Thursday, July 31, 2008

"don't be down!"

"Don't be down!" seems to be the words of some to some of us who are down. I'm not talking at all about people like Nancy, who remind us to abide in Christ and in his love. But I'm talking about those who like Job's friends are long on answers and quote Scripture left and right, yet somehow don't speak the Lord's word appropriate and needed for the time. And on top of that judge one for being down. Again I'm not talking about a discerning, loving, helpful voice, which may say some things that are hard and unpleasant to hear. No. I'm talking about the voice which cuts down with the attitude, "Get over it!' And who has it all together themselves, though really, of course, they don't.

Well, of course, I speak here from firsthand experience. I know the kind of stoning Christians can give others who are down and out. They'll put them out of their misery, readily, because they're not on board with the program.

I will say that going through depths helps me empathize with others. Some are in depths of bitterness which spews out everywhere, and if one is not careful, can burn one's own soul as well. I feel for such, while not wanting to be dragged down with them. Many of us have coping mechanisms or ways we're neither facing the Lord or our real selves. I think this is all around us, and manifest in so many ways. It is good to find the person who is transparent in a simple walk of faith in God expressed in love for God and for others. Rare though, I'm afraid.

What would you like to add to hopefully, this gentle rant?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Olive Press - gratitude" from L.L. Barkat

from Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places

L.L., through a novel she read, is awakened to the unswerving love of the Savior, who takes her place, and really every one of our places, in the pit, to be executed for us, while we're set free. Now the words, "Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross, for paying the price for our sins," are more than just words, but uttered with a cry from her heart, a cry of love and true gratitude.

We're taken to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus along with the Father, and Satan are locked in a struggle over the fate of humankind. In L.L.'s scenario, something of which likely was playing out during those three times Jesus prayed, Satan is reminding Jesus of Scripture in which God sentences his people to their just and deserved punishment, as well as the passage that states that no ransom payed is ever enough for their souls. But Jesus knows better, and his compassion is moved to take the place they, and actually we deserve. Jesus takes the place of his beloved, and his beloved is then freed from death to real life.

Gratitude. Why is it so hard to be thankful? Why do we over time so easily drift into ingratitude? It can be a sense of entitlement, forgetting who we really were and are apart from grace, and where we came from. It can come from forgetting over time the sheer wonder of our salvation: how lost we were and what a difference Jesus made in our lives at the start- true in my case. Some of us may not know the exact time we had faith in Jesus, but we may remember times when Jesus and his salvation seemed much more real to us than it does now. And ingratitude can come from leaving our first love.

L.L. in reading the novel and thinking about her ingratitude, imagined all of her sinful thoughts against others inflicting injury on them, and then on herself. And then how Jesus comes and takes all that on himself. A wonderful and apt analogy, for sure.

I have to acknowledge that I can all too easily take our great salvation in Jesus for granted. Instead of dimming and losing sight of the wonder of God's grace in Jesus, we ought to be growing in our appreciation and awe over it. The further we go in God through Christ, the more we should see just how great this salvation really is, and what a truly loving and giving God, God is.

This chapter was a timely, good word for me. Part of God's will for us in Christ Jesus. And the "discussion questions" are challenging. This chapter stretched me, true really throughout the book. Easy to read superficially, but harder to read if you really grapple with what L.L. is saying.

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
8. Holding Pfaltzgraff - inclusion
9. Indiana Jones - fear
10. Old Stone Church - love
11. Goldworthy's Wall - sacrifice
12. Clefts of the Rock - responsibility

Next week: "Forest Star - humility"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

simple obedience

Simple obedience to the Lord is kind of a key that is helping me get out of my bout against, or even alliance with the summertime blues, mentioned in the last post. Of course I want the pain to speak to me or actually God to speak through that pain, and this is not only with reference to accepting a lie that comes to my mind. But it does have to do with more, a new work God wants to do in me. So like most things in life, while it comes down for me to simply obey God, there are also complexities going on. And like most things in life, simple obedience to the Lord is vital in it. Which of course involves trusting and obeying.

This involves a long term issue with me, as you may have guessed from the last post. So I know there will be no quick fixes. Yet I have to have discernment to not dwell in places or see things in a way that blocks God's good will in Jesus to, in and through me. I'm reminded of Jeremiah, whom I mentioned yesterday, who had to get pulled out of ditches in more ways than one. God had to pull him out of ditches of his own making, but Jeremiah had to reach up to take the help God offered to Jeremiah. And so did I, this morning.

In my case it took the form of a command from Scripture (actually from Philippians in my mind this morning) that is part of God's will for us in Jesus. And with that command, an entirely different mindset around the life we're to live, or in this case, I'm to live with regard to perspective and practice.

I know it will continue to be a miracle of grace as I go on in Jesus, and not only make it through my longstanding depths and the desert places that come, but find God's new working and work in my life.

What would you like to add for us, here?

Tomorrow: "Olive Press - gratitude" from L.L. Barkat's book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places

Monday, July 28, 2008

summertime blues

No, I'm not really having the summertime blues, though I do believe there is kind of a lull going on right now with me, as I try to sort some things out between myself and God. This has probably been on hold for awhile, as I've had some responsibilities pressing in on me. A little relief from such right now, and just the need to do this, so I'm working on something, and trying to draw near to God in all of this. So I'd appreciate your prayers, as you remember.

As a friend recently reminded me, pain is good. People who suffer from leprosy are deprived of pain from lacking healthy nerve endings, and therefore are unaware when something is wrong. Most all of my life I've been in inward pain. Some people have judged me for that, but I think I find Biblical characters who may fit this bill, at least one coming readily to mind, Jeremiah. Others have had no clue of that, as I can be good at hiding it.

I simply see the need at this time to break away a little from normal activities. I don't think this will result in letting up on what I do, at least not for now. But as part of what I'm doing on the side, there will be this search to better negotiate what for me has become a deep sadness and ongoing pain. I'm not sure what all is involved in this, though I could rattle off some things while sitting down with a friend, and maybe then we could pray. Well, I have no such friend at the moment, and I don't wish to burden down others who are busy in the Lord's work, though I may just have to reach out to someone soon.

I'm not interested in feeling good soon, or having all my troubles and struggles taken away. I am interested in learning better to walk by faith in God through everything.

Maybe you've gone through something similar in your life, or maybe you're going through that now. If so, please feel free to share something with us to help us, or if you would like, share with us of your own struggle so we can pray for you.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

prayer for the week

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

quote for the week: Cornelius Plantinga on sin

The gifts of God - vitality, love, forgiveness, courage against evil, joy at our depths, and everything else that flows from the terrible work of Christ - may be found only in the company of God. And we keep company with God only by adopting God's purposes for us and following through on them even when it is difficult or initially painful to do so. To place ourselves in range of God's choicest gifts, we have to walk with God, lean on God, cling to God, come to have the sense and feel of God, refer all things to God. Contrary to our self-interested impulses, we have to worship God with a disciplined spirit and an expectant heart.

But just here lies our main evasion, the one we have all practiced a thousand times: like the Israelites indicted by Jeremiah, we "forget God" (Jer. 2:32; 13:25; 18:15). For weeks at a time we go through the motions, never seriously attending to God, never focusing on God, never - with all the weight of mind and heart - turning ourselves to God. The thought that by such negligence we keep on wounding the only being who loves us with a perfect and expensive love, the thought that we are deeply entangled not only in our sin but also in the bloody remedy for it - these thoughts become bearable and then routine. At last we put them away and sink into functional godlessness. When we are in that state, God does not seem very real to us. So we do not pray. The less we pray, the less real God seems to us. And the less God seems real to us, the duller our sense of responsibility becomes, and thus the duller our sense of ignoring God becomes....

We could describe our situation like this: we must trust and obey in order to rise to the full stature of sons and daughters, to mature into the image of God, to grow into adult roles in the drama of redeeming the world. God has in mind not just what we should be but also what, one day, we could be. God wants not slaves but intelligent children. God wants from us not numb obedience but devoted freedom, creativity and energy. That's what the grace of God is for - not simply to balance a ledger but to stimulate the spurts of growth in zeal, in enthusiasm of shalom, in good hard work, in sheer delicious gratitude for the gift of life in all its pain and all its wonder.

In short, we are to become responsible beings: people to whom God can entrust deep and worthy assignments, expecting us to make something significant of them - expecting us to make something significant of our lives....

...shalom is God's design for creation and re-creation and...sin is a blamable vandalism of shalom... let's expand that image: by the sins of attack we vandalize shalom; by the sins of flight we abandon it. When we flee responsibility, we turn our backs on God's presence and blessing, we walk out on the one work project that will outlast every recession, and we begin the slow process of converting ourselves into derelicts. We "hate the light and do not come to the light" (John 3:20). Instead, we gather all we have and make our way toward a far country, toward the outer darkness, toward a place of self-deprivation, a place of our own making.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, 195-197

Saturday, July 26, 2008

being quiet

I tend to want my mind filled with something, whether it's reading Scripture, reading a good book, listening to good and especially spiritually edifying music, catching some NPR, listening to a good lecture or message, ...whatever.

Sometimes I rush from one "noise" to another, with just some praying in between and throughout, but no silence to speak of. Not so until I get to work and with the ear plugs drowning out the worst of the ongoing droning of the large vacuum system and clicking of the machines, in between visiting, I rather silently meditate on a passage in Scripture.

Lately it seems the Lord has been impressing on me the need to be sure to spend some quiet before him. Yes, after reading Scripture and praying, but just to be still before him. And sometimes to remain in that stillness. To leave the radio off, with just that sense of needing to commune with God. And being refreshed afterwards because of that.

I'm still learning. But I think the Lord wants more of this from me. I sense that at times I just need to quit reading, praying or doing anything else, and just seek to be still in God's presence. And ready to hear his voice, or just be present before him.

What have you found in your own life about being quiet before God? Or what thoughts would you like to add here?

Friday, July 25, 2008

meditating on God's word

Meditating on God's word is something we need to do, day and night. In other words, regularly. It's good to read widely, and I aspire to that. It's important to read good commentaries on Scripture and books with reference to the faith. I believe strongly in that, and I don't think we can read the Bible properly or correctly, just on our own, even with the help of the Spirit. The Spirit can help us, individually, in our reading, don't get me wrong. But the Spirit chooses to work through the Church, Christ's Body, so we'd best do both: being in Scripture ourselves, along with others informally and formally. See here, for an excellent explanation on this.

I've recently been working through an excellent commentary on Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians- while at work in my factory job, slowly going over Ephesians. Saying it over and over in my mind has helped me to appreciate its beauty and power as God's word spoken in Jesus into my life. And having listened to The Bible Experience, I can hear the voices reading it, and I've found this helpful. I am, admittedly, an audio learner; it seems that I learn best by hearing, though a combination in using our senses to learn, is good.

It's good and important to be reading all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, but it's also good and important to simply dwell in a passage or a book, for awhile. Let the words sink in to our minds and hearts and lives. Ponder over them. And respond to God's grace in Jesus. Even if that means just being silent before God.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

highs and lows

If you're like me during a typical day, I normally experience times of highs, the best of those when I'm singing a song, like yesterday, when I was singing this one. These are times of grace, and sometimes high points are just times of fun, as well, as when I was laughing yesterday, hard to say the least at this.

But also I can and do encounter those low points, usually daily. And sometimes those seem more prevalent than the highs. Like when I'm tired of this and that conflict over, say for example, political differences, or differences in nonessentials made to be important. Or just being tired and discouraged when much seems lost and I'm just holding on.

I think an important point for us to remember in the low points, the desert places we walk through, is that God's grace is in those places, as well. We need to persevere in faith, even in the midst of weakness, knowing that the Lord is ever near to help us through, and glorify himself in the process. And that's always good, and great to be a part of. Even as we simply sense this to be the case.

Remember: It's never about us looking good, but about God being glorified in us through Jesus. And God will often be so, in the midst of our weakness and what others see in us as truly unremarkable. This is one major way and place in which God wants to do his work through us in Jesus. And an underrated, undervalued place, as well. I'm a slow learner in this, but I think I'm getting it a little better.

What about you? What do you see in your highs and lows which can help us better glorify God in our everyday living?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Clefts of the Rock - Responsibility" from L.L. Barkat

from Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places

L.L. reminisces about her days spent with her grandmother whose abode was stocked with all kinds of good things from her fields. What was enjoyed in cherry (my favorite) pies along with other good things came from hard work and sacrifice. Her privileged outlay resulted in a responsible, sacrificial effort which benefited others.

L.L. points out how each of us has a privilege like a king, be it ever so small. We can either be responsible in it, or not: "the hardworking shepherd...or...the bedbound royal." (p 89) We can follow the "Sabbath-Jesus" (p 93), so that out of our disciplined by faith emptiness and want can come God's blessing and plenty.

We need to remember that there are indeed, consequences for being irresponsible. If we choose to be lax we can lose out eternally, as well as in this life. But if we take seriously our responsibility that comes with privilege, and sacrificially empty ourselves, we can bless others, and ourselves be blessed both now and eternally.

This is a most interesting chapter to me, I don't say better than the others, because this is an unusual book, but L.L. approaches this subject in a way I've never seen before. Like the entire book, it is best read slowly, and especially so for me with this chapter. The chapters, by the way, are not long. Not a hard read, in fact you'll want to keep reading. But does engage my thinking and challenges my life.

Too often I can think such and such is coming to me, or that I need this or that. In other words I can take things for granted or live with a sense of entitlement. Not like Jesus. Also I can easily fail to see many times that with each privilege of life, there comes responsibility. This is true in all things, and particularly in relationships, starting at home.

One example is how easily I can forget that a good relationship is not just what I should have with God and others, but to have and maintain that, it must be cultivated. I can't just expect to have a good relationship with my wife, without in love working at that with her. Listening to her. Not taking offense at a perceived (and often misunderstood) slight. Listening attentively to some things which may not interest me. Spending time together and perhaps doing what she enjoys doing, when I'd rather be reading or doing something else.

Do we persevere in God's way, empty at times and in a sense, all the time, that we might know God's fullness, blessing and provision? Or do we think it's all about us and insist on having what we want and having that now, thinking it's our right and privilege- without accepting the responsibility that comes with it?

Great "discussion questions" for this chapter in the back of the book and an excellent chapter for me to ponder. I tried to be more sparse in hopes that it will stimulate you to read. You'll have some interesting surprises as you read this chapter. And true of the entire book. It really does speak to me of "finding grace in hard and hidden places." Right where I, and I think we all live.

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
8. Holding Pfaltzgraff - inclusion
9. Indiana Jones - fear
10. Old Stone Church - love
11. Goldworthy's Wall - sacrifice

Next week: Olive Press - gratitude

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Focus spiritually is a matter of the heart. While it is not just an individiual endeavor, it most certainly involves us as individuals. I focus by faith in Jesus. It must begin there. In so doing I'm actually brought into a fellowship of others in Jesus. Together we have the same faith, same Lord, same God and Father.

I speak in terms of the word: focus, because while it's a gift from God to have the capacity to do so, eyes to see the truth revealed in Jesus, it's also a matter of faith, of ongoing faith. We must exercise this faith ourselves. Yes, it's also a gift. But gifts can be rejected or set aside. Scripture to me along with many others seems to make this clear, that we can set aside this gift. I know there are arguments by people also based on Scripture to reject this idea, that we can lose the gift of eternal life, as well as those like me who believe it's true. One thing for sure that I think we can all agree on is that all of us in Jesus can lose focus.

When I lose focus, it means I'm not looking by faith. Though we're to walk by faith and not by sight, Jesus chided some in his presence for having ears but not hearing, and for having eyes but not seeing. This ends up being a faith issue. And a heart issue, as well. And ongoing.

It's not enough just to get focus, though this is a first step, and an ongoing basic in our life of faith. In the eyes of the blind man, we say of this gift, "Once I was blind, but now I can see." Beyond this first reality this faith impacts us as whole human beings, from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes, as one might say. Inside, out. It takes effort as we work out the salvation, which God works in us. If there's one simple thing this post is saying, I'll say it again, Focus takes effort on our part.

I see myself as a mind person in that I like to read and think and I learn by hearing, so my reading while silent, is usually out loud in my mind. I can say the right things and even believe them intellectually. Such is the case for me, of the Christian faith. Sure, I know I hold it hardly knowing what I'm saying, even in the most simple gospel truth, such as in John 3:16. Nevertheless I still affirm it to be true by faith. All well and good.

But I can easily end up deceiving myself, I'm afraid, if I fail to get my life in order before God by failing to focus on Jesus and God's truth revealed in Jesus and in Scripture. When this is the case, then I begin to miss out on the grace of God. God's grace in Jesus is always there for us, but we can lose out on it, if we fail to respond to this grace in Jesus with ongoing faith.

In Jesus the Elect One, all who put their faith in him through the word of the gospel become part of this election and predestination and salvation. But this new sight can be kept only by faith and through the power of God. Both God and we are involved. Faith involves our efforts to focus. I need this reminder, because it's easy for me to just slide on what I "know," yet lose out on the kind of knowing that changes our lives.

I know this is a tough one. Certainly was not an easy one for me to write, either. But what thoughts would you add here from your reading of Scripture, as well as from others' reading of which you know? Or from your own life experience?

(While I agree that it's good for me to add links of Scripture as I often do, and maybe as I especially ought to do in the controversial aside from the main point of this post, I think it's important that we don't depend so much on just this and that text. That has its place, I believe. But we need to see what we believe within the scope of the entire sweeping Story as told and elaborated on, from Genesis to Revelation.)

Tomorrow: "Clefts of the Rock - Responsibility" from L.L. Barkat, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places

Monday, July 21, 2008

the Lord's strength in our weakness

Recently through my activities, I've once again been reminded, but anew and afresh, of the Lord's strength for us, in our weakness. I did a couple of "ministries" this weekend: meeting a brother at a coffee place, and doing a "service" at a nursing home. Before and during both occasions, I felt plenty of weakness, not really wanting to go, and thinking during the "discipling" visit it was rather a loss, as I felt like so much of our time was wasted, and I hadn't prayed sufficiently, nor did I have the best attitude.

Interestingly though, as I sought to honor God during that time, it seemed to turn out quite well. The store closed an hour earlier than I thought it would, so we were out on the table and chairs with alot of traffic nearby, and noisy. The brother was distracted, and we couldn't always here over the noise. But interestingly, it still seemed, especially afterwards, to have God's approval and looking back on it, I just sense God in it. In all my weakness, there.

Yesterday I went to the nursing home. Lately I've felt the need for a kind of sabbatical, a rest as well as a need to get some new direction in my life. So I really preferred just to stay at home and rest. I tuned my guitar and headed out. Went there, and for whatever odd reason there was such a small group this time around. I wondered if somehow the date was off- I don't go every Sunday- as one person in the room was not normally there and it seemed different. But no, people were just sleepy today a worker told me, which sometimes does seem to happen during these times with older folks.

We started to sing some songs and hymns, and not long into it a guitar string broke! I tried to strum on, but a good sound from the guitar was gone. So we sang accapella the rest of the time, and I just shortened it a bit. I gave a message on the first and last "strophe" or section of Psalm 119, talking about the importance of God's word in our life, of seeking after God, wanting to keep his commands while knowing we don't keep them perfectly, and also knowing we need the Lord, our good Shepherd, to seek us when we go astray, as his sheep. We sang again, a bit, afterwards with more prayer, and then I visited. Including visiting a very faithful sister in her room who is probably near her homegoing, along with her daughter, afterwards.

In all of this there was plenty of weakness. But it seemed like the Lord was with us, in spite of that. Of course he always is, but we want his blessing and grace in what we do. And a key for me is to realize again and again that his strength is made perfect in our weakness. This plays out in God using our efforts which may be weak at the time, and often strengthening those efforts so that we sense strength from him in what we're doing.

This is also significant in that the Lord wants to use what seems to be insignificant, for his kingdom. This is quite encouraging since so much of what I do, including opportunities like these, seems to some extent rather insignificant in themselves. And yet with Jesus present by the Spirit to help us, none of it is insignificant at all.

How have you found this to be true in your own life, or what thought would you like to share on this, here?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

prayer for the week

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

quote of the week

The church I grew up in considered written prayers downright unspiritual. How could a prayer be sincere and heartfelt if someone read it from a piece of paper? That instinctive reaction probably traces all the way back to low-church rebellion against the Church of England. For centuries Christians had relied on carefully crafted prayers. Yet the Puritan John Milton scorned the majestic prayers of the Anglican prayer book as "cuckoo-notes." John Bunyan and George Fox likewise warned against printed prayers, and the Independents in England even disdained use of the Lord's Prayer in public worship.

Over time, Protestant overreaction tempered. C.S. Lewis preferred fixed prayers for his private devotions because they kept the focus on permanent things rather than contemporary problems. (For this reason, Lewis opposed revising the Prayer Book: "the more 'up to date' the Book is, the sooner it will be dated.") He also felt uncomfortable with the casual, extemporaneous prayers common in evangelical churches. How can we mentally join in a prayer until we've heard it? he asked. The prayer may contain actual heresy. He preferred fixed prayers, the theology of which had been honed by the church.

Written prayers serve an especially useful purpose, I have found, during periods of spiritual dryness, when spontaneous prayer seems an impossible chore. I borrow the words, if not the faith, of others when my own words fail.At such a time I have two options. I can stop praying completely, which only serves to distance me further from God. Or I can keep going, asking God to see me through this difficult period, meanwhile leaning on the prayers of others.

As I have mentioned, for a year I relied on prayers from a Liturgy of the Hours. I have also used The Book of Common Prayer; both of these collections are readily available in inexpensive editions. Because they are designed for group worship, under the guidance of a leader, they may not seem user-friendly at first. Yet they have the advantage of being compiled by people sensitive to both spiritual and literary concerns, and they have stood the test of time.

I must admit, however, that apart from exceptional times I tend not to rely on fixed prayers - not out of aversion but because as a writer I find them distracting. I start attending to the words and images, and my editing instinct kicks in: Hmm, what if she had broken the line here, and not there, or used a metaphor rather than the flat statement . . . In my profession I am always looking for new ways to express thoughts, and I find it difficult to read familiar words over and over. I consider this tendency a defect, and hope with time it will fade.

Oddly enough, I never have these editorial thoughts while reading the Bible, at least in a good translation, and if I stick to truly great writers, such as John Donne or George Herbert, the temptation to edit never occurs. Reflective poetry lends itself to meditative prayer. Already language is compressed; in meditation I plumb the metaphors and unpack the meaning, just as I do with the Bible. Well-written hymns and praise music can serve the same purpose.
Philip Yancey: Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, 179, 180.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

moving mountains

God can move mountains in our lives, but we in Jesus are told that we must take action. We are to speak to them, and tell them to get out of the way, and be gone. But this seems to mean or at least involve, in the context of Jesus' teaching, prayer. We're to pray, believing God will do what we ask, or that he'll answer it according to his will.

I've seen situations in my life in which I could see no way out. In earlier years I knew in my head that according to God's word, he could do it. But after experiencing God's miracle a few times in my life, I can now say that I always know he will do it, but that it usually involves a process over time, with some breakthroughs possibly, a part of that, of course it being a true breakthrough in the end.

I do see it in smaller ways at times and more often. In a way it's harder for me to see the bigger changes that need to take place, as I'm getting older. I need to hold on to this mountain-moving promise from God for others, as well as for hopes I have of living more fully and in fulfillment of God's way for us in Jesus- the rest of my life.

What about you? How do you look at "moving mountains" this way in your life?

Friday, July 18, 2008

prayer for our enemies

For Our Enemies

God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, July 17, 2008

arm's length Christianity

There is a "Christianity" that holds others in Jesus at arm's length, not fully accepting them in practice. I see this, and I am saddened, and even at times, angered by it. But it's a part of life here, and one has to live with it somehow.

This phenomena doesn't mean you can't interact with them well, and I sense that part of the problem comes from me recoiling from such, so as to avoid controversy. That well could be.

The Christianity of Jesus welcomes and embraces all others who are in Jesus, regardless of what they believe in peripheral to the faith, issues. And this faith welcomes and receives all others, not as full fledged Christians, but as those whom God loves, and in his Son has reconciled to himself, so that they might be reconciled to God.

When I see others marginalized in this false practice, I identify with the marginalized, even when I can't entirely line up with those being marginalized, in their thinking. I end up keeping at arm's length those who do that to others.

This extends to all kinds of people in the world, as well as to all kinds of Christians. And since I choose to extend my hands to such, I'm identified as being on their side, and believing what they believe. I'm willing to be misunderstood, though, as I remember that Jesus was misunderstood routinely by the religious leaders of his day.

What would you like to add to these few thoughts on "arm's length Christianity"?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Goldsworthy's Wall - sacrifice" from L.L. Barkat

From Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.

L.L. and her husband have their first child. A baby girl, and a joy, but L.L. looks forward to getting back into her teaching job, and with that the prospect of a good house.

Little seven month old Sarah lets L.L. know, in no uncertain terms by her not eating while at the day care, that she is not accepting the separation from mother. She is not herself when L.L. picks her up, and L.L. is confronted with a choice. God seems to make it clear to her: you can have a big house, empty- or have a home filled with love. L.L. chooses in faith the sacrifice of love for her daughter, for her family, in answer to her God.

Andy Goldworthy's stone wall is an interesting piece of art, reminiscient of how God works in taking simple things from his creation, and making something new and special as when he created humankind- or in Jesus, helping those through such acts, such as when Jesus takes the mud to the blind man's eyes, and has him wash in the pool of Siloam, for healing, so that he could see.

L.L. remarks that we often think of the "great" things we can do, as in bigger, such as in her case, speaking, instead of the little, earthy things we can do for others, during the course of each day.

I was raised by parents who lived during The Great Depression. Dad and Mom always (and Mom still does) worked hard. I picked this up, so that to me the most important aspect of most of my day was, and to some extent still is to work hard, and do my work well. Of course that's good to a point. But one can lose sight so easily of the central place that relationships have and are to have in one's life. And with relationships comes sacrifice, beginning at home.

I extended the work ethic all too often in ways and places that were not good. For example, you get your work done first, then after that you see to a relationship with someone. Of course if you think you have things to get done around the house or a work project, or some other project, then relationships can take a back seat. When in reality, it should be all about relationships, work revolving around them. Not relationships somehow revolving around an all important work or task.

So if we think of sacrifice in terms of serving others, and not losing sight of our first order of life, to build and maintain relationships, beginning at home, then we're getting on the page that God has not only written, but inhabits. After all, love that at its heart is relational, is the only motive that gives value to any work or sacrifice. Without it, any sacrifice is empty and hollow in God's eyes. As Jesus told Peter, "If you love me, feed and take care of my sheep."

This chapter is a good, down to earth reminder, from L.L.'s own journey. It really made me think about the scope of my own life, and where I am in my actions now. And though I've come a long way, it is easy for me to get lost in my work, or in my own reading and thoughts, even prayers in a way that is not conducive to building with the gold, silver and costly stones, which will stand the test of the Lord's judgment. Good works are important, but the best works are done in relational ways, the mother raising her children being perhaps the epitome of this.

What thoughts do you have on sacrifice as depicted here, by L.L.?

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
8. Holding Pfaltzgraff - inclusion
9. Indiana Jones - fear
10. Old Stone Church - love

Next week: "Clefts of the Rock - Responsibility"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

birth pangs

Of course I have no idea what it means to have birth pangs in delivering a baby. Paul, of course, didn't either, but it didn't keep him from using such language in describing his deep concern and agony over the Galatian professing believers, who were being moved away from the grace that is in Jesus. In my own way, at different places, at various times, I too have agonized, though not as much for others as I would like to be the case. But oftentimes over my own life, and over life itself. It seemed just too heavy to carry, and I felt too far gone to continue going.

Enter in again, Paul's analogy of birth pangs, or travailing in birth. Personal, and in this case until Christ is formed in me. There are those issues which, if we don't meet them with faith, in the truth and love of Jesus, can become problems in which we become the problem. Enter in God's discipline. Though in love, it can be quite unpleasant, hopefully not for those around us, but certainly so, for us.

When a woman has birth pangs, of course it's not good in itself. But it is good and necessary, to help the baby be born. So the mother does what she has to do and in the end, it's more than worth all the pain and discomfort she experienced. True with us as well. When we have to go through those periods of deep anguish so that ultimately Christ might be formed in us, and our lives might be not just ourselves, but Christ living in us, we then need to be willing, and even more than willing to go through such unpleasantries, and even inward horrors and decimations.

Maybe I'm going overboard in the descriptions used, but I'm reminded of our Lord's words to Peter, about the disciples at the time of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. Satan desired to sift them like wheat, but Jesus had prayed for them, and when Peter had repented, he was to strengthen his brothers. Certainly Satan sifting us like wheat sounds like no fun at all. But our Lord is praying for us. We need to hang in there, work through the birth pangs and all that comes with it. And see, in the end, God's good will begin to be formed in us, through Jesus.

Again, hazy. Something of what I went through just yesterday. Don't know all the details of it, myself, though I know enough and the Lord knows all, of course. But true for all of us, at times.

May it be, more and more in my case a matter, not over myself, but like Paul, over others, for Jesus' sake. May I experience, in reality, something of these birth pangs so that Christ might be formed, not just in me, but in others.

What might you like to add to this?

Tomorrow: "Goldsworthy's Wall - sacrifice" from L.L. Barkat's book: Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places

Monday, July 14, 2008

my prayer walk

Took my favorite walk these days, Sunday, to one of my favorite coffee places and back, again with my wife, Deb, at my side. We were chit-chatting a bit, mainly Deb pointing out this and that on our way. But as I had told her, I use these walks, mainly to pray. Especially so when I'm by myself. And at the halfway point (not quite a mile and a half, over 2.25 kilometers), I get a nice (as in big) cup of good coffee.

The first half of these walks I'm kind of floundering, as I pray to God. Trying to bring myself squarely and completely into his presence through prayer. Of course we can come boldly into God's presence through the blood of Jesus. And we're to come, just as we are, with all our sin, with unresolved issues, whatever it is, we can and should seek to come into God's presence with any and all of that. I do, and I do so regularly.

It seems like as I near the coffee place, I normally am beginning to sense that I'm getting through to God, or that I'm really praying, with some sort of traction. As I head out of the coffee place, on my way back home (often straight back), I begin to sense that God is hearing my prayers, that I am getting some assurance that way, and just as importantly, or as a part of that, I'm getting a sense of direction or of moral, spiritual equilibrium.

Deb, who is used to moving right along (it used to be quite the opposite, as my legs are quite longer than her's) kept getting ahead of me. I go on this walk in a rather contemplative manner, a leisurely pace more for prayer than for exercise. Wanting to really pray, and get a sense that God has heard my prayer. All else is secondary to that for me then. Of course with Deb present, I wanted to hear her as well, and she doesn't seem to need a walk to pray. It seems like a walk helps me. She says she prays just fine in her little room at home.

Are there any of you out there who find that taking a walk, even in a suburban/urban area such as where I live, can help you to pray? We certainly can and do pray wherever we are. But what is it about that special place or way (for Deb, her little room, I suppose) that helps one pray? I do have more thoughts on this. And you can draw them out from what I've shared, already. But how about you? How do you pray in a way or place, in which you can especially get the sense of having done so, so that you have the sense that God has heard, and you have a sense of direction or assurance from him? How does this work for you?

What thoughts from these questions, or related to this post, would you like to share?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

prayer for the week

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and may also have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from the Book of Common Prayer

quote for the week

Many Christians tend to concentrate on one [vice] list or the other; one knows of Christian communities that would be appalled at the slightest sexual irregularity but which are nests of malicious intrigue, backbiting, gossip and bad temper, and conversely, of others where people are so concerned to live in untroubled harmony with each other that they tolerate flagrant immorality.

(N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, Leicester: InterVarsity, 1986, p. 183)
It was the great American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Doubtless he was right, but in fact impartiality and fairness to all are not small virtues. All sin should be taken seriously, whether a sin like gluttony, greed, or egocentrism or a sexual or theological sin of some sort. The leader of the Lambda chapter at Vanderbilt asked me at a forum on homosexuality whether he would be welcome in my church. I told him that everyone is welcome to come as they are into the church, that is meant to be a hospital for sick sinners not a museum for saints. But equally no one is welcome to stay as they are. As Paul says so clearly in Colossians, everyone must repent and leave behind their old selves, their old ways. This included heterosexuals leaving behind homophobia and gay-bashing, both of which are serious sins, and homosexuals leaving behind the kind of sexual actions which are clearly condemned in the Bible - namely same-sex sexual sharing. I agree with Bishop Wright in the quotation above that neither extreme should characterize the church. But it is also true that the existence of a blind spot in one's recognition of a certain kind of sin does not mean one should stop preaching against all sin on the basis of it being unfair. Rather one's conscience should be raised so that one becomes an equal-opportunity critic of all sin, calling all persons equally to repentance.

Too often the condemnation of hypocrisy (including the straining out of small virtues while swallowing major vices), which is proper, has led to the silencing of the prophetic critique of sin altogether. All Christians should be calling all other Christians to moral accountability for their behavior. This is why, for instance, James 5 encourages us to confess our sins to one another - not merely to the priest or counselor or friend. There needs to be a community of saved sinners that is forming into an accountable body of Christ, helping each other to grow in grace. Instead of pointing fingers, we need to hold outstretched hands and help each other follow all the proper moral paths for the Lord's name's sake. Tolerance of sin is no more a virtue than hypocritical condemnation of selective sins. We are called to accountability, and will have to render account to Christ one day as well.

We are also called to speak the truth in love, neither merely speaking the truth nor merely indulgently loving. Paul calls for the balance that leads to what he calls "the perfection of love" (Colossians 3:14).Love is a sanctifying force that leads one to be one's best self, not allowing one to settle for behaving badly. Paul's call to love is not separated from the call to holiness and sanctification. Love without holiness is mere indulgence and permissiveness. It never leads to moral rectitude. But holiness without love is mere censoriousness and leads to condemnation and guilt rather than to growth in grace and in stature.

Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, pp. 211, 212.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

at a loss?

Sometimes we don't know what to do in a given situation. I have a particular case in mind, and it seems that after doing the same thing over and over, it is making little difference in this person's life. And I don't know what to do.

Not knowing what to do can mean that I'm no longer willing very well, to keep doing what we've been doing. It seems fruitless, though in itself, it's a good thing. And I know the person needs it. I also know it has its limitations, inherent in the practice itself, as well as in me, limited as I am. Yet I find that while prayer is important through this and everything else, it is also important to stay true to this person in a relationship, as well as to the good that can be done in that relationship and fellowship with him.

So I must strengthen my heart and my "hands" to continue on in the work I've been doing. More than just a work to be sure, as it's with a friend. But wanting to see God's breakthrough in his life, so that in Jesus, he can realize the good that the Lord has truly planted in his heart.

I know this is a bit nebulous, but from your own experience and thoughts on this, in relation to God's revealed will in Jesus, what would you like to add here?

Friday, July 11, 2008

pray as you go

I've discovered over and over again, how God honors prayer as we keep at it. My feelings or intellectual struggles make no difference in this at all. As I keep bringing myself to God, as well as requests in regard to responsibilities, I've seen God answer prayer.

It's good when we enter into a situation knowing we're utterly impoverished ourselves and in need of God. Sometimes I've felt good and inspired so as to enter a responsibility with little or no felt need for God, and so was left without much of a sense of God's help at all, if any, in it. But knowing I'm lost or empty myself, means I could find God's help, in answer to prayer.

So let's pray as we go. Pray all the time, not only for ourselves and God's will in our lives, but for others, and for all of us in Jesus. Let's keep at it. Then we will find God's good help, as we find our way in him.

What would you like to add here in thought or testimony on this?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

back to what I'm used to

It may be in part because I'm tired and rather exhausted this week, due in no small part to lack of sleep early in the week for good reason. And with that exhaustion, or as a part of it, I have developed a minor case of depression or a kind of aimless spirit, especially apparent to me, today.

In the past I wrote how I had been reading alot of Scripture but was finding myself in a hurry to get it over with. Not good of course. So I quit that kind of reading altogether for awhile, being in the word some daily, but not at all like the past.

Now I realize I need to get back to my normal course of reading (as well as listening to) Scripture, though modified, and probably not set in stone, yet regular with only exceptional misses. It's back to what I'm used to. Or as David told King Saul, before he was to step out into battle against Goliath, "I'm not used to these," so he set aside Saul's armor and took his sling and five stones which he was used to, and in the name of the Lord, he slew that giant.

And it won't hurt for me to keep working on catching up on my sleep.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"Old Stone Church - love" from L.L. Barkat

A wonderful day, for L.L. and her beloved. Her wedding day! It was a long time coming, as she more than tested her lover, and his love remained strong, steady and true, in spite of all the ups and downs their relationship went through. At last they were ready to leave the wintry past behind, and venture into the aura and beauty, as well as wildness of springtime (Song of Songs).

Again, L.L. is admirable in sharing her struggles. After all she went through in growing up, seeing both her mother and father divorce and remarry over and over, as well as all the rest, it's little wonder she was not able to bring herself to walk that aisle at Old Stone Church to meet her beloved until after nine years of dating, nearly half of them rocky years in their relationship.

L.L., in this most sacred chapter from her book, reflects on the impact the love from her beloved has had and continues to have in helping her open herself to the love of God in Jesus. She draws especially from Song of Songs, and from Iain Provan's commentary, which I've also found intriguing. Solomon's love is a winter love, the shepherdess is just one among many. But her true lover's love is aflame only for her. On L.L. and her beloved's wedding rings this Scripture reference is engraved.

In my life, love came hard, as I kept getting turned down one by one. I, like L.L., did have deep inward issues to work through, though different than hers. When Deb and I became serious and married, it was a good start. But waylayed by my own self-centeredness and lack of understanding towards her, and of God's will for me, and for us. But God's grace has and continues to see us through and we are now in a growing relationship of love, which reminds me of God's love for us. It doesn't come easy, or without hard and hidden places not being touched and transformed gradually by that never ending grace. That is the way God's love is, and something of how love is to be lived out among us, God's children, in our marriages and friendships.

L.L. gives us a view of love which draws us in, in wonder and awe of its beauty. Of course this love comes from the God who is love, and is our Lover. The imagery of God as Lover is what L.L. is most drawn to when she thinks of her relationship with God. And her beloved was at least in large part by God's grace, how she found her way there.

In the end, as L.L. reminds us, it is Jesus who looks forward (perhaps evident here) to a wedding that is yet to come, with us in him, at the wedding supper of the Lamb. In the meantime, we seek to live faithfully and holy to him, in our relationships in this world, as we look forward to that day. A day in which in that love, we will truly "be brought to our knees before Jesus." (page 80)

Great "discussion questions" at the back of the book, particularly poignant and penetrating on this chapter (pages 158-159).

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
8. Holding Pfaltzgraff - inclusion
9. Indiana Jones - fear

Next week: Goldsworthy's Wall - sacrifice

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Perspective for us is easy to lose. I find this particulary so when I'm tired. It is best for me to take myself less seriously then, and to avoid as much as possible, any heavy duty discussions, or debating.

In Jesus we live and speak from the grace and truth inherent in him. It is a matter of faith, oftentimes, just to leave our life entirely in God's hands. And I'm reminded of what Martin Luther learned in the past: to go to sleep and let God take care of the world. Only God can do it. And we are included in that, in Jesus.

Any thoughts to this thought on perspective?

Tomorrow: Chapter 10: "Old Stone Church - love" from L.L. Barkat's book: Stone Crossings: Finding God in Hard and Hidden Places

Monday, July 07, 2008

update on Morgan, and on Tiffany and Chris

Went to the hospital to see our new granddaughter, and Dad and Mom after work. They were exhausted. Chris was sound asleep, having been very busy in being a most doting father. He's been a great help to Tiffany, and I'm sure he will be in days to come!

Tiffany was easily stirred as I came into the dark room, and I had a nice conversation with her. She seems to be doing well, no more poking her with needles. Does have some fluid buildup they're working on. She is to be going home tomorrow.

And sweet little Morgan. Sound asleep, as cute as can be. What a beautiful baby! Stirred a little with me present, but seemed to remain in a good sleep.

Thanks for your comments, and for all your prayers.

we are grandparents!

A beautiful baby girl was born to Chris and Tiffany: Morgan Marie. We're grandparents! She is beautiful, of course. Seems to be moving her lips to talk, but also seems to be not much of a noisemaker (yet). Quite attentive in beginning to take her new world in!

new chapters

I can't help but think that the analogies of journey and story well describe our life in Jesus in this world. Of course we can take journey as fitting into story, and story fitting into journey.

We need to look at life that way, because too easily we can succumb to something less than this. Maybe something like we're just trying to survive, kind of existence. Or simply just existing with one of a number of ways of living which characterize the world. Like: "You go around only once in life. So grab for all the gusto you can get!" Or: "Just do it!" Etc.

But in Jesus, we find a new way which bucks all the ways of this world. And finds hope no matter what. That God is bigger than all the problems and issues we face. Yes, they often will not be easy to work through. But by faith, we can work through them, and live out lives that are godly in Jesus. And best done, and really only done as far as the New Testament teaches us, when done in fellowship with God and with others in Jesus.

What new situations or challenges do you face? Can we see them as simply a new chapter which God can write as we by faith trust him to do so, even through our lives, in all their brokeness, and even sin? Do we believe that God is bigger than all of that, that God in Jesus can and will make a difference in us and in our story, including the lives of others? We need to think this way. We're in the story, therefore we have our part that we must do, but it is because of God that we can do it. By the grace we find, in Jesus.

I can shrink back and overreact to disappointments and challenges and too easily buy into the idea that I'm a failure, or there is little or no hope. But this is not trusting God. Look at the Bible. The stories there are real, about real people facing real, and often seemingly insurmountable problems. But God... That's the answer: God in Jesus can make all the difference in our lives and stories. Let's trust him to write a new chapter. And let's also remember that a large part of what God writes is our very lives in Jesus by the Spirit. Like any good story, true to life, there will always be ups and downs alolng the way. Let's trust God in his good will to work in making it all beautiful in its time, in Jesus.

What might you like to add to this?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

prayer for the week

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

quote for the week

The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight - a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be....

In biblical thinking, we can understand neither shalom nor sin apart from reference to God. Sin is a religious concept, not just a moral one. For example, when we are thinking religiously, we view a shopkeeper's defrauding of a customer not merely as an instance of lawlessness but also of faithlessness, and we think of the fraud as faithless not only to the customer but also to God. Criminal and moral misadventures qualify as sin because they offend and betray God. Sin is not only the breaking of law but also the breaking of covenant with one's savior. Sin is the smearing of a relationship, the grieving of one's divine parent and benefactor, a betrayal of the partner to whom one is joined by a holy bond.

Hence in the most famous of the penitential psalms, traditionally ascribed to David after his adultery with Bathsheba, the author views his sin primarily, perhaps exclusively, as a sin against God....

All sin has first and finally a Godward force. Let us say that a sin is any act - any thought, desire, emotion, word, or deed - or its particular absence, that displeases God and deserves blame. Let us add that the disposition to commit sins also displeases God and deserves blame, and let us therefore use the word sin to refer to such instances of both act and disposition. Sin is a culpable and personal affront to a personal God.

But once we possess the concept of shalom, we are in position to enlarge and specify this understanding of sin. God is, after all, not arbitrarily offended. God hates sin not just because it violates his law but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be. (Indeed, that is why God has laws against a good deal of sin.) God is for shalom and therefore against sin....In short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking.

Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (pages 10, 12-14)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

some firework pics

I can't spend hours trying to line up these pictures neatly, but we had a nice time watching fireworks last night. And our dog, Cleo, did survive.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day (United States)

A Prayer for our Country from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion us into one united people. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Declaration of Independence

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation upon such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are long accustomed. But [our grievances are neither light nor transient, and a list of them follows….]

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I'm not an American

Well, actually I am an American by citizenship and birth- of the United States of America, I mean. I guess I don't quite see eye to eye with C.S. Lewis on this, and more in the line of Anabaptist thinkers and others that my identity as a Christian is at the heart of who I am and the nationality part is an aside, particularly when we consider that in Jesus, we're in the world but not of it.

I don't post this to diminish my country or any country of which we Christians are citizens. For all our faults there is still much good America has done and still is doing in the world. All nations have their place in God's working, and we need to render to them their due. Always remembering that the true King of kings and Lord of lords to whom all will answer in the end is Jesus.

What thought might you like to add to this thought?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Indiana Jones - fear" from L.L. Barkat

While I don't completely buy into the words: "There is nothing to fear but fear itself", fear operates in mostly a detrimental way in people's lives. Unhealthy fears.

L.L. takes us to the time when she sits with her love watching Indiana Jones in his death-defying last crusade. She makes it plain that this is not her! That she is one who has been given to protecting her life. Understandable when you read what has preceded this time in her life, in the earlier chapters. But paralyzing, and growth stunting, just as she says. She explains how well she identifies herself with Jonah in wondering how she would respond to her stepfather if he was alive today. If she was able to invite him to faith and he repented would she have open arms for him? I can understand her reticence in that and appreciate her vulnerability as well as commitment to the grace of God in Jesus, to work through such questions.

I too have been held back by unhealthy fear in my own life. It has held me back from doing many of the things I could have done in following the sense of call I had from God. I was too often wrapped up in trying to avoid that which might hasten my death. Too busy worrying about dying to really live. My fears took on many faces, but the face of death was the one that haunted me the most.

Thankfully as I'm now in my fifty-third year, I have come to accept much more the inevitable (as long as Jesus tarries). This has freed me more than I can imagine, in ways I've already become accustomed to. So when I do fall into some pit of paralyzing fear, and it still does happen, I especially hate it, and while learning to carry on better than in the past, as well as get out of it sooner, I know it's not of the truth found in Jesus. Better to die living than to live in a fear which takes the life right out of us. I know all too well what I'm talking about, and even at this moment in recalling this, I feel something of the same inner dread and turmoil which used to plague me off and on, regularly.

L.L. gives us on a most interesting look at Jonah. Jonah, whose name means "dove" was called by God to go on a peace mission to a people who not only were enemies of Jonah's people, Israel, but were dangerous enemies, known for their cruelty. L.L.'s venture of guessing that what plagued Jonah through this story was fear, the fear of losing his head or his "wings", seems more and more plausible to me as I consider the story. And at least it's a good application possible from this story.

L.L. points out how Jonah may have thought, at least subconsciously, that he might be that dove cut up with blood flowing, for an offering. And the story goes from Jonah fleeing from death to learning the hard way that there is no safety for God's servant except in God's will and in his hand. And really no sure escape from death by one's own efforts, either.

Of course the One who swallowed the cup of death for us so that we would never have to take that cup of ultimate, final death ourselves, is the One who is with us, telling us over and over in Scripture, "Be not afraid." "How truly brave Jesus was to face the hardness of death and loss, with love and grace to draw him onward. I pray for love and grace to draw me onward too." (page 73)

This is a delightful chapter and one in which most interestingly L.L. unfolds a helpful take on the story of Jonah. We can better see that the same God of this Jonah who is so like us, is our God as well. And that he will see us through, yes even us, just as he saw Jonah through in spite of himself.

We shouldn't forget the "discussion questions" in the back. Here are two of them:

"Hebrews 2:15 says that Jesus has freed us from the fear of death. What might this mean, especially since a Christian may still express fear of dying? Are there different aspects of the fear of death?

"Peacemaking is often viewed as a 'soft' mission as opposed to the 'hard' mission of war. Considering the story of Jonah, do you agree that peacemaking is a soft mission?" (page 157)

What would you like to add to the thoughts on this chapter?

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
8. Holding Pfaltzgraff - inclusion

Next week: Chapter 10: "Old Stone Church - love"

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

get a life

When we hear the words, "Get a life," they're usually in a tone that is hardly encouraging. But Scripture tells us the same thing in words like, Choose life, not death. And Choose my ways that you may live. As well as, "I am the way and the truth and the life."

Oftentimes we're perplexed or unhappy about something in our lives to the point where we lose sight of where real life comes from. It doesn't come from having our way, or our needs met. Remember that the writer in Ecclesiastes speaks of a man or men having their own way completely, getting whatever they wanted, but in the end being left "high and dry." That writer ends up saying that what really matters in life is to fear God and keep his commandments.

More often than I'd like to admit, I too find myself wishing that this and that in my life would be different. I will admit I'd like to be doing something different vocationally, though I thank God for the job I have. And it's not above Christians to have thoughts of discontent in nearly every area of life.

But we need to hear and heed the words of God in Scripture telling us in gentle yet firm and persistent tones, Come to me, open the door for me, that you may have real life. This is where real life lies. Not in having our way, but in finding our way in the one who is the way, the truth and the life.

What words would you like to add here?

Tomorrow: "Indiana Jones - fear", from L.L. Barkat's book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.