Monday, June 30, 2008
Over the years and certainly so in recent months I would most every day go through relatively large portions of Scripture. It was good, especially early on, as I was hearing God's word read and through parts of it, I believe God was speaking to my heart, while the rest I was getting exposed to. I think whenever we read Scripture we should simply value each reading for the reading itself in relation to the goal of such reading: to hear God and know him and his will for us better.
Lately, as I stated in an earlier post, I had become fatigued over all the Scripture reading both morning and evening, and found myself just wanting to get it done. Not good in really getting the point as to why it is given to us.
I then simply stopped reading pretty much altogether for awhile, just taking in some from The Bible Experience, and a short portion daily from Scripture. After a couple weeks of this I knew I needed to really get back into the word again.
So now I'm taking it in throughout the day in bite-sized pieces. Smaller portions, read with prayer. I'm liking it. I think it's helping prevent me from missing the point of why it's given, something I'm good at doing, I'm afraid.
We're to meditate, and in the words of Scripture, "eat this book" (to Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Apostle John in the Revelation). This involves the whole thing, not just the parts we like. I really kind of dislike these little promise books that have verses pasted in to help people in this and that trouble. Sometimes such verses are taken out of context, though I wouldn't say they don't do any good at all for people. But we need to learn to take in the whole, all of God's word from Genesis to Revelation.
Yet for me, at least now, I need to do so frequently in bite-sized pieces. Not too much at a time and with prayer. And often every day, being my goal.
We need to be those who are hungry for God's word because we love God and want in Jesus to grow in his will in our character and actions. And simply because we know we need it, even if most of the time we don't really understand what's going on in the process.
How about you? How do you like to take in Scripture? Or any thoughts about this that could help us?
Sunday, June 29, 2008
from Book of Common Prayer
from What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey, page 12.
As a writer, I play with words all day long. I toy with them, listen for their overtones, crack them open, and try to stuff my thoughts inside. I've found that words tend to spoil over the years, like old meat. Their meaning rots away. Consider the word "charity," for instance. When King James translators contemplated the highest form of love they settled on the word "charity" to convey it. Nowadays we hear the scornful protest, "I don't want your charity!"
Perhaps I keep circling back to grace because it is one grand theological word that has not spoiled. I call it "the last best word" because every English usage I can find retains some of the glory of the original. Like a vast aquifier, the word underlines our proud civilization, reminding us that good things come not from our own efforts, rather by the grace of God. Even now, despite our secular drift, taproots still stretch toward grace. Listen to how we use the word.
Many people "say grace" before meals, acknowledging daily bread as a gift from God. We are grateful for someone's kindness, gratified by good news, congratulated when successful, gracious in hosting friends. When a person's service pleases us, we leave a gratuity. In each of these uses I hear a pang of childlike delight in the undeserved.
A composer of music may add grace notes to the score. Though not essential to the melody - they are gratuitous - these notes add a flourish whose presence would be missed. When I first attempt a piano sonata by Beethoven or Schubert I play it through a few times without the grace notes. The sonata carries along, but on what a difference it makes when I am able to add in the grace notes, which season the piece like savory spices.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Scripture alone is enough to keep us learning for a lifetime. It is a Book that is interactive with its Author, in other words the Author is alive and the Book is written for our good, to bring us along in the journey of faith individually and together. It has a dynamic to it unlike any other book so that one like George Muller could say after reading through it for around the one hundredth time- it seemed like a new book to him every time he read it! Being in the Book and on books that help me understand the Book is for me more important than all the other books. Though I think I can learn from God through other humans in their books, even from those who do not know or acknowledge God.
We also need to keep learning from God's people who have preceeded us. We need to look at the full scope of Christian history because there is much there for us. Of course most of us don't have the time to look long into that. Even scholars have only so much time and their own niche is quite enough. For me at this time I want to learn more from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and especially from his book, Letters and Papers from Prison (and from his book on ethics, as well). I do this not to learn some abstract theories but the heaven-down to earth truth where the rubber meets the road.
We need to set ourselves, our hearts to seek ever to be apprentices of our Lord Jesus, to learn to follow him more closely in our lives whatever the cost. To be like Mary who sat at the Lord's feet to learn from him. This comes to me today as something important for me to remember and put into practice. Slowly and steadily in faith. Eagerly seeking to learn more and grow deeper in our Lord Jesus, and further in doing his will.
What thoughts might you like to add to this?
Friday, June 27, 2008
We want to subject all we read and hear of what's going on to the touchstone of Scripture. Of course Christians will differ on what's right or wrong in a given situation- case in point is yesterday's ruling by the Supreme Court on the second amendment and the right to bear arms, or have a loaded handgun in one's home. I have an opinion on that, but I want to hear other opinions as well, of those who may disagree with me or possibly have a better perspective on it than I have. Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed has an interesting post this morning on this, and you can be sure that the thread on that post will be active today.
To pay attention to the news while being people of the Book, requires some self-discipline (including an acquired taste) and the belief that our faith concerns this world, even though its source is from heaven. In Jesus we will want to bring the ethics of the kingdom of God come in him to bear in our thinking and how we see the news. In other words that kingdom does matter now, even though we still pray for its coming and for God's will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
Yes, we can be quickly overwhelmed with it all and think we don't matter in the process. But each of us has a part in what's going on and in God's working in it all. We need to proceed that way, and listen to the news by faith in God, that it really matters somehow as we seek to understand and engage the issues according to God's will revealed in Scripture and in Jesus and our calling in this world as salt and light in him.
What do you think about listening to the news? Do you think we Christians should be engaged in the political process? Why or why not?
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Why do we need an acquired taste? It's because we don't have the capacity in ourselves to take in and appreciate what is really good and from God. We need a change and this comes through grace, ultimately the grace of God in Jesus. That is the change which begins now, and is ongoing and lasts. It involves a process for us in Jesus, a part of our new life in Jesus.
What thoughts do you have on an acquired taste and what this means in your own life?
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
L.L. in this chapter helpfully unfolds for us this problem of exclusion which is part of sin and God's curse and scattering of humankind. And of God's answer for inclusion, back to his very heart. Continuing with her on her journey she recounts her days after college when she settled down in her own place and ate off her pfaltzgraff stone plates after which with delight she'd wash them in the suds in the sink. This was therapeutic for her in that she felt on the inside, contrary to what her stepfather had drummed into her that she was an outsider who couldn't do anything.
L.L. shares with us in a way I've never seen of God making his heart known to humankind through Israel in the form of the beautifully woven crimson, blue and purple of the tabernacle/tent pitched in the middle of the tribes of Israel as they traveled through the desert. Through the priestly sacrificial system God was making himself known, the high priest entering the Most Holy Place once a year in front of the ark of the covenant with the carved cherubim overshadowing it, the center of God's heart, to make atonement again and again, annually, for the people in forgiving their sins.
Jesus in the incarnation came as the Word became flesh and made his dwelling, or more literally pitched his tent or tabernacled among us. Jesus is the new tabernacle through whom access is given to God's very heart. No longer would the people of God just see it, but now through faith in Jesus they enter it for themselves, into the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus, meaning through his death.
Jesus' heart was broken in the process of making this true and open for all. He was treated in the most inhumane ways and even felt like his Father had turned his face away in excluding him as well. But he suffered this that we might be included again, back to God and with all peoples, in Jesus. In Jesus we become the place where God wants to bring other outsiders in.
L.L. reminds us that God gives to his people in the new covenant, a new heart, his very heart. It's a heart that is inclusive, that wants to bring all people in through Jesus and the message of the gospel. The question for us is how do we see this? Is this just for ourselves, or does it include others? This was a major issue Jesus had with the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day. Yet Jesus' example was just the opposite, reaching out to the outcasts in his day: the lepers, tax-collectors and sinners, and really to all, including those who excluded others. We in Jesus are to do the same, knowing that this inclusion we have found in Jesus is not just for ourselves, but for others.
It has taken me years to have a settled sense of inclusion in spite of all the ways I can feel excluded at times. God's heart for us in Jesus revealed to us by his Spirit and his word makes it clear that we are included and that God is inviting and welcoming home in Jesus, all who are outside. We are to live as those in Jesus before the world to help others find this same inclusion in Jesus.
Read this chapter (and book) slowly and enjoy.
What would you like to share in your thinking or from your life about what this means to you?
1. Stepping Stones - conversion
2. Christmas Coal - shame
3. Tossed Treasures - messiness
4. Heron Road - suffering
5. Sword in the Stone - resistance
6. Howe's Cave - baptism
7. Palisade Cliffs - doubt
Next week: Indiana Jones - fear
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I don't know if my recent blogging through John Frye's book, Out of Print, had an impact here; though I don't doubt it. But for awhile I essentially stopped reading Scripture altogether (like a couple weeks and a few days) except for the passages I would get into most every day, as well as my listening to The Bible Experience.
It was refreshing yesterday to get back into a renewed meditative reading in Scripture, and I know this is important for me. Of course I need to hear it in our worship gatherings, and apply it to life. But I also need to regularly, "day and night" be in it. After all, since it is God's word (or for any sceptics out there, if it is God's word), I need to make the effort to be reading/hearing it, so that God can do his work in me, and so that my life can be changed by it, and according to it. Changed by God of course.
The difference for me from the past is that I no longer have rigid set times daily that I keep, which I did keep for some time. But that I do so regularly, because I want to do so, and because I love God and God's word. And because I want to really meet with God during special times in a shorter passage, for prayer in waiting on God in giving him my praises (I need to improve there) and requests, and looking to God for his answers or working.
What about you? What does being in the word mean for you as one in Jesus, and what might help us that you've learned in this endeavor?
Monday, June 23, 2008
Patience involves "suffering long" or believing that something better lies ahead in God's good will. And not losing hope when it seem like the only thing we can hold on to is a love that is patient towards God and others.
Patience can help us avoid dread and embrace what is set before us, even when we know we still haven't received what God in Jesus has promised us. It involves pressing on in faith, even when it would be easier to just accept the status quo and end up hibernating spiritually, and in life.
I can look at myself and my life and can find things which while they may not be wrong, they point out to me that I'm still very much a person in process. This kind of reminds me of green bananas. When I was a boy for some reason I loved green bananas. Maybe it was an overreaction against overly ripe bananas. As I'm older I like them far less, though maybe just a tad bit on the not fully ripe side. So I can look at my life and see some immaturities, or not fully grown up attitudes or ways of being. In prayer to God for myself and others I then must exercise this patience.
We need to be willing to plod along when it seems uphill and every step requires effort. When it seems most difficult and darkest, as I've continued in faith with patience, and hung in there or persevered, this has often been the prelude to some of God's most exalted blessings in my life. Or a sense of God's good working. Patience is needed quite often, one that is both passive in knowing our help is only from the Lord, but is active in looking to him and continuing in our faith with this patience, as we await his good work and will in our lives and through them, in Jesus.
What would you like to add on patience?
Sunday, June 22, 2008
...I believe, the necessity for the conversion is inexorable; at least, if our natural loves are to enter the heavenly life. That they can enter it most of us in fact believe. We may hope that the resurrection of the body means also the resurrection of what may be called our "greater body"; the general fabric of our earthly life with its affections and relationships. But only on a condition; not a condition arbitrarily laid down by God, but one necessarily inherent in the character of Heaven: nothing can enter there which cannot become heavenly. "Flesh and blood," mere nature, cannot inherit that Kingdom. Man can asend to Heaven only because the Christ, who died and ascended to Heaven, is "formed in him." Must we not suppose that the same is true of man's loves? Only those into which Love Himself has entered will ascend to Love Himself. And these can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted - year after year, or in some sudden agony - to transmutation. The fashion of this world passes away. The very name of nature implies the transitory. Natural loves can hope for eternity only in so far as they have allowed themselves to be taken into the eternity of Charity; have at least allowed the process to begin here on earth, before the night comes when no man can work. And the process will always involve a kind of death. There is no escape. In my love for wife or friend the only eternal element is the transforming presence of Love Himself. By that presence, if at all, the other elements may hope, as our physical bodies hope, to be raised from the dead. For this only is holy in them, this only is the Lord.C.S. Lewis is not just talking about the life to come, but this present life as well, as we see in carefully reading this, in showing how the natural loves which are part of God's good creation, even though corrupted by the fall in humanity's sin, can partake of the heavenly life of God even now. When they don't they are doomed not only in the life to come, but in this present life, to not fulfill their purpose for existing. But when they partake of this heavenly life in Jesus, they can begin to fulfill that purpose even here and now, not perfectly, but certainly and substantially in the holy love of Love Himself.
quote from The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis (pages 136-137)
from the Book of Common Prayer
Saturday, June 21, 2008
While I believe Jesus is God, I like to major on the truth that God is Jesus. That we find God in Jesus as God's final word to us, this Word himself, being God and becoming human in the Son by the incarnation. In doing that we must not lose sight of the full revelation of God we find in Scripture, fulfilled in Jesus himself.
So it's good for me to listen to the gospels, accepting and loving them as they are, and I enjoy that same voice for Jesus in The Bible Experience (and available in mp3) in hearing them. In contrast to the same Jesus, glorified in the Revelation, enthroned and coming back to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, on the new heaven and earth.
Imagination is a wonderful gift from God and never to be set aside. But at the same time, we need to work on being grounded in God's word- in Scripture. That will help us avoid imaginative flights which are our own fancies and not true to God's revelation given to us in Scripture and in Jesus. Doing the hard work in so being grounded, and seeking to do so in a relational, faith-oriented way to God, which means a journey of faith for us as his people in this world and in mission in Jesus to the world.
What would you like to add, here?
Friday, June 20, 2008
The point in this post: Don't go back. As Ben Witherington points out in the commentary I'm reading, the posture of the Christian in the spiritual warfare passage of Ephesians 6 is one of resistance and of standing in defending one's ground. This will involve struggle as the passage plainly says, and it certainly is not a kind of push button strategy to take care of the problem. We must be engaged- in the strength and armor of the Lord, with prayers.
So, don't go back. When you are in the darkness, don't abandon what God has revealed to you in the light. Or abandon the freedom God has given you in the light (I heard this said in the past, by Chuck Swindoll). And hang in there in the dark valleys. Hopefully I can learn to negotiate such valleys better, though I think I've come a long way in doing so over the years.
What would you like to share on this that can help us, or any thoughts about this?
Thursday, June 19, 2008
For years I either had music on, or was listening to the Bible being read on recordings. Alot of good stuff, but constant noise. I know of times if my wife wasn't home, I'd even have noise on at night as I was going to sleep.
That did change over the years as I became a person of alot less noise, yet relatively still more than was perhaps healthy. Now "noise" for me can include too much reading, though reading more meditatively, especially Scripture, in silence I think doesn't necessarily count as noise.
But I find that more and more I value silence. It makes me more keen for when I do read or listen to something. And in the silence I often get the sense of God which I need. I get a sense of trying to listen to God, draw near to him, and pray.
I need to listen, be still, and wait on God. In the silence, in the stillness, while in the word of God, or in a good book. This seems important to me, and maybe it's just a needed escape from the noisy culture in which we live, good at drowning out what we most need to hear.
What do you think about silence? Do you like it? Why or why not?
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Doubt is often looked on with the gravest suspicion. When you consider the passage in James 1 you can understand why some would doubt that doubt has any place in the Christian life. But when we think about the development of faith so as to be grounded in the faith as it is in Jesus, we must be willing to grapple with the doubts that are surely to come our way.
Again, I love L.L.'s honesty and vulnerability in this chapter. Here's how she prayed in those days of grappling with her doubt that the faith in Jesus is true:
I love the fact that we have such a God who lets us be who we are, lets us struggle through to find our footing in him, to find that there really is something to this faith that is in Jesus, after all.
"If you exist, I don't want to know you. You send people to hell. You let people suffer. You think you're so great that everyone should worship you - how arrogant." (p. 54)
I am not one who sails through life without doubts, though I can't recall ever seriously being on the edge of losing my faith. I think my doubts had more to do with not believing that things would really work out in certain situations. Or thinking somehow I don't fit in, though I still in my mind believed the faith itself. I was maybe more like one of the disciples who remained in the boat while Peter ventured towards the Lord, walking on the water.
Peter's faith grew from that incident- his was a bold faith, and such a faith can be readily assailed with doubts. In my case my doubts did often come right before big events, like preaching times. I remember one time I was to preach at a church I wasn't that familiar with, and I studied ahead of time. But I was assailed with doubts and felt entirely lost and poured out my heart to God, over and over again in prayers. And the Lord seemed to pour out his Spirit at least on me- as I boldly preached the word. In that case my doubts drove me to the Lord in desperation and the Lord answered in full. And I wondered later when I was to give a talk at my parents' church why the same thing didn't happen all over again. I wasn't assailed with doubts at all that time! I was just drifing along, but probably not with my eyes much on Jesus.
Of course we can have doubts of all kinds, but the question becomes do we seek the Lord and his ways for us, in the midst of those doubts? For me Jesus is the key. Without him I would have abandoned Christianity long ago, but that should be no surprise, since- after all Jesus is Christianity, the faith is in him.
L.L. includes reference to the memoir, Jesus Land, by Julia Scheeres. Julia tells her story of growing up in a rigidly ruled fundamentalist family and reform school which taught, "'Faith is blind,' 'What leaders do in Jesus' name is done with Jesus' approval,' and 'Never question.'" (p. 58). Julia went through the motions of memorizing Bible verses and praising Jesus, but faith was forced on her- and I'll venture to say, not the true faith, but a caricature of it, because it's not only what we say (and I'd question even that with them), but how we live which demonstrates our faith. She now believes in trusting no one and subverting all rules. How do we look at this in raising our children, or with reference to our own faith?
L.L. looks at King Saul's defection from faith, Paul's incident of walking on the water towards Jesus then sinking, and mentions Jacob's wrestling with God in this thought provoking chapter (but true of all the chapters!).
L.L.'s book is truly a treasure. It's right up their with my favorite books, period. Of course it helps that Deb and I were able to meet L.L., even for a brief hour; it was fun. But get your own copy, and read as slowly as you can!
From the "discussion questions" in the back of L.L.'s book:
"1. What is doubt?
2. Is it possible to have a faith free of doubt? Is it desirable?
3. If you meet someone who's doubting his faith, how might you handle his concerns?
4. Why do people sometimes keep doubts to themselves? Are there dangers in doing so? Are there dangers in sharing our doubts?
5. What kinds of real things nudge you into doubting your faith? What kinds of equally real things about God pull you out of doubt?
6. Why do you think Jesus lets us experience moments of doubt? What criticisms might be leveled at him for doing so? Does the grace of Jesus help us meet our doubts?"
1. Stepping Stones - conversion
2. Christmas Coal - shame
3. Tossed Treasures - messiness
4. Heron Road - suffering
5. Sword in the Stone - resistance
6. Howe's Cave - baptism
Next week: chapter 8: "Holding Pfaltzgraff - inclusion"
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Rest is important. We need those times where we kick back, relax and do nothing. Nothing at all. Maybe read from a book we really want to read from, get some extra sleep, best case: get away and enjoy some of God's good creation somewhere (and here), or maybe a place less strenuous like here (or more likely for us- here- here).
Today I want to remind myself and any reader of the importance of good old fashioned work. I may need to slow down in it, but I also need to be reminded of the goodness and value of work.
Work is not post-fall, but pre-fall. God put Adam in the garden to work it, and made and brought Eve alongside him to be his helper in doing so, as well as for the procreation of more humans to inhabit and rule over the works of God's hands. Work is a big part of who we are, made in the image of God. And it will go on forever.
Of course work now is bereft with problems that are the result of sin and the fall. It's now by the sweat of our brow and with thistles and thorns (Genesis 3). It seems like no matter what we do, there's always something undermining it. It takes plenty of endurance and perseverance to see a work finished, and hopefully well done.
We must be careful in reacting to our American bent (over here) to work excessively so as to fulfill our version of "the American dream" that we don't throw work overboard in the name of our faith. Quite to the contrary we need to be known as good workers who are not negligent in their work.
I find that when I'm discouraged it's easy for me just to throw in the towel and do nothing. But in Jesus we're called to good work. We're callled to a work that will bring rest to our souls, a work in which we are side by side with our Lord himself!
To the title, balance is not such a bad word in all this. We need to have fun and play in the midst of our work. We need to know when enough is enough. And also when we need an extended rest, recreation and rehabilitation. I love to work hard on something I'm interested in. But I also love to enjoy something just for the sake of enjoying it. I don't see this as wrong, but as a part of living as one of God's children in our Father's world. And I believe that someday we'll have this down perfectly, forever. Of course not having the limitations we have now due to the fall. But what we do now in its imperfection carried along by God's grace, perfectly fulfilled in God's ongoing grace in Jesus then.
What would you like to add to this? And where would your dream vacations take you?
Tomorrow: "Palisade Cliffs - doubt", from L.L. Barkat's book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places
Monday, June 16, 2008
I don't see myself as a hurried person, though the nature of my factory work at RBC Ministries sometimes demands that. But I have found myself simply trying to get as much done of this and that as possible, without sufficient thought and prayer as to the reality that I'm to be doing it all out of love for the Lord and as to the Lord, as well as out of love for others. And with the thought of savoring and enjoying it at least because I want to do it as to the Lord.
Slowing down for me is going to mean reading less Scripture. Many years of my Christian life I've been through Scripture at least two or more times a year, either by listening to it, or more recently by reading it. I've decided that I need to slow down, make it a reading - praying time, try to be consistent in keeping set times as a rule (but not as a binding law) which majors on drawing near to God, hearing his voice, and prayer.
For myself I find that I end up getting more done that is worthwhile and lasts when I slow down. There may be moments when we need to do something quickly. But in thinking about how Jesus lived his life on earth it seems like it was one thing at a time with always an openness to the Father and a life led by the Holy Spirit. Paul and Jesus' disciples seemed to learn from the Lord in regard to this. They were devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word of God, and I'm sure like their Lord, they spent time alone with God. And we need quality time with each other, as well, and that cannot be rushed. Being busy with our hands should be done in the same spirit.
So just starting this morning I broke my Scripture reading fast (actually it hasn't been a total fast, though relatively speaking it has) and it was wonderful not to be in a hurry as I was reading through the psalms and praying from them and for others and myself. As well as praying "the Lord's prayer".
What would you like to share with us about slowing down spiritually?
See A Time to be Quiet from Been Thinking About - Mart DeHaan
Sunday, June 15, 2008
"You know, as important as it is to memorize Scripture and as powerful as
it is to hear it, I think we should all keep sight of the most important lesson
from this whole chaotic string of events, the message from the first reappearing
texts: God wants his Word made flesh. He wants it spoken and lived,
proclaimed and performed. The Bible is like a grand play about God's embracing
grace, and God is looking for people to audtion for the parts. I think N.T.
Wright used that metaphor once. The young Corinthian church was able to be 'a
letter of Christ read by everyone' without having memorized a thing, as far as
we know. They just surrendered to Jesus, received his salvation, and started
living it out. Not perfectly we know, but they were recipients of the New
Covenant and so the Holy Spirit was in them, writing God's words on their
hearts. And those words looked just like Jesus. What an unbelievable reality."
from Out of Print: A Novel, by John W. Frye, (p. 96)
from Book of Common Prayer
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Scripture involves interpretation, and though we have the Spirit to guide us, why is it that we Christians do have different interpretations and think differently on how to tackle the problems of this world? I think it involves in part the nature of our existence here. We know only in part and we see through a glass darkly. This makes us more dependent on God, and it should make us more humble about what we think with reference to everything, while not watering down at all our commitment to the Triune God and to the faith once for all entrusted to us, God's people in Jesus.
The realism Stackhouse seems to be advocating (I haven't read the book) is in light of the idealism we find in Scripture, but an idealism that does not deny the existence we live in here. So that God's will worked out in us in Jesus does involve experience, but an experience that is always being brought back to the touchstone of Scripture and then to our church tradition and various church traditions, as well as to the tradition of the Church at large. Then to our reason, and finally back to our experience.
We live out God's will mediated to us in Christ and from Scripture in a real world together as God's people with the gift of our reason. But oftentimes we're better off to acknowledge that we simply don't know what the best course is in a given situation. And in prayer along with fellowship with other Christians, we seek to make the best decision we can, and keep learning. All four of these are important, and probably in that order: Scripture certainly first always having priority- then tradition, reason and experience.
This is not a denial that Scripture is our basis for faith and practice. But how that is worked out, I believe, is through the church as best we understand it in real life. With an ever ready desire to change where need be and keep growing in our understanding of God's will, and in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What do you think about factoring in, along with Scripture: tradition, reason and experience?
Friday, June 13, 2008
This confidence in the Lord does help us to learn to know more and more our true selves and the good gift that God has given each of us in Jesus from the Spirit. So that we can realize that even in our weakness, and really especially so, the Lord and his strength will be present for us. This also helps us when we see our shortcomings and know we need more change in our hearts. We know the Lord is faithful as we bring this to him in prayer. And so we know that he will work in our lives in that matter, according to his good will for us.
This helps me. I need it. Because I'm all too aware of my shortcomings and the fact that I need to keep being changed so that my life is more and more a clear reflection of who I am in Jesus. But above all I just want to make the point in this posting that our confidence needs to be in the Lord, no matter what we face and no matter what troubles we are experiencing. He will see us through into his good will as we simply place and keep our confidence in him.
What would you like to add to this?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
In what ways could the one-time event of baptism be an ongoing conduit of grace? Is it something to reach for? Why or why not? (p. 155)This is a good question, and most Christians who believe in the rite of water baptism for today would affirm that there is indeed an ongoing role one's water baptism plays, at least one can be found with some digging from Scripture and from one's tradition.
One of my problems with alot of "baptism" passages in the New Testament is that, though water baptism might portray well something of the meaning of those passages, I think they speak of another spiritual reality which happens to Christians at conversion. A case in point for me in this is Galatians 3:27 (I add verse 26 with it as it clearly goes together) and the point of that passage can be seen only by reading the fuller immediate context.
I have to admit that for me water baptism and my own experience or reception of it meant little to me at the time, and not that much to me beyond it. This is not a reflection of what Scripture really teaches, but can be a reflection of our tradition. While most of us believe in baptism for today, do we really see any really vital meaning in it for us? I think part of the problem for us who are evangelical Protestants is that we are in the line of Christians who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and their teaching of baptismal regeneration with faith following that- in their teaching. But while I believe we have good Biblical grounds for doing so, what is its meaning for us today? Do we know? How would you respond to L.L.'s discussion questions quoted above?
My own answer is "Yes, it is, but no, I don't." Baptism in my church background and culture is admittedly weak, simply seen as a profession of our faith in Jesus before the world. That is good insofar as it goes, for indeed it is. But exactly what is being professed?
I believe it's about our identity with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection to new life so that the old Ted is gone and a new Ted in Jesus has arisen to a new life. The passage cited here refers to something which happens at conversion, which also happened in the death and resurrection of our Lord, and of which our water baptism signifies. And from that how we're to proceed by faith and live this out in our lives.
Water baptism is indeed a reminder that in Jesus we went under, under that chaos of darkness and death, are dead, and then rose up to a new life, into the sunshine of God's love and grace to us in Jesus. Henceforth we're never to live again as those who actually are now dead and buried. But instead we're to live this new life in which we're "dyed" in Jesus, in his "crimson dye" as "a worm crushed" (p 51). So in that sense water baptism for us can be a regular reminder of the reality from which we've been saved, the new reality in which we have been and are being saved, as well as the culmination of that to come.
There's no turning back for us in Jesus, for to do so is a denial not only of Jesus, but of our baptism and the truth and reality it signifies for us, a marker and special reminder of our true identity in this world. In which we do remain as those who, while in Jesus, still are "sometimes assailed by struggle and setback" (like Jacob, as L.L. points out). "In moments when [we] least expect it." (p. 52) Especially at such times our baptism can be an ongoing conduit of God's grace to us in Jesus, as we are reminded of what is really true of us, in spite of our failings and the hard knocks we are hit with in life.
What about you? How would you answer the discussion questions from L.L.'s book quoted above? (and there is more for this chapter, and for every chapter). Or, what would you like to share with us or add here?
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
L.L. was baptized as a baby in her mother's arms, and then later baptized as a teenager in the evangelical church they were attending. Neither meant anything to her in terms of what baptism meant to the early church, with those who submitted themselves to this ancient rite, beginning with John the Baptizer's ministry- from what we read in Scripture and know from Jewish tradition.
Water symbolizes or brings with it life and chaos, fear and death in Scripture. In the rite of baptism we have a symbol and reenactment of what happens to the believer through Jesus' descent into death and ascent into life by the resurrection. Someday to be completely and perfectly fulfilled, this begins in our lives even now in Jesus by faith. It is meant to be a marker for us, a reminder, indeed an enactment that we have crossed over from death to life, from the wilderness wandering to the promised land.
In light of everything that water meant to these ancients, descending into its depths during baptism is like opening a door - inviting curious onlookers to peer into the chaos, hear the beating of a dragon heart, lament how the soul seems crushed by weight of darkness. In the same instant it's an invitation to expectation. A rescue is being played out. A creation is being enacted. The one who descends celebrates ascension to a re-created life that teems with lilies and peaches, eagles and red-eyed tree frogs. (p. 50)Like L.L., I too have been baptized twice. The first time in my church as a teenager after I went forward in an evangelistic meeting mainly to satisfy my mother and relieve the pressure to make a commitment, wondering if it would make a difference in my life, which ultimately it did not. I can hardly remember it, just that it happened. Later, after truly committing my life to Christ I was immersed in a baptistery in a Baptist church that was borrowed by the church I attended in college. It surely meant more to me then. But not as much as it would mean to me now. Though I believe we can look back on our baptisms and more appreciate their meaning for us later. Like L.L. reminds us, we understand better the meaning of what we do, often after we do it than when we do it.
Baptism to the early Christians and tied to the Jewish rite of mikvah, meant a completely new life for the convert to Judaism, and it meant that one was marked for life, like dyed cloth through Jesus' death as "a worm crushed for crimson dye." (p 51)
Wouldn't it be nice if after our water baptism expressive of faith in Jesus and new life in him out of death, we would always live up to that and our new identity in him! In Jesus our lives are changed, but more like Jacob who wrestled with God. We still struggle and experience setback as if to bring us to that place which baptism so vividly pictures. Descent into death as we despair of ourselves, and ascent into life as we truly look to God and experience more of the resurrection life in Jesus. So that baptism is a picture not only of our entrance into the Christian life, but reminds us of what we're being saved from- our old self and sin, and what we're saved to- our real identity and life in Jesus. Yet our lives in this reality are hit with "struggle and setback". We must press on in the meaning of our baptism, daily. And an important ongoing part of that is our struggle and setback as we continue to put to death what belongs to our old life in Adam, and put on what belongs to our new life in Jesus.
Read this chapter (and book!!!). L.L. gets her point across wonderfully well, and it's one to remember and ponder as we live during this time in which our salvation is yet to be made entirely complete.
What about you? What does baptism mean to you? And what does that mean for your life today?
Next week: Palisade Cliffs - doubt
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
But with Jesus comes the invasion of the kingdom of God, destined to take over the world, but here now. It's an invasion which is not meant just for salvation of sinners from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Colossians). It's meant in terms for all of life and all the world. Just as we're taught by our Lord to pray: "Your kingdom come (meant in finality and completeness, I take it here), your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." This is meant for all the world, not just for the community of Christians. Actually it's to be strong in us, but not to stop there. We're on mission to help bring this new way of being human individually and corporately and even systemically, in Jesus, into the world.
Too often we Christians retreat behind some "God and I" or "God and us" banner, and little engage the world at all, expecting that it's a hopeless case or of little worth in pursuing, anyhow. I'm less and less convinced that this is a viable position to take when we consider that even now Jesus is the true Lord of the universe and of the earth through his ascension. And that even now God is putting all things under his feet (1 Corinthians 15; Hebrews). We are to think and act in faith accordingly. And we're surely not to limit ourselves to just our own little community as do the Amish, notwithstanding the bright light they have been recently.
No. Our influence in Jesus should reach into our relationships and friendships with others, and should permeate all of life. Bigger than we can do, but this is the work of God even through us, in his kingdom come in Jesus. Beginning now.
This means I look for signs of God's working and also ask God just what I should do to help usher in a different world in Jesus, even into the system now. All kinds of people from William Wilberforce, to Charles Colson to Desmond Tutu, and many more, have and are doing this today.
Do we really think in Jesus we can make a difference in this old world, bringing in something of the new from God's kingdom revealed in Jesus and in Scripture, now? What do you think on this?
Tomorrow: "Howe's Cave - baptism" from L.L. Barkat's book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.
Monday, June 09, 2008
This is the only reason I'm a Christian and would remain a Christian, as far as I can tell. And really it's true, period, for us all. For Christianity is Christ, Christ among us, and Christ in us by faith. And Jesus is the way to the Father, the truth and the life. We find our true identity, our true selves only in Jesus. He has become what we are to help us become what he is (also, here) and in that to find our true selves. For only in Jesus can we begin to recover all God created us to be, or better put, who God created us to be by this new creation in Jesus.
I get lost easily and quickly when I begin to lose sight of this. My real identity doesn't lie merely in myself, in simply finding myself. Why? Because I'm a lost sinner in a need of a savior. There is something wrong with me and left to myself that becomes evident in many ways. But in Jesus by God's grace I can begin to find my way to my true identity in him bringing me towards and into a right relationship with God, with myself, with others, and with God's good world and my place and role in it.
And we need to see all of Scripture and indeed, all of life more and more in Jesus. Because of Jesus and his redemptive work for us in his death and resurrection we have the Spirit to give us this resurrection life for the new humanity in Jesus. And we believe that Jesus is Lord by his ascension, even now, so that what we do now by faith can make an eternal difference in others' lives and somehow in creation, in Jesus. And we look forward to Jesus' return when all will finally come together in God's world in perfect harmony and God's will will totally be done on earth as it is in heaven, the two becoming one in Jesus.
So I find meaning for all I am and do in Jesus. Apart from that I am scraping at the bottom of an empty barrel, lost and knowing it. But in Jesus I know that all I am and do does matter, as insignificant as so much of it may seem at this time.
What would you like to share about what "in Jesus" means in your faith and life?
Sunday, June 08, 2008
But Paul does not mean that believers are not expected, indeed required to go on and live holy lives. Christ's unblemished sacrifice is not a substitute for the believer's sacrifice of a holy life but a means by which the believer can be sanctified and so present himself as a living sacrifice. Only Christ's sacrifice atones for human sin, and so the believer's sacrifice is not an atoning sacrifice, but it does involve holiness. Paul does not affirm the notion of purely imputed righteousness. Right standing is a gift of grace, but righteousness as a moral condition is the work of the Holy Spirit within the believer. The righteousness of Christ enables him to be the perfect sacrifice and to offer right standing to all as a gift of pure grace, but the unblemished condition of the believer which is reviewed at judgment is not a legal fiction but the product of progressive sanctification in the actual life of the believer.
A footnote on Colossians 1:22: "21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant."
Ben Witherington III from The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, p. 140.
from Book of Common Prayer
Saturday, June 07, 2008
If we're not whole hearted in our life and endeavors, then we're prey to all kinds of problems, the kind that are destructive to our life in Jesus. And we tend to miss out on what God is doing and our own special part in it. If we aren't putting ourselves 100% into whatever we're doing than we need to examine our hearts and review God's calling for us, both general and special.
I'm afraid too much of our lives can be lived in a kind of twilight zone in which we're either just trying to survive, or we're floundering around in a questionable use of time and activity. A good prayer to be praying is to ask God to search our hearts so we can live in a better way in God's will. Or when we're working at a job or having to do what we really don't enjoy doing, or have a knack at doing, then we need to look to God for grace, and the gift of finding enjoyment even in those things.
In Jesus we can live as God has called us to live, and this includes being whole hearted, putting ourselves entirely into whatever we do. Of course that includes simply resting, as well as enjoying God's good creation.
What thought might you like to share in being whole hearted?
Friday, June 06, 2008
In Jesus there is a resilience which comes from God's working. This salvation we receive as a gift by faith, includes the work of the Spirit in our lives, so that time and time again, we bounce back from big and little problems or troubles, which by themselves would drag us down and out. I'm amazed at the resilience I have experienced from God, so that I can look at life with all the problems I carry around as fresh and new. Having a sense of a new day or new start.
This points to the new day in Jesus already here, but someday to take over so that all the old is gone. God in Jesus will make all things right and all things new in judgment and grace. This will be the just judgment of a kind Judge. One not out to get us, but out to help us and save us in Jesus. Jesus took on himself what each one of us richly deserves, so that we can be forgiven of our wrongs and changed to be what God intended in creating us.
I love the fact that in Jesus, no matter what we face, we can be resilient. I so much appreciate Scott Steiner and his testimony. In the face of incurable cancer (and his son-in-law as well), and on top of that, an ill-timed severe leg injury which complicated everything for him physically, and medically, I saw him the other day, and I could see the joy of the Lord in his face. But plenty of issues, and plenty of pain all the way around, I'm sure. Yet God is present for him and surely for all of us. We must count on and rely in that. God is faithful for us, in Jesus. God will see us through and make his joy to be our strength, through it all.
Resilience. Here for us in Jesus during this present life in which time and time again, we'll need it.
What would you like to add to this? How has this been true in your own life?
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Of course the best praying is in the context of seeking to hear God. We do that by reading the word, and seeking to listen with the goal of hearing God. Sensing what God may be saying to us. Or just wanting to be open to whatever God is doing, even if we don't understand it.
We're to pray as in pouring out our hearts to God, but we're to pray according to God's heart, whether or not our heart is in that or not. And part of that prayer is that God's will would be done, even if it means our will is not. And that God would give us a heart that wants to do his will. In Jesus and as members of God's family, we have that already, though we can drift away from that, as well.
For all kinds of reasons we need to keep right on praying. Don't wait until you feel like it. Don't wait for the Spirit to move you to pray. Let's pray. In the Spirit, yes. But in whatever state we're in. As we go on in this world, we know we need it. And if we know we need prayers, we know others we love need them as well. And we need prayer simply as a part of our communion with God. And for the world of people and God's will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Prayers are natural for us as God's children. But they're also a part of the phenomenon of walking by faith, not by sight. So in that darkness, our prayer may not be pretty. Matters not at all! In fact those kind of stumbling, halting prayers may be the most beautiful in God's eyes, as God sees us continuing in faith when it's hardest for us to do.
What thoughts would you like to share with us on prayers and praying?
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
As L.L. continues to share from her journey in Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places, we find her, along with her mother and sister, being tracked down by her stepfather. This time he was hunting them, not the deer he had so commonly shot. And L.L. was sure that if they were found, he would shoot. She was gripped and shaken in fear. Some committed Christians from her little church came to their apartment and prayed for them, and over time those dark and threatening clouds dissipated, and L.L.'s fears were gone. She never heard from her stepfather again.
As those in Jesus, we're called to be strong in the Lord, put on the full armor of God and pray. As we resist the enemy, he is the one who flees because of God's ongoing salvation in Jesus. With a simple decision of faith (like Martin Luther when aware of the enemy's presence) or in prayer over time (like Daniel had to), we can see God take the sword from the stone, so that all the power of the enemy is as nothing. Jesus himself is praying for us (also here), so that even if the enemy's darts do get through to us, we can in faith recover, and stand against the devil's schemes.
L.L. in a memorable way, weaves her story in with the truth of God's word in Jesus, for us. You won't be sorry to get the book and read it for yourself. It is simply a wonderful telling of someone who is as real as you and I in her struggles and life, along with the God who in Jesus is present for us, to put all fear to flight.
What would you like to add to this from your own story, or any thoughts on this you'd like to share with us here?
1. Stepping Stones - conversion
2. Christmas Coal - shame
3. Tossed Treasures - messiness
4. Heron Road - suffering
Next week: chapter 6: "Howe's Cave - baptism"
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
But God's salvation in Jesus involves more than just "me and God." It involves the world. In Jesus, God has reconciled the world to himself, not counting people's sins against them (2 Corinthians 5) and has reconciled all things to himself in Jesus, in heaven and on earth (Colossians 1). In other words the great salvation in Jesus is cosmic in scope.
This is why I think it's so important that we care about what is going on in the world: among the inhabitants of the world as well as all of creation itself. Yes, including the spotted owl as we try to arrive to solutions in being good stewards of all of God's creation while helping people retain or have a livelihood- sufficient work (Genesis 1-3; Psalm 8).
We need more hymns and Christian songs that reflect this reality of the scope of God's great and good salvation in Jesus which begins even now, in this fallen world, destined someday to take over the world completely in shalom.
What thought might you like to share here?
Tomorrow: chapter 5: "Sword in the Stone: resistance" from L.L. Barkat's book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.
Monday, June 02, 2008
This means we must plod along and seek to get to know the God in Jesus we put our faith in. That Jesus is indeed Emmanuel: "God with us" by the Spirit. And he will be with us to the end. The Lord is our Shepherd.
As I was reminded recently, it's not important how much faith we have. The one with weak faith who jumps will be just as supported in the end as the one with stronger faith. The point is that we must jump, or more characteristically as far as how Scripture describes it, we must continue along in this walk. Only as we walk by faith will our faith be real.
I find this so in my own life. Nothing spectacular. Just keep seeking to follow the Lord, to walk by faith in God's word and by the Spirit. To grow in that. To ignore emotions contrary to that is important for me. Or thoughts that are contrary, as well.
Don't give up. Just keep on walking in faith. God in Jesus will help us through. To his glory and for the good of others.
What would you like to add to this?
Sunday, June 01, 2008
I suggest that we see the achievement of the cross in three expressions: Jesus dies "with us" - entering into our evil and our sin and our suffering to subvert it and create a new way; Jesus dies "instead of us" - he enters into our sin, our wrath, and our death; and Jesus dies "for us" - his death forgives our sin, "declares us right," absorbs God's wrath against us, and creates new life where there was once only death.
Not only is this death saving, this same death becomes the paradigm for an entirely new existence that is shaped, as Luther said of theology and life, by the cross. A life shaped by the cross is a life bent on dying daily to self in order to love God, self, others, and the world. And a life shaped by the cross sees in the cross God becoming the victim, indentifying with the victim, suffering injustice, and shaping a cruciform pattern of life for all who would follow Jesus. The cross reshapes all of life.
Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement, p. 69
from Book of Common Prayer