feeding on Christ

Jesus said that people do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Our Pastor Jack reminded us on Sunday from John 6 that unless our souls are satisfied, we won’t be satisfied, no matter how full our bellies might be. (Not Jack’s exact words, but my words in listening and considering what he said).

Yes, we need to learn to feed on Christ himself, who later in that chapter calls himself the bread of life. Our Catholic friends insist that we feed on Christ through the Eucharist, Holy Communion, by a miracle partaking of his actual body and blood. We Protestants see that differently in various ways. I would take it that by the Spirit in Holy Communion we partake of the Lord’s body and blood, that is the benefits of Jesus’ death, and by that receive anew his life, and that by the Spirit Jesus is then especially with us, his body–we being the body of Christ.

While John 6 certainly alludes to Holy Communion, the context would suggest that it is simply by faith that we begin to feed on Christ, that we taste and see that the Lord is good. This feeding is about communion with a person, communion with Jesus himself. We begin to experience his love in his grace and truth and that in a personal sense. A love that is poured out into us, and meant to be shared with the world.

Feeding on Christ is to occur in a special way as well when we read scripture. Pastor Sharon has well taught us something of lectio divina, and I want to incorporate that everyday into my life. I simply read a passage of scripture, my NIV Bible has sections (titled), several times, two at least to four or more times. I want to hear what God may be saying to me, or impressing on me through the text of scripture. I think this is powerful when done with others of Christ’s body. But it is also powerful, and in a sense important for us to learn and do this discipline ourselves, if anything so we can learn to contribute well to the body. But our spirituality one on one with God through Jesus is also important, essential as a part of the whole.

To learn to feed on God’s word in scripture, is to learn to feed on Christ himself. Those words are meant to not only point us to Christ, but to bring us to him, and to help us come to be in him, that is, in union with him. Which of course means being in union with all who are in him. But we find that Christ is indeed our life, our portion, our all. We’re to live our lives in him, yes with others in him, and in his mission from the Father by the Spirit to the world.

And so let us evermore eat this bread. And help others, that they along with us may come to know the one who alone satisfies the soul.

in a tight place

Sometimes for whatever reason we may find ourselves in a tight place. It may seem like our options are few if any. That we must stay the course, or that there is no way out of a situation which we’d rather not be in.

That is when we have a special opportunity to draw near to God in prayer.  And in quietness, waiting before him. And being in the word, reading prayerfully a passage a few times, and sitting still to listen.

These seasons in our life, sometimes perhaps extending for years, also invite us to a new interdependence on others in Jesus, the body of Christ, the church. We’re not meant to be on this journey alone, but with other brothers and sisters in Jesus. God has made it so that we need each other. Sometimes to do nothing more than listen and with that, pray. And sometimes to get our hands dirty in helping another where we can to fulfill practical needs.

When it seems like I’m in a tight place, that is a good indication that God may be working to get my full attention, or much more of it. Perhaps we’ve tried this and that, even prayerfully, and nothing has worked, or it has gone about as far as it will, or it is going slowly now, if at all. Yes, we don’t like the tight place, when we’ve run out of, or are low in options.

But instead of wanting out, this should be a call anew and afresh to us to draw near to God through Jesus, and seek him, with our expectation coming from God and his promises in Christ. God will help us, he will answer in time, if we wait on him. God will help us through.

And so we should consider the tight place as God’s invitation to us to look to him, to see his hand through Jesus in our lives, in his time and way to bring us out into a wide, spacious place of freedom, where there is plenty of room. But that will come only if we go through the narrow gate first in and through Jesus. With others in him for the world.

Abraham Heschel on why we should love our neighbor, including our enemies*

We must never be oblivious of the equality of the divine image of all men. The image of God is in the criminal as well as in the saint….The basic dignity of man is not made up of his achievements, virtues, or special talents. It is inherent in his very being. The commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself”” (Leviticus 19:18) calls upon us to love not only the virtuous and the wise but also the vicious and the stupid man….The image-love is a love of what God loves, an act of sympathy, of participation in God’s love. It is unconditional and regardless of man’s merits or distinctions.

Abraham Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, 153 quoted by Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, 188.

*Lois Tverberg writes just prior to this quote: “Indeed, Heschel writes that seeing that each human being bears God’s image leads to the love of one’s neighbors, and even of one’s enemies…”

prayer for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

slowing down (more personal)

This is becoming one of my subjects I come back to, time and time again. Like any subject worth considering, it is best to keep pondering. And life itself will demand that certain matters are not neglected. Especially the life that God calls us to in Jesus.

Slowing down means for me not having any agenda other than the one I have to fulfill, as in daily responsibilities. And being open to change.

There is much I wish I would have done, and some things I’d still like to do. As well as some things I would want to do quite differently. But time stops for no one, and the biological clock keeps ticking.

And so in the future in a certain sense I want to do less than more. Avoiding being so busy that I miss life itself. And I want to avoid certain pitfalls which can end up wasting not only precious time for me, but what energy I have left after a typical day.

For better or for worse my life is set now. In some ways definitely for the better, with a good, loving wife, and a daughter and granddaughter, and our daughter’s husband-to-be. It is important of course that I keep my focus in some sense on them, especially in praying for them, and being present to listen and enjoy their company. As well as to point everyone to Jesus. In other ways, nothing in this life is set in some kind of perfection. Theological issues will always interest me, and I want to be open to change. But I also want to be committed to the tradition of the expression of Christianity which Deb and I are currently a part of. I can always think this or that, but no tradition is the right one. We in Jesus are all in this together, and we do well to accept that, serve, and seek to make the most of it. Of course most of the time change is organic, that is continuous from what preceded it. In others words, a journey. Far less does something radical happen that causes one to make a radical change, such as a Damascus road experience, though those times and conversions are important, too.

I really enjoy reading and writing. Hopefully by doing less, I’ll end up doing more. It seems that book reviews have become a part of what I do. I hope to continue in that, but to do so in a way that better manages time. It is not good not to get enough sleep.

And someday, Lord willing, I’d like to share maybe some sort of memoir. Not a long, heavy one, but one that is substantial and helpful. So that I can encourage others, that God may use something of what I have to share. That would be a gift from God, so I’m not chomping at the bit on that. And I really would like to get into more pastoral work. I currently go weekly to a nursing home and do a worship service there.

Hopefully this post is not just about me. Hopefully it can somehow intersect with some reader’s life in a way that will help them reflect. That is our goal in Jesus always. We are blessed to be a blessing. In Jesus, and together, for the world.

one flock, one Shepherd?

In Jesus we are truly one flock with one Shepherd, even as Jesus said. Do we live that out? And what difference does it make whether we do or not? According to scripture all the difference in the world. But do we really believe that? Or are we bent on continuing on with our differences?

The Roman Catholics can point at us evangelical Protestants, and all Protestants for that matter, for all our divisions, and have some justification in doing so. But what about them? They say they alone are the true church, and that everyone else is outside, who indeed are outside of Rome (the Vatican).

One flock and one Shepherd. The church of all stripes will do well to consider this. This is our Lord’s words. Words grounded in reality, and also amounting to a call in my mind, a call for us to live out what it true.

We will have our differences to be sure, but when we insist that Jesus himself and his word is not central and unifying to us, then we deny the words of our Lord.

I see this not only in ecclesial issues as mentioned above, but on ecclesial issues on more of an everyday, local, communal scale. When we refuse to reconcile and live together as one in Jesus, we deny Jesus’ words. Other factors prevail. The idea of one flock with one Shepherd is nice, but done only on our terms.

Both on the “smaller” scale, as well as on the large scale, we in Jesus need to do better. Otherwise we won’t be following well. Does this mean major issues can be resolved overnight? Of course not. But we should do all we can now, and lay the groundwork and begin to work toward the day when that unity will be more and more complete before the eyes of the world. That the world might see and believe by seeing us united in God’s love together, in and through Jesus.

writing with love

Recently I was reminded, and maybe to some extent even informed about rules that none dare break for good writing. It was interesting, some of it not new to me, some of it a bit questionable in my mind. I wonder how well the Bible measures up to this criteria.

I for one am not fond of a lot of rules. I think there has to be some. There are some things in writing I won’t do no matter what. There are other things, perhaps a multitude of them, that as a rule I wouldn’t do, with possible exceptions. One possible example is the use of bad grammar, unless I think it is fitting for some reason.

In personal relationships in the body of Christ, love is said to cover over a multitude of sins. I think something of the same might be said for good writing. If the writing is done in love and from the heart, that means far more than not breaking some sort of rule here or there.

Am I being fair? And I greatly respect the people who brought this to my attention. And I really didn’t give the list the due consideration I could have that day (though I was extra busy and tired), nor did I look at it again, this morning. I have to admit, though, that I am skeptical of lists like that. One of my concerns is that one’s creativity can be stifled by trying to keep a set of rules in front of them in order to become a good writer.

Love, and do as you please, a paraphrase of what Augustine said. When I write I often have plenty of editing to do to clean up messes here and there. One doesn’t just go willy-nilly, on a kind of free for all. Of course we want to write in the best way possible. That is a part of love also. When I think of writing with love, I am thinking of both the subject matter as well as those who may read. And love ought to be our orientation always, no matter what we do. Although there may be a number of times when we’ll need to remind ourselves of that, especially over issues we write on which may hold some controversy and heat.

So my own counsel on such lists? Pay close attention, learn what you can, work at improving your writing. But then let it go, and write in and out of love. Being yourself in how you express things, and working at improving, so that others in and through Jesus may be blessed.

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part two)

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, by Lois Tverberg, gets to the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the light of its Jewish context.

In part I, “Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words with New Ears,” we are first challenged to be open to a new way of understanding, no less than the Jewish way, as opposed to the Greek way which came to largely dominate Christianity. This means that faith involves a complete commitment to follow Jesus as one walking in the dust of the rabbi, that is wanting to become more and more like one’s master and teacher—for us, Jesus. So that we walk as closely to him as possible by paying close attention to all he says and does.  We learn for the Hebrew that contra Greek understanding, thought is inseparable from action. That what we hear from God is acted on, and done by us, or in the Hebrew understanding it is not heard at all. That the Shema (shema is the Hebrew word often translated “hear”) was to be recited daily as a commitment to the God who has entered into covenant with his people. We are to love God with all we are and have since he alone is God, to love our neighbor as ourselves, or as one who is like us. We find that Jesus’ words are often understood only in light of what they allude to from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

In part II, “Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus” we are challenged to have a “good” eye, meaning we’re to be generous and not stingy. The Jewish emphasis and practice of giving rings through loud and clear, and with it, wisdom in good, sound, practical advice, which I think can helpfully complement the New Testament emphasis on the grace of giving. Next, the awe in which the Name of God is to be held and how in Jesus that Name brings salvation. Jewish wisdom for the tongue, so that we might do good rather than harm by what we say, as well as by what we refrain from saying. Not judging others by making every effort to put the best possible construction on another’s actions when possible–the Jewish way—as well as by remembering what Jesus adds to this: that we are all sinners, that what I see in someone else is often what I struggle with myself. And that God alone is the true and final Judge. Praying with nerve, or audacity (“chutzpah”) was along with the chapter on judging, a favorite part of this book for me (although I found every chapter important, so that I really hesitate to say I favored one over the other, but these two are probably over matters the Lord is especially wanting to see worked into my life right now). Like Abraham, we approach no less than God himself, and we don’t let go until he blesses others for whom we are praying. We learn to “think with both hands,” that is hold to all God has said and revealed, even when we can’t put them together ourselves. Not imaging we can explain or systematize all the truth God has revealed as the Greek influence has made us prone to do in Christianity. Learning as well to weigh laws as to importance and priority so that we can know how love and faithfulness to God will cause us to put one priority aside that we might always and by all means fulfill the law of love to others as we see done in scripture.

Part III, “Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus,” begins with the importance of treasuring God’s word, scripture, so as to regularly study it with others over one’s lifetime, even in lively discussion and debate. Next we are to let God be God and not think we understand him and his ways, even while we reverently but persistently challenge him as one we have personal, intimate acquaintance with, even as Job did. And we find that the God of the Old Testament is like Jesus, a passionate father (not the impassable—no emotion—god of Aristotle, and Christian orthodoxy), so that the Old and New Testaments are about the same God. And God’s image is seen in no less than the humans God has made, all of them regardless of how they might appear to us. That we do well to learn to begin to see each human in the depth of who they are as well as their calling, in that way.

The chapters are not too long or short—I think just right, with endnotes for those who want to dig deeper. At the end of each of them are stimulating questions entitled, “Wisdom for the Walk.” And there is a glossary followed by recommended resources. Lois’ scientific training and mindset has helped her work through these issues critically. Yet she has shared the truth with us in a style reminiscent of scripture itself, with personal testimony and story, along with wisdom gathered from others.

This book can help us take more seriously the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament to the point that hopefully we will read and reread it (or listen to it, as I do) along with the New Testament, and begin to see Jesus and his teachings in light of it. I hear echoes of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the quotes from Jewish rabbis, and find Jesus’ words both to parallel and carry them beyond to a fulfillment at least in how we’re to live as God’s people now.

The book hit me where I live. For example I was impressed with the importance of considering how love for God and for one’s neighbor, even for one’s enemy is to be evident in all I say and do. I was helped to see just how important it is to pay close attention to what Jesus said, which means to understand his words in their Jewish context, meaning they are words that are intensely relational with reference to God and to others, and involve our entire life.

This book uniquely helped me better understand the Jewish mindset, or way of life, and how Jesus fulfills that. Underscored is both the need for my own commitment within God’s commitment of covenant which takes in not only ourselves and God, but all others who are of this covenant community. A commitment that is lived out over time in this community. And that in this covenant in and through Jesus we are no less than taken up into God’s kingdom work together and for the world.

These words hopefully point well toward the richness of this book, because this review falls short of really conveying that richness which can only be appreciated by reading it, and pondering it, letting these life-changing truths sink in over time.

Thank you, Lois. And we can (and I do) look forward to the next book she authors, maybe about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Stay tuned. But in the meantime let’s avail ourselves of this book, as well as the previous one. A kind of reading that is life-changing in the way of  Rabbi Jesus, as we hold on to his words, and learn more and more to walk in his way, the one who is the Way.

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part one, introduction)

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part one, introduction)

During the past five decades coinciding with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there has been a renaissance of knowledge pertaining to the time of Jesus and a few centuries preceding him during the Second Temple period. What has come to light is just how Jewish the Christian faith is. We discover a mindset or perhaps more accurate, a way of life that is far more Jewish than the Greek ethos which came to engulf the church, and all but obscure the Jewishness of the faith.

The so-called New Perspective has helped us understand that arguably Greek philosophy influenced primarily by Plato and Aristotle were intrusions which not only do not resonate with the Hebrew Bible, but actually contradict its worldview in significant ways. The New Testament with the story of Jesus purports to be the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament story of Israel. The material world, contra Greek philosophy matters so much to the point that resurrection of all things material, the old into the new creation, is at the ending point of the story, fulfilled of course in Christ.

While this renaissance has come—not without its detractors to be sure, those who say the old is better, though even among them it is nearly universally acknowledged that there is some truth in it—there is a paucity, or lack of teaching from this perspective, although ground is being gained there.

Lois Tverberg, herself a scientist and former professor of science in a good Christian academic setting, Hope College, some years ago made the decision to pursue an entirely new career and venture, devoting herself to understanding particularly the time of Jesus, and Jesus’ teaching, indeed his entire life, in light of what she had discovered, that indeed the faith is steeped in and actually Jewish through and through.

She has written previously, but the first book of hers published by Zondervan was coauthored with Ann Spangler, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. As you might well surmise by the title, that book takes a good look from different angles at Jesus himself. And specifically how Jesus was perceived and the ramifications for that. That perception was from Jesus’ own perception of himself and of his calling from God. That book is written the same way this book is, quite engaging, profound, clear, and compelling. What possibly struck me the most from it was just how the faith for the early followers of Jesus was just about that: following. Yes, following their Rabbi, indeed Master and Teacher, Jesus. Not just learning in their minds, but with their whole lives. It was about no less than an entirely new orientation, indeed new way of life. It certainly began by answering his call, sitting at his feet to learn from him, simply being with him. The way of the rabbi and the rabbi’s disciples. That book is not only well worth reading, but I highly recommend it. In fact it would be good to get both books and read them in the order written, though either way would be good.

Finally to begin to get to the book we are looking at now, Lois has written what is more than a sequel. It is a book that equals the first in significance as she takes us through most important themes in Jesus’ teaching, which are meant to change our lives from the ground up, no stones unturned. It has the feeling of reading the gospels, especially the part of them that is so often, or at least has been so often neglected: about the life and teaching of Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection. For whatever reason the life and teaching of Jesus has been largely neglected, all but ignored, and not considered even part of the good news, or the gospel. Which has amounted to a great loss, not at all in keeping with the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, whom the church rightfully saw as proclaiming the gospel in their books: the gospel according to Matthew, etc.

Part I is “Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words with New Ears,” part II is “Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus,” and part III is “Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus.”

Tomorrow (or Thursday) we will take a closer look at this book.

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part two)

the tragedy at Aurora

We are in deep sorrow, with heavy hearts over the tragedy at Aurora in which twelve people were taken from this life by a senseless act, and others injured. Of course evil acts happen daily on this planet. And hearts are broken over unexpected death. We live in a tenuous existence with no certainty from one day to the next what might happen.

Hopefully these incidents can change society for good. There is no way society can guarantee that such evil won’t take place. But we do well to try to decrease the possibility through considering and addressing a number of factors.

We live in a world that is wonderful, but that is also plagued with sin. Sin is that which is an offense against God and humans, against all that is good. At its heart sin is a violation of love.

We Christians, followers of Jesus are the ones in which love should be seen the brightest, a love that forgives and helps others through God to heal. Though there are certain wounds we are never meant to get over. We pray for the victim’s families, and for the murderer, that justice would be done, and that by grace he would find God’s deliverance and salvation in and through Jesus.

The danger as Jesus said, is that when lawlessness abounds, the love of many may grow cold. The key here is that law is enforced, but especially among Christians, the law of love, of loving one’s neighbor as ourselves, or as one who is like us. This means it is not everyone to and for themselves, but all of us for each other. “One for all, and all for one.”

While we live in this veil of tears, we do so as those who mourn with the blessing that in and through Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him we will indeed be comforted. And we seek to extend that comfort to others by being in their presence, listening to their stories, weeping with them, and praying for them.

We look forward to the day when God will wipe away all tears, and death will be no more. When all will be well in God’s love in and through Jesus. As we now seek to extend that faith, hope and love together through Jesus to our world, and to the world at large.