation between us. In the love of God.

What activities do we do at home, at work, as church, in our neighborhoods, and in other places- as acts of love? When we might confront someone, do we do it gently, and out of this love? And are we open to being corrected?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

individual versus corporate spirituality

When in seminary, I recall a professor who made the statement that all spirituality in the Bible is corporate in nature, and never individual. In context I may have considered him correct, if I could have heard or read his view explained. And it made a point, in bringing out the needed (maybe especially at that time) Biblical emphasis on community.

However, I must say that Scripture seems to indicate something that needs nuancing here. I would want to say that God created each individual as special. And as a special part of the whole of corporate humanity. And that, in the new creation, God recreates each individual in Christ as a special part of the whole of this new humanity, no longer "in Adam", but now "in Christ".

This means that we can never separate our individuality from the corporate whole God is making. As in a New Age kind of self-help spirituality. But neither can we discount at all, the powerful, and I believe, Biblical message that "Jesus loves me", yes, me. And even in a special way. Just as he loves each human, I believe, in a special way.

So we're left, if what I'm saying is getting at the truth, with the importance of seeing each of us as special. But each as a special part of the whole of humanity, that in Christ God would be bringing into his community of perichoresis, in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a true sense we should not separate our individuality from the whole of human community. "No one lives unto themselves." (Paul) But at the same time, we must take seriously the special place in this community that each and everyone of us has, potentially- in Christ. So that we need not be ashamed of talking about our own experience, or God's grace in our own life. "...who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Paul)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

God's grace

How uplifting is the grace of God. I've seen it time and time again. When I think I'm in some kind of trouble. Or have fallen short. Or am grieved over something of the past. God's grace in Jesus comes in. This grace works in us to free us. To accept God's forgiveness and live in his love. And to do so, much more aware of the depths of who we are. And something more of who he is.

Paul made it clear, "By the grace of God, I am what I am." And also that God's grace was at work in him, and is at work in all believers in Jesus. And with this grace comes God's truth. Which alone, by the Spirit gives us freedom. And this grace is good, even when things seem bad. I might add, especially when things seem, and are bad.

It's a grace that draws us in to "the Jesus Creed": to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Who can receive it? Anyone. Look at the gospels. To come to the Lord and be at table with him was, and is open to everyone. Grace can begin there. And it needs to begin time and time again even for us who stand in that grace (Romans 5). We need it as much as we did, when we first came to the Lord.

What would you like to share about your experience of God's grace? Does God's grace stop with just one's self, when one is experiencing it?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

election day

It's election day again here in the United States. Here in Michigan we've had what's becoming the normal fare of "go after your opponent" politics. It seems like the candidates have a hard time respecting each other in what they say. It's all about showing up their opponent. Instead of thoughtfully being engaged together in a discussion of the issues. And with charity, debating their differences. Not.

I have to say, for myself, that while it's an important day here, I think we as evangelicals are missing the boat in some ways. We have exalted to some kind of canonical status certain positions, that while good in their place can blind us to other issues. And most importantly, what we say, and how we conduct ourselves on the political stage, conveys something to the world that I think, all too often, is less than Christ-like, as in following the Jesus of the gospels. He is, after all, the Jesus we follow.

For myself, personally (to emphasize it!), I am in a kind of funk over my quandary as to how to vote. Voting, as has well been said by an eminent blogger, is a messy thing. More messier than we evangelicals often make it out to be. If I'm to believe my ears, this is all about "black and white". But unfortunately I can't see it that way. I can't say that if I do vote on certain races, I'm going to be happy with my vote. But I vote, and seek to do so in prayer. Praying that God's will will be done as I try to think through issues. And I am sure this can be the case for us, even as we vote for opposite candidates or differently on proposals. This is good to at least get us engaged in prayer, and perhaps at times, in actions in our endeavor to follow Jesus.

My hope and prayer is that we would learn to see the political side as one way in which we express our faith in Jesus. That we would move away from either "the religious right" or "the religious left", into a far more thoughtful and kingdom of God-oriented political view, ethic and practice. And that above all, in all of this, we will be more and more in sync with our status and calling in God as the "holy nation" in Jesus, that resides in every nation throughout the earth. Lord, help us to that end. Amen.

Monday, November 06, 2006

confession of sin

Ted Haggard has confessed his sin publicly, and we need to be in prayer for him and his family. I think Scot McKnight points out a problem that needs addressed among us who are evangelicals. This is the problem of unconfessed sin. And a culture, and perhaps a theology that promotes such a problem.

I would encourage any readers of this blog to go over to this post on Jesus Creed today, and think through this issue and discussion together.

Friday, November 03, 2006

embracing grace 9: the divine comedy gospel

Scot McKnight in this chapter writes of the difference between tragedy and comedy. They are polar opposites. Tragedy ends badly and sadly. As in Ernest Hemingway's great little classic, The Old Man and the Sea. But all too true as to what we often see in real life. Much of what happens here does not end up "happily ever after". Scripture is another story. It is full of comedy. Not comedy as we in our culture understand as in "I Love Lucy" or "Seinfeld". But the classic meaning, comedy as in a good ending, after a conflict has been resolved, as in "happily ever after". This is evident all throughout the Bible. Most climactically in Jesus' death followed by his resurrection, then ascension to be followed by his return to earth. To which the last book of the Bible, Revelation points, in the comedic climax of the Story.

Scot points out that the death of Christ on the cross, alone does not save us. The death and resurrection of Christ, together do. We receive forgiveness and a new life through both. And in real life, too, Christ's death and resurrection means everything for those who have faith. Paul Carlson, an American missionary to the Congo, laid down his life in service to the sick and poor there, as a medical doctor. In spite of danger in a rebel uprising, Paul did not abandon the hospital and those in need. And in doing so, and helping others to escape, he himself was shot. But the end, even there and in the here and now is comedy. An extensive health care system in the Congo rose out of this work. Along with nearly 200,000 Christians in Covenant churches. "All because of resurrection faith."

I am nearly forgetting Pentecost, which Scot adds to this salvation at work in the world now, that is to completely take over the world. The gift of the Spirit keeps the Story very much alive and well, even in this tragic world. And in the end turns tragedy into comedy.

We cracked Eikons are thus restored. And put into community (called "the Jesus community" here) "for the good of the world." Scot suggests that the symbol we need is a cross (in this case, empty- depicting death and resurrection) with a "symbol of fire above it -- telling us that Jesus' death and resurrection, along with the gift of the Spirit, is what creates the cycle of grace."

How do you see life? Do you see it as tragedy, or comedy (in its classical meaning)? And why?

(As in all of these postings on Scot's book, my own thoughts are intermingled.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

the goodness of grief

Jesus tells us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." What is good about grief?

Lately I've been grieving some deeply inside. Partly for good reason from my view. But partly beyond my reasoning, I think.

Grief is good in its place. Jesus fulfills the prophecy of being "the man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah). It is part of living fully in a fallen world. Sharing in its suffering. Weeping with those who weep. And burdened by our own falleness in sinning or being sinned against. As well as the curse accompanying this present life.

What I have noticed is that grief can be a good thing, a stage after which God's grace becomes evident to us. "Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm). Grief involves taking life seriously. Not that we aren't amiss in much of the way we see life. But our grief is still important, and God takes it seriously as well.

It opens us up to heart change. Because it involves the depths of who we are. We can end up, in God's grace, being deepened, so that we are not as shallow as we were before. This opens us up more to others, and especially to our God.

I am one who likes to laugh. We "carry on" quite a bit of our day where I work, in a big, loud factory room/space. I would probably ordinarily be characterized as a dispenser of humor and laughing rather than one who is grieving or depressed (depression, at least as I've experienced it before, rare now). But sorrow has its place. Doing its work in the heart, even when one can still laugh and sing.

What do you see as good about grief?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blanche B

Yesterday Scot McKnight reminded me of loved ones who have gone before me, and at present are more alive than we are (even in their "intermediate state" awaiting the resurrection). One such saint that I look forward to seeing again, is Blanche B.

She was a single lady all her life. Faithful is one word I think of, when I think of her. And caring is another. She very much cared for us kids. And she manifested her love for the Lord and for people by her faithful ministry in Sunday School at our Mennonite church for many years.

I remember her leading us, probably in singing. And definitely in telling us Bible stories. And I believe she often pressed home to us our need of commiting our lives to Jesus and receiving his salvation for us. We had other good teachers. But she stands out to me. Perhaps because she taught me early on, when I was most influential, and being formed in my understanding of the faith. Even though it wasn't until I was 17, that I committed my life to Christ, yet the seeds she had so faithfully sown over the years surely came to life and fruition during that time.

Blanche, you may not be reading this post, but if you were, I want to say, Thank you. Your heart ran deep for us children. We knew your love, that it came from your heart. Thanks so much for teaching us the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. I look forward to seeing you again, dear sister.