Friday, March 31, 2006

the Joseph story (Genesis)

The Joseph story (Genesis 37-50) is a most powerful one, and worthy of our slow reading and meditation (really true of the entire Bible, but I was moved anew by reading through this again).

You will notice that it is a very human story. Joseph lives in a rather dysfunctional family. And this plays out in his brothers, who more than less hate him, selling him to merchants who take him to Egypt.

Joseph, as you recall, goes through the pits in Egypt. God is blessing him, while man is cursing him, it seems. Yet God keeps giving him favor with people wherever he goes.

Finally he ends up interpreting from God, Pharaoh's dream. And gives his insight (certainly God-given) as to what Egypt should do. Pharaoh sees this as wisdom from God and grants to him a role and authority under, yet equal to himself. And so Joseph goes to work to fulfill this mission to see Egypt and the surrounding country through seven bountiful years of harvest to be followed by seven years of dearth and famine.

When those hard years hit...you know (or enjoy reading it for yourself) the story. Joseph's brothers show up. They don't recognize the Egyptian Joseph, but he recognizes them. Then what Joseph puts his brothers (and Jacob, and in a true sense- himself) through would seem harsh from a certain perspective. But I see it as hokmah, wisdom from God. And I have to wonder if Joseph wasn't working through some psychological dynamics present in that situation.

Certainly this is a story of forgiveness and reunion/reconciliation on a level Joseph and his brothers had never known before. And this is a story of God's hand, leading, even through evil acts, to bring about good.

A very human story, especially evident as you read it slowly and thoughtfully. A very powerful story. Touching the very chords, rhythms and dissonance of our own existences and stories.

Where do you find yourself in that story, is a good question for us to ask. A little bit everywhere, is I guess how I'd put it for myself. Seeing God's work in Joseph's brothers' lives, in Joseph's life, and as part of the bigger picture of what God was doing in the world.

God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God of Joseph and his brothers. Grant us your peace. And your kingdom. In our homes, neighborhoods, churches, work and as part of the bigger picture of what you're doing in this world. Amen.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

the atoning work of Jesus

Next week we're going to begin looking more closely at Jesus' atoning work. What did Jesus achieve for us by his death and resurrection? What are humans to do in response to that?

We will begin looking at "Stories of the Gospel Story" from Scot McKnight's recent book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us. I have thought about doing this for a time, but have felt unqualified. Especially when considering scholars or others who have more time to read them. But Scot does an excellent job, as a theologian, in communicating well. This doesn't make what he is communicating less profound or now easily understood. There is a certain aura of mystery as well as wonder, even over such a verse as John 3:16. To suppose we can snap our fingers and by a simple formula understand the gospel story, is to not really understand the depth and the Godness of this story. But we will attempt to look at it, as we move towards Easter.

For now, let's lay a little ground work. "'Atonement means 'at-one-ment' with God (and others)" (McKnight, p 94). Certainly there are factors and facts involved in this atonement. For one thing we are in the words of Scot, "cracked eikons". That is, we're made in God's image, but we had a great Fall (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12-21). And nothing short of Jesus and his work for us, can put us back together again.

Jesus came. The Word- the Son of God became flesh- human. He lived in complete dependence as a human on his Father God. Never sinning. Then offered himself for us unto death, as a perfect sacrifice to God. Resurrected to a new life, a new kind of life and humanity, for us. This is a Father-Son-Holy Spirit thing. God in the Son becoming like us so that we could become like him. And be made whole, in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with each other.

By grace- God's gift, through faith- our receiving of that gift, we enter into this "at-one-ment". We thus begin towards the goal that God draws us to. Living, even as Jesus lived, in this world.

God. As we approach Easter, let us have a new and renewed appreciation for what you've done for us in your Son. Let any here, who are ready, enter in, by simple faith. Knowing you are there to receive and embrace us. Welcoming us into your family of love. Amen.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Abraham (and the unnamed servant- Genesis 24) and worship

Reading in the Abraham story yesterday, I was struck over Abraham as a worshiper of YHWH. Every time you turn around, in the narrative, Abraham is building an altar to YHWH and calling on YHWH. And YHWH has been calling Abraham to walk faithfully before him and be blameless. Along with the call to leave his own country to go to a land the LORD (YHWH) would show him, Abraham is given promises as well. That his seed would be like the stars in the sky in number. That in his seed all nations would be blessed.

The unnamed servant who is ordered by Abraham to go back to his relatives to get his son Isaac, a wife, is also a worshiper of Yahweh. He is a man of prayer and when YHWH answers, he bows down in worship. Surely he learned of Abraham's god and of devotion to that god as God, from Abraham.

To worship God. At heart it is a response to God's greatness and his goodness. It involves seeking him. Calling on his name. Honoring and exalting his name. Remembering to and before him, who he is and what he has done- and what he is doing and will do. So that our lives might be lived out accordingly. In view of him and his salvation and promises in Jesus.

God. You alone are worthy of all our praise and adoration. And you have done great things for us in your Son- Jesus. Teach us to be worshipers of you. That we would take the special times along the way, to set up our "altar" and acknowledge and bless you. By our words, and then by our lives. Amen.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

the eternal subordination of Christ and of women

I found this posting on Ben Witherington's blog to be both profoundly interesting, as well as profoundly disturbing. Suffice it to say that it does put a question mark for me on the understanding of the Trinity by evangelicals who adopt this position.

the Jesus community, blog that is

On this blog, I look at matters that are at the heart of what my own perceived gift and calling is. A large part of who I am desires community. I think another large part is pastoral. Theology, scholarship, all such things are great, and should come into play here. But most important to me is to try to see how we as the community of faith in this world should live. How are we to live out the vision of the kingdom of God having come in Jesus and in the Jesus community?

This post is a refresher, hopefully. To help me and whoever may be reading it, to pray, read and think together to this end. God help us in this endeavor. Amen.

Friday, March 24, 2006

a vision

God wants to give a vision of his kingdom to us all who are in the Jesus community. It's a vision where there will be much in common. Scripture (God's Story) and then under that tradition (the creeds and historical theology- how God has led his people) and reason (good Christian scholars and theologians; but we as well) all are important in this.

Experience is a tag along. It's important though, to be sure. It tells our story. And can even indicate where we're at in our life. But not as a basis for our lives. That must come from God's revelation to us in his Son and in Scripture. And as that is fleshed out to us in life, through our interaction with God's people and through our own wrestling with God as we face the issues of life. God's Story (which, of course, is true) needs to come in and give us a new story, as we see our identity and where we fit, in the big picture in God's ongoing Story.

So there is the vision God would give us that will be common to all, the vision of the kingdom of God come, in Jesus. But there is the sense of a vision that will be unique to each and every one of us. From the "greatest" to the "least". All will have something unique and important from God, as their vision from him. And this vision will include one's identity in God's kingdom Story in Jesus.

James had a great vision, and unique to him. He was a pastor. No nonsense. Much wisdom. Camel knees. A heart for prayer and faithfulness to God. Peter had a grandiose vision matching his personality. Big in heart and vital for our lives.

We need a vision together. That keeps us growing in community. And we need our unique visions that give strength to others as well as ourselves. To see us through the good times (often the most dangerous for our souls) and the bad times (that alas, can drag us down).

How do you see this? What does vision from God mean to you?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

fixing our eyes on Jesus

I wonder what place Jesus plays in our thoughts and in our lives. As the Jesus community, he ought to occupy front and center in our faith, and in our living, in this world.

The book of Hebrews is all about Jesus and what God provides for his people in his Son. Jesus is God’s final word, the culmination of all other words spoken in Scripture, the glory of God’s revelation, the theme of God's Story through whom the Story becomes only a climactic beginning, never to end but rather to continually unfold (C.S. Lewis)- by whom all things are reconciled to God and made new.

The letter was written to a discouraged group of Christians. They had committed themselves to Jesus as Messiah, but now were entertaining doubts, evidently, concerning their faith. They had suffered because of their profession of faith, and were in danger of drifting away. They were tempted to go back to a Judaism that did not acknowledge that Messiah had come in Jesus and the kingdom of God with him. And that through this, a new covenant as Jeremiah had promised, had begun.

So the writer to the Hebrews sets forth Jesus as the fulfillment, and even better than, what had been only preparation for what was to come. Jesus more than fulfills what was given to Israel in the first, now old covenant. And in him we move from Mount Sinai with its momentous activity, to Mount Zion, the new heavenly Jerusalem- filled with joy and celebration among those who, in Jesus, have been "made perfect".

Jesus is also set forth as human. Human to the bone. With the same passions and temptations we have, though without sin. Jesus’ sacrifice for sins once for all through the perfect sinless, Spirit-enabled sacrifice of himself provides forgiveness of sins and purification for us in being made holy.

After recounting acts of faith by witnesses of God from old covenant times, the writer than turns our attention to the greatest witness of all, the one that we are to follow- Jesus.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (TNIV)

Earlier we’re told (this is written not only to its original recipients, but also to us) to fix our thoughts on Jesus (Hebrews 3). Now we’re told to fix our eyes on Jesus. What he did. So that we will follow in the trail, that he once for all has blazed for us. And thus not lose heart. He is there to help us, as our sympathetic high priest. Never to leave us, nor forsake us.

Lord, let us not give in to whatever might keep us from following you. Let us be those who are satisfied with nothing less than following you. All the way. And let us bring others along with us. To know you and your glory. In your name and by your work for us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

a closer look at faithfulness

Faithfulness is a character trait that God by his Spirit brings into the Jesus community. Into our lives as individuals and together collectively, to God in response to his love, to each other- as we're taught by God to love one another (1 Thessalonians) and to the world- as we share in God's love for the world of humankind.

We touched on love yesterday as being what faithfulness is all about. Today, we'll take a closer look at that.

2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11 (TNIV)

Faithfulness to God by his people is likened in Scripture to fidelity in marriage. In the Old Testament we read of God's people joining themselves to idols. For doing that they were called, not only idolaters, but adulterers. They had given themselves to other gods. In the New Testament James picks up that theme. And Paul touches on it here.

Faithfulness to God has to do with a covenant relationship of love made by him for all who trust in his gift of sacrificial love in his Son. God has made that covenant to us in his Son, Jesus, and by his blood poured out for us in death. God will keep his part. He has promised never to abandon us. His love for us is an everlasting love. But will we keep our part, will we fulfill our responsibility? Paul was concerned in this letter that the Christians he was writing to were going to be led astray from their devotion of love to Christ. And ultimately, as is made clear by the writer to the Hebrews, forsake the covenant of their God (Hebrews 10).

Regardless of our belief on certain issues (like "eternal security"), the point here is that faithfulness involves a love relationship with God. And fidelity on our part to him. To drift away from that is to fall into spiritual adultery. As we end up devoted to the service of other gods: self (one's own appetites, etc.), Mammon (the Money idol), the world system (a kingdom not submitted to God's kingdom), etc. Any departure from love to God by those in the Jesus community is adultery against God, in God's eyes.

Lord Jesus, Keep us faithful as your people. Let us follow you, in sincere and unadulterated devotion. Let us hold on to your never dying love for us. Knowing that even when we fall, underneath us are your everlasting arms. Amen.

Monday, March 20, 2006

faithfulness

The story of humankind is one of unfaithfulness to God. Abraham begins Israel's story well, but it too becomes one of unfaithfulness to YHWH. Jesus comes and lives the life of faithfulness for all humanity, so that we can now have a new start in him, so that we can now be faithful as God's new humanity in Jesus (Romans 3, 5).

Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians). It is also an important part of the characteristics of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). Habakkuk 2:4 informs us that in contrast to "he" who "is puffed up...the righteous will live by their faithfulness." (TNIV)

God works to ingrain faithfulness as the warp and woof of who we are. Not some spectacular fireworks in doing mighty feats for God. Sure, there can be a time and place for that for a few. But what is to make up the everyday, every week, every month and every year experience of the Jesus follower? Faithfulness is at the heart of it. Certainly in faith expressing itself through love (Galatians).

I have noticed that the people who seem the most ordinary are often the most inspiring examples, because of their faithfulness. Remember, the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3 had only little strength. But they kept Jesus' word and did not deny his name. Jesus had no rebuke for them, but words of encouragment, promise and exhortation to hold on to what they had.

Faithfulness includes the full gamut of the Christian life. Ongoing worship, confession of sin, thankfulness, and devotion to Scripture and prayer. Devotion to one's Jesus community, to doing good to others -especially those in need. Sharing our faith by deeds and words.

There's a sameness to faithfulness. But there's also growth involved. God will be sure of that, if we're seeking to be faithful to him.

Father, Let our lives be more and more characterized by faithfulness. Through all the ups and downs of life. That we would have an ear and heart to keep following you. Through the trials. And getting back on track when we do get off. Make us more and more like your Son. By your Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

poetry as in song to the Lord

Our best worship songs and hymns are examples of poetry that we sing about and to God. And about our life in God. Scripture is full of this kind of poetry. The psalms are prime examples, called the Song Book of God's people. Examples (some arguably) of poetry that may have been used in the primitive (very early) church are in the New Testament (for example: Romans 11:33-36; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16; Revelation 4:8; 4:11; 5:9-10; 5:12; 5:13; 7:12; 11:15; 11:17-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 19:6-8). The Old Testament prophets are written largely in poetic form. And even parts of Scripture not in poetic form (in prose) have been skillfully made into song (examples that would work: Philippians 4:6-7 -see NLT; Romans 8:1-2 -I've heard this one put to song; John 3:16 -many of us have heard that one put to song, etc.)

Perhaps a majority of our best worship songs and hymns come from what A.W. Tozer called, "a sanctified imagination". Such songs are steeped in Scripture, though not found in Scripture. Examples of these abound.

Songs do often reflect ones tradition. Be it Lutheran, Reformed Calvinism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, etc. We should appreciate what we can of such songs (and we may be surprised just how many of these songs we can sing). And use them as we so choose. Many of the songs I like best are those that can be sung in any of the great Christian traditions. We may often disagree as to precisely the meaning of the words in the song. But can heartily sing them as to the Lord.

Christians songs are powerful in shaping peoples' thoughts and lives. They include an element that is, sorry to say, usually lacking in our reading of Scripture: saying and hearing the words spoken. And put to a tune and rhythym, they can penetrate into the very hearts and minds, and then lives, of those who sing them. This can be so easily underrated among us who are heirs of the Protestant Reformation, in which the preaching of the Word of God- Scripture, is given such supreme place in practice. But singing songs in worship to God is on the increase among many of us from that tradition. Just this week at RBC Ministries during our chapel, we had a great time of worship, singing songs and hymns woven well together. It was refreshing. Just as good as hearing a good message or teaching from someone during that half hour. Maybe better, since we seem (to me, myself included) much better practiced in the latter than in the former.

Thank you Father for the gift of music. Let us enter in, singing your praises and glory. Let this be in tune with you. And let this be from us to you, as well as from you to us. In your Son and by your Spirit. Amen.

Friday, March 17, 2006

we the sheep, God the Shepherd (St. Patrick)

Scripture repeatedly likens humans to sheep. We are sheep, easily going astray, turning to our own way, and lost. Again Scripture likens God to a shepherd. He searches, finds, feeds and takes care of his flock. He gives them bountiful, rich pasture on which to feed and freely roam. And he protects them from wolves and all dangers. He gently carries the young close to his heart.

Scripture also speaks of human shepherds that God sets apart to do the work of overseeing God's people. Of course in this analogy, God continues to be the Chief Shepherd. The people so designated are called "under shepherds". They serve under the great and good Shepherd.

Jesus came fulfilling God's role as Shepherd of his people. Jesus as the good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. He is the gate, by which they enter in to God's blessing. He provides to them rich, full life.

On this St. Patrick's Day of 2006, to read the life of St. Patrick is to read the life of a true shepherd. His was a life of love and zeal to find lost sheep and bring them into God's abundance. And he put his life at risk, in doing so. But God answered. God shepherded St. Patrick through it all and by that enabled him to shepherd others. Many in Ireland came to put their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Thus was born one of the greatest and most creative forms of Christianity: Celtic. Flourishing for centuries. In love with God as Creator, Redeemer and Friend.

God. Thank you for your faithful and good Shepherding of us, your people. Let us stay close to you and to each other, as your flock. And let us see your flock extended more and more, into lands and peoples who don't know you yet, as the great and good Shepherd. Raise up more to follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick, to follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Give us the spirit and heart of St. Patrick. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

41 Things Married People Ought to Know (Jim Martin)

From Jim Martin's fine blog, A Place For the God-Hungry, is a great series of wisdom for married couples. We will share this with our daughter before she is married (and her husband to be). A four part series here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

the Protestant Reformation

I was raised in and attended a Mennonite church the first seventeen years of my life. It is Anabaptist, which is part of what is called "the radical reformation." They had no intention of reforming the Roman Catholic Church, but were determined to start from scratch (subsequently realizing that was impossible to do fully), and establish a pure New Testament church. Menno Simons was one of their early leaders.

The Protestant Reformation is attributed to Martin Luther, with Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin following. Luther wanted to reform the Roman Church. Reforms did come in the Roman Counter Reformation, but not enough to end the Protestant Reformation.

Theologically I stand in the stream that comes from Luther and Menno. Though I appreciate much of what I understand of the Roman Catholic Church and less (only because less acquainted with, but equally genuine) the Eastern Orthodox Church.

As a New Testament scholar (probably known by a number of you) very recently pointed out to me, his take is that "the Reformation was a calling of the Church back to that 1st-4th century Orthodoxy" when he believes orthodoxy was shaped. This attempt was certainly not without flaws (true of any era). And there seems to be a renaissance of criticism nowdays against the Protestant Reformation in general and Martin Luther in particular.

In Timothy George's book, Theology of the Reformers we have a helpful view of the contribution they made. His final chapter, "The Abiding Validity of Reformation Theology" is interesting in bringing the contributions of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Simons together, to see their impact for us today.

Important contributions of the Protestant/Anabaptist Reformation for me are the priesthood of all believers (often seems largely lost among many of us even in this tradition), the love for and practical importance of Scripture in believers' lives and in the life of the Church, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus and his completed work for us by his death (and resurrection).

I believe that the work of N.T. Wright today is by no means a departure from the blessings received through the Reformation. It is instead, a fresh and closer look at the sources: the life and times of Jesus, and the life and times of Paul. This is in keeping, as has been pointed out recently, with the Protestant Reformation's push to get back to the sources. N.T. Wright carries on this tradition very well, I believe.

None of this is to discount the good we find in the other great Christian traditions. God's mark is on them. But as is true in all of the Christian traditions, the human mark is evident too, and I mean the fallible side of humanity. So that the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church both have their downsides along with their upside. And the Protestant Reformation surely has its downside as well. But I believe its upside is important, and not to be set aside just because its proponents too often want us to live in the sixteenth century. Or because its opponents want us to dwell on their deficiencies or departure from good that was/is in the Roman tradition.

Praise God for his grace. A grace which ultimately will bring us all who are in Jesus, together for "ten thousand years" as a start. But a grace which has given good to all. I will join with all of those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, their Lord and ours. And I will do so, thankful for the tradition of the one faith, that I live in. In that one faith in which we all stand and live. Amen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

the lift from the Jesus community

Often when I am getting ready to go to a gathering of the Jesus community, I don't feel like going. I can be more or less down, or struggling deep inside about something.

I've found that more often than not, going and being a part of what God is doing, during a gathering, is a lift to my spirits, and seems to dispel or lessen, at least for the time being, the trouble bothering me.

I find this same phenomenon too, when seeking to serve another in some capacity. Usually in a simple way. Yet Jesus seems, often, to be there with us. Sometimes especially looking back on it.

We are to be a lift to each other. Building up the Jesus community in love as each member does their work/thing.

Underrated quite often: below the music corporate worship time, below the sermon, below a teaching time. Yet if there is no room made for this element in the gathering, than one goes home having not given or taken from each other. A great loss. And more often than not, little lift.

In our gatherings we must be sure that there is opportunity made every time for all to participate in some way. Certainly in communicating with each other for a start.

Jesus ministers to us through each other. And through us to others. Do you have any testimonies as to how you see this as true in your experience in gathering and in your life? What are some ways we can facilitate this?

Friday, March 10, 2006

thoughts on community

Community implies having something in common together. It means more than just happening to exist together. Though unfortunately community is often seen only as that. It involves something that is unifying in goal or purpose beyond geography.

Theoretically today, community is increasing and individualism is decreasing in our postmodern society (overlapping the fading modernism). Though it's very hard for us westerners to unlearn old habits. Of course there's the all-important global community, in terms of the world politic today. No doubt we have a shrinking globe, and with that comes increasingly the sense of having to live together, with all that means between peoples who are radically divided.

Humans are meant to live in community. And that is strongly sensed by perhaps a majority across the board. The people of God, the Jesus community have a unique take on that. The community of God, the triune perichoresis, by grace embraces all. And the Church, the Jesus community lives within that embrace.

True, we often don't live it out very well. And there are powers in this present world, which would subvert, undermine and destroy participation in this reality. But God's pull is into this reality. Into his perichoresis, the triune dance of God. God's movement of joy- work and delight. A movement that is hyper-relational. That is hyper-redemptive. In Jesus.

Do we see this in our experience as the people of God in Jesus? Are our souls being lifted up to participation together in this community, the new Jerusalem, which will last forever?

This community does not exist solely for itself. It takes on the very heart and activity of God. It is redemptive and missional. What is seen in this world as important in terms of community, due to the image of God written on human hearts, should be seen as a fitting ending in this Jesus community. An ending that has to do with being inclusive. Taking in all who would follow. In Jesus. And in his community.

God. Let us be a community that is in step with your divine perichoresis- your dance of joy and love. May people see, in our Jesus community, where they are meant to live. And what their purpose and unique calling is in and out from this community. That more and more would see your salvation and shalom, even in this world. Amen.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

the milk of human kindness

Have you ever noticed the lift experienced from the milk of human kindness?

Physically and emotionally tired and down. A long day, yes, in a Christian workplace....Then a couple of ladies from up front come. I am busy and see them out of the corner of my eye. Ordinarily I stop and acknowledge visitors touring through. But am too busy this time.

One of them, perhaps having the most important secretarial job in our place, seeks to get my attention. She is noting with a smile just how hot the mailings are when they've gone through the oven which seals the plastic over them. With a smile I point to the temperature reading of the oven. That exchange...the milk of human kindness.

That milk of human kindness. I could feel a lift in my spirits and it seemed I felt better physically. I had sensed an exchange with someone who considered me a friend, though I hardly know them. But just the lift I needed during a difficult day.

How much we need to lift each other up. To accept one another. To be friends with each other.

I want to be God's instrument of giving the milk of human kindness to others, especially as needed. Even in the blog world this can occur, or not occur. But how much more so in our everyday fully dimensional existence. Let's seek to be sensitive to others, and especially to God- so that we can give this milk especially to those who could use it. Amen.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

standing out, blending in

In the Jesus community all people have their unique part and place. In that sense all stand out. Some, to be sure are more hidden and less obvious as to their special part and place, than others. Others stick out, more in the open and obvious by who they are and their gift. But in reality all stand out to God. And those hidden are appreciated by those who know them behind the scenes.

As each does their part in the Jesus community, there is a blending in that goes on. The older I get, the more I realize how each person has something important for us all, from who they are and what they do. And that we're not in competition with each other. Sometimes we tend to look at it that way when we're around someone who has giftings in the same general category as ourselves. I have often thought, especially in the past, "Oh, if I only had that gift..." But what you and I have is just as special in its own God-given way as any one else's gift. Yes, some may be gifted more, but each is truly a gift from God and therefore good and perfect (James 1), because from him.

This standing out/blending in can almost become an art form. It includes give and take. And accepting the ebbs and flows of life that so make up the humanness of us all. But the bottom line needs to be that we accept our own participation in the mix, and accept the participation of others. And that in all of that, we seek to be the body of Christ to this world. Knowing we're here and together as those, so sent by God. Amen.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bob continues to improve

Catch the latest from Jesus Creed .

good works

Good works are a constant theme in Scripture. They are the manifestation of faith working through love (Galatians). Without good works, faith is dead (James). Good works are what God has prepared for his people to live in (Ephesians). They're to characterize the Jesus community (Titus). In the end we'll all be judged by our works (Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:6-16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12).

In my tradition, evangelical Protestant, good works are often given short shrift. Faith is what matters. Works follow, but are not essential. But this is a misreading of Paul. Yes, by faith apart from works we receive God's promise. But to be full participants in the promise means to walk, or live by faith. Such living involves activity and will show itself to be true faith by its good deeds. Those who professedly receive the promise by faith, yet fail to begin a walk, or life by faith, really fail to enter in to the promise, which begins in this life.

Good works often involve small things. Stopping and listening to someone. Praying a sentence prayer for another. Contributing a sack of groceries for a family, or project. Buying girl scout cookies. Serving soup in a kitchen for the homeless. Giving a glass of cold water to a sister or brother in Jesus. Speaking kindly to the one who curses us. As well as refraining from certain things: Anger at an offense. Cross words in retaliation to an insult. Participating in a conversation that is hurtful of others. As well as choosing to retaliate over an offense. Love is said to cover over a multitude of sins (Proverbs, 1 Peter).

Of course good works are to be done in love. Without such love, any work is of no value to the one who does it (1 Corintians 13). If love for God and for our neighbor is not the impulse for what we as members of the Jesus community do, then we're in danger of losing our place as a community, in Jesus' work in the world (Revelation 2:1-7).

Father, Let us be your children in doing good to all. Show us the works you have for us today in your Son. And every day. And let our lives more and more be characterized by good works. To bring you glory as your children on this earth. Amen.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Another Urgent Plea For Uganda

Recently Jamie Arpin-Ricci called our attention to a tragedy occuring in Africa against children, probably many of them from Christian families. There is more here to help us practically be a part of a solution. Certainly a call for interceding prayer as a good start.

Update on Bob

Here is another update on Bob as we continue to intercede in prayer for him and his family.

interceding in prayer

Prayer for others is often underrated in the Jesus community. Recently a number from our fellowship met in a home for a prayer meeting. The spirit and heart of interceding in prayers for our church and for a couple of sick ones, was a blessing to behold and be a part of. And one who was sick, with no answers, is feeling well, like himself again.

Interestingly the second part of the "Our Father" prayer Jesus taught his disciples (and us) to pray includes petition for others, along with prayer for ourselves (Matthew 6:11-13).

The end of the passage on the armor of God in Ephesians is a powerful call for prayer, and specifically prayer for all of God's people- i.e., intercession (Ephesians 6:18). Note Romans 15:30-33, Paul's request for prayer for himself in his struggle to serve God, urging them to do so "by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit." Also of note is the call for us to pray for all people, including those in governmental authority, so that people would be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-8). And we're even called to pray for our enemies (Luke 6:27-28; Matthew 5:44-45).

Little do we know the difference our intercedings can make for people in this life. According to Scripture they do matter. Remember the faith of the friends of the paralyzed man, along, surely, with the faith of the man himself. By which Jesus forgave his sins (Mark 2:5 and context). And note the powerful call to prayer by James himself ("camel knees" due to his habit of much kneeling in prayer) in 5:13-18.

We find a number of examples of godly people in Scripture interceding in prayer for others. Including our Lord himself (Luke 22:31-32; John 17:6-26).

Many of us have seen little, and clear answers to prayer. But how many of us have persisted and had the faith to see more difficult matters through? What God is interested in is not the number of prayers we pray. But our hearts. Are we really praying in faith and love? The reason we need to persist in prayer is usually because of our weakness. There can be an element of spiritual warfare involved as well (Daniel 10:12 and context).

Lord, Teach us what it means to truly intercede for others in prayer. Let us have a heart to so pray, in faith and love. And in so doing lifting up those who are weighed down. And seeing scales removed from peoples' eyes, so they can see and live in your light. Amen.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Jeremiah 17:5-8: The Perennnially Blessed

5 This is what the LORD says:
"Cursed are those who trust in mortals,
who depend on flesh for their strength
and whose hearts turn away from the LORD.

6 They will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

7 "But blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.

8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit."

(TNIV)

In Hebrew poetry in the OT (Old Testament) parallelism of two lines is a common device. It can help one ascertain meaning by comparing the two lines. The lines can explain each other in terms of similarity (saying the same thing in different ways) or contrast.

Here we have contrast, two descriptions of people: those cursed and those blessed. Though not two lines, this Hebrew poetry conveys contrast in striking terms. The cursed are like a bush in a wasteland, left "high and dry" so as to miss God's blessing, even when it comes. The blessed are like a tree planted by the water, which continue to thrive, even when facing drought, still taking in God's blessing. One is reminded of Psalm 1.

The cursed "are those who trust in mortals, who depend on their own strength and whose hearts turn away from the LORD." This is a denial of one's own createdness and of the Creator, as well as one's sinfulness and need of God's redemptive grace.

The blessed, in contrast, "are those who trust in the LORD, whose confidence is in him." Not in their circumstances- good, as long as everything is going alright. Nor in their own abilities or experience ("know how"). But only in the God who is over all, and whose will cannot be thwarted.

"Crunch time" for this, meaning the real test, comes when- one way or another, we're "up against it". When oppostion, whatever form it takes, seems to threaten one's vocation (in God), and even bring the promise of defeat and failure with it.

Jeremiah, the prophet from which these words come, is a good case in point. He is forever running into obstacles, both from without (human opposition from leadership and even from his own family) and from within (himself, like his depression and expressed despair).

But what does Jeremiah do? He repents surely, when God calls him to do so with promises (15:18-21). He grows through the experience of life and in the process life/God brings. He finds God to be merciful and faithful through it all.

God help us to trust in him, through the difficult times, as well as in the easier times. That we would find him to be more than sufficient through everything. And that in all circumstances we would be more than conquerors through him who loves us. Amen.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Great News on Bob (from Jesus Creed)

God is answering our prayers!

coming near to God

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8; TNIV)
I am reminded of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3). God told Moses to take off his scandals. For the place he was standing on, was holy ground. God took the initiative. Now it was up to Moses to come near, and not to flee.

We have something of the same prerogative that was put before Moses. True, it is not normally in miracles. Though for those with eyes to see, there may be a miracle in the picture, at least somewhere.

We have the opportunity to come near to God through Christ. Because of Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension, and his sending of the promise of the Father, the blessed Holy Spirit.

It's up to us. The most ordinary of us can come near to and live close to God. The most gifted among us can be too busy with other things, or even turn away. Or fail to see that this possibility is even open, much less important.

It is a relationship we're reflecting on here. In relationships, to become closer to someone, we seek to spend time in their presence, with them. Then is when the relationship can grow and the bond become increasingly strong.

Notice God's promise in the James passage. If we come near to him, he will come near to us! Quite astounding. God has taken the initiative for us in providing this great salvation in Jesus by which we're reconciled to God so that we, by faith, can become his friends.

Now we must open our hearts, minds and lives to him. We must come near to him, as best we know how. Through reading Scripture, prayer, repentance, praise, singing, meditating, fellowshiping with others in the Jesus community. As we seek to draw close to God then he will draw close to us (NLT).

This is not pietistic drivel. It is powerful, and life changing, not only to the one who seeks to engage in this walk (like Enoch), but for those around them. So that they too, in turn, can seek to come near to God.

Father, Forgive us for the much time we've lived, not seeking to come near to you. Let us, in your Son and by your Spirit come near to you. Knowing that as we do so you will come near to us. So that we may live in your presence in which is full joy, always and forever. Amen.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Are We Regularly Engaged in the "Our Father" Prayer?

9 "This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'

(Matthew 6:9-13; TNIV)

Notice what this praying is about. It's about the Jesus Creed, loving God with all of our being and activity, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is given to us from Jesus, as he gave it to his disciples. It is surely for us, a gift. A gift to help us know how to pray. Though at times we're certainly overwhelmed, and need the Spirit's intercession (Romans 8).

Note that this prayer is not given in individualistic terms. It's not merely about myself. Yes, I pray it as petitions for me. But the prayer is framed with words as if I am not praying alone. Others are with me in the prayer, the communion of saints still here on earth. They are surely praying the same prayer. Yet also I am praying not only for myself but for all my brothers and sisters in the faith. So this is a prayer that takes us beyond just praying for ourselves. But for others as well. And for God's name and glory.

Do we pray this pray regularly? At least daily? It seems in evangelical circles in which I live, to pray "the Lord's prayer" smacks all too much of an empty ritualistic rote ceremony. This is unfortunate. We need this prayer. Every part of it is important, in our worship and praise of God and desire for his shalom on earth, and for our own ongoing needs. This prayer boils it down to the essentials. And we are at a great loss not to be regularly engaged in it.

Do you pray this prayer regularly, daily? If so, what difference has it made? In your life? And in others lives?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Good news about Bob Robinson

Good news and a call for special prayer on Friday.

Ecumenicalism

Ecumenicalism is a dirty word to many who remember the errors and excesses of the World Council of Churches. It seems to stand for all walls, including doctrinal and theological, crumbling for the sake of the one common denominator: professed faith in Jesus. So that any who simply profess that faith, regardless of anything else, are accepted into the communion.

All too often such faith has been bereft of a commitment to what the faith is said to mean in Scripture and in the ancient creeds. There was good done by this body in social justice along with political statements thought to reflect their profession of faith. Thankfully, in many of those churches the importance of the creeds has more or less been resurrected. Yet there lingers the fear that unity short of the unity found in the faith could trump all else among such bodies in Christendom. (Are any Christian bodies guiltless here?)

There is another ecumenicalism which is in the air today, which refuses to water down at all the basic tenents of the faith. Such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the atoning death of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus, Jesus' ascension, the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, Jesus coming back. This is an ecumenicalism that refuses to let secondary matters that Christians disagree on squelch Christian unity. Such matters could be the practice of water baptism and its mode, belief regarding eucharist/communion, what Bible a communion uses- including those who carry Bibles containing "deuterocanonical" books, etc.

As the Jesus community, we need to see a communion that is bigger than our own communion. This is a strength within emergent/emerging churches. There is not a one size fits all, or even this is the shoe we must wear kind of mentality. But there is a willingness to be different, at least in practice. Even if, too often, emergents seem slow to want to take a specific theological stance. I think their motives in doing so are good. They don't want to create unnecessary division nor hamper an enculturated demonstration and proclamation of the good news of God's kingdom in Jesus.

God is at work in all kinds of Christian communions today. Jesus by the Spirit seems to come to move on hearts and into lives without paying attention to what church or denomination it is in which he is at work. May we be those who like Barnabas of old are glad to see the grace of God in Christ, wherever it may be. And may we long for a unity that finds its foundation in Jesus and in the Spirit's revelation to us from Scripture. In spite of all other differences. Amen.