the Lord is *my* shepherd

A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Psalm 23

It is good to have a good friend and sincere encouragement from them when one’s down. We need that. But when it’s all said and done we need more. We as followers of Jesus have him as our shepherd. We are in this life together, but each one of us are inescapably on our separate journeys. No one can know us inside out except God.

Note that this psalm is expressed with an individual faith. One could well say that the Lord is our shepherd. But in this most well known of psalms, God is called “my shepherd.”

I think that’s helpful. There’s no escape from the fact that we live in our own private world. We have our own thoughts and feelings. We want to enter into the life of others in community, but we do so inevitably as individuals. Doing so can help us change for good. But we never lose our own individuality. As Dallas Willard wrote/said, something like we’re to become like what Jesus would be if he were us. In so doing we’re moving toward the fullness and completion of the realization of what God created us to be. But that’s as Jesus would be if he were Mary or John, or you or I.

The Lord is our shepherd, God is our shepherd in Jesus (John 10). Yes. And the Lord is “my” shepherd. I can count on that today and every day, no matter what, to the end. In and through Jesus.

it take a church

Nowadays there seems to have been a backlash against what was used by a political candidate here in the US some years back: “It takes a village.” Actually that has plenty of truth in it, just as does the idea that we can’t depend on others to do for us what only we can do. They can’t live our lives for us. Nor should we expect others to do for us what we can do ourselves. True. But the prevailing emphasis on individual rights and freedom nowadays perhaps is the idea that we can get along just fine on our own, that we need no one else.

God’s word and its fulfillment in Jesus tells us something entirely different. Humans are made for community. Yes, some of us like our space, and need more separation than others. But none of us were made for isolation, for solitary confinement. As God says in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make one corresponding him,  as complements to each other” (Genesis 2; my paraphrase).

Sin divides us from God and each other. At its core sin is a violation of love for God, and for neighbor, which really ends up being all humanity, especially in the world in which we live today, a shrinking globe due to our ability to traverse so well. God’s saving work in Christ is at heart a reconciliation to God and to each other. That reconciliation is front and center in the church. Through the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s table being central in enacting and displaying it.

“It takes a church” we might say. Yes, made up of imperfect, broken, yet being put together people like you and I. Just ordinary people, and often struggling to one degree or another. But our lives are meant to be lived not in isolation, but with others. If we’re “in Christ” by faith, then we’re in Christ’s body, the church. Our identity then, is not only in Christ, but in his body, the church.

That seems often minimized in evangelical Christian circles, with an emphasis on people’s individual response to the gospel and God’s word. But it is not minimized in the very Scripture we evangelicals hold as central to our faith. We need to acclimate ourselves to something different. The life of God we find in Jesus is especially made known in the church. And imbibed and then lived out yes even in the church through what we might call the sacraments, and our lives lived together in communion with each other. And from that sent out on mission. In and through Jesus.

the gospel from us evangelicals

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:13-18

I frequently have seen critiques of evangelicals which to some extent ring true. One of the most common is the charge against us that we focus too much on individual piety, and on a personal relationship with Christ, and how our view of the gospel’s impact in the world doesn’t go much further than that. Unfortunately I think there’s all too much truth in that. But at the same time, in spite of it, I see evangelical concern for justice and for the poor made evident both within churches, and through organizations like World Vision and Compassion International.

The gospel is about reconciliation, and while certainly in terms of individuals to God through Christ, also about all of humankind being reconciled and ultimately brought together as one family under Christ. And this reconciliation, while breaking down the basic barrier between Jew and Gentile, also breaks down all other barriers as well, we might say all other dividing marks which put one party over or against another: slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).

So I think it’s not a matter so much at all about what we evangelicals have taught, but more of a matter of what we either fail to teach, or more likely are simply lax in. So that when we consider one’s personal relationship with God and walk through Christ, we need to think of it in terms of community as well as their own personal experience. So that such is always factored in as part of the whole.

I no longer look for a church which has it altogether. I have lived long enough to doubt the existence of such a church. We all have our flaws, weak points, and at times, even blind spots. I realize too that I’m prone along the same lines as everyone else. I too have probably emphasized personal piety in my reading, meditation and teaching of scripture to the exclusion at times of the bigger picture. There’s always the possibility of gradually improving as one sees that picture in scripture.

So we need not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead we need to be thankful for the strong points, which are valid and helpful in their place. To thank God for that, and make the most of it. Even as we continue to work on understanding the expansiveness of the impact of the gospel, how it’s meant to bring in no less than a new creation of the old, making all things new only in and through Jesus.

looking toward the love of Christ

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19

If there’s one passage of scripture I would like to get hold of me, this probably would be it. We need all of scripture, for sure. But this passage could help us to learn to live in a love that is present here and now, no matter what else we might be facing and experiencing. So that this love can both inform and form us.

Note that it’s Paul’s prayer for the believers who will receive this letter, and we could say by extension to all of us who receive this letter as part of our Bibles, God’s written word to us, to this present day.

This is a prayer which is frankly beyond me. We can parse out the words, and that’s good. I think it’s also good to acknowledge that by grace we have had at least a glimpse and taste of this. And in a certain sense we live with it all the time. But somehow too often it’s too far removed from our thoughts and experience.

What we need is a sort of makeover, do over, from God, of course. We are definitely involved in both an active, as well as passive sense in our faith. But in this prayer, especially in the posture of receiving God’s working by grace and the Spirit. Yes, in our individual lives, but together as well. The words translated “you” are plural in the Greek. And Ephesians as a letter stresses community, the church. So this is not some kind of solitary desert project, as I myself left on my own would tend to think. It is surely both communal and individual. We all experience it together from God. And certainly it is to shape our lives as individuals. In and through Jesus.

thinking through, along with praying through (“on further consideration”)

…the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15

It is easy to think this or that, even for a long time, and take it for granted. It is hard to dig into whether or not such thinking is close to reality, or even logical, for that matter. And I’m not pointing fingers. I can fall, and have fallen into this fallacy myself.

Rather, we need to learn to think things through, prayerfully. Of course we need to do our part, but this process is best done with others. Proverbs tells us elsewhere that there is safety in a multitude of counselors. What one person doesn’t see, there might be two or three others who do, or at least someone else. Insight from our various perspectives is helpful. And we all need to dig and ask questions.

Thinking matters through, as well as praying through until an answer comes. We need both. As we seek to do well in God’s eyes in and through Jesus.

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

individuals or community?

It is interesting when one considers the writings of Christian theologians, exegetes, and mystics. I would include even this blog, called “Jesus community.” And of course we have to go to scripture and consider its narrative, prose and poetry, as well. The consideration I’m thinking of is whether individuals or community is given primacy of place. With the question: Does it have to be either, or?

Of course we see everything through our own cultural lens which where I live seems profoundly individualistic, especially when compared to most other societies in the past and the present. We’ve inherited a Western Modern Enlightenment philosophy through which we’ve looked at the world for so long, it’s really hard for us to gauge well just what we or others are doing, or what the Bible does for that matter, in terms of individual and community. I think some of our best writers are quite strong with reference to the individual, but I find one hard pressed to find good writing in terms of community, though it is out there.

I share here as one who does not imagine for a second that somehow I have this matter in hand myself. In fact I think I’m too steeped on the individualistic side. However we need to see the narrative of scripture for what it is. Individuals are addressed over and over again, and are spoken of. Many examples of it. But it is never a matter of individuals standing alone, but in or with reference to a community. People end up being called into community which has its grounding in the Trinity as well as in the people God calls to be his own. The church is comprised of members united together in Christ, indeed it is called a body, the body of Christ.

I think we have to see life in terms of both. Yes, we address each other as individuals, but none of us can live well or according to God’s will in isolation. We are meant to live in relationships, fundamentally to God and to each other. Perhaps we need to emphasize the communal aspect more, since our culture and society is given more to an isolated individualism, overall. I personally prefer a body of individuals in some kind of sync together, over a body of individuals in which the emphasis is on each individual. The point is just how everything fits together, the bigger picture.

Individuals together in community in Jesus for the world.

church and our work

I wonder about my blogging. My title is “Jesus community,” which sometime back I thought to change, though a friend whose writing and viewpoint I highly value seemed to strongly suggest that I leave it the same. But the fact that it is an individual venture, which I think for the most part is compatible to our church, but at the same time does not necessarily represent the views of our church, gives me pause. It is good for us to think on our own, but not good if that’s the only thinking we do. In fact perhaps the most seminal thinking we should do is in community, hashing things out in community. A fellowship of bloggers can do that, provided they read each other’s blogs. And what and how I think is certainly influenced and impacted by the Spirit of God through my participation in community. I do learn from others, or am impacted by the ministry that goes on through our pastors and others in our faith community.

I would like to be more directly involved in our church, but for the time being that comes only through participation with others. On the other hand, we each have our part. My part seems to be heavily (relatively speaking) in and from reading and writing. However that is not integrated into the church. Which makes me think of dropping the writing part altogether. It is not directly integrated, to be sure, and probably that is neither necessary nor necessarily good. My reading and writing impacts my participation in our church, and my participation in our church impacts my reading and writing.

At any rate, we all have our part. By itself it is small, but put together with everyone else it makes up the whole of our witness of faith. Together in Jesus for the world.

settling down

An important part of the story in scripture is Israel being taken into exile. They are told to live out their days in submission to God by accepting their situation. Less than the ideal they had imagined, and hoped for. But it was God’s will for that time. In fact even after Jesus comes as the one promised, the Messiah, yet exile continues to be the word for God’s people in Jesus, the one holy nation scattered throughout the world as a witness. Exile in the sense that we are strangers in this world, awaiting the completion of the fulfillment in Jesus when he appears and heaven and earth become one with the New Jerusalem coming to earth.

I am not thinking that this is making the most out of a bad situation, or in the end out of what is less than ideal. Instead we need to see this in terms of living faithfully in the way of Jesus according to God’s calling to us. Glorifying our Father before others by the good works that we do.

I’ve lived long enough to realize that my own visions for the future don’t come true. That it is only what God brings to pass that matters. That I am to live in God’s grace in pursuit of God’s will in Jesus. More accurately that we in Jesus together are to live in God’s grace in pursuit of God’s will in Jesus. This is a community venture, as well as missional. We are in this together in and through Jesus.

And so I want to settle down well the rest of my life. Doing well in the place God has planted me with others. According to God’s will in Jesus. Together with others in Jesus for the world.

regrouping

During the difficult, trying time when David was fleeing from Saul, waiting on God for the fulfillment of him having been anointed and the Spirit having come on him in power to be king, and doing so by refusing to turn his hand against the Lord’s anointed Saul, even after two opportunities to do so- David experienced a most difficult trial.

All of David’s family, and the family of all the other men were taken by enemies who had raided their camp while they were gone. The men were bitter in spirit, and actually talking of stoning their leader David. David was greatly distressed. But then he found strength in the Lord his God. And he began to take action, through the priest inquiring of God, and ultimately seeing all the family members of each of the men brought back safe and sound.

David regrouped so to speak or recovered from being in dire straits. I like the word regrouped, because ultimately what David needed was communal in nature, with God. And that communion in the form of petition led to a regrouping together with the men to bring back their family members, which they did in response to David’s intercession and the word that came out of that from God.

While I believe our communion definitely begins with God through Jesus, we can also find that communion through community with God’s people. We need both. And yet there are times when we can feel completely forsaken, just as David did, Paul as well, and Jesus himself. And yet God was with them, and helped them through their lonely trial.

Regrouping is done in answer to prayer, and moving according to God’s revealed will in and through Jesus. While I believe in prophetic words from God through those in Jesus, for today (1 Corinthians 14), we don’t always receive such, partly because we are not open to this as God’s people, though often I believe he gives words to us anyhow. But God may choose not to, and want us to proceed according to what he has revealed to us through scripture and his people along with circumstances, and what he has impressed on us along the line. Through the struggle we may have the sense of knowing what to do. Of course it will always be oriented toward God and his will in and through Jesus.

It is sad when God’s people are not as bound together as we need to be. At the same time it’s always a challenge, because the enemy will seek to divide us, and sometimes we will have to seek reconciliation through prayer, confession and forgiveness. We need always to be regrouping among ourselves, seeking restoration and ongoing fellowship with God. Together in and through Jesus for the world.