looking back, looking ahead

As we approach a new year on our calendars, I think it’s appropriate and good to look back on the past year, 2011, as well as looking ahead to 2012. When Paul said forgetting what was behind, he was thinking in terms of the old life he had left behind with all its accoutrements, or what was held dear in the old life. As Paul pressed ahead in the new life in Christ.

Looking back on 2011, I have to say I am amazed it’s over. When beginning to write this post I first thought of 2010, then 2011. Had to bump myself up a year! The year goes fast, time flies. In fact the older one gets, the more this seems to be true. Even for scientific, psychological reasons, it’s been said. And also as a matter of perspective (related to the psychological). On the other hand we can learn to treasure what time we have with God, loved ones, ourselves, and creation.

2011 I see as a year of growth spiritually for me, and out from that in probably every other way that is important. Speaking here only of ways I’m aware of. There are certainly other areas untouched, which the Lord in due time will bring to light. But I’m thankful for the growth, and for experiencing the Lord’s faithfulness throughout. Both in times of need, as well as simply overall. In some ways, as I remember 2011, I think it was an important year for me. The beginning one might say, of a kind of breakthrough.

Without the faithful pastors I have, Jack and Sharon Brown, I don’t think this would have occurred. I’m thankful too for my faithful, sweet wife, who helps me much more than I help her, I’m afraid. And for true friends along the way. And above all the God from whom all blessings flow: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom be all glory and praise forevermore. Amen.

For some reason a sense of dread has hit me, not really about the future as much as the present, but that is where I live, in and out, so I’m more or less used to what is hard to get used to. But I’ve learned through life that God is faithful in just the ways we need to help us along in the way of Jesus. Of course we need to be in scripture daily, or regularly and significantly. And learn to depend on the Spirit to give us a sense of what that means, and how we are to live out the way in Jesus day to day. Through trials, in blessings and everything in between.

Looking forward to 2012 I have my own hopes along with the fears. But one thing I can count on for sure: God will be faithful. It is like a blank sheet ahead. We don’t know what a day may bring forth, for that matter. On the other hand, we can think ahead with some imagination what we’d like to see in God’s will in Jesus. For the world, in our world, in our hearts, for our loved ones, for family and friends. And pray along those lines.

As we turn the calendars (some already have!) I will continue to pray with others in and through Jesus, this 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

the vision of shalom

A missing chord in the gospel proclaimed is often the failure to see the world in the light of God’s promises to Israel. God promised shalom, which we translate peace, but which means much more than an absence of war. It has to do with general overall well being and human flourishing. Shalom is in terms of creation, with language of new creation. Justice is big, and God is on the throne, the son of man having God’s authority. This blessing to Israel, God’s covenant people, meant for the world.

God’s kingdom is now present in Jesus and is seen in the church. I take it that we in Jesus as the salt of the earth and the light of the world all in terms of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, are to live out that new way in this world. Which means we are to be a witness of what God’s kingdom in Jesus is. Someday in God’s glory to cover the earth as the water covers the sea.

I also take it that the gospel that Jesus is the Messiah has with it a light for the nations in terms of systemic justice. Judgment will come in this new light, but this light is also meant for good, so that even within a world system, some good might be done. I think of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa which confronted evildoers in Christian terms, that nation avoiding a bloodbath widely expected after apartheid was abolished. In this life and present existence all these attempts do go against the tide, since the world system is always in alliance with the flesh (fallen weak and sinful humanity) and the devil.

The good news that Jesus is the Messiah is certainly a saving message, bringing in God’s kingdom among those who embrace it. Lived out in a counter cultural way in this world. And always in the way of Jesus, which is the way of the cross. Someday to be brought to completion in and through Jesus. But having its beginnings now in Christ’s Body, the church. Not just for it, but for the world. As a light to the nations in and through Jesus.

Something to always be keeping in mind, as we approach another new year on our calendars. And pray that God’s kingdom would come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

the joy of unity

 1 How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

There is the sin of disunity, and there is also the joy of unity. There is nothing more encouraging than when people are united together in love under Christ by the Spirit. All living as one family as daughters and sons of the Father.

This psalm points to not only the joy of this unity, but also its importance in God’s eyes, and for the world. We indeed in and through Jesus as God’s people are blessed to be a blessing. We are blessed in the Father’s love for us, but that blessing is to be given in our witness of love in and through Jesus, to the world.

Unity even through Jesus doesn’t always come easy, in fact in the long haul it will be tested and tried. It is not maintained easily. That’s why we’re told to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. It will involve submitting to each other even when we think our way is better.

And it involves a commitment to grow in this unity. In not only simply being united, but in what that union means. Full of meaning from the Triune God, and in the way of Jesus in this world.

Of course it does mean living with our differences. In this life we’re not going to agree on everything. Hopefully we can come closer together in our thinking, or at least understand the other p0sition better. These can be over matters even of importance in doctrine. Though not matters of what the church has called dogma. Even then we need discernment because it’s not always easy or clear where to draw the lines between dogma and doctrine.

We are in this together in Jesus, period. There is no way out. This is clear throughout scripture, and we voice it every time we pray the Lord’s/Our Father prayer. So we need to work through our differences in forgiving each other, and in love covering over a multitude of sins, etc.

The blessing that comes even from this effort even when we are yet far from where we need to be can be palpable toward becoming great. We are indeed to grow in this grace in and through our Lord Jesus. Together for the world.

the sin of disunity

Christian Smith in his book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, clearly and compelling presents a sound case to demonstrate how “biblicism,” which is a staple of Protestant evangelicalism and fundamentalism fosters “the sin of disunity.”

In a nutshell we might call biblicism the belief that the Bible is the word of God by which we order our lives. An inerrant word from which we can draw knowledge in regard to everything including dating, marriage, child care, etc., etc. The failure of biblicism in a nutshell, I might say, is that it fails to take seriously just what the point of the Bible is. Scripture points us to Christ, the Word of God. Scripture is the written word of God in both a human and divine way in doing this, in the telling of God’s story. Protestant evangelical and fundamentalism is noted for its thousands of splits, many of these groups isolated to themselves. I would highly recommend the book, by the way.

But the sin of disunity among Christians is not relegated to just one part of Christendom. The Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are split. Due to the dogma of the real presence in the Eucharist, no one who does not believe that the bread becomes Christ’s body, and the wine is blood can partake with Roman Catholics.

Smith distinguishes between dogma, doctrine and opinion. Dogma are matters the church has determined are essential. This was hammered out in the early centuries in church councils. Doctrine are more or less important matters which divide Christians yet are not necessary for the orthodox faith, or to have a living faith in Christ. And opinions are opinions, for whatever they’re worth. Smith suggests that the less baggage we have, or the more streamlined our dogma is, the better. His concern is that we don’t fall into theological liberalism, while at the same time we don’t divide over nonessential matters, however important they may be. For me a Christian pacifist stand is an important outworking of the gospel. Smith leaves the door open, wisely I would add, to the church learning more and more, which can be demonstrated. And perhaps there will be a consensus someday adopting at least something of a pacifist stance, should Jesus tarry.

The sin of disunity is not just a matter of failing to make the gospel of Christ front and center. In Galatians we see that it is of the flesh, which means it arises from humanity’s fallen, sinful weakness and evil. We divide over this and that, often because we dislike someone. Or we want to be in control. But Christ will have none of that. The way of Jesus is a completely different way, which takes everyone by the Spirit into the love of the Father in the faith that is in Christ.

We shouldn’t pretend like our differences don’t exist. Yet we should hold onto our unity in Christ as one of those matters (as dogma) of first importance. So that we should go out of our way to acknowledge and live out our oneness with anyone who names the name of Christ in the faith. Even when we may disagree over some serious matters.

When we pray the Lord’s/Our Father prayer, we implicitly and clearly reject disunity. We are all one through Jesus as family by the Spirit. Let us live in and out of that love before and for the world. That all might see this “one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide earth.” And believe.

practice makes perfect

When we consider love, it is not enough that God loved the world. But he loved the world so much, or in this way, in that he sent his Son into the world. What we’ve been celebrating this Advent season.

What we do is important. We need to watch that, in order to test our love, insofar as that’s possible. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” There you have it. We say we love Jesus, and by God’s grace in him, we do. But that needs to be evident in keeping his commandments. If we don’t obey him, we do well to question our love for him. That should be characteristic of our lives, in spite of our failings.

Practice makes perfect. Which means we not only need to do the good, what God would have us to do, something often clear (it’s not what we can’t understand, but what we can, which should trouble us) as in a directive or command in scripture, such as “forgive one another,” or something we discern. We also need to watch that we aren’t doing what is displeasing to God, directly violating his directives for us, as in holding grudges, judging our brother or sister, etc.

Emotions are not to be despised or ignored, they are important. We don’t want to fall into a Kantian embrace of the ought, which surely has impacted our understanding of spirituality in ways foreign to God’s revelation in Jesus found in scripture. Emotions are indeed important in more ways than one.

We end up being judged by our works. Works that need to be done out of love and faith, to be sure. But the good we do or fail to do, along with the wrong we do, or avoid, and of course this will mean a life of ongoing repentance and confession of sin, this is important as well.

Again, practice makes perfect. One of the most important things we’re to do is learn to be still and know that God is God. Stillness in solitude, stillness in the midst of the storm, stillness in everyday life. Another discipline I practice is to say the Jesus Creed (Mark 12:29-31) and the Lord’s/Our Father prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) over and over throughout the course of a day. I find that this can help center me, helping me keep my focus on God through Christ. Actions in a sense can include thoughts as well as words. We do well to guard our hearts with all diligence, since it is out of the heart that we live, and act.

What we do and don’t do impacts us for good or ill. It is said that we can actually change our brains by our practices. By the Spirit we can be transformed more and more into the image of Christ, or we can resist that and go our own way. If that becomes a pattern of our lives, what we practice, we are on the road to spiritual death.

We do well to watch what we actually are doing, or failing to do. We need to take note of that. Remembering that we in Jesus are in this together. And asking God to reveal to us any hurtful way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting.

a living, breathing word from God

C.S. Lewis said that the Bible is not the word of God; that Jesus is.* Actually elsewhere and in all his writings Lewis is dependent on what is called “the rule of faith” discerned by the church out of the writings of scripture which the church determined to be uniquely from God when the canon we call the New Testament was formed in the church’s early centuries. Scripture is the mediating word of God to bring us to the Word, Jesus. By this overstatement,** Lewis was making an important point.

What we need is what we got, and what we are celebrating this Advent season. No less than  a living breathing word from God. All in a baby born in Bethlehem. A personal, relational commitment by God to humankind. Covenanted with his people who are so blessed to be a blessing to the world.

We in Jesus not only experience by faith this living, breathing word for ourselves. We in Jesus are to live this out in the same way Jesus did, to and for the world. The Spirit in us takes the real humanity of Jesus and touches the world, and others through us.

Yes, the world needs to understand the good news that the Messiah has come, Jesus. The church indeed needs to proclaim that message clearly, without shame, in bold humility. And just as important, the world needs to see that message lived out in us in and through Jesus. That same living, breathing Word which is Jesus, that needs to mark our lives. In a sense, as C.S. Lewis suggested, we are indeed little christs. Bearers of Christ in this world, yes, through our very flesh and blood, human lives.

A living, breathing word from God, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. That little baby long ago. Now seated at the right hand of the Father. To return and make all things right and new. That work beginning now through his Body in the world by the Spirit.

*“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of teachers will bring us to Him.” (C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis (Harvest Books, 2003), 247, quoted by Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, 117.

**I take it as an overstatement, though I’m not an expert on C.S. Lewis in any way, so I don’t know how he would respond, or explain it.

John 1:1-14

John 1

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14

Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2

The Birth of Jesus

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:1-20