Wednesday, December 31, 2008

looking back

It is good to look back and give thanks to the Lord, for all of his goodness to us in the past year. I believe in calendars, and increasingly in the church calendar. I think these help us keep on track; after all we are creatures of time and space.

Looking back on this past year I have seen some amazing breakthroughs, small and not so small in my life. We've seen the birth of our first grandchild, Morgan. God has provided for us. And God is giving us more and more the passion and resolve to put him first in both seeking and serving him.

God is good no matter what. In the end in Jesus this faith will be fully vindicated, even though we live with unresolved questions now. We need to simply remain true in living by faith as those dependent on God and interdependent on each other. As we seek to let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven.

What about you? Is there anything you'd like to share about your past year, or any thoughts on these thoughts?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

looking ahead

As we look ahead at the turning of the calendar, I wonder what kind of thoughts and expectations we may have for the new year. And from where do these thoughts and expectations come?

I look forward to this new year, because I do so trying to look to God's promises to me and to us in Christ as my basis for seeing more change in my life. This alone gives me hope. Never any kind of resolution I may make, which I am guaranteed in time to break.

Looking ahead should embrace more than just our personal lives. We need a bigger scope and picture. Praying the "our Father" prayer daily can help us, as well as learning to pray with that in mind. And keeping in view the first and greatest commandment and the second like it, called by some of us, "the Jesus Creed," is helpful in this, as well.

What would you like to add to these few thoughts on looking ahead?

Monday, December 29, 2008

coming back

I find God's grace amazing in how God not only converts sinners to his way, but how he brings them back in his grace time and time again. How many times in big and little ways do we get off the way onto our own way? Plenty. But God puts us back on, not with us kicking and screaming, but by his work of grace, so that we want to get on and are sorry when we fail to remain there.

What we do does matter. We need to keep that in mind. Sometimes that means confession, and I mean confession of sin to others and before God. If I sin in front of someone, then I need to confess it to God. On Saturday I was quite peeved as we were stuck in a parking lot in which we could hardly turn around due to snow drifts that had not been cleared out. I wasn't in the best of moods, because in spite of the good in the movie we saw, I was put off with all the wrong in it (But why should I be surprised? What should we expect from "the world" and from sinners?). And then this. But my words and attitude were quite unedifying to Deb, and when I saw how it was grieving her, I apologized and led us in prayer to God confessing my sin. We ended up continuing on with a nice day in celebrating her birthday.

But over other matters as well, I am thankful to see God's hand and heart of grace touching my life. So that I want to rise and sin no more. And I know I'll continue to need that grace throughout this earthly sojourn.

What would you like to add to these thoughts?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

quote of the week: Bonhoeffer on kingdom love

Jesus Christ stands between the lover and the others he loves...Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not desire direct fellowship with them. As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself. This means that I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce, and dominate him with my love....Thus this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct to others is always through prayer to Christ and that love of others is wholly dependent upon the truth in Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together, 35-37, quoted by Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 237.

prayer for the week: The First Sunday After Christmas

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, December 27, 2008

a story that speaks well

Here is a story which to me speaks well. I am acquainted with Ed Dobson, as he was our pastor when we lived on that side of the city and attended Calvary Church. (Rob Bell was a pastor at this church before he became the main pastor in starting Mars Hill Bible Church.) I've always much appreciated Pastor Ed and the passion he and Calvary has displayed in following the Lord, even when it could involve misunderstanding and criticism, as in their working relationship with the gay community in Grand Rapids, while not at all okaying that lifestyle. A number of gays have come to Christ through that church, one I met who was suffering from AIDS.

I will cease saying more, because I think this story is good for all of us to read.

Friday, December 26, 2008

accepting one's lot

When we look at the years following Jesus' birth, before his relatively short public ministry (around three years) we can speak of decades- three. Between Jesus' birth and public ministry there is not much Scripture tells us. About their flight from Bethlehem to Egypt and return with the move to Nazareth. And the incident in the Temple when Jesus was a boy of twelve. But other than that, we only can guess as to what Jesus' life was like.

It is evident that he learned Joseph's trade as a carpenter or stone mason (not sure as to what the word translated "carpenter" in our Bibles conveys on this). It is evident that he was also in submission to Joseph and Mary, even as Mary had to learn eventually to be submissive to him as her Lord (see Scot McKnight's book, The Real Mary, an excellent read Deb just recently finished).

In the way of Jesus we see the importance of accepting our lot. For some of us this involves being in places (need I say, climates, this time of the year?) that would not be high on our list to live in, for many of us this involves debt carried for perhaps some mistakes along with necessities, and college bills for children. And perhaps some of us are in difficult or troubled marriages, or less than ideal situations.

It's interesting that Jesus spent as much time as he did before launching out into public ministry. His mother had to wonder after receiving the promises from God through the angel, knowing firsthand the miraculous nature of Jesus' birth and the aftermath surrounding that, she had to wonder at the length of time Jesus seemed unengaged in messianic work. (Where is Joseph? We don't know. It does seem evident from the silence in Scripture that he was deceased by the time Jesus began his public ministry.) We know that Jesus' brothers (half brothers, of course) did not believe in him as Messiah until after Jesus' resurrection. We also know that in that society, Jesus was definitely "middle aged" when he began his ministry since life expectancy was only around the mid-forties or a little beyond that.

The way of Jesus we find in Scripture is the way of accepting and embracing one's lot from God. Jesus sought to live well with the Father where he was. Did that involve struggle and prayers? Not recorded for us, though surely it did, and surely what he was experiencing was preparatory for the ministry of three years. But the point made here for us is that part of the walk God has for us is to accept life as it is, not as we wish it would be. For some this will be much more difficult than for others. For a number of obvious and not so obvious reasons.

What we need to endeavor to do in Jesus is to live well in our circumstances and plight, in the lot we have. Lot has the idea of what is apportioned or given to us from God. Do we really believe that what we're living in is our lot from God? With the good and bad of it? Do we see it as the place in which God wants us to learn to follow him well, and live well? Or do we deny that for whatever reason, for a multitude of possible reasons?

I find it easy to want to bail out or somehow change my lot when I'm faced with new difficulties or suppose the grass would be greener elsewhere.

By faith we need to see God as the One who has given us life and calls us to be responsible to him and to others in the circumstances we now face. Some of our making, to be sure. But with the belief that God is able to turn everything for good, and that he is at work in our lives and circumstances. We need in Jesus to learn to accept and even embrace our lot. This is part of what God calls us to in Jesus. This is part of the way in Jesus along with the truth and life in him.

What would you like to share on this which might be helpful for us?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

merry Christmas

A most blessed and merry Christmas to all! Blessings in Jesus on you; may your day be wrapped in God's love to us in Jesus.

prayer of the day: Christmas

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

the cross and Christmas

The cross has been more on my mind I think than at any Advent season before. It's not hard to guess that this is indicative of God's work in me to change me. The cross in Jesus puts to death all that is not of God's creation and will, and resurrects- life out from death- what is in God's new creation and will in Jesus. This begins at baptism for the Christian (however you may interpret Romans 6, and I would say strictly speaking, it begins at faith which I believe is understood to underlie baptism), and is ongoing throughout one's life in Jesus. We're to live out daily the truth of our baptism. In other words this is from God, but we are active in it in faith, as well.

God in Christ became human, a little baby, for our salvation, for the world, and for all of creation. The scope of what happened is truly beyond us, as well as us really grasping the meaning of it, as one commenter said on this blog, yesterday. And all that Jesus is and does is the mirror image of God. So that his life, words, and works all reflect God. And no less his death for us on the cross. This all reflects who God is, the very heart of God. The saying is true: He was born to die, that we (men) might live.

So as we celebrate the wondrous coming of God in the flesh, the birth of Jesus, let's remember as well the shadow of the cross which hung over his birth, and over Jesus' entire life. A necessary climax and part of his work and the fulfillment of all that God had given his people in covenant love. And part of the true meaning of Christmas which is all but lost in so much of our culture and activity surrounding it.

What might you like to add to this?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

into your hands

When we think of Jesus' coming and his self-emptying ("kenosis") in becoming human, we have to see in it a complete abandoning of his life to God. This is difficult to speak of and think through since we're speaking of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While it was God the Son who became flesh or human, the Son, Christ, did not for a moment fail to be be fully involved himself in an active way, in becoming one of us for our salvation. The Father, the Son and the Spirit, as in all activities of God were intricately involved in this great act and undertaking. The Son was not merely passive in this, but active.

Yet in becoming human (while not, of course, losing God-ness at all, a mystery): even as an embryo to begin with, then born as a helpless baby, the Son certainly in truth committed his life into the Father's hands, into God's hands, and this was played out throughout his life. No one took Jesus' life from him, he made clear. He had the power to lay it down for death, and the power to take it back up again in the resurrection, I take it. Yet this is a true case of becoming one of us to bring us a salvation which is for the forgiveness of our sins by his death, but also to give us a new life to live in him here and now, the same kind of life he lived in faith and obedience to God.

When we celebrate Christmas we need to worship Jesus as the One who though God became a little baby for us. This was an act of God, the Trinitarian God. But it does not diminish for a moment the greatness of this commitment of life made by Christ and then lived out fully in his life and death.

We are to so follow. For me this has taken on major proportions in that for many years I've been bound by fear over at least one issue, which I believe God has helped me to entrust to him now for some time, and concerning which by grace I have not looked back so as to take it back into my own hands, and relive that anxiety. Like Jesus we are given this life in him to live out, a life committing our lives into God's hands fully to the very end throughout all the life God gives us.

God is present with us- Emmanuel- to help us, just as Jesus was helped throughout his life from birth to death.

What might you like to add to these thoughts?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

anticipation

For people like Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and the Magi there was anticipation over someone special to be born. They were given enough details in prophecies and signs from God to know that this one to be born was extra special. But they did not know all the ways. Nor the way in which he would be special. Except as God gave it to them as it unfolded before their eyes.

We live as humans keen on anticipation. We're generally looking forward to something, or someone. We live with this sense, and when it is weak or gone it is not good, for this is part of our humanity, to look forward to something better, to live in hope, really a gift from God.

But what is our hope set on? Is it set on something or some things outside the boundary of God's revealed will? Is it set on things that are of less importance so that what is most important is no longer in sight (all things in their good place of course)? And what about this Christmas? How does our celebration of that reflect the anticipation that we actually do have?

Like those people of old, may we by grace have our hearts set in anticipation on the coming of our Lord Jesus. As we celebrate his special coming to earth as a little baby, God become human for our salvation and for the salvation of the world, may our hearts and minds be drawn out in anticipation of Jesus, and of God's good work through Jesus in the world, creation and in our own lives. And may we be open along the way to all that means as this salvation unfolds before us. That we may live in it, indeed in Jesus.

What would you like to add to this?

Monday, December 22, 2008

keep on keeping on

I'm not a TULIP guy (but the flowers, yes!), but a large part of the P (and probably all the T, properly understood) I think I would agree with. God's grace is at work to help us in Jesus, to keep on keeping on. This is so even after we fail and sometimes fail miserably. Or even when we're keenly aware of just how wrong and sinful we are inside. If left on our own it would be easy, and probably inevitable that sooner or later we'd throw in the towel and abandon the project altogether.

That stands to good reason since the project then would be dependent on us, but it is one in which God is at work. Yet it's a project of which we're a part. We have to keep on going, even when it seems like we're in the mire and getting no where. I think of Christian in John Bunyan's classic, The Pilgrim's Progress. He had plenty of help along the way from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, but it was far from easy. There were points along the way where discouragement could have set in easily, leading to despair, and as I recall, there are points in the story that come close to that. But then renewed hope from God through Christ makes itself known through one "means of grace" or another. And Christian continues on in his journey.

For me it's important, certain times especially, not to live in the moment or present struggle or despair I'm in. I must go on, looking ahead to what God has for me in Christ, through the word, through other Christians. Of course Jesus was the epitome of this, setting the trail of salvation out for us by his life and through his death, resurrection and ascension. Now we go on in him, in this same kind of journey, testifying to his completed salvation and seeking to live that out in our journey in this world. We do so well only together, not alone as Christian in Bunyan's story was much of the time. Though there is an element of being alone from that story which is important. We still have our part to do. But we should seek to do so only in fellowship with God through Jesus, and in fellowship with others in Jesus.

Keep on keeping on. There's always a light ahead in the dark places. Don't look back, and don't stop moving. It's a God-thing, this life we have in Jesus. Therefore it's a sure and good ending ahead, as well as unfolding for us on the way to more and more know and make known God's glory and beauty by the Spirit in Jesus.

What might you like to add to this?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

quote of the week: Irenaeus on the Incarnation

But following the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, 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.
Irenaeus quoted by Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement, p. 54.

prayer for the week: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, December 20, 2008

recent pics

Our granddaughter, Morgan.
Our daughter, Tiffany, looks on, as Deb enjoys some fun with Morgan.
She's a smiler.

What I was greeted with this morning, at the entrance to our driveway, after the snow plow and the sidewalk plow, as well, had made their way through during the night. Over an hour of shoveling heavy snow and ice, and I had begun shovelling when I got my wits to take some pics of it.




Pictures from our anniversary trip to the dunes in southwest Michigan. Even though it was the weekend of October 12, most of it was quite warm. The dunes were a highlight, as well as finding this little church and immensely enjoying the service, that Sunday morning.

Friday, December 19, 2008

too good to be true

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
It's a wise axiom that if something seems too good to be true, than ordinarily it is!

Sometimes in certain settings, let's take a work setting, people may get certain notions, hyped up notions of a person. Sometimes I think some have gotten an idealized notion of me. Those on my team know better, I think. Though hopefully they see Jesus in me, or sense Jesus' working in my life, at least. And my wife knows better, though I'd be devastated if she didn't see Jesus in me, all a matter of grace for sure.

When any of these people with an idealized notion really get to know a person, they'll find out that they're ordinary in most any and every way, and that they struggle, too. Certainly true of me, I speak here of myself.

But wonderfully as seen in the passage above, someday what is too good to be true will happen in Jesus. Something beyond us now, something beyond our wildest imagination and dreams. We will be like him, but mystery lies in our becoming then, as well.

Back to the present. I think when we're freed up to simply be ourselves, we can then live in the freedom of the Lord. When I'm around people who I think look down on me, it's hard for me to be myself. Though of course I don't know what kind of masks I wear anytime, for that matter. But I really like to be just myself around people, no different than when I'm alone. I find one as binding and bondage making, as the other is liberating and freeing. So good to be around people who entirely accept one, in spite of their imperfections and faults.

It's so wonderful to know that we can just be ourselves before the Lord and before each other. And just accept each other and learn to love each other in Jesus, in spite of all our wrongs and areas of weakness. And so wonderful to see the change in Jesus setting in us now, both on a personal level as well as in each other. And we must be patient. What a wonderful day it will be at the wedding supper of the Lamb as we get to know Jesus there and each other and with the change that will be brought to maturity in Jesus!

What would you like to add to these thoughts?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

the hard places

What about those tired, hard places during which one has little or no sense of God's presence? We encounter this on certain days, and during certain times on most days. We find life has hit us with some hard knocks, big and little, and it doesn't seem like it's getting easier.

When one studies Israel during the time of Jesus, you find the sense of being in a hard place. They were under Rome's heel, so to speak, and not all was good and pleasant. Taxes was one obvious weight, as was the sense that in spite of a good number of them being back in the land with the temple rebuilt (albeit Herod's temple) this just couldn't be even close to the fulfillment promised by the prophets in Scripture, as in Isaiah. The LORD was not ruling, and what was going on, even amongst themselves, was not all right or kosher.

Then comes Jesus. Yes, God-with-us, Emmanuel. This brought joy at its inception for the few insiders who did share the news with others. But this coming turned into another way which in itself was hard, the way of the cross. This was to a large extent at the heart of Jesus' first coming. It was not an easy road, this Calvary road. Jesus was fulfilling the promises of God in ways unexpected.

Of course the place of Jesus' birth in its circumstances and setting, was not pleasant or comfortable. After a long trip, especially for a woman near delivering her child, they end up perhaps in a cave, but using a feeding trough (manger) as a bed for the newborn with animals possibly nearby.

Jesus made a new way for us, and in this life we in him share in that way. We must therefore take up our cross and follow, not adding to, but in proclaiming and seeking to live in and live out this salvation which has been accomplished for us in Jesus. But the way we do that is to learn to accept and to live well in our hard places.

Not easy, and though I've come a long way in my life, God is not finished with me yet in this. I see that God's necessary work continues, when I really am not dealing with the difficulty in a way which sees it as God's way for me, or when I'm off track in being taken up with my own way, not the way of the cross, the way of Jesus. This includes all that comes to me. Something I'm working on. Something Jesus lived out and by his salvation, gives to us to live out here and now, in our witness to the world of him.

Any thoughts or sharing from your own life, here?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

God with us

This Advent season we celebrate the coming and birth of God-with-us, Emmanuel, in Jesus. This was striking to me yesterday at work. Started out as an ordinary day. But ended up extraordinary as it wasn't just me and my friend working together, but actually three of us. God was surely with us.

God makes his Presence and Reality known in the Person of Jesus. He continues to do this today by the Spirit. When this happens all is touched with a sense of God's Presence. It may look the same, but it isn't. Every child of God through faith in Jesus knows what I speak of here. It's just that yesterday it was unusually palpable to me, or at least I sensed the reality of it. It certainly added a joy and charm to the day.

Later on I struggled over some anxiety issue, which I later overcame, but in so struggling I lost that sense of the Lord's Presence, even though he certainly was and always still is present with us. It is wonderful though, especially in company with another believer, to know something of the Lord's Presence with us, God with us in Jesus.

Maybe you would like to share something about this from your own life. Or any thoughts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

joining with the others in prayer

I have noticed at certain times what I sense as a power in joining with other Christians in prayer for a certain person, issue or petition. It seems to please the Lord when we Christians join together for prayer, and the Lord gives us a sense of that pleasure or of his presence.

Of course this doesn't mean one can't pray with the help of the Spirit in power for someone or something, on their own. Nor does it mean that praying with other believers doesn't oftentimes involve struggle and feeling dry. I am thinking of occasions in which probably the Spirit has put it on the hearts of God's people to pray. Or when perhaps God is pleased because his people are uniting together in prayer for a common and good cause before him. These simple prayers of petition and of seeking to pray in the Spirit are then helped by the Spirit, and go up like an incense to God. To be answered in due season, that is, in God's time and in God's way.

This then takes us to just how the prayers are answered. There was a man at Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta, Canada, named Gordon. As I recall, he was at least a wealthy enough man, and was stricken with a rare disease which confined him, he could no longer walk. Gordon was an inspirational man to meet, and a man of prayer. He had it on his heart to pray for a mighty revival in Canada, a pouring out of the Spirit. I believe others in Canada at that time had it on their hearts to be praying in the same way.

I remember that the elders of the church there came together, surely at Gordon's request to anoint him with oil and pray over him for healing. They had unusual faith and power with God, and it just seemed certain that their prayers for Gordon's miraculous healing would be answered. But the Lord answered not long after, by taking Gordon "home" to be with the Lord. This was in the early 1980's.

The Toronto Blessing came in 1994 which I believe was a move of God, in spite of all the problems and faults among the believers in the midst of it. And the Spirit surely moved in other ways and places in Canada, including in our school, nothing new, actually, for it. I have nothing but profound respect for our (Deb and I's) old school Prairie Bible Institute, because of God's work there, a place from which many have went on to serve the Lord all over the world. I believe it's even better now than when we went.

To get in on a move of God, or what God is doing, we need to find out what God is evidently putting on the hearts of others. And even if it doesn't seem much on your heart at all, join in. I think you'll find that you're joining into something more than a human venture. Then look for God's answer, maybe not in ways asked or imagined.

What would you like to add to this?

Monday, December 15, 2008

being present for each other

I was impressed in listening to Krista Tippett interviewing Parker Palmer (you can listen or read the transcript here yourself, or podcast) about the economic downturn and how we as Christians need to look at it. Palmer himself is a Quaker, and the hour was filled with wisdom.

What stood out for me is how this economic downturn may be an occasion for change in the church. I have found the church generous up to a point in helping the poor (I speak in generalities; there are some outstanding examples). Of course there is needed accountability, handouts by themselves aren't the answer. But as Palmer stated, we live in a rugged individualistic society where it's up to each one of us to make it ourselves. There is some help within the system for those who don't, and this varies depending on where people live. But by and large there is not much for us to fall back on, should any of us fall.

I am Anabaptist to a significant extent. The Amish are one group from the Anabaptists (I was raised Mennonite) who do find help and security in falling back on each other. They are committed to seeing each other through. Of course this is a joint venture, and while there are surely those who are wealthier and those who are poorer among them, they work at making it more of a common sharing, helping those in need, one obvious basic example from them being their barn raisings.

The question comes back, what about those who are not so deserving of help because of the continued misuse of their finances? Of course none of us (very rare, certainly not myself!) can claim to have always made wise financial decisions. And there may be some who have this and that expense which they don't really need or maybe would do better in life, without. This calls for a personal, prayerful self-inventory for all of us.

We need to offer help to those in need, and part of that help will be encouragement and indeed, a call toward responsibility. Those whose spending is out of control can't expect to be supported in that kind of lifestyle. They may need special help, but there will always be some who refuse such, and therefore can't be a part of this needed dynamic. After all each needs to be there for the others, as well as having the others be there for themselves. In such cases help comes sadly to them from a bottom rung such as in shelters and soup kitchens. With hopefully the kind of help that can get them back up on their feet.

Should this be a part of our Christian witness in the world? Why is it so lacking among us (or so it seems to me)?

What might you add to these beginning thoughts on this subject?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

quote for the week: Dietrich Bonhoeffer- our place in the sacred story

What is important is not that God is a spectator and participant in our life today, but that we are attentive listeners and participants in God's action in the sacred story, the story of Christ on earth.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 62, quoted by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology, p. 399

prayer of the week: Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, December 13, 2008

grounded in the word

I believe we have to be well grounded in the word of God, in Scripture. This takes time and practice, and is only realized in Jesus and in community and in mission. But all that we need and where we're going comes together in Jesus. And it's a together process- "us", not "I".

This is about living out this faith, this continuing story on earth in this present day. God's word has power in ways we don't know, so we can't limit the value of what we read in it, even if we don't understand it all. But it's intended for us in Jesus to sweep us up into the story, so that we find our place in what is central to this story in Jesus.

This is not an easy task. But as we work at it, little by little, God will help us together to really be his people in this world. A people in Jesus who call others to this same reality in Jesus, to this same faith. Our lives need to be centered in this; all else is peripheral to it.

What might you like to add to these few thoughts?

Friday, December 12, 2008

faith is ongoing

Why is it that we often are hit with the unpleasant realities of living in a fallen world? (a pretty obvious answer to that question!) Why do we at times, have the sense of being overwhelmed, or maybe in a blue funk? It's all related to helping us in the ongoing walk of faith which is to be a part of our every day life in this world, in Jesus.

As we look at Scripture, we see that faith involves commitment, trust, acts or works, resting, waiting, a living hope, etc. And it's necessary in all the circumstances of life. The good times and bad times. When we do well and when we fail. When we seem to be doing what is good and right, and when we sin. When we have plenty and when we are in need. All of these times and circumstances are occasions of faith.

There are difficult parts of our life journey which seem particularly dark, other parts seem to have much light, and most parts have for me, a sense of ambiguity- not knowing a lot, while walking with the light God gives us, such as with the lamp or light of God's word, or walking/living by faith and not by sight.

Faith is ongoing. It's faith in that it requires ongoing trust in God and his promises in Jesus. We realize that while God is doing a work that is beyond us in us, it's not about us or confidence in ourselves. But we are to grow in this ongoing faith so that in the end our faith will grow and be stronger than it was when we first received Christ as Lord. This faith is a reality, but it's often stronger when we are weaker. And faith is relational in nature as well, both to God and to each other, in Jesus.

What would you like to add here?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

letting go

A big part of the walk of faith for us is to let go. Letting go of those things that have bound us for so long is not easy. I'd like to say that we let go to grab on to something better, and while I believe that is no doubt true, it just doesn't always seem that one is doing that in the process.

Process is an important word here, as well, by the way. Because we are prone to want to find our way out through a big experience or a tremendous over night breakthrough. But really letting go and learning to walk in a new way in holding on to something else, to God's hand and promises takes time.

Even though I would stress process, I do believe in breakthrough. Maybe more like breakthroughs. I think Abraham's life is a case in point. God led him along the way to grow and see breakthroughs, but perhaps the biggest breakthrough of all came when God tested him concerning his son Isaac. But for that breakthrough to occur, smaller breakthroughs needed to have preceded, such as leaving his country, at last leaving his kindred, believing God's word about his descendants though he still had no son, obeying God's command of circumcision, interceding for Lot and his family, believing God's promise of Isaac's birth, trusting God in his promise to care for Ishmael his son when they were sent away.

God works in ways we little realize or perceive. Though it is good to look back to where we were, how we've progressed, and where we are now. For me most of the time, it's more like I know louder and clearer what God wants and is surely working to see done in my life.

Letting go is scary, because for so long we've held on to something which actually bound us, but we believed it was important, somehow, for us. But to let go because of God's promises in Christ, sets us on a path of true freedom and in finding what is better, what is best.

What would you like to add to these thoughts on letting go?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

a part of walking through

We don't like the idea of walking through a trial. We'd rather avoid it altogether. I find this to be the case for me. Many of my struggles I'm afraid are of my own making (or have been) or due to my own weaknesses. Because of that I am prone to think that I need to solve these problems myself.

But I'm learning that we need to persevere in faith through the trial. Of course according to God's will revealed in Scripture and in Jesus. But we need to find God's salvation which is not only past and future, but is ongoing in our present. And we need to beware of the notion that we should fix the problem ourselves. If we do, we may miss out on something greater God wants to do for us in Jesus.

Just a few thoughts, as I must get around soon to shovel and travel to work early, because of the Winter here. But what might you add to them?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Marie Antoinette A Real Person, A Real Award"

"Marie Antoinette A Real Person, A Real Award" given to me by Lanny from her quite good, creative and interesting blog, It's the Dirt. Lanny's blog is one of a kind, just like she is. We actually all are, but she perhaps stands out a little more that way. As you'll discover in time from her blog, she loves to write, loves most all of what she does which is alot, on a farm, no less, and loves her husband, Dirt (my guess is that this is reverse order, at least putting the last first, anyhow). They live in beautiful country out in the state of Washington.

Thanks to Lanny for this award. I in turn am to reward it to others. And you are to follow these directions:

1. Please put the logo on your blog
2. Place a link to the person from whom you received the award
3. Nominate at least 7 or more blogs
4. Put the links of those blogs on your blog
5. Leave a message on their blogs to tell them

Now, I'm to nominate some blogs for this award. So here goes:
Charity Singleton - Wide Open Spaces: Charity is going through alot in fighting cancer. She is a writer who in her writing reminds me of myself, probably more than any other blogger. I'm sure I can learn from it in sharing more of my own life, as Charity does hers.
Diane - Emerging Quaker: Diane is a friend from Jesus Creed who at last started her own blog. She is thoughtful in seeking to express her tradition of the faith in ways that would put Christ front and center in this world.
L.L. Barkat - Seedlings in Stone: L.L. besides being an excellent even though budding author, is quite the blogger. You'll find her here and here as well. She is best read slowly and thoughtfully so you can enjoy the beauty along the way. And really it's the beauty of the Lord that comes to the fore.
Nancy: She is creative in creative ways (example: forever changing the title of her blog, and more). She has a big heart for people and for the Lord.
Halfmom, AKA, Susan - Not Ashamed: Susan is a scientist, professor, counselor, and lover of God's word. And she is not ashamed of the gospel. I've come to be impressed with her love for the Lord and for people, and its expression on her blog, as well as her wit and wisdom there.
Jennifer L. Griffith - Gumbo-Ya-Ya -- Everybody talking at once: Jennifer has a great testimony and is to the point about life and the Lord in all of life.
Kim Aliczi - The Threshing Floor: Kim is like me in wanting to challenge the status quo and shake things up a bit. She does so in her own unique way, though that is not only what she's all about, as you'll see on her blog.
Lorenzo - Lorenzo the Llama: Lorenzo has a gift for lovingly sharing her life through her blog, in pics and words oftentimes spiced with humor. And the British kind which is fun. And she gets around.

Visit these places to see what they do, and firsthand why I passed this award on to them. And don't forget Lanny's place.

Monday, December 08, 2008

trouble and change

We all run into troubles in life. And sometimes they're quite devastating. I think of the Joseph story in the Old Testament. Joseph in the New Testament has some parallels. Faith in the midst of trying and difficult circumstances was important for them both, and is indeed important for us all. Trouble marked the lives of Naomi and Ruth. We know the good from God that came out of all these troubles.

None of us either like or want change. But change is a big part of what happened to those named above, as well as many others in Scripture, including Jesus himself. For many where I live this has meant being laid off from their jobs. For some others it takes the form of sickness, or some other physical trouble. Or maybe an unexpected (or even, expected) divorce. All kinds of troubles can press in on us, big and small.

God is at work in the midst of it all to bring good, and change into our lives, in Jesus. I know this is true in my life. Alot of my troubles have been relatively small. But they all tend to be used by God to awaken me to needed change in my life, in one way or another. This can involve growth in becoming more like Christ in character, or growth in trusting God more, not to mention new things God may want to do. I've learned to just keep walking through and pressing on during the hard times. It seems like those are the times in which I've grown the most.

What have you learned about trouble and change?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

quote for the week: Eugene Peterson on following Jesus as the Way

To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us. To follow Jesus means picking up rhythms and ways of doing things that are often unsaid but always derivative from Jesus, formed by the influence of Jesus. To follow Jesus means that we can't separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it. To follow Jesus is as much, or maybe even more, about feet as it is about ears and eyes.

Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, p. 22

prayer for the week: Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, December 06, 2008

don't do what I do

I've been told by some (not my wife, thankfully) that I read too much. Maybe they have a point and perhaps not related to my reading, but more about my life. And I need to be sensitive to that possibility (and I think I actually have, though at the same time increasing my reading), and seek to grow in God's will for me in Jesus through it.

But my point here is that as human beings, and as those in Jesus we're not to think that we have to do exactly what someone else is doing. In fact we need to find our niche and live and grow in that.

There's all kinds of dangers in saying this. I can easily settle into a lifestyle devoid of really getting to know people and just do what I like to do. I love to read and read and then read some more. But I find that I'm not satisfied unless the content of that reading becomes active in some way in my life and in the world of people. Of course being in Scripture activates us in Jesus by faith into prayer and works of love.

How we live out the faith will agree in general terms, but how we express our faith and love will differ. We're to live as those following Jesus, in the way of Jesus and in Jesus who is the Way. But how I do that and how someone else does that will differ just as much as we are different people with different gifts.

In this we often and generally do as others do in Jesus, yet the expression of how we do that varies as we seek together to follow God's will for us in Jesus in this world.

Do you track with me?

Friday, December 05, 2008

hilarity and joy

At our work place we're known for carrying on in certain kind of ways off and on during the day. Most of the day is serious stuff, work that keeps one on their toes and moving. I like to have my Bible open, at times with my Greek New Testament, as I seek to ponder God's word, as Mary did, so I can be hopefully on the same page God would have me on, in living out God's will in Jesus, or seeing that worked out in my life. And praying. One can't underestimate the value there is in having a job during which you can spend some significant intervals in prayer. So even though it's a factory job, albeit in a good, solid ministry, there is much for me to be thankful for.

But one can get down, and bored at times through the seeming mundaneness of it all. And yesterday I just couldn't seem to connect with God, not really getting God's word well, what I was on, though the exercise in itself was good. Not seeming to be in sync with God, struggling in praying for others, though maybe I was getting somewhere with that. But compared to other days, in a general malaise and even out of sorts, just not getting it.

But then hilarity and unexpected joy came. Where this hilarity comes from, I really don't know, because sometimes it seems to come out of the depths of inward difficulty. But I have my "patented" way of "singing" Simon and Garfunkel's great song, "The Sounds of Silence", (others are picking up on it!) and we were getting into another song as well as acting rather crazy. Plus we got some good names sometimes of people (and churches, at times) on our address labels for the mailings that sound funny in our ears. We just completely lose it, sometimes our laughter just doubles us up completely. And of course the humor surrounding Sunday NFL football here in Michigan has added a new chapter this year (thankfully it's only a game! (: ).

As we were carrying on all day, with really a good spirit, having worked through one difficult team issue earlier during the day in a way that surely, for all its imperfections, was pleasing to the Lord, it just seemed like joy took over. It seemed like I was in the Spirit, in some measure so. The ride home with the neighbor I carpool with seemed to be one of joy. Being at home is joy, but had the added sense I was carrying over from work.

Hilarity (which Dietrich Bonhoeffer considered important) and joy. How wonderful to live with a God in a world as sad and tragic as this world is, but to be able to not only weep in and with this world, but to be able to experience hilarity even with accompanying joy. This is part of our life in Jesus.

What would you like to add to these thoughts?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

finding our place

In rereading again, Scot McKnight's great book, The Real Mary, I am reminded of how Mary had to find her place in God's Story, and how it wasn't like she had thought it would be, after she had received the wonderful, earth shaking news about the son she was to bear.

How true this is for us, even if not at all carrying the same burden Mary carried. We too have to unlearn many false conceptions we have about what we believe. And learn the way of Jesus in following him as Lord. It's a day to day, over time proposition. Like in Mary's life, it unfolds over time, and we do well to seek to be true followers each day, to grow in being apprentices before God in Jesus by the Spirit in community for mission, in the way God calls us to.

I am being helped much as God takes me through some trials, mostly little really, but in ways to help me grow in Jesus. Thanks for your prayers, as indicated in the post a couple days back. For which I wasn't looking, but of course we're all glad to receive such.

What might you like to add about finding our place?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

looking forward

I think oftentimes we get mired into looking at our past with all its problems and hearing berating voices from it. This impacts our living in the present for ill. I know that can be the case in my own life. Of course good experiences and voices from the past can be helpful. And God's work in Christ for us in the past, has both present and future meaning for all who are in Christ.

We need to think in terms of God's goal, or the end of the Story, what God is bringing about in Christ. We need to see this with reference to all things, including those causing us trouble as well as toward our enemies. We're to see ourselves in this same light as well, which is encouraging. If we simply look at ourselves where we are or seem to be, it would get quite discouraging much of the time. But to see God's work in us, and God moving us a certain direction in Jesus is so important. We need to learn to look ahead, to be looking forward, with reference to God's good work in Jesus. To be seeing that as not only something future, but as being present and at work with us now.

This should help us in the present and is surely an important component of learning to walk by faith, and not by sight.

What would you like to add to this?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

when on the brink

There are times in our lives when it seems all is crowding in on us and we're about ready to be thrown over some kind of cliff. Yesterday for a time that seemed to be the case for me. By faith I hung in there, and soon was experiencing the consolation and help of the Lord, and the word was alive on the pages of the psalms, specifically Psalm 139.

Too often during my life I've tried to manage living on the brink. Trying somehow to get myself out of it, but failing in the process to really trust the Lord. I think we need to learn to take baby steps of faith, committing ourselves into the Lord's hands by prayer and by waiting on him. And as we learn to trust the Lord, we can end up both being a witness as people of faith, as well as growing through the trial ourselves. Of course quite often a large part of our trials come from our own struggles (sometimes sinful) within. God permits the difficulties to come so that we can learn to trust him in them and find his salvation in those places. But we must beware of thinking we'll ever be above encountering such trials in this life. Yet at the same time we can be assured that God will make us stronger through them.

What about trials in your life? What do you do when you feel like your on the brink or the edge?

Monday, December 01, 2008

wilderness of words

Words are wonderful; I'm certainly an advocate of them. Words are underrated, too; if that's not so, then why did God give us words as perhaps the most foundational aspect of "special revelation" given to us?

All that being said, I find that the use of words can be helpful or it can be a hindrance. It is interesting that the enemy tempted Eve by asking if God had really said such and such, and instead interjected that God meant so and so. Eve bought into that, but in so doing changed God's words of the command to her and Adam, herself. So words ended up mattering in a life and death way.

Words mattering should encourage us to spend more time in God's word, in Scripture. In that word we find the Word of God, Jesus, and we find in Jesus the way to God and God's will in this life and world, as well as the promise and reality of new creation in Jesus. So the importance placed on words should move us towards the word of God. And in that, to the story of God we find in Scripture. And by that to our own place in God's story, which in Jesus is ongoing.

Words can have a steadying, stabilizing effect as well as an unsettling effect. So this means we need discernment as we read blogs or books and even our own thoughts as we read God's word. We have to test all others words with reference to and by the word of God. While at the same time appreciating the gift of words and truth spoken by humankind from many places, disciplines and traditions.

What do you appreciate about words? How have you found them good or evil? How does adherence to God's word help us? And how can we err as did Adam and Eve?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

quote for the week: Edward T. Welch on hope

While our culture elevates riches and health, hope is one of the most coveted spiritual possessions. You get it by asking for it and practicing it. You practice it by remembering and meditating on God's story.
Edward T. Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, p. 251

prayer for the week: First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 29, 2008

pressing further for a bigger gospel

Yesterday my post suggested that the gospel is bigger than only personal conversion. Of course we must not abandon that, and it's an important part of our mission, in fact it is fundamental to where the impact of the gospel begins. It begins for each of us in a new relationship with God through Christ and Christ's atoning work for us.

What Christ has done however, has bigger implications than only getting people saved, as important and vital as that is. Christ's atoning work is for the reconciliation of all of God's creation to fulfill the purposes of God. To the part of creation which rebels, there will be judgment. But reconciliation of all things to God through Christ, needs to be factored into what we see as our mission in Jesus today. It must always include the call to evangelize individual people, helping them see their need of Jesus as their Savior from sin. But it needs also to take into account God's work in bringing in the kingdom in Jesus to bear on all things in creation and in the culture and world of humankind.

Since the meaning of the gospel for many of us is only about people's personal relationship to God through Christ, as important as that is, oftentimes we evangelicals, or others are left with co-opting worldly measures in politics, etc. We need to work on bringing to bear the gospel on everything, even in this present life and existence. Not an easy task. While at the same time we don't lose sight of the call to evangelize so that people may put their trust in Christ as Savior and Lord.

Any thoughts here?

Friday, November 28, 2008

the gospel for crises

What is happening in Mumbai has captured our attention in the news. It is certainly troubling, and is an attack on the very foundations of civilization, or civilized society. Of course it reminds us of what happened on "9/11."

What does the gospel of Christ have to say to this, and how does it address it? This is challenging. The stock answer for many Christians is that it may affect such only indirectly, through the regeneration of people, in which lives are changed. And of course we know in one way or another that wars and violence are inevitable in this world until God in Christ puts a final end to it in the completion of the shalom of the kingdom.

I believe the gospel does have more to say in addressing these crises. The good news in Jesus also is about an alternative way to be human. And there is only one way to move toward being a human in the full sense of what God intended in God's creation of humans. But in this world, in Jesus, it's a way which is marked by suffering.

How do we defeat evil? The stock answer of the world is to fight fire with fire. And indeed there would seem to be justification for that when we read Romans 13. The state is there seen to be "servants of God" no less in bearing "the sword" against evil doers. But is this the way God prescribes through the gospel? I think all Christians would agree that it is not. Though we would disagree on what relationship Christians can have with the governing authorities, or "the state". Some of us would say we should not engage in "the sword" aspect of the state, while others of us would say we can, and perhaps even should.

But let's lay that last question aside, as we consider the gospel way in Jesus of fighting evil. We overcome evil with good. And specifically with the good that is rooted in Jesus and in his death, which is the epitome and ground of overcoming evil with good, and of righting all wrongs. We're to live out in Jesus his redemptive life and even death, doing so as God's resurrection people in Jesus in this world. I believe this is at the heart of what it means to live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Of course we must start locally in how we live before others among us. But back to Mumbai. What are we to think and do about that? We must pray for all involved, including the terrorists. We must pray for God's intervention and for God's justice and mercy. And we should be praying for Christians who in these places can live out the light of the gospel in Jesus by the Spirit, even in the most troubling and trying circumstances. And for the church to be active in such places and times, as well as in every place and time.

Too often we've settled for a gospel that doesn't address all the needs of this world. I suggest that while this world will always have trouble and great need, the good news in Jesus does address these needs on every level. That the gospel has something to say about everything, while not losing sight of the reality that it's the power of salvation for all who believe.

What would you like to add to this?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

For us in the United States, it is Thanksgiving Day today. In Scripture one of God's indictments against humankind in our sin, is that we fail to give thanks to God. Scripture teaches us that every good gift ultimately comes from God, and that the problems of this life are traced back to the reality of a world that is fallen as well as awaiting the redemption and new creation to come in Jesus. To give thanks to God is most certainly an act of faith, and especially so in a world in which not all things are right or good.

Only in Jesus can we give thanks with the anticipation that God will make all wrongs right, and all things new and good in the end. And that by simple faith in Jesus, we can be a part and even facilitator of this new creation in Jesus beginning now. While we still richly enjoy all the gifts God has given us as part of this old creation. The best by far is yet to come, in Jesus!

I hope all those we know and love will end up being a part of that big celebration and life yet to come. That hand in hand, and heart to heart we will be together at that great celebration to come as we enter into a life we begin to have a glimmer and even experience of here and now in Jesus. A life which makes all the imitations we are so prone to wander toward and pursue in this life, pale in comparison. The end of the story helps us realize what we should be headed toward by simple faith in God through Jesus Christ.

What would you like to add to these thoughts?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

giving thanks

For some of us, thanksgiving is not something we just naturally do everyday. I believe the Lord is changing me in this regard. But it takes time. It's of the Spirit, but it's also something we're involved in as well, as with all, or at least certain kinds of workings of the Spirit. I recently was blessed in hearing a brother pray this week in our weekly start up meeting at work (we take our turns), who seems to pray in the Spirit and with thanksgiving marking all of his prayers. I'm sure God wants to use that to impact me and my practice of giving thanks.

Some of us face many challenges and disappointments or worse. I think of a friend who is struggling with cancer. Some of us have carried burdens or voices in our head from the past we've listened to far too long. Though we may be making progress, and in the Lord we should be, yet we just often don't have it in ourselves to be bubbling over to God with thanksgiving (and of course this is a work in us of God's grace). Actually it seems strange to me that I seem to have little trouble thanking people, but too much trouble thanking God. Something just doesn't add up there. Though God while personal is different for sure than others. We often ask in different ways, "If God is so great and so good, why this, this and that in this world, and this in my life?" Giving thanks ends up being a crucial part of learning to walk by faith in God and in God's promises in Jesus, and not by sight.

I think it's important to learn to give thanks for the little things, for all God's gifts, great and small. But to get some of us who are late bloomers going, maybe we need to dwell on those things which are bedrock truths for our life in God through Christ. We can get going in giving thanks to God consistently on such ground truths, and then from there begin to give thanks to God for everything, doing so in creative ways, as well. Like giving thanks to God for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus, in the sense of seeing or sensing or anticipating God's hand in all things for good, even in our trials.

I thank God for his great and good work of creation, new creation and redemption through Jesus Christ our Lord. And that this great work most definitely includes me. And that I'm part of a wonderful community of brothers and sisters in Jesus locally in our church, at work, in the blogging community and worldwide. We are most wonderfully blessed to have Jesus and to have each other in Jesus.

I thank God for Scripture as God's word to which I turn daily. I thank God for his voice and the story of God we find in it, and in which we can find our place today. I thank God for the gospel of Christ by which I've been saved, and want to be an instrument of God's peace to others through this gospel, helping others come to a saving faith in our Lord Jesus.

I thank God for my wife, Deb, who is a wonderful help meet and my best friend. Also I thank God for our daughter, Tiffany, for her baby Morgan, and for her boyfriend Chris. God has made each one of these three so very special. I am thankful for them and look forward to seeing how their lives unfold in coming days and years.

I thank God for his great faithfulness in our lives. It is new every morning. And for the "Our Father" prayer we're to pray, as well as for the gift of prayer as we walk by faith and not by sight in this world.

I thank God for the hard times, even though I don't like trials in themselves. Yet through them God helps me to grow and become more like Jesus, as I press on through them with the Lord.

God is good. Far beyond our understanding and grasp of goodness. And God is great. We need to trust God to work that out in and even through our lives, and thank him daily for his work in and among us in Jesus. And we pray that God's work will go on in and among us out to a world that is in great need. And we anticipate God's good working in us to that end, in whatever form that takes, beginning with prayers. As we await the great day of thanksgiving when God makes all things new in Jesus.

What might you like to add to this note and post of giving thanks?

Linked from L.L. Barkat's post, A Bite of Pie and Thanks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

the gospel and relationships

The gospel is more about relationships than it is about law. In other words at the heart of the gospel is the restoration of broken relationships between God and humans, and between humans with each other, as well as with God's creation. Sin breaks relationships, and the gospel restores them.

God in Christ did this by becoming one of us in the Incarnation. God became flesh or human to restore us humans into a relationship with himself. The heart of the law is love to God and love to our neighbor. When we break God's law by our sin, we're violating relationships. So it's more than just disobeying a command, but it's breaking or diminishing a relationship.

We as Christians should be known for our love for God, our love for each other, our love for all people including even our enemies, and our love for God's creation. We should be known for that, that is what should mark us.

I'm again rereading Scot McKnight's fine book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us, and it's a good and (always) timely reminder of just how big the gospel is, and its aim. Its aim is nothing less than love, which of course is the heart of God in the gospel as we know in probably the most beloved Bible verse of all.

As we work on understanding and more importantly living out the gospel, we need to live out this love which Jesus carried out to the full, and by which God has reconciled the world to himself in Jesus, so that all sinners might find their true home and be at home with God and others and look forward to the completion of this beginning of the new creation in Jesus.

Monday, November 24, 2008

expectation

I am actually amazed at just how down I might be over something one day, or just exhausted, yet how a new day brings with it hope and expectation. I see this as part of God's ongoing faithfulness in our lives in Jesus.

Our hope and expectation in the Lord is not just something about the sweet by and by, but is for now. But an important key here is that we just have to remain open to God's will and working. In other words we can't know just what we're to expect, except in general terms as God gives us from his word. Like we find in the "Our Father" prayer.

If we keep our expectations grounded in God through Christ, we won't in the long run be disappointed, even if what we experience in this life would never meet our own expectations. We need to learn to see life more and more in terms of God's expectations and working for us in Christ.

But though this is beyond us, it's truly wonderful how God keeps putting this sense of expectation in us over and over again to help us keep going on in Jesus, through all the trials and life that comes our way.

What would you like to add to these thoughts?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eugene Peterson on the priesthood of believers

One of the severely crippling misunderstandings of the Reformation assertion of "the priesthood of all believers" is to assume (or worse, insist) that each of us can function as our own priest - "I don't need a priest, thank you, I can do quite well on my own, me and Jesus." But that is certainly not what Martin Luther intended when he included the priesthood of all believers as a fundamental tenet for reforming the church. He meant that we are all priests, not for ourselves, but for one another: "I need you for my priest, and while we are at it, I'm available to you as your priest."

The priesthood of all believers is not an arrogant individualism that, at least in matters dealing with God, doesn't need anyone. It is a confession of mutuality, a willingness to guide one another in following the way of Jesus, to assist and encourage, to speak and act in Jesus' name. In the community of the baptized, there is no one, absolutely no one, who is not involved in this priestly leading and being led, for even "a little child shall lead them" (Isa. 11:6).
Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way, p. 14.

prayer for the week

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 22, 2008

faith and science

Lately I am doing some interesting reading on faith and science (a book I'm in now). Nowadays in evangelical circles science has a bad name, and in some respects that is deservedly so, due to the deference paid to naturalism as part of its tenets. Of course naturalism is drawing metaphysical conclusions which are not to be confused with the science itself, though at times can impact it.

Science can answer the questions to what is, and observe, while hypothesizing and continuing to test and observe what is, and keep on doing so, in a sense a never ending process. This doesn't mean science can't find things that are demonstrably true. Gravity is an obvious easy one. But of course science can never answer the questions of why we're here, or how it all began.

There is general revelation and there is special revelation. General revelation is God's creation seen in nature, and observed in science, while special revelation is God's word given to us in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. Both are important from God, so science can actually be a help and blessing to both believers and nonbelievers alike. Science itself must not be seen as the enemy of truth, but we do need to discern what is added to science apart from the science itself. God does not deceive us with the revelation he has given us. Both parts of revelation stand on their own in the ways they are intended to, as well as together.

A big battle over science has been ongoing and more is yet to come it seems, as far as evangelical Christians are concerned. This post is simply to say we should let science do its work and take it seriously as it stands. While at the same time we must critique the naturalism scientists mix in with their scientific work.

What might you like to add here?

Friday, November 21, 2008

pain

C. S. Lewis wrote on pain, having experienced it toward the end of his life in a piercing to the very heart kind of way, which he had to work through to understand God and God's goodness even in death in a new way. His beloved Joy had died, and he missed his wife in ways he never would have imagined or known apart from this experience. But through it he was enabled to see pain in a new light, as well as reverse his focus from himself, Joy and God to God, Joy and himself.

We are told in Scripture that our present sufferings aren't worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us, in Jesus. But it is true that suffering precedes glory in God's working in us in Jesus in this life. And it seems that this suffering is ongoing if we're to really be embracing and living in the will of God. The suffering opens up new vistas for us of blessing for others, and learning to live in a way not only more pleasing to God, but paradoxically more pleasing even to ourselves, even through the real pain.

C. S. Lewis worked through this after losing his wife, Joy, who died of cancer. In this experience with her, he would note how she would get better only to have a great fall back into the depths of this illness and disease. Life in God through Christ here and now is not about happiness, but involves suffering, which Lewis had always maintained, but which was another thing to live through. In Lewis' continued working over this trouble and trial, he wrote a book that has been a help to many over the years, A Grief Observed, along with The Problem of Pain (written much earlier). In the end Lewis found a new joy from God even in relationship to his beloved Joy, though certainly not replacing her presence with him as his wife which he continued to sorely miss. But Lewis had a new appreciation for God's goodness and work which are still really beyond our human understanding in this life (and we'll never even fully grasp it in "eternity").

Pain is to be instructive to us, but also formative for our lives in God now. Pain helps us see our need for God, helps our focus be on God (even if it's with distress and anger at times; see a good number of the psalms), and helps us find where true joy lies: in God. So that we learn to enjoy God's good gifts of relationships and of God's creation through not only a new theological grid so to speak, but through a new understanding and experience of God. Of course this is not something one just steps in, but something we are to grow towards, I believe. One Biblical character who has come to mind as I've been typing this is Job (who is mentioned in the chapter). He certainly is an interesting case of what can happen through profound pain that reaches to the very depths of one's being and existence. This was surely ongoing for Job, pain existing with comfort the rest of his life. Robert Banks wrote this chapter, "C. S. Lewis on Pain," having lost his own wife of more than thirty years. A good chapter, surely helpful for us all, and especially for those going through this profound pain of bereavement from the loss of a loved one.

We must remember as C. S. Lewis reminds us in The Last Battle, that the best by far is yet to come, the fulfillment of all the good we've experienced in this life, as the resurrection of Jesus takes hold entirely and completely in all of creation and in our lives and relationships.

What would you like to add to these thoughts on pain?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

disappointment

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my all time favorite theologians, as well as favorite reads. If you've never read Bonhoeffer, these are the three books I'd especially recommend (though any of his are good): Life Together, Letters and Papers from Prison, and The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer, while living a fulfilling life in important respects, did live through disappointments on a number of levels. Bonhoeffer's work to awaken the church in Germany to the dangers and evil of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, generally failed. Even the confessing church he helped start did not stand through the long haul as a witness for Christ against the evils being done. And on a personal level, his love for Maria von Wedemeyer was never realized in marriage because of his imprisonment by the Nazis, and then his eventual execution.

"Hope does not disappoint." (Romans 5:5a). How does this apply quoted in the chapter of this book? Bonhoeffer gladly received all good as from God and did not try to deny human longings and aspirations. He rather saw all created as good, while at the same time necessarily under the cross of Christ. So that all is subject to God in Christ. But there's no doubt Dietrich was terribly disappointed over the church's failure to see through the evil happening in his day, and on a personal level was terribly disappointed that he and Maria could not live out their love together.

But Bonhoeffer refused to give up his high hopes. His passion had become to keep seeking to find and live out the will of God in this life. He seems to have seen each new day as a new enterprise and adventure in doing so, not that it was easy for him, because it wasn't. But God seems to have kept his life full, even in prison with his continued reading of books, writing and contact with the other prisoners. Bonhoeffer believed that each hope that was in his heart and a part of his life, would somehow reach fulfillment. He looked for that in his present existence, not in the sweet by and by.

"The day after the main plot to kill Hitler failed he wrote to console his friend [Eberhard Bethge]: 'By this-worldliness I mean to live unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world - watching with Christ in Gethsemane.'" (p. 121, quoted from Letters and Papers, p. 370)

Bonhoeffer seemed to live in hope, not of everything turning out as he planned, though he certainly felt strongly about his love for Maria and was much concerned for her. And he was hopeful that the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler, of which he was the moral, theological support in spite of his Christian pacifism, would succeed. But he refused to live life, no matter how bleak it appeared, as not having hope. Bonhoeffer surely found his hope always in the Lord and never in his circumstances. He hoped for better circumstances and good outcomes from God, but in the end when he knew his end had come, his testimony of peace and calm was striking to those who witnessed it, and were able to pass it on later. His last words: "This is the end - for me, the beginning of life."

This is probably my favorite chapter in the book and draws alot from Bonhoeffer's writings. It speaks to me in my life in helping me to seek God's will in Jesus for each day above all, while seeking to live the life God gives now to the full.

What words would you like to add about disappointment and hope?

(From reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, entitled, "Bonhoeffer on Disappointment", by Brian S. Rosner.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

anxiety

To be human in a fallen world, is to be anxious. Scripture sees anxiety as being both fearful of what might happen in a world where bad things do happen, and death is certain. But anxiety is also seen as a motivation to live out God's will in Jesus during this life, with a sense of personal responsibility in light of God's will, and for others.

Soren Kirkegaard is one who profoundly thought through the concept of anxiety. To Kirkegaard there was objective and subjective anxiety, as well as good and bad anxiety. Indeed to live as a human was to accept anxiety or else live in despair. Anxiety was meant to help one become what God intended for them in Christ. And a reality that never ends in this life. Though anxiety could have the opposite effect so that one can end up in despair, giving up and thus abandoning faith in God's promises in Christ, and therefore missing God's good will for them. Kirkegaard has a number of interesting things to say about anxiety in light of the fall and God's redemption in Christ, largely missed since philosophers referring to his insights into the human condition, have set aside Kirkegaard's theology. For Kirkegaard the proper end of anxiety is to rely on God's provision of salvation in Jesus Christ, and to (even joyfully) rely on Christ fully in one's ongoing existence.

Anxiety has been an ongoing issue in my life. I've grown in overcoming it much over the years, and handle it better when it comes now. I can see the wisdom of making the right kind of anxiety a part of my life, to help others by prayers and loving acts and words (1 Corinthians 7 has some examples, as well as Paul expressing his godly anxiety over the churches, and Timothy sharing in that). Most importantly I can see a good anxiety in endeavoring to live each day as one following Christ in the community of God's people and in mission to the world. Motivated to do God's will. Jesus himself seemed to express such in light of the cross, and in this sense anxiety can help us to order our lives before God.

As to the bad anxiety, we must be assured that in Jesus, nothing at all can separate us from God's love. Whatever we go through, God will be present for us, and the end will be good. This must become dominant over those matters which can deter us, and I know of them well. So that we learn to cast our anxieties on the Lord, knowing of his care for us.

Just a few thoughts on this; the chapter has many more. And what more would you like to add?

(From reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, entitled "Kirkegaard on Anxiety," by Peter G. Bolt.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

despair

For Martin Luther despair, or the word "he...coined...for the black periods he experienced so often...his Anfechtungen" (p. 55) seemed to be a lifelong companion. Initially it was in regard to not finding any sense of peace with God even though he was quite religious and conscientious. But when he discovered (or in his mind, recovered) the truth that "the righteousness of God" in Romans is a gift from God received by faith, and not God's punishment of sinners, this started a revolution which goes on to this day.

But Luther's despair did not end. In fact he came to believe that only struggle, suffering and the cross, along with study of God's word, Scripture, makes one a true theologian and Christian. Satan, out to destroy the faith of Christians, in Luther's view becomes God's tool in God's ongoing work of grace in Christ in believer's lives. Not that one buys Satan's lies, but counters them with the truth of God in Christ. And when one is brought to the point of despair, one learns to no longer trust in themselves, but in God and in his word of promise in Christ.

Of course no one wants to live in defeat. Our victory however is never by our own efforts or resources, but only by grace through faith in God through Jesus Christ. I believe God lets us experience despair both as individual believers, and even together at times to keep us looking to him. We know in words something important of what God is doing in making us into the image of his Son. But just what that really means and what we need to get there is ever beyond us. God is dealing with sin in our lives, and also with our tendency to want to think we've arrived at a good place in our lives, when in reality God knows we need to keep growing.

Despair for me is both good and bad. It's bad if I give up and give in to something less than God's best or revealed will in Jesus. It's good though, when it awakens me again to my sense of ongoing need in God and reception of God's ongoing grace to me in Jesus, by the Spirit.

It's never a good thing to yield to temptation, though we must not forget God's ongoing provision in Jesus for our forgiveness and cleansing. When we are sorely tempted or struggling with temptation and sin, then we can be driven to recognize and acknowledge our great ongoing need for God. This hits me at times in big ways, and often just in little ways, and it does so most often in community. In other words this work of God in my life is most often worked out in community especially with other Christians, whether at home with my wife, at work where I'm with alot of other Christians or at church with the fellowship of believers there (or even in the blog world with Christians).

I've hardly touched on this, though it has been a factor in my own life. What would you like to add to this from your own life or thoughts?

(After reading from The Consolations of Theology, edited by Brian S. Rosner, the chapter, "Luther on Despair," by Mark D. Thompson.)