when all or much seems lost in this life

It is interesting how the down and out, thinking of the homeless and those in prison, seem disproportionately to be more people of faith than the rest of the population. Although sadly it’s been found recently, I read somewhere, that it is harder to reach the poor in terms of helping them become a part of a church family than what it used to be. Just because one is poor doesn’t mean they’ll connect with a church. Maybe some of them have had difficult experiences with churches, and everyone is on a different part of their faith journey. That said, it is still by and large those who find themselves in great need who are more inclined to reach out to God, while those especially who have accumulated great wealth, or have plenty and seem well set, may struggle a lot more to do so. Jesus said it is not only hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God, but actually impossible. But that what is not possible with man, is possible with God.

Our faith somehow needs to be grounded in God’s provision, as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34). And he tells us in the same place that money can indeed become an idol, replacing God in our lives. We so easily become lax in our faith. It ends up being that because of God’s grace, the rich can live in a manner pleasing to God, doing much good with the generous use of their wealth. And ironically those who are poor and in great need or trouble, can turn against God and fend for themselves, worshiping money every bit as much as many who are wealthy. I can’t help but think of the lottery. But by and large in scripture, and in life it ends up being especially the poor who are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom God has promised to those who love God (James).

All of this goes to show that while our difficulties can help us have faith, we still must take initiative in coming to God for our needs, and in learning to trust God for God’s provision. This requires an effort on our part, and commitment to continue on this path. We know that in doing so, we are completely dependent on God and God’s grace. God’s grace goes before (called “prevenient grace”) and behind us, and really with us all the way, so that we can learn to trust God to meet all of our needs according to God’s riches in glory in Jesus.

Those who have lost all hope for normalcy in this life can find the true life in and through Jesus. Sometimes when our lives are stripped away of the things that won’t last and may even be doing us harm, we then find what will last and matter when this life is over, indeed what really matters even in this life now. The true riches and the true life in God in and through Jesus.

the presentation of ourselves to God in and through Christ

I like the thought in today’s prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, the petition to God that Christ himself would present us to the Father “with pure and clean hearts.” Along with that is a text for today, which also speaks of our presentation to God in and through Christ:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Romans 12:1-5

The NRSV uses the world “present,” instead of “offer,” and what is going on here includes both. We offer ourselves to God, it being sacrificial in nature. And it is indeed a presentation of ourselves to God. Certainly at its core, God does the work in and through Christ. There is nothing we can do at all. But in that work of God, we are active, not passive. We respond to God’s grace in Christ, and present ourselves, our bodies to him “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” itself being our “true and proper worship.” And as such, we are members in Christ of each other. We are in this together, each having our part to play to help each other fulfill the goal of our presentation to God through Christ: in love seeking to be holy, set apart to him as no less than a living sacrifice to his glory.


meditation on the Epiphany

The Epiphany  is about God’s promise to the world being fulfilled in the birth of King Jesus. Kings would come to his light, but in this case, Magi, who were not necessarily kings, but who studied the stars, and as such were astrologers of their time. God had revealed to them through their discipline that someone special would be born, indeed, the King of the Jews.

It was certainly a time that the Gentiles would come to the light of God made known through this king, who ultimately is to rule over all.

We see that they came with gifts for the Christ Child, which surely helped sustain the holy family for some time to come.

We do well to bow now before God’s Presence in the Child (probably close to two years old by that time) Jesus, indeed the King of kings, and Lord of lords. And to offer to him what gifts God has provided for us, first and foremost the gift of ourselves, of our lives. And to spread the word of God’s glory and the good news in him to others.

idols in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14

John Calvin was only echoing what scripture says when he referred aptly to the propensity for us to set up idols in our hearts. And I mean Christians, followers of Jesus, even worshipers of God.

Of course true worship most certainly excludes such. Worship is a proper response to God’s revelation of himself in and through Jesus. It is dependent on the Spirit who helps us not only see the truth, but align ourselves with it.

But as there has always been, there are plenty of idols in the land. An idol, simply put is anything which either sets itself up, or is set up in place of God. And in our society and culture there are idols aplenty.

Anything can become an idol so that most often the things people idolize are well and good in their proper place, or at least elements of them. Whereas the good out of place becomes evil.

Idolatry, as we can see from the text, leads to evil deeds. We become like the god we serve (as it says in the psalms). Usually that’s a mixture of good and bad, which in the end doesn’t add up. But is deceptive, nonetheless. It always seems good to be devoted to something and do well by it. But we must beware lest that devotion stifles our devotion to God. We can end up being double minded, not serving God, or having the faith needed to serve him.

We must be careful here, because what may easily become an object of idolatry for myself, by grace may not be so at all to another. The idols referred to in Ezekiel were set up in their hearts, in other words, it was a heart issue. So that we must beware of making a list of idols. Some things may be much more prone to becoming idolatrous than others, but again, much is dependent on the take of each individual, or people group.

The best antidote against idolatry is the reception of grace in and through Jesus, so that we might learn to worship God acceptably with reverent awe. Sometimes we must take drastic measures ourselves to get rid of the root in our hearts bearing the poisonous fruit. But that will do no good unless it is replaced with the worship of God in our hearts and lives. With the readiness to receive needed forgiveness and ongoing cleansing through regular confession of our sins.


one thing the brevity of life suggests: the blink of life is about God

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.”

Psalm 39

It rather occured to me yesterday, while working my way in meditation through this psalm, that the brevity of life is suggestive that life is really about God, period. Of course it’s about so much more. But God is to be our god, the one who is first, who we’re devoted to,. God is like the air we breathe spiritually, we’re even dependent on him for physical breath. He is the love and life in which we all consist and live, through whom we live and love others. So it’s silly for us to want to cut God off or think we have no need of him.

Life is lived in the light and life God provides in the natural and spiritual spheres. And we are meant to live in close fellowship and communion not only with other human beings, but first and foremost with God himself (or God’s self, since God strictly speaking is not masculine, but whose image includes all the good created in humanity, including masculinity and femininity. Nevertheless as N. T. Wright, I believe, wrote, I retain how God was spoken of by those who recevied scripture so that I use the masculine pronoun). And our heart’s devotion and worship is to be of God. In doing so we love others in the love of God. In a certain sense very true in creation even apart from such devotion, but all the more true in the communion of the new creation in a love that overflows in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

And so, while I was meditating on that psalm which has nothing directly to say on this, the thought that came to me is certainly in keeping with all of scripture and how the church has traditionally understood scripture: Life is all about God. Life is here and gone, just like that. Which makes it all the more urgent that we keep God front and center in and through Jesus. Hands down our own highest good and the highest good of the world.

always worshiping — a good word and reminder to me from Brad and Rebekah

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Room. He brings their blood as a sin offering. But the bodies are burned outside the camp. Jesus also suffered outside the city gate. He suffered to make the people holy by spilling his own blood. So let us go to him outside the camp. Let us be willing to suffer the shame he suffered. Here we do not have a city that lasts. But we are looking for the city that is going to come.

So let us never stop offering to God our praise through Jesus. Let us talk openly about our faith in him. Then our words will be like an offering to God. Don’t forget to do good. Don’t forget to share with others. God is pleased with those kinds of offerings.

Hebrews 13

Brad and Rebekah are a husband/wife worship team, who by faith have shared their ministry of leading worship which includes writing worship songs in helping people in the church worship God. I’ve heard them twice in our chapel at Our Daily Bread Ministries. Truly a gift from God in both their skills and talent in leading and in song writing. What I like best about their ministry -and the rest is good- is the setting of it: it is in real life.

We were once part of a Vineyard church, and my love of what is called the Vineyard, continues. In fact, Deb and I need to get away when it doesn’t conflict with our own schedule to take in and be a part of some Vineyard worship again. Some criticize that way of singing to the Lord and to each other in a church setting. All I know is that for years we would do so, and God would be front and center in and through Jesus and we would be singing, often with tears streaming down our faces, people kneeling and sometimes dancing. I think of David who in the eyes of at least one played the fool when he danced before the Lord with an uninhibited exuberance and freedom (2 Samuel 6). I think we would do better if we did something of the same at times, even regularly.

Brad and Rebekah helped jog in me my need to connect more with God in this way, to lift up my voice to the Lord in praise regardless of circumstances or how I feel. Their focus is on God and the gospel, and that is the focus of true worship and praise. In an interview, they point to Lamentations 3 as central in how they view worship. I need that right now, to learn to worship God in the midst of trouble. To be among the worshipers the Father seeks (John 4).

As I noted yesterday, this doesn’t mean we don’t come to God as we are in all our brokenness and even fear. But we do so, knowing that God receives us in love, in and through his Son. That by the Spirit, we can worship and in so doing become more and more God’s children through and through, not referring to status, but practice and yes, experience. A worship that carries through to all of life. In and through Jesus.

the Psalms and a popular Christian mindset contrary to them

Once when leading devotions for our team at work, I asked them in line with Psalm 88 (which ends with, “darkness is my closest friend”), something like if a Christian could ever identify with such a thought, and no one raised their hands in affirmation. And the popular worship songs of today seem to exclude the likes of me, who readily admits to such struggle as not only isolated, but ongoing, certainly interspersed with praise and the Lord’s help in overcoming such.

As in the tradition of the church we need to regularly read the psalms along with the rest of scripture. In our church every week, along with an Old Testament reading (historical reading), New Testament reading (reading from a letter) and Gospel reading (the last and climax of all from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), we have a responsive reading from a Psalm. And I have been reading the Psalms through every month.

But I sadly dare say that perhaps contemporary worship today, while it has much good, fails to some extent to reflect a worship which comes before God with much struggle such as we read over and over again in the psalms as well as in the rest of scripture, I would argue the New Testament not excluded. And I believe this is surely to our great loss. Although at the same time, I am appreciative of people who seem to live freely of the struggles which plague me, not that people around me pick that up, particularly if I’m in conversation with them, which I often find uplifting.

Michael Card has an excellent music album which is a brilliant exception to this rule, well worth your listen: The Hidden Face of God.

I might want to suggest that this problem is part of an aversion to scripture in general in what is called pop theology, or how the faith is taught (or I might want to say, not taught) to people today in the churches. We don’t want to face the hard things in scripture, or we might even want to ignore them or even explain them away. One of the strengths I’ve noticed in a great, relatively new resource, Our Daily Bread for Kids, includes hard things normally excluded in material for children, doing so in a wise, careful way. I think we should end up seeing God, not reduced at all in greatness and goodness, which I think is an unfounded fear found in Christians considering scripture today. I would guess that much of the time this is of course a mistaken reduction of God to the likes of us, the God who is love.

This all may be a case of a triumphalism which wants to press into the present what will only be true in the future. At the same time no one really lives there, and people who advocate such spirituality will for the most part acknowledge that, I think. We live in the tension of the “already/not yet.” And in that tension we find God to be gloriously great and gloriously good in and through Jesus.