Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Be with me everywhere and at all times,
In all events and circumstances of my life;
To sanctify and sweeten whatever befalls me;
And never leave or forsake me in my present pilgrimage here,
Till you have brought me safe through all trials and dangers
To be ever with you,
There to live in your sight and love,
World without end.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
John insists that "the universal consciousness" has a name and a face: Jesus, the Christ. And a pattern - righteousness, the way Jesus walked. And an outcome: self-sacrificing love that shows up in tangible care for people with bodies.
It is pleasant to talk about "universal consciousness" and "awareness." But the Spirit of Jesus points to Jesus, his way and the people he loves.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Everything in our lives with Christ is a function of that relationship. Joined with Jesus, we are God's children. In chapter 3 John describes some of the outworkings of that relationship ... becoming more like Him, living in a way that is consistent with the way our Father is, loyalty to his purposes (if He is out to destroy the works of the devil, how can we promote them?) and loving our brothers more than ourselves - as He did.
When Dan and Rachel were married, Roger, in his best man toast, said, "Rachel, I welcome you into my heart. I will love you like I love my own sister." I have often thought of that as a good description of love - "welcome you into my heart". When you welcome someone into your heart, what touches them, touches you. Your life intersects with theirs. God has welcomed us into his heart. If we are there - staying there, abiding there, - it shows up in our lives, in our love.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
"The world" used in this way refers to the whole system that tries to run things apart from God: what is valued, what is avoided, how people look for life apart from God. Loving those ways keep us from loving God - and also keep us from loving people. Other people become a means to our ends.
This is more subtle than it first appears. It is easy to think that we are not "worldly" because we are not chasing fame, fashion and fortune. (And if we do, I got news for you - we're losing...). But it is easy for others to be props on our stage, and not to see them, not to value them for themselves.
The next chapter begins with maybe my favorite verse in the book " See what kind of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God - and that is what we are!" Let that simmer in your mind and heart for a while ... See what kind of love ... What kind of love is it?
Monday, November 2, 2009
All the people there had based their lives on faith in Christ - the way they think and live and all of their family and friends were centered on faith in Christ. They couldn't think "rationally" because they would have to go against their whole community! He alone, in his opinion, had had the courage and intellectual honesty to do so. (He is so very young...)
Of course I disagree with his conclusion - that community commitment keeps people believing in God - because it fails to account for the very many whose commitment to Christ costs them their family, friends and even their lives. But he has a point.
John wrote his letter "that you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with God the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." The more I read this letter, the more I see that that is the whole crux.
Fellowship - unity - partnership with God has 3 irreducible elements, and John goes around and around them through the whole book. Fellowship with God involves truth to believe, a way to live and a community to love. It involves the whole person, what we think, how we live, what we love. Pretty simple, really, but believers generally get tripped up on one of the other of those! At the end of his life, John has the heart of the matter.
For me, our young atheist is partly right. Part of what keeps me faithful to Christ and to his truth is ... well, you! When I feel weak or doubting, I don't have to carry it all myself. I just join in with the community of faith, with others who are more knowledgeable, more faithful, more intimate with God than I am. I need people like Laura T. at church who loves Jesus and follows him in the midst of big challenges. (Thank you Laura!)I need them - I need you - and they need me. That is part of what it means to be in "fellowship."
I will continue to think and read and pray about this ... I hope you will too!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The older I get, the more important this seems to me. Nothing is more essential to life with God, with one another and for our growth and well-being as a person.
God is light (life, purity, revealing) There is no partnership between light and darkness – if light is there, the darkness is driven out. How then can people who are sinful – who have dark places in their hearts and lives – that is, people like us, be in partnership with the God who is light?
People who are in partnership with God do not walk in darkness, habitually avoiding seeing what is in them that is at odds with God, with life. They walk in the light – as a pattern of life, they allow the light of God’s presence and his word to reveal what is there. They acknowledge what is there – recognizing and admitting what is sin and death to them. And – this is important - they acknowledge that Jesus has taken all of that on himself on the cross.
I am learning to ask, in every situation: Lord show me more about this – what is it that I am feeling? What is behind that response? What do I love more than I love you? Where am I looking for life?
Our response to a glimpse of our own part of the brokenness of the world (sin) can be:
“I am not listening … where’s that remote?
“It isn’t really wrong … its not my fault … if he/she/it/they would just…
"I am such an idiot … why don’t I ever change?"
"I will be better than that from now on..."
NO! – here is what John reminds us to do – confess it, acknowledge it! “Lord here I am, this is what I really feel/think/do/am.” Then carry it to the cross – “He himself has borne our sins on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." Give thanks for his grace and mercy. It is enough.
This is the pattern we follow all our lives. You won’t ever get past it, or won’t need to do it anymore. The result of walking this way over time is, I think, greater humility, a greater appreciation for the mercies of God, and a greater compassion for the others around you.
There is a warning here as well – John makes it clear that those who walk in darkness – in a way of life that is out of character with God – are proving that they have no partnership, no fellowship, with him.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
There have always been plenty of people claiming to have some secret knowledge - something which, for the initiated, brings them into the real "secret" of life, into wealth, success and happiness. This recent one required being in a sweat lodge with 60 other people ... and $10,000.
John has something entirely different - public knowledge. He is telling us what he (and others) saw, touched and heard. His message is not based on someone's ideas. It comes from something that happened. This message, the gospel is not good advice. It is good news.
This public fact - the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - is what convinced me to be a Christian. And it is what I go back to when I have doubts, when I begin to wonder if this is all something we have made up, group think, no different than the poor deluded people in the sweat lodge. Something happened - and I can find no other explanation, no other conclusion for it than the one John and his friends came to.
John writes "so that you may have fellowship with us... and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." I have been pondering that this morning ... what does it mean to have fellowship - partnership, union, participation, intimate connection - with the Father and the Son? (One place I am looking at is John 17.)What do you think?
“No particular religion matters, neither ours nor yours. But I want to tell you that something has happened that matters, something that judges you and me, your religion and my religion. A New Creation has occurred, a New Being has appeared; and we are all asked to participate in it … Don’t compare your religion and our religion, your rites and our rites, your prophets and our prophets … All this is of no avail. We only want to show you something we have seen and to tell you something we have heard… that here and there in the world, and now and then in ourselves is a New Creation, usually hidden, but sometimes manifest, and certainly manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ.”
Paul Tillich, The New Being
Quoted in Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Here are some of the things I noticed that John seems to be concerned about.
1. Some wrong teaching about Jesus - people were promoting a "spiritualized Jesus" denying that he really came "in the flesh", that he was really human. There were "anti-christs", or as my friend Matt calls them "imaginary Jesuses." (1:1-2, 4:1-2, 5:1-2)
2. This was sowing confusion and doubt in the community ... are we "spiritual" enough? (3:19, 4:3ff)
3. There was conflict in the community: arguments, one-upmanship, not taking care of one another. (3:16, 4:20)
4. People were concerned with being "spiritual" , but not with being righteous - that is, in right relationship with one another and with God. (2:4, 3:7)
What did you notice? What were the "big ideas" in this letter? What is the tone?
Here is a quote from Eugene Peterson to think on: "If Jesus is divested of all human features and characteristics, loving Jesus is stripped of all the details that have to do with the life we are actually living with our family and neighbors. And here's the thing: a dehumanized Jesus is a lot easier and more pleasant to love than a difficult spouse, or an angry teenager, or a rude neighbor, or an insufferably boring brother-in-law - all of them so very very human."
For this week, read chapter 1. There are just 2 paragraphs - what is John emphasizing here? Why is this important?
Saturday, October 17, 2009
This week we are reading the whole letter - after that we will read one chapter each week. I hope that you will be reading it throughout the week, letting it percolate through your mind and life.
If you've been reading, you will have noticed that I John isn't very linear in its presentation. The writer meanders through several themes, revisiting them, weaving them together. As you read, you can tell what is on his mind. What kinds of things does he address? What does it tell you about what is going on with the community he is writing to?
Hmm...if John were to write us a letter, I wonder what he would say?
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Saturday, October 3, 2009
"If, in spite of all conflicts, weakness, suffering, sins, we open our door, the Spirit is poured out within us, and the first mark of its presence is not an increase of energy, but joy and peace. We should not have guessed that. Yet real love always heals fear and neutralizes egotism, and so, as love grows up in us, we shall worry about ourselves less and less, and admire and delight in God and His other children more and more, and this is the secret of joy."
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
for as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength,
so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Laura is back in Spokane now, ready to start school - and we are hoping and praying for the best. (Her condition, by the way, is called Undifferentiated Spondyloarthropathy, a type of arthritis that causes inflammation of the tendons around the joints. She has had it since she was 16 or so - but it is only this year that it has flared up with this severity.)It has been up and down for her with pain, nausea and fatigue. She seems to be a little better at the moment. She is taking medication that suppresses the immune system - and the H1N1 flu, mild for most people, is dangerous for young people with suppresses immune systems.
I am thankful for good doctors, for insurance coverage (if she hadn't gone back to school in January, she would not have been on our insurance. So far this year: $10,000 worth of medications), and for the mercies of God. And I appreciate your prayers.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
The talk went like this:
1. Why does God allow suffering?
2. Because God is using it for our good to make us like Christ.
3. When we get the lesson He is trying to teach us, we won’t have to be in pain anymore. (yes, that is what he said.)
The fact that God has, through the great reversal of the cross, redeemed suffering should not be used as an explanation of suffering. God does not explain evil – he only trumps it, on the cross. He takes the worst that his enemy can do – the death of the Son of Man – and turns it around into the best that can ever happen. And that is what he does with suffering, and with evil. He does use it for our good – but that is not a why – it is instead a how.
The question is asked “What is God tying to teach you in this?” Yikes. God does not try. God is not up there saying “Gee, she/he still doesn’t get it! I guess I will keep her from getting pregnant/let her child be in pain/give him a brain tumor/” NO, NO, NO! Infertility and pain and sickness are part of this fallen world. God does not stop them. But he will transform them, make them into instruments of His love and use them for our sanctification. It is indeed true that the mercies of God, experienced through suffering can deepen and remake human beings. As C.S. Lewis said “Pain carves out places in our hearts for joy to dwell.”
And when you “get it” you do not get out of your pain. This is the equivalent of the faith healer telling the sick person “if you had enough faith, you would be healed!” It is cruel, and wrong to say so.
If you are suffering, in pain, let me say this to you. God does not offer you an explanation. What explanation can be enough? ( “Our ears still ring with the cry of artists like Dostoyevsky whose Ivan Karamazov had protested passionately against suffering inflicted on a child, ‘I would persist in my indignation, even if I were wrong.’” Henri Blocher, Evil and The Cross) He instead offers Himself, entering into it in Christ, walking with us through it by His Spirit, and triumphing over it through the cross.
“…the problem of evil is not something we will “solve” in the present world, and ..our primary task is not so much to give answers to impossible philosophical questions as to bring signs of God’s new world to birth on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection and in the power of his Spirit, even in the midst of “the present evil age.” N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God
I am sure that that is what our good brother was after.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Jesus was talking to a group who were distinctly non-mystical - for them, the Law was a way to live, here and now, and death would be the end. Jesus refutes that, saying "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." At this time most of the Jewish people believed that when God intervened, in the "Day of the Lord" when He came to Jerusalem (see chapter 19), defeated their enemies (see chapter 23), established His kingdom (see 19:11), that the righteous would be raised from the dead, to live again on earth. Until that time the faithful dead were asleep in the shadowlands. They did not believe that somehow their "souls" without their bodies, would go off to heaven: that was a Greek notion.
Jesus affirmed the resurrection of the dead - and a few days later, he became the first - the forerunner. He was not disembodied, or a "spirit" - he had a new, resurrected body, but one that could eat and talk and - so significantly - bore the scars of his suffering. The scars were not forgotten, wiped away - they were part of his resurrected body.
I believe that we have been confused by Greek philosophy about the idea of heaven. The biblical concept is that we are not souls who have a body - but that we are embodied spirits, and that we will have new bodies, bodies like the Lord Jesus' resurrection body, bodies that will live on a new earth, with Jesus and with one another. (If you want to know more, I recommend N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope." It is the best book I have read in the past year.)
I believe and am convinced that the best is ahead of us. As C.S. Lewis wrote: "All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better that the one before."
Monday, April 6, 2009
So - in the midst of the busy-ness and the sorrows and the worries of life - let's take time this week to remember the most important thing, the thing that doesn't change.
In the chapters we have been reading, there has been a dual focus - the increasing buy-in of the disciples, and the increasing hostility of the opponents. Jesus has been making the invitation - and the warning - quite plain. In Chapter 18 there is a stark contrast - the rich young ruler who goes away blinded by wealth - and the blind beggar who follows, rejoicing.
Chapter 19 opens with the story of Zacchaeus and one response to Jesus "he hurried down and received him joyfully" - and closes with the other -the "principal men of the city... seeking to destroy him." The story of the tenants in chapter 20 sums up the situation: The "owner of the vineyard" sends his beloved son. "But when the tenants saw him they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Let us kill him, so the inheritance may be ours."
The choice is so starkly put. Either Jesus is the rightful king - or we wish him dead. Kind of shocking to put it like that, isn't it? There is just not much room here for the "just a good man" theory of Jesus. (If one wants to hang on to such a theory, one must avoid reading the gospels...) Do "good men" generally claim to be the rightful king of the world?
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Laura's roommate moved out with little notice last weekend - she said she found a place that was $100/month cheaper. Laura had been a good friend to her, and was deeply hurt by this. The roommate knows she didn't treat Laura well, and so hasn't come back or called (or come back to clean up the room she vacated), even though Laura has just been diagnosed with a chronic illness - and needs friends now. I think she doesn't want to face us. Maybe she is telling herself what was bad about living with Laura, or what Laura did wrong.
And there is nothing at all that Laura - or I - can do to mend things. Unless the roommate is willing to face her, there can be no relationship, no possibility of reconciliation.
In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It is more a story about what was happening right then than a story about the afterlife. The opportunity to make things right was there, right in front of them. But if they refuse to listen, refuse to admit where they have been wrong, there is no chance for them -"even if someone should rise from the dead. "
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The story of the dishonest manager is a puzzling one. Jesus is apparently commending this crook - who cheated his boss, then when discovered and fired, cleverly cheated him some more in order to save his skin. What should we make of it?
Remember that Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. He has been telling stories that indicate what happening - the true owner has shown up and is calling the stewards to account. He has just invited them to join the party - to welcome the "younger brothers" who have been lost, but now are found. The leaders have lost their jobs as stewards - but now they have the opportunity to demonstrate grace to the other debtors. The "sinners" still think that the teachers have an "in" with God. If the teachers join Jesus in forgiving debts, they show off the generosity of the owner. (Generosity was a prized quality in the middle eastern culture.) They make the owner look good and make friends for themselves at the same time. There is still time for them to come to the party, to find grace for themselves, and grace for their fellow debtors.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
In each of the stories, something lost is found - and there is an invitation to rejoice. In the parable of the lost son there are really two lost sons. Both essentially wish their father dead so they can have his stuff. They don't want him.
But the father in the story is persistent. The story ends with uncertainty - the father "came out and entreated him" to join him in welcoming his brother back, to rejoice with him. And the story does not say whether the older brother does or not.
The story echoes what is happening at the moment: Jesus is welcoming back the lost, the "younger brother." The "older brothers", sure that they are the ones who deserve to inherit everything, stand back. Will they come in to the party? Will they respond to the invitation to "rejoice with me!"
Tim Keller has a great book out on this parable, called Prodigal God (as well as a sermon series available on Redeemer Presbyterian Church website.) It is one of the best explanations of the gospel I have ever read. Don't miss it - and get one to give away.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
In the news today, everyone is incensed over the bonuses paid with taxpayer's money to the executives who made such a mess of things. Makes people mad! They were meant to be good stewards of what belongs to someone else.
That is what is going on these chapters. This is a critical moment in the whole salvation story. The Word and the kingdom had been entrusted to one people. Now the master has shown up - and they are put to the test: will they recognize the rightful master, or resist? These chapters are full of warnings. They come at a critical moment: Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, where prophets are killed. This is the moment to respond. Jesus is asked: "Will the number of those saved be few?" He responds with a answer, not about numbers, but about timing: the door is still open, but it won't be for long. (Remember that the warnings about the consequences of rejection of Jesus and his message came true within a generation, when the Romans overran Jerusalem in 70 AD, the temple was destroyed, and the people scattered.)
God always intended that His kingdom was for all nations - not just one. They were meant to be lights to the world. Jesus' rejection and death opened the way for all people - the poor and undeserving (all of us!) - to come in to the great banquet. We come in by the narrow door - Jesus himself.
The section is full of serious teaching for the disciples. They - we - are the ones entrusted with representing the kingdom. May Jesus, by his Spirit, keep us from neglecting the important things: justice, the love of God, the love and healing of our neighbor - and the presence of the Master, Jesus himself, .
Friday, March 13, 2009
When I was coming back from Boston, delayed by snow, I was thinking about who I could call to come to get me at the shuttle at midnight. There aren't too many you would ask to do that - but the ones you would ask, you know that they will do it if they can - because of friendship, or because they are family. It is all based on the relationship.
When Dan and Rachel were here getting together a team of ministry partners, they made some friends. When they left, someone told them: "When we first met you we didn't think we could be one of your ministry partners. But now we have to - we are your friends."
Jesus said in John 15 "No longer do I call you servants because the servant doesn't know what the master is doing. But I have called you friends..." Jesus brings us into partnership with God, into the family business, so to speak, giving us his own Spirit. We have taken His aims as ours. So we ask for what we need, for what our friends need. And we trust that he is not asleep, not indifferent- but is doing what we both want done.
Monday, March 9, 2009
"'Kingdom of God'" is the term Jesus used frequently as a metaphor for the all-inclusive work of God's rule, God's dominion that Jesus is both proclaiming and enacting.... Kingdom is what is going on all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. But it is Jesus' intent to make us aware of it. Kingdom requires a total renovation of our imagination so that we are able to see what our eyes do not see, so that we are capable of participating in what will not be reported in tomorrow morning's newspaper."
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Last week we saw that Jesus designated a new people of God and has begun to instruct and train them in representing the Kingdom of God. In these chapters we begin to see what it means that “the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.” There is a lot of material here - we can sum it up in three pictures:
The Persistent Friend (11:1-23)
Jesus is entrusting his followers with his own authority. Jesus acted in loyalty to the Father – therefore the Father entrusted him with all power and authority. He gives His followers His Spirit – so that they too can be the Father’s representatives, doorways and windows for his love, blessing and provision to break into this world. The kingdom comes through those who say yes to the King, who welcome his rule. Jesus is the “stronger man” who breaks into the “strong man’s” realm and sets his captives free. In prayer we are given the same responsibility and authority.
The Lighted Lamp (11:24- 12:3)
“Something greater” than the miracle of Jonah or the wisdom of Solomon is here, Jesus says. It is something much more radical. Representing the reign of God isn’t just a matter of conforming on the outside - washing the outside of the cup - but of radical transformation from within. It’s no good just to send the demons out – the Spirit of God must be at home in the house.
The Wise Manager (12:4-48)
It is the owner’s job to give the steward the authority he needs to represent the owner, and also to provide for whatever the steward needs to do his job. The steward’s job is to represent the interests of the manager – not his own interests. God entrusted his plan for the rescue of the world he created to his Son – the Son has entrusted it to his people. It is a serious responsibility.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
My friend had a challenging workplace situation - people were tense, blaming each other, trying to cover up their own mistakes and highlight the mistakes of others. In the middle of that my friend, being a follower of Jesus, inserts a new thing - forgiveness, serving others instead of her own agenda, the offer of friendship. It changed the tone, opened a way for something new.
"Every disciple," Jesus said, "when fully trained, will be like her master."
In the early chapters of Luke we saw that the promised kingdom of God breaks in. The kingdom is announced: good news for those who recognize that they are poor and welcome the invitation.
Now there is a shift, How will the kingdom of God, the reign of God come? Now we begin to see his plan: the kingdom comes through ordinary people who join Him in the Way.
In Luke 9 the training begins. The whole middle part of Luke – (9:51- 19:27) is a long section that takes them from Galilee to Jerusalem. If you have a “red-letter edition” you will see that it is almost all red letters. Jesus is training his followers. Here are some observations about that training:
- Jesus gives them his own power and authority (9:1) to “overcome all the power of the enemy.” (10:18)
- He commissions them to do just what He does: announce the kingdom, heal the sick, defeat evil. (9:1)
- Herod is perplexed. The crowd is confused. It is the ones who follow him who see him for who he really is. (9:7, 19, 28-36)
- Jesus tells them to do something they can’t do with their own resources - feed the crowd. They need to learn that they are dependent on him for resources. Jesus feeds the crowd – through his followers.
- They are with him – when he withdraws to pray and when he enters the fray. (oops, sorry, inadvertent rhyme ). They are always learning from him to be true sons and daughters. (remember that Luke points out that there were women following too.)
- They are invited to the way of the cross. He sets his face towards Jerusalem – the place of his “exodus” (Most versions say ‘departure”- but the word is actually exodus!) The way he invites them along is not one of power and success. The way Jesus rules is not by killing his enemies – but by dying for them.
- Like Jesus, they were invited to a singular focus, a singular allegiance to the Kingdom of God. (9:57-62)
- They are nothing special: they lack faith, they don’t understand, they have some bad ideas (shall we blast them?? They thought they were Jack Bauer), they wanted to be “the greatest”, and they are not wise and learned but little children. (They come back excited over what God has done through them – and Jesus thanks God that he hasn’t revealed this to the smart people! Kind of pointed, don’t you think?)
- They are blessed – happy and privileged – to see what they see when they follow Jesus.
- There is “one thing necessary” (10:41) – and that is to learn from Jesus, sitting at his feet.
Now – a question in my mind. Why is the story of the Good Samaritan placed there? Any thoughts?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Jesus is announcing the presence of the kingdom – in words and deeds. In the presence of the king, life is being restored – the centurion’s servant (“they found the servant well”), the dead son (“the dead man sat up and began to speak and Jesus gave him to his mother”), the woman of the city (“her sins, which are many, are forgiven … go in peace”), the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear. People seeing and hearing and coming to life.
And who is welcoming the kingdom? Who is it for?
Jesus had said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Here are some observations about what characterizes those who receive the kingdom:
- The centurion was aware he had no claim on the kingdom – though powerful in the kingdom of this world, he was poor when it came to God. Not one of the people of God, he did not expect that he was entitled. But he recognized authority in Jesus – authority that was given by the God of the universe (who else could raise the dead and forgive sins? The centurion, being in Capernaum, had seen all this). And so, acknowledged his poverty, his unworthiness – he asked.
- The widow had nothing – absolutely nothing. Her only son would have been her means of support and her only hope for the future.
- The “woman of the city” knew she had a debt and, understanding what Jesus had been saying to the crowds (maybe she was at Levi’s big shindig!) knew that even she was welcome to the kingdom. She responded with love and gratitude.
- The crowd and the Pharisees and lawyers had some expectations of what they expected in a prophet from God, what he ought to say and do, and what kind of people he ought to shun (“what did you go out to see?” “If he were a prophet, he would know what kind of person was touching him.” ). The Pharisees like Simon thought the kingdom belonged to them – they were the ones who kept the law, after all, who understood the Scripture!
Jesus’ “parable of the sower” (really it should be called the parable of the soils) makes it clear that it is the condition of the heart of the hearer that matters. Are the hearers the sort of people who are prepared to receive it? "As for that good soil, they are those who hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience … Be careful how you hear … My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
So – its poverty and receptivity that make way for the kingdom of God to take root, bringing life in us, among us. Do you see yourself in these stories?
I am going to stop there – because I think that 8:22 starts a new emphasis. So instead of going on to 9, 10, let’s stay with 8:22-56 for another week! (Maybe that has something to do with the fact that this is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible?)
Monday, February 9, 2009
The Lord’s Gym is in part of the New Life Church. I was there to help with a Navigator seminar “Listening and Healing Prayer” There were about 60 people at the seminar, and a recovery rally in the next room, neighborhood teenagers playing basketball in the gym, vets using the exercise machines, women shopping at the Lord’s Closet for free clothes. It’s a busy place.
The New Life Church is a recovery church – and the people there were either recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, workers or some combination. I sat with Sally* who had a tattoo around her neck and said coming there kept her from getting into trouble; with Sue, Cindy and John who were homeless and living in the shelter. Andrea had been out of prison a week… Molly had just been kicked out of the clean and sober house and didn’t know where she was going to go. Sometimes, she confessed, she stole food – just like she and her sister did when they were kids and no one was there to take care of them. No one there had anything left to hide, or bothered to pretend that they had much going for them. They sang the worship songs wholeheartedly.
During the weekend we listened to the Lord, prayed for one another, cried, ate pizza and chips and celebrated God’s love, forgiveness and welcome. Many of these people were used to being problems… they had social workers and psychiatrists and parole officers. They almost all had parents who were alcoholics or addicts and been abused in some way – beaten, neglected, raped. Told how worthless and unwanted they were – told by their parents and other adults that they were white trash, or an effing lying bitch, or stupid. This weekend at the Lord’s gym they were told something different – that they were children of God, brothers and sisters, loved and forgiven and that they could help each other. They prayed for each other, and it wasn’t the experts, or the professionals or the educated people who heard God – but each of them. The kingdom of God showed up there in the Lord’s gym.
Do I really believe that knowledge, intelligence, education, financial security, and a good family background aren’t the hard currency of the kingdom of God? As I read Luke, I see that the people who received the kingdom – the ones to whom the kingdom belonged - were the desperate, the outcasts, the ones with a big debt to be forgiven… the poor. The ones who know they are poor.
*the names are changed
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
In 4:43, Jesus states his purpose: to tell the good news of the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God – the reign of God, comes out of the future, breaking into the present. It is not a return to anything – it is radically new, different and surprising. We are invited to step into it now. And when we do, we are not determined by our past, but by our future in God’s new world.
Look at the stories in this chapter and how something new breaks in to people lives. Peter is the fishing expert. He knows how things work. Jesus steps in, shows him something entirely new, and invites him into it. The leper recognizes the person who has the power to change his condition. But will he, he wonders? The paralytic and his friends come hoping for something new – and get more than they expected. Levi had a new kind of life offered to him from out of the blue, unearned and unlooked for. The parable Jesus tells (5:36-39) punctuates all this change – there’s no making incremental change here, no adding on a little Jesus to what you already have. This is turning everything upside down. And some, who like things as they are, won’t like it … “the old is good” they say.
Jesus himself is the center and the heart of all this change, the bridegroom himself. The kingdom has arrived in Jesus – he is making everything new, the fulfillment of all the old stories and the long preparations (like the Sabbath 6:1-11). He puts together a new people (6:12-16, 12 apostles, 12 tribes of Israel) and gives them a new charter, (6:17-49) like God gave a charter to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy. It’s pretty crazy! “You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all!” (6:20) What????
The kingdom of God is always coming to us, every day. It is really hard to change, frightening to let go of old ways of doing things, old certainties about God or about yourself, old habits of personality that you think are just you. But I tell you what … I really, really, really don’t want to get stuck. You can get stuck at any age, but I am at an age when people very often do get stuck, give up repenting, give up turning around, embracing the kingdom that is always coming and the unexpected Jesus who is turning things upside down and inviting us into His new world. Sometimes it is only when the “old” isn’t so good that we are ready to get up and follow when the invitation comes.
So I am looking out for the invitation today.
Friday, January 30, 2009
God created Adam and Eve to be his true children, to live in fellowship with him and act as his regent on earth. They were designed to live with responsibility and creativity and fellowship – like the One who made them. But man rebelled against that vocation, choosing to act independently of God, wanting to be god.
But God didn’t give up. He chose one man, Abraham, one family, one people to fulfill the vocation that He had given mankind. They were to act as His regents, live as his people and through them, God promised, all peoples would be restored as well. How did Israel respond to that calling? You can read the story in Psalm 78.
They forgot God’s covenant and refused to live by his law (Ps. 78:10)
They forgot what He had done (78:11)
They willfully put God to the test by “demanding the food they craved” ( v18)
They “spoke against” God, asking: “Can God spread a table in the desert? He provided us water, but can he also give us food??” (v 19)
They did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. (v22)
They were disloyal and faithless, and “aroused his jealousy with their idols”; i.e. they put other things above God. (uh oh.)
Their hearts were not loyal to God, their spirits were not faithful to Him. They decided it would be better to be back in Egypt with their meat pots without God, than out in the desert and starving with God. (its all about the food…) (Ps 78:8)
They tested him at Masseh (means testing) When things got difficult, in spite of all He had done, they asked “Is the Lord with us or not?” (Ex. 17:7)
God still doesn’t give up though! Psalm 78 ends with God’s choice of David – one faithful shepherd “with integrity of heart”. God’s good rule on earth would one day come – through one like David who would be faithful to God. In Luke 3, John the Baptist is paving the way for this One … Jesus comes to be baptized - and a voice from heaven declared “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is taking on the vocation of being the true human being, the true Son.
But he must first demonstrate that he is faithful to God – a true son and not a rebel. So, like Israel, he is tested in the desert. And in contrast to Adam, in contrast to Israel, he refuses to provide for his own needs, refuses to doubt God’s faithfulness, refuses to take the place of God. He stays loyal to God and to His calling to be God’s true Son.
Then, immediately, in Nazareth – he announces His vocation as the Son, begins to make the point that this vocation is not only towards the nation of Israel but to the nations of the world, and then begins to exercise his vocation, bringing good news to the poor, freeing the captives, bringing sight to the blind. In the presence of the true Son of God, the kingdom – the rule of God through His anointed representative – has arrived!
Here is what I realized as I listened to the Spirit speaking to me through this text: I, like Israel, am prone to forget what God has done, to want most whatever it is I think will give me life, to be loyal to me and not to God. (I feel sad about that: I think that it would hurt God’s feelings to be distrusted.) But really this story is not about me. There is one who was loyal to his Father above himself, who was the true son, the true human being, and his loyalty brings the benefits of God’s rule to me too.
And I am so glad God is not a quitter.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Luke’s narrative about Jesus is similar. In oral tradition, events were recounted by people to one another until a composite story emerged. This story was told and retold – using the same words and phrases (like some of your family stories which always use the same words!). This oral account was trusted – people could write anything in books, but a witness (my aunt Hannah was there!) was reliable.
At the time Luke compiled his narrative later in the first century, the message of Jesus has spread beyond the towns and villages where they had taken place. The original witnesses were dying (or scattered by the Roman crackdown in 68-70 AD). Luke researched and compiled the histories to preserve the story.
Notice the historical details in the story – this is something that happened – in history, in the lives of real people. The historic details are there right next to the things that we think of as “supernatural” – angels, prophecies, impossible births. Into the world of ordinary people – a priest doing his duty, a faithful but disappointed old woman, a young girl, shepherds doing their jobs- In the midst of time and space and ordinary people – God breaks in, and transforms the “ordinary” into the place where we meet God. Earth and heaven overlap. The poet George Herbert calls prayer “heaven in ordinarie.” After Luke 1,2 nothing is just ordinary – it is all the place where God has shown up and is showing up.
Notice too, that this is a promised break-in! The chapter is full of references to the ongoing story of which this is the next and greatest chapter – the promise of Elijah (1:17), the promise of a King to sit on David’s throne (1:32,33), the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (1:68-79) and to the whole world (2:29-32). Remember that at this time, God had been silent for 400 years – no word from the Lord, no prophet. In that time they had been overrun and oppressed by one pagan nation after another. The rulers of this world were in power, it seemed. Where was God? Had he abandoned them? Had He given up on them, forgotten his promises? There were some who still hoped and looked for some change, some intervention, who were faithful to what God had told them, who were steeped in His words in the past, who still had faith that He was faithful. And when God did break in – they recognized Him.
Those who watched the 2009 inauguration against the backdrop of another gathering 46 years ago on the Capitol Mall had a fuller understanding of its significance. Those who saw the events in this chapter against the backdrop of Israel’s story understood its cosmic significance. Without that backdrop it would have been not much more than a surprising local story (“Elizabeth is Expecting: Why isn’t Zach Talking?”). Against that backdrop it becomes a story that is personal, national and cosmic. It is the same with our stories!
This I think is the story Luke tells – God breaks in. As you read the book, look for this: when God breaks in, what did that look like? Who are the kinds of characters in the story? What is it that God does when he breaks into the “ordinary” world? What did people expect it to look like? What was surprising – or disconcerting – about it? How do people respond? … How do you respond?
Monday, January 19, 2009
I am so convinced that there is nothing more important in life than being “with God” - nothing more important for me and how I live and nothing more important for my effect on other people and the world around me. There is nothing more important, more valuable for me – and therefore nothing I want more for my friends. I am so convinced that the way that happens is that God speaks – through His word, by His Spirit, in the company of His people and in the context of real life – and as we hear and say yes to Him through the days of our lives we meet Him, we find Him, we are changed by him and find life in Him. It is a long process – not quick or easily measured, and takes patience.
This year has been a challenging one to my faith –I have asked myself again – what is God up to? What can I expect? Did we just make all this up? Does the story that the Bible tells make sense in life? And where I come back to – as I have before – is that in spite of the mysteries, in spite of all that I do not understand (and do not like), in spite of how hard it is to live out of the truth the Bible tells – there is no where else to go to find life. As Peter said to Jesus when Jesus asked him if he wanted to go away too “Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
So my motivation for this time together is not primarily for greater knowledge of the Bible (although that is valuable) and not just for getting together (even though I love that and need it!). My motivation is that we would be stimulated to hear God speak in His word and listen and be transformed.
Everyone has wrestled with the practice of a “quiet time” - tried, succeeded sometimes, failed sometimes, felt guilty, etc. I would like to encourage you to aim to spend at least a few minutes each day in listening to the Word – even if it is just a paragraph, or a verse. I know it is hard to find the time to do, (especially when you have young children and work!) and you won’t always succeed. But I think that it is so valuable that it is worth persisting. It doesn’t matter whether you "get something out of it." If you listen every day, inviting the Spirit to speak, ready to say yes – you will be transformed over time.
Here is a way to approach reading: (Based on the tradition of “lectio divina” or sacred reading. Sounds so clever in Latin!)
- Prepare: Invite the Spirit to speak to you – remind yourself that you are listening to a person – the God who speaks.
- Read (lectio): the chapter or just one story or paragraph, or verse. What stands out to me? What gets my attention?
- Meditate (meditatio): Mull it over. Why does this stand out to me? What would it have been like to be there? What puzzles me about this?
- Pray (oratio): Respond to God – Is there something He is saying to me here? God is speaking - what is my reply?
- Live (contemplatio): As you go through your day or week come back to the words or thoughts that stood out to you. How does this connect with my life?
Here is a quote I like from Eugene Peterson’s Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading:
"Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”
We will be reading about 2 chapters a week (starting this week), and finish by Easter. It's too fast, but there is value in reading in order to get a bigger view of the story. But don't be constrained by that ... stick with the word or verse or story that speaks to you, long enough so that you can hear.
I do best when I read in company with others. I hope that you will join us!