Wednesday, February 28, 2007

against entitlement

One application of yesterday's post on following Christ communally, is to speak against the sense of entitlement I pick up among us Christians, and in which I've lived, as well.

I use "entitlement" here as the idea that I'm entitled to something or, I have certain "rights". That certain people owe me. Like my spouse. Or children. My employer, "boss", fellow employees. My pastor and church. My nation.

Looking at yesterday's passage, we see that if we take on the attitude of mind that Christ had, in our relationships with one another, we will take on an entirely different attitude than entitlement. Instead we will in humility, value others above ourselves. We will look, not to our own interests, but to the interests of the others. And we will take Christ's attitude of mind to heart, daily in our lives. Seeing ourselves on common ground with others. And serving them, in a life of obedience to God. Preferring our own excruciating death, daily, over imposing anything destructive on them (thanks to L.L. Barkat, for that insight, from a comment yesterday).

Entitlement complains about how the world is treating us Christians. This idea is from those who see America as a Christian nation at its outset. There was certainly formidable Christian influence then, though the Enlightenment influence was also strong (if not stronger). And Deism. And being a democracy, we believe we have certain rights, along with the expectations that come from electing officials.

We forget that Jesus told his disciples that "the world" is not in harmony with the kingdom of God come in Jesus. That this kingdom is from another place, and brings another message and reality. By which we're to help impact the reality and world in which we live. As we look forward to the day when this kingdom takes over, and is in full sway.

This is a kingdom in operation that looks like Jesus, in his emptying of himself into "nothing", in his being made a human, and being obedient to death, even the most cruel death of the cross. A humility in love that we are called to embrace together. A humility that has no sense at all of entitlement. But having, instead, a sense of obligation and a debt of love to our brothers and sisters in Jesus, and to all people. As we follow our Lord.

What thoughts do you have on this?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

communal following of Christ

I like the way the TNIV renders Philippians 2:5: "In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:". This brings out the meaning of the Greek more clearly than most translations: This be thinking among you (plural) which also in Christ Jesus. Both contextually and in the verse itself, this is talking about a kind of communal following of Christ.

Most treatments of this passage I've either heard or read, from my memory, really don't grapple with this aspect much. Though it's at the heart of what Paul is talking about, here. Many get lost in the kenotic study of Christ. How did he empty himself, or make himself nothing? But we can easily lose sight of the intent of this passage.

First Paul is telling them that this special kind of community is to be different in relation to one another (verses 1-4). Then Paul presents Christ and his attitude of mind as being the supreme example or path they are to follow, in their relationships with one another (verses 5-8).

This means humility, servanthood and even death, if need be, for one another, in Jesus. And it also means exaltation in Jesus, for all who take this path (verses 9-11), though, of course these verses refer only to Christ. But I take them to apply to our communal following of him. We certainly will share in his glory, if we share in his sufferings.

Christ's work is redemptive. Certainly for his brothers and sisters. But also for the world. It would stand to reason, then, that our following of him is likewise to go beyond just our relationships with one another. But also to be redemptive, for the world. Of course Christ's work is unique. But we're to be little christs, in our obedience to God. This is at the heart of following him.

And there is no way we're to live in a bubble. Our life in the world will, and should cross over into the lives of all kinds of people. That they would see the Christ life in us. That they would see the difference in our lives as we follow him. Then whatever we say in witness can have much more impact, by the Spirit.

Jesus told his disciples that all people would know that they were his disciples or followers, if they had love for each other. He also prayed, soon afterwards, that we would be united, just as he and the Father were united, so that the world would know that the Father had sent him. This is largely redemptive in purpose. Yes. Displaying a reality. But doing so for the world.

Back to the Philippians 2 passage. We must see our communion with other believers in this light. Do we reflect the Lord and his love, his grace and truth? Or do we sometimes reflect the world? And live according to the flesh? Christ's obedience and love gave to the point of the most cruel death. Like him we're to be servants of all. And that service must start at home and in our gatherings as church. That we together, would learn to live out this great Christ life, in mission to the world.

This is such a preliminary sketch. What do you see here that can help us?

Monday, February 26, 2007

making do

Life is filled with uncertainties. As well as difficulties encountered, along the way. It's important for us to see the great good that can come out of where we're at and what we have. Instead of focusing on our limitations, we need to find what can be done. And what God may be doing, in our circumstances.

For many of us this "making do" may include scaling down. We might not really need all that we have. We may either need to get rid of it, or share it with those who could use it.

For some of us, we wish for more. Not thinking we have enough to do well enough ourselves, or to do the good we'd like to do for others. This is when we may need to think in terms of "terracing", as in making the most out of what we have. This will take some work and creativity. But it can be done.

We do have something important from God to offer, in Jesus (and to Jesus) for the world. It's likely to be small for most of us. Like the boy with the five loaves and two small fishes. Yet to be faithful and give to God what we have, can make a world of difference in at least someone's life.

What about the widow who had very little, but gave it all? How did the Lord look at her offering? He saw it as much bigger than the larger amounts rich people had thrown in. Because for her, it was all. She gave all she had to live on. I wonder what her vision was of God's kingdom and care for her? Surely Jesus seeing her, was for more than telling us this story. And we need to remember, in love he sees us all, our hearts, thoughts and deeds.

I have been hampered much of my life by looking at my limitations. What I can't do. How I've failed. How I don't measure up to someone else, or others' expectations for me. But we need to lay all that to rest. Simply learning to joyfully make do with what we have from God. And to look for God's hand of blessing through our weak yet sincere offering.

I love the story of the little girl in Africa. After hearing how much Jesus had done for her, she was moved. But she had nothing to give. When they passed the basket around, she asked them to lower it. Then she stepped inside. She wanted to give herself.

As we have that kind of heart attitude, of each day giving ourselves to God, God can help us have the mindset to make do. Make do through the hard times. Make do through the good times. And all that we encounter in this life. To the very end.

What would you like to add here?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

prayer for first Sunday of Lent

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(prayer for first Sunday in Lent from The Book of Common Prayer)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

life as a pointer

I was reminded when reading recently (from N.T. Wright) how our experience in the here and now, points to a fulfillment that is to come. A grand fulfillment, in the kingdom of God in Jesus.

Life is more than a pointer. And the kingdom of God in Jesus has come, to begin its work in the world. For us who are of that kingdom, we begin now, to taste of the goodness yet to come. Though really, all do receive something of the goodness of God, even in a fallen, yet to be redeemed world.

A love relationship, or relationships we have with friends, point to something more. Even the best of love relationships have their trying times. And all must come to an end in this life. Which makes this especially bitter as well as sweet (I remember C.S. Lewis' intense grief over Joy's parting).

We may not really get the point of some, and even a good number of experiences we have in this world. But if we are patient, and try to see the big picture, and not just the puzzling details in the picture, we can at least see that there is something more. There is a hand and a heart, that is wanting to draw us into a goodness, love and world that we will, in the end, recognize as the fulfillment. A Story in which there are many new beginnings and wonderful endings. For ever, and ever. C.S. Lewis says it so much better:
And as [Aslan] spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
from The Last Battle of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Friday, February 23, 2007

real beauty

Beauty is a gift from God. It is one of those realities we're to dwell on. God has placed beauty everywhere in his creation. And the whole of it is very good. A part of goodness is what is fitting, and that is a part of beauty.

Sadly, the world seems to appreciate only outward beauty. A beautiful woman outwardly, is sometimes noted in the Old Testament, so it's not like this beauty is bad. However, we know that there needs to be more than that. And what about those of us who are not beautiful, or handsome outwardly? But the point here is that we look at beauty too superficially.

"Beauty is more than skin deep." It's not a trite saying that one can be homely (ugly) on the outside, and yet be a beautiful person. Beauty denotes something that attracts others. And wins others over. We find it in one's character. In their love expressed through their manner and actions.

Real beauty is found in the one who came. Who became one of us. Of whom it is written:
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

Isaiah 53:2
But we read on in that passage and find a beauty which will never allow us to see things in the same way, ever again. A beauty that in grace draws us. A beauty that can change us forever.

Our goal in Jesus is to become like him. As we're drawn to, and behold his beauty and glory, we're changed from glory to glory into his resemblance. We can more and more take on the image of our Lord, as we continue to gaze on his beauty.

We're all tempted to see beauty superficially. To buy into the world's standard of beauty. But we in Jesus have something far better. We have a beauty that will last forever. And needs to be in every nook and cranny of our lives. At home, in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our church gatherings and fellowships, wherever God is calling us in the world.

Begin to look at Jesus. Study his life in the gospels. Let's ask God to reveal him to us. We together are to become more and more like him. That the world would see his beauty in us. And be drawn to him.

What does beauty look like to you? Or what thoughts would you like to share here?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

following Jesus

I was enjoying the words to Michael Card's album, A Fragile Stone on the life of Peter. Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed is starting a series for Lent on Mary and Peter following Jesus.

Following Jesus, both individually, and together in him, is so central to who we are in Jesus, and our calling in this world. I am convinced that God puts, or allows some difficult and challenging things in our lives, not only to test and strengthen our faith, but to test and strengthen our commitment, in love, to follow the Lord, in our lives.

We will find ourselves in places where we know, left to ourselves, there is no hope. Or maybe in areas in which we're already failing. Or experiencing something that is humbling to us. All of this is really to help us learn that there is one thing we must do. "Follow me."

And in the words of Michael Card:
The only gamble is to act on the belief
That only the slave who leaves it all is truly free
Let's seek to follow Christ closely, all the way. Knowing too, that he'll always be there for us, to seek us, when we go astray. Even as he so wonderfully did with Peter.

What thoughts would you like to add here?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

what to do about the poor

A new blogger friend, Alan Knox, has some good thoughts along with opening his heart on this question.

I'm far from being any kind of expert on economics. I have blogger friends who know plenty more on it. So I hesitate to venture forth, here. But I'm not a fan of "trickle down" economics. In theory it works great. Those at the top are unencumbered so they can use the best possible strategy to make the most money. And in that process, the people they hire to make the business go, make money. And the bigger the business, the bigger the impact in providing jobs.

That sounds good. The only reason I lack the confidence that I've heard from one proponent of that view, brilliantly, I must add, in a debate, is that there are fallen humans at the top of that "trickle down" economics. There has to be at least some regulation, yes, government regulation. The laws of the land are going to have to be in place to do that.

I believe in a chastened capitalism or free enterprise system. Which incorporates socialistic elements. Or are we just going to leave the poor behind? Even for self-interest alone, this is untenable. Crime is impacted when poverty is dealt with. Though self-interest should be no consideration for us of the kingdom of God in Jesus. And abortions are reduced when poverty is dealt with.

But what about the church? What about us? We should know the answer there. It is all over the Bible. We're to help the poor. The gospel of the kingdom of God in Jesus is, in part, about helping the poor and afflicted. Bob Robinson has some good examples of Christians serving in this way.

This needs to become a way of life with us as Christians, and as churches. We are out to help those who need it. And not just to help ourselves. That we're going to be generous, whether we have plenty or not. Some of the most generous people I know are those who don't have much. And others of us, who have more, are constantly thinking about what might happen if we give up such and such amount to help another in distress. Though in theory I love to give, and have done so, in practice I have plenty of room to grow. Of course we need to be wise in all of this. You don't just hand someone $5. Chances are they'll be buying some cheap liquor with it.

Governments have their responsibility. And America, (/o/v/e/r/a/l/l/, I believe /i/s/ /a/ /m/i/s/e/r/a/b/l/e/ /f/a/i/l/u/r/e/) has some serious work to do, in this area. /S/o/r/r/y/./ (editing changes) I see it from the perspective of real people in which the system simply does not work. Leaving them on the street. Or without essential medication.

And the church, though doing better, needs to really wake up. We've got to be there for each other. And for the poor in general. Doing good especially for those in need in the family of believers. But also doing the same good to all people. If this isn't part of our passion, than our Christianity isn't worth much.

What might you add to my thoughts, here?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

being poor in America

We have some dear friends who are struggling financially. She's had two silent heart attacks; he has a bad back; in their fifties. He lost a good job months after suffering a new back problem. In spite of the fact that he had never let up on his work. He's on a piece rate job now. They fell behind because initially he brought home only $75 one week, and not much more others. He's now making $300 more per four weeks, than expenses.

In the mean time the company dealing with their lot rent has hit them with fines and court fees. For being $21 short one month (November), they were fined and feed well over $100, alot for them. On top of that they fell behind in the mortgage of their mobile home. Both companies have come across to them as ruthless.

A church has kicked in nearly $1,000. $500 towards the mortgage debt. And the rest towards ending more fees and getting them caught up on lot rent. Now agencies have turned them down, after assuring them that it was just a procedure they had to go through, before getting the needed money. And on top of that, because he's pulling in the equivalent of $8 an hour (believe me, that's not much here in Michigan), they're taking away their medicare coverage. So the lady won't have her needed heart medication at $100 a pill. They were told, after having had the man send more information in, that they were denied because of lack of information. The mortgage company is on their heels again.

This is only one true story. Be assured. There are more.

Am I angry and upset? Yeah. We have plenty of wealth in this city. But people are falling through the cracks. Many in Michigan. And here in West Michigan.

The church needs to become stronger in addressing this problem. We are. And we still have plenty of room to grow. Likewise the government needs to be helpful. If we as a society, are not willing to have programs to help the poor, not willing to pay for them, then we are not a compassionate, caring society. I know there are complexities here. I had a good conversation by e-mail with Michael Kruse last evening. He was very articulate at voicing his thoughts- nuancing the issue better, and empathized and agreed with mine. This is nothing short of a crisis for many.

In the long term, there may be an adjustment going on as to how we live. Though technical advances seem to offset dwindling resources, to some extent, at least.

We look forward to the day when there will be no more poverty. When the kingdom of God in Jesus is set up on earth. And God's will is done fully on earth, as it is in heaven.

Meantime, we're to do this work here now. Any reading of Scripture will tell us that.

What would you add here?

Monday, February 19, 2007

pastoral work takes time

David Fitch has a great post on why a multiplicity of pastors are needed for any growing fellowship. And ideally, for any fellowship. I have been reminded again and again that pastoral work takes time. First I must describe what I mean by pastor. I see pastoring, or being a Pastor, as, in the Biblical sense, shepherding, or being a shepherd under the Good and Great Shepherd, Jesus. Like Peter, such work involves feeding and taking care of Christ's sheep (John 21). Of course we're taking on the Biblical analogy and model of likening us people to sheep.

To do this right takes a commitment of time. You cannot pastor well, if your work in listening to and getting to know others is marked by haste. While certainly, there will be either a tight or looser deadline one has to meet (normally), there should be enough time to, in a relaxing way, kick off the shoes, so to speak, and listen intently as well as converse. And of course this must begin at home. If we don't have time to do it there, than we don't have time to do it anywhere else.

This kind of work is, no doubt, demanding. But those gifted in this way need to give themselves to it. And such enjoy the opportunities. We must simply beware of following a model which may be worldly, and not Scriptural. Successful in the eyes of the world, but failing in God's eyes.

These thoughts lend all the more sense to David Fitch's point. The lone senior pastor, in today's church, may not make sense any more. Unless one is referring to a home church. Which hopefully would be joined to other home churches, each having at least one person who can pastor.

Jesus was the eminent model of this. His disciples, first, were with him. Then on mission. You learn by observing. Especially from those who impact you, directly. You then end up doing, what they did. This was surely true of Jesus' disciples. They did what he had done, in their own, unique, God-gifted way. And women with them, surely did the same. And we now have the Spirit of Christ to guide us in this same work.

I am assuming here that pastoral work is more than reading, studying and perhaps preparing a sermon, or a teaching time. Though that's an important, essential part, as well. It must include this shepherding of sheep. We sheep need to be taken care of, one by one. And in turn, sheep can begin to help other sheep.

What about your experience in this? Or thoughts you might have here?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Jesus Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

from Eastern Orthodox prayers

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Regularity is a good thing in many ways. We won't go into all the ways here. But suffice it to say, that it is good in so many ways.

I love vacations. We need more of them. Really, they need to become regular too. But it's more like regular in just a very few times each year. But we need real get aways (which, I really have not done well enough, in my 50+ years). But when the vacation is done, as much as we enjoyed it, I look forward to getting back into the regular routine.

Regular to me means being in Scripture and in prayer, regularly, all day long. Being with my family as much as possible. Spending regular special times each day with my wife, Deb. Being with friends at work. Working. Driving down the street, normally listening to NPR. Maybe walking the dog (the snow banks around here now, don't really lend to that; so she's tied out in the back part of the time). Reading good books. Engaging in good conversations. Face to face. And through blogging.

Regular to me is good. What we do regularly, shapes us, for better or for worse. If I regularly do anything that is not good and perhaps misusing God's good creation, then I have to break this pattern that becomes set, by this regular (irregular) practice. We do that by engaging in another habit and practice regularly, that can help us break the old, destructive habit and pattern. Like going to a Scripture passage and pondering it, line by line. Or listening to some uplifting music, especially of, or about the Story of God from Scripture.

I used to suffer from fairly significant depression (never diagnosed). Even took a couple of prescribed drugs, but got off them, preferring depression to the side effect (and really, the effect. Though I understand that some people have to take them, just as taking other helpful drugs.). But now, there is so much to do, so many good things to enjoy, that frankly I have no time to get depressed. And during those dips when I do (normally, for "reasons"), they don't last long, as God, I believe, in one way or another, gets me looking to him and his goodness. (Though in the afternoon, I probably look depressed, feeling like a zombie. I'm not an afternoon person. Though some loud yells and carrying on, in our factory, can get those endorphins rolling again. Another great time to get into the Word and prayer, and really try to open oneself to God.)

Regularity. It's good. A gift from God. Full of surprises and blessing along the way. Then we, in turn, can be a blessing to others. As they regularly see the love of God in Christ in our lives.

What would you like to add about regularity, from your own life or thoughts?

Friday, February 16, 2007

incarnational community: face to face

David Fitch has a stimulating and provocative post entitled, "Pluralism and the Witness of an Open Community". This, probably along with other reading, set me to thinking more about what we're to be, as those together in Jesus, in this world.

Jesus, in his Incarnation, God becoming flesh/human, brought a revolution into this world that, in the end, brings in the new creation through the coming of God's kingdom. And it's not something that's dropped out of the sky. But worked, incarnationally through God's people in Jesus, even now. Jesus dwells among us, and in us. So this work of God is from person to person. From people to other people. Through God's people in this world.

I like to think of it as face to face. Not in your face. Being there, as a humble community, to be Christ to the world. Even in our own incompleteness, and in the midst of our own ongoing transformation from our brokenness.

This means I can befriend and be there for anyone in this world. And we as the community of God in Christ can do the same. Taking in everyone. Knowing that for us all, it is Christ among us who makes the difference, period.

This incarnational community is Christ's Body in the world. It is thus more than a face to face community. It's also a bodily community for this world. Giving ourselves in love, as servants of God and servants of all. Offering our complete selves to God in worship and service. Living this kind of embodied existence in this world. So that we're there to help others. To express God's love to them in deed and word. That they might see Christ in and among us.

What would you add to these thoughts? How can this "face to face" reality help us? In our conflicts, even together as church? As well as in our mission to our neighbor, in this world?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

little is big

L.L. Barkat, on her wonderfully creative blog, Seedlings in Stone, has a quite striking, provocative post on what I call, little being big. And another blogger friend of mine, Charity Singleton has joined her, with some fine thoughts of her own. Take a little time to read these. You'll be glad you did!

what is good?

We live in a world full of goodness. Majestic roses with a glimmer of aroma, which matches their beauty. Food that not only satisfies our hunger, but satiates our taste buds. Romantic love, which sweeps us off our feet, and sets us down a road of lifelong commitment and companionship. All in all, just a world flooded with good.

Yet we know there is a problem. Humankind, in our sin, does not live a good life. "The good life" is held out by most everyone. But what does it mean? To humankind, in our sin, it means grabbing for all the gusto one can get, living free of constraint, satisfying every whim, doing what seems good in one's own eyes.

The only problem? Just like the "free love" of the 1960's, it just doesn't work. We find a way to live, from what the Creator has prescribed in Scripture, that is in keeping with who we are, who this God is who reveals himself in Jesus, and what we find in the world as we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Good is everywhere around us, including what we see in the mirror. Because God created everything. Christian holiness teachings and doctrine has often been hard on creation. Humans are meant to enjoy God's creation. And indeed, we know that God's goodness is poured out on humans all over the world (Acts). However, we also know that good and evil are set together. We can surmise that these exist, and this includes reflecting on our own lives. We abuse the good gifts God has given. Including ourselves and others.

The answer is found in Jesus. In the kingdom of God having come in him. And in the new creation which begins now, and of which we in Jesus are a part. Good comes from God. And is inherent in his creation. And in his remaking of that broken creation, by the redemption of Jesus (Colossians; Romans 8). The good life can be only found and lived out in this reality. And as we remain in this reality.

Yes, we're to take up our crosses in this life, and though enjoying the things of this world, not be engrossed in them (1 Corinthians 7). But we must beware of a killjoy mentality which carries over to how we live. As if being a Christian is about what we deprive ourselves of, rather than what we experience as good from our God in this world. As in everything we give thanks, and invite others to come to share our joy in God.

What would you like to add about goodness?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

the hard work of marriage

On this Valentine's Day I would like to think a little on the hard work of marriage. I was reminded of this from Philip Yancey's recent book on prayer. He referred to marriage in that way, as he reflected on praying for others who were struggling or failing in their marriage.

"Love" hits us, like Cupid's arrow. And we're never the same. That is, until we live together (in holy matrimony) seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Then all bets stop. And "love" can wither and die. Be lost and never found. And the marriage given up, and dissolved.

This is both a tragedy, as well as involving a misunderstanding, even a basic lack of knowledge about life (though, granted, there are cases when it is more than this). There is so much to say here (though I'm hardly an expert on it), it's hard to know where to start. But to know and experience the love of God in Christ Jesus, in our hearts and lives, is a good start in bringing that same love into our marriages, so that our "love life" can be renewed and blossom again, into fullness (just like the beautiful red roses, I've already given to my wife, Deb).

We buy into all kinds of lies and half-truths. And even if there is "truth" in what's being said, we know better. If we're to really choose following Christ, and loving God wholly and our neighbor as ourselves. We can prefer escape over reality. But find in the end that we can never escape from reality. God is there. And he is not silent.

Marriage takes hard work. But the good part of that is that this hard work is relational. It should be about my spouse and me; our relationship together. That those things we each dislike about the other can be prayed about between just ourselves (individually) and God. And maybe brought out into the open at the right time (not the way I've done it, innumerable times). This should be from a love that is willing to work through difficulties, and even obstacles to that love. And refuse anything or anyone who would disrupt or destroy that love.

Of course marriage isn't all about hard work. It should be a joy and delight. We should enjoy, and work at enjoying (if need be) companionship with our "significant other"/spouse. As we've covenanted together in marriage, before God, we have God with us, to help us fulfill that promise made before him. God with us, to help us, in the love of the Trinity, see us through, and more than that, see us live and move and have our being, together, more and more, in that love. A love that, like Christ, is willing to lay down its life, and live that way daily, for the other. As we encourage and challenge one another, in God.

So let's get down to the hard work of marriage. And for those of you who are single, pray for those of us who are married. As we pray for you. That the love of God in Christ, would come through each of us to all others.

What thoughts would you like to add here?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

do it

A new blogger friend, Andre Yee, was graciously asking me on comments recently from a helpful posting on his blog, if I might offer some advice on how I do nearly daily postings (or something like that). I gave the best, honest answer I could think of at the time. One key element, I picked up from someone else, came back to me on further reflection (and after returning to his blog and that same post). Just do it. Be doing it.

I am kind of an extemporaneous person. I like to have a bare minimum of notes in front of me, or no notes at all. I used to prepare notes when going to the nursing home to sing with them, give a message, pray with them and then visit afterwards. Now I take no notes at all. And am in prayer, not knowing sometimes what we're going to look at, until it's time for me to speak, of not long before that.

Now that has its drawbacks. And if I would have ever been ordained (a sore spot in my life, mostly healed now, though) I would have learned to prepare better, get it "down" and have notes as needed. This kind of style that seems to suit me, does require study and reading and prayer. And thinking on what God has been teaching me, or what impressions I've received.

The point though, which I need to get back to, is this: No matter how you do it, just do it. It will come. Do it the best you can. But let it be you. And don't try to impress anyone. Don't write or speak beyond what you know, or are coming to know.

More than half the battle for me is simply to sit down and do it. Probably a majority of the time I don't know what I'm going to post until I'm getting around or have sat down to do it. For us who are persons of words, and who can talk our share, this shouldn't come all that hard. If anything, we'll have to hold back (something I don't always do).

Blogging is fun. I want it to be more than fun. But I want it to be fun, as well. And in the process I find that by thinking through something in the writing of a post, reading others' comments, and reading others' blogs and posts (along with comments there, when I have time, or am so inclined), I can learn alot. And be impacted for much good in my life. And above all, meet new people, and make new friends (hopefully).

What are your "secrets", or thoughts on your own way of "doing it", in blogging, and in what you like or believe you're called to do?

Monday, February 12, 2007

love edifies

In the community of God in Christ, there are a number of things, important to remember for its health. I have been reminded of them lately. Both by seeing love exemplified and by seeing it, seemingly take a second seat.

Paul tells us in the 1 Corinthians 8 passage, "knowledge puffs up; love edifies." (edifies, or builds up).

It is important that love be truth-filled. Love is not just to be some kind of wishy-washy, "I'm okay; you're okay" notion. It is a love that is grounded in God: Father, Son and Spirit. And grounded in the truth of God's revelation to us in Christ and in Scripture. And we see from Scripture, it is full of content. In seeking to live out "the Jesus Creed", we're to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This ends up meaning following God's descriptions and narrative of love, not our notions of it, such as condescending toleration and moral, spiritual compromise, to name two characteristics of the world's love.

Love is there for the other, because Jesus is the Man for the other. We in him follow suit. And our lives fall short, when we don't do so.

What I'm trying to get at is the importance of us remembering that relationship trumps being "right". Too often I pick up from other Christians that it's all about who's right or wrong on a given subject. Now it's fine to discuss and even have friendly debate at times, on subjects in which we may be divided. But we must never do this at the expense of our relationship to each other and to our God.

Love edifies. It helps bring the other along in the way of God in Christ. And in turn they help bring us along in that same way. Friends don't leave friends behind.

This needs to be our attitude in our relationships everywhere. Even to our enemies. What can diffuse hate? Love. Not just any love. But in the end, the love of God in Christ. And who are the ones to live out that love? Hopefully all of us in the Jesus community.

How can we live out this love today? Where might we need to change in doing so? (I ask myself this seriously, knowing I have room to grow here.)

Some of these thoughts are fresh from our homegroup study, last evening- from Scot McKnight's The Jesus Creed. Though he must not be held responsible for all the thoughts here, or the way I use his insights.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Jesus, Lover of My Soul

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.

Charles Wesley

The song.
And on Michael Card's album, Starkindler.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

the haves and the have-nots

NPR has a series called "The Haves and Have-Nots". I sometimes hear from Christians that we will always have the poor among us, as Jesus said. So we can't change that and should not worry about doing so. I have blogger friends who on their blog have a banner that says "Help Make Poverty History" from "One.Org".

I have not yet heard the entire series on NPR. It's an interesting discussion. It's not a sin to be wealthy. What is a sin is the motivation to become wealthy for the love of money. Or hoarding one's wealth in a Scrooge kind of way.

What I find as entirely unacceptable is the notion that there is nothing in the American system, or in the global system that is inherently evil. That it's all about the heart. If people will just get right with God then they'll get up on their own two feet and over time will make more. There is truth there. But what is missing is the fact that all of these systems have people using them. People, who like all the rest of us, have heart trouble. People who are willing to leave others behind in their rush for more.

I know there are all kinds of wonderful arguments as to why the American free enterprise system is the best. Or why global marketing is going to bring much more wealth to third world and developing countries. And I tend to agree with the last point, at least.

When we see wealthy nations doing whatever it takes to guarantee their continued lifestyle and "way of life", while other peoples are left (with many excuses for that) behind, like in Darfur. I find this as just one of the scandals of living in a fallen world.

Being a good Samaritan begins at home. What about in our neighborhood? Among those we know? In our church? City? This is where we need to begin. As well as giving to those who help the poor, such as World Vision.

And I write off political candidates who call themselves "pro-life", yet say nothing about addressing this problem. (And who talk only about reversing Roe v Wade. But that's another subject.)

Just some of my preliminary, offhand thoughts that have been brewing for sometime. What do you think about it?

Friday, February 09, 2007

pick your fights

Scripture likens the life in God and the Christian, or Christ-following life in this world, to be a fight. Paul calls Timothy, and really the rest of us with him to fight the good fight of faith. And other passages make it clear that this is part of our identity and posture as God's people in Christ, in this world. Not at all the Crusader kind of faith that actually kills enemies. But the faith bringing God's revolution of love and truth through the kingdom of God come, in Jesus.

I find much of life involving all kinds of struggles. And at times, battles. Battles in a mostly inward sense. Along many fronts. Sometimes they seem to hit us from no where. Other times they are just now here, part of what we're working through for a season in our lives. They can be concerning issues of contending for the faith, together and in this world (without being contentious). And they can be on moral issues, personal, that can spill over into the lives of others. Jesus did not give us, in the model "Our Father" prayer, the line, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil", for no reason at all.

We need to pick our fights. To know, in love, when to cease and desist (just avoid it). To maybe engage a matter in a more subtle, indirect way, over time, that in the end, can be much more helpful, both for those we're trying to help, as well as ourselves. And we need to know what can throw us for a loop. What we can do, or not do, to avoid that. Some fights are just completely unnecessary.

Take, for example, David's tryst with Bathsheba. He went where his eyes shouldn't have gone. He gave in and fulfilled his lust. And the battles that occurred after that, really went on for years and years. God in his grace forgave a repentant David. But the aftermath ended up disastrous, surely, for a number of David's children. And probably beyond.

We're in a fight. In a struggle. To love God and live in his truth, in the community of his people in mission to the world. Let's stay in the good fight. Let's devote ourselves, our strength and our all, to the good fight of faith and love, as we seek to follow Jesus together. We need to fight hard and get out of wrong battles. Do what's necessary. But go on to the good fight of faith God has for us, together, in Christ.

How about you? What would you add here from your thoughts or experience?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

mind over matter

We're told in Romans 12 not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. But instead, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is in the context of offering, through the mercies of God in Jesus (as spelled out in Romans 1-11), our bodies, as living sacrifices to God, in worship. Along with that comes, what I take to be a process in this life, of the renewal of our minds.

So many things get in the way of our living the life of God's will for us in Christ Jesus. You name them, they're there. And these things impact us. They're matters that matter to us. Sometimes legitmately; oftentimes, maybe in the way we're going about it, or in themselves, not legitimate.

We heard a recent chapel speaker where I work, who made a good point. It's our passion, or passions that drive us. More than our faith. You can say you believe in Christ; even that you have committed your life to Christ. Yet not stop following a passion that you know is not according to God's revealed will in Scripture. I would say (maybe he said it) that at the heart of true faith, as God would have it for us, there is a drive and a passion, to draw us into the passion, suffering and heart of Christ. We must follow, even when all in us would not.

Our minds need renewing. As the passage tells us, so that we can understand God's good, perfect and pleasing will. But unless we press on towards that, we will fall short. We will fall into the worldly way of living, which is not the mind of Christ or the will of God for us in Christ.

Prayer and Scripture all day, as much as possible, are keys for me. But so is the communion with others who are trying to walk with God in Christ. Seeking to live as those following Christ. Seeking to see, hear, listen, act, live and speak with the mind and heart of our Lord.

This is a process. So let's not beat up on ourselves as we see our deficiencies. It is good that we see them. A mercy from God. So that we can apply our minds to the needed transformation of God for us, in Christ. A transformation that gradually can change our outlook. Giving us new insight and vision. And help us live in the good life and will of our God. And keep doing that, again and again, as needed. Which it will be.

What have you learned about this transformation by the renewing of your mind in Jesus? What helps you in this? Or any other thoughts, of course.

One postscript I would like to add to this. We little understand or appreciate the place and power of community, the community of God in Christ, for the accomplishment of the renewing of our minds and transformation of our lives. So much can go on in that context to help reform us in Christ. This is like a missing link, in this "equation" that is surely needed much more.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

glass empty?

I hear the idea that the Christian world- specifically evangelicals (include emergents)- is going to pot. There are those who wonder, "Can any good thing come out of those who don't think just like we do? Who don't have "church" like we have it? No. A resounding, "No!!!"

This opens up a host of issues I don't care to try to touch on here. What I'd like to look at briefly is the idea that God's work continues on. And God's work often neither looks "pretty" nor feels comfortable. Nor can we know with scientific precision how God is going to work out his will we see in Scripture. It can take on different looks and practices. Different ways of fulfilling God's revealed will in Jesus, as given to us from Scripture.

Just yesterday Scot McKnight had a quite interesting post outlining a huge, diverse (I believe), scattered, sprawling movement. Of people who are disenfranchised at least in their minds by "church". But who end up, perhaps, in the end, practicing more of a pure church.

This is really not a question between either seeing the glass half full or half empty among professing Christians and their practice as church. It's more like being open to the wind of the Spirit in finding ways to more faithfully live out our faith in following Jesus as those of the community of God in mission to the world.

I say to those engaged in this, "Keep at it." This is the kind of learning, as we have Scripture in hand and are seeking to do God's will as church, that can really make a difference in the world. This is what we need. This will help the rest of us in learning to do God's will as church, better.

What is your take on church more as missional community, which departs from traditional church in a number of significant ways? Does it have to be an either/or question? What about the Reformers saying that the church is to ever be reforming?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

the experience of the Christian life

As I am older, I really am less into experiences, as in looking for some experience. But I'm more into experience as simply the reality of the life we live together in Jesus, day after day.

It's a life of ups and downs, and ebbs and flows. There are the moments when all seems clear. And many times when it's just clear enough to proceed. But other times when all seems dark, and one is at a loss.

We need to see the experience of the Christian life as a journey. And a journey we individually are on, yet as those traveling with others on the same journey. So that we have our part to uphold. But we can't make it on our own. And others need us along the way. This is how God makes it for us. Not unlike "Christian", in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

And it's one of being interactive with God, with people, with the world and with ourselves, through all of life. Having in it a dynamic that is living and breathing and keeps moving us on. In a mode of being in this together with God. And growing more and more into the likeness of Christ. As we seek to do our part in mission to the world.

On the one hand, God is at work to make all things new in our lives and out from our lives to others. On the other hand, this does take time. We need, in God to see the vision. To have eyes, by faith, to see what God wants to do. And even to perceive something of what he is doing. To know that God often wants us to slow down and better take in, then learn better to participate in his work in our lives and in the world.

How do you see the experience of the Christian life?

Monday, February 05, 2007

being in Scripture

I have thought that one of the few things I've done right over the years as a Christian, is being regularly in Scripture. When I became a Christian, I listened to my grandmother's records of the KJV New Testament being very ably read. From there I eventually bought two sets of cassettes over the years, listening most everyday to the reading of the NIV Bible. My wife, Deb, had to get used to it. Because in my zeal to do this, I often would tune her out.

Now I read Scripture regularly, using the guide in the back of my TNIV to set me on a course of plowing through the Old and New Testament in a 1:2 ratio (before, always 1:1). And keeping at it at least twice a day, because I do want to get through the Old Testament at a "good" rate. I also enjoy, in the factory setting I now work at RBC Ministries, meditiating on a passage all day. I find that I need this regular intake of Scripture. While having some communal intake of Scripture, most of mine is admittedly by myself. Though I often share with others what I am getting out of that.

I have found it helpful to try to look at this reading, more and more, as God's Word working on me, not me working on God's Word. As formative, as in God forming me through this, in Christian formation, and not (just) informative. As I read Scripture, I do so as one hearing it, like I used to do with cassettes. Now I can easily "rewind" it or stop or think, a little. Or pray a bit, before going on. But I like to read it slow, as one speaking to me. (Really, I read all books that I consider significant, and really most anything, that way).

For me, hearing Scripture read was powerful. I guess I was that kind of learner. My first set was dramatized and my second set had straightforward, good reading. I grew tired of cassettes breaking. So gave it up, and have yet to get a set in CD or something better (not knowledgeable enough to say what). If I ever do.

If I start missing the reading of Scripture, it's like not getting enough sleep. My life will let me know, just as my body will let me know about lacking sleep. Not to get "legalistic" in this. It's really all about our relationship with God and each other. Finding our place in the Story, which is ongoing. Hopefully, more and more entering into this great drama and story, together, in Jesus.

It can be rather tedious. Because we're just not as in tune with God and his work, as we would like to be. But, oh, is worth it!!! For a great study to get you turned on to Scripture if you're struggling in this area, check out Scot McKnight's study on Psalm 119 from Jesus Creed. Great insights there, to help us see the special place Scripture/God's inscripturated Word, can have in our lives.

What is your experience about being in Scripture? How do you practice that? Or what thought(s) would you like to add here?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Folliot S. Pierpoint

See other verses.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

be open to God's creativity

One of the deadly enemies of the Christian life is the notion that when we hear the word "holy", for example, we know what that means. We can see how it applies to various categories (such as sexual faithfulness, etc.). The end.

While these things from Scripture must always be held as true for our lives, we need to be open to God's creativity, as God's people in Christ, in this world. What might God have us do in a given situation, other than, and more than simply doing what is right as given to us from his Word/Scripture.

Jesus is an example during the unique time of his instigating the new covenant. Forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation and salvation were all present in Jesus and by his redemptive work when he was on earth. So when he touched the unclean, as he did with lepers, and others, instead of becoming unclean himself, the ones he touched became clean.

When we're in a situation in which we are seeking to live in the grace of God in Christ, to be faithful to God and God's revealed will, let's be open to another thing we might do, in the situation, which could have the touch of God on it. In keeping with "the Jesus Creed", loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (including the call of Jesus to love our enemies).

Let's seek, in Jesus, to look and see beyond, just the obvious (which, admittedly, at times, can be skewed in our minds). And find ways that we can express the ongoing work of the love of God in Christ. And let us do that both in our individual lives and issues (which, in a way, are never just individual), as well as together, as the community of God's new creation in Christ, in this world.

What creative acts come to mind for you, which go beyond avoiding sin, or fulfilling righteousness? Or what else might you like to add here?

Friday, February 02, 2007

others' view of us

I remember Paul's words, making it clear that he was not terribly concerned about how he was perceived by others, or even his own perception. That the Lord would be his true, and in a sense, only judge.

Others' view of us, to try to understand that, does have value, however. For example missionaries of the Christian gospel learned to live in a way that was better in sync with the culture in which they were living and witnessing. Like Paul they were learning to become all things to all people, to win as many as possible.

In Philip Yancey's wonderful book, What's So Amazing About Grace? I recall the story of a man who worked for civil rights for African Americans in the 1960's. But God put it on his heart to become a servant in sharing the gospel to people in the Ku Klux Klan. Without participating in the sin, he had to become identified with them. Perhaps in everyday ways. Ways that all humans share. Befriending them, in the reconciliation that God in Christ has provided for the world.

Others' view of us both doesn't matter, and it does matter, depending on what we mean. We need to contextualize the message and good news of the kingdom of God in Christ, as Paul did. That is, really seek to understand and know the people whom we are seeking to reach. Knowing that we are sinners along with them. In need of the same grace found in Christ, for us all.

What thoughts or experience would you like to add, here?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

knowing anything

I like the phrase, "a chastened epistemology". This phrase suggests that whatever we "know" is mediated in our experience. So that our knowledge has to do with perception of reality. And this is enculterated, or affected by our upbringing, education, etc. As well as by our perspective.

God alone experiences unmediated reality. God knows all, firsthand. Humans are subject to "lenses" that color and affect, all we see. This is why, as Calvin suggested, humans need the lens of Scripture, to begin to see the world and themselves, as God does. To really know anything in that way requires something beyond our natural, God-given abilities.

By faith we understand, or know (Hebrews 11). This knowledge, then, is dependent on God, and on our relationship to God and his Word. As we respond to that word, in faith, we begin to know in a way that we otherwise would not know, and maybe only get a glimpse of.

Paul says that knowledge puffs up, but love edifies (or, builds up). And that if someone thinks they know anything, they really don't, but if anyone loves God, then they are known by God (1 Corinthians 8). The context there is about the stronger believer offending and hurting the weaker believer. Their "knowledge" is lacking, in God's eyes. This really, in a general way, goes across the board in our perceived knowledge about anything. If we don't proceed with love, then we're knowing, in a distorted way, that really amounts to not knowing at all.

Is our knowing driven with a passion to live in "the Jesus Creed"? To love God and our neighbor. If not, then it really amounts to nothing.

This does not mean we shouldn't study Scripture, read good books, and be a student of God's world and story, as well as how we fit into it. Paul made it clear that he was knowledgeable. But we need to seek the kind of knowing that is pleasing in God's eyes. That knows so as to follow, and live in the good will of God, at work in the world.

What knowledge would you add to this?