falling short

Blogging for me has the nature of thinking out loud sometimes, and testing words. Most likely we all change in some ways over time in how we express things as we hopefully gain a more full and mature understanding of life and of truth. The thought here today I am especially aware of fitting into this category.

When one looks at the characters of scripture, as a rule it seems that over and over again they fall short of what they could have been. David is a classic point in case. Of course there are notable exceptions to the rule. Though little is said of Enoch, he would seem to stand as such an exception. Then of course there is Paul. God went to great lengths to keep him from becoming conceited, though Paul had a calling in which such was necessary for him. And perhaps the Lord was honoring Paul’s commitment. In the end all is a gift, and as Paul himself exclaimed, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” But are we faithful stewards of God’s gift to us?

Israel fell short, even into sin and captivity. Jesus comes and fulfills all Israel was called to be. He is the one for sure that never fell short for a moment, even if he did fall short time and time again in the eyes of the people. Expectations that are out of line with God’s will are common. We have this and that in mind as the ideal, and if people don’t measure up, they let us down, we think. But our ideal is almost certainly not God’s. And only God knows the ideal inside and out.

I don’t believe in sinless perfection, or even in a Wesleyan version of that, which I think can come much closer to the truth. We will sin, we do sin. Therefore because of that alone, we all fall short of God’s will. Yet as we walk in the light as God is in the light, we experience cleansing through Christ’s blood, and ongoing repentance in our lives as we confess our sins to God.

Jesus is the one who did not fall short. And as we continue in him individually and together, we too will be carried as well as protected, blessed to be a blessing to all. Yes, we do fall short. It is not us, but Jesus who we point others to. As we tell his story, and seek to live in his ongoing story, one that helps sinners like you and I go on and grow together in and through Jesus.

Richard Foster on lectio divina

It is in meditation upon Scripture where we find the “sanctified imagination” used most frequently. Indeed, this way of approaching the sacred text has a long and time-honored history among the people of God. It even has a special name: lectio divina, “divine reading” or “spiritual reading.”

What does lectio divina mean? Well, it means listening to the text of Scripture–really listening, listening yielded and still. It means submitting to the text of Scripture, allowing its message to flow into us rather than attempting to master it. It means reflecting on the text of Scripture, allowing both mind and heart to be fully engaged in the meaning of the passage. It means praying the text of Scripture, letting the biblical reality give rise to our heart cry of gratitude, confession, lament and petition. It means applying the text of Scripture, seeing how God’s Holy Word provides a personal word for our life circumstances. It means obeying the text of Scripture, turning, always turning away from our human ways and into the way everlasting.

Most of all lectio divina means seeing the text of Scripture, engaging the sanctified imagination in the full drama of God’s Word. St. Francis de Sales counseled, “Represent to your imagination the whole of the mystery on which you desire to meditate as if it really passed in your presence. For example, if you wish to meditate on our Lord on the Cross, imagine that you are on Mount Calvary, and that you there behold and hear all that was done or said on the day of the Passion.” Alexander Whyte declared, “With your imagination anointed with holy oil, you…open your New Testament. At one time, you are the publican: at another time, you are the prodigal…at another time, you are Mary Magdalene: at another time, Peter in the porch…till your whole New Testament is all over autobiographic of you.”

Lectio divina is a meditative, spiritual reading in which both the mind and the heart are drawn into the love of God. When he was at Harvard, Henri Nouwen once showed me a lovely picture hanging on his apartment wall. The picture depicted a woman holding an open Bible in her lap, but her eyes were lifted upward, as if toward heaven. The idea is that in lectio we are both reading the words and attending to the Lord high and lifted up.

We are told that after all the enormous events surrounding Jesus’ birth “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). In lectio we are learning to do the same.

Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, 40-42.

an engaged Anabaptism

Theology is the human attempt* to put into words what faithful commitment to God in Jesus means. Christians do it all the time, whether well or not. And Christian theologians work at it, the best of that in participation with the church. In other words within the struggle to live this faith out during that time.

So what I have to say here, while it is vitally important, it is humble in nature. God helps us, but it is still the attempt to be faithful to God’s revelation in Jesus which is found in the witness of scripture.

When I think of Anabaptists, I naturally think of the Mennonites, a tradition in which I was raised. And the Amish, themselves a breakaway from the Mennonites. And afterward I might think of the German Baptists, we knew them as “Dunkards” surely with reference to their practice of baptism by immersion.

In varying ways, these groups were largely disengaged from society. Yes, present in what they did, how they dressed (not so much in the tradition I was raised in), as well as what they refused to do–go to war, take an oath in court. I doubt that many of them voted in elections, though in my tradition probably most did vote.

I believe that we need to be present and active in our witness in Jesus, but in a gentle, unassuming, unworldly manner. In terms of actively making a difference in our world to begin with, and to some extent in the world at large. In humble, everyday, love your neighbor kind of ways.**

For the follower of Jesus this should be always a matter to wrestle over: How do we remain in the world, but not of it as in not tainted by it? Both are important. We must have an active witness to Jesus and the gospel. Something I hope to keep working on through reading books and remaining in scripture within an active participation in the church.

*Maybe second tier in that scripture as first tier is the written word of God, but within scripture we see that God has given the church significant authority. Seen to some extent in tradition. So that God by the Spirit gives insight to the church. But the church’s understanding of the truth in Jesus must always appeal to scripture.

**“Inspired” by this post.

tone deaf

We read the words, but do we really get it? That is a problem in social media both on blogs and on sites such as Facebook. One may not be cross at all, but may be misunderstood as such. If we can be misunderstood in person, we most certainly can be in print. Although I find pros and cons to that on either side for myself.

Reading scripture, God’s written word, conveys to us promises of God in Jesus which bear out well God’s fatherly care of his children. Or how God in his sovereignty rules over all, and in a special, present, growing sense, in the coming of Jesus within and out from the church. We read truths and related promises, but do we really get it? Speaking for myself, I think we are often tone deaf. We miss the music, so to speak, that accompanies the words.

Scripture is put to song, especially evident in the psalms. And it is told in story form in significant measure. In fact we do well I think to see it as story, with much directly so, and the rest contributing to that. We do well to listen so as to catch the rhythm and melody, to gather in the stories which are fulfilled in the story of Jesus, and now ongoing, as we head to the consummation when the fulfillment in Jesus begins to be completely realized forever and ever.

Do we see God’s word as both story and song which finds its plot, music and end in Jesus? Are we picking up that music now, be it ever so faintly? Or are we caught up in other stories and tunes from the many the world has to offer?

I think to overcome this we need to learn to listen better. To catch the tune which is coming out of the story, no less than from God. More silence and meditation, as well as awareness of this, can be helpful.

I am grateful for our pastors at our church, as well as for friends and books which can help us in this way. Actually all that is from God will help us to begin to really pick up the music and begin to understand the story and plot in Jesus, so that we with others can find our place in it, our own role and part together in and for this world.

iron in the soul

God’s love is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we read in Romans. And that, in the midst of, and even through trials. But at times I think it is iron being poured out into my soul, which I use as a metaphor here for heart, or life. Iron in the sense, hopefully of strengthening, but also of hardening so as to help me persevere in faith.

There is a hardening because there seems to be a point of conflict, and a battle being engaged. And at points where I not only feel vulnerable, but even defeated.

Iron in the soul helps us press on and seek God and God’s good will, come what may. But I long for a heart that is moved and moving, indeed broken many times where need be, by grace. I don’t like this iron in the soul kind of thing.

But what is the alternative? I have to trust the Lord and his good working in me, to make me a better follower and servant, yes, a more faithful and true child of the Father.

And in the words of Paul concerning his own calling in ministry along with his helpers, come to trust no longer in myself, or circumstances, or anything or anyone less than God, who raises the dead in and through Jesus.

bigger than us

Scripture speaks about the very hairs of our head being numbered, that the Father lovingly knows every detail of our lives. There is the danger however, when we center in on passages like that, that we will fail to see the big picture. What in the world God is doing in Jesus. While God’s Story in Jesus most certainly includes us, it is also bigger than us.

What helps me keep centered is a simple recitation prayerfully of “the Lord’s Prayer”, or the “our Father prayer”:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

I also recite this passage as an important reminder about what is to have priority in all of life, what life is about, aptly called “the Jesus Creed”:

 29 “The most important one,”answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

When I feel distant from God, or too preoccupied with myself I find that the simple practice of reciting these helps. Actually it is a good practice to do regularly, daily.

The Jews did this with the Shema, and it is not far fetched to think that Jesus and his disciples practiced the same, with the new alterations.

Yes, God’s work is bigger than us. But it includes us; we are an intrical part in Jesus of the Father’s work of love in and for the world.

living with weakness

If one gets to know me and what’s really going on inside, one will get to know a person who does well when he walks by faith, but not well when he does not. The kind of “well” that I would like to be living in, however, seems elusive.

I have struggled to rid myself by faith of a matter and related matters which plague my mind and heart. I finally came to see and try to embrace and grow in the point made in scripture about not only living with weakness, but seeing it as the means in which Christ’s strength is made perfect. Recently I’ve been hit by the same sort of challenge in a completely new way.

I am referring to the passage concerning Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan no less, to even torment him. That not being removed, but the Lord telling Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Needless to say, unlike Paul I don’t need to be kept from conceit due to surpassingly great revelations. But I can become easily complacent, settled in, and proud at the drop of a hat.

Of course it is the Lord who is in charge. He may free us along the way from what has tormented us, but the sense of dependence on him and in knowing we are weak, dependent on his strength can remain. Hopefully we’ll always walk with a limp.

Is it comfortable living this way? No. Do I need to learn to live better, and eventually well, this way? Yes. Paul did learn even to delight in his weaknesses, of course for a reason.

The goal is that Christ’s power might be made evident, that he would make himself known to others. We live this way individually and together both for our mutual strengthening in the faith, and that others might see and believe the message.

projecting on others

How we look at others and how we perceive others look at us is important. We’re to love God first, and then love our neighbor as ourselves. But we can heap on others what we would never want to receive ourselves. Or we can be misjudged and ridiculed by others.

I have found that when I know I am disliked and judged that I tend to struggle to not see myself in that way when around such people. On the other hand when I am accepted and loved for who I am, with my foibles and sins, I seem more open to God’s grace to receive forgiveness and accept his view of me in Jesus as his beloved.

There is no doubt that we struggle in this life in our attitudes at times. To identify the problem, they say, is half the battle, and there is truth in that.

Where we err is when we make any final judgments on others, as if somehow we are a cut above them. We ordinarily do this from a distance; we don’t really know the person. And even if we try to get close enough to understand them better, we do well to be slow in thinking we really know them.

Do we see others, including those we have a hard time liking, as loved by God? It is hard when we know that they don’t really know us. But there is a tendency in many of us to live down to what others think of us, instead of living up to what God thinks of us through Jesus.

We live according to what we think. Our focus is to be on Jesus, and in Jesus we’re to be becoming like him. That is especially true, together, in other words we’re to be growing up together in community in Jesus.

We need to ask God to help us see others with the Lord’s eyes, seeing ourselves in the same way. So that we can be people of grace and truth for each other, and for the world, people who are becoming more and more like Jesus.

Scot McKnight on the gospel culture replacing the salvation culture, the saved then being disciples

A salvation culture does not require The Members or The Decided to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because its gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision. In this book we want to show that the gospel of Jesus and that of the apostles, both of which created a gospel culture and not simply a salvation culture, was a gospel that carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who wanted to be “in” to be The Discipled. In other words, it swallowed up a salvation culture into a gospel culture.

Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, 33.