Monday, April 30, 2007
But I would like to suggest in this that in our own participation we're to work on one thing at a time. So that one of our prayers along the way could be, "What's next, Lord?" Could it be more than one thing in the course of a day? Of course, I would say, though I would tend to look at each of these as a project that is more than likely worked out and in which we're "confirmed" over time.
We need to think more in terms of community as to this question, because even when we're thinking about needed change in our own life, it is best worked out in the context of other brothers and sisters in Christ. We are after all one in Christ, and his Body together. And oftentimes we'll find that the issue we face concerns another brother or sister. And that this concern, while addressing one particular issue that we may not be doing well in, ends up changing us to be a different person when it's all said and done. Yes, it will be incremental and seemingly small. The picture of real and ongoing change.
Confessing sins appropriately and dealing with bad attitudes are not merely to fix a problem, but end up being "means of grace" or "sacramental" in making us holy, more like Jesus. In this sense we're apprentices. We're learning to be like the Master.
"What next?" should be our humble prayer. We may justify certain behavior but deep inside know better. Let's work on that. Oftentimes when we see a number of problems in our lives, they end up being related to one issue that we may not be doing well in. God can help us get to the root of it, and get rid of that bitter or poisonous root, before it is the ruin or hurt not only of our own lives, but the lives of many others.
Let's seek God's face on this. And ask him to show us what needs next to be addressed in our lives. Than together, with him, let's work on that. So that we can be his clean vessels to give his light and life to a lost and dying world.
What comes to your mind from your reading of Scripture and/or experience in this? And I don't mean to get us bogged down in this being all there is to living as Christians. I understand this as one facet of it, to be sure.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied, And earth and Heav’n be one.
words: Maltbie D. Babcock
Saturday, April 28, 2007
The funeral service was interesting in the participatory aspect of it. Dad's brother Tom, a pastor, shared some of his memories of Dad which I found interesting. Mom wanted me to share something so I shared some brief words on Dad having Psalm 13 as the backdrop, which Tiffany, our daughter read. Grandchildren with their violins and piano participated, with readings including Tiffany reading an appropriate "good-bye" our family had received, just prior to the benediction. And, as Mennonites normally like to do, there was a good time of singing a number of hymns.
Philip Clemens, pastor of my parents' church, Pike Mennonite, gave a message which is among the favorites, and for me the very favorite of all funeral messages I have heard. It was entitled: "Perfected in Christ" and was evangelistic in nature. And there was a certain aspect in it that made us think of Dad from his intermediate state speaking to us. It came across as believable if such could be the case. I look forward to rehearing it once I get a copy of a CD. If Dad saw it that day, I'm sure he was pleased. It truly did glorify God and his goodness to us in Christ, and it paid honor to Dad in a fitting way.
I so much look forward to seeing him again when all the things that held us back in this world will be removed forever. We so much look forward to that great reunion and the resurrection to come, in the new creation, when "earth and heaven [are] one."
Friday, April 27, 2007
God accepts us where we're at, and so we're in a true sense to accept ourselves in the same place and others in the place they are at. This means we must avoid looking down on others. Grace accepts people exactly where they're at. And we must apply this to ourselves as well. I know I'm making echoes here, but this is so important. Jesus worked with everyone where they were at.
For some his call seemed drastic, like: "Leave all your 'possessions' behind and come follow me." It is a call that, like Bonhoeffer says, bids us to come and die. But knowing the goal is Christlikeness, especially together as community and his Body in the world, means that we know we'll never be able to say we've arrived. Someday, as our good brother, Pastor Philip Clemens of Pike Mennonite Church so wonderfully shared with us at my father's funeral, we will indeed be "perfected in Christ". But that is not completed yet and we must ever keep that in mind. Otherwise we can become discouraged and think our service in Christ cannot be acceptable to God.
God wants to take us and remake us, like the potter makes the clay vessel. We are the work of God's hands and he wants to remake us in the new creation in Christ. Let's keep coming to him everyday. And let's see others in the same way, accepting where we're at. We can love one another unconditionally that way, praying for each other and accepting each other, just as God in Christ accepts us. And include yourself in that.
What thoughts would you like to add to this?
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Impacted by American Christianity we're used to brushing such a confession of faith aside, at least many of us. And we find local churches who call themselves "independent". An independent local church is an oxymoron; there is no such thing. God has made us interdependent and Christ in this world today is manifest through his Body on earth. This Body is localized in various places and settings. But it's a Body in communion with other gatherings scattered throughout the earth. And I believe it's a Body in communion with all of God's holy people ("saints") from every time and place.
We don't need churches looking down on each other and thinking they are better than so and so church. But sadly, neither do we need churches that seem to have lost much of what church is all about. It is God's people living interactively in this world under one Head, Christ, doing so interdependent on each other.
The Lord is grieved when there is disunity among his people. This is true within our gatherings and it's also true all the way to the Church scattered throughout the earth. But everyone has to keep working on just what "church" is, that it's not merely religion, or some intellectual assent to a creed or some super gathering around some charismatic leader who is wowing everyone with their speaking, maybe along with some miracles. We don't need any of the above. What we need is a humble Body, interactively working together in communion with Jesus and each other. Anything less than that is not Christianity or is some diluted (and perhaps dangerous) form of it.
What might you add to these sad and difficult thoughts I've shared today?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
This is a strength that is beyond us, a strength coming only from God. And often coming in the midst of our weakness. It is strength found only in God and found as we wait expectantly on him. And it is a strength that enables us to live in his will even as Jesus found strength in Gethsemane to live in the Father's will.
We find it by looking to God in prayer, by meditating on his Word/Scripture and by seeking to do God's will, even when it seems like our flesh and our heart are failing. God will come through for us as we press forward, humbly, in him.
So in the words of John Michael Talbot's song,
What would you like to share from your own thoughts or experience on this?
As morning breaks I look to you, O God
To be my strength this day
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Process is not what we "naturally" (in our falleness) like. We want instant results in our society. But even as Jesus embraced this path, so must we. Life being a process goes on from the cradle to the grave. Some aspects of that are related to "the Fall" of humanity, and indeed are not pleasant. But even with and through those things God is at work in his "in Christ" people to make us holy and filled with his goodness. We are to become more and more like our Master together in his love.
Process means time, progress (and oftentimes setbacks and failings) and oftentimes pain, including involvement in grief as my Mother and family have recently encountered. It means to live through the gamut of human experience.
And who better to look to but Jesus? He himself went through what seemed to many to be a very ordinary life until the time of his ministry. He was made human and lived with all of our limitations except he was not a sinner nor did he sin. And by his death for us, once for all, and through his resurrection we can embark in the new way he has made for us. That too, like his life here, is a process. We are a resurrection people in him, but we live as those who follow Christ and become like him in his death in this life. This is one reason I like to look some to those who embrace the monastic life. Many of them are seeking to enter into this in their lives. And it is for all of us who are God's children through faith in Jesus.
May God help us to accept and even embrace life as a process including the good and the bad, as we seek together to follow our Lord.
What thoughts would you like to add here?
Monday, April 23, 2007
This reminds me of the reunion we read of in the Bible, between Jacob and Esau. Jacob went with much forboding and fear and understandably so, since his scheming had provoked Esau who then purposed to kill Jacob after their father's death. But when they finally did meet up again, it was a reunion of grace and peace.
I think one of the great things about reunions is that we can put aside whatever differences we have or may have had and focus on what is most important to God, love and truth. Truth and love must be held together in our hearts and we must do so as those who seek to live in God's presence through Jesus Christ. This can end up moving someone closer to God, even as we listen to them talk about something ordinary in their lives, as well as any trials they may be experiencing.
This was just one of the highlights of this past week for me, getting to see and talk again to old friends and acquaintances. It was almost as if God said, "This is what's important. Along with remembering your father and the sympathies expressed, you all need to focus on simply loving one another: in family, in the church family, among neighbors and friends. Let this be a priority, not only here but in all of life. Make time for this."
Thanks again for all of your prayers. It will be great when all of us who have met in cyberspace meet in person someday. We know one way or another we have that to look forward to in Christ.
Do you have summer reunions? And what thoughts might you have on reunions?
Sunday, April 15, 2007
For Jesus hath risen, and man cannot die;
Vain were the terrors that gathered around Him,
And short the dominion of death and the grave
He burst from the fetters of darkness that bound Him,
Resplendent in glory to live and to save!
Loud was the chorus of angels on high,
The Savior hath risen, and man shall not die.
Glory to God, in full anthems of joy;
The being He gave us death cannot destroy:
Sad were the life we must part with tomorrow,
If tears were our birthright, and death were our end
But Jesus hath cheered the dark valley of sorrow,
And bade us, immortal, to Heaven ascend:
Lift then your voices in triumph on high,
For Jesus hath risen, and man shall not die.
Henry Ware, Jr. (The Table Singers from MennoLink Music)
Saturday, April 14, 2007
It's important to keep our eyes on the goal of the kingdom. This will help us keep things in good perspective. What matters in the end is to work towards what inevitably is to come in Jesus: the new creation and the kingdom of God which begin now, and are to be "consummated" when Christ returns. The smaller issues and lesser problems are also then put in their place. And the vision God can be giving us can become redemptive towards those troubling areas or problems in our lives.
I know this suffers from being overly general. Specifics are encouraged in whatever you might like to share here.
Friday, April 13, 2007
In Christ this is to live out the meaning and reality of our baptism. In Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God since we by God's grace through faith are participants in Jesus's death, burial and resurrection. This new life begins now in this present life.
As James pointed out we must die to our own visions, dreams and thoughts so that we can awaken to and live in God's vision and path for us. And he also reminded us that this death is ongoing. It's not just something we do once and it's settled. We must follow through and continue to live in that reality that is ours in Christ. We're all too familiar of stories of Christians who seem to have lived it out for years only to end badly. And we can see this danger in our own lives if we're honest or not deceived.
Whatever it is in our lives, good or bad or anything at all, we're to submit it all to God. Even Jesus himself had to do this (again, as James pointed out to us). We see this at Gethsemane when he died to his own will in order to live in the Father's will in dying so that the whole world and creation might live with and in him in the new creation. But it wasn't easy and neither will it be for us either, especially at certain times.
In this though, we find life, the very life of God in Christ and in the community of his people. A life which brings God's blessing to others and a joy that lasts forever.
What comes to your mind here that you would like to share with us?
Thursday, April 12, 2007
In Christ there is no more male or female as far as the new creation goes. We all minister to each other, regardless of our gender, "race" or standing in this world. In our denomination women have been "ordained" into the ministry/pastorate for the past thirty years. We believe that we're merely blessing what God has already done or is doing.
Other denominations and Christian bodies who do not agree on women in "the ministry" find places for them to fulfill their giftings. But for a number of reasons I believe this position is mistaken. Whatever gifting each of us has is for all the others, not just one part of the body and not just indirectly.
Gender and gifting is a big subject, far beyond the scope of one post. So I just touch on it with a single idea here today. One of the best books in thinking through this Biblically is William Webb's, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals (no, he's not condoning homosexual practice). Another helpful chapter I've read is from Gordon Fee's Listening to the Spirit in the Text, Gender Issues: Reflections on the Perspective of the Apostle Paul.
What thoughts would you like to add here, or problems you may have with this position?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
All of your prayers and expressions of concern have been a great blessing and help. Thanks so much to all of you.
After all, we are one body, having the same Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism (even if practiced differently), and God and Father.
What about family squabbles over issues considered important? This is where discernment is needed from others in Christ as we seek to have God's help in this, together. We have to acknowledge that while the Spirit has guided the orthodox church (not referring to the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is just one part of the worldwide church), the church's understanding on a number of these issues the Spirit has guided us on, is not the same. Baptism, already alluded to, is a good example of that. In the Protestant church alone there is much difference in practice there.
God wants the emergent and fundamentalist to stand together in his love. Yes, they won't agree on a good number of things. But we need to put first things first, and one of those first things is to love each other in Christ. And to accept others, including other churches who seek to be true to Christ and the gospel. Sadly, the "creed" of some churches makes this nearly impossible. This shouldn't be something we do only when put in a situation where it seems we have to do it. But it's something we should be going out of our way to do.
For me this breaks down the great divides in Christendom such as the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox divide. Or from where I stand, the Protestant/Roman Catholic schism. And within my own tradition, all the divisions that exist in Reformation churches. This doesn't mean we drop all beliefs except the ones we agree on. It does mean we suspend our differences when expressing our union in God, and work at having communion and common mission together in the world. A dream? Yes. But part of what our Lord asked for in his high priestly prayer to God the night before his death. Unity in love trumps all the differences we have with each other, in Christ. Truth and love (2 John) are held together. But truth and the church's understanding of it are not synonymous. We must in humility own that, and learn to more and more express our unity in love together in our Lord.
What thoughts would you like to share or kick around on this?
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Compassion refuses to even pick up a stone, knowing one's own heart and life. Sin is never worth anything truly good. But after repentance (sometimes ongoing) it can be a means of identifying with others who have fallen into sin, helping them by prayer, love, as a friend and by one's loving, gentle, earnest counsel.
Compassion can weep with those who weep, as well as freely rejoice with those who rejoice. It takes others in freely and is honored to be invited into the lives of others. It is a heart of meekness and humility; it is the heart of Jesus himself, our good Shepherd, who wonderfully takes care of us, his sheep, and wants us to learn to show that same care to our families, each other, our neighbors and the world.
What would you like to share about compassion?
Monday, April 09, 2007
Pray for Mother as she thinks through with the physician what she wants to be done. She has already let him go to the Lord, in her heart, and by what she has told the physician they should do.
We don't know how much longer Dad will be with us. My sister Cheryl from Toledo has been a great help to Mom and Dad. And my other sister, Maxine and her family are traveling from Texas.
Thanks so much for all of your prayers, love and support in Jesus.
I distrust theologies that have all the answers in the sense of not humbling owning human fallibility across the board. That is an inherently flawed theology. This goes for issues in regard to ethics, philosophy, politics, etc. We simply don't understand it all. And what we do understand, we need to hold with humility, knowing that it is God alone who understands fully.
It is important that we seek to love God with our whole beings, including all our mind. But we must remember that our minds as a gift from God are in the process of being renewed, and not for the purpose of knowing everything. But to be like Christ in following and living out and in the will of God beginning now. Our minds are servants under God's revelation given to us from Scripture and in Christ.
This will mean a life where we will have to adjust our thinking at times, where we will see that someone else may have better insight on something than we do.
I especially like the thought, and it indeed is a challenging one for us, but in a good way, that good thinking is godly thinking. Or, that right thinking stems from the desire to please God and live well before him and in his eyes (I can't recall exactly where or from whom I picked this up, nor the exact way they expressed it.).
This is not saying that Scripture or even creeds are subject to change. Certainly not Scripture. And creeds from the church should be understood as to how they arose and the witness they sought to give to God's revelation given to us from Scripture. How I understand a creed or theological truth (such as the Trinity) can change over time, hopefully for the better, while I still hold to the same truth as stated in the creed as a witness from the church of Scripture's teaching on what is central to the faith.
In the end we have to pray for and seek God's guidance and help. God is a God of grace and mercy. He will lead us on as we seek to follow. Our following certainly is not infallible, though his leading is.
What thoughts would you like to add here?
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
Charles Wesley (more verses)
Saturday, April 07, 2007
For those following Jesus it was a crushing blow. To those who had forsaken all to follow it seemed inexplicable. What would they do now? Where would they turn? Once this dark cloud blew over surely they'd return to things as they had been. But didn't Jesus say that on the third day he would be raised to life?
We learn from the resurrection accounts that Jesus's followers were not holding their breath in expectation of anything out of the ordinary. The men were in hiding for fear of the Jewish leaders. And the women were going to go about the business of paying final respect and expressions of love to Jesus.
Burial. What does this mean in our lives? It means death, death to all of the old in Adam. But it thankfully doesn't in there in Jesus. Life is to come, and it's just around the corner. In Jesus it is already here. Though that was not known by Jesus's followers that Sabbath day.
Burial. What does that mean for you?
Friday, April 06, 2007
We follow Jesus to the Cross. In our mind's eye we watch him struggle; we see the nails pounded into his writhing body. We hear his words of love and pain from that Cross. We look in disbelief yet knowing it is we who put him on that cross. We are the reason that he died. Yet he did so freely, in love to the Father and to the world. God gave freely and he did so by becoming one with us in all our sins in his Son (without himself sinning, yet he became sin for us).
We see this and Jesus's suffering and we realize afresh and anew that he understands firsthand our sufferings and woes and darkness. He loves deeply and empathizes with us and intercedes faithfully for us.
As we view our Lord on that Cross in his once for all sacrifice for us, we begin to come to realize that this act of love is to impact our lives in every way. Not only in our forgiveness, but also in the way we live. He is our example, but more than that. By the Spirit a new way in Jesus has been opened up to us that we in him are to embrace and follow: the way of the cross in fellowship together with and in Jesus. This will reflect in how I react to disappointments, failures and problems that we cannot escape in this world, even as we look at our own face in the mirror.
Let's today take the time to reflect on our Lord's sufferings in his self-giving love for us and the world. And let's ask God how we can become more and more a part of that ongoing self-giving redemptive love in Jesus.
What do you see as you seek to follow the way of Jesus?
(Please don't get bogged down by the links- blue- in my postings. They're not essential. They're like footnotes that may be helpful for various reasons.)
Thursday, April 05, 2007
27 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
Jesus told his shocked disciples and would be followers in another place that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood they would have no life in them (John 6:53). Even though that passage reminds us of the Last/First Supper, I think in context it means and certainly involves what it means to be a true follower of Jesus. It is metaphorical for living on the basis of who he is and what he has done for us, a living that is by faith in following.
We follow Jesus by feeding on him and we also feed on Jesus by following him. We taste more and more of who he is as we seek to follow on in this life and like the disciples of old, doing so together or bringing others along with us. We more and more lose our old apetites as we learn to eat and drink of Jesus. And this is meant to be celebrated and lived out together with Jesus.
This means I can be happy (or learn to be) abstaining from some old feastings which really are either not of God or are not for me at a particular time. That is because I've caught a new aroma and have a new taste for something so much better that replaces death with true life. Instead of the living death I used to live, it can be more and more a dying (in Jesus) life.
This is intensely personal and yet must become intensely communal as well. In nature it is communal in that this partaking is to be together with our Lord as we see over and over again in Scripture. But each of us must do this, making it a part of our daily lives as followers of Jesus.What might you add and/or what helps you "feed on Jesus"?
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."
Fear and faith seem incompatible. In a sense they are, but in another true sense in life they are not. Following Christ includes following through thick and thin, when I think I have plenty of faith and when I know I'm struggling to have faith at all. Still we must follow.
Sometimes "I lose it". With alot of pressure I can simply lose perspective it seems, completely. What then? Do I cease following? No. I must "lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees and make straight paths for my feet". I must plod on and seek to follow. Getting into Scripture, though it may seem far removed from my vision. God will bring it home as I seek to get into and ultimately dwell in his Word/Scripture.
Another passage says the disciples at this time simply didn't get it. And we won't always either. That must not be a block to us following. If anything we need all the more to seek to follow Christ during such times. And we need to seek to do this together with other fellow followers who too have their own struggles and issues they're working on.
During this Holy Week, let's determine to be learning to seriously follow no matter what. When we falter and are lost, let's get right back up again and look to the Lord and his strength, seeking his face, and in so doing be witnesses of his grace and bearers of his image, together, in this world.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
A large portion of the gospels surround the chronological time surrounding what we call "Holy Week". This is at the heart of what Jesus came to accomplish. He demonstrated it prior to that, in deed and word. But when all is said and done, he then finished the work that he had to do and God vindicated him in that by the resurrection.
Because of what he has accomplished we are given new life and a mission to bring that accomplishment to bear on fallen humanity and fallen creation. Of course we ourselves are included in this endeavor; we must see to ourselves if we're to help others. We are thus involved in what Tom Wright calls "the new creation project".
As we learn to share in this ministry of our Lord, we more and more come to know him and his heart in God and for the world. This has become more evident to me recently, though at the moment I am overcome with so many problems hitting us at the same time. Though I don't want to see these as problems as much as opportunities for Christ to do his new creation work through us his people, the church.
I hope we can take some time this "Holy Week" to try to get a life impacting glimpse, anew and afresh of Jesus and his way. We then need to seek to follow him in that, seeking to bring others along with us. And we help others to follow Jesus by seeking to follow him well, ourselves.
What helps you grow in your vision of our Lord?
Monday, April 02, 2007
I remember N.T. Wright writing that one of the reasons Christianity can seem so anemic and is hardly life changing it seems for many Christians is that their/our vision of Jesus is/can be domesticated and removed from the Jesus we read of in the gospels. And for N.T. Wright this involves a study of the time Jesus lived in, so that we can better understand what he was up against in fulfilling his vocation as he had received it from God.
I think these special times such as Holy Week can be helpful in renewing, invigorating and making clearer and more distinct our vision. But I think it's over the long haul and by living life with the work of God by the Spirit and the Word in community with others, in that mix is where we really learn focus and improve our vision. That takes time as well as effort on our part. And above all trust, that God is at work and faithful as we seek to follow.
Keep reading through Scripture. Learn to identify with people in it both in stories and in what is written. See all of it as part of the Story of God, knowing that this Story is ongoing. We are part of it. May God help us to have and keep our focus and vision in Christ as we live in mission in this world.
What comes to your mind in considering focus and vision?
Sunday, April 01, 2007
(from The Book of Common Prayer, evening prayer)