chanting the psalms

I like the possibility of chanting the psalms, which I believe provide for us a spirituality which helps us through the rugged terrain of life. This is done in monasteries, and I think we would do well to do the same, as well as chanting other scripture. Chanting as in singing in a simple way. Though left to myself, simply reading them in a prayerful way will have to suffice.

In the psalms in my view, not everything the psalmists say is sanctified. But what is sanctified or holy is the point that the psalmist does bare soul and all to God, does not hold back, but lets loose the tirade. And laments. Yes, even complains. At the same time doing so as one committed to God. Of course along with that is praise to God because of his goodness and blessings to us.

I think simply being in scripture, and saying the words out loud is potentially powerful. Of course we need to see all of this as done before God, in his presence, seeking to draw near to God in and through Christ. As well as doing something of the sort by one’s self, it is good to do it with others. The fellowship we are caught up into with God includes others in that same fellowship.

Have you done this? Is it an ongoing practice with you? Should it be? Does it help us to see something of why the psalms were given to us in the first place?

read the Sermon on the Mount

I really don’t think Christians or the Christianity in general which I grew up with (even as a Mennonite, perhaps) took seriously enough Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus told his disciples before his ascension that they were not only to be witnesses of him, to proclaim him, but to teach all those baptized from all nations to the end of the age to obey all he commanded them. The Sermon on the Mount is a centerpiece of what he taught and commanded.

I have seen gossip*, as well as unloving attitudes among Christians, rolling one’s eyes up against another, simply too common (with wonderful exceptions). We chalk that down to the thought that we’re sinners (and, “Everyone does it.”). Or we even justify it. But actually it’s disobedience to Christ, the one who says that if we love him, we’ll do what he commands. We make a big deal out of protecting ourselves with guns from any intruder, or any enemy, when Jesus tells us otherwise. We make it a priority to gain wealth, maybe get a nice slice of the pie in the American enterprise to realize something of the American Dream when Jesus tells us plainly in the Sermon that instead we’re to pursue his kingdom. And not to do that. Or what about our propensity to put hard and fast judgments on others.

From a misreading of scripture we’ve had at least one whole section of the church relegate the Sermon on the Mount either to a bygone day, or a time yet to come. Which actually ended up infecting many churches and Christians, who officially did not hold to that doctrine. And we’ve had other leaders who gave lip service to the Sermon (in the Reformation), but whose theology really had little room for it. They still lived in and imported much of what had been the norm for Israel in the old covenant.

Reading the Sermon on the Mount, and then seeing much of the rest of the New Testament to a large extent echoing as well as unfolding the teaching of that Sermon is not only eye opening, but revolutionary to one’s faith and practice. Instead we are relegated to a significant degree to get on better on our worldly way, now that we have Christ.

Words are cheap, and it’s easy to talk this way. Much harder to live it out. But we need to do just that. We need each other in this. As the Sermon along with all of Jesus’ teachings and example, and all the truth that is in Jesus becomes more and more the heart of who we are together in him in our witness to the world.

*I mentioned gossip when writing this, probably because those who see Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as important for our lives today, would at least know better than to do that. Although gossip does not break the letter of the Sermon since it is not mentioned, it shatters the spirit of it.

taking a stand

There are times when by faith we will need to take a stand. When we really don’t have the answer to our problem, or question. But when all hell seems arrayed against us, we will have to stand firm to see the salvation of God.

We take a stand on God’s revelation in Jesus. Yes, it is a stand of faith which is not entirely passive. Faith without works is dead (James). But this stand in itself is passive. Because while we go on living out our faith in Christ (active), we wait for his salvation and deliverance (passive).

We stand on the truth revealed in and through Christ in scripture. Examples: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…“; “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”; For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And many more.

When we take this stand we do so attempting complete dependence on Christ. Knowing that our salvation and hope is only in him. With an interdependence on his body, the church, which in a sense is Christ as well. “The church is Christ.” We are part of that give and take, but there may be times when we especially need to take, or receive.

We take this stand by faith, awaiting the work of God by the Spirit, to make real to and for us, what is revealed as true in and through his Son. In our ongoing witness of the faith that is in Jesus, together in him for the world.

simplicity

I love Paul’s words:

by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

I like to bring the shelves down, so everyone can get into the cookie jar. In other words, I would rather lose a bit by paring down (some say, dumbing down) the language to make it more accessible to all. In fact in order to understand something well myself, I need to get it into terms I’m comfortable with. Although there is certainly a place for technical language for a good number of disciplines. And there’s a place for being able to explain something of that in language others can understand.

God’s word, or the gospel is written in plain language both in the original (Koine Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic) and in translations. As to styles, that’s another matter. As to communication, there is something concrete communicated always. As Paul says elsewhere, There’s no value or help in unintelligible sounds, in other words sounds with no meaning to the hearers.

Jesus’ parables were riddles to the people only because of their heart condition, as well as their misunderstanding concerning the nature of the kingdom of God.

Yes, we need to connect with people where they live, part of which is being plain as in understandable. So that we can help them connect with God through Jesus into God’s will, the new life that is in Jesus. We do this together in Jesus for the world.

 

 

 

Luke Timothy Johnson on the nature of God’s kingdom come in Jesus

Luke-Acts offers a vision of God’s rule that cuts across all these options and provides the contemporary church a basis for renewal in its thinking on the subject. First, Luke clearly thinks in terms of an already and not yet of the kingdom. In successive sentences, Luke has Jesus tell his disciples, “seek his kingdom and these other things will be given you besides,” and “do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:31-32). The rule of God, furthermore, is both intensely personal and political, for it demands of every individual a conversion to the prophetic message and a maturing in faith through perseverance, and at the same time places this personal commitment within the context of a people shaped by shared convictions and practices. It is precisely this combination which classically constitutes the nature of the church, but because being church in this full communitarian sense is a demanding and difficult thing, Christians have found it all too easy to slip toward a private piety or a public politics as options.

Luke Timothy Johnson, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians, 90-91.

academics

If I had to do it all over again, based on hindsight, I wish I could do a number of things differently. But that’s all a complete waste of time. Life is not that way. You do things a certain way not because that is determined (as in determinism), but in the give and take of all that involves decisions, or actions. This is all good if it is informed and formed through faith in God, seeking him through the word and prayer. But at best this is a learning process, a process of maturation. Sometimes we are set back, or bound due to a poor choice (or choices). Always will there be the need to confess our sins, and go on. All of this to say: at best, it is never picture perfect.

If we didn’t make the best decision in the world, or if it was a flat out bad decision, as in sinful or mistaken, or if we just didn’t live well, or as well as we could have, indeed should have…. You get the drift. I’m thinking of not only past decisions, but the past with reference to who I was, the character which had then been formed. All that goes into that, including what may have been missing in my life, in terms of God and God’s good working through grace. At the same time acknowledging that in spite of this and that and everything, God was present and at work in grace in some measure.

The question becomes, what do I do now? Or better, what and who am I becoming, in and through Jesus? Life in Jesus is an ongoing walk of faith. We don’t do well to see it otherwise, to want to escape that. Testing, indeed challenges to our faith, yes, suffering because of it, are bound to come.  We may as well not only face that, but in a sense embrace it as well, even if it is prickly and painful. It is part of life, and we actually can’t do well without it, in God’s will for us in Jesus.

And so, I in a sense forget what is behind: my own efforts and management of life, doing what I thought best, hopefully not completely apart from grace. And I press on by faith to take hold of God’s will in Jesus, and live more and more in that. Together with others in Jesus for the world.

 

 

overcoming

 

Oftentimes it seems like we see overcoming in general terms, after all we in Jesus are in a struggle against spiritual forces arrayed against us. And that is true. This is manifested in all kinds of ways, sometimes quite overt as in “in your face,” but more often than not, subtle.

However there are those times when it is quite specific, and chronic. For some, it can be in terms of some addiction as we call it, I think now not so much of substance abuse with drugs or alcohol. I am thinking of moral issues such as pornography, which is a rampant problem to one degree or another with many. For me a big issue over the years has been anxiety. I have not allowed that to alter what I had to do, and would simply go on with prayer and do it. With great prayer support from my wife, by the way.

Things can come to a head for a reason. God’s hand may be in that, to bring us to a point of resolution. In other words, in answer to prayer, there can be a breakthrough in our lives, getting past what once had plagued us, and even bound us. Usually that doesn’t come in an instant after prayer, but over time, though not a terribly long time. I speak from some experience, having seen breakthroughs in my own life, in a number of ways.

Now I face one of my last enemies, a giant of sorts, which has diminished to some extent. I can imagine going through the rest of my life the way it is now. Maybe one could chalk it down simply to a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, used by the Lord to keep me humble and cast on his grace, that I might know his strength in my weakness. But actually I don’t think I need to be told that I’m weak and completely dependent on Christ. But that’s me speaking.

I want to see this enemy in answer to prayer, cast out, and vanquished, as a thing of the past. I want to see this stronghold dismantled, indeed destroyed. It is specific in nature, related to the anxiety and fear which actually are quite diminished in my life I trust, as in comparison with the past.

And so I will take a stand by faith. In prayer. And asking prayer from our pastors. I want to see the walls come tumbling down on this one, even as they have in a number of issues, one quite recently.

It is a warfare we in Jesus are in, a spiritual battle together, helping each other in prayers and with whatever God may give us, together for the world.

patience

We read in scripture, in what is commonly called, “the love chapter,” that love is patient, first on the list of descriptions of love.

Patience involves a whole lot of things in life. Consider whatever one might want to react against. Love holds back, and waits. Love waits not only for a change in the course of the one loved, but also for a change in our own thoughts and attitude. Patience with reference to love is about relationships.

But patience is also related to faith and hope. Patience involves waiting on God for God’s answer, for God’s working and timing. Faith involves patience. We read at a certain place that patience goes together with faith in inheriting God’s promises. Hope brings buoyancy to our patience and ironically may lend itself to impatience. But the kind of hope referred to in scripture is strong in the midst of the long night, even when all seems lost. It is a hope which perseveres, or endures to the end.  Back to 1 Corinthians 13, it part of the love which “always hopes.”

Patience is not a stoic, “grin and bear it,” kind of attitude. But it does continue on through the hard grind, hopefully in the delight, love, and power of the Lord. Although at times, we can only cry out to God in seeming despair. Of course there are those times when we will have to confess our sin, and repent, since we had given in to something other than the love which is patient.

This patience needs to be directed not only to others, but even to ourselves. Not excusing our sin at all, but acknowledging that we are included in God’s love, a love which loves fully to the end no matter what, in and through Christ. We in and through Jesus are in that love together in the way of Jesus for the world.

 

committing our lives into God’s hands

Into your hands I commit my spirit;
 deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.

Lately the Lord might be touching areas in my life, I don’t want to be touched. I want to use what ability I have to carefully preserve my life, and get done what needs to be done. Of course all couched in prayer. But in so doing, it has occurred to me that my trust may not be where it needs to be. I may be trusting in myself, rather than the Lord. Or at least I may be uncomfortable in putting certain matters entirely into God’s hands.

It is painful to have to step out of one’s comfort zone. Not to mention to give over control to someone else who may not be nearly so careful, or good in our estimation. I don’t believe the psalmist in Psalm 31 has it all together. They were struggling when they wrote this psalm. And Jesus himself was suffering when he uttered the first line of the quote above, when hanging on the cross just before his death. We especially see something of his suffering in Matthew and Mark’s accounts. Perhaps Luke’s account is emphasizing more the composure Jesus had in the face of his suffering.

What about us? What about me? Are we really entrusting our lives fully into God’s hands? What does that look like? What does it mean?

Surely the first basic part for us is to surrender. By faith we hand over to God our lives in a general way, and then in specific, tangible ways, when matters arise. We do so, wanting to be people in which God’s will in and through Jesus is at work in love for the world.