Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Off and on I struggle with focus to the point that I realize it is an issue I must deal with. I think here of focus as in faith, and what my mind is fixed on. And then from that, my heart, and all I am, as much as possible, by the Spirit and the Word in the Community of Jesus.

I am reminded of what I heard Richard Wurmbrand say years ago. Something like: "You will regret bitterly the weaknesses you have, that you encounter in your ministry." (a paraphrase, keeping the thought I remember). I often am going along fine. But before preaching or when doing a "ministry" activity, I am sorely tempted to focus on something that is a fear to me. That in reality is probably a lie, in and of itself. But in so doing, I find myself losing my focus on the Lord and lose out on the simplicity of the walk with him.

This is like Peter on the water. First he comes (evidently, especially knowing him from the gospels) unhesitatingly at Jesus' bidding, toward Jesus on the water! But then he is tempted to consider "reality". In so doing he loses his focus of faith. No longer is he looking at Jesus, but instead at the waves, whipped up by the wind on the water. Peter is sinking! Of course, in answer to his cry the Lord's hand is there to save him.

I remember in the past going up on a rope's course. It was very high (can't remember just how high, maybe 30 feet), especially for me, as I have a fear of heights. Just to get to the top for me was good. But being there, I was terrified. In fear I couldn't even go through the first rope without falling (of course one is kept safe and simply ends up hanging). And when I got to the other end, all I wanted to do was immediately climb down, which I did.

The next year I determined to do better. I was not going to look down, as I had my first time. I expressed my determination to do well, and not to be afraid this time, at which someone laughed (understandably so, given my other time on it).

I climbed to the top. Never once looked down. Did the entire ropes course. And never once fell! Though some of it was tricky. In all of that, I never lost focus. If I had slipped, that would have been a test of whether or not I would keep focus on what I had to do next. Though certainly exhilerating, and intense, I had avoided the paralyzing fear that comes with the loss of proper focus.

And so it is in our life in God. When danger comes our way, and seems to be in our face, we need to keep the faith. Fixing our eyes, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, on Jesus. Both in the personal-relational way. And in the way of the disciple, learning from our Mentor. From his life as recorded for us in the gospels. And from the Spirit teaching us. And all of this both in our aloneness, and especially in the community of Jesus.

How do we apply this focus? This is where we need to be in Scripture. There are various things we'll have to do. Including, perhaps, like Paul, glorying in our own weakness, because of "the thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan" that may trouble us. Because we know God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. Indeed, a most hard lesson to learn. Simply learning to keep our eyes, in faith on the faithful One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How about you? What have you learned about the focus of faith? What keeps you on track? Or helps you get back on track?

Monday, October 30, 2006

the religious roots of American democracy

This weekend on Speaking of Faith Krista Tippett had an interesting interview with Jacob Needleman, philosopher and author of the book, The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, well worth listening to.

Needleman, I think, brings some balance and perspective into the tendency to simply brush off most of the founders of the United States as Deists and men of the Enlightenment, and not Christians. There is much good to be said for them, in spite of the truth in such an assertion.

Needleman himself seems to champion the Enlightenment. He sees it as good, stating that knowledge leads to good actions. Nevertheless his point about how the founders saw democracy compared to how Americans look at democracy today is interesting. In terms of how they saw "happiness", and how rights entailed responsibility for them, contrasted to the "individualism" that can so characterize us today. Also interesting is how Needleman sees the vision of the founding fathers as being appropriate and helpful for the pluralistic society America finds itself in today. A pluralism that is inclusive of all the good in religions, an understanding that many of the founding fathers were more than aware of.

While this does not make some of the leaders in the "religious right" correct about their assertions of the Christianity of the founders, it does provide some balance so that we can see and appreciate their keen insights that in themselves lay the groundwork for a progression towards the realization of the ideals of democracy in the republic, of which they held dear.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

please pray again for Bob Robinson

Our blogger friend and servant of Christ is having problems with unstable blood pressure.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

embracing grace 8: stories of the gospel story

Scot McKnight points out how the gospel we tell as evangelicals, is not as big as the gospel we find in Scripture. We confine ourselves to individual souls. But this gospel in Jesus is so much larger. It embraces all creation, and the entire story of it.

In fact this gospel is so big, that it takes several stories Christian theologians have come up with, over the centuries, to begin to tell it. The gospel in evangelical circles over the years has been confined to just one story. And it is a grand, glorious story. But to begin to know the depth and riches of it, as given to us from Scripture, requires several tellings of it, from differing perspectives seeing different aspects of it.

First there is Irenaeus, the story of recapitulation. Christ does for the human race what Adam failed to do. He undoes what Adam did. And in the words of this early theologian: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself." Christ does this by his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We then are by faith part of a new race in Christ, living in this new life he has established for us.

The early theologians tell us the story of ransom. In their version, humankind is captive to Satan. God fools Satan by letting him put to death the Son of God. When Satan grasps the Son, he loses his hold on the human race. Then God mocks him, as the Son of God is raised from the dead. Today's version of this drops this scheme. Sin and systemic evil are dealt a death blow through Christ's death and resurrection. And humans are restored to their Eikonic status.

Anselm tells the story of satisfaction. God had been dishonored by Adam and Eve's sin. The Son of God by his death on the cross restores that honor to God. And along with that, humans are restored and God is honored in it all. Only the Son, finite as a human, but infinite as God, could restore the infinite honor to God along with restoring humans. He becoming like us so we could become like God.

The evangelical reformers tell us the story of penal substitution. God's wrath is factored in for them, against humanity's sin. Christ pays the penalty of God's just wrath by his death for us, as our substitue. Therefore God's wrath, in Christ is deflected from us humans. We must have faith to enter into this blessing, by which we are justified. Though the wrath aspect is controversial with some today, this story does point out that Jesus does something for us, in his death, that we cannot do for ourselves. And takes our judgment for us. Giving us his righteousness.

Abelard tells the story of the example. Christ's life and surrender to the will of God in the death of the cross is an example we're to follow. This is to be our way of life in Christ Jesus. We are to live cruciform, or Cross-formed lives.

The Story for us is a Person. In this Person, Jesus, we are embraced by God, and we embrace God. We have atonement, or at-one-ment in union with God and his will. The creeds of Christianity do not try to explain Christ's atonement, because no one theory of atonement can cover the depth and riches of the Story we find in Scripture. Pondering is good, but as Kevin Vanhoozer points out, partaking of this bread of life, who is the Lord, is better.

How would you define or describe the gospel? What story here matches your understanding best? What value do you see in each or any of the stories, especially those you are not familiar with?

less is more

I believe often that less is more. And because of that, often more is less.

Statements like this tend to be reductionistic and simplistic. For example there is an important place for reading much, and many books (and blogs?), and especially reading much Scripture- even if all of that is wearying to the body (Ecclesiastes). And it is good to be able to see the big picture along with its many parts.

But the point here is, I just don't believe we "multi-task" all that well. The other evening at our home group I was playing my guitar, and leading us in singing. Someone requested a hymn. I was trying to remember the words and hit the right chords at the same time. But dropped the ball on both, the failure to grasp the words breaking my concentration on hitting the right chords. It is something like that in the point here, I'm trying to make.

I'd rather give a one page handout, getting us into Scripture with some questions to facilitate discussion, than give a handout with reams and reams of material, that likely neither they nor I am really going to "get" very well. In this case, less is more, and more is less.

We want depth. We want substance, not only style, and certainly not "fluff". But this all takes time. As we build into our lives, and into the lives of others: line upon line, precept upon precept, working goodness and truth into our lives. Little by little. Until something grows, and continues to grow out of it.

As my blogger friend, Allan Bevere reminded me, the kingdom of God as a mustard seed is important for us, in our outlook of what is truly more and great. We find God at work in the little things of our relationships and of our lives. Taking us along one step- even if small- at a time.

What are your thoughts and experience here? Do you think this is a valid maxim (or generality)? Why or why not?

Monday, October 23, 2006

connecting personally

Last evening we had a home group of our church, in which I think there was a significant connecting to each other personally. And to some degree a connecting together to the Lord.

In much of what we do that is good, we can fail to connect, either with each other, or with God. I often fail to do this in my daily readings of Scripture. I fail to see this as a personal encounter with God. I am working on that.

First we must seek to be walking faithfully with God. As in personal communion with him. This is a walk by faith, not by feeling- though feelings come and go. And from that walk, we encounter others personally. This is a communion that includes God, even if at times we're unaware of that.

Relationship is central in God's eyes. The heart, mind, strength in activities, and life-activity in general are all important, but peripheral to that. Relationship to God, and to each other- in love, is what each of these aspects of life are about, the heart of our living. The Jesus Creed. Loving in response to God's love for us, in Christ.

What keeps us from personally relating to God? To each other? What is the kingdom of God like, as to the place and experience of relationships? What helps relationships become strong and growing, in spite of the difficulties all relationships have? Where is to be our first love? And what does that look like in our lives?

United States: dangerous nation?

Robert Kagan, author of a new book, Dangerous Nation, was interviewed. Worth listening to for me. And the book looks interesting too. An excerpt is shared on the same page.

I think his thoughts help me take a more realistic view towards the United States of America, my country. He helps us avoid an unreal ideal attributed to the founding and earlier years of our nation. This nation is made up of humans who do good and bad things. Motives have not, nor always are completely good. Though the United States has often seen itself as an agent of good will toward humanity, as in what we're doing now, in trying to bring democracy to other peoples, so that they might enjoy ideals that some of us think are intrinsic to human beings.

Of course we get into all kinds of problems philosophically here. And I don't want, neither very well can go into that in this post (or any post). But my point here is that we need to take leaders and their policies for what they are. Maybe poor judgment. Generally well meaning for others, with not a little of our own interests factored in. This is a part of our American heritage, if one is to believe Kagan. I, at least in large part, do.

Does the book live up to its name? Based on the interview alone, I rather doubt it. Though Kagan does have some hard things to say about the United States. And in some ways sees this nation as an empire (benevolent, certainly not in the same category as the Third Reich), but in other ways- not (as compared with the Roman empire). The book, I believe helps us see the fallibility of our leaders from the beginning. But is richly nuanced, if I can judge by the interview itself. So that we're left with some complexity about American ideals and actions. And basically see a nation that wants to do good by its standards, sometimes fails, often succeeds. But with consequences that can be a mixed blessing.

So if you have a little time, and are so inclined, I would encourage you to give this interview a listen. And read the excerpt from Kagan's new book, as well. Then give us your thoughts, if you like, about it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

being missional

On Benjamin Myers' Faith and Theology blog, he has some good words on being missional.

Being missional is rooted in the loving activity of the Triune God. It is who this God is. And being missional for us, as the Jesus community, is essentially part of who we are in Jesus. So that, as we're following him in this world, we are bent towards mission. As in living out and sharing the good news of God's kingdom and love, in Jesus.

And we come to realize that we are here on earth, now, essentially as part of Christ's Body in the world. To do his works as they are given to us to do. A stretching thought, indeed.

This should shape how we see all of life. Certainly not meaning that we don't engage in what are fun activities for ourselves. But that, in all things, we see them in some way, with reference to our mission in Jesus here on earth. Sometimes that can come across radical, as Paul did in 1 Corithians 7. But in one way or another, it should affect our outlook and what we do in all of life.

Good things to ponder on. What thought or thoughts might you add to this?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

embracing grace 7: a missional gospel

From Scot McKnight's Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us, we now look at the gospel as being missional in its focus and impact. And that focus and impact is on no less than the entire earth. Especially humans, but inclusive of all of God's creation. And holistically too, in the sense of redeeming and reconciling through Christ, all that is under the curse due to human sin, and broken in relation to God and his good will.

By the way, Paraclete Press has published a helpful companion guide to this book (as they did for The Jesus Creed), well worth having, especially if one leads a group or goes through the book with another person.

To obey "the Jesus Creed" involves addressing problems, then solving them- through Christ. The problem of "systemic evil" rears its ugly head everywhere. We must be those, in Jesus, who do not merely curse the darkness. But light candles of good will in good works. Churches of various traditions are doing just that. Impacting their communities and neighborhoods with the love of God in Christ. Being, as Christ's Body: his hands, feet and voice. We must begin where we're at. Looking, listening, learning and linking- to the needs of our neighbors, all around us. Helping those in need. Stemming the tide of systemic evil. And as we learn how to do it where we live, we can then help see it done in various places throughout the earth.

The impact of the gospel is to begin now, in this world. And all creation has its special place in God's redemption in Christ Jesus. And we in Christ are now agents of the message of this redemption and reconcilation. Of God's good will for the world.

What impact does the gospel have now, as you understand it? What various roles can be played by those in the Jesus community, in seeing this gospel take root and bear fruit in our world?

community and mission

The American myth of the rugged individual (see last post), for the Jesus community, needs to be morphed into thinking as a community together in the Triune God. And this community being missional- on mission in Jesus to the world.

This mission is about a holistic gospel whose vision is the kingdom of God come in Jesus. It has to do with all that God reconciles to himself in Christ, all creation. So it means an attitude, on the part of us in the Jesus community, that all peoples as well as all of God's creation matters.

As Jesus told his disciples, "As the Father sent me, so I am sending you." We receive the Holy Spirit in this context for mission. We are Christ's Body to the world.

As Christ's Body we must be "hands on". Doing this together. But each having our unique part. While it's not about any of us, or even all of us together, we each have our unique contribution in this mission. This includes concerns from saving an animal from extinction to concern and love expressed for our neighbor across the street. And everything in between. A general interest to us all, while each have our own special interests.

This post anticipates my next post on Scot McKnight's profound book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us. Taking ideas from the chapter we will look at next.

Have you seen a faith community that seemed strong on community, at least for a time, but lacked a proper missional focus beyond its own communal concerns? Of course strong community is important and needed, but in Jesus' eyes is only as strong as their abilility to come to live not only to themselves, but to the world in bringing the gospel in Jesus to bear on it. What seems to happen to such a community that seems more than less turned in on itself? What does a community look like that is missional, and how might that compare with a community that is weak in missional focus? We must beware thinking any two local communities must be the same in how they live out the mission in Jesus. For just as each individual member of Christ's Body is unique, so surely each community of the Body of Christ in the world, is likewise unique in its expression of faith and mission in the following of Jesus in the world.

Monday, October 16, 2006

the myth of the rugged individual

Pastor Jack Brown gave us a helpful message Sunday, on community and about the myth of the rugged individual. This is what has largely defined America, being a chief part of its identity. Among its icons: Davey Crockett, Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwartzenegger. But it is not to be so, among the followers and community of Jesus.

Genesis 2, in which God said that it was not good for the man to be alone. Then Acts 2, in which the early church lived as community. This community grounded in the Being of God as Trinity, in interrelational love. Something is inherent in humans, that makes solitary confinement one of the worst punishments a human can endure. Pictured in "Cast Away", in which Tom Hanks plays the castaway, who befriends and speaks to the volleyball, "Wilson".

I have to agree that this is perhaps the mythology that has most shaped and defined the United States. To be human, as revealed by God in Jesus Christ, involves living in union with God and communion with humans. To become a Christian means to become a member of the Body of Christ. So that it's not about "me and Jesus." But it's about fellowship together in the community of the Trinity. It's about "Jesus and us."

I recall a recent conversation I had with a believer over the issue of "affirmative action", which we're soon to be voting on, here in Michigan. He appealed, really, to this myth, I believe, in his own position on this divisive, and admittedly difficult political issue. His appeal was to the individual- Abraham Lincoln, who in spite of circumstances, was able to overcome. And there is truth here. But surely not the whole truth even in Lincoln's life. And even if it was, does that make such an individualistic experience right, or the best?

Each of us present, doing our part as a member of Christ and each other. Not independent, but in need of our brother and sister. We together in need of Christ. And together in the fellowship of the Triune God. This is really what it's all about.

Do you see this myth as a defining one, in the American saga or experience? How does the Story of God found in Scripture compare or contrast with this? What are your own thoughts?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

rest and responsibility

For some reason this evening, as I was kind of in a daze over the wasted hours I had spent on a wild goose chase between two stores of the same chain, in trying to exchange a monitor still under the return date- as I understood it, etc., etc., etc.... And as I heard my wife, Deb talking about her problems at work. And as I thought on some of the extra stress I myself have experienced in the past weeks. Then I had to think- being helped with the journal my wife gave me for our recent anniversary- that indeed, I have really come into a more real rest, by and large. This is a rest, by faith in God. Believing that he is at work and that his promises are true. And that therefore, the burden is not on me. Not that I've arrived on this issue of rest. Just that I've grown, so that rest in God is substantial and more real for me.

Once I'm learning to live in that rest, then I am freed to seek to fulfill God-ordained responsibilities. When not really resting in God, one is simply trying to deal with life in a way that God can be, and often is left out. There is the kind of laboring that is really more like just trying to get through another day. Maybe with a few highlights and experience of God's grace here and there. But by and large a struggle to the end.

But learning the light yoke and labor that comes from the rest God calls us to in Christ, means freedom to labor with God, by the Spirit. To follow Paul's example, he did so putting all effort into it. But it was not futile. For God was energizing him by his power at work in him. Paul wasn't concerned about surviving, but in fulfilling God's calling for him.

So I reflected, not only on my new found substantial rest (compared to years of falling short of it), but my desire to better fulfill responsibilities at hand. Especially prayer for others, as well as other good works I find to do.

Rest and responsibility. Surely they go hand in hand. As we better get down the rest part, than we are able to concentrate better on the responsibility part. For only as we rest can we really do the works of God. Just another paradox in the long line of them we find in Scripture and in our life in God.

Friday, October 13, 2006

a small editorial: political (and talk radio) arrogance: let's avoid it

I am fascinated by the charges of arrogance given by talk radio against the political party they oppose. There is really arrogance on every side. And the devastating part is when we Christians are caught up in all of this. Then we unwittingly can become partakers in this same kind of arrogance.

I am sad at saying this. I really can't take seriously much of what I catch on talk radio. Because those ready to do eye surgery on others, or ready to stone others, fail to see their own blindness and sin.

It is refreshing to see people talk about issues and with respect to their opponents, as Eikons of God- when that happens. Let's not lower ourselves, as those in the Jesus community, to the thoughts and standards that are common fare- and even more so, this political season.

Please don't miss the "embracing grace" post of today, not seen unless one scrolls down.

embracing grace 6: page after page

In this chapter, Scot helps us see clearly the importance and centrality of community. In God. In humankind. And in God's work of restoring the broken Eikons, we are.

God as Trinity is inherently a communal God, and a God of loving, embracing, interpenetrating community. Humans are made in his image, being Eikons of God. We are made to be united to God in this triune community. God takes us up in him, but it is "us", because humans are not inherently individualistic. We are individuals, but individuals who naturally (by creation) want and are made for community. Sin comes in and makes us run from God, and become strangers with each other. Thus sin not only means a broken relationship with God, but broken relationships with each other. This human brokeness is portrayed all throoughout the Bible, beginning with Cain's murdering of Abel.

But "page after page" we find that God is restoring humans, in Christ, into a community of love. And into the dynamic, divine community of love, together. Though it is not always pretty, and often resisted. Yet in the midst of that, there can come the kind of community that a John Wesley could point to, for any skeptic, and say, "Come and see."

This all climaxes at the end, with God coming to earth to dwell forever with his people (Revelation 21). It is the climax of what has begun now in Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God to earth through him. God is with us in the community of Jesus. This communion will be perfected so that there will no longer be any struggle to maintain this community by the Spirit. But we will all be confirmed together in a perfect unity that will grow all eternity, in this, the New Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God.

This gets "to the heart of the gospel: It is the work of God, in the context of a community, to restore us to union with God and communion for the good of others and the world."

Why is community important for us as humans? What keeps us from good community, as is evident all over the world- often from our homes, to the ends of the earth? How does that compare with the vision God gives us of the End (Revelation 21)? How do we see life in God- in individualistic terms primarily, or in communal terms? And how do we work this out in our lives?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

refresher on "the Jesus Creed"

29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12; TNIV)

I have found, and am finding my recitation of this passage as a reminder, to be a helpful check and directive for me during the day and days, as I work with other people in process, like me, who still sin and fall short of God's standard for us in Christ.

This is a needed reminder that it's all about love. Loving God with all our being and doing. And loving our neighbor as ourselves. This helps us hang in there, by faith, to receive God's grace to forgive those who sin against us (so that, in the words of our Lord, we too may be forgiven by our Father in heaven).

Of course love for God is the formative foundation to this all. This is in response to his love for us in Christ, truly both this act and our reception of it, only through and because of his grace to us in Christ Jesus (reminds me of Paul, always saying and echoing the words, it seems, "in Christ Jesus"). This helps us see life as what it's meant to be: a life of worship in the giving of ourselves as a living sacrifice, through the mercies of God.

How this recently worked for me. Someone recently spoke sharply and irritatingly to me over a simple work question I asked them. I was jolted, and not happy, but said nothing. I was reminded as I thought on this, of one of the scriptures calling us to forgive whatever grievances we may have toward another (Paul). And I was reminded to pray for this person. So I did. And I forgave. And the next day we had good fellowship as if nothing had happened the previous day. But what got me on this track, rather than an old track of perhaps reacting by confronting, and not necessarily in a gracious way, was remembering "the Jesus Creed."

Recite it during the day. It can help us hold our tongues or nonverbal reactions (hopefully to at least a minimum) to an offense, and enable us to do good to the one offending us. Even if it does include a word spoken to them in love.

God, let your love inform and form all we do, more and more, each day. May "the Jesus Creed" truly be our creed more and more. To your glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

confidence in politics

Tonight a good number of us were tuned in to a political debate between Governor Granholm and challenger DeVos. It is for me an interesting campaign. And I have to admit, I get a bit more interested in politics when election season rolls around.

But I believe that we, as those of the Jesus community, and I'm speaking for those of us who live in the United States- we tend to put too much stock in politics. I don't want to be misunderstood. I'm not saying that politics doesn't have its place, and that, in fact, it is an insignificant place. No. But I do believe our confidence in this political process and in political parties all but borders on being idolatrous. Bear with me a little.

I remember in Ohio, almost everyone I knew was a staunch Republican. And this included Mennonites (of which I was a part) who voted. I remember one particular uncle, a good man and Christian, yes- a Mennonite, who was a strong supporter of President Richard Nixon. I still remember the day, even though vaguely, when Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency, really, in disgrace over Watergate. This should have been a wakeup call for Christians, particularly for evangelicals, of which I am a part.

Instead evangelicals began to band together to form a political influence that could carry clout right up to the White House. Of course President Jimmy Carter was the first evangelical president. And President Ronald Reagan came in, not without significant support from evangelicals, many who then left the Democratic party to register as Republicans. And Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell was in full force. Seemed like the tide was turning in our nation. Surely we would get rid of Roe v Wade and see the good, right policies of the Republican party prevail.

Well, here we are. It's now 2006. What can we say about the state of our nation? I know I'm jumping ahead, and not even mentioning President Clinton and his eight years in the White House. Much can be said politically about that time, as well as any other time. But back to our question. What good has all our political maneuvering, campaigning, fighting, voting and devotion done? I say, very little. And I'm not advocating that we should not vote. I believe every American ought to vote, or at least study or know something about the candidates and issues.

All I'm saying in this post is that we in the Jesus community no less- here in America, tend to put too much confidence in politicians and the political process.

What is needed is nothing less than a revolution. But not from either the Democrats or Republicans or some other political party or entity. Oh, we'd do well to want to see them all turned on their heads, for that matter.

No. What we need is a major revolution in seeing the kingdom of God in Jesus have an impact through us, as the Jesus community, first in our homes, then in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and in all spheres of life to which God calls us.

To get an idea of what this revolution would look like we should read and meditate on Matthew 5-7, for a start. If we concentrated on living this out, we would not put so much stock in the political process. We would not be sweating over who is going to win what race. We would know that these things can have their place. That God can truly be at work in them (look at William Wilberforce). But that the way of Jesus and the kingdom of God is a way that will cross out the ways of the world. It will run counter to it in how we live in Jesus. And we will be calling people to and endeavoring to live in no less than Jesus and his teaching.

If you sense a call into the political process, by all means go for it. It is a good calling, for specific people, and an important one indeed. But let's see through all the confidence that is placed in mere humans. They are but a breath and all their plans can come to nothing. Let's not go there. And in whatever we do, let us ever be seeking to be followers of Jesus. And be involved in this world as salt and light.

Why is it easy for us Christians to put so much emphasis on the political process? Why, or why not are we mistaken in doing so?

the Amish story

We thank God for the evident grace he has given to the Amish community in the recent tragedy in Pennsylvania. For a moving account of this see Ben Witherington's posting here. And Scot McKnight has a helpful post on this, as well.

Some might call into question the witness given here. Though the story speaks for itself. I would like to remind us that we're all in need of God's grace, every moment of every day. We all are works in progress. We have plenty of thinking that needs renewed. We have plenty of "oughts" we fail to do, as well as words/actions we should not have done.

And this includes fellowships as well. One of the remarkable aspects of the church, to me, is just how it keeps on going, in its local assemblies, in spite of all its/her deficiencies and problems. This is not to say that a church may not lose its place as one of Christ's churches (see Revelation 2:5). But that our Lord is exceedingly patient with us all.

The point being, yes, the Spirit and the grace of God in Christ is at work in all kinds of fellowships that name the name of Christ. In spite of us. Not because of us. None of us has it all together. Some churches struggle with a bent towards legalism, as in set rules that may distract its members from the grace and truth that is in Jesus. Other churches struggle with a worldliness that comes again from a lack of understanding the grace and truth that is in Jesus. But in the end, God is at work to make us all one in his Son. And in that, to be the witness to the world, he calls us to be, as we grow together to be more and more like Christ.

So let us thank God for what we can learn from our brothers and sisters in the Amish community. And let us lift them, and the Carl Rogers family up in prayer. And let us be united together in the grace and truth that is in Christ Jesus.

Is there any church on earth that has it all together? Is there a church in which God's work among and through them is finished? What strikes you from this tragedy as formative for your faith in Christ?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

embracing grace 5: the epic of the Eikon

To understand the End is to know where everything is headed toward, either in harmony or in dissonance. In this chapter, Scot points to the End, as it arrives in the Revelation to John, as indicating to us where everything is headed, including ourselves. It is all about union with God and communion with people. To be in Christ, in the kingdom of God, and to have eternal life, is to be coming to know God, more and more. And moving closer to God (as on spokes, from the "rim" of the wheel to the hub) means moving closer to each other. It is one big community, one big city in the end, the New Jerusalem. And a big dance and shebang participating in the very perichoresis or interacting, unifying movement and dance of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

If we know how the Story of life ends, THE Story, then we know what end our lives ought to be moving towards. It is certainly in keeping with "the Jesus Creed": to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

"Getting there" isn't all together "half the fun" in this. It involves a battle, as we see in Revelation. A battle the Lamb wins over the beast and his cohorts. Human rule and power exacts a heavy toll on humankind and the planet; the dragon makes war on the Lamb and his people. God intervenes in judgment. And finally puts an end to what is contrary to the true End of all things.

This is about destiny. And the epic of the Eikon, humankind, is indeed a destiny of participation in the greatness of all God is. A participation in God, and with each other. Not to be confused with a monastery filled with individual cells or some pole in a desert. But more like a crowded church camp, as Scot says.

As we come more and more into this Light together, we become more and more the true humans God made us to be. Each one unique, but together in Christ.

So this is what life is all about in the Here and Now. It is not about simply awaiting "the sweet by and by". We are in Jesus an eschatological people, now. We live as those who are moving towards this vision, given to us by God.

Dante in his Divine Comedy--the Inferno, along with John Bunyan, in his Pilgrim's Progress, each wrote about this. Again, what we "in Christ" are now, is in continuity with, and moving towards what we shall become. This helps us "see" what we're to become someday, and casts all other visions into the night, where they belong.

How does knowing the End of the Story impact how you think and live? What impact does the book of Revelation have on your life? What more impact could all this have on our lives?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


A few years back, I had the impression that I sensed God telling me, "Read. Read. Read."

I love to read. But there are so many other things in life that can come in and crowd it out. Good things. And plenty of them. Great in their place. Not so great out of place.

I venture to say that I get the greatest reward out of reading than most any other activity. First and foremost, of course, Scripture. Regularly. Consistently. Blogger friend Allan Bevere shared this informative, formative article from Christian History, entitled, "The Habits of Highly Effective Bible Readers: What we can learn from the church fathers that will enrich our own Bible study". It is good to read widely. But the more we do so, the more we need to keep at our reading of Scripture. Francis Schaeffer used to tell his students that it was even more critical that they should keep up their Bible reading, while reading philosophy. And to be reading it, then, all the more!

Of course read what interests you. What interests you is related to who you are which is related to how God has gifted you. Therefore I will major on what interests me. But also I will want to stretch beyond that, at times, to learn to appreciate other subjects and ways of writing. I tend to like nonfiction and theology, and hang all the rest. Except for good humor. Need some of that. But the blog world has helped me stretch beyond just what I know I like. Ernest Hemmingway's The Old Man and the Sea is a great example of a fiction book that was a great read for me. And I look forward to reading more classics, especially theological, which I could easily neglect, except for good friends in the blog world, who awaken me to some of those books.

When reading I don't worry myself sick over trying to remember all the details (like I used to). I think more in terms of impact and formation, than ideas and information- though without discounting the latter. I think this is especially important in Bible reading. Though true in other, as well (unless you're reading much of politics or the sports page; that's good for practicing your speed reading and scanning- ha). I have to say, I'm not a fan of speed reading. Maybe some high speed intellects can do it. I can't. Even John Wesley, who knew by memory the Greek New Testament better than he knew the English translation of it, was known for reading slowly. Of course he did alot of his reading on horseback. I think it is perfectly fine to read slow. With pauses here and there to gather our thoughts. But to keep moving that pace. Even if you don't think you're really "getting" all of it.

Just some thoughts on one of my favorite individual pastimes. I think I'll go upstairs now and read.

What would you like to share about your own reading?