Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’
Unharden my heart, O Lord
I’m doing a lot of reading these days, even more than my normal heavy appetite. The net result of this is that I have a lot of influences and swirling thoughts. If my writing or thought processes seem disjointed, it might be because they are. Nonetheless, they are good and challenging thoughts—I am motivated and I am inspired.
“Solitude is one way we can imitate Jesus…” Emilie Griffith
As I consider this season of Lent and venturing into the “desert” to be alone with Jesus, there are a number of themes and postures that I intend to assume. One is an attitude of humility and another is repentance; both of these postures are necessary to keep my heart surrendered to the transformation of Christ in me. I’ve written several times in the past week or so about living noisy and distracted lives. This is the thorn in almost every American side. Our daily lives are often too busy with work and sleep getting most of our attention. How often do we make the space to get alone with God-Jesus? How long do we spend with him? Most importantly, what is Jesus telling or teaching me?
Everywhere is the evidence and handiwork of our God. Am I paying homage and tribute to the glory of God in my day? Is my professed relationship manifest in my daily travels?
“The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ… Those who are not prepared to take up the cross, those who are not prepared to give their life to suffering and rejection by others, lose community with Christ, and are not disciples. Discipleship is commitment to the suffering Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Discipleship and the Cross from Meditations on the Cross.
Bless YAHWEH, my soul. Never forget all his acts of kindness. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us as befits our offenses. AS the height of heaven above earth, so strong is his faithful love for those fear him. As the distance of east from west, so for from us does he put our faults. As tenderly as a father treats his children, so YAHWEH treats those who fear him.
O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.
O God, help me to never be that man. Help me to cling always to your holy garments. May my love for you always be pure and righteously motivated.
Working it Out
Readings: Philippians 2:12-13 ◊
“So work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own purpose, gives you the intention and powers to act.” -Philippians 2:12-13
Life gets busy… there are people to meet, things to do, and places to go. I get it and it’s true. Stuff happens and it seems to be happening at an ever-quickening pace. Today seemed busy for me, but my busy was good… although in the midst of my busy, there were several things that I needed to accomplish that I was unable to attend. What does this all mean?
I’m thinking about how easy it is for me to put things off and play catch up to them later. I realize this is sometimes necessary, but what happens when the things that get put off are the spiritual disciplines and exercises that draw us close and keep us connected to our God. You know, the One we claim “leads, guides, and directs us…” I believe that when we start playing “catch up” to our time lost that should have been spent with God, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Truly, I think in the midst of the fast paced, busy, and often interrupted lives we lead, it is a dangerous thing to lose our time alone with God. Yes, He is always with us, but our ability to “hear” him can become seriously impaired when we start to miss our time in solitude alone with Him. Henri Nouwen reminds us of the following:
“We are responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our secular milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own.” -Henri Nouwen
Even in the middle of our busy-ness and unplanned interruptions (are interruptions ever planned?), we can find ways to unplug from the harried pace we are on in order to reset and replug our hearts and minds back upon the person and presence of our God.
Most gracious and eternal God, in your bounty you have sent us your Holy Spirit. May he teach us to think and do what is right, so that we, who without you cannot exist, may live in loving obedience to your will. Help us to be aware when we walk away from or become distracted from your presence. We ask this as we pray the words Jesus taught us to pray.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1—30:20
“But if you will not obey the LORD your God…then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you… Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 45-47)
I proceed with my reading through the Book of Deuteronomy and find the words in chapter twenty-eight absolutely chilling. The chapter begins with God reestablishing His covenant promises with the people of Israel and declaring a blanket of blessing over their lives and livelihoods. All the people of Israel need do is enter into faithful relationship with God and follow the righteous path for living he has instructed for them. The way of blessing is fairly straight-forward, so God’s instructions continue with an explanation for what happens to the people who fail to enter into faithful relationship Him.
It is difficult to fathom the depth and breadth of the curses God announces to the Israelites, but there is something I have considered as I’ve thought about this narrative account. I wonder how much the curses were actual peals of punishment upon the disobedient as opposed to the promised, and natural, fruit of their sin and disobedience. I think the answer might be in-between, but I also lean toward these being natural (according to the rule of God’s righteousness) occurrences based on the legacy of disobedience and selfish promotion.
Several additional readings have been strongly influencing my reflections and meditations. These readings are from Oswald Chambers (The Relinquished Life), Thomas `a Kempis (The Royal Road), and various excerpted writings from Henri Nouwen. The common theme with all these writings is the desire for utmost devotion from us toward our LORD and God.
“There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross.” -Thomas `a Kempis
Total and complete devotion is what God desires in us. We will be the victims and bearers of our own sin, if we are unwilling to deny self and follow Christ.
Most holy God of heaven, you who paint the shining center of the sky with the brightness of fire, illumine our hearts, banish sordid things,, release the chain of guilt, and make void our crimes. O God, hear my cry! From the end of the earth I call. Let me dwell in you tent for ever. For You, O God, hear my prayer. I will always praise your Name.
+ In the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Grace in His Presence
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
Today was a day I spent basking in the graces of God’s Presence. In one sense there was nothing special about my day or my schedule, yet in another sense it was divinely special because of the sweet time reflecting on the marvelous, mysterious, bountiful, wonder, and grace of the God who is my Father and my Friend.
Prayerful recollection of the most recent years of my Jesus Journey were stirred today as I counted the many things I am thankful for and identified encounters and experiences that have enriched my soul and my humanity in general. It never ceases to amaze me how intricately involved God is in every area of our lives. I know He is near and I know His Spirit dwells within us and this awareness makes me hunger and strive to become even more aware and attentive to every “breath” of God in my life.
I am just incredibly grateful and overwhelmed with adoration for this omnipotent and transcendent God who cares so much to be imminent and intimate with me. Mind boggling it is.
A Prayer (from Henri Nouwen)
Dear Lord, show me your kindness and your gentleness, you who are meek and humble of heart. So often I say to myself, “The Lord loves me,” but very often this truth does not enter into the center of my heart. Let these weeks become an opportunity for me to let go of all my resistance to you love and an occasion for you to call me closer to you
Questions for the 1st Sunday of Lent
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
- 21:9—purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst
- 21:18—purge the evil from your midst
- 22:21—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:22—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:24—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
Not to make the obvious trite, but it seems that God wants to make it abundantly clear that His people are intended to be holy, pure, undefiled. I think the reasons are far more reaching than for this to be for a single purpose, and that primarily for show. While the visible example of purity and holiness is likely one of the purposes, I think an extended reason for this purity is that we need it. We are easily distracted…and what distracts us often corrupts us. We are influenced by what we come in contact by and keep company with. The examples of this are many, but one quick example is the acceptance of violence and sexuality in T.V. programming. Through the course of my life, there has been a major shift in what we permit to come into our homes on the television…in fact, not only is it permitted, for very many it is acceptable and demanded. This illustrates why purity and undefilement may have been so rigorously and unwaveringly demanded by our God.
This begs the question of me; “What compromises do I continue to make in keeping myself holy and undefiled for the purposes of God and the health of our relationship?”
“The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.” (Matt. 4:10)
Another set of questions I think are good for me to ponder as I venture through this Lenten season, I found today while reading a book, Small Surrenders by Emilie Griffith. In it she quotes a question from Brennan Manning, who asks; “How is my life unfolding in terms of my primary goal of living with God forever?”
This is a pretty big question and might be difficult to nail down in practical terms, so Emilie unpacks this question with a more specific list that helps us to address the bigger examination of our heart. She asks the following:
- What am I doing with my time?
- What am I doing with life?
- How well am I expressing the imprint of Christ upon my heart?
- How deep is my charity?
- How deep is my love?
- How well am I functioning in the Christian life?
And, the question I completed the list with that “popped” into my head as I pondered these—“Am I becoming all that God desires and has destined for me to become?”
I think I will sit with and revisit these through my Lenten journey…
Our Prayer from Charles de Foucauld
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.
Devotion that Keeps Me From Straying
“They are a people whose heart goes astray, and they do not regard my ways.” (Psalm 95:10)
As I begin this journey into the Lenten season, there are a few things I need to be aware of—a caution or two that I will add to those I mentioned from yesterday. When I read the line above from the psalm this morning, my immediate response was a bit judgmental and flavored with disdain. You know, something like, “How could those ungrateful people be so quickly led astray from God?” It didn’t take very long before the Spirit began to unravel some of my judgmental attitude and reflect it back to me. We can all become fragmented in our attention and led astray. Emilie Griffith speaks to this with her words here:
“For many of us the constant onslaught of errands and duties may pile up until it becomes a wall between us and God. We do not consciously turn away from God. Instead, we drift away, like ships without rudders, with no particular aim in mind. Therefore, one thing we can do in Lent is to make a deliberate return.” -Emilie Griffith; Small Surrenders
Little by little, the worries and distractions of life can turn our attentions away from devotion to God. We think we are still being attentive to Him by acknowledging Him with our lips, but the reality of our living and lifestyle do not reflect one who regards His ways. We think, like Peter did, with the mind of man… and this earned him a rebuke from Jesus, who called Peter “Satan.”
“Christians who permit themselves to be shaped by secular culture are guilty, not only of betraying God, but losing their own true selves. -W. Paul Jones
What is the remedy for this? I believe the first step is awareness; knowing that the possibility of distraction is real and can affect even the most resolute person of faith. Secondly, I think having a regimen or established discipline is helpful to keep us tethered or grounded in our devotion. Some of these disciplines can seemingly become rote acts of devotion, even appearing to be dry, lifeless, and fruitless. I suppose that can be a real concern, but in my life’s experience I have found even in the rote acts I am tied to the God I am devoted. This devotion stems from a desire to follow Him and know Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength. Through faith, I believe He honors that devotion…even if it is sometimes shared in a rote act. That action, no matter how dry it might be, is still an act of devotion born of the desire to remain connected to the God who created me and it keeps me from becoming so distracted that I stray and fail to regard His ways.
“Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before—do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul.” -Deut. 13:1-3
This is kind of scary; maybe it even seems a little tricky and unfair to us. The LORD says He will test us to see if we will stray. He will test our love and devotion. This provides me with all the incentive I need to stay on my toes and remain alert. It is precisely the reason that I need disciplines…rote or otherwise to keep me rooted, grounded, tethered, and anchored to the God of my faith.
A couple of other thoughts occurred to me while I was in Scripture today. While reading a text from John’s Gospel, these words stirred me: “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’” (John 1:38)
I found these words encouraging. As I follow Jesus into this season of repentance and reset, I hear him asking me; “What are you looking for?” I believe as we journey together, I will be able to identify what I am looking for…and I will be able to communicate that to him. Actually, I believe as I walk with Jesus, he will help me to realize what I’m looking for…and realize I have found it fully and completely in Him.
“God’s way can be grasped only in prayer. The more you listen to God speaking within you, the sooner you will hear that voice inviting you to follow the way of Jesus. For Jesus’ way is God’s way and God’s way is not for Jesus only but for everyone who is truly seeking God. Here we come up against the hard truth that the descending way of Jesus is also the way for us to find God. Jesus doesn’t hesitate for a moment to make that clear.” -Henri Nouwen
Finally, another word, this from the apostle Paul to the Titus, lifted my spirits as well. I know; experience has shown me, that I will get tired during these 40-days. I will go through a bout or few of depression and even may get a bit discouraged by my own weaknesses. I may begin to doubt that I will accomplish what God desires for me. These following words will serve me as a reminder to be encouraged during these low times:
12 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13 NRSV)
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy.
O God, Maker of all mankind, give the rewards of joy, grant the gifts of graces, dissolve the chains of quarreling, and bind fast the agreements of peace. Almighty God, ever-lasting Father, your love was poured forth upon our world from the cross. As we have come to know the grace of our Lord’s resurrection, grant that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we may rise with him to new life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.
The Nature of This Journey: The Land
The weeks leading up to Lent have been very formative for me and helpful in clarifying the nature of this 40-day journey. Many areas of my life have been laid open for examination and I feel some of them have been identified for further examination and tweaking. I am working, as God leads, on some of these areas even now.
Even with this knowledge and my surrendered agreement to God’s transforming work in my life, it seems there is something the Spirit of God is communicating to me beyond what is obvious. I recognize this. I am slowing down, paying closer attention to the details of my day and trying to be hypersensitive to the whispers of God as we enter this season of surrender, turning, and transformation.
A metaphor has emerged that seems to fit with and explain many of the “words” God is speaking to me through my Bible reading and through my meditations. I believe this metaphor is “the land.” I do not know the full extent of the metaphor’s application just yet, but there are several areas of my life that are quite relevant. Some of these I have identified are my health, God’s plans for my future in ministry—what it will be and where it will be, and my present relationships beginning with the Holy Trinity, extending to my wife, my children, my friends, and the community circles of which I am part that continue from there. I’m not sure how I would describe my sense of knowing this… call it intuition, discernment, or whatever, but I am convinced this latest adventure will be a time well-spent with God and I’m fairly certain He will make some things known to me that I have been wondering about for several years now. We will see what those things will be.
If you’ve followed the blog for the past week you will have noticed that talk about the “land” has been prominent. Today, from my first reading in the Psalms, I heard God speaking to me the following:
“3Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. 4Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5Commit your way to the LORD and he will act. 7Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; 9Those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:3-5, 7, 9)
Also, while reading this psalm, I noticed that within the framework of these verses, the psalmist instructs the hearer to “Do not fret” (verses 1, 7, and 8). Between these words of encouragement about “inheriting and inhabiting the land” and partnering with God in the process, I hear God telling me not to over think or obsess during this process of discernment. My part in this collaboration with God will become evident in due time; for now, I am to remain faithful and obedient to opportunities in the moment while remaining focused on Him and attentive however and wherever He speaks. I will pay close attention to how I listen.
Confidence and resolve are good things, but as I continued my reading and meditation today, a couple of warnings became evident to me. The first came to me through my reading in the Book of Deuteronomy and it too was part of the land metaphor. God, speaking through Moses, is warning the people of Israel about the hazards of entering into the new land they were about to occupy. He tells them; “Take care or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them” (Deut. 11:16). The applications of this might cover several areas, but the primary intent for me is clear: Stay focused on Jesus. Listen intently for his voice and follow closely. Distractions abound. It is easy to get tired and weakened…the easy path and shortcuts can be alluring. It is important to keep my primary relationship (with God) vibrant and healthy—this includes my mind, my spirit, my soul, and my physical strength or my health.
The second word came to me from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus. He writes the following:
“To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions.” (Titus 1:15-16)
I hear two applications that I should heed in this caution; the first is to me. I should be ever conscious that I am being faithful to the knowledge that God has given to me. As God reveals himself and his path to me, it is critical that I obey as quickly as I am aware. Stubbornness, distrust, disobedience, and unbelief will shipwreck my faith quicker than any attack from Satan. My actions should always align with my knowledge of God. The second thing I hear is a warning to be discerning about the people I meet and the company I keep. There is no reason to be obnoxious about this second warning, but it is very important.
Beginning the Journey
Will Willimon reminds us that the introduction to Christ begins with John the Baptist in the Gospels. John is not the Christ. John is the one who gets us ready or prepared for the Christ. How does he do this? John calls for us to recognize our sinfulness and selfish attitudes; he calls for you and me to repent, turn, change our ways—be washed (baptized, cleansed, purified)—symbolically “dying” to self and becoming raised and reborn in Christ. What is our lesson here? I believe that we are being taught that we cannot begin any Journey with Jesus without a preparation of repentance. This was the purpose of John the Baptist…who was sent by God—to prepare us for our Journey with Jesus with a baptism of repentance first.
“The soul can become entangled with bad little habits. We never completely conquer them. We become attached to certain clothes, a book, a specific food, gossip, or a desire for any number of things. Any of these little imperfections can stand in the way of spiritual progress.” John of the Cross
Repentance is turning—turning from my way and returning to the Way of God—following His ordinances and precepts. I think the act of turning toward God is a good thing, but it might be an even better thing if our turning is bit more intentional. What I mean is this; 40-days is a long time to be focused on something that I might not be sure of. It can be helpful to reflect on the choices I have made that have been responsible for pulling me or distracting from my path of devotion to God. Perhaps spending some time considering and recalling those distractions and naming them might be a helpful exercise for me. This exercise can make me aware of the “triggers” that grab my attention and steal it from holy devotion. Knowing these triggers and being mindful of them can be helpful in remaining surrendered to Jesus as we walk together for these next 40-days.
St. Benedict of Nursia instructs us through his Rule; “First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to God most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” So we pray…
Faithful God, trusting in you, we begin the forty days of conversion and penance. Give us the strength for Christian discipline, that we may renounce evil and be decisive in doing good. We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Ash Wednesday: Entering the Desert–A Time to Reset
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today marks the beginning of the Lenten Season, Ash Wednesday, an acknowledgement of our individual and collective brokenness—a time to realize and to confess how far we have veered from the radiant image of the God who created us.
While Lent is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, there are multiple illustrations and seasons where the call to repentance, both individual and corporate, went out to people. The actual practice of Lent has origins dating back as early as 200AD with mentions of corporate fasting by the church father St. Irenaeus. The Fast of Lent was later formalized between the years of 313 – 325 in the disciplinary canons of the Nicean Council. This call beckoned people to turn from their selfish desires and return to the path of righteousness, which is God. Lent is about turning…repentance, and transformation. I like that Lent can serve as a reset point for me. I also like that I am not alone, and this on several levels. As corporate observance, I know the Church universal (at least many, though not all) will be observing this season and I find support in the fact that I am not alone in this period of reset, turning, and transformation. I also find support in knowing that during this season of Lent, these 40-days, I enter into the desert wilderness of my soul following Jesus and the example he left us in the gospels when he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested and tempted by Satan.
Lent is traditionally the season of focused, concentrated transformation of self, from old man to new. Lent is the time when new patterns of living are forged to last a year and when new attitudes of heart are developed… I have been made brand new in Christ, but there is lots of change to make. 40 days of transformation. Neil Robbie
I enter into the wilderness with Jesus…facing my weaknesses, to learn what He learned and to be taught by the same Spirit that taught Him. I like how Emilie Griffith points out that Lent is “a time when we deepen our faith in a journey not of grand gestures but of small surrenders.” These small surrenders are the baby steps that lead to total surrender and whole-life transformation into the image and reflection of Christ Jesus. Henri Nouwen says these little surrenders are choices we make along our way. He writes; “The choice for your way has to be made every moment of our life.” I am learning there are no times or places where there are not choices… everyday is full of choices always before me to choose my way or the way of Jesus. Lord, I pray, help me always to choose you.
Take care you do not forget the LORD… (Deut. 6:12)
My Bible reading this morning reminded me of the dilemma faced by us all. It can be so easy to have our eyes and hearts distracted from the Way of our Lord. The world we live in is noisy and paced it seems at light speed. Survival takes effort and energy…hazards of all types exist around every corner and in every shadow. We get tired, sick, disheartened…distracted. We look for escape and begin to daydream about anything and everything except the present moment. Many people begin the path of self-medication, fulfilling those daydream fantasies, choosing alcohol, prescription drugs, and a myriad of other escape vehicles. All of this makes it easy to be distracted from the focus on our God even to the point that we forget the LORD.
I think this can be the case even for many of us who remain in groups that attend church services, even those of us who “do stuff” that Christians do like serving other people and reading our Bibles or other devotional material. We still “forget the LORD.” We can end up going through the motions, dried up, burnt out, worn to just a shell of a person from the hectic, noisy, distracted lives we lead. This is why Lent and participation in these 40-days is good for us. We are provided an earnest time of focus and dedication to our Lord… returning to the roots of our faith, if you will.
We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversion, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ. -Thomas Merton
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
And so, we enter the desert, to a time of fasting, repentance, and remembrance of our frailty. We answer the call of our Lord to be converted and be reconciled. We turn to Him with hopeful anticipation of the work He will wrought in us as we surrender ourselves to His molding and shaping. Make me, O Lord, like unto You. Have Your way in me…always today and forever. Amen
Putting Jesus in the Friend Zone
Readings: Exodus 12:30—27:21
As I continue reading through the Bible and the Book of Exodus, a picture has emerged in my mind as I reflect and consider the passages I’ve read in parallel with life and culture. I would caution about reading too much into my metaphor of “Friend Zone,” but it seems an accurate assessment if not taken too literally. #enddisclaimer
One theme I know is true, but never seem to remember how boldly it is proclaimed is God’s call for purity, fidelity, focus, and detail with the scope of relationship between God and man. God establishes laws, boundaries, and instructions for every aspect of living in community with Him and even extends the same measure of detail for living and relationships for the community itself. Essentially, after freeing the covenant peoples of Israel, God defines the relationship; He dictates the conditions to Moses and Moses reads them aloud in painstaking detail to the people.
“Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people: and they said, ‘All that the LORD as spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’”(Exodus 24:7)
Even with the oath and proclamation of obedience by the people, God knows in advance they will not “be perfect as He is perfect.” He establishes a means of forgiveness and cleansing for the sins of the people in the system of sacrifices and offerings; therefore, when the people fail to follow the rules of relationship, there is a means of reconciliation in place to prevent fracture and break-up and provide restoration.
As the years pass, so does the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the covenant people and God. The relationship itself is taken for granted by the people and the sacrificial system becomes a justifying means to an end. The attitudes of the people become apathetic, non-committal, and adulterous toward their God. The sacrifices necessary for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the people mean nothing to those who offer the sacrifices and ultimately mean nothing to God (Isaiah 1:11-12; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21).
I hope I’m not reading too much into what I’ve perceived, but it seems to me that the trajectory of the relationship was something like this: God establishes and defines the relationship between He and the Israelites; the Israelites agree to the lifestyle of purity, civility, and fidelity God defines; God provides a means for the Israelites restoration when they fail their commitment. As the timeline continues and the commitment made by the Israelites is diluted through their generations, the people move from offering sacrifices for their failures to not recognizing their failures at all. In effect, the people, by the association of their actions, redefine the relationship with their God. What God calls sin, the people fail or rarely recognize as such. The people boldly engage in worship of false gods, mistreat their fellow human beings, lie, cheat, and steal from one another…and more, all of which were clearly defined as abhorrent and unacceptable to God. It appears a combination of things occurred in the hearts and minds of this former covenant keeping people; one is that they stopped caring about the Creator God who had rescued and provided for them all the years of their existence, and another is that it appeared they no longer considered many of their actions sin.
Years pass and Jesus steps into the scene. No longer, does man have to live behind the blemished façade of a false self; God comes to dwell amongst men and provide them a means to be wholly reconciled and fully restored to the imago dei (Image of God). Man no longer has to live in sin (hamartia: missing the mark of God), but God in the flesh shows man the way to accurately reflect and embody the divine nature.
Fast Forward Some More
Here we are; today, the world in which we live. It often seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. From ancient middle-eastern culture to modern western society, the attitudes and excuses of living and life seem to spring remarkably from the same headwaters: selfish pride. We enjoy having “God on our side.” We like the benefits of name-dropping; “Yo, me and J.C. are tight.” It is comforting to us to think we have an omnipotent God to turn to when the pressures of life squeeze tight. While we might not say it, we often treat God like our “Ace in the hole” only calling Him out when all our other “cards” fail to produce the winning hand for us. Many of us, calling ourselves Christians, live a dual life—keeping God separate from most of the messier areas of our life—our relationship with God resembles the “pretty room” many of us might remember we or our friends had as kids growing up. You know the one I’m talking about; it’s the room that was perfect that no one was allowed to go in or sit on the furniture and strictly made for looking at…no practical function whatsoever. Yeah, that’s the sum of much Christianity today, except that in reality it is not even pretty to look at if we are truly honest with one another and it certainly doesn’t look like anything passable for the Christianity that is modeled in our Bibles.
What Is Wrong
My opinions are my own, but I would like to offer them for consideration. I think there are several factors that are damaging the cause of spiritual transformation in the image of Christ. The first problem is a theology that has deviated from the Trinitarian example of our Lord Jesus. Many people seem to have abandoned the God of the Old Testament entirely or relegated Him to “mean and angry old God” status, openly thankful that they do not have to deal with that God now that Jesus has “taken over.” This attitude and belief is a form of Marcionism, which was denounced as heresy as early as the mid second century. Interestingly enough, this belief seems as strong and prevalent as it ever may have been if not stronger. Other heresies involving Jesus that have significant impact on how we respond to God and His work of spiritual transformation in us include forms of Docetism and Eutychianism, both of which argue points of Jesus’ nature of being fully man and fully God. The damaging point for us as followers is that embracing these beliefs (even through ignorance) presents challenges that can be almost impossible to overcome. I have heard it said many, many times from believers; “I cannot follow Jesus and be like him. Jesus was God and I am not.” While Jesus is God and I am not is a true statement, the greater truth is that we can follow him. God has imparted the divine nature to be shared in us (2 Peter 1:3-7) for the very reason of walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I think the bottom line after accounting for the ignorance of our beliefs and heresies, is that many of us have not “died to self,” which is arguably the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ and becoming transformed into the image of God (Luke 14:25-27). Without this critical first step, we remain in charge of ourselves and constantly redefine the relationships (be that as it may) that we have with the Trinitarian God to suit our own needs at the time whatever they may be. This is not Christianity—it is Meianity and it doesn’t fly with the call of Christ to “Follow Me.”
God Almighty came to this earth setting aside his divine right, so we might become one with the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7; John 17:20-23). It is the desire of God to share intimately His oneness with us, but there are conditions and distinctives He has given us for that level of relationship to be made true in us. We, listen to the words of God who defines the relationship and become dismayed, but we like Jesus…we just don’t want to marry Him. Jesus wants intimacy and monogamy, we do not want that level of commitment and want to be free to do what we want when we want. So, we respond; “Jesus, can’t we just be friends?” I believe the Bible teaches us that proposition is rejected, at least in the sense that we mean it. Being friends with Jesus inside the marriage relationship is good and “yes.” Trying to be friends with Jesus outside of the covenant of marriage with Him is difficult to impossible and in my opinion an emphatic “no.” Truly, we cannot relegate God to the “Friend Zone” and expect to be a part of His Kingdom. The teaching of the Bible does not support that ideology (Matthew 7:21).
An Epiphany Reflection: Christ in me–Christ in you
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. (Isaiah 60:1-2)
Today the Church recognizes the Epiphany of Jesus; “Christ, brought to light.” Epiphany is the season of enlightenment, which we focus our attention on Jesus and the unfolding manifestation of his glory. There are four core events at the heart of Epiphany relative to the observance of the Church; these events are the birth of Christ (although this event has been removed since the fourth century), the visit of the Magi from the East, Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and Jesus turning the water into wine at the Cana wedding. The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek verb phainein, which means to “cause to appear” or “to bring to light.”
I am thinking about what this season means to me. As we process the season of Advent and we “wait expectantly for the Light,” now the Light has appeared. Christ has come. In what ways do I see Him and what difference does this make in my life. The challenge I have extended to myself during this season is to make every opportunity a manifestation of the Light. I want to be able to “see” Jesus in every human encounter—to see Christ in others, no matter who they are—we are; after all, created as imago dei, the image of God. I want to be a conduit for Christ as well; this means I am a manifestation of Light too. As a Christ follower, people should be able to witness Christ in me. This will be my practice and goal for the next five weeks.
The Rule of Benedict reminds us that we should make every effort to receive guests (others) as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those “of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers. These will serve as strong reminders and encouragement to me during these days of Epiphany along with the very words of Jesus, also from Matthew’s gospel; “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Finding Christ in the other and exhibiting Christ to the other are moments of Epiphany.
If you love God, you will do everything possible to serve and please him. Love is impatient to do good. It is also quick and active and observant. Faith will encourage you. Hope will set you spinning like the spring in a watch. Reverence for God will rouse you out of your sleepiness. Enthusiasm for spiritual things will set you on fire. The more aware you are of God, the more involved you will be in working for him. Those who trifle lose their labor. -Richard Baxter
I think…Epiphany finds us most profoundly when we practice one thing, to love God will all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength.
Almighty and ever-living God, we confidently call you Father as well as Lord. Renew your Spirit in us to make us more perfectly your Light, shining and illuminating the darkness around us. May you be ever present and complete in us, so we might be the Light of your holy city on a hill.
If indeed I am to radiate your light to the world, Lord Christ, then let that light burn within me to purge and purify until I know only you and seek only you and, finding you in everyone I meet, enable them to find you even in me.
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns and lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.