Posts Tagged ‘Christ’
[15APRIL2012] Eastertide | 2nd Sunday of Easter
♦ 1 John 1:1-2:2
“The Lord is risen, indeed, alleluia!”
Easter Sunday: He is Risen! “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29)
How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting. (Psalm 133:1-3)
“The festival we celebrate is one of victory—the victory of the Son of God, King of the whole universe. On this day and every day that follows the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the devil is defeated by the Crucified One; our race is filled with joy by the Risen One.” Alleluia! (adapted from a quote of Hesychius of Jerusalem)
While reading from Robert Weber’s book, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, I came across some questions he posed to himself after listening to an Easter Sermon some years ago. He raised the questions:
- Have we evangelicals so thoroughly defended the Easter fact that we have lost the power and significance of the Easter Faith?
- Are we missing the meaning of the resurrection in our own lives?
- Are we no longer conscious of the pattern of death and resurrection in our own lives?
- Do we no longer expect resurrections to occur in our own lives?
I think these are good questions to ask ourselves. Over the years I would say the answers to these questions and others like them land on the negative end of the spectrum… meaning most Christians I have met do not live as resurrection people; at least not in the present tense. I think Western Christianity has subverted the message of the gospel and the resurrection life that it offers to us. We come to the Cross of Christ anxious to receive His message of salvation, accepting it greedily, stuffing it into a safe place and then running off to resume our self-controlled lives here on earth until the day the great spaceship of God returns to cart all of us “believers” away to the land of “milkshakes & honeysmacks.”
The problem with this thinking is that it isn’t true theology… it’s false me-ology. The Easter gift is a risen Christ! A tangible and present reality of a Messiah who has defeated sin, death, and the prison of the grave. The promise of new life is a gift for today as well as a promise realized in fullness and glorification for our eternal future, but our present focus is to live as victorious resurrection people today! Christ is Victorious now! And so are we! We should live as though we believe this.
“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” (Gen.3:15)
I love these words from a sermon preached by Melito of Sardis (AD 195) on the Victory of Easter.
But he rose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose from the dead, and cried with a loud voice: Who is he that contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up one who had been entombed. Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroys death and triumphed over the enemy and trampled Hades underfoot and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven. I, he says, am the Christ.
The Tomb is Empty. There are no stones atop me, before me, or shackled and dragging behind me. I am Free. And that’s all I got to say about that… at least for today.
Prayer for the Second Sunday of Easter:
Almighty and everlasting God, who is the Paschal mystery hast established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their live what they profess by their faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
“Soul of Christ, Sanctify me…”
What a great prayer. Oh how I long for completion and unity with Christ. It is a marvelous thing to be in relationship and conversation with the Living God. Thank you, O LORD, for your Spirit who indwells and works in your people; drawing them ever closer to You, the One who saves.
Search for the LORD and his strength; continually seek his face—Psalm 105:4 Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure.—Psalm 27:10-12
I love the confidence and assurance that God gives to his people, those who decide to push aside anything that would hinder their walk with him. While it seems that much is uncertain, God assures that He is the certainty we can trust…
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God—There never has been, and there never will be. I, yes, I am the LORD, and there is no other Savior. From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done. (Isaiah 43:10-13)
I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along paths you should follow… Even now, be free from your captivity! The LORD redeemed his servants, the people of Israel. They were not thirsty when He led them through the desert. (Isaiah 48:12-21)
As I journey through life, I see literally thousands of opportunities to tear my gaze from God’s leadership and guidance in my daily living. With so much that seems scary, fragile, uncertain, risky, and unknown it is a much safer bet to take few risks…to take control and make things happen under my own power or through my own ability. Truthfully, my power and my actions are the greater risks. While I don’t know the plans for my life, God does know them (Jeremiah 29:11). I don’t know the potential pitfalls that lie before me…but He does. God desires that I trust Him implicitly. I love knowing that I can trust Him to teach me what is good. I love the confidence of knowing that His paths are the ones I should follow. And, I love that even though He may lead me through the desert, I will never be thirsty for as long as He leads. Sanctify me, O LORD, Sanctify me.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Separated from Thee let me never be
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
Forever and ever
Epiphany Meditation: The Word Became Flesh – Pt. 5 [16JAN2011]
Practical Witness – Practical Insight
As I’ve been considering the Word became Flesh for the past several weeks, there have been a number of passages of Scripture “speaking” to me and fueling my meditations. I decided to post a few of these and share some of my “soul food.”
Submit to God’s royal Son…What joy for all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 2:12)
He will be victorious (Psalm 110:7)
Study this book of instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Joshua 1:8)
There is no place where God is not. Where I go, there God is. Now and always He upholds me with His power and keeps me safe in His love. –Anonymous
One morning my selected reading was Psalm 18. It was pretty early and I transposed the numbers in my mind and turned to Psalm 81 instead… Regardless of my state of mind and how “accidental” it seemed, I’m believing it was providence and the Spirit of God who guided me. Here follows the passages that grabbed my attention:
5 I heard an unknown voice say:
6 “I removed the burden from their shoulders;
their hands were set free from the basket.
7 In your distress you called and I rescued you,
I answered you out of a thundercloud;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
What I considered about these words was this; this is our God. He hears our cry as he heard the Israelites in Egypt. He relieves our distress and rescues us from the burden of our sin; he sets our feet on the path to deliverance and the Promised Land… and along the way… He tests us. He purifies us of anything that would betray our faith. He proves our love and allegiance to Him as genuine, or not. The reality is this: if we will be rescued, we will be tested (1 Peter 1:6-7). Will we pass? (2 Corinthians 13:5)
8 Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
9 You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
10 I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
There is nothing new under the sun, says the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. And, the stubbornness and rebelliousness of people is unchanging as well. As “bullheaded” as the people of ancient Israel were, so are we today. God has given to us a clearly defined way of living, going as far as showing us himself (Jesus) how to live and abide in relationship with the Triune God. We continue to make idols for ourselves in the trappings of our lives or we cut right to the chase and crown ourselves as our own lord our god. This will not do. God Almighty speaks to us now as He did then; “I am the LORD your God, I am your Deliverer.” We would do well to heed His Voice.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it with good things.
How vulnerable we would be going through life with our “mouth” wide open… or looking ridiculous if not vulnerable. God calls us to trust Him and Him alone. He will guide us and He will provide for us. He tells us in another place that a good Father does not give His son a stone in the place of bread… In this word He simply tells us to “open wide” and He will fill us with good things (Matthew 7:9-11 and Luke 11:11-13).
11 “But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
13 “If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways
The great burden of my own heart is that our stubbornness will be our undoing as it was the undoing of Israel. We will continue to refuse our will to God and He will allow us the right of refusal. He will let us choose our own way…a way that ultimately lives in bondage to our sin and ends in death, physical and eternal. Our devices are instruments of destruction… God’s way is the only Way, Truth, and Life (“If my people would only listen to me, only follow my ways…”).
And finally, I haven’t been able to shake this passage from my memory… it has been lingering in my heart and on my tongue for almost a week now.
“When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the temple of the LORD. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the LORD filled the temple.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
I wonder… what would happen if we had an experience like this one mentioned in 1 Kings 8:10-11… God’s Presence, the Glory of the LORD GOD Almighty, filled our sanctuaries across the land? Would we even allow something like this? Would God’s Presence in this capacity be welcome? This would wreck the order of our service programs and Sunday morning Christian entertainment. I wonder…
Here this passage tells us the priests could not even continue their service because of the cloud of God’s glorious presence… I wonder… Oh. My. Glorious. Wonderful. Awesome. Heavenly. Incredible. Marvelous. GOD. Jesus. Creator. Sustainer. He is what everything is about (Colossians 1:15-20). How easy we forget this; assuming we ever knew it in the first place… I mean know it in our hearts and not merely confess it with memorized words from our lips.
Our God is what we are about. God is not about us. When (and if) we ever get this right, there will be revival amongst humanity that will make the angels in heaven jealous.
Epiphany Meditation: The Word Became Flesh – Pt. 4 [14JAN2011]
Christ revealed, but largely unseen…
“Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” –Isaiah 6:9-10
While my meditation into the Word became Flesh has been enlightening and edifying, it has also had an effect on me that has brought on burdensome lamentation. Much of the past week I have experienced deep sadness over the state of “Christ revealed, but largely unseen.” Spending much time in thought over the prophetic promises of the Savior Christ coming to dwell with men is encouraging and hopeful, but to realize it in the full with the Nativity stories narrated to us by the Gospel authors is even more so still. Continuing the journey through the gospels, walking alongside Jesus as we read, we sense the close embrace of our God with us today… the warming of our souls heated with the very Breath of God in the embodiment of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. God is with us. The promises, all true, are our hope for abundant life today and eternal life tomorrow. The kingdom people of God, those who live today, stand on the shoulders of the saints who have walked before us carrying on the missio dei of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration in the now.
Or do we?
And, this is my lament… Why, if Christ has been revealed, do we see so little of him amongst those who profess him so loudly?
My question, and my continuing commentary, is directed toward the majority of professing Christians located primarily in the Western world… I realize there is a small minority of Christians who are revealing Jesus to the world through the lives they live and the lives they aspire to live. On the whole, though, we are failing the mission and commandments of the Lord we claim to be following and representing.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus—(John 13:34-35)
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Jesus—(Matthew 7:15-23)
The statements above come from Jesus describing his true followers and those “not so true…” When I think about what the Bible teaches us, in particular the gospels, about the ways of Jesus and the kingdom among (in) you life, I am hard-pressed to reconcile the way we live with what He teaches. This problem grows exponentially with our acknowledgment of it followed by the calm dismissal of our responsibility to change from the way we do things and move to a more Jesus-designed way living and responding to humanity and creation.
I consider the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7) as the template and outline for kingdom-living followers of Jesus; a high bar to say the least, but the Christ standard nonetheless. I also consider the prayer of Jesus (John 17) indicative of his deepest desire and expectation from and for his followers. Filling in the details of this “template” from Jesus are the teachings, epistles, and letters that complete the Canon of the New Testament. The Church, as I have been exposed to it, fails to live up to the teaching of this book. Why?
1. We treat it as an ideal. My experience has conditioned me to believe that most Christians (those I have met) understand the Bible as a “best case scenario” way of living. They do not really believe anyone can truly live out the teachings of Jesus; consequently, no one makes the effort to do so.
2. We misinterpret and inaccurately redefine God’s grace. Although Scripture argues against sin increasing so that grace may abound, our general propensity is to live contrary to that argument. We go to great lengths with very impassioned pleas that the “Law” was destroyed with the new covenant of grace… things like spiritual disciplines, sacrificial acts of love toward others, and moral, ethical, and social rules are all “works based” acts of that “ugly” word “religion.” We redefine grace to mean we are free to live as we wish under the banner and blessing of Christ’s shed blood; which covers the multitude of our sins, both of omission and commission. In this, we trample the cross of Christ under foot.
3. We make ourselves the center of the salvation message. I do not think all the streams of Christianity are guilty of this one, but my limited experience within the ranks of Protestant Evangelicals leads me to include this reason. Whether it is intentional or subconsciously inadvertent, we have made the majority of the teaching about the user experience. The worship among many (if not most) Protestant Evangelicals is consumer driven. As a result, the “Christian shopper” matches their personal preferences to their “wants” with regard to their perceived spiritual needs. The church perpetuates this errant and heretical teaching by catering to it and designing “worship experiences” for the sake of the “seeker.” We dumb down the teaching of God, we streamline and glitter the “performances” and we outsource our discipleship. Jesus teaches self-denial while his church teaches self-survival.
4. Everyone thinks their way is right and everyone else is not: aka pride. How else can we explain the disparity in our doctrines, the division within our ranks, the refusal to work through disagreements? I refer back to Jesus’ John 17 prayer and his comment, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why, in the name of Jesus, can’t Christians get along?
5. We are idolaters. We chase after and profess faith in our ideals and the god we have imagined Jesus to be. When and where the “Bible Jesus” or God of the Bible does not conform to our imagined god, we dismiss that idea as something false or unattainable. Consider the WWJD questions we ask… why do we need to ask “what would Jesus do?” If we are following the examples of His life and living with His Spirit guiding our own… well. I think the greatest reason we fashion our own god (and call it Jesus), is the fear that comes with following the true Jesus. The fear that we have is the fear of losing ourselves… what it will cost me, what will “that” Jesus ask of me? The answer? He will ask you for anything and everything that will be a stumbling block between you and Him. Somewhere in our core, we know this and avoid having to answer the question by creating our own jesus who never asks us anything that overly complicates our life.
So, you tell me… do you see Jesus being manifest in the full in this world? If yes, please give me the example. If no, why do you think that is?
I’m stuck; for the past several days I’ve got a portion of Scripture lodged in my head that keeps gnawing at me and won’t let me go. I’ve looked at several study Bibles and a few commentaries, but nothing has jumped out to me that helps me resolve what the Spirit is speaking to me… that is; we have work to do and we are going to be held to account for the work we have not taken responsibility for. Maybe it would help if I shared the snippet of Scripture. The passage comes from the Book of The Revelation and chapter nineteen, verse seven.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready… (Rev. 19:7)
Now, there are a lot of things to consider here hermeneutically, contextually, symbolically, and otherwise. I think we might be able to find plenty to debate and discuss about what is taking place at this point of the revelation…but that is not my purpose today. My meditation has been on six words and what those six words mean to me, to us… the “following” Church and Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ. His Bride has made herself ready.
Okay, I’m gonna make a leap here, but I think the passage is talking about the Church, those who profess their belief and salvation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ (that would be us). We are “herself,” the Church.
His Bride has made herself ready.
The question that begs asking is, “what does it mean to make herself ready?” I have often heard that sanctification (or whatever you wish to call it) is a lifelong process that never really completes on this side of eternity. I don’t know that my understanding of that process (sanctification) is absolute or comprehensive at this juncture with my theology, but in either event I believe that regardless of whether it is attainable or not on this side of eternity, we should be striving for it in its completion on this side of eternity.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Philippians 3:12-15
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ Ephesians 4:12-13
As I said, I don’t know if sanctification finds completion on this side of eternity or not…but I do believe it is what we diligently strive for with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This, I believe, is giving ourselves over completely to the transforming work of grace that results in wholly recreated, no longer frail and fallen, human beings. What is our work in this?
Herein lies part of the problem; “work” is a four-letter word for many souls belonging to the Church. However, the greater truth (my personal gleanings) I have found in Scripture is that our salvation, while made available and complete only through the work of God in Jesus Christ, is still a partnership. I don’t believe God saves us against our will… likewise, I don’t believe God sanctifies us against our will. In similar terms, I don’t believe that God “whitewashes” the Church or “Bride” against her will or in spite of her will. And, I think this is why “His Bride has made herself ready” has been grating on me for the past few days.
I think we like to slip our own responsibility in this partnership; we like every benefit we receive in the arrangement, but we prefer to dodge the elements that put the onus on us. It is by grace that we have been saved, but it is the discipline and obedience of the follower that works out the salvation to beautiful and sanctifying works of grace that ultimately culminate in a beautiful, spotless, holy Bride who has made herself ready.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27
What is my bottom line?
Tough call…this bottom line; I think it amounts to self-examination and a higher standard. What am I doing to make myself ready, or do I expect God to automagically make me ready. I know better than to think that is going to happen. I don’t see a single example where God saved, sanctified, or de-spotified anyone against their will in the Biblical narrative; not one. Maybe it happened, probably it didn’t…I wouldn’t hedge any bet on it, seeing that the majority (if not all) of our examples show that He doesn’t. Likewise, I don’t think God is going to do this for the Church. Ultimately, I think we are going to be held to account more for the things that we did not do as much as for the things we have done or ever do. I have no intentions of this happening…at least in my life and according to what I am capable of doing. I know God has revealed truth TRUTH to me and it includes getting off my “padded side” and exercising the discipline and (dare I say it) work that needs to be done on my part for sanctification and renewal of my soul as I work for the sanctification and renewal of the Church and ultimately the sanctification and renewal of all Creation. That’s what we are made for and what we are made to do (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
A complacent church that waits for stuff to happen is not making herself ready. A complacent Christian that waits for stuff to happen is not making himself or herself ready. A person that is not ready is…well…not ready. What does that say about us and what does that say to us? It is interesting that I see people of all ages (I used to be one) working diligently and highly disciplined for certain things they consider to be high value …or things they deem “worth it.” Think about it; high performance athletes working for a championship, professional artists, farmers, people working toward a “comfortable” retirement, soldiers training for dangerous missions, and the list could go on. It is interesting that the word pictures in the Bible reflect some of these same examples (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Timothy 2:3-7).
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about a principle or rule he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule. Studies suggest that the key to success in any field has nothing to do with talent. It’s simply practice, 10,000 hours of it — 20 hours a week for 10 years. Now, I’m not going to debate the principle here; I do think empowerment and indwelling by God’s Holy Spirit weighs in on the Christian in a different light than the sheer weight and numbers of practice hours. However, I think Gladwell’s point can be applied if we look at how much time and effort we put into our own discipleship. Similar studies reveal that a large number of professing Christians have never read through the entire Bible even one time. Many (if not a majority) of Christians have little or no involvement with their faith outside of Sunday worship gatherings. So, let’s do some math. If it takes 20 hours a week for 10 years to become successful in something according to the Outlier or 10,000 Hour Rule, what does it take for the “average” Christian who might spend 1.5 hours at a weekend service and 15 minutes of devotional reading 6 days a week (total 3.0 hours per week)? The answer is sixty four years. This considers that the person in our example never misses a Sunday service and never misses a 15 minute daily devotional. On the other hand, if our passion is such as David, the Psalmist, who meditates on the Word of God day and night… or the apostle Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” we might take a number like 10 hours a day from meditation, prayer, Bible reading, etc. for our figures and we turn out 2 years and 9 months to become a “high power” Disciple of Christ. Interesting “tale of the tape” there. I don’t want these numbers to be some hard and fast formula; as I said, I believe God’s Holy Spirit plays the predominant and preeminent role in our developing discipleship. Although, as I also said, we are in partnership with God in this discipleship and our part of the program is willing and passionate involvement in the process that requires sacrifice, discipline, and effort (or pardon my language, but work).
“His Bride has made herself ready”
So that I’m not tarred and feathered, let me state that no amount of work on our own can make a person ready for Jesus. You can “do all the right things” and your heart still be very far from God; take for instance, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. It’s a fine line, but that line is clearly defined in the heart of a man. Jesus said; “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” (Matthew 6:21). I think his point, while made about money, can be made about our passion or anything else we place value on. The substance of our faith is not defined by the things we do, but the evidence of our faith is realized by the actions and efforts that our lives follow. We give energy and effort to the things we believe in. How much energy and effort are you putting into your faith in Jesus Christ? If you call yourself Christian, you are a member of the Bride. Are you making yourself ready?
Pathfinders & Pathlosers: Another Meditation from Galatians
“You are following a different way that pretends to be the good news but is not the good news at all…” Galatians 1:6-7 [NLT]
The Galatians had been introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ receiving salvation and reconciliation to God through the atoning work of Jesus as taught to them by the Apostle Paul. The Letter to Galatians finds them deserting the path of Jesus (and/or adding to it), and following the Law of Moses and the traditions of man. The tone of the apostle’s letter reveals this new direction of the Galatians is terribly wrong. Jesus had rebuked the scribes, Pharisees, and the teachers of the law while He walked among them for following a path that was not unto God. Paul himself had been converted from a path of false righteousness, and the writer of the Letter to Hebrews spends a large portion of his treatise arguing his case that only Christ’s way is the true path of salvation; a salvation promised from the beginning of time, and superior to any other way…this including the Law of Moses… Yet, the Galatians had been duped…, fooled…., deceived.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you, and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7 [NRSV]
Sister Joan Chittister writes in her book, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, the following:
“The seduction of embarking on a spiritual life is that people can be fooled into believing that wanting it is doing it. They begin to believe that by traveling they have arrived. Worse, perhaps, they begin to allow others to think that by traveling they have arrived. They mistake the idea for the thing and perpetuate the idea.”
The Galatians were choosing to follow another way. Although our circumstance and/or situation may be different from theirs in some capacity, how often are we also persuaded to follow an “idea” that is really not THE WAY? My experience has been a sad one. Many of the circles of “believers” I have been a part of have not been students (disciples) of Jesus. Many have professed to receive His grace, but do not follow His teaching… Many do not know His teaching well enough to know how to follow it. What does it take to know the teaching of Jesus? How can we guard against being deceived or persuaded to follow another (wrong) path?
Christine Sine begins to uncover the root of our problem with her insightful reflection on discipleship: “Salvation is free, discipleship is costly. Salvation is paid for through Christ’s death and resurrection. Discipleship is risky; it costs us brothers and sisters, possessions and livelihood. Discipleship means yielding; a call to count the cost to carry our own crosses and follow. Discipleship remakes us; building us afresh, remolding us into the image of God.” As Sister Chittister spoke; “people can be fooled into believing that wanting it is doing it…” Many professing Christians have not made the commitment to actually begin following the Ways of Jesus.
The way we avoid being fooled, duped, and/or misled is to be wholly in tune and completely connected to the Person, Spirit, and Working of God. Brother Lawrence called this “Practicing the Presence of God.” Len Sweet calls this Semiotics in his latest book, NUDGE: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There. He writes that semiotics is the art and science of paying attention… He also writes; “Our quest is to be so filled with the Spirit of God, and to be wearing interpretive Jesus goggles, that we not only notice, but are able to interpret and respond.” (Respond to where God is and already has been and respond to what He is doing and already has done). This is practicing the presence of God. When I consider these things, I remember words and sayings of Jesus when he prefaced his teaching with statements like, “Let him who has ears hear” and “my sheep know my voice and follow me.” Of course he used other words as well that reflected these sentiments, but I think the point is the same; Pay Attention. It is not easy. Once more let me share words from Len Sweet’s book NUDGE:
One of the earliest admonitions in life is this: “Pay attention.” One of the hardest things in the world to do it is this: “Pay attention.” Nobody attends to attention. People teach us how to think, but not how to pay attention. But paying attention changes your brain, your being, your future. According to some scholars, the root lig in the word religion means “to pay attention.” If so, from its very definition, religion helps us learn to pay attention to people and to life. (pp.50-51)
I believe (most) people (including myself), as broken and depraved as we may be…want to do right and good things although, as Joan Chittister writes, “wanting is not doing.” In order that we are not “duped” into following another path, we must be fully immersed and engulfed in the Light and Life of Jesus Christ. I cannot say with complete fact what was the weak point of the Galatians who were being led astray by the Judaizers, but it is clear that something was weakening their understanding. Later in the letter Paul begins writing in more detail about following the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit and thus overcoming the dark desires of our heart. I believe, based on this detail, the Galatians were not wholly connected to the Person of God and not following the Spirit. How this connects and relates to us is as relevant today as it was two-thousand years ago. I don’t think the Galatians or any other Christian would willingly begin to follow a path that leads away from Jesus and toward destruction… no intelligent person would make that choice. The problem with my statement is that it did happen and it continues to happen even today. The truth is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Say again? We don’t know what we don’t know… and this is what gets us into the snares of the enemy.
I wish to share a few Scripture passages that I was reflecting on in conjunction with this passage.
John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
John 8:23-24 Jesus continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”
John 8:31-32 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:58 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!”
It is in these passages that Jesus is announcing to his hearers and the world that He, the Presence of God (see Exodus 3:14), is in their midst…He is, here to lead them (you and me) in order that we will not be “lost to darkness” or duped into following another way. “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12) — I think what I get from this line of thinking is that we do not have to fear being duped. We do not have to be ever cautious or fearful that we would be led astray… as long as we are connected to the Presence and the Illuminating Guidance of our God in Christ. The Psalmist reports the same conclusion writing the following words of praise:
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11)
The point of this reflection is my attempt to consider how someone (like the Galatians) who had tasted the sweet Presence and Infilling of God in their lives could so quickly desert that sweetness for something that ultimately resulted in bitterness and death. What I think happened (and happens to us) is that it is not a sudden and conscious act. We ever so slightly and subtly become unattached to the Presence and Leading God. We become more sensitive and easily manipulated by the things we are surrounded by and very gradually we are removed from the Light that once led us. Indeed, the Presence of God is still near us, but we are unable to see or respond to it. I would liken it to a trestle that a healthy grape-producing vine is attached to. The trestle has life all around it and sweet fruit surrounds it in all directions, but there is no life or fruit in the trestle at all. The trestle has no conscious awareness of the life that surrounds it because it has no life in it… it is not connected to the vine. Our lives can become very similar to that of the trestle. God’s Presence is everywhere. There is nothing that does not bear His “fingerprint.” Everything that exists was created for Him and by Him (Colossians 1:15-20). Even though this may be true, we can be seduced by the siren song of darkness… following the “dark” path draws our attention to exaltation of “self” or “some other gospel that is no gospel at all.”
Living in the Presence of God is more than a choice and more than a verbal affirmation. As I have written earlier, it is a deliberate and disciplined act that takes constant attention. I do believe that it becomes more of our nature with discipline and experience as God’s Spirit has more reign and influence in our lives, but I think that should never be taken for granted. We must be diligent in the way we pay attention (Luke 8:18 and Hebrews 2:1), so we are not distracted and fooled into following another path. Consider the fates of these “souls” written about by the teacher in Proverbs.
The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over. Proverbs 4:18-19
We might not lump ourselves in with the “wicked” or want to consider ourselves as in the dark; however, if we are removed from the Light of God’s guiding truth, we are in darkness… and we have no idea what we may stumble over. Even worse, we may even emphatically think and swear we are believing and following truth… We can easily find ourselves in the dark… and have no idea what we are stumbling over. Just like the Galatians.
“What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation…” [Galatians 6:15]
I wonder why we so often push back against the Holy Spirit? Here we are, heirs and inheritors of all the promises of God, every one, and so many times we are want to push back against Him and follow our own inclinations and desires. This summer has been a roller coaster ride for me in every facet of my being; emotionally, physically, and spiritually… and while I continue to implement the tools God has given me through the gifts of spiritual discipline I continue to wrestle and war against the nature of self within me. The flesh of “me” pushes back against the “perfecting nature of God” within me. I despise that. I give thanks and glory to God that I can choose to submit to His Spirit, but I don’t like for one minute that I have to choose in the first place.
“…and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” [Galatians 3:28] “And because we are His children, God sent the Spirit of His Son (Jesus) into our hearts, prompting us to call out ‘Abba, Father.’” [Galatians 4:6]
God has sent the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts… therefore; it would seem to me, that we can follow Him. We can truly, literally, and successfully live a life, walk a life, and exhibit the grace and presence of the life that Jesus lived [1 John 2:6]. So, back to my question, I wonder why such a battle rages within me. I wonder why I consider my wants first; I wonder why I filter things through my perspectives first? I wonder why I seek out my comforts first. I generally will choose to make these thoughts subservient to the concerns and needs of others, but I wonder why, so often, I have to make the choice to choose their needs and thoughts over mine in the first place. It would seem to me that my old nature has not been completely crucified. [sigh]
“I have been crucified. With Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now love in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me.” [Galatians 2:20].
And this is my cry… This is my prayer; that one day I will be able to say these words, as did the Apostle Paul, with conviction and authority. One day I will know that the war of my flesh and the raging “me” of self will be complete. I live by faith today that all the promises of God are yes and amen, but I live with hope looking forward to the culmination of all things Christ… including Him within me. May it be so, for the glory of You, Christ Jesus, my Savior. Amen.
I’m Special – You’re Special
I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. [Galatians 1:1]
How freeing and affirming is the consolation that comes from this passage. While every child of God may not be “appointed” to do the work of a “Paul,” it does not diminish the reality that each child of God has been “appointed” or chosen specifically, individually, and particularly by the mind and hand of God. He chose us. He chose me. Jesus reached out for me from beyond eternity for His unique purposes and no “group of people” or “human authority” can alter that truth. This is a great reminder when life feels lonely or the pressures of our circumstance begin to rob us of our joy… Jesus chose me. Amen.
But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by His marvelous grace. Then it pleased Him to reveal His Son to me so that I would proclaim the good news about Jesus… [Galatians 1:15-16] …God shows no partiality. [Galatians 2:6]
Distraction or Incarnation …the choice is ours
For the majority of this month (August) I have been reading and meditating on the letter from Paul to the Galatians. As reflected in some of my other blog posts, one of the prominent thoughts I have had during this time of meditation has been the apostle’s concern for the Galatians and how easily they have been distracted from the path of Christ Jesus [Galatians 3:1]. In my opinion, we have not made much progress since the letter was written… We too are easily distracted, or “bewitched,” to borrow the word most commonly used and translated from Paul’s letter. Let me share with you a personal example…
Among other things, my new job has been weighing on me; there are several factors that contribute to this weight, but they are not really the point of this posting. What is important is that I recognize how easily I can be distracted if I allow myself to be “bewitched” by the weight of my job or any other of the myriad of things taking place in the machine works of my daily life. As I’ve paralleled this Letter to the Galatians alongside “my world” I’ve realized how quickly my love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) can be tested and jeopardized by my choice to remove my focus from the illuminated and guiding voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This morning while on my way to work, with all of this weighing on me, I turned to my wife and said to her; “I don’t like being distracted… I don’t like being bewitched. I don’t want to have my focus removed from the Presence of God even for a minute. I don’t want to be lured into a chase that does not lead to embodiment of the fruit of God’s Spirit.” We continued our conversation during the short ride to my job and I resolved to be a living representation of Jesus to the people I encountered… it is, after all, what we are called to be, incarnations of the Christ. I am pretty sure that some people I spoke to may not have been aware that they encountered Jesus, but I know that they did. As I prayed before entering work and as I prayed again before speaking to my first customer, and as I prayed again before interacting with my fellow trainees and peers I asked God to help me live Him. It is my most humble and heartfelt prayer:
“Dear Jesus, through Your grace and by Your Spirit, help me to allow others to encounter You through me and likewise, help me to remain focused upon Your Presence that I do not miss You living through the life of others I encounter. May Your Presence be in me and in my view through every moment of every day. Amen.”
Agitated, Distracted, and Bewitched – Part 2
I extend apologies if my words that follow sound somewhat random in my opening remarks. I don’t know if you are following along or not, but you can catch up here if you’re interested in where this is coming from… I’m still following reflections on the Letter from Paul to the Galatians.
Regardless of our understanding with issues of spiritual depression or those “dark nights of the soul,” Jesus said He would never forsake us… “Lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20). So then, what happens when we feel removed from, or distant from, the Presence of God? Consider emotions like anxiety, stress, anxiousness, aggravation, and agitation (to name a few). Where do these feelings come from; how do those feelings invade our being when we may have been (just moments before) experiencing sweet peace and fellowship with God’s indwelling Holy Spirit?
I realize my commentary may seem to have deviated from the original intent of the Letter to Galatians, but I think my thoughts remain true to the uber-arche that is the human and “that” is part of the narrative that is this letter. The writer, Paul, asks his listeners what has “bewitched” them… what has distracted them to the point they would leave the greatest liberating force of their lives in order to follow a paradigm that is no force at all and whose destination is sure despair, destruction, and ultimate defeat.
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. [Galatians 5:16-26]
The blessing of new creation (which is what we become) through the redeeming, reconciling, and restoring work of Jesus Christ provides believers the means and empowerment to live daily and always in the Presence of the Triune God. The formerly broken relationship between man and God is reconciled and restored… on this side of Eternity, in this present and physical world, we are permitted to walk in whole and holy relationship with the God of the universe. We are capable of and invited to experience the blessed guidance and counsel of the same Spirit of God that inhabited and empowered the risen Savior-God, Jesus Christ.
Personally, I can’t help but examine and ponder my own experience compared to the “new creation life” that I read about in the Bible (especially the New Testament). I fully believe the Bible and its entire claim to be true; otherwise I would not be striving to follow it. Therefore, I believe my experience should be more closely aligned with, and reflective of, the thoughts I share in the paradigm of the aforementioned paragraph. Is it? Is my experience fully submitted to the Spirit’s leading? Do I live in complete harmony with Jesus?
I want to answer yes, but find myself becoming distracted or “bewitched” by the smoke and mirror trickery of powers and principalities of this world. Don’t misunderstand my words; I do not believe there is demonic influence or oppression behind every distraction or trial of man. I do believe our present world is still in a fallen state and subject to that “fallenness.” However, as I have also expressed in other blog posts, I believe that we are in a state of redemption and being redeemed… meaning there is still yet to come a whole and ultimate redemption, but we are still permitted and invited into participation of redemption-reconciliation-restoration through the work of Jesus Christ today… now.
What about distractions and being “bewitched” though?
Ok. So, (1) we are permitted to live in reconciled relationship with God, (2) we are able to take control of oppressive thoughts and bring them into submission to the Lordship of Christ, (3) we are capable of living in peace, joy, and godly love, and (4) we are given the choice to follow the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit of God Almighty who indwells the heart, mind, and soul of the transformed believer. We believe, according to Jesus, the kingdom of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of God is here today and still yet to come, but we are capable of experiencing the fruit of the ultimate kingdom today… on this side of eternity. Why do we still choose to pursue distractions and allow ourselves to become “bewitched?”
Speaking out loud from my own experience and observation, I think the problem of our “bewitching” (the distractions of life that remove our focus and sight from God) is twofold. The first is our failure to truly accept the forgiveness and freedom of His grace to us. I think this stems from a continued lack of trust in the God we profess to trust. This problem goes back to the first sin of man (Adam) and we continue to suffer from it. In most cases with man and sin, we can find that pride and trust intermix to overthrow God as the Sovereign in our lives. Ultimately, since we do not trust God, we seek to find bastions of our present reality to cement our trust and place our faith (work-career, social status, participation or non-participation in certain activities, affiliations with groups and organizations, and etc) …and this, removes our focus and relationship with God to something else which ultimately deceives and fails us.
The second problem is systemic to our Greek influenced Western world. Our general approach to the essence of life is dualistic and also suffers from various forms of Gnosticism (follow the links to learn more on those terms). In very simple language, we separate our relationship and compartmentalize most facets of worshiping God and following the ways of Jesus Christ in our lives. We toss around terms like “spiritual life” and “secular world” as if this is the normal way of viewing our relationship with God… the inner life and the outer life. We have been bewitched by thinking this way. The Hebrew mind (and the teaching God gives to us) does not separate the essence of man or the life he lives. We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” There is so much more that can be said about this, but I’ll save that for another time.
A recent reading from a piece from Joan Chittister expressed much more eloquently than I could, a clear image of this duality. She writes as follows:
The private preserves of the spiritual life are far from dead, however. It is so much easier to go to daily Mass and feel good about it than it is to serve soup at a soup kitchen. It is so much more comfortable to say bedtime prayers than it is to speak peace in a warring world. It is so much more satisfying to contribute to the building of a new church than it is to advocate welfare legislation. It is so much more heroic to fast than it is to be patient with a noisy neighbor. It is so much easier to give the handshake of peace in church than it is to speak gently in the family. And yet one without the other is surely fraud if life with God in community is truly of the essence of real spiritual growth.
The messages of the Prologue (The Rule of Benedict) are clear: Life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half lived. Holiness is in the Now but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: what is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not. It may be the neighborhood we live in rather than the neighborhood we want that will really make human beings out of us. It may be the job we have rather than the position we are selling our souls to get that will finally liberate us from ourselves. It may be what we do rather than the prayers we pray that will finally be the measure of our sanctity.
God is calling us to more than the material level of life and God is waiting to bring us to it. All we have to do is to live well with others and live totally in God. All we have to do is to learn to listen to the voice of God in life. And we have to do it heart, soul, and body. The spiritual life demands all of us. ~~Joan Chittister; The Rule of Benedict – Insights For the Ages [pp.31-32]
Why are we so easily bewitched? Why are we so quick to follow a way that is not The Way?
I caught glimpse of another parallel this weekend. Paul writes with direct reference in his letter to the Galatians concerning the old covenants (Abrahamic and Mosaic) and the new covenant of Jesus Christ. This past weekend I was in a worship gathering and heard a teaching from Hebrews 12:18-29. In this letter the writer recalls the first meeting of the Israelites with God at Sinai following the exodus from Egypt. I don’t recall the entire point of the teaching, but my mind was drawn to the similarities I noticed from my own study and reflection on this Galatians letter and this text from Hebrews. The writer is sharing his words in a very forthright manner or so it seems. There appears to be an urgency in his words for his readers to understand what he is saying… it’s as if they too have lost their way. Sinai still exists today for so many Christians who decide that living in the shadow of fear, the unknown, and an angry, unpredictable god (lower case intended) is better than living in wholly continuous fellowship with the God of Zion. The problem, in my opinion, is that many people consider “living in Zion” to be more work and more costly in personal sacrifice than the cost of living in the shadow of Sinai. Truthfully, it is…more costly to live in Zion. Zion cost Christ his life, the cost for us is nothing less than the same. The cost of Sinai is occasional sacrifice, but Sinai brings with it the covenant reward of death. The consequence of choosing Sinai over Zion is eternally catastrophic…and the ripples of that forward-reaching catastrophe reverberate with every tick of the second hand during our present-world existence. We follow our own truth and our improperly lit paths, because we have rejected the illuminated path of whole-hearted surrender that is the price of the Christ Journey.
Can we live in harmony with God; experiencing the sweetness of His Presence in every moment regardless of circumstance? The Scriptures tell us yes. If we disagree, the logical conclusion is that Scripture is a lie or we are a lie. If we follow Scripture according to our own interpretation and selection, we do not follow the God who has chosen to speak to us through His Scripture. The writer of Hebrews emphatically reminds us; “Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking.” (Hebrews 12:25)
How is God speaking to you? What is He saying…? What is your answer? Are you tired of being deceived?