Christ central in creation (not Adam)

In an interesting post from a book I want to read, the point is made that Christ is actually in a true sense the first human. That the goal was never  “in Adam,” but “in Christ.”

The story as known and told in most of our circles might seem to indicate otherwise. God’s goal in that telling is seen in Eden. The possibilities were there, but Adam (and Eve) blew it. Only then Christ has to step into the picture and through his atoning death in terms of penal substitution save the day.

But, as the post notes, early church fathers saw it otherwise from the story found in scripture. It is Christ who is the central figure in creation always (see the book of Colossians), not Adam. The entire goal from the outset was the new creation in Christ. Christ’s incarnation and atoning death bringing humans and indeed all of the old, original creation to its intended climactic flourishing was God’s will from the get go. Death in Adam is indeed an important part of the story, but life in Christ through his death ending death is at the heart of the new creation. And so the old creation was never intended to be the end all, but the means we might say to bring in the new creation in and through Christ.

learning to appreciate difficulty

We need peace filled days, just to know such days can exist—when we’re rather oblivious to any problems, or seem to be living above them in God’s peace. And my guess is that we need more of that, or I should say that I do. Those can be good days in the love of God, serving God and others. I’ve also noticed I can become slack during those days. Actually I think it’s good to enjoy this and that at times. I love classical music, such as music written by Bach. But I can listen to the Beatles and other rock groups from the past, as well as other music artists. And again, that’s perfectly alright. But before you know it, I’ve been on an escapade of this and that which can stretch into a day or more. Well, sometimes we need some getaways like that, I suppose.

But enter the difficulty. I’m not talking about something we can handle perfectly well, or are at ease with. No, something perturbing, even. Difficult to say the least. Yes, sometimes and perhaps even oftentimes because of our own weakness, as well as our own slowness to get what we should have understood sooner. Or perhaps one of the many trials that hit us by simply living in the world as it is.

I find that once I get over the initial jolt and have worked through it well enough, that I actually become more attentive to the Lord. I wish that wasn’t so. And does it need to be? And I become more productive in getting done what needs to be done. And not least of all, I tend much more toward humility. I am more straitened in myself and less inclined to sin with the mouth (or even in the heart, in the first place).

I’m not sure I had such great hope for myself, but I always imagined that the “saints” or those who were known for closeness to God and service in love to others, especially toward the end of their lives lived with great peace and tranquility, in the sunlight of God’s love, hardly ever under clouds, and even less under storm clouds. But as I have gotten older, while I don’t set that aside entirely, I have come to think that by and large those are the people who know God’s love in the midst of difficulty and even darkness. At least my own experience seems to indicate that. As well as my reading of scripture (see the psalms, for example).

And so I go on. Loving and appreciating the sunny, blue sky days, in which all seems well. But learning more and more to appreciate the difficult days: looking to God to walk through them becoming closer to him, as well as a better person.  More productive in my work in the Lord for others. Hopefully Jesus seen in it all.

trusting in the Lord

Last evening I was watching what has become my favorite program as of late (in fact, my only program; I don’t as a rule watch television, in fact I can’t remember having one favorite program), Cosmos. This program was both encouraging and astounding. We like to think we have some sort of control, or that life somehow depends on us, at least to some extent. But this program (well worth the watch) is a reminder that so much is really beyond us. How we came into being in the first place, made of star dust along with our wonderful world, earth. Of course we believe all from the hand of God. Just as scientists can tell something, and actually more and more, helping us all see something of the immensity and complexity of it all—what constitutes the material realm, and how it carries on—so by faith we can actually be taken up into something of the Creator’s plans, God’s loving work in and through Jesus.

The Lord wants to lead me personally within community, to be sure. But I need to have something of a grasp on just how little I have a grasp on anything at all. Paradoxically we find strength in weakness, light in darkness, knowledge in our ignorance. What I’m trying to get at is just how much we need to realize that this life—both the big and the small—is really quite beyond us. Instead of thinking that we have something figured out, and we’re expected to corral the matter, and take care of it, we would finally learn some wisdom and apply the same by backing off, and finding something of the Lord’s peace and direction. I speak from experience, although not much in the way of really doing well in this, I’m afraid.

Not that the Lord won’t have something for us to do, or that we won’t have some part in solving a matter, because often we likely will. Although in answer to prayer, we will see solutions we never would have seen otherwise. Part of the answer might be to wait. To back off and not jump to conclusions as to what needs to be done. There is after all so much we don’t know.

And so I want to grow in simple faith, simply trusting the Lord, which means not relying on my own understanding. Knowing he knows and is at work for good. In and through Jesus.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Scot McKnight on the three things about the *Book of Common Prayer* he enjoys most

If there is any single theme that characterized the Reformation it was this: sola scriptura (Scripture alone). Faith, it was argued, was to be established by first going to the Bible. The prayer book in use for ordinary Christians needed to reflect sola scriptura. Out of this conviction came The Book of Common Prayer.

In my judgment one of the great contributions of the BCP to the church is its revitalization of Bible reading among the laity. The BCP asks ordinary Christians either to read the Bible or to listen to the Bible being read aloud. Here is one of the most important secrets of using prayer books: By using them, we read the Bible aloud to hear what God is saying to us, and along with reading the Bible we recite the prayers of the Church. These two acts, reading the Bible aloud and reciting the prayers of the church with others, constitute what it means to pray with the Church.

To this end, Thomas Cranmer and the ongoing shapers of The Book of Common Prayer set out schedules for reading the Bible in a one- or two-year cycle….

There are three things about the BCP I most enjoy. I begin with the second because I have already dealt with it: The BCP enables the user to read most of the Bible in two to three years. The first favorite feature is the collects, short prayers designed for a particular day or season in the church calendar.

Here is the collect for one of the Sundays before Advent (Proper 29 today):

“Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

That final little flourish in this collect, “who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever” is a constant ending to the BCP‘s collects. It focuses on Trinitarian theology and closes off the prayer elegantly (not that all prayers have to be elegant).

My third favorite element of the BCP is the thanksgiving prayers for the saints, wherein the church expresses gratitude for those who have gone before us. And my favorite Holy Day prayer is the thanksgiving to God for the life and example of Joseph, who is all but forgotten for many Christians. In fact, he did not even make an appearance in the older version of the BCP. In the modern version, here is the prayer:

“O God, who from the family of thy servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Our commitment to the communion of saints is a commitment to more than the saints who now walk the earth. We are in communion also with all those who have walked this journey before us. The BCP brings us into contact with Christians all over the globe. Though it takes some getting used to, the BCP is a source of devotion and a guide for us as we learn to pray with the Church and read the Bible at the same time.

Scot McKnight, Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today, 128, 135-137.

prayer for second Sunday of Easter

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; 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

God delighting in us, his children

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

The other day I was slowly working through this part of scripture, and wanted to go on, but decided I ought to camp on the last line a bit. “…as a father the son he delights in.” This is rather a difficult line for me. Would the Father ever delight in me? These are words which I find hard to take in. I believe somehow intellectually that without any question this can be the case. And some would argue, invariably is the case if we are God’s children through Christ. And I can give some explanation theologically, based on scripture why I believe especially the former thought is true. Of course it is in and through Christ. And this provision is something God did in pursuit of us.

And so I dwelt on that for a time, probably wrestling a bit with it. And the thought came to me something like, “What more would I like to be true of myself than to be a delight to the Father.” I thought of how I want my life to be pleasing to the Father. And then I thought how children want so much to please their parents, especially early on. And hopefully later as well, often after rebellious times have passed.

It was good to dwell on that part alone, and to continue to do so. But to properly read scripture and take it in as it is, we must read in context. And of course here what precedes it is how this is all about God’s discipline of us, his children. I don’t think I gave that a whole lot of thought that day. But something happened soon afterward which ended up, over the course of a few hours and perhaps beyond of being something of the Lord’s discipline in my own life. In terms of life change over what might seem small, but was a hinge which could result in change beyond what I can tell. Hebrews 12, which quotes this passage (from the Septuagint translation of it) goes on to say that this brings a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who have been trained by this loving discipline.

So I spent some time especially on the thought of being a son in whom God could delight in. And how much I want this to be the case. After a time it began to occur to me that for this to be so, I must press on in the text and keep reading. We need all of God’s revelation in scripture to inform and form us. And so I began to work through the rest of that chapter.

But the thought stays with me. The wonderful possibility of us pleasing, even delighting God. How that is set into motion for us. And how I want to go on in that trajectory and direction with all of life the rest of my life. In and through Jesus. Along with others.

love and faithfulness

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.

Yesterday in my meditation in scripture I ran across these words in Proverbs. I was a bit struck by them. Love and faithfulness are to be priorities for us humans. Of course we’re talking now about relationships. Probably here especially among us humans. Though clearly our relationship with God should take top priority. But as scripture makes clear, love for God is shown in our love for each other. Often not easy, and at times we have to work through those hard places open to our own need for repentance.

I love the language in the proverb. It is metaphorical for sure, and beautiful. We’re to keep love and faithfulness with us, even binding them around our neck as if we were wearing them. Which might refer to our actions or what is evident of us in life. And to make them a part of who we are, from our very hearts.

In scripture such are tied to covenant, the covenant God makes with humankind, and within that a binding of ourselves to each other. Of course that is all broken by sin; love and faithfulness are castaways. Or they don’t hold the priority needed to keep people together. Sadly enough that has too often been the case even for us who profess faith in God through Jesus. We too have failed in this area.

If I’m to be true to the passage, I should quote what follows, which is a part of it:

Then you will win favor and a good name
    in the sight of God and man.

I did not want to bring that out right away, because I did not want to make this outcome a part of our focus. Nevertheless it is there, and we need to include it in. And it is indeed important. Proverbs are maxims which carry general truth, but which in life are not always the case. What is said here will be generally the case, though some will remain unconvinced and even resistant, perhaps even antagonistic. It is important what we do or fail to do in regard to love and faithfulness in our relationship with God and others.

One other thing: I don’t think we need some special insight from God to get the basic meaning of these words. Of course we’re actually dependent on God for everything, period. If we have any true understanding and application of anything, it is a gift from God. So we don’t have to look for some mystical experience or knowledge to understand. Although God will give us more insight and growth in life in this, along the way.

And so these words are meant for all of us. This love and faithfulness starts with God’s commitment of covenant love to humanity through Israel, worked out in Christ. And it is meant to go from there into every corner of humanity, to break down all our divisions which exist not only between warring enemies, but husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and neighbors. And all of this in God’s love in Jesus, a love which continues to forgive, heal and reconcile. And holds us to this love and faithfulness to the very end.

the sense of not having arrived

For one reason or another, and actually for a good number of reasons I carry the sense of having not arrived. While I admit to thinking primarily of the personal end of things, I also want to think beyond that to the world around me and the world at large.

I am reminded of John Bunyan’s, The Pilgrim’s Progress. In that story Christian is on a journey from the world that is going to perish, actually starting from “the City of Destruction,” with a huge burden on his back he loses at the foot of the cross. He is on what turns out to be a long and treacherous, as well as interesting journey to the Celestial City, heaven. It is a wonderful allegory, steeped in the prevailing theology of its times. And still worth a careful read. It remains, and I think always will remain a deserving classic. (An updated version, I would recommend.)

While I can concur with much of the theology in The Pilgrim’s Progress, I see the Christian life in a bit different way. Yes, with some serious overlap, but different, just the same. I would agree with N. T. Wright that the kingdom of God come in Jesus is not about escaping earth to go to heaven, but bringing heaven down to earth. It is the life of new creation, even in the old, here and now. And of “putting the world to rights,” as our British friend says it, “the righteousness of God” in Jesus for the salvation of the world with justice and into shalom, in which peace means much more than the absence of conflict.

There is a sense in which we live with the need of closure in different areas of this life. Both on a personal level, and at least with reference to our own relationship to our world and the world at large. Some of my need is in regard to things I would like to make right if possible and if wise, even though I know that it is only God who can really do that. And yet God uses us to get some, perhaps even much of what is accomplished of that in this life. One thing we can always do is pray. And seek good counsel from wise and trusted friends.

I don’t entirely understand my strong sense in this life of having not arrived. It hits me on a number of fronts. Yes, I still sin, and can have a propensity to sin. As well as to hunger and thirst for righteousness. And to see progress in my life, so that some old sins seem dead, or at least dormant. Of course anyone who thinks they stand must beware lest they fall. One of my main desires on a personal level is to better rest in the salvation in Jesus. And to better live out of that. So that I don’t live with the sense of guilt and condemnation, sometimes deserved but oftentimes not of the convicting work of the Spirit. More along the lines of self-imposed guilt along with the sense of not measuring up in the eyes of others in some ways helped along by the enemy, the devil.

Some of the sense of having not arrived may be broadly correlated to the Apostle Paul’s experience of carrying a thorn in his flesh, even a messenger of Satan, which tormented him. And kept him humble, even helping him into a closer relationship with Christ as well as a knowing of his power that Paul would not have known otherwise. One can be tempted to despair in that, but instead we’re to press on, hopefully finding our way through the sense of darkness and emptiness into the light, even the full light of day.

And I have a sense of longing, yes thirsting for justice for the world. Something God’s kingdom come in Jesus brings. For a new order, for getting rid of the disorder and chaos which too regularly brings havoc on earth. Yes, we long for a better day not just for ourselves, but for each other, and not just for each other, but for the entire world. That is in significant part what the Lord’s/Our Father prayer is about, it’s aim.

Probably much of my sense of having not arrived is good and appropriate. And surely there’s some of it which needs to fall by the wayside. Life in a sense is indeed a journey. Into the good will of God made known in Jesus. Lived out in our own lives within community in Jesus and for the world. As we continue to look to Jesus, and seek by the Spirit and the word, to follow in his steps to the end. And find complete closure for ourselves and for the world, in him.