lack nothing?

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,
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

In the topsy-turvy existence in which we live, we hardly ever see ourselves not in need of something. Or what the world tells us we need through advertising, or even what the state requires by law. On top of that, we have our own expectations for ourselves, our wishes, even dreams.

Then there’s this psalm telling us that with the Lord as our shepherd, we indeed lack nothing. Of course to know what the psalm means, we have to read on. Lacking nothing is described in terms of God’s provision and protection. So it’s beyond just feeling alright. There are actual reasons given as to why the psalmist, said to be David in the inscription, lacks nothing. It is in terms of having all we need, but still there’s a sense of abundance. Not “the good life” the world projects, but more like the abundant or full life the Lord promises (John 10). Again, we have to read the entire psalm to understand just what the psalmist means when they say that with the Lord being their shepherd, they lack nothing.

So we have to find and learn to dwell in the abundant, overflowing life for us in Christ (John 10). Spelled out for us here in Psalm 23 in real, down-to-earth terms for life in the topsy-turvy existence in which we live. In and through Jesus.

 

to know Christ’s love

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.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

searching for meaning

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1

My go to book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes (one of my favorites, anyhow) is an acknowledgment in part of the futility of life, and of thinking that one can find any real meaning under the sun. The idea ends up simply enjoying what is, to the fullest, and not taking it too seriously, since in the end it will all be gone.

But there’s some stealth thoughts interjected along the way, such as the fact that God will judge, which is roundly stated in the end. And that we shouldn’t say much when we enter into the space where God is present for worship, but simply be silent. Those are clues that there may be more to this, to life than what often meets the eye. And in the end again, the charge to fear God and keep his commandments caps what has been an interesting read.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to what we regularly profess and confess. We need to let the weight of the narrative in Ecclesiastes have its affect on us. That is the way we’re to read scripture. And preferably with others.

I think it’s best to embrace the reality of how all these means which are made to be ends are not ends themselves at all. They have usefulness, to be sure, their place in life “under the sun.” But none of them in themselves can fulfill what only God and the promise of God in the grace and kingdom come in Jesus can. But we need to feel the full weight of the emptiness of the endless pursuit of humanity to arrive and achieve. While some satisfaction might be found in it, it will end, and then what? (Another theme in Ecclesiastes.)

We have to look “above” (or beyond) the sun to find meaning in life “under the sun.” The meaning we find won’t be in what is done in this life, but the transcendence which is imminent, and therefore gives meaning either to or in the midst of all that happens here and now. So that while these things in the present are empty and meaningless in themselves, they derive meaning and fullness in the Creator God, and the covenant God makes with humans. A covenant fulfilled in Jesus, full of meaning, which then translates to all the emptiness and meaninglessness down here. In and through Jesus.

Christmastide and spiritual fullness in Christ

Christmas season as the rest of the Christian calendar points us not surprisingly to Christ himself. And the Colossians passage quoted below is aptly titled in the NIV, “Spiritual Fullness in Christ.” “In Christ,” whatever and all that means is at the heart of God’s blessing to the world, particularly to his people, the faithful, to all who believe.

Our spiritual fullness is never of ourselves. In fact we are well to be empty ourselves, empty in and of ourselves, which actually is the case anyhow, that we might be filled up to all the fullness of Christ. And actually, being in him means we already are. Our fullness is in and of him, and never in and of ourselves.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” from our Lord, from Jesus Christ himself rings out as true. If we are full of ourselves or somehow think we’re good and ready to go in and of ourselves, that somehow we’ve arrived, then we’re lost as far as the Christian faith goes. No, instead we are always and forever beggars: wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked in and of ourselves. We have no life apart from Christ himself. But in Christ we have a fullness which points others not to ourselves, but to him and his work, and to God’s will in him for us as God’s people and for the world. Christ is all in God’s will for the world, and in the end the world is taken up into Christ. Which makes the difference on how we see life, and live now.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:6-15