Abandoning the LORD and idol or idle worship
…The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and worshiped the Baals; and they abandoned the LORD (Judges 2:11). …The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, forgetting the LORD their God, and worshiping the Baals and Asherahs (Judges 3:7). …As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the Baals… The Israelites did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side (Judges 8:33-34).
…The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, worshiping the Baals and Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. Thus they abandoned the LORD, and did not worship him (Judges 10: 6).
…In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
I think it is easy for us to hold this narrative at arms distance. We might be quick to say; “I don’t worship idols,” or “I do not forget or abandon the LORD.” I’m not entirely sure those arguments would be true for all of us.
It is rather easy to make the ancient Israelites the bad guys of this story, but is not the story ours too? We distance ourselves from the offenses of the Israelites making distinctions between their ancient idols and our contemporary lifestyles. We might not see ourselves worshiping the god Baal, but during the time of the Judges, Baal was known as the god of nature. More particularly, Baal was the rain god, and subsequently the god of fertility since water was the source of life not only for humanity, but crops and livestock as well.
Asherah aka Astartes, was considered the mate of Baal and the highest-ranking female god. Known as the moon-goddess, she was also considered the god of love and war. The practice of Asherah worship was very sensual in nature and often consisted of ritual prostitution.
Personally, I don’t think it is too far of a reach to connect the idolatry of these ancient peoples to twenty-first century citizens. Nature worship, the War Machines and military complex, Sex Industry, Fertility gods (Wall Street, Financial Investment vehicles, Lottery, Gambling, and other get-rich opportunities), and a host of lesser gods (Entertainment industry, sports industry, and other personal hobbies) exist all around us. I think the reality of our situation is that we have not named these other gods of ours and personalized them.
We will push back against this indictment of idolatry saying, “But we have not abandoned the LORD!” Generally speaking, the ancient Israelites did not abandon the LORD either. In every instance that God turned them over to the care of their idols, when the Israelites were distressed enough, they would cry out for relief to the LORD, so they did remember Him. I think; once again, we are not different from those primitive worshipers who knew the LORD Almighty as their God, but chose to add a host of lesser gods to their collection.
What does it look like to us that we would abandon the LORD for other gods? What is the context of this in our contemporary lives? How often are we guilty of not remembering the LORD our God? I think that for many of us, at least those of us who profess Christianity as our faith, the moment we walk out of our local church we forget the LORD. Others of us might keep God in the forefront of our minds even in the context of our home life, but the moment we walk out of the bubble of our homes each day we “forget” Him. Our attentions become directed elsewhere and our focus is realigned on the business of the day…often on the gods of happiness and personal survival who are often disguised versions of those ancient Baals and Asherahs.
The primary covenant command of our God was that we are to love him with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our strength. There was to be “no other god” but the LORD Almighty who is One God. Our attention and efforts are to always be “set aside” or sanctified holy unto the LORD our God. While many of us will agree to these covenant stipulations (Israel did too) and believe we are currently living in agreement with them, we will make the distinction that we live in a world that is both secular and sacred. How can this be? We will profess that we embody the Living Spirit of God—the Spirit of God indwells the heart/life of the disciple-believer of Christ. We profess that where God is, that is sacred or holy ground. If then, we embody the Spirit of God, wherever we go and whatever we do as Spirit-filled people, the place we are and the “thing we do” is sacred… or it should be… if we are living as God intended.
Have we become idle worshipers? Is our faith so passive and fragile that we succumb to the lesser gods that society surrounds us with? I think a sad truth is that we have bought into the self-deception that many of these lesser gods are not so bad. As long as we talk with more passion about the LORD that will mean we keep these lesser gods in check. Unfortunately, as is the case with radiation, small doses are just as lethal as the massive doses… one just takes longer to kill than the other.
Another story included in the Book of Judges is the life of a man named Samson (Judges 13:1—16:31). Samson, like us, became an idle worshiper and took his position and his relationship with God for granted. He assumed all was well because he “knew” the LORD. He gambled his very life on this relationship, but he did very little to maintain the health of it. Near the end of Samson’s life a tragic thing happened; he presumed one too many times that God would be with him in spite of his passive relationship (idle worship) with God. What happened follows:
When he [Samson] awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him (Judges 16:20).
What a tragic statement; “He did not know that the LORD had left him.” Do we deceive ourselves as Samson did? Do we make assumptions about our relationship with God thinking it is healthy when we surround ourselves with lesser gods…even if telling ourselves we do not? How high is the LORD in my priority list of life? Do I truly love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength or do I excuse myself by proclaiming “I’m trying to get there…”? The choices I make each day express my trust and my understanding of God. My faith and what I base my faith in, is made manifest by how I live out my days.
I, Yahweh, search the heart, test the motives, to give each person what his conduct and his actions deserve. (Jer. 17:10)
“I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matt. 21:43)
The Lenten season is a time to take real inventory of my life and relationship with God. It is a time to turn fully in the direction that takes me toward Him alone. Now is not the time to be an idol worshiper or an idle worshiper. He calls. We answer. What will our answer be?
Yahweh, you examine me and know me, you know when I sit, when I rise, you understand my thoughts from afar. You watch when I walk or lie down, you know every detail of my conduct. God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. (Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24)
Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto you.
O LORD, open my lips ~ and my mouth shall declare your praise. Blest be the LORD our God, ruler of the universe ~ Now and always for ever and ever.
Delight in the Lord’s teaching and study it night and day ~ Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
My heart and flesh cry out for the living God! O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
I suppose there is a need for context here. The story that takes place in this account from Joshua is this; Israel had crossed over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. God had instructed them to take over by force the towns and nations of the people who occupy the land. One of the instructions to Israel had been to keep the gold and silver for the treasury of God and to destroy (burn up) all other things.
The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction… As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord. -Joshua 6:17-19 NRSV
Achan, one of the fighters for Israel, kept some of the booty from the battle of Jericho.
But the Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites. -Joshua 7:1 NRSV
Now, in this case, I believe the devoted things were the items that had either been set aside for destruction or set aside for the LORD’s treasury—this is how the narrative reads. There is obvious application for us even if we stop here. God had given instruction and there was willful disobedience. Achan had been deceived by the lust of his own eyes and the greed that burned within him led him to succumb to an act that sinned against God. Achan’s sin against God had repercussions that extended beyond just himself; his sin affected the lives of his household and the lives of the people of his entire nation. And there are more applications I’m sure with a literal interpretation, but there were some ideas that came to me beyond a “first look” at Achan’s sin and this is where I started to fixate a bit on the word “devotion.”
When I started doing some exploration into the root meaning and eytomology of the word devotion, I found that it was steeped in pious or religious application. Regarding the use of the word in the original language, Hebrew, (charam) is associated with many religious uses; devotion, ban, exterminate, dedication, consecration, sacred, sanctuary, and temple are just a few of the mentioned applications (click the link for more examples).
Devoted / ha·che·rem from charem / (Hebrew) Strongs 2764a ::: definition—devoted thing; devotion; ban
Early 13c., from Old French devocion ”devotion, piety,” from Latin devotionem (nominative devotio), noun of action from pp. stem of devovere ”dedicate by a vow, sacrifice oneself, promise solemnly,” from de-”down, away” (see de-) + vovere ”to vow,” from votum ”vow” (see vow).
In ancient Latin, “act of consecrating by a vow,” also “loyalty, fealty, allegiance;” in Church Latin, “devotion to God, piety.” This was the original sense in English; the etymological sense, including secular situations, returned 16c. via Italian and French.
Perhaps it is just the way my mind works or maybe it has to do with the way we have incorporated the word (devotion) into our language today, but I started to think about how easily we are distracted by our devotions… And, I’m not talking about those devotions where you sit down for a few minutes to pray or read a short passage of Bible verse. I am considering the other things in our lives that consume our energy and attention, the things and activities that steal our devotion from God. So much of our time, energy, resources, and attention is devoted to making money, purchasing objects, pursuing activities that steal us away from the real object of our devotion, God. We pay homage to Him; perhaps we offer Him a tithe (tenth) of our income (after tax of course) and we give Him a couple of hours on Sunday of our undivided attention (it is undivided isn’t it?), and occasionally we’ll participate in one of the annual community outreach thingies. This counts as devotion doesn’t it? By comparison, a car, house, or credit card payment gets far more devotion from us than does our God… in many case.
The question that I think I’ve been fixated on today is, “Where is my devotion or what is my devotion?” I think we can take a closer look at the first-person application with Achan’s sin and make a comparison that strikes a little closer to home for us. In the case of Achan, he took things that were supposed to be set aside for the use of God and perhaps extended to the community of God’s people. He thought only of his own selfish desire. By thinking only about himself, his actions isolated and excommunicated him from the community… ultimately to the point that it caused his death. Are we guilty of this? Maybe I haven’t stolen God’s gold… or have I? Am I enamored by the “purple robes” I see others wearing? What might those “robes” look like in our contemporary society? I think the application really isn’t as far removed from us as I might have originally thought. Perhaps my fixation is not such an extrapolation or reach after all. I wonder how much we might be devoted to ourselves instead of devoted to God.
When the sin of Achan affected the community, Joshua, as their leader, went before God and fell prostrate before Him. He began to cry out and plead for God’s assistance and mercy. God responded by telling him to “Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face?” and instructed Joshua to tell the people to “Sanctify yourselves” (Joshua 7:6-12). Perhaps in the midst of our misguided devotions today we need to take a step back from the harried lives we lead and “set ourselves apart” by renewing and realigning our devotion. Sanctify yourselves and your devotion for you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Devotion.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
The only “devoted thing” that belongs in my life is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Any other “devoted thing” will cause Him to be with me no more. Sanctify yourself. Yeah. That’s what he said.
Questions for the 1st Sunday of Lent
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
- 21:9—purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst
- 21:18—purge the evil from your midst
- 22:21—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:22—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:24—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
Not to make the obvious trite, but it seems that God wants to make it abundantly clear that His people are intended to be holy, pure, undefiled. I think the reasons are far more reaching than for this to be for a single purpose, and that primarily for show. While the visible example of purity and holiness is likely one of the purposes, I think an extended reason for this purity is that we need it. We are easily distracted…and what distracts us often corrupts us. We are influenced by what we come in contact by and keep company with. The examples of this are many, but one quick example is the acceptance of violence and sexuality in T.V. programming. Through the course of my life, there has been a major shift in what we permit to come into our homes on the television…in fact, not only is it permitted, for very many it is acceptable and demanded. This illustrates why purity and undefilement may have been so rigorously and unwaveringly demanded by our God.
This begs the question of me; “What compromises do I continue to make in keeping myself holy and undefiled for the purposes of God and the health of our relationship?”
“The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.” (Matt. 4:10)
Another set of questions I think are good for me to ponder as I venture through this Lenten season, I found today while reading a book, Small Surrenders by Emilie Griffith. In it she quotes a question from Brennan Manning, who asks; “How is my life unfolding in terms of my primary goal of living with God forever?”
This is a pretty big question and might be difficult to nail down in practical terms, so Emilie unpacks this question with a more specific list that helps us to address the bigger examination of our heart. She asks the following:
- What am I doing with my time?
- What am I doing with life?
- How well am I expressing the imprint of Christ upon my heart?
- How deep is my charity?
- How deep is my love?
- How well am I functioning in the Christian life?
And, the question I completed the list with that “popped” into my head as I pondered these—“Am I becoming all that God desires and has destined for me to become?”
I think I will sit with and revisit these through my Lenten journey…
Our Prayer from Charles de Foucauld
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.
Putting Jesus in the Friend Zone
Readings: Exodus 12:30—27:21
As I continue reading through the Bible and the Book of Exodus, a picture has emerged in my mind as I reflect and consider the passages I’ve read in parallel with life and culture. I would caution about reading too much into my metaphor of “Friend Zone,” but it seems an accurate assessment if not taken too literally. #enddisclaimer
One theme I know is true, but never seem to remember how boldly it is proclaimed is God’s call for purity, fidelity, focus, and detail with the scope of relationship between God and man. God establishes laws, boundaries, and instructions for every aspect of living in community with Him and even extends the same measure of detail for living and relationships for the community itself. Essentially, after freeing the covenant peoples of Israel, God defines the relationship; He dictates the conditions to Moses and Moses reads them aloud in painstaking detail to the people.
“Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people: and they said, ‘All that the LORD as spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’”(Exodus 24:7)
Even with the oath and proclamation of obedience by the people, God knows in advance they will not “be perfect as He is perfect.” He establishes a means of forgiveness and cleansing for the sins of the people in the system of sacrifices and offerings; therefore, when the people fail to follow the rules of relationship, there is a means of reconciliation in place to prevent fracture and break-up and provide restoration.
As the years pass, so does the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the covenant people and God. The relationship itself is taken for granted by the people and the sacrificial system becomes a justifying means to an end. The attitudes of the people become apathetic, non-committal, and adulterous toward their God. The sacrifices necessary for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the people mean nothing to those who offer the sacrifices and ultimately mean nothing to God (Isaiah 1:11-12; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21).
I hope I’m not reading too much into what I’ve perceived, but it seems to me that the trajectory of the relationship was something like this: God establishes and defines the relationship between He and the Israelites; the Israelites agree to the lifestyle of purity, civility, and fidelity God defines; God provides a means for the Israelites restoration when they fail their commitment. As the timeline continues and the commitment made by the Israelites is diluted through their generations, the people move from offering sacrifices for their failures to not recognizing their failures at all. In effect, the people, by the association of their actions, redefine the relationship with their God. What God calls sin, the people fail or rarely recognize as such. The people boldly engage in worship of false gods, mistreat their fellow human beings, lie, cheat, and steal from one another…and more, all of which were clearly defined as abhorrent and unacceptable to God. It appears a combination of things occurred in the hearts and minds of this former covenant keeping people; one is that they stopped caring about the Creator God who had rescued and provided for them all the years of their existence, and another is that it appeared they no longer considered many of their actions sin.
Years pass and Jesus steps into the scene. No longer, does man have to live behind the blemished façade of a false self; God comes to dwell amongst men and provide them a means to be wholly reconciled and fully restored to the imago dei (Image of God). Man no longer has to live in sin (hamartia: missing the mark of God), but God in the flesh shows man the way to accurately reflect and embody the divine nature.
Fast Forward Some More
Here we are; today, the world in which we live. It often seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. From ancient middle-eastern culture to modern western society, the attitudes and excuses of living and life seem to spring remarkably from the same headwaters: selfish pride. We enjoy having “God on our side.” We like the benefits of name-dropping; “Yo, me and J.C. are tight.” It is comforting to us to think we have an omnipotent God to turn to when the pressures of life squeeze tight. While we might not say it, we often treat God like our “Ace in the hole” only calling Him out when all our other “cards” fail to produce the winning hand for us. Many of us, calling ourselves Christians, live a dual life—keeping God separate from most of the messier areas of our life—our relationship with God resembles the “pretty room” many of us might remember we or our friends had as kids growing up. You know the one I’m talking about; it’s the room that was perfect that no one was allowed to go in or sit on the furniture and strictly made for looking at…no practical function whatsoever. Yeah, that’s the sum of much Christianity today, except that in reality it is not even pretty to look at if we are truly honest with one another and it certainly doesn’t look like anything passable for the Christianity that is modeled in our Bibles.
What Is Wrong
My opinions are my own, but I would like to offer them for consideration. I think there are several factors that are damaging the cause of spiritual transformation in the image of Christ. The first problem is a theology that has deviated from the Trinitarian example of our Lord Jesus. Many people seem to have abandoned the God of the Old Testament entirely or relegated Him to “mean and angry old God” status, openly thankful that they do not have to deal with that God now that Jesus has “taken over.” This attitude and belief is a form of Marcionism, which was denounced as heresy as early as the mid second century. Interestingly enough, this belief seems as strong and prevalent as it ever may have been if not stronger. Other heresies involving Jesus that have significant impact on how we respond to God and His work of spiritual transformation in us include forms of Docetism and Eutychianism, both of which argue points of Jesus’ nature of being fully man and fully God. The damaging point for us as followers is that embracing these beliefs (even through ignorance) presents challenges that can be almost impossible to overcome. I have heard it said many, many times from believers; “I cannot follow Jesus and be like him. Jesus was God and I am not.” While Jesus is God and I am not is a true statement, the greater truth is that we can follow him. God has imparted the divine nature to be shared in us (2 Peter 1:3-7) for the very reason of walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I think the bottom line after accounting for the ignorance of our beliefs and heresies, is that many of us have not “died to self,” which is arguably the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ and becoming transformed into the image of God (Luke 14:25-27). Without this critical first step, we remain in charge of ourselves and constantly redefine the relationships (be that as it may) that we have with the Trinitarian God to suit our own needs at the time whatever they may be. This is not Christianity—it is Meianity and it doesn’t fly with the call of Christ to “Follow Me.”
God Almighty came to this earth setting aside his divine right, so we might become one with the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7; John 17:20-23). It is the desire of God to share intimately His oneness with us, but there are conditions and distinctives He has given us for that level of relationship to be made true in us. We, listen to the words of God who defines the relationship and become dismayed, but we like Jesus…we just don’t want to marry Him. Jesus wants intimacy and monogamy, we do not want that level of commitment and want to be free to do what we want when we want. So, we respond; “Jesus, can’t we just be friends?” I believe the Bible teaches us that proposition is rejected, at least in the sense that we mean it. Being friends with Jesus inside the marriage relationship is good and “yes.” Trying to be friends with Jesus outside of the covenant of marriage with Him is difficult to impossible and in my opinion an emphatic “no.” Truly, we cannot relegate God to the “Friend Zone” and expect to be a part of His Kingdom. The teaching of the Bible does not support that ideology (Matthew 7:21).
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and his disciples believed him.” (John 2:11)
“For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)
Chewing on some serious bread here: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5). I realize the metaphor extends to the primacy of the community, the universal church and all who are called into that great assembly, although I cannot help but consider how this plays out in my personal commitment to the Bridegroom (Christ Jesus) and as a part of “the Bride” (Church) myself. How consecrated (solemn dedication) am I? What does my dedication look like in my daily life? I think about how I look with love, appreciation, adoration, and delight over my wife, Laurie, and think about how God looks over His Bride, the Church… and me. Yes. Praise Him. Amen.
Prayer for the 2nd Sunday following the Feast of Epipany
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your word and sacraments,, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reign one God, now and for ever. Amen
Miscellaneous Thoughts from 20JAN2013
I sat in on Bob G’s class today in church and still cannot get the ideas of holiness, sanctification, spiritual formation, and any other euphemism that describes what it means to become Christ-like out of my head… I just keep on thinking about this and take a moment to put down some of my ideas here.
Jesus, as the living personification of God (John 14:7-9), is our model for what it means to “imitate God” (Ephesians 5:1-2) and “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16). The Bible teaches us that our attitude or minds should be like Christ; “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5-7).
- Begin with an attitude of complete humility
- Maintain a mindset of openness
- Choose your will to be completely surrendered
- Determine that you will be unconditionally obedient
I believe that Scripture teaches us the Christian journey will not begin in earnest without this process (listed above) and attitude of mind/heart being implemented first (see John 12:24-26, Luke 14:25-28, Mark 9:35). In my opinion, the most distinctive “outworking” of this selfless and surrendered humility is found in the apostle’s definition of love (1 Corinthians 13).
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails.
More to come.
Readings: Exodus 7:14—12:30
“…and we will not know what to use to worship the LORD until we arrive there.” (Ex. 10:26)
These words “jumped” out to me this morning during our morning reading. As I was considering them and asking the Lord why they caught my attention, I started to think there are times I get into routines (I like routine) and I believe that I know how God wants me to worship Him. Like, I’m positive that I know what will please Him each and every time, so I only “bring with me” what I know He wants.
O, presumptuous me.
I think, what I take away from these words today, is that I should bring all of me each time I come to worship the LORD. If God determines it is praise He desires from me, I will have it. If He desires my tears or my laughs, I will have them too. If He wants my adoration or my silence, those I will have brought as well. I bring everything when I bring all of me…all that I have and all that I am.
I’m sensing the point of this Word to me is this: I am all too often caught up in myself, my agendas, and my routines, such that I presume to know all that is in my heart and exactly how God wants me to worship Him with it. I hear God speaking to my spirit today that there are areas of my heart that need uncovered still. He wants those things uncovered and brought into the light as my acceptable worship. I can only presume to know what these things are and how God intends to have me use them as sacrifice and worship before Him. I will; however, know for sure when I “arrive there” with all of me in tow.
“If you want to live a devout life, you are not only required to stop sinning but also to lose your appetite for it.” -Francis de Sales
I am still working on finalizing my personal rule of life for 2013. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I do not feel the need to rush it. I will do my best to remain faithful in the areas I sense the Spirit leading me in now. At the moment, I have shifted my focus and devoting more attention on developing healthy habits—a new diet, exercise, and attention to a few other mind and body details. As a result of this new focus and initiatives, my blogging, reading, and writing habits have been lacking in regularity. I believe this is okay for now, especially while I form new habits and make adjustments to my lifestyle that will reap healthy benefits in my future, God willing and helping me.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world. A light no darkness can extinguish. In You, O LORD, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. In Your justice, set me free, hear me and speedily rescue me. Be a rock and a refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me, for You are my rock, my stronghold. For Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me that my actions might bring glory and honor to You, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who reign eternally together. Amen.
An Epiphany Reflection
“Among you stands one whom you do not know…” (John 18:26)
“In the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.” (James 1:11)
My reflections during this season of Epiphany have been spent on much personal examination. As I practice spiritual disciplines, there is the expectation that measured growth should be manifest from them. While I do these types of examinations throughout the year, the year’s end and the early New Year are times when this examination is much deeper. I am in the process of finalizing my updated Personal Rule of Life; at least what will begin as my rule of life for the 2013 year. This personal rule of mine is not chiseled in stone, but serves as a guide and is subject to change as God’s Spirit would lead and I would obey.
One of the points of my rule for 2013 is my Bible reading. One reading plan I am engaging in is a morning devotional my family is participating in together (The NRSV Devotional Bible). We have just finished reading the Genesis narrative and I have been captivated once again by the incredible relational nature of our Eternal God.
Understanding the great attributes of God, and I use that term “understanding” loosely, it seems that God could have used any number of means to effect His great plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration… any of which did not have to include the weak link that is humankind. But He chose to partner with humanity anyway at incredible risk to His Name, His purposes, and the general nature of His plan. Adam, Noah, Abraham…Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all frail and imperfect role models, but God chooses to partner with them for the sake of His plan and for the sake of you and of me.
This is one of the primary thoughts that has been camping out in my brain. The “relational” part of our relationship with God is one thing I believe we often take for granted. I believe it is easy to assume much of the responsibility of our discipleship and restoration as images of God is placed upon God. Many us will assume any transformation we experience in our lives that resembles Jesus Christ is the work of God—and I believe that is true, but we also bear a certain amount of responsibility in the process of this transformation. We surrender to the work of God in us as we engage in the process ourselves.
Partners with God
Part-ners: Each “ner” has their respective part in the outworking of God’s grand narrative.
“A child that does not grow bigger is pathetic. Soil that does not produce vegetation is sterile. The tree that is barren is cut down. Unless we go forward, we slip backward.” -John Jewell
We cannot afford to take our “parts” and our roles lightly. As we journey with Jesus on the path of spiritual formation and Imago Dei transformation, we share in the process and responsibility of our discipleship. It is not all the responsibility of God; He enables, empowers, and provides as we surrender, submit, obey, and engage. Hear again, it is God who empowers and enables; it is the Holy Spirit who guides and comforts; it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ who walks alongside us in the process. It is the believer-disciple who bears the yoke of obedient surrender and engages joyfully in the process—making plans, strategizing, and taking the appropriate steps to become more like Christ. Restoration and transformation to the image of God does not just happen. The transforming journey of sanctification is lifelong and often fraught with difficult challenges. We engage and we fall down…we get up to engage again. It is through the surrendered looping process that we eventually and ultimately succeed. We celebrate our victories along the way as God celebrates with us and we begin again
If you have lived far from God, you may think you are very near him when you finally start a life with him. The peasant thinks he has been to court because he saw the king pass by one day. New Christians give up their worst sins and beak fewer laws than they once did, but they are still attached to the world. Instead of judging themselves by the gospel, they merely compare themselves with their former lives. If today is better than yesterday, they think this is enough to make them saints. If they can tell you the time and place of their salvation, they probably see nothing remaining to be done. Such people have a long way to go. -Francois de Fenelon
I pause and reflect on God’s life-giving presence in every part of my body, in everything around me, in the whole of my life. The world I charged with the grandeur of God. I dwell for a moment in His presence, all around me and within me as well. The Holy Spirit is deep within my being. I remind myself that there are many things God has to teach me yet, and ask for the grace to hear them and let them change me.
To You, O God, our praise is due. To You we pay our vows, You who hears our prayers. To You all flesh will come with its burden of sin. Too heavy for us, our offenses, but You wipe them away.
My soul yearns for You, O God. My soul thirsts for You, O God; when can I enter and see the face of God? O God, You are my God, for you I long and only you alone. Glory to you, Source of all being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
My Favorite Christmas Gifts from 2012
The past couple of weeks have been a great blessing to me, especially with a few of the wonderfully awesome Christmas gifts I received. These gifts will be giving throughout the year and then for years to come, I am sure. Wait. Let me clarify and qualify those last statements. My favorite gift, hands down, is my ability (God provided) to be in relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ. Coming in next, are my wife and my sons…followed closely by my health. Now, we can proceed to the more trivial and material things *wink*
In no particular order, my favorite material things I received this year follow:
The only thing this Bible is missing is a longer name…wait, it has that too. Seriously though, this is a wonderful Bible and I really like several things in this version. First, I really like the New Living Translation for reading. In my opinion, the NLT is the best reading version on today’s market. Second, I prefer reading chronologically over any other reading plan when I’m reading for story purposes; that is, trying to stay connected to the meta-narrative of Scripture. In addition to these reasons, the Life Application Bible helps to keep me connected to the Scripture and stirs me to respond to the words I am reading. Many other features in this study Bible make it one of my new favorites. I love the timeline system that flows through every page, which helps me to correlate the flow of God’s revelation to man through the Hebrew people as it laid over the global timeline of man. There are also hundreds of notes, maps, section introductions, sidebars, charts, and outlines. My tentative goal is to read this Bible through 2013 along with another Bible I received for Christmas.
This is another gift I received for Christmas; The New Revised Standard Version Bible is a Daily Reading Bible is set up for 365 daily readings. Each of the readings is accompanied by an excerpted writing from a Christian spiritual classic. Some of the classic writings include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen and others. This Bible is geared toward the promotion of contemplative reading and prayerful meditation upon the text. I plan to use this alongside the Tyndale Chronological Bible, but instead of reading for story I will be using this Bible for my divine reading (Lectio Divina). I have grown to love the NRSV Bible for the combined attributes of accuracy and readability and look forward to the coming year that I will spend with God in this Bible.
I saw this calendar advertised at some point in my web browsing back in October or November of 2012. When I saw it, I immediately forwarded the link to my wife, Laurie, with a note stating “this would make a nice Christmas gift—hint, hint.” I was pleasantly surprised to find it wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning. This isn’t a “normal” calendar structured around the months (Jan, Feb, Mar, etc.). It is arranged around the Christian calendar. For instance, the first page of weeks is the Advent season, which was Dec. 2 through Dec. 24. When the page is turned to the next “month,” it is actually the season of Christmas, twelve days from Dec. 25 through Jan. 5th. The next page of weeks is the season of Epiphany, which begins January 6 and runs through February 12 (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and Lent). There are sidebars with information and devotional material relevant to the season of the calendar, and there are Scripture readings for each Sunday that come from the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer. The most important aspect of this calendar that I like though, is the connection of God’s story in our time. I’ve made it no secret over the past several years how much the Liturgical Calendar has impacted my spiritual formation. This is another helpful tool to keep me remain connected to God’s time throughout the year. It’s not too late to pick up your own!
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [03DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul? -Joan Chittister; The Liturgical Year
For the next five days, I will be observing a theme of waiting and hope. I plan to reflect and list one item each day that shares how I “wait upon the Lord” and one way my relationship with Jesus provides me hope. Specifically, I plan to examine how my wait is active—changing and growing…evolving and maturing—affecting my faith. As a result of this active waiting (or inactive should that be the case), I want to better understand how this interaction with Jesus affects my hope. How does hope work in my life and what does tangible hope look like in my daily living.
Today I am meditating upon and grateful for the reality of waiting and how it teaches me to slow down and become aware of my surroundings…taking note of the many places where God is at work and making His presence known all around me.
Today I am feeling a surge in my hope because I am learning to wait attentively. When I wait attentively, I see the hand and purpose of God at work around me…in the lives of others, in creation, and in me. This infuses my hope with anticipation of the kingdom of God bursting forth even in this moment.
“Advent calls us into a state of active waiting: a state that recognizes and embraces the glimmers of God’s presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God’s historic yet ever present actions, that speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, that yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now.” -Paula Gooder; The Meaning is in the Waiting
Lord help me to be fully alive to your presence. Enfold me in your love. Let my heart become one with yours. Father God, help me to be sure I know what I wait for. Blessed Savior Jesus, help me to be sure I know what and in whom my hope is in. Mighty Holy Spirit, help me to know where I am going. O make me, Lord God, deeply aware of the task before me and the need for guidance along the way. Amen.
A Week (weak) of Reflections & Examinations—Jeff’s Journal
I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the writings in my journal from the past several days. As we approach this season of Advent, the season of expectant waiting, I notice in my writing the tension of a long period of waiting already. I am not sure if the analogy is an appropriate or “right” one, but it goes something like this. Many of my spiritual days over the past few years have been spent as if I draw in a deep breath, hold it until almost blacking out and then exhale with loud, “wooshing” sigh—feeling tired and almost spent—then deeply drawing in another big breath to hold…starting this exhausting process all over again. I think this sounds something worse than it actually is, but there is a certain “yes” and “not quite” that I experience on the way of my Christian journey that is difficult to explain. I “see and hear” these deep inhales and exhales in my writings…I’ll let them speak for me.
(17NOV12) To whom shall I go, O Lord? You alone have the words of life, and I have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Praise be to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory. Sometimes though, I admit, I get tired…I get tired of praying, I get tired of waiting, I get tired of looking. But I will keep on praying, watching, looking, and waiting because as Peter said to you, “I have nowhere else to go.” Even as you are God in flesh, Jesus, You know all the sufferings and loneliness that a man will face. You were driven into the desert wilderness, You were rejected by your people as well as your closest friends…and you were also given over to the cross to become an innocent—murdered for the sins of humanity—even my sins.
You are God… Teach me to count my days that I might gain a wise heart. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love, so I might rejoice and be glad all my days. (Ps. 90:2, 12, 14)
(18NOV12) “This is but the beginning of birth pangs.” -Jesus (Mark13:8)
(20NOV12) As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing the movements of my mind are all signs of God’s ongoing creation in me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of this presence of God within me and respond with these thoughts… I am the reflection of Your image, O God, as broken and fragile as I am, it is amazing that I still bear the image of the great God who created me. I ask for Your help and Your forgiveness for the many ways I “miss the mark” of Your image and thereby sin against You and Your image. I pray, O Lord, for more of Your presence and more of Your Spirit in my life—a reminder that You are always near—forever with and within me, faithful to complete the good work You have started in me. I pray that I might see all You have planned and foreordained for the people who follow You and proclaim You as their God. Amen.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
(21NOV12) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I will ask God’s help, to be free from my own preoccupations and pretensions; I will ask to be open to God in this time of prayer, to come to love and serve Him more. Help me, O Lord, to be ever more conscious of Your presence. Teach me to recognize Your presence in others. Fill my heart with gratitude for the times Your love has been shown to me through the actions and words of others and help me to be aware of the times it is You who works through me. I believe and trust in God the Father Almighty; I believe and trust in Jesus Christ His Son. I believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. I believe and trust in the Three in One.
I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? (Psalm 101:2)
And this is part of my heart’s cry… I think it is what drives me to the place of mourning my own “unworthiness” of poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3-4). I read the remaining words of the psalmist from Psalm 101 and he asks; “When will I attain the way of blamelessness?” Here follows his list of “ways to walk.” (1) with integrity of heart (2) no evil or wicked thing before his eyes (3) avoid the works of those who are not on-the-way (4) steer clear of perversity and evil (5) no slanderous talk (6) refrain from haughty and arrogant attitudes (7) no quarter given to any lies or deceit (8) seek to eradicate evil and evil doers. I like to tell myself that I am onboard with this list, but every time I take inventory and do a sweep of my heart, I find another pile of this junk. Ugh! Is there no end??? I will study the way that is blameless. When will I attain it?
My eyes fail from watching for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes… My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept. (Especially with me) Psalm 119:123-124, 136
From James (James 3:13-18) come additional words that can be helpful for cleaning crud from my heart. James says; “Show your good life with works done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not be boastful and false to the truth… Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I pray, O God, You to help me act on these areas you bring notice of in me. Help me to yield and be open to all the areas that need refining within me. Do Your work and help me to partner with You in the ways that are blameless and in some way… through the suffering You endured, attain the righteousness You impute to me. I pray Your help. Amen.
(23NOV12) “Hear my prayer, O LORD: let my cry come to You. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call. I do not sleep; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. (Psalm 102:1-2, 7).
Pray always—and do not lose heart—will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? …When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
James (James 5:7-8) continues his wise counsel to me; “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord, The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” I’m learning patience, with fits and starts, stumbles, crumbles, and some successes…I’m learning to wait. Perhaps the tension will always be with me; I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that in the tension and with the wait God is near and within me. It is with this knowledge and affirmation of His word that I will persevere. Where else can I go?