Monday, November 16, 2009

active in God's will

I reposted the Saturday posting on nationalism because I thought it might get a couple more readers today. But I add a short post for any who may have read that one already.

To talk about being active in God's will is indeed a mouthful. It doesn't mean some mindless or dead repetition of works or routines. Though it certainly involves repitition of works and routines.

It involves first of all learning God's revealed will from Scripture and in Jesus. This comes from our own reading of Scripture, as well as our participation in the community gathering of the church. We learn by listening, but we also learn by participation. And in this two-fold dynamic we will begin to sense God at work in our lives. Both in using us in our lives and witness, and in changing us to be more and more conformed to the likeness of Jesus.

For me lately, this means I'm making it a priority to intentionally gather with God's people other times than our regular times, but in more intimate, smaller gatherings. This also involves more openness to correction to critique from others if it happens, and from Scripture itself as I view my life and seek to learn from both Scripture and life with others.

One of my biggest problems in the past as a Christian is that I haven't been active enough in God's will. And God's will while involving acts also involves change in our lives. In our hearts as well as actions in words and deeds. This is the tipping point we need.

What about you? What have you discovered about being active in God's will?

nationalism: good or bad?

Nationalism as understood today may have had its roots in Europe, but its seems to have begun within the story in Genesis 11 of the Tower of Babel, people no longer united due to their different languages- hence the term babble- and spreading throughout the earth. There is much difference over the precise meaning and significance of nationalism, perhaps reflected here by two sets of definitions for the term, from two respected sources:
1. Devotion to the interests or culture of one's nation.
2. The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.
3. Aspirations for national independence in a country under foreign domination.

The Free Online Dictionary
1 : loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups
2 : a nationalist movement or government

Merriam-Webster Online
From a Christian point of view we can ask the question, "Is nationalism good, or bad?" And from respected sources such as C.S. Lewis and Stanley Hauerwas (Dietrich Bonhoeffer probably being closer to Hauerwas than Lewis) you will again get varying answers. Of course all recognize that any nation-state can demand of its citizens or subjects that which only God can demand of them, and that nationalism with nationalistic settings and goals can indeed amount to idolatry.

My vantage point theologically is greatly impacted by the Anabaptists. Of course there's a wide spectrum among them as to how this is understood and played out. But by and large I am wary of a kind of devotion to one's nation that is attached with commitments to political parties, or entities, which may and inevitably I think will compromise one's commitment to the kingdom of God come in Jesus. Though I am of the persuasion that as salt and light here on earth, we in Jesus are to impact every sphere of life. The question is just how we're to do that.

This is just a preliminary sketch on a subject I'm pondering a bit, lately. An interesting link on this, here.

What do you think about this?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Brian McLaren on part of the reason Jesus spoke in parables

Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why was he subtle, indirect, and secretive? Because his message wasn't merely aimed at conveying information. It sought to precipitate something more important: the spiritual transformation of the hearers. The form of parable helps to shape a heart that is willing to enter an ongoing, interactive, persistent relationship of trust in the teacher. It beckons the hearer to explore new territory. It helps form a heart that is humble enough to admit it doesn't already understand and is thirsty enough to ask questions. In other words, a parable renders its hearers not as experts, not as know-it-alls, not as scholars . . . but as children.

Now do some of the most famous sayings of Jesus begin to make more sense- about the kingdom of God belonging to children, about needing to become like a little child to enter the kingdom, about needing to be born again? Children are dependent, not independent. They can't learn unless they ask questions of people they trust. Their thirst for knowledge expresses itself in an unquenchable curiosity, a passionate inquisitiveness.
Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, 46, 47.

prayer to digest God's word for the assured hope of eternal life

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 14, 2009

nationalism: good or bad?

Nationalism as understood today may have had its roots in Europe, but its seems to have begun within the story in Genesis 11 of the Tower of Babel, people no longer united due to their different languages- hence the term babble- and spreading throughout the earth. There is much difference over the precise meaning and significance of nationalism, perhaps reflected here by two sets of definitions for the term, from two respected sources:
1. Devotion to the interests or culture of one's nation.
2. The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.
3. Aspirations for national independence in a country under foreign domination.

The Free Online Dictionary
1 : loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups
2 : a nationalist movement or government

Merriam-Webster Online
From a Christian point of view we can ask the question, "Is nationalism good, or bad?" And from respected sources such as C.S. Lewis and Stanley Hauerwas (Dietrich Bonhoeffer probably being closer to Hauerwas than Lewis) you will again get varying answers. Of course all recognize that any nation-state can demand of its citizens or subjects that which only God can demand of them, and that nationalism with nationalistic settings and goals can indeed amount to idolatry.

My vantage point theologically is greatly impacted by the Anabaptists. Of course there's a wide spectrum among them as to how this is understood and played out. But by and large I am wary of a kind of devotion to one's nation that is attached with commitments to political parties, or entities, which may and inevitably I think will compromise one's commitment to the kingdom of God come in Jesus. Though I am of the persuasion that as salt and light here on earth, we in Jesus are to impact every sphere of life. The question is just how we're to do that.

This is just a preliminary sketch on a subject I'm pondering a bit, lately. An interesting link on this, here.

What do you think about this?

Friday, November 13, 2009

reading and pondering

I heard a recent exchange among men on the importance of "the spiritual discipline of study." Was good, but not entirely sure what to think of it, except I have either misplaced, or never owned my own copy of the book they were referring to (good author). I will be looking at that book soon. One of our pastors, Sharon, in the past has taken us through Lectio Divina in reading Scripture, and it was good.

My point here is that I think we need to learn to read the Bible well. This will involve rereading it, to be sure. And reading it slowly and carefully. Pondering its meaning both for the original readers, and for us today. And trying to catch something of God's voice to us through that.

I have listened to the Bible being read I think dozens of times in my life. That is good, and keeps me in all the books throughout the year. Yet I find that the best reading I do is the kind where I can stop and ponder what I just read. If we sweep over a book, that is good as well, because a cardinal sin of Bible reading, and Bible memory is to take one "precious promise" or whatever from Scripture out of context. We need to read each part of every book in the context of that book.

But we also need to let what we read soak in. We need to ponder and think through each thought we read. And see it all in terms of the Story of God, and how we fit into that story.

This takes time and effort. It certainly involves being in the Book daily, or at least regularly. But it also involves living life and reading other books and listening to others. The Bible reflects real life and the real world, so that we need not be threatened by what we hear and read out there, as we continue to read Scripture. Indeed, we'll often find it eveh helpful to us. Of course not all of us are readers, though probably most bloggers are, so that most anyone who will read this, is. But I find that we need to be in Scripture reguarly, and we understand Scripture better as we seek to grow in living as fully as we can in this life before God through Christ with other believers for the sake of the world.

What has any of you found to be true from your own life and experience in this?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

we're in this together

"Get yourself some haverim." What in the world does that mean? Haverim is the Hebrew words which is plural for haver, which means a "friend". Havruta is a gathering of students to study Scripture, or the Torah. This is an interactive gathering divided up into various discussions over the text of Scripture. Sometimes vigorous debate going on as to the meaning and application of the text to life. Challenging questions to think and wrestle through the text are welcomed and encouraged.

Enter our western individualism mindset where my interpretation is as good as yours. Out of that comes some dubious interpretations, not to mention all the factions even within single groups. Though in the postmodern influence of today the differences don't matter. But sometimes they do. We see this when we understand the background and setting in Jesus' day, and his differences and confrontations with religious leaders of his day such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Zealots. Jesus amazed the religious leaders in the Temple at the age of twelve with his questions and understanding. And he attracted the crowds with his teaching and authority, even as he ended up repelling them and many of his disciples over his hard teachings which he taught were a fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.

I believe God has been working on me lately to take the time and make the sacrifice to interact more with other believers in gatherings. This is already built into my schedule once a week in a half hour of "devotions" at work, in which we are now working through the book of Ecclesiastes. In this is not only the need to grapple with the text of Scripture, but to grapple with it in terms of our lives, whether or not we're really beginning by grace to live it out. The haver gather in the havruta as disciples. They learn from their Rabbi, or Master Teacher, and then they venture to work out together how that applies to life. This suggests to me that our following of Jesus is to be worked out both in us individually seeking a close relationship and walk with Jesus, and seeking to do so together with others.

And we are to identify with each other in all of life. That includes past and future generations, but where the rubber may meet the road for us, the people we are around and know now. So that we see ourselves in participation with others in some way, at least by being able to identify with them, rather than seeing ourselves as a cut above them, which of course is not really the case.

And there is the need for transparency. Only as we are honest with others about our own struggles and God helping us through them, will they have any hope that God can help them, also. This is about being real and about life. And life in Jesus is meant to be lived out in community with others. And with all our differences, we're to work on the meaning and application of Scripture together. Do we believe we're all in this together, or is it each person for themself?

Do I really believe God wants to work in my life through others? Do I believe that we believers are in this together, each of us having our part? Do I listen well to the stories of how God has worked in their lives? Am I wisely transparent about who I really am and my own struggles? Do I share my own testimony of God's working?

More wisdom than briefly mentioned above is to be found in this chapter and book, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, chapter 5, "Get Yourself Some Haverim." Next week chapter 6, "Rabbi, Teach Us to Pray."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

politics and the kingdom

(I overslept for the second day in a row. This of necessity must be short, since today I barely got up in time to get around. Tomorrow we continue the book by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.)

Was Jesus political? Yes and no. If we mean in terms of this world, coming as an alternative party to work in the system, by all means no. But if we means in terms of "the kingdom of God" come in him, into this world, and yes into the political sphere, to begin transforming all things now, and someday to do so when Jesus returns, by all means, yes.

However while this is true, I wonder if we Christians who hold to it can easily get lost in it, and end up losing our identity and being sidetracked from our calling in its pursuit. There is no doubt that the gospel of the kingdom in Jesus is bigger than I was taught to think as a boy. It encompasses the reconciliation of all things in Christ, with the call to reconciliation to be sounded from us to all others. And from that our task on earth as those under God remains the same. Just thinking, and must end now....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


In thinking through Ecclesiastes, one of a number of things that stands out is how the one "under the sun" learned, one might say, to keep themselves preoccupied with the good things of life, even including their work. Ecclesiastes is a challenging book to figure out, and how to read it with reference to the whole, as well as its conclusion (commentators often don't see eye to eye on it). That appeals to me, because it seems to reflect life, and our experience of it. It often makes little or no sense, and is full of complexities.

When I'm troubled over life, or my experience of it, I find, evidently like the writer, or the character, Qoheleth, "the Teacher" (or "Quester"- The Message), that I do well to get to the everyday task as well as routines of what I have to do, and am working on besides. Sooner or later I find a kind of pleasure in what is at hand, and I more or less, usually more or completely, forget the troubles, or they diminish. At the same time, I am working on bringing them to God and being in the word, something I can do more or less (a favorite phrase of mine today) all day on my job.

To be preoccupied with the good things God gives us can bring joy, as we receive them as God's gifts to us. And his gift to us includes our ability to work through difficult things in the way of Jesus. And as we receive this good gift from God, we can thank him for the help he will give us to see us through any trouble. And in the end, like the book of Ecclesiastes, we'll conclude that we're called to simply fear God, and keep his commandments. Finding in Jesus and in the way of Jesus a loving and gracious Father.

Any thoughts or something you'd like to share from your life on this?

Monday, November 09, 2009

relaxing with what one can do

I have several books I want to read now, all at the same time. Some are challenging intellectually, probably all of them to some degree. And there's just no way I have time to do justice to them all, or finish them as soon as I want to, or think I need to. Add to that other responsibilities, and you get the picture.

In such places, whatever it is we may be doing we need to learn to relax with what we can do, rather than hurry and end up distraught over what we can't do. In this we have the joy of working hard, but well. When I put too much on my plate, I can eat too fast, hardly enjoying the food, or at least not enough, and I am probably eating too much, and end up uncomfortable, at least. With too much to do, I can end up the same way, really getting little out of it, and glad when it's over. Hardly what was in my mind and heart at the beginning when I was eagerly looking forward to it.

In all of this is humility as well. It is a walk with God and with others in this life, not just me individually with God. We need God and each other. We each have our part in this, and we need to simply learn to relax with what we can do, what God has called us to do. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, "Much study wearies the body...The end of the matter is Fear God! And keep his commandments."

And we should love to work hard, but it should be like play as well. As much as that is possible in this fallen world, where toil and difficulty are inevitable.

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

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg on following Jesus like sheep following their shepherd

Judith Fain is a doctoral candidate at the University of Durham. As part of her studies, she spends several months each year in Israel. One day while walking on a road near Bethlehem, Judith watched as three shepherds converged with their separate flocks of sheep. The three men hailed each other and then stopped to talk. While they were conversing, their sheep intermingled, melting into one big flock. Wondering how the three shepherds would ever be able to identify their own sheep, Judith waited until the men were ready to say their good-byes. She watched, fascinated, as each of the shepherds called out to his sheep. At the sound of their shepherd's voice, like magic, the sheep separated again into three flocks. Apparently some things in Israel haven't changed for thousands of years.

Just like sheep, what distinguishes us is not so much the "pen" we inhabit but the shepherd we follow. Some sheep come running as soon as their shepherd calls, but some struggle to obey his lead, going astray whenever temptation strikes. It takes a lot more energy to follow a wandering shepherd than to be cooped up in a pen.

But we are called to be disciples of a Rabbi who is always on the move, one who wants us to go with him, making disciples to the ends of the earth. We need to learn how to recognize his voice, to go where he wants us to go, and to serve and imitate him so that we can share his good news with the world.
Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, 64-65.

prayer for fulfillment of purifying hope in Christ

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 07, 2009

a powerful film: Doubt

Deb and I recently watched "Doubt" (the film's official site), one of the most powerful films we have seen, and the end was one of the most powerful endings I've seen. Left me shaken, though not shaken in my faith. It deserved, in my book, to be nominated for five academy awards. Those with a Roman Catholic background might appreciate it more, and those who have abandoned the faith, including from what I gathered the director of the film himself (on special features I caught a bit of his commentary) would identify with it.

It is set in the 1960's and involves a priest specifically with one boy, and an older and young nun. You can come up with the rest of the general storyline yourself if you've been tuned in at all to the news over the last several years.

The film powerfully draws you in, so that the audience in a sense becomes part of it. You're left wondering or seeing firsthand the ambiguity of what was experienced in similar scenarios.

For us in Jesus who are committed to God through Christ and to the orthodox Christian faith as revealed to us in Scripture, and with the Spirit's continuing help to us, this film won't shake you, even as it does challenge us to think further through certain issues. Any good story which reflects the real world is one I'm ready to see on film. Our own lives and what we see in life make us readily identify with stories like this one.

Just a word of caution. For various reasons you may dislike the film or find it offensive. Nothing graphic is seen in it. I'm sure I missed some of the connotations (literally or figuratively) or perhaps innuendos in it (it's good for me to look up these words in a dictionary, myself). But if you don't mind a difficult subject and deep human interaction over it, than give this a look.

Friday, November 06, 2009

prayers - Fort Hood

Our prayers and sorrow are with the bereaved and wounded of Fort Hood, and we pray as well for the attacker and his family.

See Jesus Creed.

is socialism bad?

In a facebook conversation yesterday, my hope for a bill to pass to provide affordable health care for everyone, including the "public option" was met with a good reply which included a desire to avoid socialism. I don't think the person was telling me that I was for out and out socialism, but that what I support is socialism.

Socialism is defined as "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods" (Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary). What is considered socialism's alternative, capitalism, is defined as "an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market" (Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary).

What drives me as much as anything in trying to answer the question of the post is my view of humanity theologically, based on Scripture. Original sin, the simple belief that in some way from the time of "Adam", the entire human race is infected with sin, so that we are all sinners, plays a major part in how I view the world, and what will work in the world. There cannot be a utopia until Jesus returns and the kingdom of God in him takes over all things.

This makes me wary of any system that is thought to be the answer in and of itself, unless that system incorporates checks against inevitable abuse by sinful humans.

At this point I know I need to study and think more. But I would go for something of both elements to be worked out in society. We must remember too that what might work well in one society or culture, may not in another. There at least will be some differences. What makes America stand out, and in many ways for good I think, is its entrepreneurship. Many think that capitalism and free enterprise played out in entrepreneurship would result in the greatest good for everyone by the "trickle-down economic" effect. Or they may think that capitalism affords the most opportunity for others to take responsibility and provide for themselves and their families, being responsible and contributing members of society. Entrepreneurs end up providing jobs for others, and much more money is gathered by their work than in some collective society.

I'm running out of time and space, but I want with others to think through more on this. I don't think the Bible teaches economic theory as in one being better than another. I tend to think that while there will be some things in common across the board in all cultures, still there will be differences according to the cultures and peoples and their gifts and manner of living. Freedom to live and work in a responsible, creative way should be one overriding factor. And another ought to be "loving one's neighbor as one's self."

So is socialism bad? In its connotations earned through Marxism, it indeed can be bad, a cover-up for evil. But capitalism can be as well, as we've seen from the recent crime and recklessness in the American private sector.

What thoughts would you like to share from this sketch?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

in the midst of troubles

It is often easier to have faith for someone or something that is more or less removed from us, than it is for something or someone more or less near to us. I wonder in part why that is. We ought to be most in prayer for what is going on around us. Surely there are a number of factors at work.

We see the problems firsthand, and indeed are often part of the problem ourselves, perhaps just as often unknown to us. This is the beauty of faith and of God's working. It includes everyone. One of the reasons I love the "Our Father", "Lord's Prayer." Sometimes it takes more faith to believe God will change something we've lived with for a long time, than it does to believe God can change something else removed from us. This is why we need to be praying for others with reference to the troubles they live in, as well as persevering in our weakness to hold before God our own troubles, and not give up. We in Jesus need each other, and we need to persevere in faith ourselves in the midst of ongoing problems.

Of course there's much more to say on this, and draw out on it. What would anyone like to add here?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

learning in the way of Jesus

"Following the Rabbi" is a very wise chapter in what I'm coming to realize more and more is truly a wise book, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. Wisdom from the Bible is rooted in the Jewish writings of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, in Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and found in other places. And Jesus learned and lived by the wisdom from God given through the Scriptures, and passed on in the tradition of his people. Of course not without critiquing that tradition, while living as part of it.

We know the adage, "Wisdom is more caught than taught." But do we really believe it? It doesn't matter at all what we tell our children if our lives don't line up with our words. They will end up following what we do, and not what we say. Or they will try to chart a new course if they see our lives as making no sense of our profession of faith, and indeed casting doubt on our faith.

This chapter skillfully and from different angles, with one fascinating present day example, looks at the way of being a disciple, learner, or follower as Jesus practiced it. It is a relationship no less, and that of apprenticeship. The disciple submits to the rabbi, or master, as a servant so that the rabbi, imperfect as he (or she, I would add, because of the dynamic in Christ of neither male nor female in the work and service of God) will be, since there is only one true Rabbi and Master, Jesus himself. Nevertheless what we must understand is that it is inevitable for us to live as we see others live, and others will be impacted by our lives, for good or ill. In fact in God's order in Jesus, this is part of how life is to be lived. As Paul told his readers, they were to follow his way of life, as he followed Christ. And this is not a quick fix or instanteous change, but rather a walk of a lifetime. Transformation comes slowly. As the authors point out, Jesus didn't just transform his disciples. It involved close relationship with him and a process.

Any thoughts?

Next week: chapter five, "Get Yourself Some Haverim."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

spontaneous and set

A kind of curious thing has been going on in my thinking lately. On the one hand those of us in Jesus are led by the Spirit. As Jesus told us, we're not to think about what to say ahead of time in the event that we face an hour of persecution. The Spirit will give us words to say then. But also, of course, we have Scripture, the word of God given to us in many words.

Add to this the witness of the church. There is no faster growing segment of the church growing than the Pentecostal, charismatic side of it. There surely are some secondary factors, but I believe the primary reason is because of the power and working of the Holy Spirit. These churches are purposefully more open to the Spirit, whatever we might say about all their doctrine and theology and practice. At the same time we see a resurgence in the church for an appreciation of liturgy. The Book of Common Prayer from which I have been taking a prayer from weekly is one prime example.

I am becoming more and more convinced that we need both. We need the freedom, spontaneity and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I believe in all the gifts of the Spirit for today, though how they work out in local congregations will vary. And I believe everyone in Jesus strictly speaking is a charismatic Christian already, having the gift of the Spirit, whether or not they believe in or practice any of the gifts that are more common in Pentecostal, charismatic circles. We also need every word of Scripture to be received as God's word to us. And we need the witness of the church now and through the ages. What the church has said and written does matter, even though all must be critiqued in view of God's word. But the critique itself includes not just each one of us, but the church together, necessarily, and with the help of the Spirit. We can benefit much from written prayers and liturgy, helping us to pray, even as Jesus taught his disciples and us to learn to pray -through a set prayer.

The Spirit can work powerfully through both, and the best way for us to live in Jesus is to include both the spontaneous and the set. Of course the bottom line is learning to love God and love people through following Jesus. And sharing the gospel by living it out, as well as giving a verbal witness to it. In all of this God is at work in us through Jesus as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

We know we woefully fall short, yet to recognize and acknowledge this can help us to look to our only Redeemer, Savior and Lord: God through Jesus by the Spirit. The work begins in us and then out from us to others.

What would you like to share about this, or any thoughts?

Monday, November 02, 2009

what is God doing?

Sometimes we reach stale places in our lives in which it may seem like there's a stalemate. We're doing good things, or maybe in a season of less work and more reflection and reading, but somehow there seems to be something lacking. I think it's good to pause and ask what God is doing, or where God is moving in reference to my life- which I need to plug into and become a part of.

This will take time. Of course the process is in no certain order. The question might come at the beginning of it, more likely into it, or towards the end. And we need to listen to what God may be saying through others, especially through his people, and especially the ones we have fellowship with regularly. Of course including our spouse or closest friends. And those from whom we seek spiritual counsel and prayer such as our pastor.

I am at this kind of place. I see God at work in my life, and moving in answer to prayers (Deb's and mine). But there just seems to be something missing, or lacking. Some work or direction I'm to find or go to. A key in this is to find what God is doing, or how he may be directing me.

We must beware of thinking that something "big" is out there. It's rather much more likely and usual for this to be part of our being directed along the path of good works and activities God has for us in our life and mission here in Jesus; something we must do in God and with others in Jesus. This becoming a part of who we are in the rhythm of our lives.

What might you like to add to this?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

John Polkinghorne on Jesus' worldwide, ongoing influence

Jesus was swiftly arrested, condemned and led away to crucifixion. This painful and shameful death, reserved by the Romans for slaves and rebels, was seen by devout Jews as a sign of God's rejection, since Deuteronomy (21:23) proclaimed a divine curse on anyone hung on a tree. Out of the darkness of the place of execution, there came the cry of dereliction, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46). On the face of it, the final episode of Jesus' life had been one of utter failure. If that had been the end of the story, not only woiuld it put in question any claim that he might have had to any special significance, but I believe that it would have made it likely that he, someone who left no personally written legacy, would have disappeared from active historical remembrance in the way that people do who are humiliated by having seen to have had pretensions above the sober reality of their status. Yet we have all heard of Jesus, and down the subsequent centuries he has proved to be one of the most influential figures in the history of the world. Any adequate account of him has to be able to explain this remarkable fact. Something must have happened to continue the story of Jesus. Whatever it was must have been of a magnitude adequate to explain the transformation that came on his followers, changing that bunch of frightened deserters who ran away when he was arrested, into those who would face the authorities in Jerusalem, only a few weeks later, with the confident proclamation that Jesus was God's chosen Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:22-36). I do not think that so great a transformation could have come about simply through calm recollection and a renewed determination to continue to affirm the teaching of Jesus. All the writers of the New Testament believe that what had happened was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day after his execution.
John Polkinghorne, Quantum Physics and Theology, 38-39

prayer - All Saints Day

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, October 31, 2009

at Ashland Seminary

I had a great time this week at Ashland Seminary, meeting Allan Bevere who graciously hosted me there. Was good getting acquainted with him in person. And getting to hear Scot McKnight on the gospel. Four great lectures on the gospel along with good, stimulating question and answer times afterwards.

What was reinforced for me is that the gospel is bigger than many of us have understood it to be. It is centered in Jesus and out from him comes the salvation that is meant for the entire world and all of creation. And it is meant for each person and each person in their totality. I gained new insights into this with reference to the gospels, the early witness in Acts, and Paul, and how we work that out in the present day.

Was great to have the privilege of chatting at a coffee place with Scot and Allan. Allan himself is a gifted scholar, pastor and professor. I wish I could have heard him teach or preach. And with Scot we had a most interesting conversation over theology and what is going on in their work and from others today.

I must add that Ashland Seminary is an interesting place, and it looks to me like a very good work is going on there. And beautiful days there as you can see from the pics.

Friday, October 30, 2009

thinking critically

If there's one thing that stands out in my mind right now, that I would like to have done better with my mind, it is the art and practice of critical thinking. We actually do something of the sort all the time, as we sift through what we think is of value and what is of lesser or no value in what we hear and see, in the world.

Critical thinking wants to hear and understand, and then critiques everything. For us in Jesus this means evaluating everything in light of God's truth revealed to us in Jesus in accordance with Scripture. This is an ongoing task as we keep working on both our understanding of this revelation from God, as well as our understanding of the world in which we live. I am reminded of John R.W. Stott's fine and helpful book, Between Two Worlds.

I should add that we need to keep being informed and formed by good theology based on Scripture and on the understanding given to the Church. Scripture is our basis, but we need to read it, and seek to understand it along with tradition, or how the Spirit has helped the Church to understand it over the centuries. And with the view of ever reforming theologically on the basis of Scripture, avoiding both the full and uncritical acceptance of tradition, and the rejection of tradition. The entire Church is united together, even though we don't live that out on many levels here, so that we must take into account the tradition which has been passed down for generations, while continuing to work on clearer and more accurate ways of understanding the truth in Jesus. But as those within the one tradition of the one Church. Of course, again, tradition is not infallible, so that we ever have to apply critical thinking, yet to depart from it is to fall into the error of departing from a primary means and agent of how the Spirit reveals God's truth in Jesus to believers.

This is just a beginning and limited sketch on this. What from your perspective might you like to share on this?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

talking past each other

A common phenomenon in theological circles as well as in other spheres, such as political, happens when two or more people are discussing an issue on which they to some degree don't see eye to eye, is the problem of talking past each other. In other words one or each supposes that the other believes such and such, so has the response ready. But the other becomes convinced that they are being misunderstood or not understood precisely as to what they're saying. And it goes on.

The answer to this is dialogue. The kind of give and take that insists on hearing each other out. Come to think of it, this can be quite important in a marriage. Sometimes the spouses are at logger heads with each other. But what about giving each a time, a set time, to share with no interruptions? And then the other can reply with no interruptions, and back and forth.

Humans will never agree on everything, and we carry our own perspectives into each matter. But we have to remember that even from those we disagree with, we can learn. That God may speak to us through them in some way. We need to be open.

In order to help others we must learn to listen well. To listen not with the idea of gathering an answer, but with the goal of understanding fully the other. And with no intention of an immediate reply. Indeed being willing to forego any such reply, at least at the time.

What have you learned in regard to this? Or any thoughts?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

better understanding Scripture and Jesus

From chapter 3, "Stringing Pearls" in Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Stringing pearls is a metaphor for the practice of Jewish rabbis bringing Scripture passages together which had common words. The passages were considered in their own context and then how they shed light on each other. Jesus used this and for us to begin to better study and understand Scripture, we need to learn to recognize it, and study accordingly.

I remember when I was a relatively young Christian engaged with an intelligent young man my age, over whether Jesus is Deity or not. He believed not, and I was trying to persuade him that Jesus is indeed God as well as human. I was probably using some conventional, popular evangelical ways of doing so, but did not get through to him. I wish I would have understood the truth which this chapter unfolds for us.

When it is realized all that "good shepherd" and "Son of Man" meant from the Hebrew/Aramaic Scripture, our Old Testament and Jesus' Bible, then we understand why Jesus' words were so powerful and scandalous to those who did not accept his message and mission. "Good shepherd" was an allusion to Ezekiel 34 where God says he will send a good shepherd to care for and lead his people, and judge the bad shepherds, or leaders of his people, in the process. And indeed will shepherd them himself. And "Son of Man" refers to Daniel 7 which Jesus quotes from during the trial to the Jewish religious leaders before his crucifixion. He is one like a son of man, which suggests this figure is more than human, and all peoples on earth worship him. And in Matthew 25, as the son of man, he separates the sheep from the goats, something ascribed to God, again in Ezekiel 34.

At Jesus' baptism we see passages from the Torah (Law or Teaching), Writings and the Prophets alluded to by the voice from heaven. So that Jesus is in effect called Messiah, Sacrificial Lamb, and Servant on whom the Spirit is so that he will bring God's good justice and reign to humankind and the earth.

This is a rich chapter. As true throughout this book, there is always something good for any serious Bible student, but one does not get bogged down or overwhelmed with too much. And good end notes for those who want to pursue further study. Along with good questions at the end of each chapter to stimulate further thinking or discussion in groups.

This chapter can help us better ponder and understand Scripture and Jesus' fulfillment of it as we learn more and more to read and see it as Jesus did. We then understand more clearly his claims and our place in his ongoing mission and work in the world today.

From any of you who read it, what stood out to you? And any thoughts on this from anyone?

Next week , chapter 4, "Following the Rabbi."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

on the edge

We would like to be on an even keel, completely calm, with no troubles, temptations, trials, or sins. This is not life in the here and now for us in Jesus.

Yes, the kingdom of God is a matter or righteousness, peace and joy by the Holy Spirit. And this should be a part of our experience. But we live in an existence contrary to the way of life in Jesus because of the world, the flesh and the devil.

So living in Jesus in this world involves living on the edge, so to speak. What I mean is not that we can feel free to deviate a bit from the straight and narrow. Not at all! But we must get comfortable with the reality that our lives here are not about being comfortable. That the way is narrow and difficult to life, and that we go through many hardships.

So we need to accustom and harden ourselves to the fact that life won't be easy here. Grace is free but not cheap, and full commitment alone is costly in terms of what is valued by humans especially in terms of this world. We are indeed people in process, and we are in a war zone no less, in spiritual terms, so we'd best accustom ourselves to this, and just accept it as a part of our lot in this world, together, in Jesus.

What would you like to add to this?

Tomorrow chapter 3, "Stringing Pearls" in Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Monday, October 26, 2009

groans in our praying

Romans 8 tells us that we don't know how we should pray, but that the Spirit helps us with groans that words cannot express. Is this our groans or the Spirit's groans? I'm not sure, though it would seem grammatically that it is the Spirit who both intercedes and groans in us. But it seems that God's work in humans often includes humans so that we take on personally and from our hearts something of what the Spirit is doing, and indeed even the mood of the Spirit. I think I agree with Ben Witherington III who writes:
...Cranfield is probably right that what is meant are utterances or groanings that are imperceptible to the believer. The Spirit groans along with the believer, just as the believer groans as part of fallen creation.

Ben Witherington III, Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 226
N.T. Wright has noted how we as believers in Jesus groan with the rest of creation for God's full renewal of all things, which begins with the redemption of our bodies in the resurrection.

When we seek to pray, just groaning should never be despised. This can be among the most powerful kind of praying and prayers. Even though we may not be uttering a word, not knowing what to pray, just our groans to God can be taken by, and/or come from the Spirit, who intercedes in us according to the will of God.

I often feel near groaning, at least a good part of any given day. And such often is the case when I am troubled in trying to pray for someone or something. But we should turn our groans "upward" in prayers to God, seeing them as something God can take as we think of those in need of God's intervention. And for ourselves as well.

I think I've found this helpful. When my prayer life may seem dormant, groanings may end up finding their way in and out of the throne room of God for the good of others, and the world, as well as ourselves.

How do you look at groaning as potentially being a most powerful kind of prayer? Or any thoughts on this?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ed Dobson on his experience of seeking literally to live like Jesus

Thoughout this year, as I've tried to eat and drink with those who were outside the church, something interesting has happened. I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with those who don't know the Lord than I am with those who do know the Lord. Those who don't know the Lord are much less judgmental. They are open to new ideas.
Ed Dobson, The Year of Living Like Jesus, 174


Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

putting God to the test

In the wilderness Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple, since God had promised that he would send his angels to rescue his servant, so that none of them would dash their foot against a stone. I know Jesus was going through the same temptations as Israel of old, but unlike them, he was succeeding as the true Israelite, the unique son of God. At the same time we in Jesus live in many ways parallel to his days then. Notice Jesus' answer: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (from Deuteronomy 6:16)

We are all tempted, and sometimes we think it's okay to give in in little ways. We know God is a god of grace and there is always forgiveness, and that no matter what we do, God has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (though we very well, in our sin, may be leaving him). And somehow we believe that we need something that God has not given us. So that in effect we are doubting God's goodness and provision for us.

But the heads up here is that we must beware of putting God to the test. We can test and try God by our sin. When we make decisions that are questionable at best we do what Jesus refused to do: we jump off the high place and think there will be little or no consequences. God may give us what we want, but send judgment or discipline on us because he wants us to repent.

In what ways might we be putting God to the test? Is it presumptive on our part to assume that God will bless our disobedience, even in little things? Do we see that when we do this we are in effect doubting God's goodness and provision to us?

Friday, October 23, 2009

the humanity of woman and man

RJS over at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed has had an interesting series on whether or not women are human, taking off from writings on this by Dorothy Sayers. It is nuanced and in no way am I critiquing what RJS has written, or Dorothy Sayers, for that matter.

Why would women in our culture be seen as less than human today? We know that Jesus treated them as equals in the sense that they are fully human. Is there something about a woman's femininity, or femaleness which fills out a full humanity? And is there something about a man's masculinity, or maleness which fills out a full humanity? This is not to say that either a man or a woman is not fully human. It begins to question what being human is or involves.

Part of being human is being in relationship. This seems to be one part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God as Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit, is inherently relational. We are made to be relational beings, relating to persons: to God and other humans. So to be fully human means we need to have relationships. Indeed it is not good for the man to be alone or apart from other humans, as Genesis 2 tells us, because something about being human is missing. Although Adam's need of another human was not gender neutral. Therefore God created the woman in the narrative. This was for marriage and procreation, but also for much more.

Read the above mentioned posts and the threads from the series on Jesus Creed for what others see and think about this.

Are women seen as less than human? This is obviously so in the past, but probably more subtly so now. And in what ways?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

weak can be good

I overslept so we will plan to do chapter 3, "Stringing Pearls" in Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, next Wednesday. Read the chapter work through the questions following it. Like the book the chapter is most helpful for us to better understand what Scripture says.

When we feel weakness this can be a precursor to God's blessing. When we are weak we can identify better, and more closely with other fellow human beings, just as Hebrews points out about the priests in the old covenant, but even our Great High Priest in the new covenant, Jesus.

Feeling weakness in whatever way can also help us be more dependent on God and rightly interdependent on each other in Jesus. We know that we can't make it without him, so we cry out to him in faith, and look to him for the help that he alone can give to us. And we also look to others to pray for us, or offer any words of encouragement and insight they might have from God.

I have seen God's blessing come through either into my life, or through what I had to do into the lives of others, in the midst of my weakness. In answer to prayer the Lord makes his power known in our weaknesses.

This is part of our walk by faith and by the Spirit here. I find that I distrust myself more and more as I get older. Because I know God's blessing comes from God, not from me. And even when we not only are weak but look weak, God's power through Jesus by the Spirit can, and often will come forth.

What have you found about this in your own life?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

life is a journey

Recently I was reminded of how life is a journey, through hearing and then reading Ed Dobson concerning his one year of living as literally as he could, like Jesus. I look at my life and I think certain things are either missing in action, or are weak. I then tend to want to withdraw and bow out, really thinking what I have to share is secondary, or at least not as full as it needs to be. And in that assessment, I am surely correct.

But then I am reminded again that our lives are a journey. We are becoming, and we are to be following Jesus in this becoming. Jesus told his disciples to follow him and he would make them, fishermen as they were, to fish for people. I too want to be used by God to help the lost, the least and the last (as I just read recently somewhere). I want to get my hands dirty working in the Lord's vineyard. Since I work around Christians in my job, I don't have much contact with those who may not be believers. I'm inclinded to try to take advantage of that when I can, trying to strike up some fellowship with them.

We are on a journey in Jesus. We can't write off where we are if we're truly seeking to follow Jesus. We are weak and often failing, but we continue on. We know this is beyond us, but given to us in Jesus. We also know that if it's in our hearts to do what is good (like David, who wanted to build the Temple but was forbidden, yet made the plan from God and gathered materials for that work) and right, God values that, and likely we'll have our place and part in the work.

What might you like to share about this?

Tomorrow we are in chapter 3, "Stringing Pearls" in Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

one faith in Jesus

I am troubled by a Christianity which makes much of differences Christians have. My friend Allan Bevere shares here an extreme example of this.

There is no doubt that we Christians don't agree on everything. And we sadly don't always agree entirely on what is all important, because some of us insist that a good Christian must agree with us on this or that or else they can't work with us or really be one with us in the work of the Lord.

I'm glad to be a part of a denomination in which I can be a Christian pacifist, and believe whatever about Arminianism/Calvinism, or about the tribulation and Jesus' coming, and teach and be one in the work of the local church we're a part of.

I know that within evangelical Christianity there is a shaking going on. There are those who insist on a Calvinism which they see as front and center in their view and proclamation of the faith. There are others who believe that they need to save evangelicalism to what they believe it is about: an inerrant Bible which thus has to be interpreted literally (even when it may not be meant to be taken literally everywhere: an easy example: Jesus is not a gate, but metaphorically he is, for the sheep who metaphorically represent people) meaning we have to resort to a certain view of origins discounting science, etc. And there are others who believe we need to be open to what we can learn from other traditions of Christianity, as well as in science, etc., always reading Scripture at the same time as our basis for faith and practice while not discounting the rule of faith which has come through the church through the centuries. I'm sure I'm framing this too simplistically, and I don't mean to discount and write off those who I don't see eye to eye with.

But I share this to make a point. We have one faith in Jesus. God moves according to that, not according to our own understanding of theology. This is why we should not be confounded to see God's grace at work in the most unlikely places, which for many Christians would mean a different tradition, or even denomination, or sometimes even church within the same denomination (and sometimes even in churches and denominations which before have either denied or underminded the faith). God doesn't seem to value the same things we do. Yet at the same time God wants us to learn to see what is all important in our faith and practice, which of course must be joined together.

Okay. We aren't going to agree on everything such as mode of baptism, whether infants or only believers should be baptized, etc., etc. But we do need to demonstrate clearly to the world that we are one in Jesus, that there is one faith, one Lord, and that all who are true followers of Jesus are one with us in him.

Jesus considered the unity of all who believe in him as part of what is all important. And with other essentials such as Jesus alone as our Savior and Lord, the unity we have in Jesus and living out that unity must likewise become front and center in our lives and witness to the world. Not always easy. And others might not join in. But we need to insist on it, as we learn to pray and work together for others in the way of Jesus.

What might you like to add here, or any thoughts?

Monday, October 19, 2009

being last

Great message from Pastor Jack Brown at our church gathering on Sunday on what true greatness is. Being last as opposed to being first. The passage was Mark 10:35-45 which I promptly used at the nursing home in giving essentially the same message.

As usual Jesus turns on its head what the world values, this time in reference to true greatness. True greatness to the world means to be first, to win and rule over others, to be first in line to get the best of this life. But Jesus says that if one wants to be first, then they must be last of all, and servant of all. Jesus, of course is the epitome of that in coming to earth in becoming one of us, living as a servant here, and then giving his life for the world in a dreaded and despised death at that time, the death of the cross. Jesus paved and opened the way for us in this by his sacrifice for our salvation, his life given as a ransom for many. So that we can follow him in his steps by the Spirit, together, for the world.

When we receive Jesus by faith we begin a process in which we must participate. The process of no longer being conformed to this world, but rather, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. This means that we take on a new life completely contrary to the life and way of this world. This is a work of the Spirit in which we must participate. As we do we can find ourselves closer to Jesus. As Paul tells us, he wanted to know Christ better, and participate in Christ's sufferings, becoming like Jesus in his death. This suggests that to follow Jesus in this life, and remain close to him, involves being last and servant of all.

In Jesus this becomes a part of what we are becoming. This doesn't mean that we don't think we can't do anything. We seek to fulfill our calling from God, but we do so as those following Jesus in not seeking to be first, but last. And in so doing we will find that in God's kingdom we are where Jesus is. No better place to be, or to help others to find.

What would you like to add to this?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Scot McKnight on the Jesus Creed

Jesus' life, from front cover to back cover, including the dust jacket, is a life shaped by the Jesus Creed. He learned the Shema from his father and mother; he amended it for his followers in the shape of the Jesus Creed. Most importantly, he lived it. We are called to participate in that very life, for it is that resurrected life that can form our lives.

Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, 292.


Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, October 17, 2009

our 24th wedding anniversary

The Shack in Newaygo County, north of us, the main building. Place of our get away to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary.

Deb and I in the love seat in our room. Beautiful wood, and we enjoyed a hot tub.

One of the things Deb and I enjoy doing the most.
Deb loves horses and they love her.
As you can see it wasn't warm outside.
It is on a lake. Leaves nearing peak, and this pic doesn't do justice to some of the beauty we saw in the colors of the leaves.

Friday, October 16, 2009

back to a quiet time

Not long ago I posted on "meeting with God." From that exchange, specifically through Every Square Inch's comment which got me to thinking, and from whatever else along the way moved me to do so, I went back to having my quiet time first thing in the morning after I grab my coffee. It has been good, and I see that as in a sense my favorite time of the day when I seek to draw near to God.

I had reasoned that I am with God all day, in Jesus we live in God's Presence. So that I did not see any special need of a special time daily to draw near to God, since I was more or less trying to do that all day. But there is wisdom, I believe, in setting aside a time and not letting anything interfere with it, a sacred, quiet and cherished time when I seek to come near to God. Of course when we do we have God's promise that he will come near to us.

This move was verified by a retired professor who visited our church last Sunday during his excellent presentation in which he noted quiet time as one essential in the life of a follower of Jesus. Also contributing to my thoughts and reflection on this was a poem by Marcus Goodyear entitled "Stumbling out of Heresy."

This goes to show the impact blogging does have on us, surely in ways we don't realize, but also in ways at times when we do. And how we can impact each other for good.

Do you have anything you'd like to share on any of this?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

wisdom comes slowly

God has promised wisdom for those who ask him and do not doubt his goodness. But we have to wait. We can get in the way of the wisdom God wants to give us in answer to our prayer about a particular matter or trial and then miss it altogether. Wisdom comes in its own time. And wisdom comes slowly.

Of course in a certain sense wisdom takes a lifetime. Our lives in a sense are a kind of testing, though God's testing of his people is to bring them along to full maturity as again we see in James. It is more like a growth toward maturity or analogous to advancing from one grade level to another. It is interesting that even Jesus grew in wisdom, though we should expect that since he became fully human.

It takes all of Scripture and all of life to gain the wisdom God wants and has for us. We want to shun the part that is unpleasant and not deal with it. And that ends up to our loss. Ecclesiastes imparts a certain kind of wisdom that Proverbs does not, and vice versa.

Wisdom comes slowly and I don't like that. Sometimes I'm restless and want wisdom now in regard to a particular situation. God will give it, but I must wait and receive it from him. Through prayer, and maybe through a passage in Scripture, or a friend or other person. I must keep my hands and heart open so to speak, knowing I need it and don't have it on my own. Ready to receive whatever God might be wanting to give me. And I can be a slow learner, and more like a no learner indeed.

There is certainly more to be said on gaining wisdom from Scripture.

What has God shown you about gaining wisdom? If we grow, or increase in wisdom over time, what does that say about where we are at now? Does that mean we shouldn't act with what wisdom we now have?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jesus as Rabbi (part two)

From chapter 2: "Why a Jewish Rabbi?" from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Jesus came not only giving us the word of God, words from his Father, but he came as the Word of God, and the last word God has spoken and is speaking to his people. As such it is to be expected that what we find Jesus doing much of the time in the gospels is teaching. And living.

Rabbis not only taught their disciples, or followers how to live, but had to be examples, and exemplary in what they taught. As the authors point out, while Jesus came as Messiah, Deliverer (Savior) and Redeemer, still Rabbi as in "my Master" and Teacher was not only at the heart of what he did as we see in the gospels, but is also at the heart of what he does today by the Spirit through the word within the church for the world.

Too often people see Jesus as Redeemer and Savior so that their sins are taken care of, and they have a place in heaven, period. But Jesus came secondarily as the way to heaven. Jesus is the way that humans are to live in relationship to God, to others, to themselves, and to the world. We today have a Rabbi who perfectly exemplifies what he teaches us. And his name is Jesus.

What thoughts do you have from or on this?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

the power of good works

Good works is an important theme in Scripture, and a part of our lives in Jesus. They come in different boxes so to speak. It's about what we both do and don't do. It's about helping others to find Jesus and be united with us in him. And it's done out of love, love for God and for others.

Good works often help us with what ails us. I find that so in my own life. Of course I must work at maintaining my relationship with Christ in abiding. That is how we bear fruit, as John 15 tells us. God has made it so that we not only need him, but we need each other. And we need the good works that come in this, even if only a simple smile, a ready listening ear, a nonjudgemental spirit, a readiness to acknowledge an offense and repair and renew a bond with another, creativity in thinking of good things we can do for others, and with no strings attached.

Again, this is part of our life in Jesus in this world. Not something we can simply conjure up on our own. But it's something God is working in us as his handiwork, nothing less than a way of life.
How have you found this to be so in your own life, or what would you like to share about this?

Tomorrow we continue from chapter 2: "Why a Jewish Rabbi?" from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Monday, October 12, 2009

not "me" but us

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. It really doesn't seem possible. God has been good to us throughout the years in spite of ourselves at times, and it's nice to celebrate our special day, and God's goodness to us today.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn in the school of marriage is that it's about us, not about me. Of course the us includes seeking to meet each other's needs, so that we both give and receive. And we do so out of love. Couples need to build on the love they have, rather than wish for some dreamy love they think they saw on a screen or elsewhere. And above all look to God for that love to them for each other.

But the "us" needs to not stop there of course. It's a love which goes to our children and grandchildren. And then to our brothers and sisters in Jesus. To our neighbors and coworkers. Even to our enemies, as Jesus teaches us. So that we're not talking about an exclusive us mentality, but an us for others, as well as for each other.

So Deb and I continue to learn on this. And it's good. God has been good to us, and we thank him for his goodness in our lives, and we look forward to all he has in store from day to day, as we seek to ever grow in this love from him for each other and for the world.

Any thoughts you'd like to add?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ed Dobson on not having all the answers

...when I started in ministry I thought I had all the answers. As I enter more deeply into the lives of real people, however, I realize how few answers I really have. In life's most difficult circumstances, the best I can do is to be present to represent Jesus and the community that we call the church. I am there to love, pray, and encourage. I'm not there to answer all the questions.
Ed Dobson, The Year of Living Like Jesus, 22, 23

prayer for God's grace to be given to good works

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Year Of Living Like Jesus

Ed Dobson's journey in following Jesus

I love Ed Dobson. Deb and I, both. He was our pastor at Calvary Church (of which he is again a part) when we lived on that side of town. As you may know he has been stricken with ALS. It's the slow moving kind, and he continues to be active in sharing his faith and his gift in the community and beyond. Though at the advice of his doctors he stepped down from being a pastor.

Last evening he was at Baker Book House here in Grand Rapids. Quite a crowd of young and old alike; it was wonderful. He shared about how he came to seek to live a year like Jesus did, living like a Jew, and trying to obey Jesus' commands and follow his example, while being kosher. And sharing about his new book on this as well, The Year of Living Like Jesus. I have my copy and look forward to finishing it soon.

I found it edifying in being both convicting as well as encouraging in what God can do as we seek to be true followers of Jesus in this world. As you may well know Dobson voted for Obama and said he would do the same again, though he acknowledges that he may well be wrong. But he did so on the basis of which candidate of any party he believed comes closest to what Jesus taught. He explains this in a chapter in his book, and his view on abortion and how he wrestled through it. He said seeking to follow Jesus for a year leveled remaining arrogance he had, so that he doesn't think that he is necessarily right on decisions such as his vote. I found his thoughts on politics and the kingdom of God quite compatible with my largely Anabaptist theological understanding.

Christians on the "right" trashed him, telling him they'd never listen to him preach again, or believe anything he says. The ones Ed found it easy to live with were the needy sinners (of course we're all needy sinners) whom he found in bars and drank beer with, and continues to do so as he shares with them his faith and seeks to follow Jesus. Though after the year he dropped the kosher and Jewish laws. As you can well see, he still has his beard, trimmed once a year.

I look forward to learning more, and being impacted for my journey with others in following Jesus.

(I am downloading a video from my camera from last evening so you can hear him, but finally lost patience waiting, and may post it later.

Couldn't post it for whatever reason, so posted the Zondervan video from YouTube instead.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

our focus

Years back I did a high ropes course. Some 30 feet high, the first year when I got to the top I was terrified when I looked down. Went across one rope and fell at least once doing so. And got down after that first crossing, as soon as possible!

Next year I determined NOT to look down. I did the whole ropes course without falling (falling would have been a good test, and not sure I would have passed it!) because I refused to look down, but instead concentrated all of my focus on the ropes and their trajectories, etc.

An analogy, and imperfect as all analogies are, but this reminds me of our walk of faith now. In this part of the new covenant, being God's resurrection, new covenant people, in the days of our humiliation (prior to our glorification) in following Jesus, as we see through a glass darkly and know in part, we need to make all the more effort to keep our focus on Christ in this life, just as Hebrews 11 and the first part of 12 points out to us.

There are umpteen things that break my focus on God through Christ. I probably couldn't name them all, or if I did I'd be in danger of losing my focus by being distracted by any one of them! But that's where what we do by faith matters. What do I do when I lose my focus? Hopefully I pray, and get into God's word. And begin to ponder as I slowly work my way through a passage. Then most assuredly in time as I am hearing God's voice in some way to me through Scripture, I will pray. And will be regaining anew the focus I need in this life which is darkness apart from the object of that focus which is God's word to us in Scripture and in Jesus.

What might you like to share from your own life on this which can help us, or any other thoughts on this?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

faith and feelings

In the near future (or not too distant) we will be looking at Matthew Elliott's book, Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart. I have found it an interesting book and I'm not really sure if it contradicts, or refines what I believe on the subject of feelings, or not.

Feelings certainly are important. We're humans and feelings are a big part of what makes us human. Our emotions are surely a reflection of being made in God's image. God while in essence not human- though having become fully human in the Son, Jesus- still is said to have emotions. Some think that is only an accommodation by God to us. But surely it is more. God's love and anger is more than just decrees that come from a passive, unemotional being. Of course God's emotions are untainted, without sin, and God is unlimited unlike us.

I can't live on emotions and feelings. Often, being a morning person, I'm naturally more into things and "psyched" in the mornings, and especially more so than in the afternoons, during which I'd do well to take a nap. I live by faith, in spite of feelings many times. But feelings do come and we need them. I should feel love toward my wife. I should feel love toward God and toward others.

I see feelings as an important byproduct of faith. Normally they should be present in some measure, but if they're not that doesn't mean our faith is empty and void, or unreal. There is "the dark night of the soul." We need to press on in faith, and press through to the reality of God in Christ by the Spirit, and in community with others in Jesus, for the world. And we need to live this faith life out, with all that accompanies it, through everything.

Much more to explore on this, and if you're interested check out the book I refer to above.

What thought might you have on this?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Jesus as Rabbi

From chapter 2: "Why a Jewish Rabbi?" from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Jesus' calling and vocation was to be the one who was to come, the Messiah, through whom all of God's promises would be fulfilled. And we know that at the heart of this fulfillment is Jesus as Redeemer of God's people, and of the world.

But a crucial part of Jesus' calling and vocation was to be a Rabbi. As the authors point out, although the rabbinic era did not begin until after the fall of Jerusalem at 70 AD, still rabbis were important prior to this. Rabbi means "my master." Rabbis gathered disciples who lived and traveled with them as they taught. And rabbis first had to live out what they taught. What they taught was a way of life.

This is radically true in Jesus. He came as the one who would be what God had called Israel to be, as well as to fulfill all of God's promises to Israel, and through Israel to the world. Of course we in Jesus are called to continue in that mission because of what Jesus has uniquely done as Savior.

While Jesus was more than a Rabbi, his work as Rabbi is significant in the gospels in scope both in quantity and quality (content). Going through all four gospels one soon discovers that teaching is one central part of what Jesus did. And as already noted these Teachers, or Rabbis were not just imparting knowledge, but an entire way of life. Jesus' teaching was about living in the kingdom of God as God's new covenant people in him.

When you think of Jesus as Rabbi, what place do you believe this has for us today? It was important to Jesus' disciples and the people of that time, but how important was it for the early church? How important do you think it is for us today? And regardless of what you think on the last question, how is Jesus as Rabbi to impact us today? What are some of the ways we can begin to try to live this out today?

Next week we continue in the chapter, picking out another truth within this theme and question, "Why a Jewish Rabbi?" Plenty of time to get this book, and well worth both the reading and rereading of it, as well as studying and pondering its content.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

is wrestling with God bad?

On Halfmom's blog, Not Ashamed!, there is an excellent post and interesting discussion about wrestling with God. We agree that Jacob's wrestling was an expression of lack of faith on his part, but I think it was also an expression of faith. For if Jacob would have had no faith, he wouldn't have bothered to wrestle with God, but would have taken matters into his own hands.

Not all wrestling in Scripture is bad. We need to want God's blessing so badly that we refuse to rest until we enter into God's rest. I believe God is pleased with any expression of faith. Though God is not satisfied unless we're growing in our faith. Jacob wrestled with God because his situation looked dire. It looked to him as if God's promise might fail. Certainly a lack of faith there. Contrast an older Abraham (than the younger one, who also failed on this score) who when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac- in whom God's promises lived- obeyed.

I wish I didn't wrestle over certain matters. But I'm not there yet, to a faith which is at rest no matter what. But I want to press into that. To make every effort to enter into God's rest in Jesus and through his promises.

What do you think? Is wrestling with God bad? Or what might be good or bad about it? And I wonder what Jewish tradition on the passage of Jacob wrestling with God, might teach us.

Tomorrow, chapter 2: "Why a Jewish Rabbi?" from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Monday, October 05, 2009

needing each other

Christianity is never a "one man band." It is true, instead, that we need each other. This is in part what church is all about. That we are there for each other, through good times and bad. Advocates rather than adversaries.

I saw this in action yesterday as a brother reached out to me and I could be honest with him, and we could again try to set a time to get together soon. And through my wife's prayers, I had a sense of the Holy Spirit with us, and helping us yesterday, when I was at the nursing home with my guitar, singing hymns with them, sharing a message from God's word, and visiting afterwards.

We do indeed need each other. God has made it so that we're both dependent on God, and interdependent on each other. Of course this works two ways. We are there for each other, both to give and to receive.

Do you see this as important for us who are following Jesus? How can this be healthy and good? And what might make it unhealthy? Are there times when we must carry our own load? Is it important that we come across as always having it all together? Or do we do better in following Jesus to be open as to our brokenness and troubles?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Jurgen Moltmann on what is central to our faith

At the centre of Christian faith is the history of Christ. At the centre of the history of Christ is his passion and his death on the cross.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 151, quoted by Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement, 61.

prayer for God's mercy and help through Jesus

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, October 03, 2009

a better name for this blog?

When I first started this blog, I entitled it, "the community of Jesus." Later I changed it to "the Jesus community, " and then simply to "Jesus community." I just don't find this an apt title for this blog anymore, at least in one important way. But I just haven't come up with a name to replace it.

"Jesus community" ideally for me means that there is blog interaction in a way that shares our lives, and what God is doing in them, insofar as this media can do that. In that sense this is certainly not happening. I've been too tired to do blogging justice, and for hours during a day I have no access to a computer. Of course this involves visiting each other's blogs, not just interaction on one blog.

I still like the title in that it represents for me something of what is central to us in Jesus and in our mission in this world. It's a mission centered in Jesus and lived out in community. So with that in mind, I can still happily keep the title, while being open to a better one.

What might Jesus community mean to you? How do you live it out? Or maybe better put, how is God moving you along that path over the months and years?

As the fine, helpful poem by Marcus Goodyear, "Stumbling out of Heresy", found here, points out, God's work takes time, indeed a lifetime.