not believing

I am not talking about our church, nor am I talking about real Christianity, as in the ideal given to us in scripture. Even there we see serious issues and problems within some of the churches. I am referring to my experience with other believers at times. When I have thought that we were not doing well, or doing what we should have done by each other, especially with reference to needed reconciliation and growth in grace, then I look at what Jesus taught, what the New Testament teaches, and I can only shake my head in disbelief. And say to myself, “I don’t believe in this kind of Christianity.” Of course it’s not the real thing.

Therefore my problem is not with Christianity as given to us in scripture, but to our failure to live it out. Some matters are extra hard, though no doubt we are always in need of God’s grace and his Spirit to live at all in any moment in accord with God’s will in Jesus. I am referring to our stubborn refusal to obey the plain words of scripture. Perhaps we can’t see this because of the hardness of our heart along with lack of knowledge of what scripture says, perhaps including poor biblical interpretation.

Disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch. Was it because they were like Jesus? Or more in terms of their profession of faith in being followers of this Jesus Christ, with some meaning of the Anointed One in “Christ” being carried over. I don’t know. We do bear his name. And so we are to represent him.

Therefore we need to be called to account for our failure to take this sufficiently seriously. It is never a question of not being able, since our ability is always in Jesus and never in ourselves. It is more a matter of simple obedience. In all of our weakness, we seek to obey and be obedient children. So that our profession of faith may honor the one whose name we bear.

Dallas Willard on an ongoing, growing life of prayer

Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.

What prayer as asking presupposes is simply a personal—that is, an experientially interactive—relationship between us and God, just as with a request of child to parent or friend to friend. It assumes that our natural concerns will be naturally expressed, and that God will hear our prayers for ourselves as well as for others. Once again, this is clear from the biblical practice of prayer. It is seen at its best in that greatest of all prayer books, Psalms.

Accordingly, I believe the most adequate description of prayer is simply, “Talking to God about what we are doing together.” That immediately focuses the activity where we are but at the same time drives the egotism out of it. Requests will naturally be made in the course of this conversational walk. Prayer is a matter of explicitly sharing with God my concerns about what he too is concerned about in my life. And of course he is concerned about my concerns and, in particular, that my concerns should coincide with his. This is our walk together. Out of it I pray.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life  God, 242-243.

a longing for monastic living

Of course I’d want to be part of a married order, but I’d love to live a monastic existence. I love the rhythms of a set order of life, with all the scripture readings, prayers, songs, and ceremonies. Yes, some incense and partaking of the Lord’s Table daily. And in and out of that rhythm is a life lived both in communion with and for the service of others. For the community, doing common work together, as well as the special tasks to which each one would be called.

That kind of an existence, which continues in many places is rooted in the early monastic movement in which both men and women sought to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly, in spirit and body to God. It is a welcome contrast to so much of at least what is highlighted in Christian history, the wrongs done by the church at times even in the name of the Lord. There were exceptions, such as Francis of Assisi. He preached the gospel in harms away to a sultan. Whether he opposed the crusades entirely is uncertain, and I think doubtful, but that he opposed much if not most all of the violence is likely certain. Unfortunately to this day it is tit for tat: they harm us, we’ll harm them back. What is going on right now in the Central African Republic.

I doubt that any such life will open up to us before we leave this world (my wife and I). And so I would like to live out that kind of existence insofar as I can within a “normal” setting. But actually that is the kind of life in and through Jesus we’re all called to. Yes, rhythms, not to be slavishly followed, but commitment to such is something which can be beneficial for us from the monastics, given the disordered free-for-all, free fall in which we “live.”

Of course it is a choice of the heart, something also in which we grow into. Not isolated necessarily from life as experienced by others. But seeking to live out the calling God has given us in Jesus with each other and for the world. In the love of God in Jesus.

thoughtful in prayer

We are creatures of habit and also often struggle in ruts or matters we either have been weak in, or too easily fall into again. We too often can be superficial in our thinking and in what we hold to be true. We oftentimes need to wrestle through matters in prayer. If we ever think we’re foolproof, surely we should think again (I’m not referring to the kind of knowing we have by faith). But it is all too easy to resort to the default position we’ve accepted and lived by for years and years.

We need to be people of the Book and in prayer, much on both accounts. And we need to be intentional, deliberate, and not hasty in doing this. Part of what may need to take place is the development of new patterns replacing the old. As we await in Jesus God’s completed change of both us and of the world.

character is what matters

Recently I came across something somewhere imagining what people would talk about at any given funeral. Of course I am referring to the deceased. Would they talk about their great successes in life, perhaps making millions and perhaps living a luxurious lifestyle as a result? Would they talk about their great intellect, how they solved or contributed toward some resolution of some great scientific riddle? Would they be speaking about the deceased’s tremendous speaking ability either in teaching or preaching, and what a formidable intellect they had? How they were successful in life?

No. Instead they would talk about things, if they could, like he (or she) was faithful to their spouse. She loved her children and grandchildren. He always had time for you, and he listened well. She accepted me as I am and was a true friend. He had a heart for the poor and he helped in practical, down to earth ways. She was a loving and humble person. Etc., etc., etc.

Scripture tells us that no matter what else, if we aren’t characterized by love, than we are nothing, nothing at all. We have flaws, and maybe at some point we did stumble badly in our lives. But what is critical is what we are about right now. What we have become and what we are becoming.

And are we working on character, on overcoming our deficiencies? We do so from grace, from God’s grace in Jesus, our participation in the divine nature- no less, as well as the reception of God’s precious promises. Are we acutely aware of this beyond anything else? If we’re concerned about success and fulfilling our gift and calling, that’s all well and good and can even be considered a part of this- in a certain way, definitely should be. But doing well in tasks alone doesn’t compare with this.

putting two and two together

We are approaching the end of our book of Job study at church, led quite well by a pastoral intern, Jordan, along with our Pastor Jack. It has been my favorite group Bible study ever. The well guided participation has made it most interesting, with an emphasis on keeping us tethered to the text. I take Job to be a wisdom story, brimming over with a wisdom which is challenging to get, even if it’s right before our eyes in the text.

We certainly need the Spirit to give us a revelatory gaze as in illumination as to the meaning of the text of God’s inscripturated word. But that understanding will surely be somehow in terms of God’s voice and will for us. And the answer is not simply in terms of ourselves, but to see the bigger picture, true whether in Job or elsewhere in scripture. Not meaning that at certain points it isn’t narrowed down to one matter, even ourselves, for example our sin. But we are taken through Jesus into something of the entire story of God, finding our part and place in it, in God’s love in him.

And so we’ve come to the end of that great book and we’re trying to put two and two together, and we’re finding it challenging which should be the case if we’re really seriously grappling with the book as it is. We could have all kinds of simple answers to explain the book, and in so doing would essentially explain the book away, since we really would be failing to take all of its content seriously. Even good simple explanations like, “Trust God no matter what happens. He will see you through.” And similar thoughts. But again, that would fail to deal with all the dynamic of what Job experienced, his words along with his friends’ words, and God’s words to him at the end.

God will give us what we are ready and able to receive from him. Of course that preparation and reception is also a work of the Spirit. It is interesting how one can reread a good book years later and get much more out of it, or at least something different. When it comes to working on plumbing the depths of the wisdom found in Job, there is simply no one set answer, though there are surely some good books and commentaries which can help us in terms of all of that.

And so I look forward to our last two times together in Job. Wanting to hear from God what he is saying to me at this time through that book. Even as we continue to prayerfully wrestle through the text.

remaining like a little child

There is nothing I like better I suppose then some good intellectually challenging stuff, of course within the realm of my knowledge and education, even if sometimes I like to be pushed by something which seems altogether foreign. And there are few things I dislike more than trying to solve some matter intellectually, which is bothering me, something like a brushfire, not challenging the faith for me, but certainly a challenge to my own faith.

I think it is okay for me to ask questions, pursue answers, even working through difficult places. But one thing I don’t do well to forget or leave behind is the need to remain like a little child before my Father God.

Jesus told his disciples that unless they would change and become like little children, they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. This life we are called to in Jesus is a life of implicit trust, as well as implicit obedience. Something we probably have to learn and grow into, something which hopefully becomes more and more a part of who we are. “Trust and obey…” And living in joy, the joy of the Lord.

This can be all very much a challenge for me, since it has been almost characteristic of me to not only encounter trouble, but to be very much troubled. I suppose this is not all that uncommon, but if we are overcome with this problem, we may do well to ask ourselves if we really are one of God’s children through faith in Jesus. If we are, we need to remember that and act on it, which may often mean not acting at all.

A good psalm to remember and pray and aspire to:

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David.

doing the best one can do, understood correctly

Doing the best one can do sounds like “self-help,” and to the extent that is true it is not Christian. But there’s something to be said for this, if understood correctly.

God’s grace in Christ underlies any good work which is pleasing and acceptable to God, done in God’s love, faith working or expressing itself in love. All of our lives in Christ are to be lived out in that direction. Any good at all that comes from our lives is only because of God’s grace. We can say that any good within creation is because of God’s gifts in creation, speaking now of the present, “old” creation. And any good within new creation is because of God’s gifts in new creation in Christ, the language of God’s grace usually applied here.

Doing the best one can do must be in terms of a response, namely responding to God’s grace in Christ. It is not pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and attempting to do God’s will on our own. It is strictly in response to God’s grace in Christ. And yet within that grace it is something which should characterize our lives.

What that best means is in terms of God’s revealed will in Jesus. And so this can be tricky. We may think something is best when all too often we are resorting to our own, old ways of doing things and navigating life. Acting from fear and anxiety is one such problem for myself. I am better off to let that cloud pass before I act. Looking to the Lord in prayer instead of doing my best in panic.

Again, this whole idea can be nothing more than a trap. We may simply resort to our own old ways of doing the best we can, rather than looking to God through Jesus for the new way we’re to develop as a habit in our lives. A good prayer to pray with reference to this:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung on the value of the tradition of exposing “the seven deadly sins” for Christian spiritual formation

As for the early desert fathers, self-examination prepares us to look ahead to what we can and will become. It is not regretful or narcissistic navel-gazing. It is a first step toward becoming more than we are now.

The premise of this book is that the tree of capital vices, each vice rooted in pride and shooting out branches of further vice and sin, is a helpful tool for engaging in this type of self-assessment. These seven vices name perennial areas of human weakness and typical displays of pride’s provide-your-own-happiness program. To study them is thus to study yourselves. When you look closely, what do you see? And what does seeing yourself clearly make you yearn to become?

Examining the vicious malformation of character canvassed in this book is meant to prompt us forward, in a more clear-sighted way, toward being people of better character, people whose lives are well lived. In the Christian tradition, this is not a self-help project but a Spirit-empowered movement. At the same time, however, it is not a license to drift along, but an encouragement to be intentional, reflective, specific, and energetic about moving with the Spirit’s formative work. Like Augustine, when we look back on the way our lives are disordered by vice, we are moved to pray for the future, “Order me in my love.” The vices, their offspring, and the remedies traditionally suggested for them give us the language to identify and track the disordering of our desires we must actively resist. Discipleship takes discipline—the work of straightening what is bent, restraining and strengthening our capacities, working loose the bonds that constrain us.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, 182, 183.