Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’
Advent 3nd Sunday: Year C [20DEC12] Theme for week 3—Joy & Peace
The LORD, the Mighty One is God, and he has spoken; he has summoned all humanity from where the sun rises to where the sun sets. Our God approaches and he is not silent. Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God. Repent, all of you who forget me… Giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God. (Psalm 50:1, 3, 14, 22-23)
Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. He (Jesus) is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire. (Matt. 3:8, 12)
Today I am thinking about peace and what it really means to me. In a world full of conflict, injustice, oppression, greed, competitiveness, jealousy, hatred, war, and contempt…it seems peace might be something very important to us despite that the majority of this population appears to not hold peace with very high regard. Jesus said; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” He also said to his disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.“
I think the starting point for understanding peace is the definition Jesus probably was working with.
The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is derived from a root denoting wholeness or completeness, and its frame of reference throughout Jewish literature is bound up with the notion of shelemut, perfection. Its significance is thus not limited to the political domain‑-to the absence of war and enmity‑-or to the social-‑to the absence of quarrel and strife. It ranges over several spheres and can refer in different contexts to bounteous physical conditions, to a moral value, and, ultimately, to a cosmic principle and divine attribute. In the Bible, the word shalom is most commonly used to refer to a state of affairs, one of well‑being, tranquility, prosperity, and security, circumstances unblemished by any sort of defect. Shalom is a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace. (From Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, edited by Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, Twayne Publishers)
I feel as though I live with an abiding and deep peace within me. I believe I have received the “Peace of Christ” that Jesus spoke of in John 14, but I wonder how this peace radiates from me and affects people and circumstances around me. This, I think, is the most crucial question and will ultimately determine if I am a peacemaker. It is something I want to continue to meditate on and examine in my life.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
O Clavis David (Is. 9:6; 22:22): “O key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
O Loving heavenly Father, whose blessed Son did suffer for the whole world, grant that we may know you better, love you more, and serve you with a more perfect will.
Lord, I admit that I often feel inadequate, in spite of your promises. Often I hold back. Help me to take the risks of faith, to be aware of your affirming presence in my life. Now, in Advent, sharpen my spirit and my senses, and enable me to pay attention to the moments of God-radiance when you ask me to look, to listen, and to be a peacemaker.
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.
Advent 2nd Sunday: Year C [12DEC12] Theme for week 2—Preparation & Love
“I lie in the dust; revive me by your word. Help me understand the meaning of your commandments and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds. Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions. I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your regulations. I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.” -Psalm 119:25-32
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory.”-Isaiah 6:3
“God will use (this) persecution to show his justice and make you worthy of his kingdom, for which you are suffering. Asking our God to enable you, may he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.” -2 Thess. 1:4, 11
I continue to ponder the themes of preparation and love today. Meditating on various readings and the words of several prayers in my heart have helped to breathe new life and fan the flames of hope’s fire in my heart. I have been taking stock of the many glorious blessings of God in my life and I am beside myself with awe and wonder at not only what I have been given, but also what He continues to pour out in abundance on me and my house. The richness of God’s love is truly beyond compare or comprehension.
I do not know what the future holds, but I am thankful that God has set my feet on his path, giving me guidelines and structure for my life. He continues to teach me about the mystery of his love and has shown me through my own experience how loving someone sacrificially and fully can return back to you in ways impossible to measure. I have learned about this mysterious love multiplying equation in the context of loving my wife. Never would I have imagined that I could love a person so much and have our love feel so new and so fresh. Twenty-five years feels like a day and a lifetime at once. The more I get to know my soul mate the more I feel as though I am only beginning to know her, but still I feel as though we share the same thoughts and emotions. It is a mystery I find difficult to explain, but I give praise to God for sharing the experience with me. I have no way of knowing, but perhaps this is a tiny peek into what it means to share oneness like Jesus meant to explain to us in his prayer from John 17. Dietrich Bonhoeffer shares thoughts on this mystery of love with the following words:
The mystery of other people is not reduced by getting to know more and more about them. Rather, in their closeness they become more and more mysterious. And the final depth of all mystery is when two people come so close to each other that they love each other. Nowhere in the world does one feel the might of the mysterious and its wonder as strongly as here. When two people know everything about each other, the mystery of the love between them becomes infinitely great. And only in this love do they understand each other, know everything about each other, know each other completely. And yet, the more they love each other and know about each other in love, the more deeply they know he mystery of their love. Thus, knowledge about each other does not remove the mystery, but rather makes it more profound. The very fact that the other person is so near to me is the greatest mystery. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer; God in the Manger
I cannot speak for other couples or experiences, but I know that my relationship has not simply fallen from out of the sky. There was much work and sacrifice for the entirety of our relationship…and there continues to be.
We are agents of the Creative Spirit in this world. Real advance in the spiritual life, then, means accepting this vocation with all it involves. Not merely turning over the pages of an engineering magazine and enjoying the pictures, but putting on overalls and getting on with the job. The real spiritual life must be horizontal as well as vertical; spread more and more. It must be larger, richer, fuller, more generous in its interests than the interests of the natural life alone can ever be; must invade and transform all homely activities and practical things. For it means an offering of life to the Father of life, to Whom it belongs; a willingness—an eager willingness—to take our small place in the vast operations of His Spirit instead of trying to run a poky little business of our own. -Evelyn Underhill
This is preparing. This is waiting well. This is learning to live sacrificially. This type of living is a determined choice. I appreciate the words of the psalmist; “I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your regulations. I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.” I like that God has not just left us to our own devices, but has given us a model to follow. I don’t think it is a formula, but a way of the heart; when we determine to “lose our life” for the sake of entering God’s Kingdom, a new way of living, complete with new values and systems of reward becomes our world. It may be difficult to explain, but the experience is very real—more people than just me will testify to it.
Waiting. Hope. Preparing. Love. There is a lot of sweat equity and sometimes immense heartache wrapped in those words, but there is an eternal joy that sits on the horizon of hope for every heart that perseveres. Our encouragement is to engage the process—learn to live while we wait—this life is about preparing for our eternity with the God who walks with us, Emmanuel. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.
It is not simply a matter of waiting and rejoicing in what Advent promises us. It is about learning how to live while we wait. -Joan Chittister; The Liturgical Year
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. You are the Lord for whom we have waited; we are glad and rejoice in your salvation. You desire truth in my inward being; teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word. I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees. Let me understand the teaching or your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes. O LORD; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.
May the God of peace sanctify us entirely; and may our spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls us is faithful and he will do this. Amen.
Advent: Year C [04DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the LORD… Trample my courts no more—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean …cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. If you are willing to be obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. (Isaiah 1:10-20)
God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. You are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us. (1 Thess. 1:4, 10)
Happy are those who delight in the LORD and meditate on his word both day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither… –Psalm 1:1-3
It strikes me, as I read these words, the key to obedience and “leaves that never wither” is a hearty knowledge and intimate relationship with God. “Cease to do evil—learn to do good;” says the LORD. Then the psalmist writes meditate on God’s word day and night; those who do are like the “trees planted along the riverbank.”
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
I remember this past summer traveling to the arid regions of Eastern Washington State. The hills, valleys, and plains were brown and sparsely vegetated. We visited an area around the Columbia River, a town named Wanatchee, where there were acres and acres of orchards—apples, peaches, cherries, and more—all planted along the river and producing hundreds of thousands of bushels of wonderful fruit. The juxtaposition of all the green foliage against the backdrop of dry, brown, terrain was very vivid and still has a very strong imprint in my memory. I think about my relationship with Jesus as I think about those leaves that never wither and those orchards planted along the Columbia River in Wenatchee. I want to be like those trees. I want strong roots that reach deep into the water table. I want to meditate on God’s word day and night….learning what it means to do good and not simply follow religiosity for the sake of being a rule follower. I desire to dance with the Godhead in delight that never grows old, but is fresh every day…like the trees along the riverbank whose leaves never wither.
“We preach not one advent only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the former. For the former gave a view of his patience; but the latter brings with it the crown of a divine kingdom.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Today I think about how Advent waiting teaches me the discipline of patience, and I believe patience is as much a discipline of grace as it is a gift of love. Patience is a necessary component of love (1 Cor. 13 “Love is patient”) and must be cultivated in the life of every believer-follower if we are to truly bring forth the type of fruit that lasts, the type of fruit we were chosen for. Waiting teaches us patience and patience bears fruit. I think there is also a certain reciprocity in learning patience too. Waiting teaches me patience, but patience developed helps me to wait with confidence and an air of calm—capable of performing daily tasks and living with purpose even when I am still waiting, looking forward for what is to come. Waiting and patience… two sides of the same coin?
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
As I consider hope today, I consider whether a person can have hope without having patience as well. I do not believe it possible…I don’t think it is plausible for a person to have real (TRUE) hope without having at least a modicum of patience. Hope is seasoned by the grace of patience and learns not to be intemperate or anxious in the throes of waiting. A “patient hope” helps me in the seasons of cold, the dark, and dry to look forward to seasons of fruit-bearing and seasons of harvest. Hope helps me to hang on for days, weeks, and/or months of doubt, because hope is also rooted in patience, sustaining the wait no matter the length of its season.
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
You, O Lord, have promised to come and make all things new, to dwell among us as our God and embrace us as your people, to wipe every tear from our eyes, and remove from us all pain, so that we may live forever in peace and security. Renew in me, O Lord, the hope of the new day and renew in this new day the hope of a new heaven and a new earth where you will reign in light and we will live in peace.
Help me, O God, to learn patience as I rely on you for my daily bread; waiting with hope for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on this present earth as your will is done in heaven. O God, your seed has been planted in me—may it be fully formed, matured and bringing forth the fruit of Christ’s glorious image formed in me while I wait. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, come.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
Advent 1st Sunday: Year C [03DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul? -Joan Chittister; The Liturgical Year
For the next five days, I will be observing a theme of waiting and hope. I plan to reflect and list one item each day that shares how I “wait upon the Lord” and one way my relationship with Jesus provides me hope. Specifically, I plan to examine how my wait is active—changing and growing…evolving and maturing—affecting my faith. As a result of this active waiting (or inactive should that be the case), I want to better understand how this interaction with Jesus affects my hope. How does hope work in my life and what does tangible hope look like in my daily living.
Today I am meditating upon and grateful for the reality of waiting and how it teaches me to slow down and become aware of my surroundings…taking note of the many places where God is at work and making His presence known all around me.
Today I am feeling a surge in my hope because I am learning to wait attentively. When I wait attentively, I see the hand and purpose of God at work around me…in the lives of others, in creation, and in me. This infuses my hope with anticipation of the kingdom of God bursting forth even in this moment.
“Advent calls us into a state of active waiting: a state that recognizes and embraces the glimmers of God’s presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God’s historic yet ever present actions, that speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, that yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now.” -Paula Gooder; The Meaning is in the Waiting
Lord help me to be fully alive to your presence. Enfold me in your love. Let my heart become one with yours. Father God, help me to be sure I know what I wait for. Blessed Savior Jesus, help me to be sure I know what and in whom my hope is in. Mighty Holy Spirit, help me to know where I am going. O make me, Lord God, deeply aware of the task before me and the need for guidance along the way. Amen.
A Week (weak) of Reflections & Examinations—Jeff’s Journal
I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the writings in my journal from the past several days. As we approach this season of Advent, the season of expectant waiting, I notice in my writing the tension of a long period of waiting already. I am not sure if the analogy is an appropriate or “right” one, but it goes something like this. Many of my spiritual days over the past few years have been spent as if I draw in a deep breath, hold it until almost blacking out and then exhale with loud, “wooshing” sigh—feeling tired and almost spent—then deeply drawing in another big breath to hold…starting this exhausting process all over again. I think this sounds something worse than it actually is, but there is a certain “yes” and “not quite” that I experience on the way of my Christian journey that is difficult to explain. I “see and hear” these deep inhales and exhales in my writings…I’ll let them speak for me.
(17NOV12) To whom shall I go, O Lord? You alone have the words of life, and I have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Praise be to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory. Sometimes though, I admit, I get tired…I get tired of praying, I get tired of waiting, I get tired of looking. But I will keep on praying, watching, looking, and waiting because as Peter said to you, “I have nowhere else to go.” Even as you are God in flesh, Jesus, You know all the sufferings and loneliness that a man will face. You were driven into the desert wilderness, You were rejected by your people as well as your closest friends…and you were also given over to the cross to become an innocent—murdered for the sins of humanity—even my sins.
You are God… Teach me to count my days that I might gain a wise heart. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love, so I might rejoice and be glad all my days. (Ps. 90:2, 12, 14)
(18NOV12) “This is but the beginning of birth pangs.” -Jesus (Mark13:8)
(20NOV12) As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing the movements of my mind are all signs of God’s ongoing creation in me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of this presence of God within me and respond with these thoughts… I am the reflection of Your image, O God, as broken and fragile as I am, it is amazing that I still bear the image of the great God who created me. I ask for Your help and Your forgiveness for the many ways I “miss the mark” of Your image and thereby sin against You and Your image. I pray, O Lord, for more of Your presence and more of Your Spirit in my life—a reminder that You are always near—forever with and within me, faithful to complete the good work You have started in me. I pray that I might see all You have planned and foreordained for the people who follow You and proclaim You as their God. Amen.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
(21NOV12) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I will ask God’s help, to be free from my own preoccupations and pretensions; I will ask to be open to God in this time of prayer, to come to love and serve Him more. Help me, O Lord, to be ever more conscious of Your presence. Teach me to recognize Your presence in others. Fill my heart with gratitude for the times Your love has been shown to me through the actions and words of others and help me to be aware of the times it is You who works through me. I believe and trust in God the Father Almighty; I believe and trust in Jesus Christ His Son. I believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. I believe and trust in the Three in One.
I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? (Psalm 101:2)
And this is part of my heart’s cry… I think it is what drives me to the place of mourning my own “unworthiness” of poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3-4). I read the remaining words of the psalmist from Psalm 101 and he asks; “When will I attain the way of blamelessness?” Here follows his list of “ways to walk.” (1) with integrity of heart (2) no evil or wicked thing before his eyes (3) avoid the works of those who are not on-the-way (4) steer clear of perversity and evil (5) no slanderous talk (6) refrain from haughty and arrogant attitudes (7) no quarter given to any lies or deceit (8) seek to eradicate evil and evil doers. I like to tell myself that I am onboard with this list, but every time I take inventory and do a sweep of my heart, I find another pile of this junk. Ugh! Is there no end??? I will study the way that is blameless. When will I attain it?
My eyes fail from watching for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes… My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept. (Especially with me) Psalm 119:123-124, 136
From James (James 3:13-18) come additional words that can be helpful for cleaning crud from my heart. James says; “Show your good life with works done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not be boastful and false to the truth… Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I pray, O God, You to help me act on these areas you bring notice of in me. Help me to yield and be open to all the areas that need refining within me. Do Your work and help me to partner with You in the ways that are blameless and in some way… through the suffering You endured, attain the righteousness You impute to me. I pray Your help. Amen.
(23NOV12) “Hear my prayer, O LORD: let my cry come to You. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call. I do not sleep; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. (Psalm 102:1-2, 7).
Pray always—and do not lose heart—will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? …When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
James (James 5:7-8) continues his wise counsel to me; “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord, The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” I’m learning patience, with fits and starts, stumbles, crumbles, and some successes…I’m learning to wait. Perhaps the tension will always be with me; I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that in the tension and with the wait God is near and within me. It is with this knowledge and affirmation of His word that I will persevere. Where else can I go?
Promises – Promises
I’ve had Psalm 119:50 pinned with a post-it note to the screen of my laptop computer for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t wanted to take it down as I continue to receive “comfort” and fresh insight from it.
“This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.” Psalm 119:50 NRSV
What are the promises that give me comfort? Well, there are many, to be sure, but in particular, there are two specific promises that have become my anchor. There is one promise that I call the promise of eternity past and another I refer to as the promise of eternity future; eternal promises that give me life today…on this side of eternity, while we wait.
The First Promise
The first promise or what I refer to as a promise is the world as God originally created it. This is the world of Eden as depicted in the early chapters of Genesis (Genesis 1:26-31). This is the world before sin entered. Regardless of whether you accept these passages as literal or metaphorical, the intent of the story is clear; this is a world and humanity that is created in the image of God and in its present state is perfect and able to share complete fellowship with its Creator. I suppose the “state of something” is not technically a promise, but it occurs to me that to know this was God’s intent for His creation is to also accept this as a plan or destiny for all His people, “Be fruitful and multiply…fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28). The first promise is God’s intention of peace, perfection, and eternal fellowship with the Holy “Us” (Genesis 1:26).
The Second Promise
Promise number two is found in Revelation 21:1-22:7. Again, this is more a state of being than it is a contractual promise. In this account, we are taught that the fulfillment of all things has taken place and a new heaven and new earth have been ordered. “The home of God is now among His people; death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). This is something the Lord promises will happen; He says, “These words are trustworthy and true…” (Rev. 22:6).
“This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.”
If these “promises” are my comfort, what is my distress?
My distresses are often petty things like unmet expectations, self-imposed religious rules, and judgmental performance metrics for me and for others who “aren’t like me.” My distresses are sometimes significant and serious things like wondering how to pay a doctor bill when there’s no insurance, trying to figure a way to get a child home for the holidays from college when there’s no money in the bank, and the ever constant battles involved with “denying self” daily. Then there are the tragic distresses that rage daily, broken relationships, sickness, death…deceit, the oppression of people and children, poverty, famine, and war. It can be, and often is, so tiring and overwhelming.
We’re hopeful people though, we Christians. We wake up and try hard to do the right things with expectations that things will get better, but sometimes they don’t. We raise our children in the church with the hopes they will follow the way of Jesus on their own someday… some kids do, while others do not. We hope by “right living” and honoring God that it will go well with us; meaning, we will live prosperous, healthy, and meaningful lives—sometimes this is true for people and other times it is not.
We tell ourselves and try to believe that God is with us. Somewhere deep within, our soul we say, bears a witness that God is with us… “we know that we know that we know” or something like that. When we read or hear God’s Word, there is a resonance that it is True, but God is invisible…except for the tangible things He has provided (air, gravity, water…etc.). Faith is tough and can be the source of distress sometime. Jesus said it was better for Him to leave us, so the Holy Spirit would come to indwell each and every believer. I believe this is true. I believe God indwells me. I believe God directs me, guides me, comforts me, and “speaks” to me. But all of this can be a source of distress to me at times.
I have been created in the form of flesh. I have multiple senses; touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing… God created and God given. So many times though we speak of God in esoteric terms and we act as though Invisible God is the normal way for Christian believers to interact with God and speak of Him. We end up living our lives in some weirded-out metaphor. I think speaking honestly about our state of present being is better than trying to deceive ourselves into believing otherwise. I realize my words sound depressing, but really they are not.
My distresses are real, but so are my joys and so is my hope. My hope and my joy are found in the promises I mentioned earlier where the promise of eternity past and the promise of eternity future are reconciled and joined. In the middle of this time… between the bookends of these promises, I learn to live with an attitude of holy indifference knowing that God is present even if I do not see Him. God loves me even when I do not feel His hug. I learn to look for the presence of Christ in the smells, words, and actions of others; His Spirit, after all, animates them. I learn to accept the down payment of promise of eternity future in the things I can accept today. I live as a kingdom citizen today while I wait for the kingdom of tomorrow. When I grow weary I remember the way things were and the way things will be.
“This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.”
Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come.
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.
Book Review: The Bible Questions
Author: Hal Seed
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830856121
The back cover reads; “The Bible can be a scary book…” This is true, and this is why many people choose not to engage it. Hal Seed has done a wonderful job in collecting some of the “scary” thoughts or questions about the Bible and providing insightful answers to help take away some of the uncertainty and confusion surrounding this ancient text.
Seed arranges his exploration of The Bible Questions into four primary parts; Part One—Primary Questions, Part Two—Purpose Questions, Part Three—Probing Questions, and Part Four—Practical Questions. Each of these parts includes several chapters addressing some of the most popular questions about the Bible. As an example, Part One chapter titles include the following: Who Wrote the Bible?, How is the Bible Different From Other Books?, Who Decided What Went into the Bible?, and others.
I’ve been using this book for several weeks now in preparation for teaching a class on how to read the Bible. I have found it very useful with the information it provides, but even more, I have appreciated the conversational language Seed uses in talking about some of these topics. There are anecdotal commentaries and factoids that I have incorporated into my presentations that are helpful with keeping my audience engaged. I consider the same might be true for other readers.
The Bible Questions isn’t all about information though. At the end of each chapter, Seed provides some application suggestions and exercises with a Scripture reading and a few questions to ponder and/or discuss. There is also a comprehensive study guide at the end of the book. These exercises and the study guide would make the book a perfect fit for a small group book study, especially for a group that might be new to Bible reading. I really appreciated Part Four with the direction the author took regarding practical questions and application. It seemed to me this section was actually geared more to an introduction to inductive study. I don’t know if this was Seed’s original intent, but this is where my thoughts were drawn and I will be using these chapters when I start teaching an inductive method of study later this month.
I am so grateful and appreciative of the steady stream of great books coming from InterVarsity Press for the building up of the Church. The Bible Questions by Hal Seed is another great addition to my personal library, which I will use for years to come. I think it is a great overview of the Bible and many people, both new Bible readers and experienced readers, will find value in it.
Before I begin, I need to say the condition of my soul is good…very good. I have my days where the challenges of this side of eternity are heavier than I would like them to be, but for now, it is well with my soul.
Now, I have a recurring thought that comes to me that I’ve been giving more attention. At first, it annoyed me that I would “think” it, but as time has passed and I’ve spent some time actually pondering this thought, it isn’t so annoying after all. Actually, this thought has become something of a friend…this is especially true during challenging times.
Here is the thought: It is tough to love, serve, worship, and obey the invisible God.
Life can be very good and exhilarating and rewarding and… all kinds of positive things, but it can also be hard and unfair and wearying… and all kinds of negative things too. If your hope is in the invisible God, it can be easy to a fault to give Him praise for the good things in life; it doesn’t require much thought or faith to do this. On the contrary, when life “goes wrong” it’s hard to hold on to that same faith when we feel that the God we cannot see is raining fire and rocks upon our heads. These extremes are not the only examples to show the difficulty of relationship with the invisible God; there are, of course, every point in between those extreme illustrations.
I’ve told myself that it wouldn’t matter if God were physically present because examples from the Bible prove that people’s faith failed them even in the manifest presence of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Why would I think that I might be different?
Loving an invisible God is also tough because we have so little to rely upon for affirming our faith and confirming His presence. I often use language saying; “I feel the presence of God” or “I sense His nearness” and other words like that. Truthfully, those words can be as misleading as the emotions that elicit them. Emotions, feelings, attitudes, and behavior can all be manipulated and it is not wise to use them as a measuring stick for the nearness or the reality of God. The very definition of faith from the writer of Hebrews instructs us; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb.11:1). That seems a little bit like trying to hold on to smoke. It sounds good like one of those motivational quotes on the pretty landscape posters, but it’s usually the last thing I want to hear when life is going tough. Sometimes it’s hard to love and trust an invisible God.
I realize that the evidence of creation itself and all it entails points to the existence of God and the Bible tells us we will even be judged by that evidence (Romans 1:18-20), but that doesn’t belie the fact that God doesn’t make it easy for us to trust Him. It’s hard sometimes to trust the invisible God. This is especially true when we are taught that God “brings rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). I realize that it seems rather arrogant of me to think these thoughts out loud like we witness in the account of Job from the Old Testament. Ultimately, we read that God did “appear” (in some way) to respond to Job’s demand that he be heard. In the end, God’s appearance and questioning response to Job sent him (Job) cowering into a corner where he covered his mouth to keep any more words from escaping to the ears of God (Job 40:4).
All this thinking is a bit depressing or can be depressing, but Jesus calls us “better off” since he is not here physically with us (John 16:7). He calls us, who have not seen him, “blessed” (John 20:29). So, what gives? God knows it is tough living for and trusting the invisible, but visible God. We are better off because in His physical absence, He sent to us the Holy Spirit—the very Breath of God—who is one of the persons of the communal and Triune Godhead. It is with this always-with-us and indwelling presence of God that our faith can be made real and whole. Likewise, the evidence of the reality of this indwelling is made true to us when we fellowship and commune with other believers who are “filled” with this Holy Spirit. While my context might be misguided, I think the sentiment is true for us when Jesus said to his follower-disciples, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). I think we see evidence of this sort also in the account of the disciples who were traveling to Emmaus following the death and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 20:24). I think and I believe that the unifying Holy Spirit of God gives us substance and strength to believe in the invisible God. That doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it possible. I also believe this is why we need the community of fellow believers, because I need the faith and the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others to help bolster and renew my own faith. I need the witness of seeing the working of God in other believers’ lives to help fan the embers of my own faith into a roaring fire. It isn’t easy to trust and believe an invisible God. This is why Jesus called those who do not see, but still believe, “blessed.”
Probably one of the greatest blessings is the promise that we will see Him in a way that no one living has (1 John 3:1-3)…and not only will we see Him, but we will be transformed fully into His likeness… the way it has always meant to be.
Surrender: “Let’s Go Die with Jesus”
Reading: John 11:9-16, 25-26 <> Psalm 31 <> Luke 9, 14, 22
The past few days I’ve been thinking about what it means to “surrender” to Jesus. I wonder about how surrender might be defined. It seems, in our society, there is a desire for this word to have cultural impositions placed upon it. Sometimes I get the impression from the words of others that “surrender” is similar to tolerance. Other times I get the impression that surrender is conditional and given only until it reaches a certain point of a person’s predetermined limitations; “I surrender this amount of me or I surrender only certain of my rights.” It seems rare that I encounter the idea of surrender being full and unconditional.
I wonder how Jesus interpreted and defined surrender.
We have the Bible to provide us with what Jesus said and while his words seem indisputable, they must be… disputable, because there are so many variations and degrees to how people interpret them. We have interpreted “Carry your cross…” from the wearing of a tiny charm/pendant to literally nailing ourselves to wooden crosses and everything in between those extremes. We’ve interpreted “Deny yourselves” from not eating chocolate to punishing, deathly ascetic lifestyles and every point in between those extremes. I’m reasonably sure other instructive commentary from Jesus; “You must lose your life to save it” and “Follow me…” have equally colorful interpretations as well. So, the question remains; “What does Jesus require with regard to a surrendered lifestyle?”
Over and over again, I am reminded of how Jesus emptied himself and provided us with the ultimate explanation and visible expression of surrender. I find these defining moments in many places throughout Scripture, but I think a few of the primary passages that bring substance to “surrender” can be found in the following:
All of the above verses represent a very radical commitment to the way of following Jesus, and in many cases, can be very different from what is taught to people attending Christian churches in North America. It is not my intent to slam or criticize anyone or any organization, but the message of radical surrender to the person and mission of Jesus Christ as Jesus described, taught, and modeled is a rare message in our churches today… even more rare in our society at large.
I don’t know what “surrender” means to other people, but when I read the call of Jesus from the Gospels, I cannot come to any other definition or meaning other than total and complete loss of and abandonment of self. Not only do I find his words crystal clear, but the example shared by the apostle Paul (Phil. 2:5-8) is difficult to argue against; “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (The MSG Bible)
Surrender is what I encounter when I look upon the night of Jesus’ arrest as he prayed earnestly to his heavenly Father; “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want… Again, he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’” (Matthew 26:36-46 NRSV).
“Those who in fact risk all for God will find that they have both lost all and gained all… Everything other than pleasing God is nothing” -St Teresa of Avila
I think when it has all been considered… maybe Thomas had it pretty well defined. Jesus had announced to his disciples that he was heading back to Judea (where he had been threatened by stoning)and his disciples tried to change his mind, fearing for Jesus’ life and their own… I’m sure. After a few more words, Jesus is undaunted and begins to head back to Bethany… and Thomas adds; “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.” (John 11:16) NLT. Surrender. I think this captures the definition as well as can be described. Surrender is to “go too—and die with Jesus.”
I suppose the question we live and die with is whether or not we are truly willing to surrender according to Jesus’ definition and terms or do we constantly excuse ourselves from surrender with efforts to redefine what it really means?
It’s a tough call…but in the end, these are His words; “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me…” (John 12:24-26 NRSV). Maybe even more specifically, I should ask what losing my life looks like as I live my life for Christ day to day.