a faith that can move mountains? (or just plain, ordinary faith?)

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Mark 11:22-25

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

Repeatedly in Matthew’s gospel Jesus gently I’m sure, chides especially his disciples for having little faith. And there are some people who just seem to have a special gift of trusting God (see The Message in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 link above). But I’m not talking about that specifically here. It does make me wonder, though, if God doesn’t graciously give some people that special gift of faith to help the rest of us who struggle in our faith. I think my wife may well have that special gift, and I’ve struggled all my Christian life, sad to say, in trusting God, or having faith in God over specific matters. While I think I’ve improved, sometimes, when I consider the storms of life, I would just like to have the faith our Lord seemed to want in his disciples, maybe even to speak to the storm so that it might be stilled, or speak confidently to the one who can do that.

I think we need to hold on to faith in regard to any specific matters, even be bold in that. And in spite of our weaknesses or the struggles of those around us. We hold on in faith, not insisting that God give us what we want, but God’s answer in line with God’s will. We bring the matter to God, and hold on in faith, giving it time. It will come together for us. God’s answer will come, maybe in a surprising way. God will help us in this as we look to him. In and through Jesus.

“we all need a home”

Someone recently told me that. It is wonderful, the family settings we can live in. But even the best of them is not without some hurts and wounds along the way, even with some cracks and brokenness. And tragically, sometimes those fractures are not mended and there can be a parting of ways. Home together as family does involve a commitment.

When it comes to church, we Christians at least here in America I think have some difficulty seeing it as family or being comfortable there. Why? It could be in part because of our own experience as family. And churches in our society are like a dime a dozen. Unlike days of old when there were parishes, and you had your church according to your location, in which you may well attend and be part of for a lifetime, now people so to speak go shopping for church. Wherever it’s the right feel, or serves the needs of one’s family, or their own needs, we stop and shop there. Maybe for a few years, maybe more, but often less. Until we move on to our next church and church experience. The older I get, the more I value the practice of those who have been in one church for decades, even entire lifetimes. Unfortunately not true of myself. Though there are times, sadly, to leave a church.

But the church in Jesus is meant to be our primary family, in a certain sense more family than our own family. Though of course each have their unique special place. Jesus made it clear that his sister, brother, and mother were those who did God’s will. And we find in the New Testament letters an emphasis on a community held together in the bond of love in Christ, with the fruit of the Spirit moving that fellowship, and the gifts of the Spirit helping it, all toward growth together into maturity in Christ.

We need a home where we don’t have to perform and have it all together. Where we can be our honest, even broken selves. I’m not saying at all, excusing our sin. But really being honest with ourselves and others. Just that sense given to us together by the Spirit who leads us to the broken body and blood of Christ for us individually and in our relationships with each other.

We need a place where we’re at home. Where people really care for us. Grace-oriented, so that by and by we can start measuring up, but not at all about measuring up, even while there is loving accountability. Where we realize that we’re all in this together, that when one suffers with whatever, we all suffer. Where when one rejoices and is happy, we all are happy for and with them. The sense that we’re indeed not in this life alone. But we’re present and in place for each other. And together for a broken world. In and through Jesus.

how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

If I would choose one passage to summarize my life, it might be this, and with a hope so. Jesus begins here, and this is where we need to begin and keep beginning. This is not like a one time thing, and then we move on. It’s something that should always characterize our thought and attitude about ourselves.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace and if we look at our lives honestly, we’ll know that we don’t measure up both in terms of sins of commission as well as omission. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves or our sin. But it does mean that we acknowledge our need for ongoing forgiveness of sin through confession, and acknowledge too our utter need of God’s grace to grow spiritually. We should never dismiss or minimize God’s promise to not only forgive our sins, but cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I have often seen Christians who looked down on other Christians or churches as not being “Spirit-filled.” But it has seemed to me over and over again that too often what is exhibited in such attitudes is a demonstration of leaving this saying of Jesus behind. They somehow are beyond that, or maybe to them that only applies to people before they come to Jesus for conversion. Utterly false. I would rather be with the humble, poor in spirit any day, than with the Spirit-filled who have to look down on others. I’m at home with the “poor in spirit,” since I’m most certainly one of them.

At the same time it is the poor in spirit who will actually know more of the work of God’s Spirit in their lives. Especially in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) as we note that no matter what spiritual gift we might exercise, if it is not exercised with love, it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13). That doesn’t mean we leave the Spirit-given gifts behind, but only that we put first things first.

If we fail to accept the reality that we’re poor in spirit, then we’ll inevitably be proud and compare ourselves with others, favorably for us, of course. Instead we’re to take the way of Jesus who made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), who was humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). In and through Jesus.

what I would like to settle into, if only I knew how

No one can map out just what they’re going to be and do. We each have gifts, things we enjoy doing and can learn to do well in. All from God. In Christ’s body, there are different gifts given to each by the Spirit for the church. We need to discern what they are with the help of others. Listening carefully to what others say about what we do, as well as simply settling into what can do well is a good start.

For me at this late stage in life I know I enjoy writing. I actually enjoy sharing a message from Scripture on Sundays at the nursing home, as well. I find a propensity in myself to get off into areas which I would just as soon avoid. But I find that if one takes all of the Bible seriously, and our Lord’s teaching alone, there are places the church needs to go which are uncomfortable. Christ could not avoid controversy for sure, and it is a mistake to think that his followers can.

That said, I would like to aim for an increasingly quiet seeking of wisdom, along with a gentle sharing of such. Such wisdom is ideally steeped in the wisdom books of Scripture, but can’t be bereft of the input and impact of all the rest. And you can see such conviction within the wisdom literature itself. Wisdom simply defined is beginning to understand what is good and suitable for our lives and all of life, and adjusting our lives to that.

I would like to be a gentle seeker and sharer of wisdom. For all, and especially to help people find the wisdom of God in Jesus. I work at Our Daily Bread Ministries which has the goal of making the life-changing wisdom of the Bible clear and accessible to all. So I’m definitely influenced by that, and I find the same passion in the good church we’re a part of.

I would like to hone what gift I have to be more along this line. Gathered from decades in Scripture and life. With some successes and failures along the way. I would like to be under the discipline of wisdom all the more for my own life, so that in my limited way, I can share that by example and word with others. Of course this comes from interacting with God through Scripture and by the Spirit, in relationship with God and others. In and through Jesus.

Paul, a charismatic Anglican

In one of Scot McKnight’s recent books (another good one), A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, in some good humor Scot suggests “that the Apostle Paul was a charismatic Anglican, who was a mix of routine and spontaneity.” When you look at Paul in the New Testament, there is no escaping the fact that in the biblical sense his life seemed to include all that the Spirit was doing then and is allegedly doing today in some quarters: people praying for the dead to rise and seeing God answer, others healed of life threatening and debilitating illnesses, demons cast out, prophesying occuring, and speaking in tongues as both a gift to edify the church as long as there’s an interpretation, or a prayer language, and surely a few things I missed. Actually I like another point Scot makes in the book that the gift we are given in Christ’s body amounts to whatever blesses the body. For me it has seemed to be more in the line of teaching, but the gift we all have is surely as unique as each one of us is from God both in terms of creation and new creation.

What can be missing in Pentecostal and charismatic churches and circles today, from what I’ve seen, is the humility of Paul. And I’m not referring to the showboating in some places which has nothing to do with the charismatic gift (which actually includes all in Christ’s body, but to that later). But there is too often something of the sense of superiority in looking down on other churches and Christians, so that like the Corinithian church who were overflowing and behind in none of the gifts, Paul might say to some if he were on the scene today that in their divisiveness and attitude that others are beneath them, they are living as if they don’t have the Spirit at all. Although I’m sure that in the grace of the Lord there are many Pentecostal churches and believers who are genuinely humble.

According to the Greek New Testament, strictly speaking, all of us in Christ are already Spirit people, we are charismatic, having the charismata of the Spirit. It doesn’t even matter, I don’t think, if we mistakenly believe some of the so-called charismatic gifts (not really a biblical way of looking at this, I might argue) are really not for today. The Baptists along with the Nazarenes, Mennonites, Methodists, and yes, Roman Catholics, and other traditions and believers are all potentially Spirit-filled, period. And some of the Pentecostal churches and believers who advertise themselves as Spirit-filled may well be not.

I will probably be continuing to think on this subject for a time, so I have to hold on to my hat (I’m a hat wearer, though my wife isn’t crazy about that). There is so much to say on this subject. To come: the fruit of the Spirit is far more important than the gifts of the Spirit, though both surely have their place. And what I think a real Spirit-filled church looks like. For a hint, and actually in large part at least, my answer, look at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.

miracles and healings: signs of the presence and promise of the kingdom of God in Jesus

John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 14:12-14

The gospels are replete with Jesus’ miracles and healings, at least most of which even liberal scholars acknowledge as likely historical. Included in the gospel narratives are risings from the dead, by implication of Jesus’ words even done by his disciples in his name. We remember Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Of course Lazarus died again, later. The passage cited above is in the context of more miracles (click the link to see Matthew 14). And as we go on post-Pentecost, we find that miracles in Jesus by the Spirit continue in gifts given to the church.

What are we to make of these miracles? Certainly Jesus did them in significant part out of compassion, just as the text quoted above says. But parallel to that and just as significant: Jesus did them as the sign of God’s kingdom come in him, and that he was indeed the Messiah to come. And they were done not only as a sign of the presence of God’s kingdom come in him, but of the promise of God’s kingdom to come and fill the earth when he returns. At the heart of that promise is Jesus and in Jesus is always death and resurrection. So that the new world to come, this old world already touched by its presence in Jesus, is a world in which all things are made new as in new creation and resurrection in Jesus. Not in terms and values of the old world and age, which is why Jesus often told others not to tell about the miracles he had done. They wanted to make him the King on their terms.

And so we can look to God in and through Jesus to continue to do the miraculous today, and we should pray for such to happen, and even do such, in faith. Some are especially gifted with such a gift as we read in 1 Corinthians 12. But we do so as those living in the old order and age which is passing away, and we with it. But in Jesus destined to become brand new in the new order in King Jesus for us and for the world.

 

aspiring to what?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach…

In recent months the pastoral epistles are becoming alive to me in a way which they once were, but was lost in the lostness of many of my middle years, when I lost hope of fulfilling what I believed (and still do) was my call from God. When we view the passage in its context we see the qualifications set in terms of both giftedness and character.

I’m not sure and maybe doubtful at this late stage in my life that I’ll be able to step into something of this (though I already have in a way, through the years), but I find the desire to do better and to do well character wise a good challenge and even encouragement for whatever time I have left in this life.

Aspiring to good character in and through Jesus is not to think one can arrive to sinless perfection in this life. Nor is it to engage in some sort of ego trip in which I come to think I am better than others. It is instead to pursue a course in which character takes priority over everything else including one’s giftedness. On the latter point that means I am willing to forgo what I would like to do for the sake of growing more and more into the image of our Lord. That character transformation is always first priority.

But that doesn’t mean that what we do is therefore left out in terms of what gift we have from God.  It does mean that we do so humbly in our place, whatever place that ends up being. Intent on following Jesus so that who we are takes precedent over what we do, of course impacting the latter.

For me personally, I can’t separate everything, but I can desire to do the best I can with whatever I’m given. In the life in God through Christ by the Spirit in communion with all of God’s people in mission to the world.

fitting in

One ongoing struggle in my life has been the problem of not fitting in. I am thinking in terms largely of thought from which practice or life formation can come. So I have ended up gravitating to churches which while taking a particular stance, the least being adherence to Christian orthodoxy, gave room to think within that commitment.

I am more than a bit wary of the idea that one can find a church tradition or even another person with whom they’ll see eye to eye with on everything. Such expectation is not only unrealistic but unhealthy as well. What is promoted is some sort of cookie cutter mentality. One can’t think or become settled into a faith of their own and therefore may have little or no faith whatsoever.

A crucial balance to this is to avoid the notion that what others think and believe doesn’t matter or is of little worth. When we become aware of differences that do seem significant what is then needed is some kind of discourse, ongoing conversation, talking it through. In the course of that there may be some change or modification of one’s thinking, perhaps a consensus reached with the other. But again how the church especially at large has read the Bible should never be dismissed. It at least should be respected even if it is not followed to the letter.

In the end finding our place in fitting into the whole is important.  Maybe we would be content enough to remain where we’re at, but for some reason we can’t settle in. Perhaps the Lord is seeking to nudge us in a different direction.

In this life I not only doubt that there can be perfect agreement on everything, but again I see such a hope as doomed to frustration. But by God’s grace in Jesus by the Spirit we can find our place to be planted where we can grow and bear much fruit with others. As the Lord’s church in and for the world to the glory of God.

 

finding one’s place

I wish everyone would eventually feel settled into what they sense and come to know is God’s calling for them. I know people who seem to have done that. For others, I’m not sure. And then there are those who really struggle to find their place, who see themselves somehow as misfits, who don’t feel at rest or entirely at home in what they are about, in what they are doing.

Of course in Christ we are those who are loved by God as God’s children by adoption and new birth. We are a part of God’s family by the Spirit in and through Jesus. We shouldn’t take that for granted, or think it’s not that important. We are one body in Christ, and this is to be played out in local congregations. Somehow everything we do should be oriented toward the church, not just for the church’s sake, but also for the sake of the church’s calling in the world.

Finding one’s calling may end up being as clear as the nose on our face, but we may miss it for that very reason. It may be so close to us, and so much a part of who we are, that we think somehow that it is simply mundane and ordinary.

God’s calling matches our gift and we develop over time. What emerges involves process and preparation. We do well to not despise the day of small things, to accept humble places in seeking to find our place and God’s calling to us there. Learning to be faithful in what is put before us. As we seek to grow and mature with others in God’s love in Jesus.

a life of prayer

There is nothing I like better than teaching, and I don’t mean writing a blog post, either. I by and large prefer to steer away from lecture, and much prefer guided interactive group sharing. Teaching is definitely a gift from God which I have. Although gifts can get rusty when not much in use, I suppose, though I would hardly know, lately. I love to preach as well. And I can do okay in that. But it seems like my forte is more in the line of teaching. I wish someone would have tapped me on the shoulder and told me that decades ago.

But life goes on. I hardly know where it has gone. And what teaching opportunities remain may be few and far between. What isn’t remote from possibility is an ongoing, growing life of prayer. To be in prayers of all kinds with worship, praise, confession, thanksgiving and petitions for others, along with different kinds of prayer in the Spirit is not removed from the possibility for any Christian. In fact, for example, praying in tongues is no big deal. Any one who has the Holy Spirit can do that. It is simply one of the many ways, I take it, to pray in the Holy Spirit. Though let me make this clear right now at this point. Those who don’t pray in tongues at all and never have are not necessarily less spiritual and less filled with the Holy Spirit. And neither are those who do pray in tongues necessarily spiritual at all, or filled with the Spirit. Take for example the Corinthian church, and many in that church. But that is an aside.

To get back to the point here, we in Jesus are called to a life of prayer. We don’t have to think in terms of great, prolonged prayer, for example praying down mighty revivals or world changing events. Though we’re not necessarily excluded from those sort of possibilities. What I’m thinking of is a simple, ongoing life of interactive communion with God in prayer. Steeped in scripture, and I think now especially of the psalms. And pushing on through the hard places of our own darkness and spiritual deadness and insensitivity. Along with the necessity laid on us of spiritual warfare. So that along the way, prayer can be downright difficult, even hard work. While at the same time wanting prayer to become more and more for myself, as natural as breathing. And maybe the main conversation for myself each day (aside from that with my wife), if I can learn to think of and experience prayer more in that way. Both praying and listening so that we end up silent before God, toward something the Orthodox Christians speak about. I also think liturgical prayer can be not only helpful, but ought to be part of how we pray. We’re still learners in this life, we know in part and don’t see clearly. Prayers gathered from the centuries can help us immensely, as we pray them out loud (or in our minds) with others.

We do no better both to start and to continue every day, in fact several times a day with the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray. To both pray the words of this prayer, and to pray with this prayer informing our prayers. As we seek to go on and grow in a life of prayer:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever.
Amen.'”