Tuesday, September 27, 2011


My friends at "Renovare" have just published a book entitled, "25 Books Every Christian Should Read".  Looking over the list of the books, I couldn't agree more.  Over the 40 years of my Christian life I've had the occasion to dive into almost all of these; and I can tell you this...these are some of the greatest pieces of literature to ever have the label "Christian" connected to them.
Here's the list of the books:

25 Books Every Christian Should Read
1.  On the Incarnation  by St. Athanasius
2.  Confessions  by St. Augustine
3.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
4.  The Rule of St. Benedict  by St. Benedict
5.  The Divine Comedy  by Dante Alighieri
6.  The Cloud of Unknowing  by Anonymous
7.  Revelations of Divine Love (Showings)  by Julian of Norwich
8.  The Imitation of Christ  by Thomas à Kempis
9.  The Philokalia
10.  Institutes of the Christian Religion  by John Calvin
11.  The Interior Castle  by St. Teresa of Avila
12.  Dark Night of the Soul  by St. John of the Cross
13.  Pensées  by Blaise Pascal
14.  The Pilgrim's Progress  by John Bunyan
15.  The Practice of the Presence of God  by Brother Lawrence
16.  A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life  by William Law
17.  The Way of a Pilgrim  by Unknown Author
18.  The Brothers Karamazov  by Fyodor Dostoevsky
19.  Orthodoxy  by G. K. Chesterton
20.  The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
21.  The Cost of Discipleship  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
22.  A Testament of Devotion  by Thomas R. Kelly
23.  The Seven Storey Mountain  by Thomas Merton
24.  Mere Christianity  by C. S. Lewis
25.  The Return of the Prodigal Son  by Henri J. M. Nouwen
 I have not read #9, The Philokalia, nor #20 "The Poetry of Hopkins"...but the others I've managed to taste and enjoy.  My only regret with a list like this is that it doesn't contain anything within the last 20 years...which for me is crucial.  I would have liked to see Dallas Willard's "Divine Conspiracy" on that list.  Other than that, it's a great list.  Would be good to begin with one...like #25, Nouwen's "Return of the Prodigal Son" if you've never read any of them.
As to the book itself, you can buy the book at Renovare's web site at a reduced price this week...


Monday, September 19, 2011

The Personal Part of Gospel

Today I sat down to read through 2nd Corinthians.
Reading this highly personal letter of Paul made me stop, pause, and reflect on how those who are outside of Christianity often perceive, and mis-perceive, the Church.
It was the old politician Tip O'Neil who said, "All politics is local".  Which means people vote for those who care about what is happening around them in personal ways.  While politicians talk about their parties, their ideals, political movements, etc...it usually comes down to basic things for people voting.  So, what does this have to do with Church?
Churches tend to project various things:  their beliefs (doctrine), their programs, their buildings, the personality of their leaders, etc... all of which have some relevance, but miss the mark.  Ministry is highly personal.  If you don't believe that, just read 2nd Corinthians again.
Here Paul gives a defense of what the Gospel looks like in practical ways.
The Gospel either penetrates our lives and causes real contrasts - not based on outward appearances, nor on rules - but in the practical everyday aspects of living.  What happens in our work?  What about our Marriage, or in other cases, as a single person?  What about our relationships around us?  How do we do business?  How do we conduct our affairs when it comes to money?  What do we do with giving back?  Are we generous, or do we only give when we have to, and the minimum?  Do we focus more on the temporal, or more on eternal things in terms of everyday life?  These are the questions that are highly personal, but must be asked to make us stop, think, and reflect on just what the Gospel means to us.

To how many people do I feel comfortable saying, with Paul:  1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV) 
1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

and keep a Christ perspective...not a "look around and see what others are like".  2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV) 
12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

Our lives are more transparent than we believe.  What we do in everyday life goes a long way to give evidence with our own works what we believe.  Paul says to the Corinthians two things that should be daily exercises for us:
First, we need a daily dose of personal reflection before God..."Lord, did I do what I needed to do today to live out the reality of your life within me?"
2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test? 
Second, we need the long term of perspective that this life of Christ I'm called to is possible to both receive and experience....just not in my own power.  Three ingredients I need everyday wrap up this letter.
2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIV)
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 

Everything about the Gospel is personal to us...


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Messy Church

The First letter to the Corinthians is what I started reading a couple of days ago.  I'm just about done with it, and it is a picture of the "Messy" Church.
The Corinthian believers, like all believers in that first century, were newly established in their faith.  They probably were a mixture of both Jewish converts and Gentile believers.  Corinth is a port city in lower Greece, and had a reputation for being a city of perversion...sort of "whatever you want, you can get it in Corinth". In fact, to "Corinthianize" was to commit sexual immorality.  It is in this cultural setting that the church in Corinth comes into being.
The church struggled...division, sexual immorality, along with incest, eating foods that were dedicated to idols/gods, marriage's in struggles, freedom vs license as well as freedom vs. law, men and women in pure relationships, abuses in worship, trouble with use of gifts of the Spirit, and doubts about the resurrection...what a mess!

Church is like that isn't it?  We'd like to think that we come to church with our acts together, our doctrine all clear, our behavior pure, our attitudes and actions all godly...but that is only a church in fantasy.  The real church is a hospital for the sick.  That's what Jesus said.  When we forget that, we lose sight of the grace, love, mercy and forgiveness that accompany teaching, discipleship, worship, correction and counsel.
I remember years ago a quote:  "The church is the only army that shoots its wounded."  Ouch.

1 Corinthians 12:27,31 - 13:13 (NIV)
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  
31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 

Beautiful Mess... Peace

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Thessalonian Letters - the Practical Life of Christ

I'm continuing to read the New Testament in the order in which the letters were written.  Right after the book of James, Paul wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians.  Today as I read those letters I was struck by the positive, but cautious way in which Paul tries to help them with the questions of how to conduct themselves as God's people, and what they should think about, and subsequently do, about the coming again of Christ Jesus.

This was a marvelous Church in Paul's eyes...like the person who takes his wallet out and proudly shows the pictures of his kids.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (NASB)
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;
3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,

Those three words first appeared here in the Thessalonian letters...a while before Paul wrote them to the Corinthians.

The two themes of how to live godly and that sense of waiting in hope for the coming of Christ appears right up front in the first chapter of the first letter.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (NLT)
9 for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God.
10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.

Christians are called to live "sanctified"...i.e. with an awareness of their identity in Christ.  Paul says it to the Thessalonian believers like this:

1 Thessalonians 4:1,4 (NLT)
1 Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more.
4 Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—

And, concerning the second coming of Christ...  1 Thessalonians 5:2 (NLT)
2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.

NOW...here's an interesting observation...the beginning of the second letter to the Thessalonians mentions their faith, and love, but does not say anything about their hope.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NLT)
3 Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.

WHY?  They were confused about Christ's coming again, having been told that the Lord had already returned.  It simply wasn't true, but they were confused nevertheless...  2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 (NLT) 
1 Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him.
2 Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us.

Paul carefully instructs them to live faithfully, patiently waiting, while faithfully working...

2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 (NLT)
3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
4 And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you.
5 May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.

SO, what do we get from these two letters.  The early church is not much different from out own in many ways.  While the tendency of church to program life, and preach doctrine, and talk of Christ's return...it still comes down to practical day to day life...get a job, earn a living, be faithful in living, working, providing for your family and others.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Getting It Straight

This morning I began my New Testament Readings. Because I'm reading historically instead of the traditional format of starting in Matthew, I've begun instead in the book of Galatians. I wanted to read it all in one setting, so today's reading then is Galatians 1 - 6.

 It's a good way to read the text of scripture. When we can read in one setting, it's a lot like reading a long letter...cohesive, much more clearly able to relate passages together - contextual.  My readings this year have been from the New Living Translation...one I would heartily recommend for anyone, especially new-comers to reading scripture.

I've entitled this post, "getting it straight", because the essence of the book of Galatians is clarity in understanding the GOSPEL and what it means to our lives as FOLLOWERS OF JESUS.  So, in getting it straight...I was struck right away...

Galatians 1:4 (NLT) 4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.

Let's get it straight, this is the essence of the Gospel, and it is where our identity is formed. Not in being religious, or by the number of times we go to church (not that there is merit in avoiding church either - consult Heb. 10:25 - but that's another blog!). The Gospel is that Jesus Christ gave his life for our sins...in order to rescue us from this evil world.  It is clear that we must not forget what Jesus Christ has done for us because the alternative is to follow a "false way".

 Just a couple of verses later, Paul outlines the issue at hand.... Galatians 1:6-7 (NLT) 6 I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. 

The Galatian believers had slid back into a form of "Christianized Judaism"...you know, you can be a Christian, and still be a Jew. There's a lot of that that goes around...you can be a "Christian" and still be ________________. Paul says it is not "good news", the Gospel. It is a "way" that pretends to be good news...and it's not. Later, he clarifies even more...

Galatians 2:16 (NLT) 16 Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” 

Any pretension of our ability to work our way into favor through the "works" of religion are a slap in the face of Christ Jesus and his work on the cross. What we need is a faith that moves us towards Christ alone. Again... Galatians 2:20 (NLT) 20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

 The old self is manifested in even things like the "religious spirit". The desire to prove one-self to be worthy of God on the basis of how religious you might be. But, we did not receive this grace in which we stand through our own efforts. Continuing on... Galatians 3:2 (NLT) 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. , and, Galatians 3:12-13 (NLT) 12 This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” 13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 

Christ Jesus alone has the character to have taken care of our sin...we cannot, no matter how hard we try.
In Christ there is a glorious freedom from "performing" our way into God's favor. Again, let's get it straight... Galatians 4:4-7 (NLT) 4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. 
No longer "slaves". No longer trying to perform our way into God's favor. Living a glorious freedom from having to work our way into God's grace....it's free, but costs us everything!

Galatians 5:1 (NLT) 1 So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. 
Some mistake this freedom of Christ for a license to do whatever they want to. It's not necessary to obey, it's not necessary to worship with others, it's not necessary to submit to authority, it's not necessary to tithe, or be generous in giving...it's not necessary _______________...all of which is based on "now that I have Christ's freedom, I can do whatever I want to" mentality. But that is just another form of slavery...a slavery to self instead of religion.

Galatians 5:13 (NLT) 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 

This life in Christ Paul outlines in this letter comes full circle from where he had begun...Galatians 1:4 (NLT) 4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. 

The world manifests itself in both religion and rebellion....neither one is acceptable for a follower of Jesus.

Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT) 16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 

The Spirit of God does not lie to us. He speaks truth about the need of Christ's character being formed within.

  Galatians 5:22-25 (NLT) 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 

Paul's letter to the Galatians is not for the religious or the rebellious...there is only one way, and it's not our own....it is the way of Christ.

Galatians 6:8-9 (NLT) 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 

Let's get it straight...the Gospel is the call for one thing...follow Jesus...everything else is meaningless.

Galatians 6:16 (NLT) 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God. 


Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Stuff

In my O.T. readings, I've accelerated things a bit...am now finishing the O.T. in reading 2 Chronicles. Yes, I know it's mid-way in the English bible, but in the Hebrew scriptures it finishes the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew scriptures are organized by three categories: Torah (first 5 books of Moses) and then History, which covers Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and then all of the Prophet books that our English bibles put at the end of the Old Testament. Finally, the last category is "Writings" which is the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and also includes Lamentations, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and ends with Chronicles.
It has been my desire to read through the scriptures every year; but at this time of the year I accelerate the reading schedule in order to finish the year by Advent. I like to take that month to read, meditate and blog my way through the most important season, in my opinion, of the Christian calendar...or at least as important as celebrating Easter. The New in this "stuff" is some things that are beginning this month. New - age 62 on the 4th... New - Church things in Fall include Sunday school, Men's Fellowship times, and a new preaching theme, and add to it, three weddings in three months. New - Christian Life College's Fall class - "Grasping God's Word" - a class in basic Hermeneutics begins tonight (the 8th) and runs for the next 15 weeks. New - NFL & College Football...something I LOVE a lot...four months of pure sports bliss! OK, not a profound blog, but it let's you know what's brewing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On Theological Learning

I continue to wade my way through the Old Testament readings. Today, I started Nehemiah and read the first five chapters.

I ran across an interesting set of articles by an Orthodox theologian. Many evangelical Christians have little understanding of Orthodox Christianity. This "brand" or "stream" of the Christian faith developed after the "Catholic" church decided to change the formula for understanding the nature of the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Known as the "filoque" controversy, it meant the western "Catholic" church became separate from the eastern "Orthodox" church. (Around 1000 A.D.) Orthodox Christianity takes its position as the church that has been most true to the early Church Fathers and their interpretation of the main elements of Christian dogma - namely the Trinity, Salvation, and faith in Christ. Most Orthodox churches are in the east of Europe, including Russia. While present in the US and other places, they are not that well known. Steeped in liturgy and mystery, going to an Orthodox church service is a "sensory" experience to say the least.

I ran across an Orthodox theologian while doing some reading, and one thing he said resonated deeply within...an "amen" so to speak. He was speaking about theological education...something I am not only interested in, but do, and he made the following truth statement:

‘We must note a distinction between the terms scholar and theologian. A scholar engaged in the study of theology may not be a theologian in the patristic sense of the word. From the [patristic] perspective,a theologian is one who experiences God—one who knows God and not only knows about God: “Theological science, which is taught in schools and has become an intellectual specialization open to all, does not give knowledge of God. Knowledge of God comes from life in God, which is born in the deepest place of the heart…. One can be a great scholar, with academic qualifications, and yet remain completely ignorant about the path of salvation.”

The Orthodox theologian is Archimandrite Sophrony - he goes on...

‘There are two ways for theology: the one, widely familiar in previous centuries, appertaining to the professional theologian; the other, which means being crucified with Christ, knowing Him in the secret places of the heart...‘What is theology? Orthodox theology is primarily a spiritual process…. More specifically, Orthodox theology is a personal process aimed at progress in prayer... for the fathers of the Church, theology is an existential experience of the life of Christ. Theology is the process of the transfiguration of the human person. Theology is a life of prayer and asceticism (aka...spiritual disciplines) centered within the liturgical life of the Church and immersed in Holy Scripture…. The life of prayer cannot be learned simply by reading books on prayer. It demands much spiritual effort, trials, temptations, suffering, humility and obedience. One learns to pray only by praying. In the words of St John Climacus: ‘You cannot discover from the teaching of others the beauty of prayer. Pray has its own special teacher in God…. He grants the prayer of him who prays.’ (St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent,

This is good...very good. It reminds me, as pastor, theologian, teacher, and discipler that there is no good learning that excludes personal experience. It is a good reminder also of communing with God in prayer, not to get what we want, or go through a laundry list of personal needs; but to come in order to clearly "see" with spiritual eyes into the very heart - our own, and God's. And, we always start at the beginning...each day we must come humbly, with an open repentant heart - "Search me O God..." and in that humility simply say "Lord today I would like to walk with you...grant me your grace and the power of your Spirit within to make that possible."