Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’
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.
Sharing a couple pages from my journal after reading the selections from the Daily Office Year Two (Book of Common Prayer). I started the book of the Prophet Joel and continue reading from the Gospel of Luke. My reflections follow:
“Cleansing the Temple”
A terrible thing has happened… the people of God have failed to live in right relationship with him. We know this because Joel calls the people to repentance; “Turn back to God…” (see Joel 2:12-14). What I read that is most tragic to me is the curse and devastation is so massive and far-reaching that it completely prevents the people from worshiping God in the way they have previously known and the way worship has been prescribed for centuries. There was a certain protocol for worship; there were certain sacrificial offerings for the remittance of sin requiring grain, oil, wine, and specific animals. Because of the devastation that had befallen the people, this form of worship and sin offering was not an option.
8 Weep like a bride dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband. 9 For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD… 10 The fields are ruined, the land is stripped bare. The grain is destroyed, the grapes have shriveled, and the olive oil is gone. 13 …For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. (Joel 1:8-10, 13)
I am familiar with the Book of Joel, so I know the people are called to repent and turn back to God…and the LORD makes provision to do this despite the people’s inability to follow Temple protocol. The heart-breaking observation here is the realization of how disorienting and disheartening this loss of identity…this stripping away of self must be to the Hebrew people. Not only are their lives disrupted to the point of famine and ruin, but the thing they “know” to do (go to the Temple and offer sacrifices in a show of repentance), they cannot do.
I wonder if this is an example of and call to “die to self?” Is this God helping his people to strip away and remove a false identity? I think it is possible.
The people of God had relied upon their Temple worship as a means of supporting their relationship with God for generations. It seems the relationship that came with sharing the Dwelling Place of God had been taken for granted and was being used as a means to an end. When the people were backed into a corner or they felt “God was angry,” the thing to do was find a priest, offer sacrifices, appease the “angry god,” and move on. It is true that God had been the originator of the rules for Temple worship, but it was the people who had subverted what God had intended for good. In the process of subversion, the people had lost the thing that set them apart from the surrounding nations; they had lost their relationship with God.
I wonder if this might be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
…For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Exclaims a man who is listening to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 14:15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray; “Lord give us this day our daily bread…” It seems to me, that one of God’s greatest delights is the communion of fellowship. The unity and fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is (I think) the greatest example of this perfect unity and communion, but God also reveals His passion for relationship and desire for communion with humanity in number of ways. The Bible teaches us about the joy God derives from walking with man as His friend (think Enoch, Abraham, and Moses as a few examples). We are taught about God “dwelling” in the tents of men (Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness). God enjoying sharing meals (with Abraham, providing manna for the Israelites for 40 years, Jesus’ delight in sharing food and wine…). Clearly, ours is a God of relationship, One who enjoys creating memories, traditions, a living history and shared heritage—feasts, festivals, dancing and singing with His cherished Creation. There really seems nothing that gives God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit greater joy than to “hang out” with His children… and it seems He also likes to provide “fresh bread” for the most of these gatherings.
“Give us this day our daily bread, we pray”
In the reading of Luke 14:15-24, I see a tragic parallel to our contemporary world. I hear a man exclaim how great it is to “eat and fellowship with God.” This doesn’t seem too far removed from conversations and the words of Christians in our world today. We might find ourselves in a Christian gathering or a church potluck and proclaim how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God, eating and sharing our blessings together, but Jesus offers a raw look into what is all-too-often our real world.
Jesus tells the people at his table about a man (God) who has prepared an elaborate banquet—a great feast—for which he has sent out many invitations. When the time draws near for the date of the banquet, many RSVPs are returned with excuses and reasons for people unable to attend; “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20).
This parable is some two-thousand years old, but it seems that not much has changed. When I have the opportunity to spend devoted time with God, how often have sent him my RSVP with words like, “I’d love to go to church or read my Bible, but I have to work; I have chores at home; it’s my only day off; I have family obligations…”?
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
God has provided us with a banquet of fellowship fit for a king and unrivaled by anything imagined in the history of humankind. We have unparalleled access to God through the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and His written Word to us. How can we justify not taking the time or making the time to fellowship with the Creator of All Things?
I think an even greater tragedy is how easy it becomes for us to take for granted this access to God and the “daily bread” He has prepared for us. As the people in the time of Joel took for granted their access to, and relationship with, God, He took that access away from them.
“…For there is no grain or wine to worship in the Temple of God.” Joel 1:13
In Jesus’ parable, so it happens also. If we fail to enter his fellowship… our fellowship, our access to the banquet and Bread of God may result with us being denied entry.
“For none of these I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Luke 14:24
May we never take for granted the gift of daily bread from our Heavenly Father. Blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Seasons. Cycles. Ups, downs, and plateaus. Times of plenty and times that are lean. Times of good and times that are not-so-good. This is life. Sometimes we don’t notice it as such because we are so involved in the race of life itself …it can be difficult to notice the cycles, but they are always there.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:12-13 NIV
While seemingly written to address life in general, I think these words of Paul might be equally applied to the seasons of life and the seasons of the soul. I am hopeful that I find, one day, that same place of quiet, peaceful, comfort, and assurance.
I wrote a few days ago about the invisible God. Some of the thoughts I was having then were sparked by the same things going on in my soul even now. As I said then, I will say now; the condition of my soul is good. I have this assurance and peace that is faithful and solid, but seasons are still what they are and they are uniquely different, one from the other.
I don’t think I would classify my current season as a season of “dry” or “dark.” I know there have been seasons where my journey with Jesus has been nothing short of electrifying and there have been seasons that have been varying degrees less than electrifying, but still very much alive and active. I’m speaking in terms of the “felt presence of God” or other tactile senses…”feelings.” This, my present season, is not one of those times.
Although the reading of my spiritual landscape seems less busy and more quiet, it isn’t so in terms of God’s nearness to me. He manifests Himself in countless ways throughout my day and week. It’s humorous to me that just this week a friend from my small group emailed me a video lecture of a man who was speaking about the very nature of this spiritual season I might be experiencing. Serendipity? Coincidence? Providence? I had to chuckle as I was watching and listening to it.
It seems as though I might be complaining about the state of my soul, but I’m not… well, not entirely anyway. I feel at peace, but I feel a bit restless too and I think this is the nature of my complaint, if there is one. I’m troubled by my restlessness. I have God…and I think, God has me. What else is there? I am aware that not a moment of my life escapes me that God is not with me. The presence of God is within me; guiding, teaching, comforting, protecting, nurturing, restoring, healing, and so much more. Why, then, do I feel restless? God is enough! Isn’t he?
I “stumbled” over some prayerfully encouraging words from Teresa of Avila earlier this week that have comforted me. I was also led to read from Psalm 149, amongst others, which led me to some other words and thoughts that have been my prayer this week.
Teresa of Avila writes; “Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you; the one who clings to God, will lack nothing… God alone is enough.” I have been letting these words play again and again through my mind and heart, letting them become the prayer of my breath since reading them earlier this week.
Another prayer I wrote in my journal a couple days ago continues to be a life-giving reminder to me.
I forget; the LORD takes delight in people… I forget; the LORD takes delight in me.
God is with me; but more, God is within me. I dwell for a moment on God’s life-giving presence in my body, in my mind, in my heart, as I write these words even now. I will close out the noise, I will rise above the noise—the noise that so quickly intercepts and separates, the noise that isolates. I need to always and only listen to God, who is always with and within me.
I remind myself that the LORD takes delight in his people… I remind myself the LORD delights in me.
I remind myself that I am in the presence of the LORD always. I will take refuge in His loving heart. He is my strength. He is my Comforter. He alone is always enough.
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O LORD, make haste to help me! Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You. I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my Deliverer; O LORD, do not delay! -Psalm 70:1, 4-5
Today, more than some others, I appreciate the tone and desperation of this psalm. Every other line ends with exclamation. The psalmist prays with intensity and urgency… NOW, is not soon enough for the deliverance of God to come for him. Only God is enough. Maranatha… even so, come Lord Jesus, come.
Jesus for President? Probably not…
Political Post Warning…
I’m feeling frisky, so I thought I’d share some musings on this day, our presidential election, in our United States of America. Since I am unashamedly a follower of Messiah Jesus, I thought I’d post a few thoughts from a Christian perspective.
I’ve seen quite a few thoughts around the web that invoke the idea of “vote for Jesus” or “Jesus for president” and other similar inferences like making the most “informed Christian” vote (that is assuming your or my vote would be most closely aligned with who Jesus would vote for. And this assumes He would vote at all—but that is another conversation).
First, let me say that I voted and I believe in the process, even as flawed as it might be; I’m glad I get to vote on the leadership in this nation.
Now, onto the idea of Jesus for president…
Really? I wonder how long Jesus would last if he were really voted in. Let’s hypothetically assume the United States is a Christian nation, and let’s take it one step further and assume that every United States citizen professes themselves aligned with Christianity as their faith affiliation.
First, it is my opinion that Jesus would not be voted in at all if the things he taught and the things he did were reported through the media as are most other presidential candidates.
If good communication skills are a prerequisite and being able to clearly dictate a position are necessary to win over voters, I don’t think Jesus would have scored very high even though we call him a great orator. He said that he chose to deliberately speak in parables so some people would hear him clearly and others would not (see Luke 8).
According to the gospels, Jesus doesn’t seem to be very keen on capitalism, free market systems, amassing fortunes, or retirement plans. In fact, he once told a story about a man who had raised a bumper crop of wheat. The man figured he’d done well and could retire on his efforts and earnings only to be called a “fool” and have his life taken by God that very night (Luke 12:13-21). Additionally, the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the gospels seem to favor Socialism over the Free Market system that fuels most of the American Dream.
Many people like to believe that Jesus is “fair” and universal in his approach toward helping humanity, but the gospels teach differently about this perception as well. Jesus was often in the midst of great crowds, but we’re only told of two accounts where he fed the masses. I’m reasonably sure there were more than three people that he was aware of who died in the places he traveled, but we’re only told of three that he raised from the dead. In the early pages of Mark’s Gospel we read that Jesus healed all that were brought to him in one day, yet on the morning of the next day, he left people who wanted and needed healing with their disease and sickness telling his disciples he had to go to the next city… “this is not the reason I have come” (Mark 1:29-39). Then there was the scene at the pool of Bethseda; where John recounts there were “many invalids there,” yet Jesus chose to heal only one… (John 5:1-13) and this does not even take into account that Jesus broke the law of the land to heal this man by healing him on the Sabbath.
Certainly my words sound somewhat facetious; it is a literary tool to help us consider our own motives and political positions, but in reality Jesus was a radical that not too many people would be happy with as a president. What if he came to you and demanded you sell all your possessions to give to the poor? What if he advised you the only way you could be part of his country/kingdom was to give up all your status and become a servant to all? What if he announced the only way you could keep your life was to sacrifice it for someone who despised you? I think most people would say; “Jesus, you’re out of your flipping mind…” kinda the same way people thought when he told them his body and blood were real food and drink (John 6:22-59).
He tells us if someone asks for our tunic, give it to them and your shirt too. He says if someone asks you to carry their load a mile, carry it two. If someone cracks you on the jaw, turn your cheek and offer it to them so your bruising will be symmetrical. People say Jesus never wants anyone to be a doormat for others, but this is exactly what he made of himself….and still does today. He is the gate and the doormat to the kingdom of God and He invites us to follow Him.
I think it sounds nice and spiritually self-righteous to say “Jesus for President!” I don’t think it is very heartfelt or realistic, unless of course it is some other Jesus that we are talking about that isn’t the Jesus mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.
Oh, and don’t think for a minute, that I’m not talking about myself here too. I’m as guilty as the next person who wants their proverbial “cake and to eat it too.” I want to follow the Jesus in the Scriptures, and I call myself trying, but I also see the enormous chasm between his teachings and my reality. If Jesus were on the ballot, I’m not sure I would be prepared to vote for him…especially after reading his campaign promises in the gospels.
Jesus for president? Let me think on that awhile.
By: Miroslav Volf
Publisher: Brazos Press ISBN: 9781587432989
I’ve been meaning to review this book for quite some time now, but it took longer to read it than I thought it would. At just over one hundred fifty pages (not counting the notes section), it is not that long of a read. The point of it taking me longer to read than anticipated was my feeling “over my head” quite often. There are over two-hundred references noted in the book and most of them unknown or unread by me. It was necessary for me to put the book down on more than a few occasions to reflect and research on what I had read. I must say it was worth my time and worth every minute of my effort. I appreciate the challenge the book was for me to read and I appreciate the challenge to me personally with the call to exercise and integrate my faith in ways and in places I might not have been so eager to enter previous to reading Volf’s thesis in A Public Faith.
Volf relates the sum of the premise for this volume in his introduction stating; “My contention in this book is that there is no single way in which Christian faith relates and ought to relate to culture as a whole. The relation between faith and culture is too complex for that. Faith stands in opposition to some elements of culture and is detached from others. In some aspects faith is identical with elements of culture, and it seeks to transform in diverse ways yet many more. Moreover, faith’s stance toward culture changes over time as culture changes. How, then, is the stance of faith toward culture defined? It is—or it ought to be—defined by the center of the faith itself, by its relation to Christ as the divine Word incarnate in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is with this contention that Volf seeks to explore three questions he poses within the pages of A Public Faith. The questions follow:
- In what ways does the Christian faith malfunction in the contemporary world, and how should we counter these malfunctions (chapter1-3)?
- What should be the main concern of Christ’s followers when it comes to living well in the world today (chapter 4)?
- How should Christ’s followers go about realizing their vision of living well in today’s world in relation to other faiths and together with diverse people with whom they live under the roof of a single state (chapters 5-7)?
Personally, I found chapter one, Malfunctions of Faith, fascinating. Volf frames this piece in a framework he calls “ascent and return” malfunctions and bases the discussion on the prophetic illustrations of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. To quote Volf’s definition of these points, he describes ascent malfunctions as “the result from breakdowns in the prophet’s encounter with the divine and reception of the message.” He goes on to say, “Every ascent malfunction is at the same time a return malfunction.” If my paraphrase is correct, the return malfunction further compromises the message or word of God by transforming it in their own name or in the name of some alien god… or god of their own making. This chapter is full of brilliant thinking I had previously been unexposed to; for instance, he describes the concept of idolatric substitution as one of the ascent malfunctions using the golden calf story from the Exodus narrative. It is the introduction to some of these (for me) new concepts using stories I understand or am familiar with that was helpful in preparing me for the next chapters of the book. I will say again, this first chapter was fascinating to me.
Chapter two continue with greater detail and explanation describing practical malfunctions of faith. Specifically, chapter two addresses the malfunction of idleness as it regards faith. Volf shares three main reasons for faith’s idling: (1) for some people, the faith they embrace demands too much, so they pick and choose, as in a cafeteria, filling up their tray with sweets but leaving aside the broccoli and fish. (2) Believers find themselves constrained by large and small systems in which they live and work; to thrive, or even to survive, they feel that they must obey the logic of those systems, not the demands of faith they embrace. (3) Concerning the faith itself, the faith either is not applied to new circumstances or does not seem relevant to contemporary issues. Volf goes on to provide counters to idleness with suggestions on how we might understand and practice an active faith through blessing, deliverance, guidance, and meaning.
I must admit I got a little bit bogged down in chapters three and four having to stop several times, put the book down, and really think through what I was reading. I was relieved when Volf neared the end of chapter four with this summary recap of part one of the book:
Most malfunctions of faith are rooted in a failure to love the God of love or a failure to love the neighbor. Ascent malfunctions happen when we don’t love God as we should. We either love our interests, purposes, and projects, and then employ language about God to realize them (we may call this “functional reduction”), or we love the wrong God (we may call this “idolatric substitution”). Return malfunctions happen when we love neither our neighbor nor ourselves properly—when faith either merely energizes or heals us but does not shape our lives so that we live them to our own and our neighbors’ benefit, or when we impose our faith on our neighbors irrespective of their wishes.
The challenge facing Christians is ultimately very simple: love God and neighbor rightly so that we may both avoid malfunctions of faith and relate God positively to human flourishing. And yet, the challenge is also complex and difficult… (p.73)
Amen. Complex and difficult indeed.
Chapters five and six are two more extraordinary discourses on very practical applications of living the Christian faith in a pluralistic society. Chapter five, Identity and Difference, addresses the identity of the Christian within the context of a society or community. The context being realized as having an identity that is different from the mainstream of the community…remaining unique, being seen as different, but not being separate… able to contribute without being completely absorbed: This is my paraphrase. Volf summarizes his thoughts as follows; “To become a Christian means to divert without leaving. To live as a Christian means to keep inserting a difference into a given culture without ever stepping outside that culture to do so.”
Chapter six is titled Sharing Wisdom and also ranks as one of my favorite chapters of the book. Volf’s ideas about sharing wisdom was affirming and convicting at the same time for me. The past few years has taught me much in the vein of what is shared in this chapter. I continue to be stretched in my faith and my learning to be Christ-like with teaching like I have found in this chapter. I think anyone reading this book will be stretched similarly if they can maintain an openness to hear what is shared in it.
I think this is an important book; timely in nature, sobering and challenging in its message, and hopeful with its suggestions for correction. I pray it falls into right hands, leaders who are humble, intelligent, vocal, and confident about what God is doing in the world. I’ll close my review with a final quote from Volf on “sharing wisdom.”
Sharing religious wisdom makes sense only if that wisdom is allowed to counter the multiple manifestations of self-absorption by givers and receivers alike and to connect them with what ultimately matters—God, whom we should love with all our being, and neighbors, whom we should love as ourselves. (p.117)
A great book; it may not appeal to a broad demographic, but for those who are willing to endure the challenges it presents, there is “much gold to be mined.”
A few recommended reviews:
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?
Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants
By Dennis Okholm — Brazos Press — ISBN: 9781587431852
Be warned; this is not one of my typical or normal book reviews. Feel free to skip the first two or three paragraphs if you desire to get to the meat of what concerns the book.
My spiritual formation journey began in earnest around five years ago. It was around that time that I was really introduced to the ancient paths and disciplines that assist us in the formation and transformation of our souls. My introduction began with some contemporary writings and teachers who “pointed” back to the early church fathers (first through third centuries) and moved forward from there. As my learning has progressed, certain points and common markers continue to rise to the top of my collective discipleship experience. One of the more prominent commonalties is monastic or communal living. There are so many misconceptions and errant stereotypes surrounding those words (monastic and communal), that I don’t want to get mired down in that discussion. Suffice it to say, you might be well served to do some investigation and self-education rather than trust the tired and mistaken beliefs. More particular and to the point of this review, one aspect of monastic living has surfaced repeatedly during the past five years of my journey; that is Benedictine Spirituality.
Almost a year and a half ago I attended the 2009 Renovare’ International Conference (see the archive for the posts) in San Antonio, TX. While at that conference I was able to participate in a break out session teaching us how to create a personal rule of life. This was based in large part on the Rule of St. Benedict. As I mentioned earlier, I had been exposed to Benedict of Nursia, but only in part. Creating my personal rule sparked more curiosity about Benedict. The creation of my rule included an exercise in learning more about the liturgical calendar, so I spent the next few months learning and preparing for Advent and then beyond for the coming Church year. Advent moved into Lent and Lent moved to Pentecost ultimately landing me into the Ordinary time of the Liturgical Year. By the time I landed, I was more curious than ever about monastic community and the disciplines thereof than I had been and decided to shift my study into that niche.
In the month of May of this year (2010) I entered into an immersion of Benedictine Spirituality. I ordered a host of books (some listed here in a past review) on the subject and a number of interactive devotional-discipline works to help me integrate The Rule into my own lifestyle. The more I read, studied, and incorporated… the more intrigued and drawn to this culture of community and Christ-like transformative instruction I became. During the last five months I’ve tried to explore and share my enthusiasm with others who are close to me and those peers within my religious tradition. Most often the responses are mixed with curiosity, confusion, misconceptions, rejection, questions, doubts, skepticism, dismissal, and a little honest interest. Mostly, this has been discouraging and disappointing to me, although it has not deterred my passion or pursuit in my learning and practice. It was my disappointment in sharing my discoveries with my peers that led me to Dennis Okholm’s book, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants.
“As a knowledgeable pastor and theologian, Dennis Okholm… offers a fresh perspective on what attracts Protestants to monasteries… This memoir, gentle in tone and often humorous, is nonetheless full of challenges to Protestant comfort zones.”–Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk (from the foreword)
Aside from the title of the book, what caught my attention was the background of the author. A little research into the summary of the book and author’s profile revealed to me that Okholm’s background had roots in Baptist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian traditions. My background, while not as educated as Okholm, is similar in experience of multiple Protestant traditions (Baptist, Pentecostal, and Methodism); I was hooked.
I am recommending this book in the highest order to my friends and anyone else that is searching for whole life transformation into the image and person of Christ… That is, what and who we are called to be; Imago Dei. My earliest memories in the church span over forty years and I have experienced much. In almost every season and chapter of my Christian journey I have fallen short of or lacked fulfillment in my growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Perhaps I am in the minority with my experience, but statistics, surveys, and an open-eyed real-world view of the contemporary Protestant church may speak otherwise… maybe I’m not in the minority with my experience. I believe a change in the way we approach discipleship as a tradition might be in order if not on the horizon. Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought along similar lines according to this quote:
“…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This, I think, is at the heart of Monk Habits for Everyday People and Dr. Okholm begins to crunch away at the heart of the matter as early as chapter two with “Why Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants?”. The heart of Benedictine Spirituality is covered in the following seven chapters with brief overviews and conceptual explanations of The Rule for Listening, Poverty, Obedience, Humility, Hospitality, Stability, Balance. Don’t be fooled by my description of “brief overview” and assume that to mean shallow or cursory in attention to the subject. While this is a small book by comparison to some I have read on the subject, it is by no means shallow. There are deeply profound and thought-provoking words in this short work.
I have noticed in a growing number of people a hunger for something more authentic in their faith. I believe that many people do desire to be wholly transformed into the image of Christ. Many of these people have turned away from the church in their search… and this is sad. Much of our ill-informed Protestant family has little or no knowledge of the ancient paths of spiritual formation. Monk Habits serves as a wonderful gateway to the disciplines that help us to form our lives around the paths taught by Jesus.
The book includes a wonderful afterword thought which helps to shed some light on the Protestant opposition to monasticism. There is also a great suggested reading list included that completes the book.
My rating = 4 of 5 stars
A Poem by John L’Heureux:
The Trouble with Epiphanies
Christ came into my room and stood there
And I was bored to death.
I had work to do.
I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been crippled or something
-I do well with cripples-
but he just stood there, all face,
and with that damned guitar.
I didn’t ask him to sit down;
He’d have stayed all day.
Let’s be honest. You can be crucified just so often –
Then you’ve had it.
I mean you’re useless; no good to God,
Let alone to anybody else.
So I said to him after a while,
Well, what’s up? What do you want?
And he laughed, stupid,
Said he was just passing by
And thought he’d say hello.
Great, I said. Hello
So he left.
And I was so mad
I couldn’t even listen to the radio. I went
And got some coffee.
The trouble with Christ is
He always comes at the wrong time.
All guests who present themsleves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (RB 53.1, quoting Matthew 25:35).
I posted a short video of Francis Chan yesterday speaking from Catalyst Conference a few weeks ago in Atlanta, Ga. I gotta say I love the heart of Francis Chan, maybe because mine beats to a similar cadence. I am certainly an “all in or nothing at all” type of believer. Of course, I think this is the way to believe from what I’ve read in the Bible…although there are some who would argue rather vehemently that point, but I digress.
So, I’ve been considering the video I posted yesterday and questioning what it means to live “normally” according to the actions and words of the first century church. As Francis pondered in the video, are our ways, words, and actions “weird” by the standards that are depicted in Scripture? Francis gave some great examples, so I won’t go into that detail here, but refer you to the video if you need context…but really, are we living in accordance with the expectations of God for His world or do we do everything in our power to excuse ourselves from wholeheartedly following His lead? Do I excuse myself from Acts of obedience because of culture or my own desires for comfort and/or fear of the unknown?
I’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and being stirred by the commentary from Oswald Chambers’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Additionally, I’ve been digging pretty deep into Scripture in general with supporting testimony from the Ancient Church Fathers’ commentaries spanning the past two millennia. I believe Jesus meant what He said in his teaching. I think that interpreting the teaching of the disciples and ancient church fathers with a literal bent opposed to cultural nuance would be (or is), our better bet. The way we live as Christians today is a far cry from what is depicted in the Bible (in my opinion). I don’t want anything to do with modernity or post-modernity’s answer to the gospel. I don’t want to live looking over my shoulder asking questions about “what if this?” or “what if that?” I want to live my life “fully in” with nothing held back from Jesus, all for the glory of His Marvelous Good News.
In my reading this morning, one of the passages I have been reading and reflecting upon is 1 Corinthians 16:10-24. In it Paul gives instructions and encouragement for/from several of the church leaders. What caught my attention were a couple of points he makes in the midst of these specific “people” instructions. He writes:
Gulp. “If anyone does not love the Lord, that person is cursed.” Pretty strong words if you ask me… Yeah, well… I’m not one waiting in line to be “cursed.” So, I think it stands to reason that understanding what it means to “love the Lord” would be rather important to me; that is, provided that I don’t want to be cursed. I get the feeling that Paul isn’t talking about being slandered or getting “sweared” at with this “cursing” either.
The first line I recall about “love” and “Lord” is that I should “love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Mark 12:29-30). For me, all is all and means all; nothing held back… everything is God’s. This means all my hopes, dreams, material possessions, finances, spouse, children, everything. Everything. So, if we can stomach this manner of thinking, let’s consider some other passages of Scripture. As I stated earlier, the Sermon on the Mount is a great starting place. This is what Jesus describes as the way people look, act, and speak who belong to (and in) the Kingdom of God. Let me encourage your reading some other passages of Scripture to stimulate your own heart examination… and, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- Matthew 10:34-39
- John 14:15; 23-34
- John 13:13-17
- James 1:22
- 1 John 2:15-17
- Luke 16:13
- Matthew 12:30
- Matthew 7:21
Finally, a brief reminder of the question(s) posed in this posting. (1) What is weird or normal to the Christian life? (2) What does it really mean to love the Lord; is it more than a verbal confession? I’m sure we’d say yes to the last qualifying question, but do we really live like we mean that?
Meditation & Reflection
Just a few things that the Spirit has used to grab my attention over the past few days… Still considering the following:
“The reason for our loving God is God; and measure of that love there should be none… The soul that loves God seeks for God and wants no other prize.” –Bernard of Clairvaux
Khesed (chesed; Hebrew); strong, loyal, unfailing, faithful love; goodness. The love that is described as coming from our Almighty GOD.
“Nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless…” (1 Cor. 15:58)
1 Corinthians 15:58-59 “He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
Most merciful and loving God, your blessed Son suffered and died for us. Grant us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time, to overcome all that seeks to overwhelm us, and to be confident of the glory that shall be revealed in us. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
“In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thundercloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.” (Psalm 81)
“Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls…” –Jesus (Matt. 11:29)