Eugene H. Peterson on helping others to repentance

The kingdom of self is heavily defended territory. Post-Eden Adams and Eves are willing to pay their respects to God, but they don’t want him invading their turf. Most sin, far from being a mere lapse of morals or a weak will, is an energetically and expensively erected defense against God. Direct assault in an openly declared war on the god-self is extraordinarily ineffective. Hitting sin head-on is like hitting a nail with a hammer, it only drives it in deeper. There are occasional exceptions, strategically directed confrontations, but indirection is the biblically preferred method.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, 31-32.

prayer for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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

Moses’ sermon in Deuteronomy

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Listening to Deuteronomy and Moses’ sermon there, his last words to Israel, is actually rather breathtaking, or simply profound and powerful. It is in some sense formative to the people of God for then, and for now. Although as Scot McKnight wrote to me, Jesus refashions the kingdom of God. It was Moses’ last words to Israel, the words of one who knew God face to face, who was so faithful both to God in terms of his covenant, and to Israel, the people of God.

But we need to understand God’s calling out of his people, Israel, and how he set them apart as his people through the Law of Moses, which is also called the Law of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh). A large part of what this sermon is about.

I think a main point of that law was that God was setting apart a people for himself and for the world who would be his witnesses. And who by that law would make known his will, to be fulfilled in a kingdom which would be destined to rule over the earth. So it had both a present aspect for that time, as well as a looking forward to the prophet who like Moses would speak God’s words to them, and to whom they were to listen.

The period in which Moses lived was formative for the people of God. God was bringing them along, raising them up to be his holy nation, his kingdom and priesthood ultimately not just for themselves, but for the world.

It doesn’t matter whether or not we understand everything that is said, or is happening, according to this sermon. It is important for us that we read and listen to it, because like the rest of scripture, we need it to shape our thinking, to understand our roots as God’s people, where we’ve come from, how that unfolded, and how it was and is being fulfilled in King Jesus and God’s kingdom present in him through the church. As well as the future fulfillment of that, when justice at long last is realized, and all things are made new.

Without this great sermon, we lack something of an important aspect of understanding our underpinnings, and what Jesus fulfills. Of course in Jesus’ fulfillment, there are aspects of the law of Moses which are fulfilled by the Spirit, and certain aspects which are set aside. Whether or not we can explain that well theologically, it’s a fact we have to learn to live with. For example we can now eat all foods; nothing is unclean, or nonkosher for us as God’s people. That would seem to go along with the thought that God’s law is now impacting the nations and cultures of the world through the Spirit. So that only essential basics related to love are required and considered aspects of holiness. Such basics of love are internal, but they are also external, such as caring in practical ways for the poor, for those in need.

We need to keep reading and I would recommend listening to scripture being read. I love the way The Bible Experience does that.

And so we continue in God’s written word, from the mouth of the Lord through the mouth of Moses even for us, in and through Jesus by the Spirit for the world.

interference

It at least used to be with the older radio waves, the transmitters and receivers, that there would be serious interference here and there. The picture on the television might fade in and out. The music or voice on the radio would become fuzzy and nearly fade out. Sometimes the atmosphere may have been too charged with electricity. Or whatever the case may have been, there was an unclear signal.

Often I think something of the same is going on in my life. Usually for me it comes up in the form of anxiety and fear. And oddly enough I can’t come up with good answers to really resolve it, or at least not good enough in my book.

That’s when I have to turn anew to God and to God’s promises in and through Jesus found in scripture. And I have to find my way around by scripture. Scripture is honest and sometimes quite raw. A favorite psalm of mine (Psalm 88) is mostly lament from start to finish, and one in which there seems to be no hope, or in which all hope is lost. It is at least a psalm of deep darkness throughout. One might say, profound depression.

The psalmist at the beginning calls to God as the God of his/her salvation. And yet life has fallen apart. In the end darkness is the psalmist’s closest friend.

I really can hardly stand to say that what I experience has good in it. I really honestly dislike to the point of hate, what I so often experience, because I often see no good in it, only bad. What’s so encouraging about Psalm 88 is that the psalmist seems to be going through the same thing. There is no light, only darkness and despair. But it is encouraging and good that the psalmist acknowledges the Lord as the God of their salvation, in  spite of their experience. It is also encouraging that the psalmist is wearing no mask; they can be completely themselves before God, albeit I’m sure with a certain reverence for God intact. Though sometimes in scripture that reverence seems to be undergoing considerable stress (I think of some of Jeremiah’s laments in the book of Jeremiah).

And so there are at least two major points we can take home from this. Be yourself before God; let him know your woes. And look to God as the God of your salvation. Through his promises  in Jesus found in scripture. Look to God for his answer, and keep looking.

And then the interference will be replaced by a new dependence on God. A new posture of faith in him. Utterly and completely dependent on him, “at his (good) mercy.” In and through Jesus together with others for the world.

above all, love

Here in the United States we’re nearing another major election, and there are voices on every side with the tendency for voters to clash who hold to positions in which there is substantial disagreement across the board. Positions are more than less lumped together. It is not the day of the political “moderates” who often will think independently and don’t end up squarely on either side of the two major parties here, or on the side of “liberal” or “conservative.” Of course these are all American paradigms which have little or nothing to do with the kingdom of God come in Jesus as far as being in sync with that kingdom.

But the rhetoric here is often heated. So much is at stake, and there is no doubt that this has its place of importance, and that we Christians somehow should be impacting it, primarily with the politics of Jesus in and through the church, the locus of God’s kingdom on earth now, as the one holy nation in the world.

I know Christians with whom I can have some serious disagreement in politics, but we also can have sweet fellowship in the Lord. But sadly, that is not always the case. And I don’t count myself guiltless in this area, either. Though my biggest contention about politics is that it is not in the nation state in general that our political efforts as Christians should lie.

We are told in scripture in more than one place that love is the most important virtue of all in our life in Jesus, first with one another, but also to the world. Of course this love is tied to truth and grace and mercy and holiness, etc., etc., and above all to God’s revelation and will in Jesus. But it is still a love that is committed to the well being of another and shows itself in good deeds.

If we’re not so loving, and praying and seeking to live to that end, then we know we’re off the mark. Remember the example of Stephen who followed the example of his Lord when he was being stoned to death.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And we need to do the hard work of loving each other day after day, which includes putting up with each other at times, as well as forgiving each other for wrongs done against us, as well as receiving their forgiveness for any wrongs we do against them. From the grace and love of God in Jesus.

And so let us love, in and through Jesus, together for the world.

in need of the Spirit

For a good portion of the time, which ends up being for the most part, I’ve been in the word regularly, normally daily, over the nearly forty years I’ve been a Christian. I tend not to care for illustrations as in graphs, etc., but am a word person, and probably audio as well. And I like to try to think things through, or I end up trying to do that, whether I like it or not.

But even if I had a photographic memory and could bring up any portion of scripture to mind, or one way or another had Genesis through Revelation memorized, it would do me no good on my own. Just as scripture came through the God-breath of the Spirit, so we can only understand it through the Spirit.

It is good to study scripture, of course prayerfully, asking for the Spirit’s help. To think through it theologically, to see it in the terms of God’s story fulfilled through Israel in King Jesus. And to study all the details of that story, the great salvation which accompanies it.

But without the Spirit’s help, it won’t make the difference in our lives God intends it to make. And we will be left high and dry, at least largely on our own.

In spite of ourselves, and our ways, the Spirit is faithfully at work in our lives as Christians. But we need more. We need to be open as fully as possible to the work of the Spirit. We, and when I say “we,” I’m thinking of me, we need to quit thinking we can figure it out, that all we need are God’s words and we’ll do the rest.

We’re told to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and not to lean to our own understanding. Certainly that refers to the way of the Lord versus our own way, the way of fallen humanity. But it also refers to our lives as Christians in all the detail that go with that.

Although all Christians have experienced this in some significant measure, it is a new way for me to take, or perhaps it is a new growth spurt which I need in depending on the Spirit. And this need for an enlarged, deeper dependence for me has been with reference to issues which have plagued me. It is not that we can avoid trials and testings, and hard and difficult places. We’re not promised to have no troubles in this life. Quite to the contrary, we’ll have plenty of them.

But how do we see our way through them. The Lord as a rule does not save us out of the troubles, but he saves us as we go through them.

And so I continue on in the word, in scripture. At the same time calling out to God to help me see it all, to see my life, and how I should live it through the help and ministry of the Holy Spirit. And we want to do this with others in Jesus in God’s good will together for the world.

knowing God

There is a mystical, in the sense of beyond this life, knowing of God, or knowledge of God. It includes the intellect, and yet is beyond it. One might say in our language, it is in the heart.

In a way, God has made himself known to all, evident through creation, and through human conscience. Because of our sin, however, we suppress the truth about God, of his existence, goodness and greatness.

Of course without God’s “special” revelation we are all lost. We need more than just the prior revelation of himself, called “general.” And we receive this special revelation in and through Jesus, who himself is the fulfillment of God’s blessing to the world through Israel. And by that revelation, through faith, we can see the Father, and are no longer “without hope and without God in the world.”

In a way to know God is like knowing anyone else. It is personal and heart felt. It is a sense even of kinship in God’s great love, the God who is love.

This knowledge again, comes through Jesus, his coming, ministry of the kingdom, death, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit, as we await his reappearing when he returns to the earth and in the end returns the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all.

Knowing God. That is first and fundamental. We need that. God leads us along and helps us come into that knowledge more fully over time. As we continue in the faith that is in and through Jesus. Together in Jesus for the world.

privatized “Christianity”

There exists a pseudo-Christianity which is hardly acknowledged in churches, and yet too often is not corrected by those churches. It is a kind of privatized, “between me and God” kind of Christianity, which has nothing at all to do with the Bible, and especially the New Testament.

Oh yes, there is a life in God between the individual and God. But according to scripture, that’s not enough. If we say we love God and yet do not love our brother or sister in Jesus, then our profession is not only shallow, but according to John, it’s a lie. And loving our brother and sister is a matter of the agape love which perhaps has not come to like them, but chooses to love them by good acts, by actions of grace and righteousness.

There’s no wonder that at least some Christians view church as an option, or as a very good thing we ought to take part in as believers in Christ. But it is not a mere option. It is part of our life in Christ. When we are joined to Christ by baptism and faith, we are joined to Christ’s body, the church. That is to be worked out in a local setting, the local church.

Forgiving someone, especially when they’ve asked for forgiveness and tried to make things right, is not just a heart matter between one and God. You have to forgive them directly, to them. And you have to reconcile as best you can. That doesn’t mean all the sudden you become the best of friends, or friends at all, though by grace we should count ourselves as friends to all who follow Jesus, and are thus a part of that family.

As for me, I am not in the least intested in this kind of Christianity. It is no witness to the world, and amounts to disobedience to our Lord. The church for too many centuries has not been strong on this score, but in some quarters now and in the recent past it is weaker in this than ever.

I find that I must be committed to the church, and with a commitment that is spelled out clearly in scripture in letters such as Ephesians. We need to study the “one another” passages in scripture and put them into practice. Or else we need to fold tent and do something else. And quit calling our profession Christian.

Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. But I speak of matters which I think are life and death. Even at its best, I think the church is weak in this area, and I include myself as part of that problem. I am more than happy to remain anonymous and invisible. And I don’t really want to deal with problems, but would just as soon hide. But the Lord won’t let us off with such half-measures or none at all.  And this kind of Christianity does both harm to the church itself as well as to the church’s witness to the world.

 

Richard Foster on lectio divina, “reading [scripture] for formation”

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….

Lectio divina is a meditative, spiritual reading in which both the mind and the heart are drawn into the love of God….

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….

With lectio…[we] seek to be initiated into the reality of which the passage speaks.

Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, 40,41,42.

* I take this primarily to mean fallen humanity, fallen from the ideals, goal and purpose of God, but restored in the God-Human, Jesus.