falling short of the ideal

Luke Timothy Johnson in his excellent book, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians, makes what might seem to be an odd suggestion, but I think is true to life. He thinks that the narratives of what happened in the story of the church in Acts are idealistic, not in the sense that it did not happen that way, but in the sense that the narrative presents a picture which does not necessarily take into account everything (my own words in expressing my understanding of the point Johnson was making). Of course the narrative does bring up some notable matters which depart from the ideal such as Ananias and Sapphira, and the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. The point is that the Spirit saw fit to bring out aspects of what God was doing. All of that should be taken in context of all the rest of scripture and indeed of life. We know God moves through broken jars of clay, cracked pots. And that there is no person (apart from Jesus himself) or community which has arrived.

The idea of falling short of the ideal does not at all mean we should simply shrug off the possibility of really living out the truth as it is in Jesus, or that living God’s will is not attainable in this life. Actually this idea rather should be an encouragement to us. That in spite of our weaknesses, and at times, even sins, which we do need to confess and turn away from, that in spite of everything, God is at work in us to bring out nothing less than his will. That indeed we are God’s workmanship, or handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

This idea doesn’t give us a license to sin since we will fall short anyhow. It just goes to show that the break out and break through of new life in this life will often be messy and at times seem weak at best. And yet God is at work to make something beautiful both for the long term as well as for where we live now. Jesus is made known even through people like us, who indeed haven’t arrived.

And so we go on as we are, as God works to remake us in Jesus, and brings out the beauty of Jesus even through us together in him for the world.

fellowship

The New Testament word translated “fellowship,” or perhaps more aptly, “participation” is from the Greek word transliterated koinonia. We in Jesus are in this new life together. We indeed are one body in Christ, and the Head, Christ actually does communicate and bless members of his body through other members. If I’m connected to the Head, Christ, I can be a blessing to others in him, as well as receive his blessing from others.

Yesterday I went to church not in the best of moods. I was unhappy over something about which I could do little or nothing about except to pray. Instead of waiting on the Lord, I was rather getting hotter inside, though holding that in well through the service and Holy Communion into what might be called fellowship time.

It was then that the Lord began to give me the grace needed to deal with the problem point. First with a sister who shared with me something appropriate and helpful, even liberating for my problem, then carrying on in friendly conversation with others, and then the clincher on this from one of our pastors. When we left, the problem was essentially taken care of inside of me, even if the matter itself is ongoing.

The fellowship of the body of Christ, or our participation together as Christ’s body is a blessing that is so inherent and integral, that is, necessary and a part of what it means to be in Christ and of his body the church, that to lose out on this for one reason or another, is to lose out on something fundamental to God’s work in our lives. We tend in this culture to downplay that, though I’m glad to be a part of a church which does not.

While it is possible to go to church gatherings, or be involved in that too much, so that we have little time for anything else, we should avail ourselves of every opportunity within reason of being together. It isn’t so much in what we do, but in simply being present with each other. That presence and God’s presence in Jesus by the Spirit will take care of the doing in the form of conversation, listening, words offered and prayer. Neither is the point in how we come across. Of course all should be in a grace-filled love. I may think I’m as weak as can be, ineffective, yes, but Christ may be using me just the same for another. Just as he is using another to minister to me, building me up/edifying me in love.

Yes, we’re in this together, no less. There is no such thing at all in scripture, in the New Testament as a lone ranger Christian. Though at times we may need to stand alone, we are essentially one body in Christ, for each other and for the world.

Sharon Garlough Brown on peace from God’s pruning

Peace. That was the youthfulness Nate wore. He had been so driven, so agitated, so restless years ago. But he seemed grounded now, centered.

“You seem at peace, Nate. There’s a stillness to you that you didn’t have before.”

“Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me. It’s the fruit of the Spirit’s work.”

Hannah sighed. “I’m hoping that’s what these nine months will bring me: fruit of the Spirit’s work. I sure need some.”

“Hard pruning will do that,” he said. “Our task is yielding and resting, saying yes even when God cuts off the parts we’re convinced we can’t live without.”

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey, 218.

prayer for the fifth Sunday of Easter

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

am I loved?

DSCN2541

It is said that love makes the world go ‘round. There’s a certain truth in that. It is also said that to be human is to be in relationship; that this is an inherent part of our humanity. Which stands to reason, if God is Trinity and in eternal communion with himself/God’s self, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

At times we may be hit with this or that, something threatening, maybe connected with a past sin or failure. And we can begin to wonder if God really loves us, to question that love. We know better in our head, from scripture, but isolated things in scripture and in life make us wonder. For example I know God is love, that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that God loves individuals, I would argue everyone, calling us back to himself. But then we read about judgment in ways that seem severe, here and there in the Bible. Of course this opens up a subject which is not being addressed in this post. All must be read in the light of and toward the end of what we see in God’s revelation of himself in Jesus. We have to try to understand other parts of scripture and indeed all life in that light.

When we are nagged by the question whether or not God loves us, we do well to dwell on Jesus and God’s love in him, preeminently on display at the cross. That this is God’s love which is active for the world is made clear in Jesus’ resurrection. It is an active love, albeit ever cross-shaped/cruciform.

Because we are loved we love in return. The Apostle John says, “We love, because God first loved us.”

I think at times, probably oftentimes at least for some of us, we need to slow down, push the pause button of our lives, and wait on God, asking God to reveal to us, to our hearts, what we know in our heads. We know in part, to be sure, but we know enough to go on that, regardless of how it might seem to us, and how we feel. And yet we need to know something of that special love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. At times we will find it as we go on, doing what needs to be done especially in our relationships with others.

Let’s look to Jesus, to the cross on which he died. God loves us no matter what, seeking to draw us to himself in Jesus. We in Jesus are to live in this love of God together and for the world.

The picture was taken at St. Augustine’s House near Oxford, Michigan, the only Lutheran monastery in North America.

material wealth, or the kingdom of God?

Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

It is not wrong to have a high paying job and make lots of money. Nor is it wrong to be rich. The entire question becomes, just where our heart is. If our heart is set on riches, and our goal in life is to get rich, then we are missing the boat entirely with reference to the kingdom of God come in Jesus.

But if it just so happens that we make lots of money, and have much wealth, but our heart is on following the Lord and doing good as a responsible steward of the money we have, well and good. Of course we need to make a living to provide for our loved ones and for ourselves, to receive God’s provision. But our hearts need to be set not even on that, but on the kingdom.

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And so what is this post saying? Maybe the question is, just what is the Lord saying to us with regard to material wealth. Most of us by the standards of the world are wealthy, but by the standards in our society are middle of the road, or more on the poor side perhaps. No matter what, money and wealth and how we’re to live with reference to that, is a crucial issue, and too oftentimes a stumbling point for us.

I sometimes think it would be nice to take a vow of poverty, live in a monastic community and be done with it. In fact I would like that, I think. Of course in a married order, in my case. But we find ourselves in the stream of society, pretty much on our own in terms of what it looks like. We do need to take our Lord’s words to heart, to pray over them. To be in no hurry to make any radical decisions, except to be committed to following the Lord in the fellowship of his people.

Often a big part of the answer for me is to get my mind off finances, off money short term and long (my wife handles our money well, so I gladly let her have at it), and instead focus on the kingdom, on the things of the Lord with reference to God’s will and my part in that. Money continues to be an important aspect of that in our life in this present world and we need wisdom in it. Such a big subject, one in which we can feel overwhelmed.

May we look to the Lord to give us wisdom in it, as well as our daily bread, together in Jesus for the world.

attitude check

We say so and so has an attitude. That can mean all sorts of things, but it’s often like the elephant in the room which everyone ignores and pretends doesn’t exist. But all too often we can be drawn in and end up having an attitude ourselves. Jesus warned against the attitude of rolling one’s eyes, speaking lightly of another or in the grip of anger cursing someone in one of the worst possible ways of one’s culture, or maybe even in a “Christian” manner, cutting them down.

There are times when I need an attitude check. I may well be right in the limited way we humans can be, but all too often I am not entirely right myself in reaction to the person or issue that seems off. It is hard to know when to speak up and hopefully gently challenge something or someone, and when to be silent. Most of the time I think we do well to err on the side of silence and grace, resorting to prayer. And most of all, we do well to avoid an attitude in which we often descend to the same level of that which we are reacting to.

I may need a time apart, even if brief (if possible) and certainly prayer lifted up to God to confess my sin, what is wrong in my attitude, and maybe even to the person, if need be. Perhaps at least taking something back, or moderating what I said earlier.

Interestingly when this is done, we then see much more clearly. All too often a judgmental attitude colors what we see, so that we don’t see clearly enough. We need to judge ourselves first before we can see well enough to possibly help another with their problem. Always in much grace and love, along with the wisdom we need in this from God.

And so we need the Lord’s help, his light on ourselves as together in Jesus we seek to live out his love and truth with each other and for the world.

facing death

Death is inevitable, along with taxes, they say. Humans were not created immortal; Adam and Eve had to partake of the tree of life, but did not, and so were blocked. We die. Death is in the cosmos; it is part and parcel of this old creation. Even the wonderful life giving rays of the sun are death dealing as well. The earth’s atmosphere protects us, but not entirely.

This old creation was created with the new creation in mind. Humankind would sin, God would send the Savior, come as the Savior and King. Of course God comes fulfilling Israel’s story, a story which in the face of death is about new life, the new life of God’s kingdom in Jesus which brings in what was promised: the new creation, the new heaven and new earth.

Does this mean we embrace death now? No, death is an enemy, called the last enemy which is to be destroyed. Through Jesus’ death he abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Jesus tasted death for everyone and broke the power of the one who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, so as to free those who all their lifetime were in bondage to the fear of death.

I wish I could say I am entirely free from that bondage and fear, though I think God helps me over and over to live beyond that. I do think it is good to face our mortality. In this existence death is a part of life. Death is part of this world, but also judgment on it, but Jesus took that judgment on himself to bring in the new world, to bring in life.

That life in Jesus we begin to live out now not only as a sign, but as a colony in this world of death of the new life. A life that guarantees the life to come for all things, when all is made new and heaven and earth are made one in Jesus.

Until that day we live out this new life right in the face of death. We know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And beyond that, we await the hope of the resurrection in Jesus when at long at last creation will no longer suffer, but be set free in the glorious freedom of God’s children.

And so death does not have the final say, in and through Jesus. We live as those who witness to that together in Jesus for the world.

using trials and troubles for good

The goal of scripture could be stated in a number of ways. One way of saying it is for a community through Jesus to live in love with God and in that love with others forever. There are a number of results from that goal which are good, but secondary to it. One result for example are rewards God gives to his faithful by his grace.

Through pastoral counsel I’m receiving, I am beginning to learn to use at least deep hurts and troubles for good. I am seeking to use them as a way of seeking and drawing closer to the Lord. By them getting to know him.

It is easy for me, if hurt or disappointed, or tempted to despair to sink into depression and just be down to the point sometimes where it seems nearly unbearable. Instead I need to learn to bring those hurts, and indeed any trouble or trial to God, but especially to use those times simply to seek to draw near to God, so as to come to know God better. Of course to know Jesus is to know God. Hopefully in my woundedness to enter into his wounds and find his healing and love.

This is something new for me, and so far, so good. I want to grow in it. For me there’s plenty of opportunities over a number of chronic problems, and sometimes that problem that seems to come out of nowhere, to use them to more enter into this love of God in Jesus and communion with him. And out from that, communion with others in Jesus. I state this in my own terms, the pastoral response given to me in words which are much more eloquent and more attuned to scripture. We are in this together in Jesus, a significant part of this experience in Jesus and in his way, together for the world.

earth day

Today is Earth Day. From the Lausanne Movement, this statement from the Capetown Commitment (2011) entitled “We love God’s world” is a clear, succinct and I think compelling confession concerning the call Christians have to care for the earth:

We share God’s passion for his world, loving all that God has made, rejoicing in God’s providence and justice throughout his creation, proclaiming the good news to all creation and all nations, and longing for the day when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.[22]

A) We love the world of God’s creation. This love is not mere sentimental affection for nature (which the Bible nowhere commands), still less is it pantheistic worship of nature (which the Bible expressly forbids). Rather it is the logical outworking of our love for God by caring for what belongs to him. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ The earth is the property of the God we claim to love and obey. We care for the earth, most simply, because it belongs to the one whom we call Lord.[23]

The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ.[24] We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance. We care for the earth and responsibly use its abundant resources, not according to the rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake. If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationship to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the gospel that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is a thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.

Such love for God’s creation demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth’s resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism. Instead, we commit ourselves to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility. We support Christians whose particular missional calling is to environmental advocacy and action, as well as those committed to godly fulfilment of the mandate to provide for human welfare and needs by exercising responsible dominion and stewardship. The Bible declares God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.

[22] Psalm 145:9, 13, 17; Psalm 104:27-30; Psalm 50:6; Mark 16:15; Colossians 1:23; Matthew 28:17-20; Habakkuk 2:14

[23] Psalm 24:1; Deuteronomy 10:14

[24] Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3

The earth as God’s creation is included in his redemption, and we humans have been given responsibility to care for this gift that is our home. Because of the disorder of human sin, and because of the goal of new creation in the new heaven and new earth, this earth/all creation awaits the redemption to come in the resurrection when God’s children are revealed and all creation is included in the freedom and glory which is to accompany that. I especially appreciate this statement because it speaks of this in terms of Christian mission. It is taking into consideration the entire story and our place in it now. We care for the earth because it is the Lord’s, as well as a gift to us from him.

What a wonderful world it is, and yet how awful, the devastation and destruction humankind can bring on it both suddenly and over time, because of sin. We want to do better, and learn to do our part as those who are followers of Jesus. Together in him for the world.