Lent and continuing on

Sometimes we lose sight of not only where we are, but how we got there. The disciples of old who followed Jesus have to be given some credit, even though all the glory in the end certainly goes to God. They pressed on in spite of their weaknesses, all of them sincere in trying to learn from and truly follow Jesus, except Judas Iscariot, who sadly enough had other motives.

We need to remain close to the source and we need to press on. It’s easy to slack off when we have a chance. We do need rest. Sometimes life throws so much at us so long that it is good to get away for a bit of a prolonged time and be able to rest, relax and reflect on life, and hopefully be refreshed in it all, in and through the Lord (an unplanned alliteration, ha). It is good, I believe, to have regular short spots of physical rest, when we can reflect anew on God’s goodness to us, or simply seek to rest in his presence.

Sometimes immediately before a big event and immediately after we can get into a kind of funk, or dark place. That’s perfectly okay and normal. We can’t control our emotions, for sure, but we do have control over our faith. A fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and our goal should be to follow our Lord faithfully to the end, no matter what. Out of love for the Lord, for God, and for the world, our loved ones, the lost, even as Jesus taught us- for our enemies.

And so just before the beginning of Holy Week and Palm Sunday, as we remember the final hours of our Lord before his suffering and death, and we reflect on the meaning of that anew, soon to be followed by our celebration of his resurrection, we press on, continuing on. In Jesus through the gospel, in the word. Not pushing ahead as if it depends on us, but doing so in the grace and power of our Lord. As we anticipate God’s goodness to us and through us to others in and through Jesus.

the gospel – a mini primer

The gospel meaning good news is the one good news and hope for the world that will last. People put their hopes and dreams in all kinds of things. They prove empty in the end, even though on the way they might somehow fill their lives. But the question is with what and with what impact. The gospel itself is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, a salvation that is rooted in the past, active in the present and promised in the future.

The good news simply speaking is Jesus himself. To find the gospel one needs to get a Bible and read the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I might advise reading them in this order: Mark, John, Matthew and Luke, followed by the other of Luke’s writings, Acts, which with the coming of the blessed Holy Spirit in power, tells the story of what happened after Jesus’ coming in his Incarnation, life and ministry, death and resurrection, and ascension with the promise of his return. After that one should read the letters, starting with Paul perhaps in this order: Ephesians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. And then go on to read the rest of the New Testament. Or to keep it simple (which oftentimes works better for me), just start at the beginning of the New Testament, Matthew, and read all the way through to the end, Revelation.

Better advice yet is to start with the Old Testament followed by the New Testament and read the entire Bible through. Although it might be best to read the New first, and then read the entire Bible through afterward. One makes the best sense of the New Testament from understanding something of what preceded it. And so in a sense, the good news or gospel of Christ is as big as the entire Bible, and for all of life. The entire story found in scripture, which pertains to all of life is relevant to understanding this gospel, which is really the heart of it all.

Again, Jesus is the gospel in his person and work for us and for the world. In his Incarnation in God becoming human, one of us. He did mighty works to direct people to the grace and kingdom of God come in him, the King. In his teachings he spoke the very words of God in a way that fulfilled every word of God that preceded him, as the Prophet. And he presented himself once for all as the final sacrifice for all humankind in his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, as the Priest. And by his resurrection we receive new life, resurrection life, even the eternal life in knowing him and the Father who sent him. We enter into this by faith which includes repentance, and by baptism. And thus we are joined not only to Christ, but also to his body the church. And we are called to be witnesses of this good news.

Here is Paul’s summary of the good news:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you,which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

(Note: Many end his summary of the good news after verse 11: “…this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” I prefer to include through verse 28 which includes the Second Coming and the end of all things.)

saying goodbye for now to a friend

Phil is a friend of ours along with his devoted, loving wife, Kelly. We have known them for some time now. We lost track of them for awhile when they moved, but by and by they moved back, not far away where Phil grew up. Phil and Kelly are the kind of people who would give you the shirt off their backs if they could (and even if they really could not).

I especially remember the times Phil and I would get together for coffee and chat. We would talk about faith and everyday things as well. Phil would tell me that he always enjoyed it immensely, that it was a highlight for him. Well that was Phil in part I think, he was gracious. But I also think somehow the Lord was at work in our fellowship to draw us both nearer to him. I saw the times as meeting with a good friend and as very ordinary as far as what faith I shared. That reminds me how God can use the ordinary, even the broken, just as the Lord used the five loaves and two small fishes to feed a multitude.

Phil was diagnosed with cancer, which was held at bay for some time, but finally did its destructive work.

Deb and I bought the film Ragamuffin, which gives one angle of Rich Mullins’ life. I could identify well with that film myself in some ways, and Deb in her own way as well. It occurred to me that Phil and Kelly might identify with it also, and that we needed to get together with them anyhow. So we bought them a copy. And they did.

Soon afterwards the cancer was diagnosed as having spread with a limited time to live. Phil committed himself to fight through and did so to the end. He wanted to experience as much of life as possible, and in the end he was able to fulfill something of all his last wishes except the very last.

For a time, I called him up most every day, usually in the evening. We would chat a bit, I might read him some scripture, and pray. One time he prayed himself, a heartfelt prayer to God, at least mostly as I remember it about the needs of others. Even during his great need, Phil would be occupied with concern for others, especially for his wife, Kelly. Even for me.

I remember our last visit together. Phil could barely walk. At one point apparently for no reason he said, “Praise God.” It was a hard, trying time. The sad day has arrived, and yet it’s a happy day as well. Happy because we know he is at a place that is “better by far,” with Jesus. Sad because we’ll miss him.

I look forward to seeing him again, all well and active in doing whatever it is he will be about. Together with all of us in Jesus in the eternal life of the new creation in the kingdom to come.

Lent and the promise of the resurrection

As the disciples followed Jesus day after day toward Jerusalem, they still couldn’t put two and two together on what Jesus had told them and didn’t do so until after his resurrection. He told them specifically three times that he would have to suffer many things at the hands of  the Jewish religious leaders and Romans, that he would be killed and that on the third day he would rise again. The only thing on their minds was the unimaginable idea that he would actually be killed. That was the end of all would be Messiahs. And to top it off that it could be on a cross, which likely would be the case (hadn’t Jesus told them of the need for any would be followers to take up their cross and follow him?). Their theology did not comprehend a Messiah who would die, much less one who would be nailed to a tree and thus under God’s curse. Nor did their theology understand a resurrection apart from that at the end of the age. And so they were rather lost.

As they neared the end of the journey, Jesus’ friend Lazarus was sick and died. It would seem that Jesus could have appeared before he died and most certainly would have healed him. Instead he waited, it would seem purposefully too long. The account is a breathtaking one, Martha’s faith evident, just as was Mary’s acceptance that this was their brother’s end apart from the resurrection to come at the end of the age. Here is Jesus’ exchange with Martha:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

After that we see what happened. Lazarus, who had been dead for four days was raised to life. Of course Lazarus was to die later. That wasn’t the resurrection for him which awaits the end with the full resurrection of creation in the new creation when Jesus returns and heaven and earth become one in him.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?”he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind manhave kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

The disciples were near the end of their journey by this time. The first Holy Week would soon be upon them. And we know what happened at the end. Which holds promise for everyone who has put their faith in Jesus. Our full humanity which includes our bodies will be brought to life in and through our resurrected Lord.

 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Lent and continuing in prayer

Lent is a time of preparation, culminated in Holy Week and ending on Easter Sunday. We prepare in significant part through prayers and traditionally through fasting, though many of us are not accustomed or a part of traditions which practice the latter at least not as church. I see one of the highest values of Lent as entering into prayer and not just prayer for ourselves for repentance and deeper identification with Christ through our baptism into his death, but for others, for others in the faith and outside of it.

Hopefully through the season of Lent we are impacted so that our lives are changed. That we are a step and a breath closer to our Lord becoming more like him in his death. That his resurrection power and life might be more evident from us for others. Of course that this practice may be done more consistently and with more depth out of a heart of love, which will more be the case if we’ve grown closer to Jesus.

Getting there isn’t always easy, and in fact we have to accept that at times we may seem lost and things may seem topsy turvy. And there may be moments when everything seems against us. That is part of living in this world as a follower of Christ, in an existence of the world, the flesh and the devil. As part of God’s grace and kingdom come in and through Jesus. And so we continue in prayer.

openness to new thoughts: prayer or faith that moves mountains

Holy Week is fast approaching us (beginning this coming Sunday, Palm Sunday) and what happened in the gospel narratives which I want to consider in this post is after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when he rode a donkey with disciples celebrating the entry of the King with palm branches.

The idea of openness to new thoughts is really not at all something that cannot be thought of as a part of the Lent meditations on this blog, since actually the way of Jesus as the Messiah King was at its heart different, even 180 degrees so from what the disciples, indeed what the entire world expected in those days. So the introduction of this thought is certainly in that league.

Recently I was struck by this post from a professor, an Anglican, Tim Gombis, whose work and scholarship I respect. Entitled, Jesus Expects Disciples to Inhabit the Kingdom. And I was struck by this quote from C. S. Lewis yesterday from another scholar whose work and scholarship I equally respect, Dennis Fisher:

For most of us the prayer in Gethsemane is the only model. Removing mountains can wait.

On top of that, at Prince of Peace Anglican Church yesterday we sang the worship song with the words: “Jesus, he can move the mountains. Our God is mighty to save, he is mighty to save.” So with the challenges that are facing us right now from a number of angles, I was moved to really think about and begin to rethink my own faith and praying.

Here is part of the passage in mind, from the account in Mark’s gospel:

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Of course everything is contingent on God’s will. We won’t be moving any mountain if God’s will is otherwise. Or it could be a matter of timing. However Jesus makes no such qualifications in his words here to his disciples, and by extension to us. Perhaps he wants us to be so in tune with him that our thoughts will be in line with his thoughts, indeed with God’s will, that which is good, pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2). At the same time I can’t help but think that God wants us humans in and through Jesus to take charge again in ways that are foreign to us in a broken, sinful world with a groaning creation. Getting back to the call in Genesis for humankind to be stewards, indeed even to rule over God’s good earth in ways which bless all creation and for human flourishing (as Tim Gombis points out).

What do I know about this, and how will it change my practice of praying? I’m not sure. There are all kinds of ways to pray as we are told and find in scripture. This is one way, and it seems largely neglected. And so I’m going to begin the practice along with other prayers, of praying some mountains into the sea, that God’s good will in and through Jesus might be done.

prayer for the fifth Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer