walking through

In The Pilgrim’s Progress we see Christian walk through many a danger–in the words of “Amazing Grace,” “through many dangers, toils and snares.” There are people accompanying him along the way–friends and foes (even if unwittingly so) alike. Without the friends, Christian would never have made it from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  So it wasn’t like he was alone. And yet in a sense it is true that he, and all of us like him in Jesus have to make this journey alone. While we do so as those in community in Jesus, each of us has our part to do. And our walk of faith which we must take. Others are with us, and we are a part of them in Jesus, but not one of them can live our life for us. We must do it ourselves, to be sure in Jesus which means in dependence on Jesus and interdependence on his Body.

While we must do this, we indeed do so being borne up by God through the prayers of others. And indeed our Lord never leaves us, nor forsakes us, ever present with us through the Spirit. And yet there is a Calvary road which we must walk, which by nature is a walk alone. Dietirch Bonhoeffer in his classic, Life Together, warns us that if we can’t live in solitude, then we best beware seeking community. And if we can’t live in community, we best beware seeking solitude. The point being there is a time for both, even though at heart we are in this life in Jesus, which means union not only with Jesus, but with all who are in Jesus.  But we each have our own part by faith in love for the good of each other, Christ’s Body, and for the world.

At times I want to flinch and draw back, and avoid life. Life can seem overwhelming at times, to be sure. And there are those trials we face which seem more than we can bear. And yet in this life, though we indeed need times of rest, we have to get on and complete the journey and task God in Jesus has for us. We fulfill it, indeed growing up through that, only by walking through whatever God has for us in this life. Faithfully through it, in faith and dependence on God through Jesus, and interdependence for support from others in Jesus. May the Lord teach us more and more what that means in the same down to earth way in which he lived it out in this life. And may we live that out more and more, in him.

Sharon Garlough Brown on the mini-pilgrimage of walking the labyrinth

“To get you started on your sacred journey,” Katherine went on, “we’ll begin with a mini-pilgrimage. Have any of you walked a labyrinth before?” A few hands went up around the room. “The one you’ll be walking today is the same pattern as the thirteenth-century labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.” She paused, looked intently at the group. “Now, I’ll be honest with you. Some Christians get nervous about labyrinths because they’re found in many cultural and spiritual traditions. After all, the circle and spiral are ancient symbols for wholeness and transformation, and some people claim that the labyrinth pattern itself is mystical.”

“Fabulous,” Charissa muttered.

“I don’t believe there’s anything inherently mystical about the labyrinth,” Katherine said. “Transformation and healing come as gifts from meeting with the living God–not from walking along a particular pattern or path. The labyrinth simply provides an opportunity for prayer. Remember, the intent of spiritual disciplines is to create space where we can encounter God–space where we can be deeply touched and changed by God’s extravagant love for us. In walking the labyrinth, we deliberately slow down to give God our prayerful attention. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us be fully present to the One who is always with us. We quiet ourselves so we can notice the stirrings of God and respond in love, faith, and obedience.”

Katherine picked up a stack of papers from her podium. “I’ll pass around handouts to your tables so you can read about the labyrinth in your groups. Then when you’re ready, head right out these exit doors and follow the path to the courtyard. Once you’ve finished walking and praying, come back inside, and we’ll share some reflections with one another, okay? And may you know God’s near presence as you walk together.”

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes, 43.

Sharon gives further explanation of this on the following page, as the handout by this fictional character, Katherine Rhodes, including a drawing of a labyrinth.

off center

Almost anything we can imagine can take us off center. But almost anything we can imagine can be fine with, and for us, when we’re on center. This is not to say that we will be perfectly completely ever on center in this life, though there well may be some mystical moments when indeed we are, for the time and place as well as our own capacity. Of course the true center to all of life is found in Jesus. In that sense Jesus is indeed the center in whom is found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (see the Book of Colossians, better yet, read it), indeed in whom is the reality of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit.

By simple faith we enter “in Jesus,” a new reality which is to be front and center in our lives, as we grow in our capacity to understand and more importantly to simply live as in a walk, in accord with this reality which is in Jesus.

For me such simple practices as saying as a prayer, “The Lord’s Prayer“, also called the “Our Father” prayer; repeating “the Jesus Creed“;  praying in my own words for this and that when compelled to, wanting to, or knowing I should; seeking to worship with words; praying an examen in the words of Psalm 139, “Search me O God…”; singing a song or hymn as it comes to me. And seeking to remain in good fellowship with all of God’s people. Praying for those who either don’t want such fellowship, or somehow there just seems something wrong in our relationship, as well as prayer for myself concerning that.  Thankfully very few, probably less than the fingers on one hand at the moment, but sometimes we can be enmeshed in thinking about this. And it is important that through something like lectio divina, itself flexible: the point being that we try to hear what God is saying to us in a word or phrase from a repeated, meditative reading of a short scriptural passage–that we seek to take in God’s word by which we live spiritually. And it matters not if we think we’re getting nothing out of it. We persevere anyhow, knowing that seeds can be planted which will spring to life in our hearts, minds and lives later.

Our goal is more like a pursuit and passion with some true realization in this life. To seek to be on center, knowing that God being all in all through Jesus is where it’s at, what life is really all about. First–where we want to be, and out from that- the goal in and by which we long to see all things made new. For us and for the world in Jesus, to the true praise and glory of God.

faith depends on God in Jesus

There are anthropologists and others who hold to the idea that religion was invented by humankind to cope with life. On a certain level I can understand their thought. It’s interesting to study ancient and modern religions, indeed the history of religion, and see how humans factored in a deity, and deities, and the significance each had to them, as well as the character of such deities.

In actuality such a theory is a child of a naturalistic world view which shuts out the possibility that there is anything beyond nature, or what humankind can observe and verify. But the fact of the matter is that faith itself has proven to be more than a band-aid. There is a deep hunger and longing in the human soul which only through faith can be satisfied. And life cannot be seen in its wholeness within mere naturalistic terms and observations.

There is one thing I know as far as my own faith life goes. It depends on God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And it is beyond me. I’m all but lost at times, completely lost in and of myself. That is not unlike the account of Abraham to whom God promises a son, but who has to wait way beyond the point of any human hope. And even beyond that, so that while Abraham has a sense of the greatness and goodness of God, God’s promise to him is year after year after year not fulfilled.  And yet God kept Abraham going on in faith. And finally the promise comes. Surely through this God developed a faith in Abraham he would not have had otherwise.

God meets me time and time again, and always in Jesus and by the Spirit. And more and more within community in Jesus, which is one of God’s preferred, and indeed organic ways of doing so. We are saved through Jesus, but understood rightly, not apart from the church. But that’s another subject. The point here being that by simple faith we enter into God’s promises to us in and through Jesus. And in the here and now to the very end our faith depends on the person we entrust our lives too, that we might find our place in the Story in which God is all in all through Jesus.

living with tensions

Being a person who thinks (don’t we all), and likes to think things through, indeed who wants to be a free thinker within the commitment of following Jesus in the orthodox Christian faith, I find at times tensions that until I reach some kind of resolution in my mind concerning a matter, can really trouble me. The tensions don’t challenge my faith in Jesus, but they do sidetrack me in that much of my attention off and on is given to the matter, tossing it about while I try to search it out.

I need to learn that no matter what I’m facing, and how much thinking may be involved, all is to be a part of our life in and of the faith in Jesus. Sure, tensions are not fun. We have to live with them all the time. The key in everything is to seek to go on and keep growing in faith, and in the faith, regardless.

I find that Satan (yes, I believe in a personal spiritual being with other beings- of evil) is working to make us think something is bigger and more important than it is. To indeed sidetrack us from faith. Sometimes when in a tight place, I need prayer- from a brother or sister in Jesus when possible- and then an effort, which can be difficult, but with God’s help to cast the issue aside, and more properly, into God’s hands. Entrusting all to God.

We find that down the road most tensions are resolved one way or another. We see it better for what it is, or there is a reasonable answer for it. We may have to simply leave it unresolved.

We can easily forget where the reality of our walk lies. Not in having everything right in our minds, or even practice. But in seeking in mind and practice, indeed in all of life to live in Jesus together with others, seeking always to walk in faith, and not letting tensions like this sidetrack us from that. One more way we’re to learn to live in the Way in Jesus.

accusations versus truth telling

The guilt and condemnation sin brings is true, and the result of sin is death, spiritual death, and a destiny in which death has the final word. But in Jesus and through his death all our condemnation is gone in the forgiveness and justification this salvation brings. Yet we still not only can, but will sin. We are sinners. That does not excuse us from God’s call to holiness, and we are to grow up in our salvation, together more and more into conformity to Jesus’ likeness.

The devil majors in accusing the brothers and sisters to God, and to themselves, as well as to others. Heaps of condemnation and darkness accompany it, throwing out God’s salvation in Jesus. Judas Iscariot was not cleansed by Jesus’ word just as Jesus said, himself a thief all along. He did fall victim to this same lie. He was sorry for the evil he had done in betraying Jesus, and in his darkness, hung himself. Contrast Peter who had been cleansed through faith in Jesus’ word to him. After he sinned, three times denying that he knew the Lord, he repented. Though only through Jesus’ prayers and pursuit of him, which God does for us all in Jesus. The truth came loud and clear, and with it light to bring Peter into that reconciliation and  peace which only Jesus brings.

The devil lies to us and through others. Telling us we’re no good. That we just don’t measure up. That there is either limited or no forgiveness for us. Of course that is all a denial of the gospel. Jesus and the salvation he brings changes everything. Such words need always to be put up into the light of the gospel, as only half trues, and therefore patent lies! We do need to confess our sins along the way, but in Jesus there is always forgiveness in him. We stand on that truth, and then live in it, and call others to it. To this joy of salvation that is ours in Jesus.

when in doubt

By faith we speak and act. Doubt is considered opposite to faith, and depending on what is meant, doubt can certainly be in opposition to faith. However a certain kind of doubt that is facing one’s struggle honestly can actually amount to a struggle of faith.

The opposite of faith may be something more like indifference. Not caring, neglecting, simply being indifferent. Any struggle is a sign that one may indeed have faith. Jesus told his disciples that they should always pray, and not give up, or lose heart. Praying no matter what, even when one is becoming faint, and maybe especially then.

I know that sometimes faith can seem to be such an uphill climb. Yes, God is faithful in Jesus, and everyone in Jesus knows that to be true. But when it is the hardest is when our faith can grow the strongest. So that when we doubt, it may be just the way through the struggle, to a much stronger, living faith. Usually that which comes easy does not amount to much. Of course God’s economy can be different at times in the gift of his grace in Jesus. But by and large God allows his people in Jesus to grow over time through a process which includes much struggle. Through that spiritual struggle, faith can be confirmed and strengthened, and indeed can grow strong.

Faith is indeed a gift from God, found in Jesus, but its growth comes slowly, this spiritual growth akin to physical growth. Certainly with growth spurts here and there, but usually noticed only over time. Faith tested and tried to be true and genuine, what is not of faith becoming weaker over time, as our faith life  in Jesus takes over our lives more and more.

wisdom not natural

Like any other virtue, wisdom is something which has to be acquired over time. Add to that, one can do, or not do something which shows varying levels of wisdom. While there can be a wisdom learned that is rooted in human thinking and philosophy, Biblical wisdom begins with the fear of God. The fear includes a reverential awe, and also a sense that we do not trifle with God. God is god of grace and a father to us in Jesus, but he works this wisdom in us, as part of his salvation to us in Jesus.

A couple of markers we need to stand on. The first thing we need to do is pray. As a rule we should never act immediately, and certainly never in haste, which itself in such situations lacks wisdom (again as a rule, with possible exceptions). It is a good rule to at least sit on something overnight. The longer we can deliberate, the better. And it is always good to seek counsel from wise people we know, people who are godly, and have been around the block quite a few times. In other words who may be a mite older than us. And the bigger the decision that needs to be made, the more we need to look to others.

What is not natural to us, needs to become second nature. We incline toward what is actually foolishness, though we think it is wise. Or at least we see ourselves as wise in our own eyes. Those who do bring trouble on themselves and others. At the same time no one of us should think we’re above folly. We ever need to look to God for wisdom. Grace and truth will always accompany that wisdom, through Jesus. God helps those who in their folly look to him not to get out of trouble, but to learn a new way, the way of life from God.

Wisdom includes a grace from God which helps us understand our weakness, and why we did what we did. In a sense it can put a good construction on it. Our action which may not the best, can have good in it. At the same time we need to be open to where what is not good is exposed. Whether it be pride, fear, lack of faith so that we failed to look to God and his promise, etc.

God will help us as we keep looking to him. And keep learning his ways for us in Jesus. Together in Jesus for the good of the world.